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This teaching land : Learning hermeneutically in the English 9 classroom Wittman, Jacklyn Maureen 1995

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THIS TEACHING LAND: LEARNING HERMENEUTICALLY IN THE ENGLISH 9 CLASSROOM by Jacklyn Maureen Wittman .A., The University of B r i t i s h Columbia, 1969 \ THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS i n THE FACULTY OF EDUCATION (Department of Language Education) We accept t h i s thesis as conforming to the required standard THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA March 1995 Jacklyn Maureen Wittman, 1995 In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make it freely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of my department or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying or publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission. Department The University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada DE-6 (2/88) Abstract This thesis i n the s p i r i t of hermeneutic inquiry t e l l s the story of a teacher facing challenges i n her grade nine English classroom. I t i s an exposition of r e f l e c t i v e narrative, poetry and hermeneutic writing f o r the purpose of deconstructing s t a l e attitudes and searching under c l i c h e d stereotypes with regard to how early adolescents deal with the English curriculum, the pedagogy and the i n t e r a c t i v e dynamics i n the classroom. The r e f l e c t i v e narrative presents events, successes, f a i l u r e s and p e r p l e x i t i e s as they occurred throughout one year of teaching. The hermeneutic process reveals assumptions, traces background knowledge, questions power and gender and acknowledges the e f f e c t s of mothering/teaching. I t explores the value of wr i t i n g inside and outside the classroom by both teachers and students as a trace of growth i n learning. Most importantly, t h i s thesis presents the i n t r i g u e of metaphor and poetry as a r a d i c a l hermeneutic i n the quest fo r understanding. The poetry reveals perceptions about the complexity of the multiple relationships that are formed i n a classroom. Each poem t e s t i f i e s to the i n t e n s i t y of the l i v e d experience and provides visionary opportunities f o r further understanding. The complete narrative takes place i n a metaphorical geography where landforms are mixed: bog, rugged t e r r a i n , i i open p l a i n and seashore. Each location i s analogous to the state of the struggle toward understanding and learning. Students and teacher l i v e and learn together i n t h i s f i g u r a t i v e land. Sometimes they are foe, sometimes they are f r i e n d . The metaphors that bring understanding change as the writer's perceptions change. This work acclaims the value of the hermeneutic c i r c l e i n i t s embrace of a l l individuals struggling and learning i n language together. I t i s a celebration of hermeneutic inquiry and what i t reveals about the mystery and power of language i n writing. i i i T a b l e o f C o n t e n t s Abstract i i Table of Contents i v Acknowledgements v i I t i n e r a r y 1. T h i s T e a c h i n g L a n d 1 Setting 1 Background 3 Discovery 5 Relocating 6 This Teaching Land 11 2. M i n d i n g t h e L a n d s c a p e 13 Finding a Path 13 secret scars 14 The Mode of Travel 16 Travel Guides 18 Acculturating 25 Souvenirs of the Journey 2 6 becoming 31 3. F r o m B o g t o B a t t l e f i e l d 32 Bog 32 The Classroom as B a t t l e f i e l d 36 Surveillance 40 blue canopy 43 Emissary 51 Chuck[is]King/sley 55 Truce 62 a l l the school-long-year 64 4. T h e Open P l a i n 65 A Different Kind of Peace 65 Disturbing the Hegemony 67 The J i g i s Up 73 Suspicion 74 Discord 77 Trust 78 Down with the Despots 80 The Reins of Control 83 E l e c t r i c i t y i n the Poetry Class 88 i v Working and Learning Together 89 A Complicated Lot 95 Outside/Inside 99 A New Understanding of Power 102 learning 104 5. The Warriors 105 Taking o f f the Armour 105 N e i l 107 N e i l 108 Battle Fatigue 117 Karla 122 s i l e n t suffering 125 Chuck 126 crowned too soon 128 Fugue , 131 Paul 134 Paul 137 Stuck 141 Sam 143 Sam 145 Teaching i s a Big Test: T or F? 148 Class of 94 151 Future Faces 152 6. Writing i n the Sand 154 The Ocean Shore 154 Traces 154 Hauntings 156 Maybe the Maleness 157 Boys w i l l be Boys 162 Feminist Statement 165 Methodology 167 New Clothes 169 A [M]other Look 170 Golden Boy 171 Language Learning 173 Obsolete Thought 174 Subject Action Place 177 A L i s t of References 178 v Acknowledgements . This narrative would not be complete without a recognition of those who contributed to my process of story-t e l l i n g . My students: My English 9 students are both subject and c o n f l i c t i n the story. Together we shape the theme. They speak f o r a l l my students and t h e i r contributions to my learning are forever recorded here. Dr. Carl Leggo: An i n s p i r i n g and empowering teacher, Carl d i r e c t e d me to my path of discovery. His poetry i s a g i f t , h i s poetic s p i r i t an i n v i t a t i o n to enter into the writer's world. As my advisor, he offered appreciative support of my wri t i n g and respectful consideration with h i s c r i t i c a l responses and suggestions. Dr. Beth Sparks: As a member of my committee, Beth provided affirmation with her astute focus on my c r u c i a l points of understanding. Her experience i n the f i e l d of hermeneutics brought a welcoming perspective of knowing the place. Dr. Ted Aoki: I enjoyed the opportunity to explore ideas with Ted. His i n s i g h t f u l comments were energizing and celebratory: questions, analyses and theories from the s p i r i t of a model teacher/learner! Donna Chan and Renee Norman: Both Donna and Renee, friends and colleagues, shared t h e i r knowledge of the process of r e f l e c t i v e narrative, and encouraged me to write i n t h i s mode. I thank them for t h e i r open ears and well-considered responses. Valya Cawdery: My l i f e - l o n g f r i e n d d u t i f u l l y l i s t e n e d to my st o r i e s and my poetry, affirmed or rejected my e f f o r t s with candor, and applauded my desire to write. My husband, Marty: I could not have entered the M.A. program and embarked on t h i s work without h i s support. He understood my desire to do t h i s and believed that I should. His eagle eye i n the f i n a l e d i t i n g process was humbling! My children, Michael and Stefan: More than they know, my sons at t e s t to Wordworth's l i n e s , "the c h i l d i s father of the man" i n feminist terms for me: "the c h i l d creates the m/other." Their own inq u i r i e s and interpretations have taught me how to watch, guide, teach and learn. I thank them also for waiting with understanding while I wrote. v i 1. This Teaching Land As a high-school English teacher, I have read many opening l i n e s . I have offered them to my students, but they have stayed with me, too: " I f you r e a l l y want to hear about i t . . . 1 1 (Salinger, 1947, 1); "You don't know me without you have read a book by the name of . . . by Mark Twain, and he t o l d the truth, mainly." (Twain, 1885, 3). Opening l i n e s lure us into the story, grant us permission to antic i p a t e , wonder, and share. Opening l i n e s are important. They can introduce subject or character, locate the s i t u a t i o n , set the tone, and i n v i t e the reader. Often, opening l i n e s emphasize setting. They describe location and i n v i t e readers to situate themselves alongside the s t o r y t e l l e r or place themselves r i g h t i n the midst of the action. Through the s e t t i n g , readers locate t h e i r imagination, and put the subject and action into a context. W.O. M i t c h e l l , i n Who Has Seen the Wind, places his reader on the very ground that shapes the l i v e s of his characters. Here was the least common denominator of nature, the skeleton requirements simply, of land and sky—Saskatchewan p r a i r i e . (Mitchell, 1947, 3) I hope my own opening l i n e s w i l l accomplish s i m i l a r goals. Setting My geography i s ess e n t i a l . I f I couldn't locate myself, where would I be? I define myself by where I come l from as much as by what I do. And what I do grows and branches out from my roots. So my task i n wr i t i n g these opening l i n e s i s to locate myself and the writing of t h i s text i n a grounded context. The text i s my experience, my fe e l i n g s and understandings about my work, my teaching a b i l i t y , and my students. The text i s also how my f e e l i n g s grow and change from where they have been. The ground that nourishes i t i s the theory of hermeneutic inquiry. To locate my text, I v i s u a l i z e a metaphorical geography of changing landforms: bog, rugged t e r r a i n , open p l a i n and ocean shore. Sometime, a bog can meld into the roughness of scrag and h i l l ; another time, a l l landforms e x i s t s p a t i a l l y apart. The magnitude and d i r e c t i o n of my thoughts measure t h e i r distance from one another. Each landform gives shape and texture to the referents of my writing: presumptions, attitudes, responses, hopes and desires. My stagnant ideas, past views, break down and decay i n a bog. The tensions between the seeds of these old ideas and new understandings take place on unlevel ground where the t r a v e l i s not smooth and I struggle to f i n d my way. When I see more c l e a r l y , I f e e l as i f I am on an open p l a i n where understanding replaces intolerance. I t i s at the seaside that I choose to bask i n the sunshine of r e f l e c t i o n and i n t e r p r e t a t i o n . A l l t h i s i s a very earthy arrangement for the abstractions of my writi n g . But I write about r e a l l i f e experiences and they belong i n a time and a place, for now. 2 ...I began then to think of time as having a shape, something you could see, l i k e a s e r i e s of l i q u i d transparencies, one l a i d on top of another. You don't look back along time but down through i t , l i k e water. Sometimes t h i s comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. Nothing goes away. (Atwood, 1988, 3) Background Nineteen years aft e r I taught my f i r s t c l a s s , I took a leave. I t wasn't the f i r s t leave that I had taken, but i t was a c r u c i a l leave: a leave from my profession to take stock. The other leaves, one personal leave to t r a v e l and two maternity leaves, were temporary turns from the demands pf d a i l y teaching routines to enjoy l i f e ' s other r i c h e s . But t h i s l a s t leave was a break from teaching f o r the primary purpose of leaving teaching. I had had enough. I was t i r e d of the classroom routine. The demands of my l i f e , r a i s i n g two children (one c h i l d with severe d i s a b i l i t i e s ) and looking aft e r a disabled father, kept me from enriching my teaching experience with new approaches, new methods, new materials. I f e l t s t a l e and, even i f I did have some windows to new ideas during a cl a s s , by the time I was f i n i s h e d with the duties on the home front, the shades had long been drawn and I could no longer remember what they might have been, never mind f i n d the energy to work up the plans and gather the materials. I believed I had gone as f a r as I should go i n my profession. I also f e l t my teaching had become mediocre. I 3 had promised myself that i f I ever fought going to work, I would qu i t . That nineteenth year, I dreaded going to work. I forgot students' names. I even forgot the name of a poetic device i n the middle of a statement about a poem. Mediocre? I f e l t worse, but I s t i l l had a conscience: I l e f t . The decision to leave, however, was not driven e n t i r e l y by a l t r u i s t i c values. A s e l f i s h force was at work. I had never planned to remain i n the classroom t h i s long. I f e l t that I would teach for a while and then go back to school for a Master's Degree. I had planned at one time to work i n curriculum development or even write teaching materials. I l i k e d the theory as well as the practice. Then, i n that nineteenth year, I looked long at the f a c t that I had not gone on with my plans. I, once a progressive, energetic teacher, was not making any progress. I d i d not take an educational leave for the purpose of e n r o l l i n g i n graduate school. I took time o f f . Three years of personal leave. But I could not stay away, and, i n that f i r s t year o f f , I found myself back i n the trenches of the Education Faculty. I f I could not teach, maybe I could learn. I addressed myself as a student once again. Distance from the classroom was a reprieve that allowed retrospection, r e f l e c t i o n and a sort of resurrection. I recovered a sense of excitement about teaching and learning. 4 I enjoyed myself as a learner and re/valued myself as a teacher. My time i n the "trenches" was not a b a t t l e but a re-acquaintance with the very s o i l beneath my teacher feet! I re/grounded myself, nourished my roots and f e l t ready to branch out. I dis/covered why I had not resigned. I was not ready to wither and fade away. What I had needed was energy—not a rest but a change. Discovery In the s p a t i a l and temporal distance that I located f o r myself a f t e r I l e f t teaching, I encountered new ideas and new people. Probably the most i n f l u e n t i a l encounter was i n my course on the theory of written composition. Before taking t h i s course, I had studied the work of recent scholars and researchers, debated new theory, analyzed new methods, but I had not immersed myself i n the learning process. Other courses demanded an o b j e c t i f i e d view of content. This writing course demanded more of me. When Car l Leggo, a professor i n the Department of Language Education at the University of B r i t i s h Columbia, spoke to our c l a s s about writing from the heart, about feminist knowledge, phenomenology, deconstruction and post-modernism, I f e l t both empowered and ignorant. U n t i l then, I had admired writers and wished that I could write. In an instant, I no longer w i s t f u l l y dreamed of writing; instead, I seized the opportunity and began writing. I t was as i f I 5 had needed permission to write. A l l my other w r i t i n g had been academic, objective, never-say-I writing. But, as Carl had talked about writing from the heart, he also introduced concepts of deconstruction and post-modernism to me. What was t h i s ? Did some academics (not your ordinary kind of people) accept alternate approaches to meaning, embedded meanings i n texts? Did they recognize the person, the reader, the in d i v i d u a l background knowledge brought to a text? Could there be other st o r i e s , s t o r i e s that s l i d e out from under the ma[s]ter narrative? I could f e e l doors opening, landscapes broadening, a whole panorama of scenes to be played out. This writing course for me was extremely l i b e r a t i n g . I discovered parts of me I had never known. I f e l t free to say things i n my writing that I had hardly allowed myself to think. I t seems just i n time that I located myself amid these new ways of knowing. My leave was up and I had to return to the classroom. No outside force was act u a l l y compelling me; however, just as I had f e l t compelled to leave, I now f e l t compelled to return. In my new state of knowing, I f e l t excited about re-entering the classroom with my newly acknowledged s e l f , my new approaches to teaching and learning. Relocating When I l e f t the classroom, I had been a senior member 6 of an English Department and I taught senior courses. Returning from leave, I had a choice of teaching a l l senior courses at one school or a mix of grades nine and eleven at another. I chose the l a t t e r . Junior grades do not seem as presti g i o u s ; they are not looked upon as the "cream" of the English Department. Grade nine, i n p a r t i c u l a r , i s most challenging. You have to get beyond t r i c k s of classroom management before you can exchange ideas. Grade nine students need behavioural s p e c i a l i s t s . Or so I had believed. Why, then, did I choose the junior grades? My writing course and my subsequent personal w r i t i n g had helped me see beneath my facade. At the end of my writ i n g course I wrote, . . . t h i s writing course has brought me closer to the truth of my life, closer than I have allowed myself to be for a long time. It i s interesting that I have never found time to write from my heart. I have a l o t of heart in me. Sometimes it has fairly burst with feelings but I have had to pen them i n . Sometimes, the feelings seeded small s t o r i e s begging to be t o l d . But they have j u s t been there in l i t t l e glimpses as if I have always kept a v e i l over them. I could not claim a v a l i d i t y for them; I could not find a reason to write them down, to lift off the v e i l , to take a chisel to the surface and give these thoughts and feelings a shape. I have always f e l t that if I cracked the surface, I would expose a l o t of raw, disconnected and embarrassing parts of me. Better to keep undercover. (Journal, Mar. 93) 7 I suspected that under cover of the l a b e l , "senior English teacher," might hide an incompetent and insecure teacher of junior grades. Did I know how to "teach" these new adolescents with t h e i r boundless energy and unharnessed attention? I had to l i f t the v e i l and f i n d out. Now, empowered with a new sense of a b i l i t y , and f o r t i f i e d with new ideas, I was ready to tackle my past inadequacies. In September 1993, I stepped back into the Grade nine classroom. Each class, shaped by the interactions of various i n d i v i d u a l s , seems to develop i t s own personality. Of the two grade nine classes that I taught, my Block G c l a s s f i t the facetious description of the class from h e l l . There were twenty-three students: small i n s i z e but big i n challenges. Eight of the ten g i r l s were very quiet; seven of the t h i r t e e n boys were extremely noisy. As i n most Vancouver schools i n the nineties, t h i s class was a mix of e t h n i c i t y and race. The dominant forces f o r me to deal with, however, seemed to be personality and gender. The noisy boys grouped together i n each class at the back of the room. They were a c t i v e l y involved i n whole cl a s s discussions and group webbing exercises on the overhead projector. In small groups, however, they became counter-productive and disruptive. Sometimes they were downright troublesome, always demanding special attention to stay on track. 