Monthly Archives: January 2013

New Class Idea: The Ambiguous Hero

I’ve been captivated, almost forever, with the ambiguous hero; the good guy who does bad things (and, conversely, the bad guy who does good things) and what role he plays in our psyche and, in a larger sense, in our culture.

A friend of mine wants to teach a summer class with film, and we were talking about this idea over dinner the other day.  I haven’t been able to let it go, and here’s what I’ve come up with.  I’m going to need some help zeroing in on the specifics – the assignments, the competencies and objectives, that kind of thing -  but here’s what I’ve got for materials so far:

The Dark Knight: the second of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy – this is the one with Heath Ledger as the Joker.  Christian Bale’s Batman is the perfect example, I think, of the ambiguous hero.

A Dry White Season:  This is based on a novel written by a white South African who gets involved in the anti-apartheid movement after someone he knows personally dies in police custody.

Gandhi:  You know this story, and I keep coming back to it as a conversation about civil disobedience and the question of how resistance is characterized on the different “sides” of the debate in question

Gone Baby Gone:  PLEASE tell me you’ve seen this movie!  It’s about a kidnapping, and centers around HUGE issues of “right” and “wrong” and where the law clashes with morality

Harry Potter:  I want to investigate Snape.  The idea of the double agent is always an interesting one.  I’m not sure which film I’d use, though; likely the last one.

Iron Jawed Angels: Another civil disobedience film – this one focuses on women’s suffrage and the outrages that some women suffered at the hands of law enforcement.

Milk:  About Harvey Milk and the early struggle for GLBTQ rights and recognition

Mississippi Burning:  This remains one of my MOST favorite films, mostly because of Gene Hackman’s REALLY complex character.  This scene alone is worth the film:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlzaBi_QxPw

The Negotiator:  This is the story of a cop who takes hostages in order to reveal corruption in his department – a good guy doing a bad thing for a good reason.

Leon, the Professional:  A hit man who adopts his 12 year old neighbor after her family is killed by a corrupt cop (played terrifyingly by Gary Oldman).  He’s a good guy who does bad things, and we have to reconcile his work with his personality.

Schindler’s List:  You know this one, too, I’m sure.  I think that Schindler started out as a bad guy doing a good thing (though for selfish reasons) and evolved into a good guy.

Shawshank Redemption:  Andy as a wrongly convicted man who becomes a criminal in prison, but who never gives up his humanity.

Tsotsi:  I haven’t seen this one in a LONG time, so I’m not sure if I’m remembering it correctly, but I think it’s about a boy who steals a car and discovers that he’s also stolen a baby.  The film tells the story of what he does after he realizes he’s got a tough choice to make.

Unforgiven:  This is a Clint Eastwood western.  Eastwood is a retired gunslinger who gets called back into the life of crime for reasons that he thinks are honorable.  His character is a tough one to suss out, and the film really makes the viewer work for the payoff (plus, it stars Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman, which makes it that much better).

I was also thinking that I would have the kids read Bel Canto (which asks the “terrorist or freedom fighter” question) and, if they’re given permission from their parents, to look at a couple of episodes of Dexter (a serial killer in a Showtime series who only murders murderers who get away from the legal system).

I think there’s a lot of richness to be mined in this “good guy doing bad things / bad guy doing good things” question, I just need to think about it a bit more before it takes on any kind of substance that resembles a for-credit class.

What do you think?

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Filed under colleagues, critical thinking, doing my own homework, Dream Course, film as literature, fun, GLBTQ issues, Holocaust, lesson planning, Literature, Mrs. Chili as Student, politics, Teaching, winging it, writing

Yin and Yang

Mrs. Chili got dressed up today (in a skirt, even; it was 7° outside with a howling wind, and I had to get gas before I left!  Brrrrr!!!) and met with the director of a private school (let’s call her Dr. Wong) in the middle of the state.

The visit was both heartening and terrifying all at the same time.

I’m heartened because I think I did very well in the meeting; Dr. Wong and I hit it off reasonably well, and I didn’t trip all over myself trying to get words out.  I wonder; does anyone else come off like a complete, drooling idiot in interviews -  or even in meetings with peers – despite being confident and energized in front of a room full of students?  I mean it; the other day, I was in front of a group of about 50 – FIFTY! – new yoga students at Local U, and I was comfortable and articulate and even a little funny and self-effacing.  This morning, while I didn’t completely blow it, I did not at ALL feel like the same women who lead those kids the other day….

ANYWAY…

I’m terrified because I left the meeting feeling like there’s a distinct possibility that I might actually be offered a job with this school.  Dr. Wong was excited about the skills that I brought to the table, she seemed impressed by some of the things I said (even some of the things I said that, as I was saying them, I wasn’t sure I should be saying…), and assured me that she’d be in touch to talk further.  She invited me to attend some classes at the school to observe how the days are structured and the ways in which teachers and students interact.  She even introduced me to another teacher in a way that, to an outside observer, would give the impression that my hiring was a foregone conclusion.

Yikes.

I mean, I’m certainly not closing any doors, but I’m not 100% sure that this school would be a good fit for me.  For starters, it’s an hour’s drive in each direction.  While that’s not a deal-breaker – the girls are older and much more self-sufficient now, and Mr. Chili is still 7 minutes away at Local U. and has a ton of flexibility should something happen that needs adult attention – but I’m not wild about the idea of spending 14 hours a week in my car (especially in the winter).

Another thing that has me nervous is that the school focuses on a classical liberal arts education.  I mean REALLY classical; like, the first years read Homer, and the most modern authors Dr. Wong mentioned in our meeting were Thomas Paine and Mary Wolstoncraft.  *I* haven’t read Homer in YEARS, and I don’t feel like I have any kind of working relationship with any of the books that I imagine are on the reading list for the school.

Dr. Wong has a specific kind of teaching style that she expects her instructors to employ, and I don’t know, exactly, what that is.  I’m less anxious about that, though, as she said that she’s working on this school as sort of a pilot program and intends to mentor new teachers in the pedagogy, so I won’t be left on my own in that.  Still…

Finally, the school is very formal.  The teachers are called “Professor” or “Doctor” according to their credentials, and the students are referred to (and refer to one another) using Mr. and Ms.  While part of me thinks that’s great – I think that kids need to have a strong grounding in social contracts and instruction in etiquette – I wonder how long it will be before I get in trouble for calling a student “Sweetie,” as is my wont.

I left the meeting with the promise of further contact and an invitation to come back to the school whenever I like to spend the day in classes observing and talking to students and staff.  Dr. Wong has my resume and a couple of letters of recommendation, and I’m expecting to hear from her soon, maybe even early next week.

We’re heading into new, exciting, and frightening territory here, my friends!  I’ll keep you posted as events unfold.

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Filed under concerns, job hunting, The Job, winging it, Yikes!

Wordy Wednesday: A Shot of Hope

For a long time now, I’ve been worried that I was never going to be back in the classroom.  After all that happened to me at CHS, I was feeling pretty burned; for all that the place was pretty laid-back and permissive, I still managed to get into trouble, so it stands to reason that it’s highly unlikely I’m going to find someplace where my enthusiasm, passion, and ethics won’t be a liability.

I met Jay for coffee this afternoon.  He’s a teacher at a different charter school (and a hell of a photographer; hit that link and go on over and click around.  Leave some feedback; he’s looking for some interaction), and the parent of one of my former students.  We’d been tangentially in touch since before I was dismissed from CHS; he and I clicked when we first met, he was very supportive of my efforts to kick his recalcitrant daughter in the ass, and we share a very similar perspective on politics, spirituality, and the underlying purpose (and ethics) of education.  Anyway, I left a comment on his blog about a particularly stunning portrait he’d posted of Sweet Pea, and a few emails later, we’d set up a coffee date.

I left that hour feeling much better about where I am professionally.  He told me a lot of things I really needed to hear (though, let’s be clear, I don’t think for a second that he said them because they were what I needed to hear; he’s not like that at all).  He confirmed for me a couple of things that I deeply suspected but really didn’t want to admit (I’m over that now, by the way; I’m done telling myself stories to try to make it hurt less).  He told me that not only should I go back to teaching, but that I very likely had to; we share a proclivity of spirit that compels us to work with young people, and he recognizes in me the same drive that moves him to do the work that he does.  He essentially told me that I wasn’t going to be happy doing anything else – that I could do other work, certainly, but that I would never be as fulfilled as I will be teaching.  I don’t think he’s wrong.

Jay also offered me a glimmer of hope that there may well be a place for me in a classroom.  I’m going to chase down a couple of contacts tomorrow (and send out a couple of resumes, as well) and see what becomes of it.  While I’m not going to force myself into a situation where I have to change who I am to fit in with the culture so much that I don’t recognize myself anymore, neither am I going to give up entirely on the idea of being a teacher.  The truth is that I miss the kids too much to abandon the work, and I love who I am while I’m doing it.

Onward.

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Filed under admiration, colleagues, compassion and cooperation, critical thinking, debate and persuasion, ethics, I love my job, job hunting, Learning, Mrs. Chili as Student, out in the real world, parental units, self-analysis, winging it

I am SO Confused

Help me suss this out, You Guys.

A month or so ago – I forget when, exactly – a former student contacted me about the possibility of my being her advisor for an independent study in English.  She was interested in a class I taught the last year I was at CHS, and asked if I would be willing to offer her that class as an IS.

