Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Today was a fine day. I copied the blog into my hard drive.
But that's not the fine part. Today we began Hamlet in my second period. I told the children that they weren't going to understand most of what they read at first, but that we'd talk about it and they'd get it. So the way it's unfolding is we read, I stop us to explain something, then next time we read instead of me stopping us to explain something, I stop us and ask them to figure it out. And they're figuring it out. They're figuring Shakespeare out. Already we have noted quite a few things, not the least of which is Hamlet's dilemma, and his emotional state. Shakespeare is so AWESOME. I haven't included having them write yet because it's a fragile time right now and I have to be careful and handle things right, and not be too businesslike. I have to get them engaged and my gut feeling is that the way to engage them is to back off from writing and even have them back off from reading too hard and just let Shakespeare woo them. I think it would be a fun thing to teach a Shakespeare course and write a year-long blog about that.
I began collecting LEAP scores related to my students today. The results of the spring testing come in in a few weeks. Then I'll have something to say. But I will say, a girl you've read about a lot in here, LG, went from 50 in the fall test on her writing to 75 in the spring test (for seniors) on her writing. That's the lowest possible to the highest possible. It's exciting to be embarking on this quest for empirical evidence.
Anyhoo, I fall more and more in love with this school all the time. Also, it's that time of year for teachers of seniors, when we feel melancholy and already lonely for the children who are about to leave. Every year we have to make goodbyes.
Douglass just cannot let me go.
I'm going to go panee me up some pork chops and heat up a can of Miss Sylvia's lima beans in the olive oil and pork chop debris left in the pan. And also, a couple of weeks ago I brought all those things I disposed of earlier in the year to the Bridge House. It filled the bed of my truck.


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

before and after

8 this morning:
I'm going to xerox the list of questions and approach the assignment with the children today. Interestingly, yesterday LG (who asked me to sign her folder so she could remember me) said, "Ms Plesh. This poetry shit isn't working." That's first period. No truer words were ever spoken. She said why can't we write about school and your class and what we think about shit. And I told her that's exactly what I was intending.
My plan is to keep it informal, that they attempt to address most of the questions in a big piece of writing, that they can if they want break the writing up into 5 categories, like I did with the questions. Then after they get this down as best they can that they look at the questions again and see if most of the points are addressed, and so revise the writing accordingly and give me a fresh rewrite, front only, loose leaf, not stapled, so I can copy everything and give them their papers back on Monday (exam day). That's the plan.
One thing that continues to become more and more clear to me is that time is a good thing to give to students with writing. Sometimes for sure they have to toe the line and produce a piece of writing in an hour or two days, but not usually. Time. Good.
This morning I was looking on the blog for Clay's questions that one of the unsung inspirations of this story told me she liked, and realized that the archives wasn't present. I had to go into the works and republish the whole blog! Which scares me because I write this blog at the machine and it is the only draft of the book I expect this is leading to and (you'll cry) the only place it's written. The ONLY place. So this evening my job is to copy the whole thing into a word document and burn it onto several cd's and bring a cd to school for safe-keeping.

Yesterday I stepped into Ms Holliday's office and told her I wanted to stay at Douglass, that I love it here and my work isn't done, etc., and she said she was "crucified" this year for keeping on so many English teachers, and she looked sad and fidgety, and I'm pretty afraid that she was trying to tell me something. I have to find a way to keep myself there. It would be a colossal waste if they were to put me in another school. Anyway, I don't know if I have what it takes to do a first year at an inner city school again. It almost did me in this year -- twice -- but I was able to make it through, mostly because I knew I was in the process of paying my dues and that next year things would be different because people would know what I'm about. Because I've been accepted.

6 this evening:
I was telling a fellow teacher at school (we were sitting on the tailgate of my truck, smoking) about my dread of having a first year again at a new inner-city school, and she said it's not like this at other schools. So that's a thought. And a little relief.
Except that I believe I belong at Douglass and I'm going to do whatever is necessary to stay. Still, the system has the power to stymie me. But surely, and I really do believe this (I'm 52), I'm bigger than the system. Karen reminded me about the idea, "ask and you shall receive," and I think she is right and that is undoubtedly the answer.
Today I caught Ms Hollilday in the hall and told her that not only do I want to stay at Douglass, I believe if she looked at the LEAP writing scores of my students she'd see quite a rise. Saying that to her made me think to myself that if that's not true, that they rose, then I have a lot of reconsidering to do. So she said I should look into that and I'm thinking, wow, this is a cool thing to do. Also I think she is trying to help me put together evidence that I should keep my job, no matter my tenure. I know she wants to keep me. So I'm going to do that. I'm going to look at my students' scores, pre- and post- me, and make notes. I know that one of my students had a 75 on her writing score this last time but, otherwise, she appears BY NUMBERS to be completely illiterate. At the beginning of the year her writing was gibberish. That's the truth. She was a write off. (what an ironic term)

I just re-read this blog and realize that Ms Holliday is the one telling me how to establish and retain my position in the system. And in doing this, she's causing me to look at the numbers and determine if I really am affecting my students. I have never never looked at the concrete in regard to my efficacy. It will be enlightening. I'm grateful for her.