8 My attempts to challenge my students to speak and write about human values and s o c i a l issues found i n l i t e r a t u r e and r e a l l i f e were often scuttled by the group of dominant p e r s o n a l i t i e s whose moments of serious consideration could not fend o f f the sudden and numerous attacks of attention-grabbing, sensation-setting s i l l i n e s s . The clash of expectations for classroom demeanour created a tension, sometimes antagonistic, sometimes creative, that moved me to r e f l e c t i n writing on my r e l a t i o n s h i p with the students and my reactions to the classroom events. My writing became my t o o l f o r r e f l e c t i o n , i n t e r p r e t a t i o n and problem-solving. I was astounded at how my writing allowed me to a r t i c u l a t e my own concerns and illuminate my own reactions. Writing pulled deep understandings out of me, but my re-reading of my w r i t i n g and my i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of i t showed me more. When I f i r s t wrote a poem about one es p e c i a l l y troubling student, I was so s t i r r e d by the connections my poem allowed me to make that I decided to write about other students and then about the whole c l a s s . Eventually, I r e a l i z e d I was keeping a journal. I did not record every day's events, but I did write when something happened that caused consternation or r e v e l a t i o n . Much of the time I would begin writing i n the mode of r e f l e c t i v e narrative, but often I would turn to a poetic mode to capture some perception or f e e l i n g that I found d i f f i c u l t to a r t i c u l a t e i n prose. My poetry became a 9 medium through which I could communicate my deeper responses and through which I could see new ways to understand. My wr i t i n g throughout i s interpretive i n my attempt to describe the energy and the opposing forces i n t h i s c l a s s . I set my c o n f l i c t s on a landscape that changes form with the forces of my experience. As I journey from a decaying bog through the challenges of a rugged t e r r a i n and under the c l e a r wide skies of an open p l a i n to the r e s t o r a t i v e seaside, I present ba t t l e scenes, detentes and reprieves. The metaphor of b a t t l e plays an important r o l e on t h i s journey, but the moments of r e a l harmony and epiphany charge the s p i r i t . 10 This Teaching Land I have found i n the land of teaching a r i c h domain that offers f e r t i l e s o i l for i t s hearty crop c o l o u r f u l f o l k a l l t o i l i n g i n great devotion to the task of learning I have read i n a range of regions how powerful demagogues mind t h e i r own sufferance and promotion a l l subjects bent together sowing seeds of changing times I have stayed awhile to write a golden harvest of f r u i t f u l growing a thoughtful tending to wheat and chaff feasting celebrants for future states when the s p i r i t w i l l search anew 11 This thesis, i n the s p i r i t of r a d i c a l hermeneutics i s a r e - i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of my school-year-long experience as i t re/presents meaning for me at t h i s phase of my teaching career. My understanding of the theories of hermeneutic phenomenology and my experience i n the grade nine classroom come together i n t h i s writing and I o f f e r them here f o r reading i n the hope that they w i l l be as i n s i g h t f u l to the reader as they have been to me. The process of r e f l e c t i v e narrative and hermeneutic inquiry has been a great teacher. Through these processes, I have been able to de/center myself and o f f e r an autobiographical writing that reveals my personal s t o r i e s , memories from the distant and recent past. So i n the s p i r i t of other opening l i n e s , I begin. The truth seems to be, however, that when he [sic] casts . . . leaves f o r t h upon the wind, the author addresses, not the many who w i l l f l i n g aside h i s volume, or never take i t up, but the few who w i l l understand . . . better than most Some authors, indeed, do fa r more than t h i s , and indulge themselves i n such c o n f i d e n t i a l depths of revelation as could f i t t i n g l y be addressed only and exclusively to the one heart and mind of perfect sympathy; as i f the printed book, thrown at large on the wide world, were certa i n to f i n d out the divided segment of the writer's own nature, and complete h i s c i r c l e of existence by bringing him into communion with i t . (Hawthorne, 15) I i n v i t e you to explore with me, as I shed past attitudes, tread new ground and f i n d wide skies of p o s s i b i l i t i e s . 12 2 . Minding the Landscape Finding a Path In an attempt to locate my teaching/self, I look f o r paths of inquiry, f a m i l i a r , well-worn paths, new i n v i t i n g paths, paths with challenge. I t r y them out, t e s t i n g the ground, looking at the twists and turns, and hoping f o r some grand v i s t a s along the way. But i n my search, I am bothered by a sense of dis/placement and I f e e l compelled to re/locate c e r t a i n mis/understandings of a teaching s e l f discarded somewhere i n a bog of f a i l u r e , stuck and abandoned, while part of me sets o f f on safer missions. This year, I trekked around that bog where I had abandoned the problems and challenges of teaching young adolescents i n English 9. And t h i s r e / v i s i t a t i o n was the beginning of a whole new journey of discovery, a journey to new and d i f f e r e n t places; yet, the setting o f f was from that bog. Yes, I began with a re/tracing of my steps, my attitudes and assumptions about the fourteen and f i f t e e n -year-olds who embody that in-between-life that i s neither naive nor informed, a murky tes t i n g ground f o r the challenges of l i f e that i s to come. On the surface, young adolescents approximate adults. They can pretend, assume, and experiment; they can model adult behaviour, adult under/standing; but they are beings f i l l e d with i n s e c u r i t y , uncertainty and impropriety. As I write these descriptors 13 and judgments,I f e e l as i f I am betraying them because t h i s i s sometimes what they seem and most of the time what they are not . But, when I l e f t that part of me that otherwise would engage i n teaching/ learning with these adolescents , I l e f t myself, i n that regard, i n a boggy mire of mis/understandings and negative judgments. I embraced a un ivoca l pronouncement of the sum t o t a l of t h e i r being. There was nothing e lse to them and I chose another course. Now, I have gone on too long without so much as a backward glance. But I cannot forget them or that part of me that i s abandoned i n that bog. I t becomes a mire of my own misgiv ings . s e c r e t s c a r s i deny defeat do not discuss scars on my psyche l e f t from t rave l s through dark times shiny badges banners of br ighter colour swaddled by wounded pr ide pronounce the bat t l e s won but bind me to a place i want to leave i must u n / s t i c k myself from that [m]/ir[e] r e / v i s i t my darkness un/swaddle un/growing and get on with my journey 14 As I get on with my journey, and attempt to unstick myself from the mire, I f i n d myself face-to-face with grade nine English,students who, fo r years, I had avoided teaching. To teach was to bat t l e for control; to take them on a journey was to get bogged down. These are but two metaphors that come to mind as I seek to describe my experience with t h i s age group. But, as I engage i n a new teaching/learning experience with them a f t e r ten years, I f i n d myself ready to " r e / v i s i t the darkness," to expose the wounds and the sense of defeat, to t r y to understand. Hermeneutic "self-understanding" begins at t h i s Wound: the place of weakness and p a i n — t h e place of "openness" and "porousness" and "connectedness". . . . This reading of the Wound reminds us that our children are of our f l e s h and our pedagogies must not pathologize the l i v i n g and the coming and the going i n the embrace of the Earth. (Jardine, 1992, 45) In my search for understanding I look f o r paths, f o r di r e c t i o n s , f o r signs. I am on a t e s t i n g ground, and I want to know where I am going. I ask questions. What do I [not] know? About my teacher/self? About my learner/students? About my subject/English? How do I [not] know? How can I [not] know? The negations, the denials, the unknowns are enclosed t h e r e — t h e other side of the coin, the counter-balance, the inter-play between the question and the 15 answer. They are there when I am not, when I stop t r a v e l l i n g along my journey. They are there when I have to change my course. But I learn that i f I begin my mission of discovery, I open myself up to knowing, and to not knowing. The -Mode of Travel In my search for understanding, I begin writ i n g . I am drawn to the path of r e f l e c t i v e narrative. I t s a t i s f i e s my desire to write, my mode of t r a v e l , and i t allows me to place before me a l l the points of i n t e r e s t along the way. From a phenomenological point of view, to research i s always to question the way we experience the world, to want to know the world i n which we live....Phenomenology i s , i n a broad sense, a philosophy of the unique, i t i s interested i n what i s e s s e n t i a l l y not replaceable.... Phenomenological research sponsors a cert a i n attentiveness to the d e t a i l s and seemingly t r i v i a l dimensions of our everyday educational l i v e s , (van Manen, 1984b, 160-68 i n Brown, 1991, 57) The points of inte r e s t compel me, give me i n t e r / e s t : about my/self/my students/my relationship with my students. In my i n t e r / e s t I gain knowledge about my attitudes, my b e l i e f s , my hopes, my fru s t r a t i o n s , my fears, my b a t t l e s , my pain and my joy. My i n t e r / e s t i n t e r j e c t s me into the middle of my/self (my esse) and I re/member a basic philosophical p r i n c i p l e : esse est percipi (to be i s to be perceived) 16 (George Berkeley, 1685-1753). My writing, my narrative, becomes me, i s me. In another sense, I become my writin g . So I have a body of narratives that I want to understand. They are my thoughts and my fe e l i n g s and I read and re/read them, write about them and re/write them and re/read the re/writing about them. In t h i s process I have layers upon layers of perceptions. And I model Berkeley's phrase: to write i s to perceive and to be perceived. But t h i s whole act of writing i s a weaving of writing modes and perspectives: writing narratives, r e f l e c t i n g and int e r p r e t i n g , writing poetry, having my narratives i n s p i r e my poetry and my poetry inspire my narratives. I t i s both a pursuit of knowledge, a journey toward understanding, and a statement of a temporary understanding along the way. One of the essential c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s of narrative i s that i t includes change. If anything at a l l i s to happen i n the story, change must occur. And change takes time. In a narrative the timespan encompassed can be anything from a second to centuries, but there i s recognition of time passing. . . . Discursive writing, however, i s dated. When we read i t , we want to know when i t was written and take the time of wri t i n g into account as we read . . .. [It] requires a date of writing as a guide to the context within which i t must be interpreted. Neither of these conditions i s necessary for poetry. To the extent that a poem deals with u n i v e r s a l i t i e s , i t i s eternity i n a moment. (Hunsberger, 1991, 78) 17 Travel Guides A l l these writings weave a continuous journey throughout my being and, as I journey, my layers a l t e r my understanding, add to my understanding and negate my understanding. My narratives and my poetry remain true to me, but my discourses about them are not constant. I begin to question my own questions, doubt my own knowledge. I f e e l somewhat disoriented along my journey and I search f o r t r a v e l guides along the way. P a t t i Lather i n Getting Smart introduces me to Michel Foucault who argues f o r an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical l i f e i n which our c r i t i q u e of what we are i s at one and the same time the h i s t o r i c a l analysis of the l i m i t s that are imposed on us and an experiment with the p o s s i b i l i t y of going beyond them. (38) Lather goes on to say that the c r i t i q u e Foucault t a l k s about s h i f t s the focus from a search for formal structures and universal values to how we are constituted as subjects of our own knowledge. This work done at the intersection of knowledge i s neither for or against the Enlightenment. I t i s , rather, against that which presents i t s e l f as finished and authoritarian, and for that which i s "indispensable f o r the constitution of ourselves as autonomous s u b j e c t s " — a permanent c r i t i q u e of ourselves, "always i n the p o s i t i o n of beginning again." (38) This i s part of my discovery from t h i s t r i p of mine back to that bog. Now that I have r e v i s i t e d the bog, I see that the mire i s no longer so murky. My perspective has changed. I see i t from a d i f f e r e n t vantage point and i t has changed. Oh, there are f a m i l i a r sights, some tangled web of seaweed and reeds that darken the waters, decomposing woodchips and peat moss that threaten to stop me i n the guagmire. But now I see them as part of my t r i p where I walk unsure of foot, part of my development, part of l i f e ' s journey, not meant to deny or negate but rather to reveal and teach. I r e / c a l l t h i s bog as the repository of many l o s t b a t t l e s , i n t e r n a l within myself and between my students and me. Strangely, now my battles are fought on a d i f f e r e n t p l a i n and f o r d i f f e r e n t reasons. The more I journey through my w r i t i n g and gain new perspectives, the more I cannot see whole v i s t a s without knowing that there are separate parts, part of the whole and very separate at the same time. And I refuse to generalize when I know there are g e n e r a l i t i e s , don't want to stereotype when I b a t t l e the dominant patterns. This perplexing new set of contradictions defies my old perspectives and leads me into a post/modern p o s i t i o n from which to interpret my experiences. 19 The idea of the text introduces the notion of multiple, or even c o n f l i c t i n g interpretations. If a l l the world i s l i k e a text then everyone becomes a reader (and an author). And the question arises, whose reading, whose interpretation, i s the correct one. (van Manen, 1990, 39) At times, I know that I have much to learn from my students. I r e l y on my writing to highlight, focus, give in s i g h t , a kind of spotlight or magnification under which I see the unseen, look past the shadows and walls, see the parts of the whole. But, as Jardine writes, Interpretive-interpretable writing i s f u l l of weakness and f r a i l t i e s , open-textured, leaving room for the new eruption of meaning, leaving room f o r the new, leaving room i n a n t i c i p a t i o n of the agonizing, re-generative and fucking dangerous a r r i v a l of the young, (77) and I admit that my writing has no one insight or cl e a r v i s i o n . I doubt, question, even chide myself f o r my s e l f -deceit. What do I think I have discovered about these re/current grade nines? Have I re-immersed myself i n the bog? But there can be no turning around. I began t h i s journey to look back and forward at the same time and I am committed to continuing i t , for now. I write and read. What do I discover? 20 I f the present i s structured by the past, i t i s also pressured by the future. We always have the awareness that the present, however i d y l l i c , i s bound to give way to the future. And the future brings an ending. Only i f awareness of the future and endings can be escaped can the present have a vestige of timelessness. Is that possible? "The knowledge i s inherent i n human awareness that our existence stretches along from b i r t h to death. We cannot step out of time or keep the future from becoming the past. We are r a d i c a l l y temporal. (Polkinghorne, 1988, 129, i n Hunsberger, 1991, 90) I f i n d that, as I journey onward, I am caught i n the tangled web of new ideas. Post-modern. Pos t - s t r u c t u r a l . Deconstructive. Post-Marxist. P o s t - P o s i t i v i s t . Feminist. Some of these concepts are so generally l a b e l l e d that t h e i r meaning escapes me. Is there a meaning? Do I impart the meaning? Does any of i t have meaning? Do J have a meaning? When I question my meaning, I question my own perception of myself. This new perception clashes with the old esse est percipi. I f I am not perceived, do I not exist? There i t i s : n i h i l i s m . The c r i t i c i s m of a l l t h i s post-mo/de/rn deconstruction i s that i t verges on disorder and chaos, even n i h i l i s m (Lather, 40). But n [ i ] h [ i ] l [ i ] s m , without the I may not have meaning. Surely, with the multipresent I, the s e l f i s i n t e n s i f i e d i n s u b j e c t i v i t y and cannot be denied. Or looking at i t from another perspective: n i h i l i s m . N i l i s him. Can my feminism annihilate? There i s negativism and violence i n here somehow. Is i t i n 21 the new ideas themselves or i s i t with the new ideas that I become more aware of the [d]angers lurking amidst i t a l l . De[con]struct. The p o s s i b i l i t y i s there that with [con structivism] new thinking patterns, I do not have to destruct anything. In my new p o s t - s t r u c t u r a l i s t stance, my referenced power structure fades and I co-exist with my students, struggling against/with/for them. I want to empower myself and also empower them. The [d]angers that e x i s t s t i l l r a i s e doubts and fears, but the s i t u a t i o n and a l l i t s constituent parts are clearer. Yes, there i s a fear i n a l l t h i s . In the midst of a l l these "post-isms" and "de[con]structivisms" i s the fear of being so self-analyzed, so "other" negative that I become completely undefined, at the edge, open-ended and I ask, "So What?," and look f o r comfort. The n i h i l i s t i c forgetfulness of the essence of our being as teachers curiously turns loose a c e r t a i n s e l f -destructiveness. This i s evident i n the problem l a t e l y referred to as teacher burn-out. Teacher burn-out i s the modern case of the enduring problem of n i h i l i s m : the higher values are l o s i n g t h e i r value. The ends are lacking, said Nietzsche; there i s no answer to t h i s question: "What's the use?" And ac t u a l l y the n i h i l i s t i c "what's the use" i s less a question than a sigh, a shrugging-off of any suggestion that there might be cause for hope. Teacher burn-out i s not necessarily a symptom of excessive output of e f f o r t , of being over-worked. I t may be the condition that ensues when as teachers we no longer know why we are doing what we are 22 doing. Teacher burn-out i s hopeless i n that nobody can make us believe there i s an answer to the sigh, "What's the use?" (van Manen, 1990, 123) Reading about deconstructivism and post-modern/post-structuralism allows me to place my narrative with i t s de/centered s t o r i e s with/in a philosophical o r i e n t a t i o n — a broader base of si m i l a r approaches to pedagogy. And reading such pedagogues as Lather (Getting Smart, 1992), Jardine (Speaking with a Boneless Tongue. 1994) and van Manen (Researching Lived Experience. 