In episode #19 we respond to listener mail. We remember when we used to get our movies at the grocery store. We talk about a couple movies, American Splendor and Superman. Mare predicts that her first group of 6th graders will be one of her best. (They have since graduated from high school, and her prediction holds true.) We wonder about the pledge. And the boy impresses us with his hapkido yells.
This one, two birds, is I believe a linocut, like a woodcut, where you carve a picture into the block and then ink it and stamp it onto paper or something else, but with linoleum instead of wood. I like that it’s like when someone says “see those two bird in that tree,” and you have to look for them to see them, and even then you’re still not sure if you’re seeing what your friend sees. The artist here is by an actual artist. She’s a performing artist rather than a visual artist. But she pretty talented at whatever she puts her hands to. What she mostly does is dance. It’s interesting. I’d like to tell you she’s a great dancer, and I really believe she is. But other than at prom a few years ago, and at an elementary school talent show several years before that, I’ve never seen her dance. My opinion that she is a great dancer is based on my opinion of her as a person (she’s kind and generous and fun), her work ethic (you can read about it here–I added her blog to my friends list there on the right of this page), and the amazing photos of her dancing. Someday she’ll be a New York City Rockette or dance for some other cool dance company. And she was my student and my kids’ baby sitter, so no big deal.
So I’m bragging on this kid a bit, but truth be told, this is how I feel about many (most?) of my past students. After teaching *cough* years, one acquires a fair sized collection of past students. And mine is an amazing group–teachers, engineers, waitresses, cops, welders, counselors, security guards, moms, dads, writers and musicians. To be honest I don’t even know what most of my past students do. But the things I said about the two-bird dancer would apply to them as well. Except I don’t believe any teacher or engineer has looked this cool teaching or engineering.
As I kid I mostly didn’t talk enough to put my foot in my mouth. And if I did, I probably didn’t notice. My friends might have a story or two about me opening my big mouth when I shouldn’t have. But I didn’t really come into my own until I became a teacher.
One of my keys to classroom management is to have students who don’t want to cause me any harm. This is also nice for when they become adults, which so far all my students have, and I see them out in the real world and they seem like they enjoy talking to me for a minute or two. One of the ways I do this involves some good-natured teasing. This is how I frequently put my foot in my mouth. A kid shows up after being gone for a day or two, and I give them a hard time about skipping . After which they tell me in all seriousness that they were at their grandfather’s funeral. Or a good kid gets called to the office and I tease them about being on trouble, and of course they come back with detention or in-school suspension.
The worst, and I wasn’t teasing, was when I was grumpily trying to motivate a kid to do his homework. I told him he’d better get himself on track or he wouldn’t be playing football. “I don’t care!” he shot back. “I only play because my dad forces me to.” I sheepishly said something like, “Oh, sorry. Never mind. Do your best, and let me know if I can help you.” I felt very small. The longer I teach, the more careful I try to be. But when you talk most of the day for a living, it’s easy to put your foot in it.
This one makes me miss the days of teaching creative writing. I tried to use the students’ writing time to write myself. Partly to know the challenges the kids were going through; partly just to write. Not on the state test, creative writing. But it was fun to see the kids create amazing stuff. Makes me jealous of the art & music teachers.
I look up from my work.
I’ve been crossing out lines
and writing new ones
and kind of forgot where I was –
on my stool – perched above
a classroom half-full of
high school students.
Some sit near one another,
others alone. Their heads down,
pens and pencils move across paper.
Hands on faces – cheek, chin, forehead.
One chews a fingernail.
If you can hear thinking,
it sounds like this.
But this isn’t how it starts.
It starts always with questions,
questions I think I just answered.
“Sooooo . . . What are we supposed to be doing?”
A little chatting as I scan the room,
quietly reminding my students
why we’re here.
Then, like little girls at a slumber party,
they begin to drop off.
The sea of blue, black and
gray hoodies scribble silently.