Several years ago, I thought this month would never end, as it is the month of full-time teaching. April is merely an appendage, a mere afterthought that will require more work in less time (at least based on what I've seen today). We had some bizarre relief today, fortunately, not as much as they promised. We were told yesterday (or they were, as I'm not a real English teacher, I did not go to the meeting) that someone from the district would be here (in English class again, it is always English that is disrupted, clearly not an important subject!!!!) to give the students an evaluation of the program and the school. Fortunately she only came to 2 of my classes. It took about 20 minutes, and the students were irritated. I told them that they complain all the time about the school, here was their opportunity to provide input. I hope someone does something with these results other than tally them and issue another unread report in the seemingly endless chain of paper production and disposal.
Hour 1 was a little less hostile than yesterday, I told them that their top three scores for the quarter were higher than anyone in Hour 2, and they were pleased with that. But not pleased enough to do much to continue those good grades; and, as Steven said "I already got an 'F', what the fuck do I care about those sorry-assed motherfuckers in hour 2?" I wanted to reply that I thought his behavior and academic work were good indicators of who was a sorry-assed motherfucker, but I felt it isn't worth the grief. Their profanity (even among those who talk about going to church) is endless, and getting worse. The school needs a policy about that, or at least the opportunity to support teachers (I have too many problems to deal with to worry about it, and I know they do it just to exasperate me). My father-in-law, and many others of his generation, saw profanity as an admission of ignorance and ineptitude. These kids wear it like a badge. Of course they would never swear like this in front of their parents, but somehow, the church experience they are getting is a little different from mine. A
Enough digression. We went over the worksheet for Chapters 5 & 6, and they were eager to get the right answer--even those who patently don't care about what is going on. The were even eager to discuss, and though their thinking about the book did not coalesce as others did, they did manage to connect the book and the sheet and remember some of what we (or I) talked about. No great thinking, but something more potent than what we usually see. But they are sullen, hostile, and bored. They are acting in a way that indicates they expect the world (or at least their membership) to come to an end soon, and they don't want to spend their last day on earth reading a book! Hour 2 had never gotten into Chapter 6 before, so I read most of it to them, giving my editorial comments as necessary. Mrs. Korman came in at the end, and talked to John (who in fact was the one shot, however it was a bullet that entered and exited through his shoulder, this is a boy with a short attention span and an even shorter life span). She also got to see Diamond, a girl with attitude written all over her body (and it is a body) and skills that seem destined to be replaced with another more useful set of skills, with her head down sleeping, as Jerome K. Jerome called it, the sleep of the just. She attempted to awaken her (I had let her sleep as I had asked her many times to stop talking to Aisling) but gave up. However, she did get John and his circle to join us, which added to what was going on. There are some kids in there who want so badly to learn and others who know that they aren't going to live long enough to put their academic skills to any practical purpose. But we did finish, and I did lead them (with help from Byron, Stacy, Tara, and Korrell) through the questions. They claim the book is irrelevant, but I tried to show how it pertains to the real world (Haiti and how those who control the police control all; the House banking scandal and the arrogance of power; gangs and the inevitable death, jail or at best hopelessness of those who are followers rather than leaders). Who can say what the effect will be?
Hour 3 did the same thing; Mark was my sleeper in there (not much surprise). He was doing well for a while, but he is on a down swing now, and I hope it ends soon. We read aloud (with me doing most of the work) and then did the worksheet. Kerri asked an excellent question about Squealer (the propagandist) and I showed her a book Mrs. Korman recently acquired about Goebbels. I told her that this was the real life Squealer, and she seemed actually interested. Not so interested that she might actually read the book, but... We take what we can take when we can take it.
Hour 5, after yesterday's good work, was a little testy (they had to do the survey). We talked about poetry. I tried to discuss it within the confines of rap music as a form of poetry popular now, and how different kinds of poetry have been popular over the years, always changing and always reacting against the poetry of their elders. With the invention of electronic sound reproduction, poetry is almost inextricably wedded to music. So much the better, though good music certainly gives wretched poetry a place to thrive that it never had before. We will live though. Anyway, they responded to the idea, and we read 2 poems from the book, one a simple narrative with a simple rhyme, and one with a little more meat to it. They didn't have much opportunity to respond, as our class had been truncated by the survey, but we managed to accomplish what I wanted to today. It worked well. Not perfectly, and they are highly distractable, though much of that is curiosity that has no outlet in school. But I think we have a place to begin. Tomorrow we do some more work on other people's poetry, and then we go on to WRITE OUR OWN. They can hardly wait, and I am eager to see what they will offer. Mrs. Korman had a neat idea, there is a poem about paper plates and how pitiful it is to have such a ephemeral result from such a majestic source. Anyway, her class wrote poems on the plates and put them up; we will do the same.
Hour 6 was also forced to endure the disruption, and they did not take kindly to it. We survived, and we too began working on poetry. I started from the rap jumping point, and I told them that it too would fade like all rages do, and they were incredulous. "What's going to replace it?" they asked in disbelief. I said I wish I knew, so I could make some money, but something will, and 20 years from now there will be oldies stations playing rap and contemporary black music for the middle-aged fondly remembering their childhood. A wild idea. As we went on, I realized that these kids have no vision of a world larger than themselves, and as such it would he almost impossible to really teach them about literature in a historical or societal context, they know nothing about either. The only thing they know is today, now and here. The only world they can imagine is the world that reflects every warped exotic or bizarre concept of where they live and nothing else. It is the only world that exists.