1990), I f e e l comforted that my s t o r i e s and my s e n s i b i l i t i e s have company with the understandings of others. These authors touch me with t h e i r a r t i c u l a t i o n of attitudes, orientations, understandings and I experience a h e a r t f e l t kinship with t h e i r minds. When I was an undergraduate, the modernists had shaped my thinking. I read Joyce and accepted h i s acclaim: "[a]s the great age of Modernism recedes, i t grows increasingly c l e a r that the decisive English Language book of the century was Ulysses, the f i r s t p i v o t a l book i n English since Paradise Lost". (Hugh Kenner, 1978, i n Heilbrun, 1990, 67) I re/think about Joyce and how I held h i s w r i t i n g i n awe, unquestioningly. Now, I think about my aw[e]ful acceptance and non-understanding of how i t re/presented a knowledge 23 structure. I was quite drawn to the modern age angst of loneliness and al i e n a t i o n amid a vast world of mechanization. I had read about the shallowness of human rel a t i o n s h i p s , the loss of human f e e l i n g , the s u p e r f i c i a l i t y of society amid cynicism, skepticism, and war. But now, I understand more c l e a r l y , more t r u l y , for t h i s instance i n my l i f e , V i r g i n i a Woolf's point of view. "Where Woolf departs from Joyce i s i n her thorough skepticism about the structures (Joyce's micro-and macrocosms) western culture has constructed on the 'void i n c e r t i t u d e ' and i n her r a d i c a l inquiry into the grounds and legitimacy of the authority commanded by the phantom power of history, society, and r e l i g i o n over l i f e i t s e l f . " (Maria DiBattista, 1980, i n Heilbrun, 1990, 83) In my poetry classes, I embraced the Imagistsi The truth i s that the writer's a r t consists above a l l i n making us forget that he uses words. The harmony he seeks i s a certain correspondence between the movements of h i s mind and the phrasing of his speech, a correspondence so perfect that the undulations of his thought, born of the sentence, s t i r us sympathetically; consequently the words, taken i n d i v i d u a l l y no longer count. There i s nothing l e f t but the flow of meaning which pervades the words, nothing but two minds, without the presence of an intermediary, which appear to vibrate sympathetically. The rhythm of speech has, then, no other object than the reproduction of the rhythm of thought. (Henri Bergson, c i t e d i n The Modern Age. 46) 24 Does post-modernism negate the value of these past ideas? I read Jardine's quoting of William Carlos William's "Red Wheelbarrow" and r e v i s i t my f i r s t excitement about t h i s presentation of r e a l i t y . This luscious release into the stubborn p a r t i c u l a r s of a l i f e a c t u ally l i v e d , with a l l i t s kin abounding—this i s one of the deep haunts of phenomenology—a l i f e - w o r l d and the deep love of the pa r t i c u l a r s of the Earthworld wormed down, fleshbound. The heat and the howl of loving suspicion as the core of inter p r e t a t i o n . Reading the world and i t s pungent signs and marks l e f t on t r a i l s and on faces and etched i n soft underbelly utterance and hiss of l i v i n g texts. (Jardine, 1992, xix) Acculturating But I have adopted p o s i t i v i s t / s t r u c t u r a l i s t / h u m a n i s t systems of analysis i n the examination of some theory or i t s implications f o r practice and sometimes l o s t the sense of the experimental and divergent perspective. As I think now i n terms of post-modernism/post-structuralism, phenomenology, inter p r e t i v e narrative and deconstruction, I f e e l an excitement, a comfort likened to the f e e l i n g of coming home af t e r a long time of being away, or perhaps fi n d i n g a home after a long time of wandering homeless. Is t h i s my feminine "odyssey?" A l l the "structured" analysis 25 seems very distanced from the heart of the matter now. I t was distanced from the heart of me and i t was distanced from the heart of my pedagogy: l i f e i n the classroom! So I look into the phenomena of my classroom l i f e and there I f i n d the d i r e c t i o n for my cerebral wanderings. The l i v e d experience I share with my students so compels me to write that I stumble upon the path for my discoveries. I begin writing, f i r s t about one student. And I discover more about that student and my relationship with him. In a deco n s t r u c t i v i s t mode I see his name has a message fo r me and I write a poem. I am hooked on t h i s c l a s s . The w r i t i n g has connected me, has made t h i s r e v i s i t a t i o n e x c i t i n g , challenging and promising of many discoveries. My journey of discovery through writing presents many points of inte r e s t , s i t e s along the way that i n v i t e me to pause and r e f l e c t . They remain highlighted i n my memory, but r e f l e c t i o n and r e v i s i t a t i o n reveal shapes and patterns i n new ways. These points of inte r e s t are interpreted through my narrative and r e f l e c t e d upon i n my re/reading and re/writing for how they re/shape my teacher/self. Souvenirs of the Journey The r e t e l l i n g of my journey into the English 9 classroom shows me patterns, heals c e r t a i n wounds and opens others. My writing presents a movement from external v i s i o n s of the whole with vague assumptions and acceptances 26 to the face-to-face spontaneity of i n d i v i d u a l contact with a l l i t s reactions, emotions and judgments. This movement allows me to reconstruct the whole, a whole that cannot be packaged and sealed but must remain open fo r inspection when i t leaves i t s point of departure as a souvenir of a journey unfinished. My journey begins with a b r i e f re/turn to my "Bog" of assumptions and expectations, hopes and dreams f o r my English 9 students, for the class as a whole and f o r the i n d i v i d u a l s . In t h i s stage of my journey, I confront my past understandings of my relationship with my students and my problems with control. The t h e o r e t i c a l language of c h i l d "science" so e a s i l y makes us look past each c h i l d ' s uniqueness toward common ch a r a c t e r i s t i c s that allow us to group, sort, s i f t , measure, manage, and respond to children i n preconceived ways. . . . Putting children away by means of technical or instrumental language i s r e a l l y a kind of s p i r i t u a l abandonment, (van Manen, 1986, 18) I do not stay long i n t h i s repository of old views but move on quickly to a more rugged t e r r a i n where I carry the deconstructive mode into an on-going struggle. As i f i n a new land, I immerse myself i n a foreign culture, t r y to learn a new language, t e s t new ways of knowing. At t h i s stage I explore r i s k y areas, examine the l e a s t "safe" regions of t r a v e l . I f e e l "foreign", unaccepted and, at the 27 same time, I f i n d i t impossible to condone the alternate values. I f e e l opposition. This new land i s c e r t a i n l y uneven and rugged. I t fe e l s l i k e a b a t t l e f i e l d . But time and careful observation allow me to see the in d i v i d u a l s , t h e i r public selves, t h e i r armoured, private selves and I make a connection with them that looks f o r t h e i r worth, t h e i r problems, t h e i r promises. Here I stay awhile to l i v e with them, re l a t e to them, learn t h e i r language. I see t h i s phase geographically on an open p l a i n . The . . . pedagogue i s oriented toward the c h i l d i n a special way. While being concerned with maturation, growth and learning, I do t h i s : I immediately enter a very personal r e l a t i o n s h i p with the c h i l d . There i s a fellow f e e l i n g between us but at the same time another and new d i s t a n t i a t i o n which makes me "his [her] observer". Since I "know" t h i s c h i l d I can hold back s u p e r f i c i a l judgments about him [her]. And i n t h i s holding back I create another "distance", but now of a d i f f e r e n t order of o b j e c t i v i t y than the distance of the outside observer. "Simultaneously I stand closer but also further away." There i s a maximal closeness with the maintenance of distance. This i s what Beets means when he says "pedagogic observation i s : discovering and meeting the other i n the heart of personal existence." (van Manen, 1979, 14) Having engaged i n bat t l e and ventured out i n the open with my concerns and interpretations, I allow myself to think about the relationships I have formed through my wri t i n g about my in d i v i d u a l "at r i s k " students. These 28 students were my warriors, my strongest v i s i b l e opposition. They have shaped my journey t h i s past year and made me more aware of the b a t t l e , but I have learned that they weren't j u s t f i g h t i n g me, nor me them. At the end of my journey I stop at the seaside f o r r e f l e c t i o n . In t h i s re/treat I can leave the i n d i v i d u a l s and search for my/self again. In t h i s search f o r my/self, I l e t the teacher/self break away and examine the part of me that does the r e l a t i n g , the learning and the teaching. I see issues i n my l i f e . I re/cognize and re/think my past understandings. I address c o n f l i c t , t r y to l a b e l i t and place i t i n a broader world beyond t h i s classroom. During t h i s r e / t r e a t I look at myself and my perspective. I see myself as a woman/teacher. I see myself as a mother/teacher with memories of my g i r l / s e l f and my own mother/model and father/model and teacher/model. I look to my growing past and wonder about the metamorphosis of my ever present. Here I i n / f l e c t what I may have de/flected before and my r e / f l e [ x ] i o n i s r e / v i t a l i z i n g . We must recognize what the past suggests: women are well beyond youth when they begin often unconsciously to create another story. Not even then do they recognize i t as another story. Usually they believe that the obvious reasons for what they are doing are the only ones; only i n hindsight. . . can the concealed story be surmised. (Heilbrun, 1988) 29 My w r i t i n g becomes a metaphorical t r a v e l l o g , a so u v e n i r o f my p e r s o n a l journey. Maybe I can package i t w i t h some k i n d o f m a i l i n g stamp and d e s c r i p t i o n o f the c o n t e n t s , p l a c e i t i n a temporal l o c a t i o n f o r a l l my relatives, f o r any connections t h a t I have made al o n g the way, and f o r myself as a map t r a c i n g my journey on i n t o the f u t u r e . Becomings belong t o geography, they a r e o r i e n t a t i o n s , d i r e c t i o n s , e n t r i e s and e x i t s . There i s a woman-becoming which i s not the same as women, t h e i r p a s t and t h e i r f u t u r e , and i t i s e s s e n t i a l t h a t women ent e r t h i s becoming t o get out of t h e i r p a s t and t h e i r f u t u r e , t h e i r h i s t o r y . (Deleuze and P a r n e l , "Dialogues", 2) 30 b e c o m i n g i we/nt to europe to f i n d myself i n the s[event]ies i wasn't t[her]e i wasn't anyw[her]e because a l l t [ h i s ] time i have been b[eco]ming i n t h i s ne/w age of ex/ploration i un/mesh myself re/lease my l i f e from my /pa/st point to the future s t i l l be/com/ing but k/now/ing w[here] to look 3. From Bog to B a t t l e f i e l d Bog I conceptualize my experience teaching English 9 t h i s past year as a journey that begins with a return to an abandoned place i n my teaching history. I had found teaching grade nines to be demanding and unpleasant. I d i d not r e l a t e well to that age, nor had I been successful at managing t h e i r classroom interactions. I had not taught English 9 for ten years. I recognize that i t i s not the English 9 class, the English 9 fourteen-year-olds, but . rather, I, as teacher of fourteen-year-olds, who was stagnant. I had allowed my teacher-self, as a teacher of fourteen-year-olds to die, or at least to l i e dormant somewhere, sometimes s t i f l e d i n the stagnation of negative f e e l i n g s . As I re/member, I metaphorically locate my ideas on a s p a t i a l p l a i n where concepts, b e l i e f s , attitudes, perspectives, feelings, biases, seem intertwined and tangled, decomposing, decaying. I think of classroom antics and self-centered students, boisterous, shy, awkward, boasting, l i t t l e o f f e r i n g of thoughtful minds with which to r e f l e c t on language and l i t e r a t u r e . Most of my f e e l i n g s ( b e l i e f s , concepts = feelings) had been so shaded by negative memories that they blocked any desire to enter the English 9 classroom again or to f e e l a sense of hope f o r 3 2 what I thought to be the "un/teachability" of the age. I likened t h i s state of my mind to a bog that has had i t s natural l i f e processes impeded by unsound environmental p r a c t i c e s . Too much rot! Bogs are old geographical areas created by deposits of wood and f i b r e c a r r i e d along riverways. Over the ages, debris builds up and the r i v e r forges new courses i n the delta, moves away from the bogs, with sediment and marshlands in-between. Yet, the bog i s not devoid of l i f e . There, bushes grow instead of trees, and other small l i f e forms such as insects and rabbits t h r i v e i n t h i s habitat. Decomposed f i b r e s form peat that can be extracted to mix into other s o i l s to f e r t i l i z e stronger growth elsewhere. My past feelings, my attitudes are dead wood discarded and de/compdsing, but as I revis/it the site, I notice that all is not dead. (Journal Entry, October, '93) When I venture into the bog, I f i n d the ground i s unstable, spongy and constantly moving beneath my feet. The bog i s not an easy place to be. I have to look hard i n concentrated study to determine the life-forms there. In and under the grey intertwining of twisted branches and over the spongy peat, the song birds twitter that hope and promise are a l i v e . 33 Avoidance of the bog had allowed me to ignore the lifeforms there, had fostered a belief that all was dead, worthless. But closer study now shows me that every bit of nature has its useful purpose just as every age of student has lessons to learn and worth to discover. (Journal Entry, Oct. '93) I t was with t h i s sense of location that I began teaching grade nines again. I had a l o t of untangling to do. I was returning to teaching from a three year leave. Part of that leave had been spent i n graduate studies re/discovering myself as teacher, and part of i t had been spent i n the home with my family, my husband and my two sons, now aged 12 and 15. My oldest son was entering grade nine. Did the fac t that I was mothering a son of the same age cut through the negative memories and allow me to f e e l hope and new int e r e s t i n t h i s age group? I d i d not want my son abandoned i n some bog. My love and concern f o r my own children, and, ce r t a i n l y , my interest i n the needs of my eldest son who l i v e s with multiple handicaps, predisposed i n me a readiness to re-enter the grade nine classroom. So, as I was struggling on the home-front to gain understanding of my growing son, I entered into the classroom to begin another struggle, a struggle to overcome c e r t a i n past f e e l i n g s , mis/understandings and a struggle to enter into a po s i t i v e teacher-student relationship with these students. 34 I r e a d i l y entered the classroom c l e a r l y conscious of the unsteady ground of the bog where many of my fe e l i n g s s t i l l lay. I had embarked on a journey into t h i s bog, a journey of investigation and discovery, a journey of c a r e f u l seeing into areas that I had dis/regarded before. As I attempted to esta b l i s h teacher-learner rapport, I stumbled i n the mire, not once but several times, and f e l t threatened by the dangerous tangle of st i c k s and barbs. At times t h i s bog seemed benign enough i n i t s de/composed state; at other times i t raged a malignant ba t t l e both p r i v a t e l y within myself and p u b l i c l y between me and my students; but there were s t i l l other times when the bog rang out i t s own re j o i c e s of new-found composition. Treading into the bog was c l e a r l y an intrusion, an imposition of new energy into old dying forms. Awareness of t h i s created a sense of tension i n myself. At some point i n the f a l l of the year, I began keeping a journal. My reading of i t now i s another r e / v i s i t a t i o n of discovery where I re/encounter meaning i n my battles, my joys, and my fear of being stuck again. The dominant discovery i s my growing understanding, but i n my growth I am fraught with tension about my mis[sed]understanding from past experiences and my growing sense of caring for each student despite the sometimes state of c o n f l i c t we are i n . 35 The difference between the educator and the student i s a phenomenon involving a cert a i n permanent tension, which i s , a f t e r a l l , the same tension that e x i s t s between theory and practice, between authority and freedom, and perhaps between yesterday and today. When educators are conscious of t h i s tension and t h i s difference, they must be constantly a l e r t to not l e t t i n g these differences become antagonistic. What we have to do i s to l i v e each day with the learners and cope with t h i s tension between u s — a tension that i s reconcilable. Recognizing t h i s s i t u a t i o n as reconcilable, and not antagonistic, q u a l i f i e s us as democratic educators, not e l i t i s t s and authoritarians. (Freire, 1985, 177) The Classroom as B a t t l e f i e l d When I re-faced a resistance to engage i n learning as I prescribed i t for t h i s class, I remembered the reasons that I got "bogged down." Students come into the classroom with their armour on, ready for the full frontal attack. At best they are cautious. Singled out, they are defensive; in groups they can be offensive and, at any moment, they are quick to retreat. Even if I, as teacher, do not feel at all militaristic, the class begins with the imaginary battle lines drawn where teacher and student enter into a kind of no man's land tentatively unsure of where the first shot will come from.. At best, diplomacy rules, treaties are agreed upon and a general detente ensues. (Journal Entry, Oct. '93) 3 6 At a distance now, from t h i s class, I re/read t h i s explanation of the way things happened i n t h i s c l a s s as highly generalized and tense. My view of t h i s now i s a re/view and I know that the individuals i n t h i s c l a s s have formed r e a l relationships with me. I smart at t h i s d e s c r i p t i o n . I want to change i t . From another perspective, I wonder whether i t was not I who f e l t m i l i t a r i s t i c and tense. After a l l , I was struggling to ba t t l e past f a i l u r e s . In another journal entry I acknowledge my discomfort with t h i s description: This was a new perspective. I have been away from teaching for three years. I do not remember ever thinking of my teaching in a metaphor of war. But then, I had purposely avoided grade nine and ten students because I did not like to fight. There seemed to me always too much to battle before I could have a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom. I was in a position of avoidance rationalized with superiority and achieved by seniority. It had been much easier to teach grade elevens and twelves. So I prided myself with having a better ability with the senior grades and dismissed the grade nine and ten students as being too involved with raging hormones for sensitivity and insight. I would take them when they were ready for personal growth and intelligent thought. Are they really unteachable? I have to find out. Was it me or them? I cannot allow myself to continue in the avoidance mode. (Journal Entry, Oct. '93) 37 I doubt t h a t grade nine students have changed a l l t h a t much s i n c e I l a s t encountered