Wednesday, April 19, 2006

opening the mind's of students

Recently, I have loved the blogs of my students in my American Lit. class-extremely intriguing and perceptive and they have been commenting on one another's. We are currently reading the Great Gatsby, and I have posted some prompts on certain ideals that we will encouner later. Needless to say, their reponses are very subjective,honest and they make some good points.
The reason I am writing this is that I never thought a blog repsonse from a student could get under my skin so much. I felt cheated, I felt inferior, I felt betrayed in a sense. And not that it wasn't valid or I didn't respect the kid's opinion-as the saying goes, to each his own, right?
To make a long story longer, the essence of his thoughts were that in order to be successful you had to make a lot of money and if you didn't, then you weren't a success-and that in terms of wealth or being wealthy you had to have the mentality that you were better than others, and sort of a snob. Money being necessary, it is the only thing that makes you who you are.
So, I went to class and I wanted to share different perceptions about the topic because they did such a great job and to play devil's advocate. So I went through a couple of kids' ideas and we talked, then I asked the one student if I could ask him a question. I asked," So let me hear your response before I can claim my own defense here: am I-a TEACHER-who doesn't make an incredible amount of money less successful?" He responded, "Yes." I asked, "So because I don't make over 100 grand a year, I am not a success?" "Yes," he said. At this point, I was sort of blown away-a few kids rebutted against that,and I think most were shocked and didn't know what to say or how to rebut. Then I felt like I needed to prove something-and now that I'm thinking of it I question myself-was it necessary for me to prove myself? Did I have to jusitfy my defense? How could a blog piss me off so much? And I'm calm now-but the main thing I said to these kids was: "I want you to remember one thing-there will always be greater and lesser persons than you." Another kid asked if I was happy and I emphatically replied, yes-and he said then you are successful. It just amazed me that opening a can of worms such as this, could make me feel so great and yet so belittled and then I thought about my own accomplishments and I know I can wlak with my head high, feeling satified because of what I have done in my short life. And I hope kids think about this discussion inthe future when the real world strikes and it's claws are reaching out. It also made me think of some kid's attitudes today. It looks as though I took this personally, and at some level, I did, but at the same time, I was just happy that I got my student's to think and make these universal themes that encompass this great novel so relevant to them! These should be the kinds of discussions we are having, and I think many of us are.


Blogger annes said...

I am glad you are still walking tall and realizing what an AMAZING teacher you are! I consider you a success not only by your fabulous teaching abilities, wonderful friendships, great relationship with Jason and your family, and supportive nature, but because you are unique. You are the best Compers and you went above and beyond with this assignment. This was a hug risk and it paid dividens; even this kid realizes that. He probably never knew before a teacher that considered herself/himself successful. He is one of those unfortunate individuals who doesn't realize the value of education, and only by you challenging his thoughts, will he be able to change his misguided perception. Keep on fighting the good fight there love!

2:07 PM  
Blogger Karl Fisch said...

I think the very fact that this got "under your skin" demonstrates two good things. One, that you're passionate about what you do and why it's important. And two, that getting students involved - whether it's through blogging or other means - is very important. The fact that this got you involved (even more than usual as the teacher) points to the power of authentic conversations with students. I think all the students in that class - including any that agree with the money argument - will think more deeply about this subject because of your discussion. And - whether they end up seeing your value or not - that's all we can ask.

On another note, I guess it's not that surprising that a student has that view of the world (although maybe a little surprising that he shared it so openly with you). In his defense, pretty much all the messages he gets from society (media, politicians, parents and peers) reinforce that viewpoint. While lip service is given to professions like teaching, the overwhelming emphasis is on material success. It is truly celebrated in this country to a level that I think is unhealthy, and I'm struggling with how to raise my daughter so that she doesn't end up with those same views.

1:06 PM  
Blogger Ms. Kakos said...

I wholeheartedly echo both Karl's and Anne's comments. I think also that our approach to teaching this year--particularly the risks we're taking--are making us more vulnerable than we've been in the past. I don't know that I would have been brave enough to open myself up to my students the way that you did. As much I love honest feedback from students, every now and then I have the urge to cover my ears and sing "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Anyway, I respect the question you asked, and I wonder if your student honestly believes what he said, or if he was seeing how far under your skin (and others') he could get. Save his comment and e-mail it to him in 15 years--see if he still agrees with himself. I have friends at Wharton who probably would.

12:01 PM  

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