Today was a rare day when I began my class not really knowing where I was going to go. I am definitely not the teacher that has plans written out in any kind of a book (I gave up ordering “plan books” a few years ago, acknowledging that they were always blank after mid-October), but I usually have a vague sense of the path that I am on. But today was very different. Unsettlingly different. I knew that I had items to check off my list, but I couldn’t figure out how they were going to fit together.
- There was an introduction to All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, a novel that few of them have read but we are “sharing” a visit from Kiely with our high school and I want them to know more about him before…tomorrow.
- Somehow getting them to dig a bit into their family stories to uncover questions that would, hopefully, spark genuine inquiry, (My one and only outright refusal to participate in the 7th grade curriculum is that I do not have my students write a traditional research paper. It took me years to move away from bibliography cards, dozens of white index cards with ONE fact, formal outlines and the stacks of papers that were all painfully similar). Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t “do” research, it just looks very different. I guess most things do in my room.
- Writing…independent writing of their choice. We’ve been away from this for a few weeks, longer than I’m comfortable, working through writing associated with Black Panther, world mythology, oral storytelling, persuasive speeches and NPR’s “This, I Believe” podcasts. But I wanted–needed–to get them back into their notebooks and to begin cultivating the seeds for their next wholly independent piece, where they choose the topic, the genre and the audience.
And it is Monday. And I am tired. Not just tired because I didn’t sleep well–awake at 2somethingAM trying to decipher my vivid and violent dreams–but weary from last Friday’s demoralizing conference day and drained from my early morning study group that is full of great ideas and visions of a better way but that always ends with the reality of our institution.
It took most of the day, but by the end I had found a way to weave together the voices necessary to tell the complicated story of racism and police brutality in our country, the questions that could generate stories of their own past, however that is defined for them, and the space and time for them to sow some seeds in their notebooks. We talked openly about Trayvon and heard directly from Jason Reynolds about the power of machetes and the machine that churns them out. We argued, a bit, about who owns stories and about whether or not someone else could tell our story. We contemplated the idea that maybe the combined perspectives of a single event could be a total story, or maybe just a different one altogether.
I sent them off with their one and only homework assignment for the year: go home and gather stories. My homework is to figure out what tomorrow will look like.