them. "Was i t me or them?" Phrased i n the c o l l o q u i a l , t h i s q u e s t i o n now seems r h e t o r i c a l as I c r e a t e some d i s t a n c e from my own words. Of course i t was "me." Or the "me" t h a t I used t o be. Yes, they p r e s e n t e d c h a l l e n g e s , but I c r i n g e now a t my t h i n k i n g of them as "unteachable." In a d e c o n s t r u c t i v e mode, I c h a l l e n g e myself: un/teach/able u n [ a b l e ] t o [ t ] e a c h each a b l e t o un/teach F r e i r e ' s words about t e n s i o n and antagonism express a t r u t h t h a t guides me i n my p e r s o n a l i n t e r a c t i o n s and, as such, i n my t e a c h i n g , but t h e i r f o c u s s e d a r t i c u l a t i o n c l a r i f i e s my o r i e n t a t i o n and g i v e s me a new und e r s t a n d i n g of the t e n s i o n t h a t I f e e l w i t h my grade n i n e s t u d e n t s . I n i t i a l l y , I remembered t h i s t e n s i o n as a n t a g o n i s t i c . I used the b a t t l e metaphor t o d e s c r i b e by r e l a t i o n s h i p w i t h my students because I saw my r e l a t i o n s h i p w i t h them as one of c o n f l i c t . They were my " f o e s . " T h e i r v e r y presence seemed a b l o c k t o my t e a c h i n g because I remembered grade n i n e s t u d e n t s as being "unteachable." Indeed, I saw my 38 s t u d e n t s as " f o e s " and when I entered the grade n i n e c l a s s r o o m I imagined t h a t I walked out on the b a t t l e f i e l d ! My most obvious "warriors" are but a handful of boisterous noisy types: Neil Ritchie, Chuck Kingsley, Eric Wong, Dee Fernandez. They, with a few quieter supporters, in their ranks lead the front every class. The rest of the students are behind their line, either quietly enjoying the fray or resenting the stalling tactics. I feel pressure. I am pressured by my own desire to help these soldiers at the front (back) drop their armour and gain some ground through thoughtfulness and intelligent growth and I am pressured by the students who lay back quietly, unable to come to the front. The quiet ones fight their battle silently. Their writing reveals a sensitivity or at least an honest attempt. They don't talk, but they pass. But I fear that the battalion of mercenaries that leave with a prize after every class causes everyone to lose: the quieter ones who never brave the fray or proffer sentiments, insights or questions and the warriors themselves who only learn that they can toss a grenade with abandon, destroy a class and leave us all scarred with the shrapnel of insensitivity and ignorance. ( J o u r n a l Entry, Oct. '93) But, as F r e i r e goes on t o say, t h e v e r y p r a c t i c e of t e a c h i n g i n v o l v e s l e a r n i n g on the p a r t of those we are tea c h i n g , as w e l l as l e a r n i n g , or r e l e a r n i n g , on the p a r t o f those who tea c h . . . i n a r e a l l e a r n i n g s i t u a t i o n 39 where the object of knowledge becomes a c r i t i c a l agent, rather than a possession. This kind of s i t u a t i o n mediates the c r i t i c a l agent, the educators and the learners. I t i s impossible to experience and appreciate someone i n t h i s concrete r e l a t i o n s h i p i f the educator and the learner do not know about one another, and i f they do not teach one another. (177) Surveillance Over the years of my avoidance of grade nines, I set up walls between who I am and who they are. A decade or so ago, I had l i t t l e understanding of fourteen-year-olds. I remember the tension and f r u s t r a t i o n , the antagonism. I remember the sometime f e e l i n g of dis t a s t e for t h e i r humour, t h e i r appearance, t h e i r behaviour. I paid l i p - s e r v i c e to the idea that t h e i r whole demeanor was a necessary part of t h e i r development, but I questioned whether i t r e a l l y was necessary. Was i t not possible for fourteen-year-olds to be s e n s i t i v e , compassionate, r e f l e c t i v e and mature? That question makes me laugh now. Now I question why I am ready to stop and think? What has made me "more mature," "more r e f l e c t i v e " i n my approach to fourteen-year-olds i n the classroom. Surely, those intervening years of mothering, of bringing a c h i l d to the point of being fourteen, of teaching, helping, guiding, worrying, of watching h i s peer group so c l o s e l y , of investing my very soul into the heart of beginning adolescence, have shaped me. No, I do not want simply to impart some body of knowledge to them, I want to 40 i n t e r a c t , share, r e l a t e and under/stand with them. That object of knowledge that I bring into the classroom f o r them i s only the " c r i t i c a l agent" (Freire, 1989) that mediates my re l a t i o n s h i p with them. Now I understand that i t i s impossible to have a relationship with my students i f I do not under/stand them and allow myself to learn from them as well. Now that I want to know them better, now that I watch them with a mother's eyes, I learn that, while they can be highly s e n s i t i v e and compassionate, they have trouble understanding t h e i r own s e n s i t i v i t y and compassion and they have yet to learn how to express t h e i r f e e l i n g s c l e a r l y . But why did I expect them to be mature? They were only fourteen! Reflection i s a thinking process that needs to be guided not only i n the young. Do they ever stop and think? Isn't that part of my job as a mature and r e f l e c t i v e adult to help them learn r e f l e c t i o n as a teac h / a b i l i t y ? Yes, I look back on my antagonistic stance toward my previous grade nines and I laugh. How f o o l i s h I was! How immature i n my understanding of my relationship with them. How I d i d not know them! How I did not know myself! I had not stopped to think. In t h i s new stance, my writing makes me stop and question and, through i t , I watch my students c a r e f u l l y . This process of writing/reading/re-writing and re-reading re/minds me of my challenges and goals for t h i s c l a s s t h i s past year. My challenges were battles: b a t t l e s with myself and my attitudes; battles with my students about attention 41 and behaviour; battles helping them f i g h t t h e i r b a t t l e s ; b a t t l e s meeting our goals. A l l was not easy. My f i r s t b a t t l e was to get out of my "bog" and then I struggled to remain out. Battles within battles, concentric b a t t l e s , layers of b a t t l e s , reprieve from battle, surrender, defeat, v i c t o r y . I see, through my writing, a b a t t l e raging within myself. I f e l t pulled by the needs of a l l my students, the warriors and the passive ones. I was entrenched and learning about l i f e i n my bog, not out i n the open but hiding amid the brambles. In the public of c l a s s discussion or s o c i a l i n t e r a c t i o n I faced the s i l l y remarks, loud disturbances, interruptions or the unresponsive, passive s i l e n c e , but as I wrote, I began to understand. 42 blue canopy a blue canopy coo 1 y. 1 u r e s me from a grey b r i e r i t e s t the lush green g round t e n t a t i v e l y hot red poppies f l a r e t h e i r petals mockingly purple i r i s e s s i l e n t l y sway against the reeds i'm i n a place where th/under c/loud/s can do/use the o range and y e l l ow s park sand dazzle e l e c t r i c a l energy of l i f e 43 Hermeneutically, I was finding my way out of my bog of past attitudes and dis/missives. Even though I was f i g h t i n g , I sensed something l u r i n g me into a more p o s i t i v e a t t i t u d e toward my teaching/students. I have already addressed part of that lure: the sense of nurturing ( l i f e -giving) that I f e l t toward students of t h i s age. But there was, along with t h i s awakened sense of nurturing, some re -awakened in t e r e s t i n the tools of teaching. Classroom str a t e g i e s , a c t i v i t i e s , learning strategies that I had re/newed my acquaintance with while I was i n grad-school. New ideas about writing, re/mindedness about classroom t a l k and teacher-fronted versus student p a r t i c i p a t o r y a c t i v i t i e s . I was excited and challenged and, with new armour of my own, ready to put theory into practice, but, as t h i s re/newed i n t e r / e s t lured me from the t h e o r e t i c a l posturings of grad-school papers into the classroom, I re/faced some old b a t t l e s i n the poppies and the i r i s e s . Interactions i n the classroom aroused i n me a sense of b a t t l e . I longed for a celebration of new ins i g h t s and personal revelations i n class discussions. I wanted considered comments and owned pronouncements. In my c o l o u r f u l v i s i o n s I hoped f o r a warm and secure classroom: 44 The classroom should be perceived as a ring, a pitch, a place to center oneself. And periods should be colored fragments that make the day. The shape speaks the color i t most e a s i l y harbors. Gold, yellow, orange, r e d — t h e embodiment of a c i r c l e — g i v e us warmth. The shape i s r e f l e c t i v e of the voices that are allowed to speak harmoniously or i n c o n f l i c t . . . . A c i r c l e generates intimate friends. I t generates warmth and intimate exchange. The conversation becomes more than two people. I t evokes voices of an ancestral past that has spoken on sim i l a r themes. I t demands that color be more musical and f l u i d , not attached to the r i g o r s of form but released to form i t s own harmonics of exchange.... The music i n our schools has a harmony. We f e e l i t i n the h a l l s , i n our classes, i n the lunchrooms. The buzz, the whispers, the s h r i l l s t e l l us the states of our bodies. (jagodzinski, 1992, 163) In teacher-dominated talk, students are cautious, scared and conceding. Even with group work and free discussion, classroom talk only reveals public selves, only follows prescribed formulae. How, then, can that individual connection be made? Not in the dynamics of classroom talk. It's a phony dynamic. 45 Teacher (me): Good morning class! Students (them): (some talk among themselves; some look up with baleful eyes; some mutter embarrassedly, "Good morning.") Teacher (me:) Well, I can see you're in good form this morning. Energetic. Ready to grasp the moment. Students (them): (expectant, suspicious, disinterested, bored, silent) What follows usually is a period of question and answer. I refer to the subject, most likely an episode from a short story or novel. I ask leading questions to elicit a desired response. Sometimes, I am pleasantly surprised by the insightful comments. Sometimes, I have to give my own interpretation. If all goes well, I can invite students to respond to each other. Most commonly, this sort of talk is structured or "staged." Both the students and I know it and we go through our routines. If the subject is about personal or "real life" issues, the students feel more control. They have authority over their comments. But s t i l l , that public self usually frames the response. Motives get in the way and I doubt the sincerity. Very rarely are the comments reflective and deep, although they might lead to further thought in writing. All too often, personal issues are subject to disparaging comments, smart aleck responses and other attention getting remarks by classroom bamboozlers uncomfortable with themselves. 46 As i n i t i a l contact, classroom talk i s simply teacher e l i c i t e d response, framed discussion, distorted messages that come amid the unstructured dynamic and cry for decoding. I can see from my scripted notes that I feel frustrated with classroom talk at this l e v e l . My l a s t remark i s s a r c a s t i c . Perhaps, I am guilty of providing a situation where students feel set up. At t h i s point, it i s clear that there i s no s i n c e r i t y . I do not have a class yet; I am part of a c o l l e c t i v e of isolated individuals who stretch t e n t a t i v e tentacles of speech across a sea of fear and uncertainty. (Journal, Oct. '93) There i s no c i r c l e shape i n my classroom with t h i s kind of t a l k . My students face me l i k e a ba t t a l i o n under inspection. Do they "pass muster"? I t i s no wonder that I f e e l embattled. I am besieged by old s t y l e teaching, conducting. I do not see or f e e l any colour but khaki and the camouflage of batt l e fatigues. Without writing about my classroom " t a l k , " I would not have thought about the shape or colour of my classroom. I would not have seen myself as some kind of army sergeant f u l l of sarcasm. My re/reading interprets t h i s sarcasm as a begrudging remark. I am annoyed that they do not t a l k to me re a d i l y and I am t r y i n g to goad them into t a l k i n g . In t h e i r silence i s the power and control of pa s s i v i t y and resistance. I now think t h i s problem I face with classroom t a l k has something to do with the problem of power and dominance. I want to control them. 47 I dominate them. There are tensions over knowledge and power between adults and children. Personality i s exposed color. The tension of the c i r c l e , the tension between the binary oppositions of hot and cold, between laughing and crying, the extremes of our body's psychological and physiological tolerance, can only be maintained by "blanket" spaces. The "blanket" has to be a security force that allows one to speak, to be exposed i n a community of friends. The blanket forms a canopy, a temporary space l i k e a tent or igloo so that t a l k might begin. I t prevents the danger of shame and embarrassment that i s worn on the surface of the skin. Symbols such as the crown, the hood, the t i a r a , the helmet suggest p r i v i l e g e s i n the conversation, (jagodzinski, 1992, 163-164) The canopy that had lured me from my bog promised comfort and security with my new desire to get to know my students and to put to practice my re/newed theories. But staying out of the bog, under that canopy was d i f f i c u l t . I could not always f e e l the warmth of colour rather than the c h i l l of grey. The canopy, I f e l t , seemed to be f o r me alone. I f e l t the p r i v i l e g e to speak. What kind of symbolic head gear did I wear? My warriors wore helmets as part of t h e i r armour. What about the others? As I re/read my journal comments, I am embarrassed at the f i n a l i t y of my pronouncements about classroom t a l k . Is t h i s the l a s t Word? If so, then what hope i s there to 48 engage i n classroom t a l k any further? Perhaps the hope l i e s i n t h i s hermeneutic interpretation: Hermeneutics wants to recover the o r i g i n a l d i f f i c u l t i e s of l i f e , d i f f i c u l t i e s that are concealed i n t e c h n i c a l - s c i e n t i f i c reconstructions, concealed i n the attempt to render human l i f e objectively presentable. " O r i g i n a l " i n t h i s usage does not mean a longing for some unspecifiable past "before" technology I t i s a longing for fundamental questions of how l i f e together can go on i n such a way that new l i f e i s possible i n our midst. (Smith, 1988, i n Jardine, 1991, 118) In the inner tension between illumination and concealment, the elusive Word can l i v e . Hermeneutically conceived, the task of inquiry i s not to d i s p e l t h i s tension, but to l i v e and speak from within i t . I t i s t h i s tension that propels the generativity of the Word—that makes education hopeful, that makes i t possible. I t i s i t s love of t h i s generativity that makes hermeneutics appear so negative i n regard to cer t a i n forms of inquiry and discourse. I t i s t h i s love that undergirds hermeneutics' intolerance of those who would t r a f f i c i n the business of education as i f i t were as meaningless, as deadened, as unthankful and unthinking as they propose i t to be. I t i s unimaginable to bring new l i f e into a world i n which there i s nothing l e f t to say, i n which the Word no longer l i v e s . Detached from t h i s o r i g i n a l , vibrant d i f f i c u l t y , the o r i g i n a l ambiguity, inquiry, and discourse become degenerative, wanting to have the l a s t Word. How can we want t h i s and be educators as well? (Jardine, 1991, 126) 49 I q u e s t i o n how I can now c r e a t e a canopy under which a l l my students and I can r e l a t e and share. Do my f e e l i n g s o f embattlement have t o do with shape? L i t e r a l l y , t h e c o n f i g u r e d s e t up of students i n desks i n rows? Or f i g u r a t i v e l y , the shape I c r e a t e f o r each l e s s o n , e q u a l i z i n g p a r t i c i p a t i o n ? Do I c r e a t e t h i s shape? How? Yes, classroom talk seems to be the mystifier, with charlatans and bamboozlers in force at the front. It is with these bamboozlers, most curiously, that the writing is the clue. For the most puzzling of student there is hope that the writing can crack the code and reveal the real person, slowly. Making it real, making the teacher-student scene sincere, happens only when the contact has been made, individually, from the writing first. It's in the individual pieces of writing that glimmers, hopes, inner feelings slip out of the crack in the armour. It's in the writing where the defences are dropped. The writing establishes a peace treaty, a calm surrender of false pretenses and an opening into a private world. Classroom talk and public statements are where these warriors display their warfare. In the writing, if they are given proper training, and reinforced with medals of encouragement and praise, they turn their bravado into courage and start reaching into the depths of themselves, sometimes finding foes to face and battle 50 privately and sometimes finding friends to strengthen themselves from within so that they do not need so much outer armour. (Journal Entry, Oct. '93) Can one imagine being a teacher without having hope for children? Is such person s t i l l a teacher or would the meaning of teaching lose i t s fundamental meaning i f i t were not sustained by hope? (van Manen, 1990, 109) Emissary Before I saw hope i n t h i s new bat t l e of mine, I was on the edge of defeat. The class had f a l l e n apart. I had l o s t focus amid the foolery. There was no nastiness. There had ju s t been a bat t l e over control of focus and I had l o s t . I had wanted discussion and I had received nonsense, f l i p p a n t r e t o r t s and skewed remarks and silence. Group work lacked depth or didn't get finished. The class wasn't a complete disaster, but i t c e r t a i n l y wasn't a place I had wanted to be. I had been lured by a freshness and promise of blossoms, but I had found a l o t of scrag and rock, a rugged t e r r a i n , indeed. I need a map, a guide, a prompt to keep on going. And then something happened. One flagrant force cracked but a l i t t l e . Chuck Kingsley. 