Thursday, September 16, 2010

They can surprise me

Teaching at Alcatraz and that first period class has challenged me in ways that have made me question teaching. While they haven't made me cry in class or out, they make me yell, bitch, whine, bemoan and have a lot of hate. I TALK about that class in lots of negative ways. And they've made me question whether or not I should be a high school teacher.

I've bitched about that period of students so much Mac told me this:

"Hey mom? You know those moments where you meet those gangster thug kids, chain the doors to the school shut and a bunch of kids re-write the school song into a cool soul filled song and you use bad-ass karate moves on them and they get all impressed and fill your cabinet with their journals full of personal stories and raise money to meet the Jew saver lady and then there's a big Prom and they sing 'To Ms O, With Love'?* Well, mom, THAT'S NEVER GONNA HAPPEN BECAUSE ALL THE KIDS AT ALCATRAZ ARE CRIMINALS!!!!!!!!! Never forget they can't be inspired and they don't care and you can't save 'em."

Can we say "ouch?" What sucks the most is that he's right, to a certain extent. He's brutally right but, in a weird sort of way.

But then there are moments like today. Those perfect moments in teaching...

I have a class that has 14 students. Of this group, 2 are white, 2 are Hispanic, and 10 are African- American. Thirteen of these students are 'hard core.' there are 11 boys and 3 girls and I wouldn't want to mess with the females, either. Bad asses. They come from ghettos, are gang bangers, and are seriously... like no other kids I've met. Boys and girls alike are just gansta. I'm not being racist but I don't know how to explain it other than every Black person in a gangsta movie you've seen are these kids. The kids and I speak a different language sometimes. They educate me, for sure.

So, how do I reach these kids? Well... leave it to me to be unconventional. One thing I've done to get some buy in is to let them write some raps over some text material. We've been doing this for two weeks, with the incentive they could make their own education rap album. It had to stay on topic about the subject, and it had to be classroom appropriate.

Today was the first big day of recording. They rapped and dropped a beat and spit that out. (this means they beat a rhythm on tables and drums while saying the rap). I was so impressed I almost cried. We set up a sound studio and a stage and microphone with headphones and they did their thing, all taking turns and cheering for each other. It was the coolest thing I think I've ever seen.

In my other class... the kids really got into Beowulf and instead of writing a paper, they got to write their own Beowulf movie script and we're filming it. Today is day 1 of filming and these kids were awesome. They did their narrations and the battle between Grendel and Beowulf. And since they know they can't be "violent" and "fight" even in a pretend way because of Alcatraz rules, they were creative. The battle between Beowulf and Grendel non- violent, you say? How can that be, you may ask? Well.... a thumb war of course. Yes, they painted 2 thumbs, one as an epic hero and the other as a monster and did battle...

So no, while Mac might be right, I may not be a Joe Clark, Luanne Johnson, Erin Gruwell, or even a Mr. Thackery*... but I AM Ms [O'Sullivan], and today I had my teach on. And more importantly, I had students who had their learn on. I had students who cared! That's what I'm talkin' about!


*Movies referenced are Lean on Me, Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers, To Sir With Love


Curley said...

Now, how cool is that? Way to go teacher. You rock! You inspired them.

Mellodee said...

It's times like these that teachers live for! Sometimes there's a long dry spell, but then that spark happens and you know, you got em, even if it's only for a moment!!

Good Job, Teach!

Wiley said...

Hell yeah! Go get 'em!

Sometimes you never know who is hearing you or when your words are resonating with someone. That's why it can be so tough to keep going, to keep leading, hoping anyone will follow. But don't ever give up - the would would be a darker place without great teachers.

Shan said...

You ARE that teacher they make inspirational movies about! No, you won't change everyone. But, some of them you will inspire and you may be the reason some day they don't do that particular thing that ruins their lives. You are making a difference Mags! I love your efforts to teach these kids!!
Thanks for doing the hard work that make you want to curse scream and spit. :D
Oh, and that Mac is a corker. So clever. Tell him congrats on getting the lead! Ah yeah.

Maggie said...

Curley- thanks. I'm not sure I inspired them but it's still cool.

Mellodee- thank you! You are so right!

Wiley- awww shucks, Thanks!

Shan- as long as Angelina Jolie never plays me... lol! And thanks for your kind words- you rock.

And I'll pass the words on to Mac.

Jimmie Earl said...

These are the times when you tell yourself, "This I why I want to teach!" Not, "What the hell am I doing here." I had a few of those moments, and I cherish every one of them. Keep on keepin' on. You are one of those teachers that is touching lives and making a difference. Some day they will make a movie about you! And probably one about Joey T., too. Go you!