Thursday, July 21, 2005

Douglass beckons

I wrote an email to the principal at Douglass to see whether I had a job this coming year and she wrote me back this morning to say it looks good for me to come back there! One of the first thoughts I had was THE BLOG LIVES ON.
This time last year I was four days from starting the new teacher induction weeks. This time last year I had chosen Douglass in my mind but had no idea if I was going to get to work there or not. And now look. A whole year under my belt and another one on the way.
I have spent the summer turning the blog and my journals into a book. I've really struggled with what the nature of the book is. I think it's a strange combination of my public actions and thoughts and my private ones. And, the third voice is all the people who commented, and the dialogue that occurred. I think the thing I've most struggled with is why I did it? Why did I go to Douglass? Why did I quit Mandeville? Why did I make this book? And for whom? I think I made it for the children. I think I want people to know who they are, what they go through, and what they're capable of.
This has been a violent summer and every time I hear about a new murder I know that there's the very real possibility that I will know the victim or the perpetrator. So far this summer that has only happened once, and he was a murderer. And he wasn't a student of mine, but the boyfriend of one of my students (a girl in the Hamlet class who listened to Luther Vandross all the time and had a song picked out to be sung at her wedding). I think the hopelessness in that community is almost impossibly deep. Maybe it's simplistic of me, but I think that the only thing that's going to save those kids is if they become educated. I don't just mean educated so they can go to college and get good jobs. I mean educated to find out that the world exists for them too, and that they have the minds to rise and participate. I think for them to learn about poetry and Shakespeare and to read stories about people like them (like all of us is what I mean) and to find out that in the off season one can fly round trip to Paris from New Orleans for $400 and that a hostel bed costs $21 a night. I even think that the way they've grown up, learning to read situations around them for their survival, gives them an extra edge in a foreign country. When I was a teenager I did not even understand what Europe was. I couldn't imagine it. I did not have any clue that it was within the realm of possiblity to go there. I couldn't even fathom where it was, even looking at a map. I didn't understand my place in the world. I educated myself though, read foreign novels, got strong, and when I was 46, went there, and to Russia, for six months by myself. Even though I grew up Caucasian and somewhat middle class, I identify with these kids more than with any other groups of people. I know what they need because I know what I needed. It's so interesting to me how very meaningless skin is.
Speaking of foreign countries, my son, Tim, is still in France, but staying for the summer in a sea resort town in Normandy. He's hoping to be getting his teaching job back for next year. He's happy.
Three English teachers quit Douglass over the summer, all three of them Caucasian.
That's all for the moment. I'm glad to be back!


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Jonathan Kozol

Yesterday I read a book called Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol. It's about America's schools, particularly the inner-city schools. It was copyrighted in 1991. It shocked me to read that the conditions of the high schools he visited during his research for the book are STILL the conditions of the inner-city schools today. The one that struck me most was the lack of teachers and how some kids have substitutes all year. It's unconscionable. I cannot understand it. What is WRONG with the powers that be that children are allowed to be thrown away like this?
It did help me focus my thoughts as to what this book is about that I'm writing. It's not to expose the system, though it does do that, but it's to bring up the idea that schools (inner-city and suburban) are all doing the same things to our children: not letting them think for themselves.
I'm still struggling with the introduction. I've completely rewritten it since what I posted last time. I'm going to revise it and get it more right before I post it again.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

introduction, paragraphs one and two

Here are the first two paragraphs of the introduction. This is still a first draft. I just had to get something down so I could know where I was going.
The book consists of the entire blog and all the comments, and the five journals I kept over the past year. I also included some emails. Everything is chronological. I TYPED the five journals in!
Here's the beginning of the introduction at the moment, though that changes almost hourly.
I welcome any suggestions you might have. Thank you.

I asked myself some questions to try to get me going on this introduction. I’m not good at beginnings. The most pressing (but not most important) question is, what is it? What kind of book is this? What category does it fit? Who would be interested in reading a book like this? (A book like what?) Even though I’m a teacher and the premise of the book is me leaving a suburban school and going to an inner-city school, and though it ended up involving a lot of teachers expressing some very deep things about teaching, it is not a book about teaching. Also, while everything in this book is true and really happened, there is a lot of conjecture on my part and on the part of others, and I’ll be changing the names of every character in the school story, but it’s not fiction. And though I’m the one who wrote it, the one who had the experiences, the one who kept a journal all year, it is not about me and it is not a memoir. So I went into Borders book store and looked around for something similar, so I’d have something to call it, and the closest thing I could find was the sociology section, where I saw books about racism and the American dream (and loss of it) and poverty and being of service. Then the other day I had a conversation with my friend Mary. She had just finished Rick Bragg’s book, All Over But the Shoutin’, which is about his growing up years. And yes, it’s true that it is about HIS family, but his family is part of the bigger family of man wherein all human experiences matter, resonate, and touch each other. And that’s the closest thing I can say my book is about, an aspect of the human experience. There’s no section in Borders for that.
I also asked myself why I did what I did, which was to leave a very comfortable 12 year teaching position of respect in a respectable blue-ribbon suburban highschool which I loved in order to teach in a storied and infamous inner-city highschool in a bad neighborhood. Wonderful things were occurring at Mandeville. The faculty was like family. I was not bored or under-stimulated. However, every day on my way home downtown, from suburbia 24 miles over a lake away from home, I would see little kids in school uniforms holding hands, standing on the neutral ground curb waiting to cross Elysian Fields, which is a busy three lane avenue, crossing over into decrepit houses in dangerous neighborhoods and into dire circumstances. I knew that some of those children were getting themselves dressed and to school by themselves in the mornings. And it killed me to think that they were not being rewarded for their efforts, that I, for example, their neighbor, was giving my good work to a school 24 miles away across a lake, to kids who already got the best of everything in school. It hurt my heart that they were getting dressed for nothing. Or for not much. (I’d read the stories about Orleans Parish schools. For very understandable reasons, fine, experienced, respected teachers do not want to work in Orleans, as you will understand when you read what follows.) I thought the kids here needed me more. I felt they were being betrayed.

I cannot explain it

I have no idea how this happened. For two weeks I have not been able to post a new blog, though I've been fiddling with trying, and tonight, after someone wrote on the blog and asked me what happened to me, I got forward and sent about 10 almost mean emails to the blog people, begging them to help me (I actually used the word "begging"), and then I decided to erase all the attempts and try again, like to start from scratch, and when I went back to the site (in blogpeople talk, the "dashboard"), after having done nothing but beg into cyberspace, I was able to get into the blog! I cannot understand it. There must be a God!
I've been reflecting on everything. I typed my journals from the past year (five of them) into a word document and pasted the blogs, including the comments, into it, and printed it. It's 400 single-spaced pages. The story just gets deeper and deeper. Now I'm editing it. In fact, yesterday was the day I realized there was something wonderful about it, that it's a fantastic story of people talking about teaching and society and good and bad and right and wrong and love and joy and pain and kids and other people and such. Yesterday it hit me what we'd done.
Maybe what I should include here is the introduction I'm writing. It's a very early draft, but it's something I'd love to have seen. I will work on it tomorrow and post it here.
And I will think further on this tonight, now that I can write in the blog again. School is over, but we're not. I have to think though about how to proceed. Is there something I'm not thinking about that is obvious or would be good to include? Should I include some of my journal writings? Should I reflect on the process I'm going through about making a story out of this? Should I write about how I lounge around the pool? haha. I'm consumed with this story. And I want to continue with this blog. I don't know what to do at the moment. Give me a thought if you will.
Thank you.
And I am SO happy to be back!