51 Chuck had enrolled in the class about three weeks after the first day. A late timetable transfer. I quickly learned why he might not have been wanted by some other teacher. After handing me his transfer-in slip, he nodded his head in a second's blink and flipped his blond forelock out of his blue eyes, i c i l y . He strolled to an empty seat at the side, just down two seats from Karla, a girl who, for some reason, seemed ostracised by the rest of the class. Chuck made it obvious. He snorted crudely several times. Each snort was accompanied by a sideways sneer at Karla. After politely asking him three times, to refrain from making rude noises, I told him to stand in the open doorway until I could speak to him. I did not go to him until the end of the class. Then, I simply told him that I was confused about what he was doing or why he was doing it and I needed an explanation. I refused to fight. Interestingly, he conceded that his actions had just been "stupid". I agreed and added "senseless" and expressed my hope that we could get to know each other more congenially next class. Chuck did not come to the next class. I phoned home, spoke to his mother and Chuck came to the class after that. (Journal Entry, Oct. '93) Chuck was the catalyst for my experience wr i t i n g about t h i s c l a s s . There was something about him that i n s p i r e d me to write, but I did not f e e l i t r i g h t away. I n i t i a l l y , I was curious about who he was and why he behaved the way he did, but i t was not u n t i l he handed i n h i s f i r s t w r i t i n g assignment that the contradiction between h i s public " s e l f , " 52 the persona he presented to the class, and the more private s e l f emerged from h i s writing. Then I picked up my pen and started writing as a way to sort out my fee l i n g s about t h i s p a r t i c u l a r l y challenging group of students. I had encountered Chuck's public s e l f and then I had read some of h i s writing where he had revealed some personal pain and very i d e a l i s t i c personal goals. This great gulf between the i n s e n s i t i v i t y and the s e n s i t i v i t y made me think of a l l my students i n a d i f f e r e n t l i g h t . In h i s f i r s t piece of writing, Chuck wrote about big changes. We had read a story by Anne Hart c a l l e d "The Friday Everything Changed." The story, set i n the t h i r t i e s i n r u r a l Alberta, i s about a young g i r l daring to demand equal time with the boys who are allowed time away from the one room school house to go fetch water from a pump down the road. The boys get free time while the g i r l s s i t d u t i f u l l y doing t h e i r work. I t i s a story about boys dominating, about gender l i n e s being drawn and not questioned, u n t i l one small female voice booms out a challenge. I couldn't seem to get the gender issue off the ground i n discussion. G i r l s i n the classroom were not about to use t h e i r booming voices. Quietly they expressed an understanding of the c o n f l i c t i n the story, but did not acknowledge a semblance of that issue i n everyday l i f e . They thought they got equal time carrying and fetching for the classroom teacher1 I think back now and see the need to explore t h i s theme i n d i f f e r e n t ways and 53 w i t h d i f f e r e n t a p p l i c a t i o n s . Then, I broadened the scope of t h e i r w r i t i n g assignment and asked them t o w r i t e about change. Most of the students wrote about s i g n i f i c a n t change i n t h e i r own l i v e s . Chuck wrote about a c a t a c l y s m i c d i s a s t e r i n t he u n i v e r s e . I t was not a t a l l p e r s o n a l , but, i n h i s w r i t i n g , I sensed t u r m o i l . I a l s o saw i n i t a c r e a t i v e , i m a g i n a t i v e spark. I took a l o t of time t o respond t o h i s statements. In a c t u a l i t y , h i s command of grammatical s t r u c t u r e s and vocabulary was q u i t e sound. I p o i n t e d out where he might extend h i s ideas or p r o v i d e more d e s c r i p t i o n . I asked him t o r e v i s e h i s w r i t i n g . I asked f o r peer response. I asked f o r y e t another r e v i s i o n and t h e f i n i s h e d p roduct earned him a "B." A l l the students had t o go through the same process. But Chuck s u r p r i s e d me by showing me a c r a c k i n h i s outer s h i e l d . I was hooked on Chuck. A f t e r c l a s s , I s a t a t my desk and wrote a poem about him. 54 CHUCK [IS] KING/SLEY So c u r t l y , he chucks r e t o r t s across new meetings f e a r f u l l y , he stalks a f i g h t from each new foe fencing himself i n with that's my name waddyawannamakuvitI Feeling set up l i k e a tentative Dauphin he hasn't earned a crown and he knows i t doubting his own curtness he i s a young pretender beneath the ice blue glaze In time he w i l l look more warmly as he cuts his own jewels and polishes them f o r t i f i e s his castle with grace tenders his throne crowns himself King 55 As I r e / r e a d t h i s r e f l e c t i o n , almost a year l a t e r , I am s u r p r i s e d t h a t t h i s i s how I s t a r t e d t e l l i n g t he s t o r y o f t h i s c l a s s . But I remember now t h a t i t was w i t h a w r i t i n g e x e r c i s e t h a t I f i r s t made co n t a c t w i t h one p a r t i c u l a r l y d i f f i c u l t student. A student who had pres e n t e d problems i n the p u b l i c arena of the classroom, but who had shown me something e l s e about h i m s e l f i n the p r i v a c y of h i s w r i t i n g . My encounter w i t h t h i s student was the be g i n n i n g o f my journey. My r e l a t i o n s h i p w i t h him awakened q u e s t i o n s i n me and I began a quest f o r answers through my own w r i t i n g . The heart of the matter comes from writing and engaging in the writing activity with my students. I can only feel an excitement about teaching if I connect in a meaningful way with each student— individual. One or two connections begin the process. Individuals, not a whole class, make the first contact. Student to teacher, teacher to student, students to students and, not suddenly, but somehow, serendipitously, there is the class-mine, theirs, ours. each able to un/teach 56 My class i s beginning that journey toward real meaningful sharing. Can I make it happen? At the moment I s t i l l feel on the battleground with t h i s c l a s s . There are a few worrisome warriors that do b a t t l e with me and the aims of every lesson. But I have seen some cracks in the armour and I have hopes of a real peace treaty and a wonderful celebration to follow. (Journal Entry, Nov. '93) Why do I see my classes from t h i s perspective? I've been teaching for over twenty years. I have always enjoyed classroom t a l k . I've r e l i s h e d the moments of shared s e n s i t i v i t y i n response to problems of l i t e r a r y f i g u r e s . This r e f l e c t i v e mode awakens my memory and I reach over a span of some sixteen years to the enrapt faces of students of another time l i s t e n i n g to my discussion of W.O. Mi t c h e l l ' s Who Has Seen the Wind. I can s t i l l see that class so u t t e r l y s t i l l while I read how Saint Sammy screamed his p r a i r i e v i s i o n s to Brian. Who has Seen the Wind commanded a special r e f l e c t i o n and could hush the classroom banter more c a r e f u l l y than any other piece on the Grade Ten reading l i s t . I had read that passage to a rowdy class and they were s i l e n t l y awed by i t . That was i t . In precious moments, when insight r i v e t t e d students together at a depth so well beneath t h e i r p u b l i c l y shared selves, there was no ta l k . They sat alone and s i l e n t i n the sea of unshared insight. I remember gathering my own s e l f f o r public presentation. I broke the s i l e n c e with 57 questions of meaning and interpretation, questions that requested spoken understanding or si m i l a r experiences. The moment sank once again beneath fear and uncertainty. There was nothing. And after much prodding, only a few whispered explanations. There have been many other r i v e t t i n g moments i n response to truths revealed through l i t e r a t u r e , but t h i s one, sixteen years ago, remains very clear i n my memory. Perhaps i t made such a l a s t i n g impression because the cla s s was p a r t i c u l a r l y boisterous, with most of the students unwilling to go deep enough to f i n d t h e i r true f e e l i n g s and cle a r thoughts. I remember that moment i n c r y s t a l c l a r i t y as i f the clouds cleared and a rainbow q u i e t l y arced over a sleepy v a l l e y . One b r i e f moment of sunshine beaming on a ray of beauty. But, as I remember, i t was not u n t i l they had to f i n d Saint Sammy i n t h e i r own world and speak to Brian i n t h e i r own writing that each of my students became a gem with facets r e f l e c t i n g a spectrum of t h e i r own vibrant colour. I wish I had kept samples of t h e i r writing. I am only l e f t with a f e e l i n g . I seem to r e c a l l that every one of those students shared such a sensitive viewpoint that I, i n those early years of my teaching, f e l t a moment of cl e a r e s t learning. Learning about those armoured s o l d i e r s i n front of me. I had learned about the battleground and the need to help them t r u s t enough to drop t h e i r defences, at le a s t i n 58 t h e i r writing. I remember the strength of the connection I f e l t with them. Some of the toughest students with the most elaborate armour had revealed through the smallest crack a poignancy of f e e l i n g that established a bond between us and, when I handed back t h e i r writing assignment, I knew the white f l a g s of surrender were waving on both my and t h e i r f r onts. I t was a d i f f e r e n t class a f t e r that, from my perspective. When I think back now, I can not remember the d i s t i n c t d ifference i n the classroom t a l k . I would l i k e to think that there was. My memory only serves to remind me of the s e n s i t i v e , i n t u i t i v e , i n t e l l i g e n t individuals that I was so overjoyed to f i n d beneath the public statement. I guess what I did not know, i n those days, was how to l e t them share those feelings with each other. Their writing was a personal connection between each of them and me, but I do not think i t ever became public. Now, when I face a si m i l a r c l a s s , I am overwhelmed with the need to stop the p u b l i c b a t t l e . I do not want to deal on a battleground and, yet, I see the warriors i n front of me. So. This is the battle that I face this year with this class. It is a challenge to reach my students. All of them. From my new perspective, I want the warriors to take off the armour. I want them to sign their own peace treaties with themselves I want them to write and, through writing, learn more about themselves. I want them 59 to lay down their arms and reveal their innermost thoughts. I want them to,find ways to express themselves so that their thoughts accurately portray who they are and what they think and feel. And then I want them to be brave enough, once they are decorated with their new courage, to proclaim their ideas and feelings across the class, share their ideas bravely and invite others to share theirs, in an open exchange and a dynamic learning environment. (Journal Entry, Oct. '93) As I remember through my w r i t i n g , I re/mind myself t h a t perhaps my p r e v i o u s experiences t e a c h i n g j u n i o r grades had not been a l l n e g a t i v e . I had on l y remembered the n e g a t i v e . The n e g a t i v e memories served t o keep me away from the j u n i o r grades, away from the b a t t l e s I would have t o f i g h t t h e r e , a k i n d of j u s t i f i c a t i o n . I cannot t r u s t memory t o r e v e a l a t r u t h , o n l y a p a r t i a l t r u t h , o n l y a r e l e v a n c e . J u s t as i t was r e l e v a n t f o r those n e g a t i v e memories t o keep me away from the demands of the E n g l i s h 9 c l a s s r o o m f o r t e n y e a r s , so now was i t r e l e v a n t f o r me t o muster up the energy and the b e l i e f t h a t these E n g l i s h 9 students and I had t h i n g s t o do t o g e t h e r . One of t h e i r g r e a t e s t c h a l l e n g e s t o me was t o cope wi t h t h e i r " e l e c t r i c a l energy of l i f e , " match t h e i r "sparks and d a z z l e " and keep hoping t h a t they would r e a c h f o r t h a t c o o l canopy of mutual t e a c h i n g and l e a r n i n g . Sometimes they d i d , sometimes they d i d n ' t . The f a c t o r s t h a t c o n t r i b u t e t o t h i s f e e l i n g o f m u t u a l i t y are e l u s i v e . Do I have c o n t r o l ? Do the students? 60 Sometimes I think the answer hinges on how I deal with the cl a s s , but then one student can seem to be the main factor. Chuck has found his way beneath my own armour. He touched my heart and now I delight when he flicks his forelock out of his eyes so that I can see a glint, just a hint of a warm glow. He had written more. He had revealed some of the pain that must have demanded the first layer of armour. He wrote a piece on "Fathers". The writing came after studying three stories which portrayed fathers from different viewpoints. I was saddened to read his revealing comments about his own father and the pain he caused Chuck. But I was astounded at the strength of his voice. He seemed to have reached into his core for this writing and found a gemstone. Chuck wrote of his own ideals and his own aspirations about fatherhood. I received sensitive pieces of writing from my other students, but somehow Chuck's writing had the loudest voice. Every class seems to reveal a warmer Chuck. He happily produced his Mini-Novel study and marched it up to the front of the class to find its place on the blackboard ledge, displayed proudly next to the others. He did not strut, he did not snort, he did not flick his forelock. Somewhat modestly, he remarked that he wasn't that much of an artist. But then, some students drew wonderful book covers and some didn't. There they all stood admiring the display of each other's work. Chuck's work was there with them. A very solid "B." In a moment, there was my class, mutually sharing, 61 sincerely congratulating. We felt like a class— mine, theirs, ours. Can one student be responsible for such a change in this class? This doesn't seem like the Grade Nine class that had almost reinforced my belief that all Grade Nines were reprobates, lured by their hormones into senselessness that defied all learning. Has Chuck effected a change in me? He certainly has inspired me. Has he somehow quelled the urges toward foolery in some of the other students? Perhaps. There are others. (Journal, Dec. '93) Truce I t seemed f o r a wh i l e t h a t I had managed t o q u e l l t he r e b e l l i o u s f o r c e s i n the classroom. I basked i n the warmth of my own success. I was out of the bog. The poppies were s t u n n i n g ! Students brain-stormed w r i t i n g t o p i c s w i t h me on the over-head p r o j e c t o r . They formed peer response groups f o r t h e i r w r i t i n g e x e r c i s e s . We d i s c u s s e d racism, wrote l e t t e r s t o Amnesty I n t e r n a t i o n a l , read about c i v i l r i g h t s . Now, as I engage in the Grade Nine process with this class, I feel an integrated part of their development. I am learning too and I feel a positive energy driven by my personal investment in our learning process. I want to write more. I want to write about them, about me, about us. I want to write with them. I want to meet on some golden prairie like Saint Sammy and Brian in Who Has Seen the Wind where communication is real, where ideas are shared sincerely out in the open. (Journal Entry, Nov. 1993) 62 I f e l t , at t h i s time, that I had t r a v e l l e d a great distance from that bog. I had been lured onto the b a t t l e f i e l d with determination to f i g h t my past f e e l i n g s of inadequacies. I had been lured by the promise of flowering youth, displaying t h e i r own seasonal blossoms. But, as a clash of d i f f e r e n t desires poked holes i n my cool canopy of control, I saw the t e r r a i n i n a l l i t s ruggedness. Yet, I struggled on i n the hope that t h i s b r i e f moment of accomplishment and unity i n the classroom would bind us into common purpose and mutual respect, and, i n time, carry us off the b a t t l e f i e l d . I looked to writing a c t i v i t i e s for a binding force. I hoped writing would be a key to my re l a t i o n s h i p with my students: t h e i r writing assignments and reader response journals, my dialoguing feedback. I r e a l i s t i c a l l y d i d not expect t h e i r quest for knowledge to meet the fervour of Saint Sammy's words, but the image of Brian's desire to learn continued to inspi r e me. I wanted i t f o r them and for me. ...for breathless moments he had been a l i v e as he had never been before, passionate for the thing that slipped through the grasp of h i s understanding and eluded him. I f only he could throw his cap over i t ; i f i t were something that a person could trap. I f he could l i e outstretched on the p r a i r i e while he l i f t e d one edge of his cap and peeked under to see. That was a l l he wanted— one look. More than anything! (Who Has Seen the Wind. 199) 6 3 a l l the school-long year some days mouths i n motion s l i d e smoothly over the h i n t s of f r i c t i o n some times unfocussed c r e a t i v i t y e rupts through wide-open chasm of opposed g o a l s c l a p p i n g i t s cacophonous c l a t t e r a c l a s s on a c o l l i s i o n course some moments b r i n g l u s c i o u s quietude s i l e n t s m i l e s proud p l e a s u r e j u s t becoming t h o u g h t f u l some b r i e f moments 64 4. The Open P l a i n (or struggling to stay out of the bog) peace - n. 1. the normal, nonwarring condition of a nation, group of nations, or the world. 2. an agreement or t r e a t y between warring or antagonistic nations, groups, etc., to end h o s t i l i t i e s and abstain from further f i g h t i n g or antagonism...3, a state of mutual harmony between people or groups, esp. i n personal r e l a t i o n s . . . 4. the normal freedom from c i v i l commotion and violence of a community; public order and security...5. the cessation of or freedom from any s t r i f e or dissension. 6. freedom of the mind from any source of annoyance, d i s t r a c t i o n , anxiety, an obsession, etc.; t r a n q u i l i t y ; serenity.7. a state of t r a n q u i l i t y or serenity. (Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. 