Smells Like Teen-ification

My class is getting younger.  This isn’t a terrible thing, but it is a worrying thing.  I don’t want the influx of kids — mostly 17-year-olds with a couple of 16-year-olds thrown in for good measure — to chase away my ‘real’ adults.  We’ve already had a couple of moments that have made it clear that some of the older students aren’t loving the changing age landscape in the room.  And today I caught a hint of a negative ageist vibe from one of my new teens.  Not good.

It’s early days, of course, so there’s plenty of time for me to steer us back to smoother waters, but I’ve got to get to work now.  I don’t want to see this divide get wider.  I’m not overly worried, it’s just something I need to stay focused on.

A bigger worry might be the difference in pacing that my new kids seem to require.  “Miss.  We can’t stay focused for more than 15 minutes,” one told me yesterday.  “We all got ADD.”

Yeah.  Well, I don’t know if they actually do have ADD, but their attention spans are definitely stunted.  I’m used to planning for that from my night class, which was always all kids, so I can handle real or imagined ADD.  But my adults can stay focused for more than a few minutes, and I don’t think restyling the class to suit the kids is going to make the adults particularly happy.  “It’s a lot of change,” one older student told me last term.  “New location and a lot of children.  I’m glad you didn’t find a teacher.”  She was referring to the fact that this class is supposed to be taught by someone other than me, and I’m always starting the term telling the students that I’m still hoping to find them a teacher.  But maybe if I’d succeeded in finding a teacher I’d already have lost that student to the triple-blow of too much new.

Balance.  There’s a tricky one under the surface here.  I just have  find it.

“10 magical words to make a man love me”

I like checking the search terms that lead people to this blog.  I continue to be shocked and angered by the volume of racist searches that drop people on my doorstep (“why are blacks like animals?” “nigger animals” “why black people act nasty” …).  At the same time, I am pleasantly surprsied by how many people search for me specifically (“girlgriot kin blog” shows up a lot).

And then there are curious searches such as the one that makes the title of this post: 10 magical words to make a man love me.  It is both utterly ridiculous and completely sad all at once.  And how does it lead anyone to me?  Well, Google sent this searcher to one of the posts I wrote when I thought my friend Kenrick had died.  The connection? I added the wonderful Inuit poem “Magic Words” to that post.

Poor searcher.  What a disappointment my post must have been.  But no fear.  There were plenty of other worthy search results: an ebook that promises to teach readers how to make anyone fall in love with them, an article detailing the four big signs that will help you gauge whether or not your boyfriend loves you, and any number of articles on how to win back an ex you still love. Oy.

If only there were ten magic words, right?  How easy things would be.  I started writing this post earlier today and was headed in a whole other, sillier direction.  But tonight I came home to a teary phone call from a friend telling me that her husband has left her.  Her husband of nearly twenty years.

I want those ten words right now.  I have other words I’m thinking I’d like to say to him, but she is hurting, she is still in love and wanting to find a way back to being a couple with this man, so I want those ten magic words, want to give them to her right now, tonight, want her to find the secret that will bring him home.

Talking Your Ear Off

Someone told me the other day, after hearing me scold the copier machine, that I should be on NPR.

That might, really, be the funniest thing anyone has ever said to me.  So I laughed.

“No, really,” she said.  “You have the right voice for it. ”  She turned to the young woman who was sitting next to her for confirmation.  “Can’t you just hear her telling stories on the radio?”

Please don’t misunderstand.  Being on the radio is high up on my list of vocal fantasies (yes, there’s a list … and yes, it’s quite long).  But really, because I said, “No, not now!” to the copier?  That’s what it takes to qualify as having a voice for radio?  Had I known this, I’d have auditioned years ago!

The subject of my voice comes up with surprising frequency.  People are always exclaiming over my beautiful voice.  I don’t hear it.  On the phone I am often mistaken for a child.  Telemarketers ask if my mother is home (and I tell them they’d have to call her house and find out).  I am also mistaken for a white person, but that’s not about having a nice voice or a young voice, that’s about how people imagine all black people must speak.  This comes in handy as a kind of easy pass/fail quiz I can give people to measure their PQ (prejudice quotient): When they meet me in person, do they exibit mild suprise and move on (pass) or do they completely freak out, going so far as to refuse to believe I can possiibly be the person they’ve been talking to on the phone (FAIL)?

I don’t hear what everyone else seems to hear in my voice.  I hear a perfectly fine voice, pleasant enough, not grating, sometimes punctuated with what a friend once called an operatic laugh, nothing to get overly excited about. Except that people do get excited about it.  A lot.  A long-ago ex once told me that I had the perfect voice for porn.  Yes, you read that correctly.  He said I had a voice like Snow White, and it would be exciting to hear me saying all kinds of not-Snow-White things.  Yeah, whatever.  That is not on the list of vocal fantasies.  Compared to Snow White porn, how would I not be thrilled to learn that I have a public radio voice?

So … NPR?  PRI?  And (obviously and specifically) Ira Glass?  I’m ready for my close up.

