Tuesday, August 30, 2005

a question

A student asked me today about my experiences in class, specifically what controversies had come up with parents. I never had a parent tell me not to teach a book. I was always upfront with with students about what we would be reading, and I think what we read in the canon is pretty mild language, situations, ,etc. compared to what students see on t.v. I always tried to communicate with the students and allow them a lot of feedback. I think that's why I like exit passes because it allows me to detect frustration and be pro-active. I can meet with the students and allow them to ask me questions one on one.

I do remember that I had a a student who I loved and his parents came into the parent-teacher conference (his parents were very kind) and they asked if I thought my class was too hard. Or maybe she worded it more like "I think your class is too hard." I think I responded with, "I really appreciate your feedback. I understand the class is challenging, but here are my goals. Here is what this student has done. He seems to enjoy it. I allow time for reading in class because I value it." She was very nice about it. Now, as I look at this conversation, I think it helped that I knew the research about independent reading. I also had some philosophical underpinnings. I believed in what I was doing and I could talk about what was happening in my classroom clearly and coherently.

I'm trying to remember if any other really controversial things happened with literature. I'll have to think some more. Actually, sometimes I got comments that I was too rigorous. But then, at the end of class, those same students would all say that they learned so much, and it was the hardest and best class they had taken. So, I guess I like to challenge students. I don't fear talking about controversial topics. I remember in a composition class I did read a Tim O'Brien selection with the f word in it. I couldn't ignore it or skip it though because that piece was so amazing. I'm not sure if that was the same day where we had a long discussion on "curse words." One day we spent a long while talk about the word "bitch" and the meanings of it. What does it mean when a boy calls a girl a bitch; what's it mean when a boy calls a boy a bitch. I'll never forget a student making a comparison with the word "retard." He said he always heard students use that word and it really made him made because his sister was mentally handicapped. At the end of the semester, this young man wrote that he thought differently about the words that he used after that conversation.

In Donna's class, we talk about affect and I thought she said yesterday that as teachers we can't really change what someone thinks. Isn't awareness a change in thinking? He thought differently after this discussion, after becoming aware of language. On another point, I never got "in trouble" for these conversations, but if students aren't taking it seriously then you can 't have these discussions. Being a good teacher is so much about management. I read that this morning. You can know more literature and be the best write, but if you can't manage the students, get their attention and help them focus then you have nothing.

I also need to post about today's class. I probably go too fast. I was confused when Donna explained blogging last semester, so I understand that the Blackboard is a bit confusing too. I explained the course requirments, the lesson plan requirements, and the Discovery notebook requirements. They asked good questions, so I hope they are feeling better about class. Some seem to think ten y.a. novels is too much, but we have 15 weeks and I'm not convinced that it is too much. Like I said earlier, I will be getting feedback and looking for frustration so I can fix things if they don't work.

I had them do a line-up based on their birthday. I think in class on Thursday I'm just going to say, "here are some questions. Go talk." Then, I will ask them about the difference between putting them in groups like I did on Tuesday. Well, I told them to write their directions down. I guess I am losing my touch and I need to write my own directions down. I forgot to have them introduce themselves in their small groups although a small part of me thought they might do it on their own.

Class was fine. I hope we are on the right track.


Donna said...

I hope I didn't say you can't change how students think. I know *I've* often changed what I think based on what I hear in classes. But I do think that people don't necessarily change as a result of new information. There's an emotional attachment to old ways of thinking and acting that gets in the way.

Which isn't to say that it doesn't happen: that is, I'm sure people *do* change after getting new information. But the change has to include a change in feeling. Without that, there's no change.

Keri said...

"There's an emotional attachment to old ways of thinking and acting that gets in the way." Okay, that sentence really helps me to understand this class some more. That's what happened with your class that discussed Ebonics. Even though they saw all of the gray areas of the issue, when it came time to put ideas on paper they were still attached to their "old ways of thinking." Would you agree with that?

Ms. James said...

I've been meaning to comment on the fact that you never had a parent censor a book (on behalf of their child) that the class was reading. In all these years I've taught, I've only had one. A parent was furious that his son selected The Devil's Arithmetic to read for one of our book talk lit circles. He could have chosen other books and ended up doing so to please his mom who didn't allow anything with the word "Devil" or "Satan" in the title. Poor kid tried to explain to his mom that the title referred to the tatoos printed on the arms of the Jews during the Holocaust, but she wouldn't have it. That's why it's always nice to have choices! By the way, it's a great book - author Jane Yolen.