1989, 1060) A D i f f e r e n t Kind of Peace I f I thought t h a t I had e s t a b l i s h e d balance or even r a p p o r t w i t h my students, then I was g u i l t y o f m i s [ s e d ] u n d e r s t a n d i n g i n my hermeneutic i n q u i r y . Once I had r i d myself of my preconceptions, my p a s t assumptions, d i d I t h i n k t h a t I had encountered r e a l and permanent understanding? Did I t h i n k I had c r e a t e d my own bog and t h a t I c o u l d dry i t up a t w i l l ? Did I t h i n k t h a t , once I had met my enemy f a c e t o f a c e , I would a t t a i n an a r m i s t i c e ? I b e l i e v e d f o r some time t h a t the path t o p e a c e f u l co-l e a r n i n g w i t h my students was through t h e i r w r i t i n g . I f e l t t h a t the b a t t l e was fought i n the o r a l d i s c o u r s e , i n the p u b l i c arena of the classroom. In w r i t i n g , I f e l t the s t u d e n t s would r e l a t e the s e l f behind the p u b l i c facade and t h e i n d i v i d u a l r e l a t i o n s h i p s would develop i n t o g e n e r a l a c c o r d i n the classroom. However, the ongoing d i s c o u r s e s , w r i t t e n and o r a l , showed me t h a t , by any d e f i n i t i o n of 65 peace, I did not have i t i n my classroom, and I did not have i t within myself. For Gadamer, human understanding involves a constant temporal process of rev i s i o n ; i t i s always f i n i t e , temporal, c i r c u l a r ; an incomplete i n t e r p r e t a t i o n because of the e x i s t e n t i a l temporal structure of human existence. (Gallagher, 1992, 62) * * * * * I f f u l f i l l e d , the preconception i s reinforced and continues to condition our understanding; i f disappointed, the preconception i s forced to undergo re v i s i o n , which i n turn continues to condition our understanding. (Gallager, 1992, 64) It wasn't long a f t e r my smugness over a successful novel assignment that I got stuck i n a mire again. My old attitudes resurfaced, my preconceptions were reinforced. The rosy glow through which I saw my class has darkened. I can see the petals limp and black at the edges fall on the floor like drops of blood. Someone i s spilling blood. Someone must be wounded. I am wounded, saddened by t h i s l a t e s t s t a b . (Journal, Nov. 93) As I re-read t h i s journal entry I wonder what happened to my stunning poppies. What were the poppies? Were they my students? My feelings about my students? My fee l i n g s about 66 t h e momentary r a p p o r t between my students and me? Taken i n the c o n t e x t of t h i s new experience, the poppies r e p r e s e n t a temporal and f l e e t i n g d e l i g h t covered by a r o s y hue of warm d e s i r e f o r i t t o l a s t . But the r a p p o r t was not t o be co n s t a n t . My students were y e t t o d i s p l a y a p a s s i o n f o r knowledge as B r i a n had i n Who Has Seen The Wind (or the k i n d of knowledge I wanted them t o seek) and t h e i r p e c u l i a r f e r v o u r might have j u s t d r i v e n me out from under my b l u e canopy t o some barren p r a i r i e or back t o the d y i n g bog. Disturbing the Hegemony Chuck had come into the classroom that day in a noticeable tension. He had not completed his over-due assignments and I allowed him to sit in the carrel at the back of the class to get caught up. I was attempting to engage the class in a discussion of events in the novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, when peace was disrupted. At some point, an airplane sailed halfway across the classroom from Chuck's carrell . . . I generally find it difficult to get angry about this sort of thing. I usually see it in a humorous light . . . At that point they were s t i l l "on track" (or so I thought). R e - i n t e r p r e t i n g t h i s i n c i d e n t , and t r y i n g t o remind myself o f the d i s c u s s i o n , I see a m u l t i t u d e of i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s . What was focus f o r the c l a s s ? What was my 67 focus? What was the focus of some students? Others? There was more than one m i l d misde/mean/our, I t h i n k . I wanted them t o c o n s i d e r the judgement of Boo's f a t h e r as he sentenced Boo t o f i f t e e n years of confinement f o r p r a n k i s h t r i c k s w i t h h i s comrades. There I had Chuck secluded (or so I thought) i n h i s c a r r e l l and the others ready (or so I thought) t o be compassionate w i t h me. What p r e d i s p o s e d me t o my f e e l i n g s f o r Boo? I f e l t so s o r r y f o r Boo and h i s s o l i t a r y confinement. F i f t e e n o n l y when he was removed from the mainstream o f l i f e . I looked out a t any of t h e soon-to-be f i f t e e n - y e a r - o l d s i n f r o n t of me. I wanted them t o imagine the magnitude o f such a f a t e f o r themselves! Could they imagine? There seemed to be a slight "squirmish" at the back of the class within the vicinity of Chuck's carrell. The class was becoming distracted. A note, a piece of paper folded tightly four times, was lying on the floor. I stopped. All eyes turned to the back. I walked down the aisle and picked up the paper. The class grew silent and noisy at the same time. Someone jeered, "Yeah!" Someone else shouted, "Read it!" The whole class started to chant, "Read it. Read it. Read it." I was momentarily engaged in mob control. I turned and walked to the front of my room. I could have thrown it directly into the garbage. The thought crossed my mind. But I 6 8 d i d n ' t . I opened the paper slowly, one fold at a time until I had the full notebook-size sheet suspended beween me and my c l a s s . The class was absolutely s i l e n t . And I scanned the sheet very s i l e n t l y , my heart sinking as I looked at the obscene cartoon caricatures of two class members and the captioned comments beside them. Karla's mother was depicted as a dog. Donald Lu (a very sullen, quiet boy who remains uninvolved and despondent in the middle front seat of the class) had been depicted with astute accuracy. A pig with a caption reading "Snort!" and the name "Karla" appeared at the bottom of the page. I could feel Chuck's eyes turn to ice, under his forelock. But I couldn't see him. He remained in his c a r r e l l . (Journal Entry, Nov. '93) . . . everything i s not beyond suspicion with respect to conversation. I f the conversation of mankind, i d e a l l y conceived, ought to be free of hegemony, ought to lack hierarchy, and ought not to require credentials for p a r t i c i p a t i o n , s t i l l , i t i s not d i f f i c u l t to discover that some voices dominate and others are excluded. (Gallager, 1992, 308) This i s c l e a r l y Foucault's p o s i t i o n with respect to the discourse of modern s o c i e t i e s . Voices are excluded: the mad, the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the minorities have very l i t t l e i f any voice where i t counts. Conversation i n r e a l i t y i s hegemonic . . . . (Gallager, 1992, 309) 69 Within normal discourse one can locate t r u s t (good w i l l ) and consensus. In general terms, normal discourse tends toward reproduction; i t operated within already accepted paradigms and language games. Abnormal discourse, or what Rorty c a l l s "edifying conversation," involves a suspicion and incommensurability .... Abnormal discourse occurs when someone joins the ongoing conversation "who i s ignorant of conventions or who sets them aside ..." (Gallager, 1992, 309-10) When I re-interpret t h i s episode i n my English c l a s s , I think of my class discussion and the value of our l i t e r a t u r e study i n a new l i g h t . Was I imposing a hierarchy of knowledge on our conversation? If so, i s t h i s what l o s t some of my students into enterprise of t h e i r own demise? Undoubtedly they had come to class with a set of t h e i r own preconceptions. What did I learn from t h i s situation? What do I learn from t h i s interpretation? ... i f the teacher herself i s to learn something through her teaching, there must be some kind of interchange between her understanding and her presentation. In that interchange the teacher's understanding might govern her presentation, or, i n a special sense of discovery, her pedagogical presentation might lead her to a new understanding or at least open up to question her current understanding. (Gallagher, 1992, 37) I had been t r y i n g to bring the class to accept my understanding of the oppressiveness of Boo Radley's father. 70 I interpreted Boo's circumstances from Scout's implied understanding of Att i c u s ' insinuation that perhaps Boo had been dealt a severe blow of " i n j u s t i c e . " My presentation was to hint at t h i s by implication, by suggestion. My presentation was to make the suggestion and, through a seri e s of questions, hope to take the students through a thought process that would lead them to the same understanding. But I had no idea what each of t h e i r preconceptions were. I suspected that some of my students might have been sympathetic to Boo's a l i e n a t i o n . But now I see that I was only acting on my own suspicions; yet, where I suspected, I d i d not know what t h e i r suspicions were. Could I have allowed for them to express theirs? Some of them may not be able to see Boo as I saw him. Some of them s t i l l believed him to be t h e i r neighbourhood demon. Perhaps some of them i d e n t i f i e d with him. Now, i n retrospect, my suspicions are confounded. I suspect my classroom t a l k , s i m i l a r to my e a r l i e r described opening dialogue, f i t s Rorty's c l a s s i f i c a t i o n of "abnormal discourse" or "edifying conversation" where several of my students were ignorant of the ongoing conventions or merely set them aside. From t h i s point of distance, as I search for further understanding, I see that suspicion and c u r i o s i t y b a t t l e d f o r a forefront position amid the tension i n the c l a s s . A l l conversation had ceased and instead of interchange we seemed to have retreated to our separate camps. The surge of 71 b a t t l e had erupted within me again and I r e / c a l l the desire to throw up my hands i n defeat. Yet, instead of allowing myself a re/ t r e a t into p a s s i v i t y and disgust, I fought a cynicism to remain on a shared f i e l d of communication. The cynicism i s strongest when discussions f a i l , when the " c u l p r i t " gets away and the " j i g " i s up. Then am I most p a i n f u l l y aware that, despite my good intentions, I can't know f o r sure what my students r e a l l y think. Sometimes students o f f e r pre-programmed responses i n an attempt to give me what they think I want. Sometimes they rebel and do the opposite. 72 The J i g i s Up The classroom scene i s a s e t up framed t o corner the c u l p r i t who sneaks i n t o a daydream i g n o r i n g c l u e s under cover of benevolence the teacher [s] t a l k s t e s t i n g t e a s i n g t e n e t s l i k e t e n t a c l e s t o snare the d i s c u s s i o n d e t e c t i n g f a l s e evidence l e a r n i n g 7 3 S u s p i c i o n Of course, I did not t e l l the class what the paper revealed, but I said I f e l t very sad and I think my whole being r e f l e c t e d that f e e l i n g . I spoke of my desire to have honest sharing and respect for one another and I t o l d them that the note had revealed a bitterness and hatred that I hoped could be replaced by consideration and caring about each other. I turned back to the reading assignment. Back to the novel—a novel full of bitterness and hatred and wonder at the existence of cruelty in the human heart. But soon, the bell rang. Chuck came to the front of the room with his writing. He had one short piece about how he could not identify with the feelings toward the father in the story "A Penny in the Dust" and another piece that was not completed. In the short piece he talked about not having a good role model for a father. He mentioned having an uncle to whom he had been close but that he had l o s t him too because his uncle had been murdered! Not much else was discussed. I questioned him about his uncle and he said that he did not know the specifics but that his uncle had been k i l l e d downtown somewhere. I then asked him about the note. He denied having anything to do with it. He said he could not divulge the information about the authorship of 74 the note but he swore he did not "write" it. I just responded that I did not expect him to "tell on" his friends and gave him the opportunity to finish his second piece at home. He thanked me for that and left. When I looked at the note a second time, I felt convinced that Chuck, in fact, was the author. Had he not snorted at Karla so vulgarly the first day in this class? I believe at this point that he lied to me and I am astounded with the coolness with which he looked straight at me and denounced, without a trace of guilt or any other emotion that I could detect, having anything to do with it. Now I have a dilemma. If I let it go, I let Chuck think that I am a "push over," someone he would not respect. If I tell him that I disbelieve him, then he will just deny it anyway, see me as someone else out there who does not like him, and probably become obstreperous and counterproductive to say the least. It is clear to me that I need time to think. But, as I think a little more, I begin to doubt myself. Chuck said that he was not a "good" artist. Maybe he did not author these drawings after all. Paul Ledge, on the other hand, can draw. Paul Ledge is quiet. He also sits at the back of the room. He does not write much and when he does, he does not reveal much about himself. However, he did do a wonderful book cover for his mini-novel assignment. Could Paul have been solely responsible or is this a collaborative effort? It looked like Chuck's printing. 75 I feel like a detective, not an English teacher. Does it matter? What does it have to do with the goals of my English course. Here I am caught again in the middle of a squirmish. I struggle internally trying to determine whether to ignore the whole episode and get on with the novel. I have to get on with the novel. I have to concentrate on their learning. But this classroom scene, as the hidden agenda, perhaps unplanned, attacks the underpinnings of the syllabus. It seems I cannot stay off the battlefield for long. Perhaps I can write. (Journal Entry, Dec. ' 9 3 ) 7 6 Discord A shadow darkened the rosy glow and cast a pall over the happy air Heavy silence weighted the focus down to where it lay Sensitivity dead and buried under the token remembrance of a good-bye note I can almost touch blood red petals limp and tarnished black at the edge bleeding their dead rosiness through hurtful slurs Someone laughs at the cruelty pierces the harmony with a sour note But I refuse to let this discord become a destructive din Somewhere someone is playing a violin Can those pure melodious sounds ever soothe the cacophony here? 77 The metaphor with which I described the occurrence may seem somewhat overstated. I wonder. The bleeding is figurative; the petals are symbolic; the glow was a feeling. It is all so nebulous, and intangible that, if I do not anchor it with some "concrete" image, I cannot capture the mood; I cannot grasp the moment and bring it into focus, take it in my hands and turn it around to view it from all sides. (Journal Entry, Nov. 1993) Trust Yes, the day before, with my block F Grade 11 English c l a s s , my students had graced my classroom with i n s i g h t f u l and poignant dramatic presentations about Holden i n Catcher i n the Rye. I am always i n awe when these fresh minds get t h e i r chance to hold each other i n the palm of t h e i r hands. They perform so well! They are so sen s i t i v e and cl e a r i n the understanding they reveal. And they share honestly. Yesterday, Jerry, a student of the v i o l i n , brought h i s v i o l i n to class so that h i s group's s k i t could have a musical background. The c l a r i t y of his bow across the stri n g s was cleansing. I f e l t the whole class l e t go and give themselves to the performance. The s k i t was good i n i t s e l f , but Jerry's extra g i f t brought us a l l together i n perfect momentary appreciation. I in v i t e d him to play a complete piece and we sat deeper i n our seats to receive the 78 moment, together. After the class, the teacher next door came to thank me (or Jerry) for bringing a dimension of surprise and pleasure to her class as well. These students are two years older than the students in my grade nine class. What is it that happens over a two year time span that seems to rid the classroom of the charlatans, paraders, dissenters? Are they still there, silent, better socialized to the point that they don't dare break rank with desultory heckles? Or have they found a purer focus? It's reasonable to expect them to be more able to focus and take responsibility for their work. Perhaps it is reasonable for them to feel more respectful of the entire class, and the lesson, now that they have been systemized in secondary school for three years instead of one. If that is the case and this change is due only to time and maturation, why do I bother? I should skulk back to my past position of teaching only senior grades. I should admit that I have lost the battle. I just can't wage it with the grade nines. I do not think I am sufficiently armed for their battle. Reflection, not only detective work, brings discovery. A different idea occurs to me about the change I see in my classes at the grade eleven level. Certainly, maturation, time and, dare I think, education have smoothed the edges and deepened the understanding. Students are more aware, more able to grasp abstract concepts and, generally, more sensitive. Where are the dissenters? Where are the desultory remarks? Have 79 they all vanished through maturation and systemization? I do not think so. I think that dissension is no longer prevalent because the grade nine dissenters are no longer with us. Somewhere between grade nine and eleven, students like Chuck and Paul drop out. These are students at risk. Without a solid support structure propping them up through the treacherous years of early adolescence, they go down in defeat. The battle is fought on many fronts not so readily seen from my perspective. No, I have never won the arms race against grade nines. Put another way, I seem to be lacking in classroom management techniques to quell their urges and at least make them keep themselves in check. It seems as if I grant a kind of permission that allows them to take the risk. Maybe there is no risk in my class because I do not fight back. I do not "blow them away" with can[n]ons. I do not send them to the office. I do not keep them after school. I do not want them to fail. I do not want to "whip them into shape". Those are tactics I know others have used. (Journal Entry, Jan. '94) Down with the Despots! Now I want to make peace with t h i s concept of hegemony i n conversation. Is classroom discussion a legitimate conversation or i s i t not? If I assume a hegemonic pos i t i o n , or i f my students presume that I hold such a pos i t i o n , can I ever expect to make classroom t a l k r e a l conversation? This i s where I f i g h t my b a t t l e ; t h i s i s the 80 disputed t e r r i t o r y between me and the grade nine students. The "me" that f i g h t s i s t h e i r preconceptions of me; the "me" I o f f e r i s a mixture of who I want to be and who I think I should be and who i s shaped by my past conceptions. The many voices that lurk behind our t a l k i n g faces originate from other settings. I think of the experience my class had on a t r i p to our school l i b r a r y . We had read A Night to Remember and, a f t e r having considered the enormous waste of l i v e s and the i n d i v i d u a l s t o r i e s of courage and stoicism, we focussed on the reporting techniques that had been used to gather the d e t a i l s of the disaster. Our l i b r a r y research project into d i s a s t e r s throughout history had been c a r e f u l l y designed by me and the l i b r a r i a n . My trip with them to the library got off to an unsettling start. On the way down to the library I was stopped by some students in another class. By the time I had answered their questions, my own students had arrived in the library and come under the responsibility of the librarian in his domain, not mine. It had only been a matter of minutes, but this change of venue had proved too great for Paul to handle. The librarian had asked the class to sit down at the conference area. Paul either ignored his request or did not hear him. He had travelled beyond the conference area and had headed upstairs (I guess just to see who was there). The librarian did not give him a second chance. He was already sending him out (kicking 81 him out) by the time I arrived! What??? What has possibly happened in this short period of time for me to lose Paul? I wanted him to be part of this. I had hopes that he would enjoy this assignment. I knew that he would feel more comfortable about it than any of the others that had troubled him so much. I was upset but quickly caught Paul on his way out the door and told him to go back to the classroom and wait for me to come up there to talk to him. Then I went back to the group to watch as the librarian introduced the topic of disaster and attempted to engaged in some question/answer type of discussion. What followed was even more disconcerting. There were my students, my precious proteges, looking awkward and uncomfortable. The librarian asked a question and Neil, quick off the mark, flung back an answer. It wasn't rude or disrespectful; it was just too quick and not according to the librarian's own sense of order. Clearly his sense of order was much different than mine. He immediately scolded Neil for not putting up his hand and for breaking the rules of propriety, the rules of power and authority. He informed them that they must not speak until spoken to and that no one was to speak without putting up her/his hand and waiting a turn that was acknowledged by him. My poor students! I felt embarrassed because they were being judged as unruly. I felt embarrassed because of their discomfort. They were so restrained. I could see their anger. I knew they felt demeaned and insulted. I was surprised that this librarian dare speak to my students in such a disrespectful 82 fashion. I felt frustrated that he had denied Paul the right to take p a r t . I was angry that he had overstepped his authority and interfered with my c l a s s . Did I have a right to feel this? My class was in his domain. There were different rules now. Needless to say, the discussion period fell f l a t . My usually boisterous students sat quiet, sullen and unresponsive. Not one of them answered his questions. So, he told them his answers and sent them away to find t o p i c s . (Journal Entry, Mar. 94) The Reins of Control I search my memory for past teacher models who ruled a classroom as a despot. I had experienced one or two i n my school years, but not many. I knew about some teachers who apparently ran a "tigh t ship." Yes, t h i s "teaching" s t y l e was not new to me, but I had never f e l t the effrontery i n t h i s way before. There was something protective i n me that had come from wanting to nurture these students, wanting to ba t t l e myself and my feelings i n order to reach them. I had seen t h e i r spontaneity and free s p i r i t . I had embraced them and decided to l i k e them. I did not want them to grab f o r power, control and domination so I did not want to model i t for them. These students had angered me and disappointed me, but they had excited me and encouraged me as well. I could never forget that. 83 It had been such a long time since I had been able to collect my thoughts about this c l a s s . Returning to them, after Christmas break, I could feel the distance. They were connected by unravelling yarn, the loose weave unhooking itself and falling in kinked, tangled p i e c e s . It was after the Christmas break, a month ago, when we reconvened that I found it most difficult to gather them together—no tightly knit group here— no woven fabric cloaking the same heart. The shreds and fragments s t i l l hung loosely together, but something had weakened the fabric. Was it j u s t the break, or was it my energy level that was too low to pick up the s t i t c h e s and continue to knit and perl? (Journal Entry, Feb. '94) Trying to understand this feeling of disconnectedness in retrospect i s difficult. There were some loose ends to pick up after the holidays; some assignments to return, some refocussing about writing to be done. I think everyone had to be brought together. One dominant mood of sadness prevailed as the whole school was in shock with the news that a very popular boy had been k i l l e d in a car accident over the holidays. The grade nines were not closely affected but they all knew the boy who had been in the band, on the student council and a straight A, model student. That f i r s t week the trauma counsellors were in the school and all classes had taken time to express their sadness. It i s difficult to say what kind of effect this loss had on the grade nines, but generally the holiday s p i r i t was dampened and instead of welcoming everyone back with cheery chatter of holiday fun, we all talked about the 84 meaninglessness of such a death. The energy that otherwise would have been positive and fresh was not there. But to dwell on the sadness was not helpful. Clearly the students needed to get on with their school l i f e . I needed to collect myself and get on with it. I had had a particularly tiring "holiday" and had returned to work for a rest. My home was s t i l l full of house guests and it seemed that preparation time and marking time were non-existent. I managed to direct myself to a loose plan for the unit on poetry: hand-out the texts. Teaching poetry can be tightly structured—line by line analysis, scanning, identifying devices, writing from models. Each class a tight lesson of read, analyze, model, write, share. That could be it. Maybe I needed that structure. Maybe that would be the approach I would take. I dug out my old folders full of poetry worksheets (what an anathema!), handout definitions, examples of different poem types, the ballad, the epic, the narrative, the ode, sonnet, lyric, haiku, blank verse, free verse. It was all there, in the folders, but it was not in my heart. For some reason I could not get excited about teaching simile and metaphor. Yet, I love the compressed comparison, the abstract juxtaposition! Where was my spirit? Was it the low energy or was it the inability to deal with that kind of structure? Now that I had written my own poetry, I did not want to take an analytical, academic approach to studying poetry. Instead, I wanted the poetry unit to be an experience and an enjoyment. In an oral review with the devices on the overhead, I ascertained that somebody had already taught them 85 the devices anyway—at least simile, metaphor, a l l i t e r a t i o n and onomatopoeia. We could pick up personification as it came out. Imagery would j u s t happen, I felt sure. As for the others— metonymy and synecdoche—this was, after a l l , only grade nine and hyperbole they had already mastered. So...without a delineated plan, a unit with goals and methods predesigned, I handed out the t e x t . It was a royal-blue and sea-green hardback. If the students looked carefully, they would see sky and water, sand and a sea-shell. If they had it pointed out, it could be a conceptually inviting cover. As for the r e s t of it, I was dismayed to find this "new" edition to be a rather drab and, seemingly, boring presentation. Apart from some pen and ink type sketches on the introductory page of each section, the poems rely on the appearance of the printed page, arrangement in black and white, to draw the reader i n . Would this work for grade nine roustabouts, grade nine boys, in particular, raised on video games, sports channel and violent cartoons? What would this two-dimensional presentation do for them? What did I expect from a poetry text? The very label, textbook, might have prepared me: canned poetry, pre-cooked, pre-arranged and preserved, ready for the shelf! Most of my students did not take time to look at the cover, but since the books were brand new, with an "open-me first" kind of appeal, they didn't waste time getting into them. Something in the presentation had eluded me. Something in the 86 poems themselves. Something...? What was i t ? The energy that erupted in the classroom of students with this book in their hands was both amazing and scary. "Oh...look at this one, page 3!" Ha! The questions are longer than the poem. Three words!" "Yeah, well look at t h i s one, page 70." "Mrs. Wittman, read the one on page 146." "Can I read this one, page 45?" "Hey, there's an ice-cream cone in here!" I don't ever recall describing students taking to a book as boys to a hockey rink, but the analogy seems to f i t here. What a rush! What end-to-end action! What a breakaway! As I watched the scramble, I began to worry about a p i l e up. There didn't seem to be any r u l e s . (Journal Entry, Jan. '94) Yes, t h e i r reaction was both amazing and scary. Never had I seen them drawn to something with such e l e c t r i c energy. I wasn't sure I could plug into the current and f e e l that charged myself. I t f e l t l i k e good energy and I wanted to keep i t flowing. Could I? I needed time to r e f l e c t , time to plan. I began to write. The hockey metaphor would not work. I t was a momentary fe e l i n g . What prevailed was the inc r e d i b l e energy. I could s t i l l f e e l the pulsing as I came home. 87 Electricity in the Poetry Class electrical charges transmit impulses fly....flare....fuse! moments of direct current hum along charged lines of poetic discourse seconds of silence sing harmonic thoughts into intermittent spaces between demands reactions examples that heat up the conductor of free read poetry session where impulses surge and flash converge to calm collected concentration before interference charges again with interjection gesticulation wonder confusion humour What spontaneity set off Such electrical fireworks in dynamic display? What calm will trace The thrill of such a show? (Should this overload blow a fuse, will we reset the current?) O, ohms, volts, amperes, Measure your wattage here! Select your conduits carefully Insulate against shock So some elusive physic Can keep this energy charged. 88 Working and Learning Together Oh, the stress of teaching! I'm sure those not i n the f i e l d , p a r t i c u l a r l y the f i e l d of teaching English, would scof f at my losing sleep over the excitement of my cl a s s . But, I had become intensely connected to them. During that poetry session, I t r u l y stood back i n amazement. I s t i l l remember the f e e l i n g of awe and d i s b e l i e f as I watched them jump and dive a f t e r each new poem, f i n d t h e i r own places to c a l l out t h e i r requests, and read t h e i r selections. I remember f e e l i n g nervous. This was something I had not designed and something over which I had no control, except to stop i t and I did not want to do that. I gave the period over to them. I read when they asked me to, but, most of the time, I simply watched. I knew that we could not continue i n that fervour, but I was a f r a i d of "blowing i t " altogether and losing something wonderful. My synapses were so s c i n t i l l a t e d that night that I tossed and turned with t h e i r images, with t h e i r exclamations. I decided to go into the next class with a few fun poetry games, the kind which I had played in my own graduate writing c l a s s . They could experiment with one-word shape poems, with the l e t t e r s of the words ping pong, with the l e t t e r s u_and i. When my graduate colleagues and I had cranked our creative imaginations over these games, we were surprised at the perspectives, themes and images that could be compacted into the suggestibility of 89 a couple of l e t t e r s . I wondered how my students would do? Would this be one way of keeping the p o s i t i v e energy alive? Well, they tried it out. Some of them protested mildly and wanted to have some more latitude than the constraint of using a r e s t r i c t e d number of l e t t e r s , but I controlled t h i s element and laid down the r u l e s . So within the confines of ping pong, they drew their ping pong tables and i l l u s t r a t e d the ball being swiped by the paddle. Some went so far as to show the competition and the winning s i d e . The shape poems with flower names and animal games were fun, cute and pretty, but the greatest success came from the poems they wrote with the l e t t e r s u and i. Implicit in the confines of those two l e t t e r s i s a relationship, so I suppose I should not be too surprised at the soft and gentle poetry that they created. And yet, the spectrum of s e n s i b i l i t i e s in that class ranged from fourteen-year-old romantics and i d e a l i s t s yearning for love (the sleeping beauties waiting for their prince charmings) to the burly, bombastic crudites I have previously called my "warriors" fighting for no a l t r u i s t i c cause (perhaps they are indeed the frog princes after a l l ) . Without exception, they a l l wrote love poetry, gentle, s e n s i t i v e and i d e a l i s t i c ! When I told them I was surprised, they unabashedly explained that I should not be because, after a l l , love was the only thing that ever counted in their l i v e s . I was now not only amazed but puzzled. Had I thought I understood Paul? Did I think that Neil had such a hardened shell that he did not ever address those kinds of needs? Chuck, I knew, did, in his writing, but not ever in public. There they all were, all 90 twenty three of them, no splinter groups denying or sabotaging. They all were firmly and quietly affirming their certainty of one value in life: l o v e . Could I keep this going for more classes yet? What did I want them to get out of t h i s poetry unit? I wanted them to w r i t e . I reminded myself of my original goal in this English class: it was to develop thinking s k i l l s through writing--to help them report, describe, narrate, analyze, conclude, theorize, speculate, wonder, create, problem-solve—to help them along their course as thinking individuals by stimulating thoughts through writing. I wanted them to write poetry and to respond to poetry in a s e n s i t i v e thoughtful way. Well, then, that would be it. They would read and write poetry. The next few days we relied heavily on the text to guide us in our study. We looked at poems as they were categorized by their form and structure. The poetry text presents poems according to how the poet has used language to express images and meanings. The text i l l u s t r a t e s that t h i s use of language i s part of the creative process, not j u s t an outward expression of the creative process. When we read poems with similes, the students t r i e d to describe something using a set of s i m i l e s . Their poems were fun and some were surprisingly insightful and effective. We looked at metaphor, personification, irony, tone. I f e l t the students needed something simple, not too abstract in i t s concepts. As concrete as a metaphor can be, the juxtaposition and suggested comparison s t i l l eludes a l o t of 91 students at this age. I felt the narrative might give them the impetus to write their own s t o r i e s in poetic form. As straightforward as it seems, the concept of narrative as opposed to descriptive in poetry was not easily clarified by the students' poems. I felt baffled and a l i t t l e frustrated when students brought their work and asked, "Is this a narrative?" My assumption was that the narrative was the easiest of writing or speaking s t y l e s . What happens next? And then what? As the students say, "He goes and then she goes." Why were they having so much trouble? I could see from their uncertainty that even for a narrative they worried about form and image. They were not sure whether their s t o r i e s revealed an insight or truth. Just because the d e t a i l s proceed from one thing to the next does not add up to a narrative poem. We read Margaret Atwood's "Game after Supper" and other narrative poems for them to see some clear statement or even lesson learned that can come out of a narrative. When their writing session in class had not provided enough time for a finished poem, they were assigned homework to develop, change, revise or rewrite, but to come to class the next period with a finished narrative poem. Some English teachers l i k e to have control over the authenticity of the writing by requiring a l l writing to be done in the c l a s s . I do not follow t h i s precept very committedly. I hardly follow t h i s precept at a l l . I know that I write my best when I can seclude myself and get into my own feelings. The classroom's lack of solitude and quietude i s definitely not conducive to a l o t of 92 c r e a t i v e , s e n s i t i v e thought. Why, then, would I impose an unreal writing environment on the student? I also trust my students, maybe somewhat naively, to want to learn and grow in their a b i l i t i e s , to want to own t h e i r work and to accept credit because it i s due. There i s not much glory in getting a good grade if - it i s for someone e l s e ' s work. Most of my students work hard and take pride in their own accomplishments. The grade i s good but b e t t e r i s t h e i r sense of worth. S o . . . . t h e y wrote most of t h e i r poems at home. The day I assigned the narrative, I told them that I would write one t o o . At t h i s point in time I loved this c l a s s . I s t i l l f e l t excited and p o s i t i v e . I wanted to write about each of them individually, but I had to admit I did not know them a l l . I had to admit that individually I may not be able to write a poem that I would want to share with a particular student. I love the class and i t s challenges. I am determined to provide a p o s i t i v e learning experience for everyone. I am trying to l i k e Neil and Paul and Tom and Chuck and Eric and Basil and Isaac and Dee. As I t e l l my own children, i t ' s not that I do not like them, i t ' s j u s t that, sometimes, I do not l i k e what they say or do. How could I write personal poems to share with them? That would cross some kind of boundary that perhaps should not be crossed. Besides, if I did write poems more perceptive of some and not others, it might show some kind of favouritism. It i s not favouritism; it i s j u s t that some students reveal more of themselves than others do. My exuberance about each and every one of them 93 could not be displayed on a personal level. I had wanted so badly to reach each one personally, to let each one know that he or she can be the subject of poetry, of the noblest form of expressive language, that each one of them is a noble subject! But I can get emotionally carried away. I deferred to professional distance, time and expediency and wrote a poem to the class as a whole. Even then, I let my focus settle on my warriors. But, then, they do shape this class. (Journal Entry, Feb.'94) 94 A Complicated Lot I ' l l t e l l you a story about Block G Where my students often perplex me. They love to laugh, create a din. They offer jokes to my chagrin. Why can't I see what makes them think? Why won't they t e l l me, clearly, in ink? Their words...they throw them at the a i r . Sometimes I catch them in despair. And, then, in failure, I often wonder Should I tear their jokes asunder? Why do they s i t in tight l i t t l e groups and refuse to jump my crafted hoops? No serious personal heartfelt comments about adult philosophy and life's laments. Instead, they cling to their own mirth, A happy l o t amid their dearth of video games and T.V. cartoons and stunts attributed to such goons as Bart Simpson and even the Terminator or they read King and other germinators of dark and dangerous and gruelling scenes of violence and death and deeds of fiends. Where are the simple, young and innocent minds that dream of moments pleasant l i k e love and friendship and family fun, beauty and truth and heroic deeds done? I suspect that deep inside i t ' s there; I saw it yesterday; they l e t me share their delight in poems of frivolous thought, but unsuspecting, they were caught. Between the l e t t e r s i and Uj_ they revealed a thing or two. Every verse of theirs comprised the knowledge of basic truths not learned in college. Between u and i, I saw a l o t about life and love and the human p l o t . So even though they s t i l l perplex me, I find hope, not despair, in their complexity 95 This poem was fun to write with i t s Hudibrastic doggerel. The imposed rhyme scheme and iambic rhythm helped me s a t i r i z e myself (with kindness) and compliment them at the same time. Finding the thoughts and feel i n g s was not a new discovery. What was inter e s t i n g was having the framework f i n d the expression of the feelings, f i x i n g the f e e l i n g to the structure, attaching f e e l i n g to form. Using the structure to create the l i n e s had been the discovery. Could I share that process with them? Hmm...I was so happy to be able to express my honest feelings i n a p o s i t i v e way. I t would be taking a big r i s k to share t h i s poem with a l o t of them. The r i s k was not only i n what I was revealing to them, but i n how I was saying i t to them. Would I set myself up for.target practice? Give them license to be even s i l l i e r ? Allow them to see that my poetry was not any better than t h e i r s , or conversely that t h e i r poetry was better than mine. "That doesn't even rhyme!" "Those l i n e s have a d i f f e r e n t beat!" I had purposely written the poem with an aabb rhyme scheme and a mix of iambic and anapestic rhythm so that i t would skip along, sing-song fashion. I thought i t would be a simpler form for them to read. More importantly, I wanted to show them that I was vulnerable to the process as well. Knowing t h i s possible p r i n c i p l e of learning that was inherent with my sharing the poem with the cl a s s , I decided to r i s k exposing my own absurdity. 