Thursday, December 22, 2011

All's Smell that Ends Smell

The Friday before Christmas vacation, students were in their "barnyards" (yeah, cuz we were reading Animal Farm, so there) and discussing issues of power, negotiating group plans for our next salon.

One group finished early, the Dope Donkeys (yeah, they gave themselves alliterative names, so there). By the time I strolled to their group, they had invented a new game based on Spin the Bottle. The Donkeys, an all male group, were taking turns spinning D.'s pen. Whatever it pointed to, they would have to smell.

I watched as K. had to smell a gift bag. I watched as J. had to smell K. (K. offered his hand, in case you are wondering). I watched as J. had to smell D. (again with the hand technique).

Whether this was a scents of humor or fragrant violation of good taste, I love my job. Yo, homes, smell ya later.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fat Albert, The Lion King, and Disrespected Deer

Early December: Students write their intros for their Animal Farm papers, using a step-by-step process, teacher demonstrating each step. All students EXCEPT A. turn in intros; teacher edits/critiques them; students now have direction and really good intros. (Except A.)

Mid-December: Students bring in drafts of papers; randomly assigned fellow students read, instructed to give kind, helpful, and specific criticism. A. receives N. as his "critical friend;" she is insightful--he is lucky.

Five minutes ago: Teacher reads A's paper and despairs. The intro is awful, but A is just getting started. Here is a transcript, but just a sampling of a much longer and more awful paragraph in a much longer and more dreadful paper--mind you, his paper is supposed to be about Orwell's Animal Farm:

"Deer aren't respected; they just mind their own business and are shot, cooked, and eaten. Why was the play called "The Lion King" and not "The Monkey King"? I personally think an ape should be king of the jungle. And why is Fat Albert so fat? I mean that has nothing to do with my point and point is in the next sentence. My point is that class issues isn't always how we interpret it."
As much as his paper makes me want to fall on my sword, it is an indicator of my next steps. Upon return, our class will read some of the successful papers and identify what makes them good. This student will be required to write a new, PROPER intro, and if I have to personally ok every sentence as he writes it, so be it. I am not allowed to throw up my hands (although they can't stop me from throwing up) and dismiss him; I am going to educate the pop culture out of him. I am gonna work him until he writes a paper he can proudly show his grandma, who happens to be a friend of mine from my early teaching days.

I have my work cut out for me.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Santa, Linus, Compassion, and Education

This past December 9, during my prep period, I turned a corner and found one of our most fabulous 6th grade teachers SOBBING, a student comforting her. The teacher saw me, waved me on. I ran and hugged her and then left them, respecting her wish to continue the conversation with the student.

Yesterday she shared what had happened, her eyes flooding.

"I ruined Christmas," she whispered.

A supporter of all things magical and joyous, a generous soul who quietly gives to her students, a Martha Stewart in the classroom which is tastefully decorated according to each season--there was no way this statement was true, even aside from its hyperbolic breadth; my face told her I didn't believe her.

"Inadvertently, of course. But parents have written and complained that I have no respect for imagination or the magic of Christmas and that I am an insensitive soul."

You see, my "callous" colleague thought it would be wonderful for her students to participate in the Make-A-Wish Foundation's® holiday campaign. She wanted her students to remember children across America who are experiencing medical challenges, to remind her class that thinking of others is important, to help them do something practical and easy to help others. (Can't you just feel her insensitivity and lack of imagination?)

But when a student asked why the class needed to stamp the envelopes to send letters to Santa...nonbelievers hooted, and the student looked to the teacher to call foul, but this HONEST EDUCATOR, who loves all things magical and respects truth and wants her kids to trust her, said something neutral along the lines that "Myth or not, we all can support this wonderful cause."

So. Some kids at age 11 believe Santa is real, that he's the one who, at no financial cost, is able to bring gifts to good kids, who sees them when they are sleeping and awake, omnipresent and omniscient, reaping all the love for the labor and sacrifice of the flesh-and-blood True Givers, flooding him with all the love that is due to others. (Obviously I have a strong opinion about Santa). This teacher's diplomatic reply was brought home, mistranslated: "Mrs. X says Santa isn't real," voiced in front of younger siblings. And the parents wrote mean letters, telling my friend she ruined Christmas for the whole family, that she is insensitive and doesn't care about imagination or the magic of Christmas. Yes, my colleague is so insensitive that she cried all weekend and now tears up if Santa is even mentioned.

Look, tell your kids what you want, but: If your idea of "CHRISTMAS MAGIC" overshadows greater notions of GENEROSITY, TRUTH, and HELPING OTHERS, then you need some schooling about what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown--so take it from the best, Linus himself, and back away from big hearted souls who are trying to make this life easier for your kids and less fortunate kids:

Macy's Believe holiday campaign benefits the Make-A-Wish Foundation®. The nostalgic campaign was inspired by the New York Sun's famous "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" editorial from 1897 and includes letter-writing "Believe Stations" in Macy's stores across the country. For each letter dropped in Macy's Santa Letterbox, Macy's makes a $1 donation to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, up to $1 million. And for each letter received on National Believe Day, December 9, Macy’s will donate an extra $1 to the Foundation.