Monday, April 23, 2012

Louisa May Alcott, personal affirmations, and nausea

I was nine when I first read Little Women; I wept copiously when Beth died. Her goodness and gentleness inspired me to make a little sign for my desk at school to remind me to be as good as Beth, and as silly as it was, I was in earnest:
    "Be nice and
     be kind and
     don't forget to
     always mind!"

Fast forward to 2012. Kids decorate their school notebooks with stickers, photos, song lyrics, notes, all manner of personal touches slid under the plastic cover. But my stomach lurched when I read a little sticky note one girl had written to herself:
   "Dear Me,
       You are the sexiest one that walked the earth."
                   Love, Me"
Aside from the unmatched grammatical tense, just the idea that, at thirteen, sexiness was her highest aspiration made me feel queasy and sad. 

Such is the pressure on girls to please and attract the opposite sex. 

I think everyone who teaches elementary school and middle school should see Thirteen (2003), directed by Catharine Hardwicke, about the pressures of modern thirteen year olds. What's stunning about this film is it was mostly written by one of the teenage stars of the film. It is not easy to watch. But maybe raising teens isn't easy, either.  

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Bad Morning, A Kiss and Two Poems

It doesn't happen often, really only about once a year, and who knows why. Perhaps it's a convergence of gravitation, weather, hormones, CST testing dread, a strange dream, and the usual sad Padre win-loss record, but comes an odd day when I simply do. not. want. to. go in that classroom and face anyone. That day was yesterday.

Before school, I shared my dread with my close colleagues. "I don't wanna be that whiny teacher," I whined. A. listened with love and her eyes didn't judge me. K. commiserated and made me laugh, even when I shared that part of my low is my persistent belief that education can transform EVERYONE into Lola's ideal of a Fine Human Being with Noble Character Who Loves Reading when the disappointing truth is that the Bell Curve of Life indicates that a large portion of the population will forever gravitate toward daytime reality TV and hangovers. And this crushes me.

Of course I got on with it. The Compromise of 1850 wasn't going to teach itself. As usual, teaching itself became its own reward as I turned away from me to them and the task at hand.

Then it was time for my seminar English class--and two boys, D. and I., had spent their own money to buy Hershey bars for everyone in class! Their final flourish was to hand me a gigantical Hershey's kiss. Of course my heart grew three sizes.

And then it was time for Haiku Friends!! That's right--we are studying poetry, and for fun, students were assigned a fellow student to write about. I collected their little poems, read them aloud, and the students guessed the subjects. It was delightful and yet another time of bonding with this really wonderful class, but as I read the last one, C. rushed up to me waving one last haiku:

"Hamilton's girlfriend
In third grade, Calhoun punched her
Educates many"

I'm a big Alexander Hamilton fan--I'd told them of the day when Doug hit me--C had written a poem about me! For laughs? So I wouldn't feel left out? Because he was enjoying our time together? All good.

And then after school, I found my colleague K. had put a poem in my mailbox:

All my pwoblems
who knows, maybe evwybody's pwoblems
is due to da fact, due to da awful twuth
I know. I know. All da dumb jokes:
No flies on you, ha ha,
and da ones about what do I do wit all
doze extwa legs in bed. Well, dat's funny yeah.
But you twy being
SPIDERMAN for a month or two. Go ahead.

You get doze cwazy calls fwom da
Gubbener askin you to twap some booglar who's
only twying to wip off color T.V. sets.
Now, what do I cawre about T.V. sets?
But I pull on da suit, da stinkin suit,
wit da sucker cups on da fingers,
and get my wopes and wittle bundle of
equipment and den I go flying like cwazy
acwoss da town fwom woof top to woof top.

Till der he is. Some poor dumb color T.V. slob
and I fall on him and we westle a widdle
until I get him all woped. So big deal.

You tink when you SPIDERMAN
der's sometin big going to happen to you.
Well, I tell you what. It don't happen dat way.
Nuttin happens. Gubbener calls, I go.
Bwing him to powice, Gubbener calls again,
like dat over and over.

I tink I twy sometin diffunt. I tink I twy
sometin excitin like wacing cawrs. Sometin to make
my heart beat at a difwent wate.
But den you just can't quit being sometin like
You SPIDERMAN for life. Fowever. I can't even
buin my suit. It won't buin. It's fwame wesistent.
So maybe dat's youwr pwoblem too, who knows.
Maybe dat's da whole pwoblem wif evwytin.
Nobody can buin der suits, dey all fwame wesistent.
Who knows?

.... I realized that K. understood, that James Hall understood: My suit won't come off and sometimes that's my pwoblem. I am SPIDERMAN FOR LIFE, and sometimes trying to save the world--or even just one thirteen year old--gets a little discouraging or even tiresome. But I am here to testify that the generous big hearts of boys and the power of compassion and poetry are transformative. The odd day is over, and I know that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, and that changes everything.