Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Total Engagement = Muy Bueno

One of seven Robert E. Lees today
Today we re-enacted Pickett's Charge.  Instead of being 700° and frying me to a crisp in our seven consecutive outdoor battles, it was cool and overcast, perfect weather to watch the Confederates get mowed down by the Federals.

As challenging as this event is to plan (ten teachers were involved, plus three high school students and one substitute), as many details as there are to remember, it is worth it when the kids are totally engaged, lost in the moment, believing they are living in 1863.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A moment of "Glory"

Finished showing "Glory" today.

I asked period 4 for adjectives to describe the movie, having heard rumors that the morning class called it "depressing." Hands shot up--when I called on K, his voice cracked: "Inspiring," and instantly we all knew he was crying.

Whoa. This is not in the faculty handbook.

The class didn't know what to do with itself, but thankfully no one smirked or sniggered, and I moved away from him to draw eyes toward me and give him some privacy. The bell soon rang, and kids darted off to lunch, all but K. and another kid, J. I kneeled next to K., a student with significant personal struggles, and told him of the moment in the movie that gets me every time (the parade through Boston, if you must know), and he looked me in the eyes: "Honestly, Miss M., there were three parts in this movie that made me cry...."  J. came nearer and said, "Oh, for me the most touching part was...." and in a natural, friendly way, he normalized the situation, one guy to another, shrugging off the lunch lines that grew longer as he chose to support a fellow student. K. finally collected himself and left, and I had a chance to thank J. for helping K.

"Well, I've known K. since 5th grade; we used to sit next to each other.  I know he has struggles. I like him."

Well maybe so, but I LOVE J. for his kindness and humanity. "There is more to battle than rest, sir. There's character. There's strength of heart," says the film's Colonel Robert Shaw as he requests the honor of leading the attack on Fort Wagner on behalf of the 54th regiment.  Looks like J. has both.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Only One: Pepsi and Morgan Freeman

I show only one movie to my history class.

(Despite conventional wisdom that says history teachers show a movie a week.) (Or daily.) (I like parentheses.)

Sure, I show clips from others.  I show the ten minute "Small House of Uncle Thomas," a Thai-style adaptation in "The King and I" to show the impact of Stowe's tale--plus it is unbelievably beautiful and exposes tragically literal students to another culture's spare, lovely sets and dancing. I show a few clips from "Roots":  Kunta on the slave ship, Chicken George finding one of the slain participants of Nat Turner's failed slave rebellion. I show some short pieces for fun--like JibJab's Founding Fathers Rap and Lin-Manuel Miranda's piece on Alexander Hamilton for President Obama.

Full disclosure:  if I am unexpectedly ill or don't have the time or brain to make lesson plans (as happened once when I got the sad phone call that my Nana had passed away and I was on a plane that day to be with the family), I will have the guest teacher show a stand-by video--either the appropriate volume of "Roots", or "Nightjohn" (soooo goood).

But movies are too long; kids' attention spans are too short; California's history standards are too plentiful; the state history test, inexorable. History movies in particular tend to be too violent, and Hollywood seems to think Americans need to watch other people having sex in every movie.

So: the only movie I show is Edward Zwick's "Glory." It is rated R, but God bless Pepsi--Pepsi issued an edited-for-classroom-use version and distributed them free to schools across the United States. One landed in my hands, because God loves me.

And despite the fact that I have seen this movie an average of five times a year for almost twenty years, I do not tire of it. I still tear up when the soldiers march through Boston for their send off. I still am struck with the weight of the story, the quality of the acting, the cinematography, the moving score.

And despite short attention spans and less and less background knowledge every year (today, S. gasped, "They had newspapers back then!?"), despite the fact that I have to wrestle them into paying full attention for the first day, by the end of the film I believe the kids are better people, deeper people, and Lord help us, better educated people.

(Plus Morgan Freeman's in it, so you know it's chock-full of avuncular goodness.)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

They Are the Jedi

Kids lined up by the door, ready to start the first of FOUR DAYS of testing.

I opened it up, blaring John Williams' dazzling theme on the class sound system: STAR WARS!  Whoo hoo!

And in they came, beaming, looking around at the Star Wars plastic party tablecloths I'd put up around the room. "Ok, young Jedi, are you ready to do battle?" I queried.

They were.

"All aboard the Millennium Falcon!" I sang as I passed out the pencils. Their eyes rolled because I am so dorky, but they were still smiling.

Testing...testing...1, 2, 3, 4 days of testing!

The state's high stake test
comes more than a month before
school actually ends

The test tests learning
of content that they haven't 
had a chance to learn