Friday, December 03, 2004

tomorrow is my birthday

We now have only two more weeks before the holiday, which is essentially when the semester (in our case, year) is finished. The classes have been so wonderful. It's so interesting that, after all these years and all the vocabulary tricks I've tried, I think the best way to do vocabulary is for me to stand in front of the class and tell them what things mean and give them examples and ask them to come up with examples. They're remembering the words. And they're loving learning new words. I know you may think I'm exaggerating when I say that, but I am not. There are so many kids in the classes who clearly are hungry for an education. Today I read a third Times-Picayune essay with them, this one from last Saturday's paper, written by Leonard Pitts. It's about the new video game called JFK Reloaded. This game approximates the Kennedy assassination. The player is in the book room from which Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK, and must attempt to shoot the president (it hurts my heart to type these words) as Oswald did. Anyway, Pitts explained the game (through his eyes and through the eyes of people who have had loved ones murdered), and then hits with his usual right-on-target zinger at the end, in which he addresses the human condition in a big picture way. All week we've been reading essays like this (one about materialism, one about the Pacers and the melee during the basketball game) and discussing what the issues suggest about the state of the American psyche. Yesterday they wrote a first draft of an essay in which they were to bring up issues that ought to be essayed. Today I was able to have a private conference with every student about their first drafts, during which we both made notes, and on Monday they're going to revise these. There are many excellent essays. Their writing is getting better and better. And the best thing of all is that they realize it. It was a very recent revelation for them, like this week. Suddenly there's a feeling of awe in the room. I hardly know how to express it. They're in awe of words, in awe of ideas, in awe of the essays we're reading, in awe of themselves for being so able to write so well. And I have to tell you, I am grading their essays exactly as I graded essays at Mandeville. I'm not giving them any quarter. I take points off every time they misspell to/too/two, for example, or every time they make a lot one word (alot). And they're keeping up. For some students this has meant very low grades on the essays, but I'm giving them the option of revising again, as much as it takes to get it right. And they're willing to do it. Really, almost every person to whom I offer the opportunity to revise, revises. Even those who got B's, for example. That's what I mean, they really want to grow. They really want to learn.
I've recently had a revelation. I've mentioned before that I think these students are really smart, and I'm not kidding, they're really smart. They remember words (for example), they remember ideas we've brought up in class, they can and are willing to try to make the jump, for example, from the literal meaning of the word callous to what it means to be a callous person. They're starting to take chances at being wrong, which was very hard for them, but isn't anymore. They seem to be coming to understand that intelligence is something one grows rather than something one learns from the outside. I have a theory about why they're so smart. I think it's because of their hard lives. They are constantly "on." They can never really much relax their awareness. They've had to develop street smarts and survival skills. In many cases, they've had to learn how to take care of themselves from an early age, and to take care of their younger siblings. They've had to learn how to be hyper-aware, and how to read situations and people quickly. All that takes a lot of brain power. I think all of that has made their minds more developed than the minds of people who don't have those things to grapple with, simply because they've had to work their minds so hard. It just amazes me that I came to this school to give of my expertise and turn out getting more than I give. It's like this education is for me, at least as much as it is for them. I mean this. I am in love with these people, and I am in love with Frederick Douglass High School.
Did I mention that tomorrow is my birthday? It is. One of my students bought me a cake! But a man on the bus sat on it. She was so angry. And she spent a lot of money on the cake, her own money. Also, the wonderful woman who works across the hall, the one who bosses the children around (the children love it and they love her), when she found out today that tomorrow was my birthday she left school and went and bought me a present. The present is a little glass swan ornament on a mirrored pedestal. Can you guess how much I treasure this thing?
I brought home my box of loose poems and this weekend am going to choose from them and from all my poetry books a nice selection, make xeroxes of everything, and we're going to discuss the human condition as it is expressed in poetry. Just the idea of experiencing this with them...the joy in my heart makes it feel almost too big for my body. I feel like the luckiest human being alive.

Love, Melanie


Blogger -JD- said...

Do you write any poetry? Or post them? I'd enjoy reading some...

4:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DARLING MELAINE! You got the best present this year - - - teaching where your heart is. XXX Bev
P.s. We missed you at the annual Christmas STWG gathering, but we talked about you and your blog and your work.

10:21 PM  
Blogger Makenzi said...

Happy birthday!!!


1:58 PM  

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