Monday, October 11, 2004

what's english?

My students have begun telling me we do too much writing and reading in class. They want to know when we're going to do, you know, English? (They might be afraid they're being cheated.) In a case of perfect timing, I got an email today from a former student who said he's having a hard time in all his classes at college but has an A in English.
English. Whatever that is.
This is what I wrote in my journal after they left:

Kids are asking me why we're writing and reading so much. They think English class is still supposed to be about clauses and parts of speech I think. Worksheets. Vocabulary quizzes. So what is the purpose of English class? To make people fluent in the use of the English language. To open up the world a little more for them. To help them think. We're born with language. Language is what gives us the chance to communicate our needs, our desires, our thoughts, who we are, what we believe. It gives us a way to take our place in the world. To take it and not be squeezed out. Words are power. To be able to make words of thoughts is power. If you can't read the newspapers, for example, to find out what's going on, or you can't read a book to find out what people are thinking, what the human race is about, your world is made more narrow. If you can't express a thought about stuff that really matters in the bigger picture of the world, your options are limited. And nobody knows really who you are. Things become possible when we can speak and write and read and use the English language fluently. We're all about language.
That's the gist of the rant I want to make.

But I do fear it's too soon. A rant is supposed to engross them, but I think they're still too engrossed with the simpler things about me, like how strange I am, like how I dress, drink, walk, joke, tear up, pace, write. All that. Practically everything about me. I don't know anyway if they're quite engaged enough. Today it occurred to me that they don't know yet that I'm not going to be skipping school, or taking sick leave, or quitting, or blowing up. Two kids already asked me if I was coming back next year. I don't know if they know or trust yet that I'm for real.
Also, I don't know if they're ready to fall. That would be fall in a good way.

Disposed of: the old battery in my car. (I know that doesn't really count because I replaced it with a new one, but it felt so cleansing to replace it, so I'm counting it.)

Melanie Anne Plesh


Blogger gaffney said...

I think that you are doing a good job teaching your students to read and write. When I was in high school I thought the same thing that they are thinking but when I got into the world of jobs I realized that I needed to be well literate in any job area that faced me. They haven't experienced the needs that they need in the world today which revovles partly around writing and critical reading/thinking.

5:24 PM  
Blogger Melanie Plesh said...

thank you for this response, gaffney.

6:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I hope you don't mind, but I have been sharing your words with my students,my friends,and my family. My daughter wrote this:

"Mom, I read the whole thing and LOVED it. She sounds
like one determined - and talented - woman. I
bookmarked the page so that I can go back and read new
entries. Thanks for sending it over...."

and my friend wrote this:
"This was truly inspiring! She described the reality of inner city schools in stark terms, but you never felt that she would give in to despair, as I'm sure many teachers do. The difference is, I think, that she obviously loves and respects the kids. I plan to send this to my daughter who is a 5th grade teacher in Kentucky."

and my wonderful mentor who has dedicated her life to working with the poor wrote this:
"I finally got to read some of Melanie's "Journal". How powerful. Thank you so much for sharing. I told Eunice you have the gift to be in touch with wonderful people."

I was in the Teachers' Lounge at good old MHS, and one of the teachers started to describe the day that the ceiling fan fell on one of the students. A new teacher at school, who came from Orleans, quickly defended the system. "Not all Orleans schools are like that," she said quite defensively. I thought that was good. I think she misses the students.

I have to admit that I sometimes get jealous of your situation. I was so touched by the student who ran to get the Maya Angelou,book from the "fire." How wonderful to share yourself with these children.

Our kids at MHS miss you,too. I was thinking maybe we could do something for your kids with books for Christmas. Or, is there something that you need in your classroom? Or, is there someone who would like her own Maya Angelou book? Please let us know.

And thanks for writing this.

6:28 PM  
Blogger Melanie Plesh said...

Thank you, MHS person, for your response. I got this picture, from what you wrote about me and my FDHS students, of us making some kind of connection. New Orleans is a place students from MHS go. But all they know is the quarter, and only the obvious part of that. But this is the city that spawned those, their, suburbs. Could be a really interesting thing to proceed about and look into.

6:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are for real and you proved that to me the first day in your class my senior year. You didn't let me get away with being upset and giving up. You made me face myself and I have become stronger for it. I was really frustrated and ready to give up that day, but you wouldn't let me give up without a fight.

It might just take your students time to learn to trust you. I experienced that in my own way (on a much smaller scale) when I started working at the urban school my college works with. The kids didn't know what to do with me and they put me through the ringer (tested my boundaries, called me names, laughed at me when I took authority in their classroom), but I proved myself to them and showed them I was there to stay and that I was there because I wanted to be there. I'm not the education major afterall... at least not on the undergraduate level. After they realized my intentions for being in their classrooms, the only thing strange about me was my long-straight-brown hair.

You are doing an amazing job just being there and being consistent with your kids. Keep on loving them and keep on coming back. Surprise them everyday with your love and genuineness... Your genuineness radiates ;)

10:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ms. Plesh, I agree with you on the fact MHS students need to visit Orleans schools. The students at MHS complained alot when i went to school there. Every miniscule detail HAD to be criticized. But once again, the students at MHS live in a town where they only need one perspective in their lives. They do not want to leave their comfort zone. On the other hand, I am more than happy to leave mine! It helps me evolve into something better. I love you Ms. Plesh! Thank You! Keep on Truckin' ~Jessica B.

2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ms. Plesh,
You are so amazing. I wish I could've had you as a teacher. But even the small part I knew was wonderful. I know your kids will appreciate you, even if they're uncertain now. I hope they learn the best parts of the English language. Even being the grammar nazi I am, I'm beginning to realize that grammar just makes sure a great arguement or a beautiful story doesn't get lost in translation. Books are truly wonderful, and I have a strong feeling that your kids will also realize this by the end of their year with you. May you have many reasons to smile.

3:49 PM  

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