Cleaning the Closet: Close to home.

To start off the year, I’ve decided to clear out the “drafts” folder on this blog.  There are a lot of things I think about but can’t quite wrap my head around before I’m taken with another thought or just generally distracted … by, like, chocolate or something.

In any case, a bunch of those drafts just got the ‘move to trash’ treatment.  A bunch of others still resonate, so I’m dusting them off, retooling where necessary and plumping up my January with them.  Hey, gotta do something after that long, dry December?


Last spring, my morning class and I read BAD by Jean Ferris.  I’ve used this book with a couple of different groups, and I’m always struck by how strongly and completely students get into it.  As we were reading in the spring, I was struck by some of my own connections with the characters, connections I’d managed not to fully notice or acknowledge in prior readings.

Dallas, the main character, says: “It could be easier to know how to respond to abuse or neglect than to simple kindness, no strings attached.” We talked about whether or not people had found that to be true in their own lives, and many people shared examples that seemed to say ‘yes.’ All of us with catalogs of the times we’d brushed off nice comments or kind behavior and then agonized for hours over one unpleasant poke or snipe …  to say nothing of the deeper, more lasting damage we had taken as right or deserved or a true picture of ourselves.

My students really liked this book — as has every class.  They were deeply invested in Dallas and the other girls in the story.   I sense that some were like me: seeing themselves in the story, hearing their own voices in Dallas and Damaris and Shatasia’s voices, marveling at how they had avoided being in the same kinds of situations the girls in the story find themselves in.  For whatever reason, the story resonates with everyone, women and men, young and old.

It was hard to teach the book this time around because Dallas’ low self-esteem and inner monologue suddenly began to sound too much like my own, and I worried that it would only be a matter of time before someone noticed that a lot of what Dallas said and thought sounded awfully familiar … And Dallas was really just not the image of myself that I want to give my students.  (Turns out I don’t need to worry about this.  Bizarrely enough, my students have this sense of me as incredibly confident and comfortable in my skin.  How I’ve managed to fool them all is truly beyond me.)

There are so many lines in the book that stop me cold. Because I’ve said them to myself. Because I’ve heard my students say them.   Like Valencia saying that if she had another life, she’d come back as a man because women’s lives aren’t worth anything.  I don’t say things like this to myself today, but some of my students still do.

In so many ways, that’s my job, isn’t it?  Helping my students see that women’s lives are worth something, that the lives of sytemically marginalized people are worth something, that there’s room for all of us to be whole people.  And yes, I’m supposed to be helping them get ready for the GED exam.  Of course.  Of course.  No one would sign up for class if I billed it as “Come learn how to be a more complete self-loving person in the world” class.  Yeah.  I would probably steer clear of that class, too.  But isn’t that what every class I’ve ever taught really is?

One of the things I like best about Ferris’ book is that there are no easy answers.  The girls in the story have all kinds of story arcs, and not one of them is tied neatly with a bow, not one of them is — at the place where we leave the telling — a ‘story book’ ending.  And that is, initially, quite frustrating for my students.  They want to know what’s going to happen.  They want to see Dallas through to a clear, successful end, want to know that Toozdae is going to be safe, that Shatasia’s going to stay out of trouble.  But I’m so glad that Ferris doesn’t serve up any of those pretty endings for us, glad she leaves us in our own heads, with our own conversation, with the wide-open vista of the possible.

I love that BAD challenges my students, doesn’t ‘just’ entertain.  I’m about to start working with a new novel, Zetta’s wonderful A Wish After Midnight.  There are a lot of things about this book that will make for interesting discussions and writing in class.  One of the most obvious things I’m looking forward to, however, is helping my overwhelmingly linear and literal students navigate their suspension of disbelief as they are cast back in time with Genna.   That should be interesting.

Classroom Resolutions

I don’t make my resolutions this time of year.  If I can be said to make resolutions at all, it would be the wish-list I write up for my birthday — the start of my personal new year.  So January first is more like a quarterly report.

But this year I’m feeling like making some school resolutions.  There are definitely some things I’d like to see become true about my classroom and my teaching between now and June, so …

  • More integration between my class and the teen peer education program
  • Redesign of our classroom, including getting started on the mural we want to paint on the big wall
  • Publish at least two books of student writing
  • Revisit goal-setting / education plans with everyone
  • Less me, more them
  • Plants!
  • Bring Carlos in to talk about the college transitions program
  • Find better ways to keep my adult and teen students working together
  • Read A Wish After Midnight (thanks for catching the error, Susan!)
  • Work through the geometry and algebra curricula (without suffering my usual math phobia!)
  • Find better science resources

All of these things are important.  Some will, of course, be much easier than others.  I’m really worried that my class is going to be completely teen-i-fied by the end of the year.  I don’t want to lose my ‘real’ adults now that we have so many new young people, and keeping that from happening is on me.

Lots of work to do, starting with Monday’s new student orientation.  I’ve missed my classroom, and I’m looking forward to getting started again.  I had hoped the last two weeks would include a little more time for me to focus on planning for next week … but when has that ever happened?