Sunday, April 24, 2005

what are our questions, part two

Several people have given me ideas about things they'd like to hear the students' responses to. I made a list of the ideas and then grouped them. I'm thinking that I could give my students the grouped questions and ask them to attempt, in writing (essayistically), to give me their thoughts about each group of questions, without answering each question per se. Here are the groupings and the questions:

what do you want and expect from your education?
what do you value about education?
why have you continued to go to school when so many others have dropped out?
what do you believe you should be learning about in school? do you believe in what society wants you to learn about or do you have a differrent idea? what could you learn in school that would make a more practical difference in your lives in the real world?
what do you wish for?
do you long to be educated?
do you believe you can be educated?

Past Education:
what were your educational highs and lows? (attempt to connect what was happening in your life at the time in an effort to perhaps understand how they affected each other)
what went wrong in your education?
what went right in your education?
is there an individual or more who were instrumental in encouraging you to persevere?
be honest about your reading skills, lack of, wheatever, and what went wrong? tell me about your experience with reading.
what are your feelings about your past education?

Education, General
what do you think it means to be educated?
how much value do you place on education?
who are/were your role models?
how do you define the term "education"? what does it mean to you to be educated? is this a good thing or a bad thing or what kind of thing is this?
do you think it is natural to want to learn about the world? do you remember when you loved learning? do you still? do you remember or know what happened?

what do you think teachers who teach in urban schools should know (about society, about the community, about education, about psychology, about life on the streets, about you?) before stepping into your classrooms?
what advice would you give to a teacher who wants to teach in your school?
what one thing do you believe you have taught teachers in the past? education isn't a one-way street and teachers are constantly learning. what do you believe you have taught me?

what are your feelings about writing? do you want to write? do you like to? what frustrates you or stops you?

I have to get them to do this either this week or on the day of the exam, which is the Monday after this. Part of me wants to give them several days to work on it, maybe to even include some time to discuss the questions before they write.
Another thing is that I want to tell them that I'm working on a book and that I want their honest responses so I can represent them properly in the book. What do you think about that?

Thank you for your help --


Monday, April 18, 2005

what do we want to know?

Seniors have two more weeks of classes, then exams, and there's something I want to do before the majority leaves. I would like to ask my students to answer some questions for me that I could include in the blog. I'm also thinking of profiling some students. I need help knowing what a reader would like to know. I was thinking about the following (in completely random order, off the top of my head, that I wrote in my journal at school today):

the students' life stories, their feelings about writing, do they want to write? what frustrates or stops them? what do they like to write? tell the truth about their reading skills, lack of, whatever, and what went wrong, when did they learn to read, where, with whom? what do they wish for? do they long to be educated? do they believe they can be? are they angry, disappointed, with their education? where do they place the blame? do they think it is natural to want to learn about the world? do they remember when they loved learning? do they remember what happened?

I was thinking about being honest with them, telling them I want to include some of what they write in this blog (later into a book), and perhaps I could make a questionairre sort of thing out of it, though I want them to essay their thoughts, not answer a list of questions.
But what do people want to know about these children?
Thank you for your thoughts.


Friday, April 15, 2005

perhaps I was harsh

Okay, perhaps I was harsh. I'm sorry, Mr Amato. I know you were beseiged. I know that every idea you had became a battle, and that every battle was uphill. What I wrote the other day I wrote in the heat of the moment. I wasn't thinking. I was just frustrated. Worse than frustrated. There's probably a word for that. People have pretty much given up on the system, it looks like. Maybe that's the thing to do, let it go, start anew.
I just don't understand how our society can so insult children though. Business people would never for a second consider working in the conditions students are placed in. Everybody was quick to bust Martha Stewart and those other people, many other people, who steal from systems or break the rules. But the children have been languishing for a long time and nobody seems able or smart or willing or loving enough to do anything about it. I really thought Mr Amato would be the one. I'm so disappointed.
I don't want to rant. I just want the children to be loved.
On another note, I don't know how I'll be proceeding. Being one of the last ones hired I'll be one of the first ones fired. Hell, who knows if there will even be a Douglass next year?


Tuesday, April 12, 2005

the superintendent quit

There goes another pseudo-somebody. Even though I'd become disenchanted with Amato of late, I hoped he'd fight the good fight and show he cared for the children. I'm disheartened that he would abandon the job just a few months short of the completion of the year, leaving in the middle of a time even when teachers, who work harder than people conceive of, are on the lip of not being paid. The whole thing is like science fiction to me. It is a sinking ship and the weak-hearted captain has taken a lifeboat even before the children got off. How dare he. When is somebody going to stay for these children? A social studies teacher at my school whom I thought had heart and a social conscience quit on her students a few weeks ago because of the system's bullshit. It's true that the system is ridiculous, but all I can think about is, what must the children feel?
To hell with belief.
Quite a few times this year students have asked me if I'm going to come back next year. I have been lately rehearsing what I would say to the impotents in power if they were to tell me I would not be able to work at Douglass next year. I haven't been able yet to boil it down into words, I only know that I will go as far as necessary (not just as far as possible) to remain as a teacher at Douglass next year. No matter what happens, I will not jump in the lifeboat.
I hate it that Amato did. Yet another disappointing man.
I know there are good people in this damned world. When is somebody with heart going to step up? When is somebody going to give it over to the children? When, please, is somebody going to put them first?
I'm heartsick about it. And if you're reading this Mr Amato, to hell with you.

