Thursday, February 17, 2005

what matters?

An artist in residence came to my room yesterday. Somehow I am involved and the fortunate recipient of such a cool opportunity. She came to my room to ask me what ideas I might have for an interaction between our textbook (so to speak) and a paid outside artist. That's my perception of the situation. She's an actress and performance artist.
Even as we were conversing I felt BORING, and that I didn't have a life other than teacher, and this has spurred a lot of self-doubt. I feel like I've been a dull teacher so far this year. I think I'm preoccupied by the fact that these kids have such huge needs and that I don't want to spend a single minute on anything that will not specifically enhance their ability to make it when they graduate. The wise part of my mind knows that it's not the lessons but the atmosphere that matters, and that often tangential things that appear frivolous are actually profound if they're allowed to complete their circle and flower. But there's also my fear of anything frivolous sans obvious profundity. So much time is wasted at our school.
I fear I'm boring to my students. I like to think they realize they're becoming educated, but I fear it, fear that they don't see. But why should I fear that? It doesn't really matter that I see that they see. It only matters that they see. And I may never know if they do. I do know that KH learned two words -- exacerbate and penultimate (penultimate because she had the second to last conversation with her grandfather before he died), and I know that she's blowing her own mind with her writing. MR is writing something huge about his experience on the street. He too is blowing his own mind (and mine). In fact, it's also happening with JC and ST and BG. Things are happening all over the place. It's suddenly occurring to me. Even WR has discovered that he loves writing about himself.
Almost all of the writing these people have produced so far seems to be leaning toward themes. (I'm thinking this is something I need to write up somewhere, this beautiful thing that has inadvertently developed). In these four and a half weeks they've discovered what and how they like to write. Suddenly I realize this. I'm thinking I could help them actually zero in on their themes and then show them how the different genres could intrinsically, due to their natures, be useful for expressing various aspects of what they have to say.
It's incredible to me that first period, which has caused me so much grief lately, is the one inspiring all this. I'd think, given my experience in this world, I'd have expected it.
How the hell ever, I'm still boring. I'm preoccupied. I have no personal life. I am merely a worker, a serious worker, and the children are more important to me than me. But how can that be right?
I know I'm happy and crazed and preoccupied and lonely and, to make matters worse, am clear that I do know what I'm doing. I'm on fire, but I sure wouldn't mind a simple Thursday.



Anonymous Tracy said...

Our students do this to us. They break our hearts, they hurt our spirits, they disrespect us, then they inspire us and re-light the very fires they put out. Your first block had me scared. At the same time, I knew that if you could stand them down, (and you did, meeting them at the door, setting the tone, marking your territory again) they would show you something that you knew was there. That's why you're with them. You know it's in them.

I know this boring feeling you speak of because I feel this way too. I never give my kids a break -- it's literature and writing and discussing and creating and more literature and writing and discussing. I want them to know so much before they graduate. Sometimes I want to be the teacher who says, "Let's take a break. We're watching a film. And there is no writing assignment attached. No assessment. Just watch. Enjoy." Actually I do that at the end of my Honor and Glory unit (Beowulf, King Arthur, et al). We watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and we laugh and laugh. The kids quote lines from it for the rest of the term. But it still feels like work because we discuss how it's a parody. It's that fear, I think, that we cannot waste a single precious minute of class time because we know how much they need to know to survive in this world. They can learn so much about life from literature and especially from writing. We may be boring, but we simply cannot indulge in "anything frivolous sans obvious profundity."

10:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How ironic! You think you are boring. We are all so addicted to reading this blog that when you don't post, we are sad and disappointed. We are interested and inspired...awed and filled with admiration. We stay in our safe schools in the routines we're so comforted by, living vicariously through your adventure.

I can think of many adjectives and accolades to assign to Melanie and Tracy; however, boring has never been one of them.

Remember this: Often, we assume we are boring because we teach the same material, three to six times a day, for years. We think it may become dull, but that is only for us. Think of the other classes students must survive throughout the year. I'm sure your classrroms are a respite from boredom-a place to read, write, think, discuss...not just copy notes and test.

Please don't lose Melanie in the muck. Take care of yourself or you will be no good for teaching. You are worth the time and effort to set aside time to rejuvinate and reflect...or drink and play. You are making a difference!! All of us who continue to read your blog have learned SO MUCH from you, and I am confident your students have, too.


10:12 AM  
Blogger Makenzi said...

i remember a 'what matters' paper. i went off in it. i liked it a lot. what matters is everything that makes you feel something other than nothing.

i want to have lunch or dinner with you. for some reason that is the overwhelming feeling i get from this entry. i want to have lunch with you. i want to feel what you emanate. and reassure myself. that you have not been lost in the muck.

because i know your students wouldn't lose you. so the only one left after that elimination is made would be yourself. and that wouldn't surprise me at all. but i'd have to explain myself after saying that. so pretend i didn't say it. cause i'm sooo tired that the explanation would drain the hell out of me.

do take care of whatever of yourself is left to be taken care of.

i still love you.


6:21 PM  

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