I can never say no to a student who wants to learn, but my response to this baby was something along the lines of, “I’ll absolutely do it, but there’s no way in hell you’re getting it past administrative approval.”

She sent me a text message today saying that she’s all set to go; she just needs to fill out the paperwork.

To say that I’m stunned is an understatement.

I have no idea what this arrangement entails.  I’m making the assumption that I’ll just be a mentor for her as she works the program herself (though I will give her the course I designed for another student who took the class as an independent study last year, and I’m sure I’ll be providing her with most of the films and reading materials, as well).  I can pretty much guarantee you that I won’t be paid for the work that I’ll do, but I don’t care about that; a kid asked me for my help and it’s within my power to give it to her, so she gets it whether I get paid or not.

Here are my questions to you; given that I was shown the door (though I have still yet to be told precisely why I was so unacceptable as to be dismissed), is there anything ethical about the school’s decision to okay my being a mentor for this student?  Should I be confused about being fired in June, then being approved as a mentor in January?  How should I approach this?

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Filed under concerns, critical thinking, ethics, frustrations, I can't make this shit up..., I've got this kid...., lesson planning, really?!, self-analysis, Teaching, winging it, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

Quick Hit: Do NOT Start with Me

This afternoon, I came to the high school at 2:35 to pick Punk up for an appointment that she’d be late for if she took the bus home.  A group of students was waiting for their bus on the sidewalk on the far end of the driveway that loops to the front door, and a few kids were across the driveway so they could all throw snowballs at each other.  No problem; I expect that (especially considering there was a doozy of a snowball fight happening in the senior parking lot as I drove by).

I slowed and stopped so they could see me, and made eye contact with the two kids still on the driveway.  One of them crossed back to the sidewalk, so I slowly proceeded toward the door.  As I made my way by him, one of the students threw the snowball he was holding at my car, hitting the drivers’ side rear window.  He crossed the street behind me and rejoined his peers on the sidewalk.

In a dark red coat.  He was easy to pick out of the crowd.

I stopped the car, backed up, and called the young man to my passenger window where I calmly but sternly scolded him (I’m the mother of two teenage daughters and a high school teacher myself; I have some experience with this sort of thing).

Me:  You.  Over here….  What was that?

Kid:  It was a snowball.

Me:  I know it was a snowball.  Why did it make contact with my car?

Kid:  Uh…

Me:  NOT okay, do you understand?  Do not ever do that again.

Kid:  Okay.  Sorry.

To his credit, the boy apologized to me, and I heard him being soundly ribbed by the kids watching from the sidewalk as I drove away.

My intent was to embarrass him – which I did – and to make him think twice before he does something like that again.  I think he was genuinely shocked that I backed up to reprimand him, and I know that many (probably all) of the kids looking on were surprised; I’m sure they’re not used to being called to task by total strangers.

Punk-ass kid.

 

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Quick Hit: Truth

I’m learning more about what really happened to me at CHS.  I’m neither pleased nor surprised.

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Friday Fuck You *EDITED!!*

A student emailed me today to express his frustration and disappointment.

A little back story; I mentored a Poetry Out Loud team every year I was at CHS, and every year, this kid jumped in with both feet.  He was good – expressive and excited, dedicated to really understanding the poems he chose and to reciting them in ways that opened them up to his audience.  He consistently won the school competition and was a strong contender in the regionals, and every year, he got better.  He could have gone a step farther this year – maybe even made it past states into nationals.

He’s not going to find out, though, because the teacher who was supposed to take POL over didn’t bother to register back in November, despite the student’s repeated requests.  It should be noted here that the teacher in question is also a poet himself.

So I found out today that there is no Poetry Out Loud this year. I still need to verify it with Mr. Poet, but I don’t think he registered before November 1st. Right now I’m pissed and sad at the same time. I am just so upset. I reminded him five times. I’m just so angry. Also I am not even angry at Mr. Poet; I am pissed that I have to miss out on my senior year of fucking Poetry Out Loud! I could have made it to States this year. I could have made it.

Yes, you could have, Sweetie, and I’m so, so sorry.

I’m alternately heartbroken and furious.  I wanted so much better for those kids.

**EDITED TO INCLUDE:

I could NOT let this stand, so I sent an email to my contact at the Humanities Council and begged to know if there were an alternate route my babies could take to compete in Poetry Out Loud this year… and there IS!  There’s a public library on the far west side of the state that participates as an independent group – I imagine they take in homeschoolers, too – and anyone from CHS who wants to participate can join that group!  It’s a nearly three hour drive to the library to make the meetings, but I put out the word that I’d help out anyone who needs transportation (I have driven that route myself many times because I’m a fellow at the Holocaust Studies center at the university in that town).  No word yet on whether anyone needs me to drive them, but my disappointed student isn’t so disappointed anymore!

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