I've turned into Fritton.Not the "corrupter of youth sleep with your students" Michael, but the "serenade the lunchlady with showtunes what the heck's wrong with that crazy guy in the striped shirt and bandana?" Michael.
I teach 8th grade Language Arts. 13 and 14 year old sacks of hormones who could generally care less what school has to say to them in any way shape or form. I'm charged with getting them to write strong 5-paragraph essays and answering questions identifying theme, main idea, and supporting details from reading passages. None of which any of these kids really wanna hear boo about. So instead they tend to get unruly and crazy, and if you let them get on top of you nothing ever gets done because all you ever spend your time doing is pulling back and forth trying to get them to finish the work you need them to do.
So my strategy for years has always been the same. Be crazier than they are. Cut them off at the pass by showing them that nothing they can dish out even comes close to the amount you can sling right back at them. In the past, I found myself doing that by appealing to their realities (Three years ago I did a unit called "Gang War" where I split the class into different 'gangs' and put them in antagonistic situations they had to think and write about -- and even though the kids truly responded and got something from it, the school flipped out and I got into a lot of trouble), or playing to their own interests (last year whenever we successfully finished a unit I would show them a horror movie that was somehow loosely related to the subjects we were working on -- again... huge trouble).
This year I have to be a lot more careful, there's a lot of eyes watching me with concerns about my style and consequences if I step "out of line" -- but beyond that, with the new promotion standards in this district I need to be a little more direct in terms of the things that these kids sometimes fall short in, even though it might mean that I don't get to do so much "life lesson" work as I might want to.
The answer I've come up with so far this year has been a strange one:
This year in class we're doingI've been telling the kids that one of the biggest keys to life is to let go of your fears and take the kinds of risks that can reap rewards. To not be afraid to not know how to do certain things and ask for the help you need. If you have trouble writing essays, lets take the risk of exposing yourself as being under-educated and work on getting better. If you can't spell, then risk looking a little dumb to get the help you need. It's a lesson that I'm trying to instill in my own life in a lot of different ways, so I'm hoping that we can try to learn these things together.
a lot of singing and dancing.
What it's coming out as is that I'm doing a lot of singing out loud and dancing in front of the class, and making them do it with me. Today I had them singing "Deep in the Heart of Texas" and then we did a cha-cha line around the room. And while a bunch of them think I'm an utter loon, a lot of kids are leaning in and listening, trying to figure out where I'm coming from. It's a cool feeling to see them starting to check it out -- but this whole approach is taking a hell of a lot more energy than any of the things I've done in the past, and I quietly worry that I won't be able to keep it up all year long.
Still, it's given me a place to try and focus a lot of this energy that for the past few months sometimes just hovered around and didn't know where to go. I'm hoping as we get past all the introductory stuff and move more into the actual subject matter that I'll have hooked a bunch of them into the idea so that as the year bogs down into the boring stuff we have to do that they'll connect the dots to the original message I've been trying to give this week.
The weird thing is that since I'm pouring so much of myself into this right now, it's infiltrating everything around me. All I've been doing so far is singing goofy songs to them ("Doo Wah Diddy", "Just a Gigolo", etc.) and now I find myself listening to that stuff all the time. Today on my break I've been listening to Dean Martin just because all this swing music I've been singing makes me think of some of those old Italian crooner numbers of his that I've always loved.
Me, the cheeseball headbangerI don't know -- it feels like I'm rambling on here, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm kind of surprising myself this year with what is in essence a brand-new approach. Now granted, a lot of things have really changed for me in the past few months. I'm walking a lot of new paths that I haven't ever really walked before (or for a very long time). The uncertainty of it all is both the cool and the terrifying part about it all at the same time. It's almost like because of the things I've lost or blown away, work has become that much more important to me than it may have ever been before.
blasting "Volare" from my desk.
Then again, I'm a passionate guy -- I always seem to dive into things heavily and make them into crusades and missions sometimes even more than they need to be. It's a weird line I walk sometimes, and perhaps now that I've seen what happens when I lose control of it and it comes crashing down I'm finding myself wary, easy to question things that maybe shouldn't really have to be questioned at all.
I love this job.I guess in the end it's just that it's hard not to think about some of the other things in my life that I've truly loved, and what happened to them when I started to lose perspective..
I love what I do.
-- screw that noise.
*turns up the music*
Hey goombah, I love a how you dance a rhumbah
But take a some advice paisano - Learn how to mambo
If you gonna be a square you ain't a gonna go nowhere
[Listening to: Dean Martin, "Ain't That A Kick in The Head"]