Monday, October 18, 2004

Tupac Shakur

I find that I'm hesitating to write here because I feel like all I'm doing is focusing on the bad stuff, my bad feelings, and everything negative. That is not what I want to do. I hate whining in every form. Also, I feel like I'm telling on my school, and I don't want to do that. Today I asked my friend across the hall how the faculty celebrates Christmas and her face got soft and she told me about the parties they've had in the past, and I got my feelings about the strong, good faculty reiterated. Apparently, the parties were spectacular. And my friend is a very classy woman. I haven't really written much about the faculty. That's something I would like to do. Part of the reason I came to Orleans is because I thought I could give the children something, that I was a strong teacher, at the height of my power, and that I could help them rise. Spit it out, Melanie (I'm embarrassed): I thought they needed a good teacher like me. What I find is that there are many great teachers on the faculty at this school. The problem is not the teachers. I could say what I think the problem is, but I have come to realize that what I thought I knew isn't necessarily correct. Not only am I facing a new world, I'm also facing the fact that I did not understand. I know that's vague, but there it is right now. This faculty has power and love. But it's stymied by some things, like the lack of discipline in the halls. I keep saying that I think a big solution to our troubles is that we hire several more security guards, and that they take their job seriously. If the menace-makers were removed, the kids who are longing to become educated could have the freedom to become so. And we has the teachers to do it.
I want to write about the good things. Here's one. Friday, I initiated something new, the New American Word Friday. My intention is to bring modern American poetry, in whatever form, to their attention. After a while I want us to analyze its relevance. But anyway, I began with Tupac Shakur. I figured I couldn't go wrong with him. One cannot but love him. He was an advocate for change. One night, about 5 years ago, I was listening to Bob Dylan when a student telephoned me. He heard the music in the background and asked me what I was listening to and I told him, and I told him that Dylan spoke for my generation. He told me that Tupac spoke for his. Tupac died when he was 25 of a gunshot wound, in Las Vegas. I think he is a martyr. He was shut up by the people in the world who didn't want him to say his say, just like the kids in my room are shut up by the fools in the hall. Anyway, here's the good thing (couched in a bad thing). We were listening to his song, "Dear Mama," when I heard a civilized tap on the door, so I quietly opened it. A kid I didn't know pushed his way in (I pushed back, but, well,) and he went around the circle of students in my room, shaking hands. He was a complete fool and a disruptive bastard. I can't tell you how angry I was. We were deeply silent, listening to this beautiful Tupac ode, and in comes this idiot. Anyway, what could I do? I could have notified security, but by the time they'd have come he'd have been long gone, and he would have won. He'd have disrupted us. So I let the thing run its course. The first guy he put his hand out to is a guy who is a serious human being and who loves becoming educated. He makes A's, though he keeps the street persona. He's a great student. I quoted him once in this blog. He's the guy who loves the idea of keeping things real. Anyway, the clown went to him first, and he, R, had to shake the clown's hand, because he has to work between the lines. He can't let anyone know how much he loves school. But he also looked at me to tell me he was disgusted. Then the clown went around the room. I sat down, which I thought was a small way to defeat him. When he got to this great girl in my class, L, one of the girls I had that rough morning with a few weeks ago, she refused to shake hands with him. He stood there for a long time, but she refused him. She was so angry. Finally he left and we remained silent, listening to the end of Tupac's song. It was interesting. I fear that my students will think that me sitting down is me being defeated, but my gut tells me how to proceed sometimes. SOMETIMES
Anyway, so that's the good thing I'm reporting today. I'm going to try to focus on these things. I'm also vowing to regain my smile. There really is much to smile about. But the things that take away people's smiles here are so much noisier.

Disposed of: three vee-neck sweaters I only theoretically liked

Melanie Anne Plesh


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What amazes me about your teaching is in your courage to teach things that no one else bothers to come close to teaching/ or is too scared to cover because they are afraid their students will not be able to handle it. You have covered more literature with your students at Douglass than I have in four years of college - and I have taken some lit courses too! You believe in your students so much that you will take risks and show them real writing and expose them to things that even the *educated* (if that is what you might call those with a college degree) have never been fortunate enough to read...

10:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I read your blogs everyday and found myself getting agitated when there were none this past week. I guess I recognize one of "us" in you and am so very grateful for the member of our army I didn't know existed until my son died. I wanted you to know my son was not very expressive, but a few weeks before he died he wrote me a stunning letter, expressing all he felt about me. And he attached Tupac's "Dear Mama", only changing a few of the words. It was his way of expressing part of what he felt. That IS the voice of a generation. The words touched me and that letter is one of the most cherished possesions I now have. I no longer have a child in school, but am extraordinarily grateful you are there teaching our children.


3:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't ever met you, and I don't know anyone who knows you. I was given a link to your weblog through a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend kind-of thing. But I want to say... I don't know you as a teacher, but as a writer about teaching you do good work at a distance, work whose effects you'll probably never even see.

But it's there, nonetheless.

So, thank you.

-an anonymous reader and supporter, many miles from louisiana.

12:08 PM  

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