Melanie Plesh

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


I'm watching the news. Mr Superintendent Anthony Amato just called the situation a "cash flow challenge."

the truth, 2

So, how about that Orleans Parish? No money to pay the teachers next Friday. There it is, front page headline, enough to add that little (or not so little, depending on level of optimism and belief in the human race and that people will do the right thing) ANGST to our lives. To add a perspective to things, I heard that there was a shooting outside Lawless High School today.
I was one of those people who thought Orleans Parish teachers needed a little shaking up. I came to my school thinking I'd find a bunch of teachers in it for the money (which is very telling in itself, that teacher money would be considered something to sell one's soul over), not teaching, and all like that, and that I would give myself over to the students, blah blah blah, to give them something and do something beautiful for a change. I was very wrong, and I'm embarrassed, and I apologize for my elitist thoughts. There are plenty of excellent and dedicated and loyal teachers at my school, people trying hard, and, as far as love for the children goes, I've never seen anything like it. This school is full of love. This blog has been just one person telling a story, but, in the case of my school, multiply my story by 50 and you can see the story of a school, and multiply that by the number of schools, and you get my point. My story is everybody's story who teaches in Orleans Parish. I'm just the only one right now talking.
But the part of that story that I hope never gets overlooked or overwhelmed by the distractingly low stuff is how fine the children are, and how grateful they are to be educated.
This has been a monumental week. Breathtaking. Perhaps this seems hyperbolic. It is not. These children so much love it when they understand something, like how to put together a research paper. That's what's happening this week, the research paper. I'm not doing anything with them I didn't always do with students, and believe me, it's nothing spectacular that I'm doing. But these children are so serious about it. It's awesome.
One final note. Yesterday the BMOC, who is in my first period writing class and has really gotten into it, told me, "Ms Plesh, you my nigga." I told him I couldn't tell anybody about that because I just can't say that word, and he said, "Don't worry Ms Plesh. You can say it. I got your back."
I love them.

Okay. That's the truth for now.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

the truth, 1

Okay, here is one true thing:
Last week we had an average of 17 teachers absent each day. I don't know all their stories. Legitimacy has gotten foggy. If a student punches you, how long do you stay out, even though the physical is healed?
And although I do understand that in a way, here's the bottom line: a kid I know, a junior, very good student, very good writer, good guy, loving, kind, respectful, willing, interested, capable of rising, he hasn't got one single teacher anymore, only substitutes. Why in hell should he come to school at all.
That is obviously not a question.


Sunday, April 03, 2005


Yesterday a damselfly landed in my hair. A man pinched it to get it out (I did not want him to do that) and broke its wings. I was sick about it, and angry, because who in the world would think of a damselfly as something that needed to be taken out? I thought of its landing on me as a blessing. But I didn't say anything because, because I don't know why. Because I'm weak and afraid of rocking the boat. Because I think I'm supposed to be a good girl, and quiet. I learned the be a damned quiet good girl lesson well, and as a result of that grew to distrust my understanding of the truth. In the face of logic, what would my little anger matter? What's a damselfly?
I went home and remembered why a damselfly matters and why I sometimes loathe the human race. But I went home alone. It's a conflict.
Today I went to a talk at the Tennessee Williams Festival about using writing as a form of activism. It caused me, among other things, to think about being a warrior and telling the truth. I have been telling the truth, but I've also been trying not to be disloyal, so I've kept some things to myself that should be said aloud. That's why I'm there, to say what I see. But also to be a teacher. I've erred on the side of being loyal to my school. I don't know whom that serves. Besides me.
I'm not an employee trying to make my check in Orleans Parish. I already had a check.
The point of this blog?
A man who is creating a film about public schools contacted me and wants to interview me because of my knowledge of the two sides. I keep putting him off because I think that by talking in public I would jeopardize my position as an actual teacher, and I think I have work yet to do at my school, and I don't want to let my students down for next year. But I also know that I have to tell the truth. Somebody has to tell the truth. There are things that can be done. It doesn't take a rocket scientist. That's one of the secrets I've been keeping. It can be done. Even I know it can be done, and how it can be done. It does not take a rocket scientist.
But I fear that my opportunity to serve the children at my school will be curtailed if I speak out loud. Would I serve them better by speaking aloud in one fell swoop and then being fired or would I serve better by staying there and giving what I have as a teacher?
I know it's not as black and white as all that.