Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Those who can, do

I want to write this quickly so that I don't forget, just to remind myself of a major breakthrough in this semi-charmed kinda life of mine.

Today I made an eleventh grade girl cry.

That's it, but here's how:

In the past couple of months, kids in my drama class have asked me, "Mr. Polka Andrew, why don't you show us how to act? Why don't you get up on stage and show us how it's done?"

This is a shocking question when I think about it. Not because they asked. But because no other students have ever asked similar questions. I've been teaching English for eight, nine years now. Teaching kids to write analytical essays, poems, news articles, and everything in between. And not once has a student asked me to prove that I can write. They want to see me act but not write. Why?

I brought this up with one of my classes today, and one student actually had a good reason: "We expect you to be a good judge of writing, but not necessarily be a writer yourself."

Still, aren't they curious? Every once in a while, I drop little hints. I used to be a journalist. I won a couple of writing awards. I have a blog. My hobbies are reading and writing.

But since they didn't ask, I decided to read something to them anyway. I've been trying to get them to toy with narratives to answer silly little questions like: is TV good? is pop culture making you smarter or dumber? how should one look at women?

Their life experiences are good; the way they write them, not so much.

So I picked one of my recent posts from here, the one about iPod shuffling through life. And then this morning I woke up at 3:30 and decided to add to it, to fill it in with examples of songs and associated memories. The whole thing turned into a massive 3,500-word monster. I read it to them (but not before first warning them that they better at least pretend to listen).

They clapped when I finished. Whatever, kids here clap for anything. People get up in front of morning assembly and talk about a dead puppy for ten minutes, and the kids clap. They're polite.

I asked some questions. What was my thesis? Did I sustain it? Did I stray? What worked? What didn't?

A girl raised her hand. "Actually, I thought it was really sad," she said. And then she started crying. Kept crying for the next three minutes until the bell rang. Walked out crying.

"That's one of the sweetest reactions anyone has ever had," I called after her.

"You should take it as a compliment," another student said.

"I do, even though, really," I said, "I didn't even write about any real depressing times from my life. It could have been a lot worse, but I didn't want to get all that personal."

So, I'm glad she cried. Glad she was touched. Then again, I'm not really sure why she cried. Was there anything really sad in my story? Or was she crying because the writing was so good? Or bad? I might never know.

But as another girl walked out, she said, "You really are an English teacher!" If good teaching is making someone cry, I've arrived.

No comments: