Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Ten Things I Hate About You (still thinking)*

I love it when my students write.

I teach English at an alternative high school. We cover a semester every six weeks. REALLY. It was an adjustment for me, let me tell ya. I also teach every level of core English and an elective every six weeks. So, for those of you who are teachers, that's 14 preps including 8 core (each high school year, semester 1 and semester 2) and 6 elective preps per academic year. I stay busy and I love it.

I require writing for each and every class. Each and every student, pretty much, says to me, "Miss, I can't write," or "Marta (we teach young adults and want to form relationships with them, so it's "Marta" not "Ms. Poling"), I hate English." Codswallop! Poppycock! Rubbish! I tell them to use their speech to text feature on their beloved phones or to write as if they were speaking to me. I tell them I'll help fix any of the things they'd see red-lined on their previous work like grammar issues, misspelling, punctuation errors, and the like. I really don't care about all those conventions because I want them to write from here (I place my hand on my head) and here (I place my hand on my heart).

They're afraid. They've been told over and over and over again that their writing is wrong, somehow. It breaks my heart. Then magic happens...they learn to trust me. I tell them, in a well-rehearsed voice, "It's strictly between you and me unless I see something that might lead me to think you might hurt yourself or others. If I did, I would have to let our administrator or counselor read it, there might be some follow up, because I'm an adult in a position of authority and trust." They all get that and somehow still write from their hearts.

It makes me smile when a student writes cleverly and with dry wit. There's a student who never speaks in class and has an intense look to him, but is amazingly funny when he can write only to me. It's his movie review title that I chose for the title of this post. The theme I chose for Film Study in the fall was "Movies about musicians." He managed to tie all of his reviews together with hysterically linked titles. I told him how much I enjoyed his reviews and why, so he's letting me know he'll try again for Film Study II when we analyze Shakespeare adaptations. I.CAN'T.WAIT!

To look at this student, you might think he's a bit tough and maybe a little intimidating. He's not at all. He's smart and funny and I feel a bit protective of him. Once I read his writing, I felt I knew him better and started observing him. Not staring him down or interrupting his activities or anything stalkerish like that, just paying attention. I'd see him sitting in the corner of the lab, hunched over, with almost silent shuddering shoulders. I walked up behind him quietly. He was watching a video on his phone with earbuds in, laughing. LAUGHING! Hiding his laughter the best he could. In our school, before you go all "controlly teachery" on me, if you need a little break, it's okay - watch the video then get back to work.

I hope the day comes when he can laugh out loud. I hope I hear about that and continue to read his writing.

* He turned in his review and it was just as fabulous as I expected. The title he decided on was The Guitar That Solved All Problems. See? Isn't it great?!

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