96 Constantly risking absurdity and death whenever he performs above the heads of his audience the poet like an acrobat climbs on rime to a high wire of his own making (Lawrence F e r l i n g h e t t i , i n Theme & Image, 179) I made enough copies for each member of the class and the next day, when I asked for the submission of their narrative poems, I handed mine over to them. Interestingly, they responded in a way very l i k e their i n i t i a l response to the poetry t e x t . They took immediately to it—no f i r s t s i l e n t read--no reflection. Immediately they started reading it out loud, j u s t one or two at f i r s t but by the end of the f i r s t line when Neil read "Block G" and then said, "Hey, what block i s this? Is t h i s about us?", the r e s t of the class sang out the l i n e s together. There was that energy again. First, all the class, then j u s t Basil reading a verse, and then over to Dee, back to Neil, over to Eric, then back to Basil and Chuck. It sounded as if I was back on the hockey rink with these kids! I was t h r i l l e d about their choral reading. What fun! After they finished, however, there was no comment. The class was momentarily s i l e n t . There was no smart-alecky remark as I had feared. There was no thanks. Nothing. So I simply talked over t h e i r quiet and told them that I was truly interested in reading their narratives, and if they had given them the same sincere efforts as they had with their previous poems, I would be 97 pleased. We went on to share some other poems that I had collected for group sharing and responding. The response to my poem was not a let-down. It had not fallen f l a t . What had I expected? I had worried about r i d i c u l e . I had certainly not wanted p r a i s e . I guess I wanted someone to acknowledge the relationship, but no one did—at that point. Maybe they needed time to think, because, l a t e r , in a personal response journal I read some p o s i t i v e reflections on the poem. These individuals talked about the element of students in the class that create the "goon-like" atmosphere. Yet, they also saw that the poem dealt with the generation gap that they experience between themselves and their parents. I f e l t gratified that they had read my feelings. (Journal Entry, Feb. 1994) Once again, I f e l t a tentative peace on t h i s open p l a i n of mutual sharing. They took r i s k s , exposed t h e i r v u l n e r a b i l i t y underneath the armour and so did I. We shared our poems. I only offered them one more with i t s d i d a c t i c message. 98 Outside Inside Smiles on the outside i n v i t e a closer look where gestures from an enigmatic Mona Lisa turn pleasure into perplexing puzzling poesy pouting protests from generations of students miss the secret message under magnification i t ' s a mystery What does i t mean? How does i t work? wipe o f f the outward smile look inside there tentative teeth b i t e o f f b i t s of simile and metaphor for a quick chew but f i n d the a l l u s i o n harder to swallow Relax Don't Worry Be Happy! Poetry doesn't want to be dissected or digested i n b i t s and pieces Ingest i t whole the outside smile enigma and a l l taste the a r t and music of language i t can feed your soul! 99 This poetry unit provided the most g r a t i f y i n g time I spent with these grade nine students. I had o r i g i n a l l y hoped that our struggles would be eased through t h e i r w r i t i n g . I had meant t h e i r interpretive and r e f l e c t i v e w r i t i n g . Sadly, I did not f i n d reward there. Most of the students, p a r t i c u l a r l y the problematic ones, were r e s i s t a n t to that kind of writing. Either they could not r e f l e c t or they refused to allow me to see that part of them. Yet, i n a d i f f e r e n t way, i t was, indeed, the writing that brought us together. I t was through the poetry that we shared a closer rapport, on an open p l a i n and under the blue canopy of a peaceful p r a i r i e sky! There i s , here, the issue of the nature of writing and the nature of breath and the arcs of family resemblance that bind text and breath and author and top i c and the semantic-etymologic buzz and bump and humus, "winding around forgotten syntax." (Jardine, 1992, 111) My students worked on the creation of t h e i r own poetry anthologies where they had to compile a va r i e t y of poems. They read and selected poems from published poets. They organized them into categories of t h e i r own choosing and they wrote personal responses to several i n d i v i d u a l poems. The most e x c i t i n g part of the work was i n the i n c l u s i o n of t h e i r own poems i n the anthology. These poems were accompanied by explanations of some important incentive i n the writing of the poems; as well, students i l l u s t r a t e d some of the poems. These anthologies engaged t h e i r imagination, 100 t h e i r s k i l l with language and t h e i r c r e a t i v i t y . Their poems were indeed the writing I had longed for. The rhythm of a song or a poem r i s e s , no doubt, i n reference to the pulse and breath of the poet. But that i s too spec i a l i z e d an accounting; i t r i s e s also i n reference to d a i l y and seasonal—and surely even longer—rhythms i n the l i f e of the poet and i n the l i f e that surrounds him. The rhythm of a poem resonates with these larger rhythms that surround i t ; i t f i l l s i t s environment with sympathetic vibrations. Rhyme, which i s a function of rhythm, may suggest t h i s sort of resonance; i t marks the coincidence of smaller structures with larger ones, as when the day, the month, and the year a l l end at the same moment. Song, then, i s a force opposed to s p e c i a l i t y and to i s o l a t i o n . I t i s the testimony of the singer's inescapable r e l a t i o n to the earth, to the human community, and also to t r a d i t i o n . (Wendell Berry i n Jardine, 1992, 112) The open p l a i n of poetry allowed me to confirm my distance from my bog. I had indeed t r a v e l l e d across a rugged t e r r a i n and engaged i n many bat t l e s . My teaching land was a metaphorical p l a i n on which I located myself, but my movement about that land was v e c t o r i a l l y determined by the forces I encountered. This poetry unit directed me i n a l l i t s magnitude to that peaceful p l a i n , but, through my growing understanding, I knew I would not stay there for long. 101 The p o e t r y was but one p a r t of the course; we were a d i v e r s e and complicated group. We would co n t i n u e t o t a l k , t o c h a l l e n g e , t o r e s i s t , and we would co n t i n u e t o wear our p u b l i c s e l v e s . A New U n d e r s t a n d i n g o f Power I f I accept F o u c a u l t ' s view t h a t c o n v e r s a t i o n i n r e a l i t y i s hegemonic, then I f e e l t h a t t h e r e i s no p o s s i b i l i t y f o r me t o win my b a t t l e w i t h these grade n i n e s . Indeed, the s t r u g g l e s t h a t abound i n any o r a l d i s c o u r s e i n t h e classroom seem t o be a l l about power and c o n t r o l . My s t u d e n t s e i t h e r submit t o my p o s i t i o n o f power, c h a l l e n g e i t or r e b e l a g a i n s t i t . Amongst themselves t h e r e are some v o i c e s t h a t dominate and others t h a t are excluded. How, then, can I make peace w i t h t h i s dilemma? I want t o e s t a b l i s h r a p p o r t and have d i s c u s s i o n s f r e e from s u s p i c i o n . R o r t y ' s concept of abnormal and normal d i s c o u r s e l e a d s me t o work toward a degree of commensurability where we can communicate w i t h i n a s e t of conventions t h a t we a l l can agree upon. I t c e r t a i n l y seems e a s i e r w i t h the s e n i o r grades. Perhaps t h e i r p r o x i m i t y t o adulthood makes them l e s s s u s p i c i o u s of my power, and a l s o makes them s u r e r i n t h e i r own v o i c e s so t h a t they do not f e e l the need t o s t r u g g l e f o r power so i n t e n s e l y . Whatever I have l e a r n e d about my grade nine 102 b a t t l e f i e l d , I know t h i s now. I have established a new perspective. My sense of being bogged down, of b a t t l i n g to get out, i s now a sense of not being stuck, but of being i n constant movement. There are many p o s s i b i l i t i e s , many sit u a t i o n s , many interpretations. The best I can hope fo r i s some meeting, some moments of contact and mutual understanding. Some impressions and insights that w i l l l a s t as guides to further understandings. I think now about the difference between the "truths" or r e a l selves I thought would be revealed to me through the wr i t i n g and the selves revealed to me i n the o r a l discourse. Of course there i s a difference. But i t s t i l l has to do with hegemony. The public and common confrontation of power as I represent i t i n the classroom i s d i f f e r e n t than the priva t e and i n d i v i d u a l interchange with my "power" i n a w r i t i n g assignment. I wield heavier-handed power there. I levy a grade, make a judgment, condemn and sentence. The power I presume (or they presume me) to have i n the classroom i s at the same time less shaped and more defined: an easier, less threatening target. 103 l e a r n i n g i f e l t the bog i n a spongy mist i c o u l d not see my own r e s i s t a n c e t o l e a r n &other r e s i s t a n c e f i g h t e r s around t h a t bog c r i e d t h e i r d i s c o n t e n t on a l l s i d e s u n t i l I gave up my r e s i s t a n c e and embraced the l e a r n e r w i t h i n me 104 5. The Warriors Taking o f f the Armour I t h i n k over where I have been: the tanglement of the bog, t h e ruggedness of the b a t t l e f i e l d , the c l e a r n e s s of the open p l a i n . I f i n d the golden p l a i n i n the working classroom where newly a c q u i r e d knowledge, l o s s o f ignorance and shared understanding, b l e s s e s us w i t h growth and l e a r n i n g . As I continue t o s t r i v e f o r some v i s i b l e and t a n g i b l e ground, I see through my b a t t l e metaphor the dynamic, the growth, the f i g h t i n g s p i r i t t o c o n f r o n t the bog, t o stand on i t and meet my w a r r i o r s f a c e t o f a c e . I d e c i d e t h a t most b a t t l e s , once they are acknowledged, a r e fought out i n the open. They are n o i s y and clamorous, not s e c r e t i v e ambush. I have been wanting t o c l a i m the p l a i n , g a i n t h e t e r r i t o r y , without a l l o w i n g the b a t t l e . But now I r e a l i z e , even as I f i g h t f o r i t , I have t o share the b a t t l e . My b l u e canopy i s no longer j u s t a l u r e . I e r e c t i t a t w i l l and know i t s purpose i n calm c o n t r o l . I t i s l i k e an ocean breeze t h a t c o o l s my synapses and d i s t a n c e s me f o r r e f l e c t i o n . I do not "see r e d " and r e a c t , even though my "poppies f l a r e . " I would not l i k e t o see them growing i n some k i n d o f imaginary F l a n d e r s F i e l d — d e a d even i n memory. I want them t o l i v e i n c e l e b r a t i o n of b a t t l e s t h a t a re m u t u a l l y won, w i t h a l l of us s u r v i v i n g . There must be room 1 0 5 on t h i s p l a i n for a l l of us. We must lay down our armour, expose ourselves, take r i s k s and be k i n d — f i g h t together, f o r a common cause, our own learning, our own growth. As I present my warriors, here, I become more entangled i n my own armour and attempt to take i t o f f . Perhaps I can only take o f f mine; maybe, hopefully, i n doing so, I can allow my warrior/students to shed some of t h e i r s . This class continues to challenge me and, although there have been some p o s i t i v e times (the mini-novel, discussions around To Kill A Mockingbird, the poetry classes), there has also been much concern and frustration on my p a r t . My frustration i s around the "warriors." They refuse to surrender and, yet, I do not want to conquer them. What I want i s a "truce," some sort of peace treaty that allows them to retain their s p i r i t , but not step over the bounds of respect for others. There are j u s t a few of them now. Basil, Chuck, and Isaac seem to have a conscious awareness of when they have to restrain themselves. In fact, the dynamic with Chuck has changed altogether. He seems to be quite alone these days. He continues to write reflectively and with a sense of pain, but he does not seem to seek notoriety in the c l a s s . Basil has s e t t l e d down and does not seem to get too carried away. Neil, Eric, Paul and sometimes Sam seem incorrigible. Eric and Sam are s i l l y and love the supposed acceptance of the big guys, Neil and Paul. But both Neil and Paul are menacing. If I look hard, I can determine that both Neil and Paul 106 have made some progress. Their percentage grades have improved since the l a s t reporting period. Neil i s writing with more awareness of his audience and more control over his urges to shock and appall. I s t i l l don't think that his writing i s genuine, but he seems to have learned that he should "tow the line" and write with a modicum of decency. Paul, too, i s within the bounds of r e s p e c t a b i l i t y . (Journal Entry, Dec. 1993) N e i l The very f i r s t student i n t h i s class to draw my attention was N e i l Ritchie. N e i l i s a burly character. B u i l t l i k e a trac t o r , squat and strong, he throws h i s weight around with guffaws and snappy comebacks. He's big, but he has a r i d i c u l o u s giggle, high and s h r i l l , that breaks the c l a s s into gales of laughter even i f they don't think h i s actual remarks are funny. His whole demeanour creates an impact. But I think he r e a l l y means no harm. He i s j u s t f o o l i s h , and something other than c a r e f u l thought seems to d i r e c t h i s actions. Other descriptions of him have ranged from " s e x i s t , " " r a c i s t , " to "mean" and "ignorant." A strong condemnation for someone so young and s i l l y . My concern about Neil i s that I might be too forgiving and too kind. His f i r s t writing, "Secrets I want to know/tell" reveal some peculiar s e n s i t i v i t y . He writes that he saved a dog from drowning l a s t summer. However, he will not describe the situation or his feelings about it. 107 When pressed for greater d e t a i l s , he refuses to reveal any more and expresses regret that he has told as much as he had. Subsequent writings have been the odd few lines here or there and he s t i l l has not handed in a piece on "Fathers". It i s not quite happening with N e i l . . . y e t . (Journal Entry, Nov. '93) a loud mouthy roar announces the feat and bellows with belches the s p o i l s of the k i l l and yet, the beast, unsated hungers for more What w i l l i t take to f i l l such a big maw already so f u l l of himself? 108 Not a very pretty p i c t u r e . What does it say about Neil? What does it say about my attitude to Neil? I haven't captured his s i l l y giggle. I clearly have expressed my sense of failure in reaching him. My poem in i t s ugliness really depicts Neil's own unsatisfied needs. He does not r e l i s h his accomplishments. It seems as if they are most ungratifying as he bellows and belches. My question shows me that he i s only substituting his own blustering for an emptiness he f e e l s . It i s my responsibility as a teacher to answer my l a s t question. But what will it take? I must return to his "Secrets" assignment and ask for another r e v i s i o n . I must collect his writing on "Fathers". It i s not that I want to know his deepest secrets; it i s that I believe if I can help him discover himself in his writing, if I can help him validate his feelings and take some r i s k s , then he can clear the way for learning and growth. (Journal Entry, Nov. '93) A re-read of my journal entry raises the challenge of hermeneutics. Oh-ho! So I thought my poem revealed c l e a r l y N e i l ' s u n s a t i s f i e d needs, did I? A distanced look now shows me that h i s poem more l i k e l y reveals my own u n s a t i s f i e d need: my great gaping need to quiet him, meld him into some refined, rule-obeying academe. He had the "smarts" f o r i t , but he didn't have the demeanour. I come value-laden into the classroom and set out to "teach" values. Can I? Should I? I do not value the macho, braggadocio demonstrated by N e i l . I do not value his sexist or his r a c i s t remarks. 109 My classroom i s my b a t t l e f i e l d for such foes. Neil's poetry assignment was a pleasant surprise. He had used Norton's Anthology as a resource and he chose older poems, John Donne, Wordsworth, Milton. His choice of poems indicates an innate a b i l i t y to grasp complex intellectual concepts. The resource also indicates that he did not have to look too far afield for good examples of l i t e r a t u r e . Although picking Norton's Anthology off the family bookshelf does not take much effort, it i s obvious that, amid the 1000 or so entries in the collection, he made some personal and thoughtful choices. More than that, he responded in writing to these poems with intelligence and s e n s i t i v i t y . Neil's poetry "project" was exciting to read. His efforts were serious. The poetry he wrote was surprising and somewhat disturbing. In one poem, his narrative, he t e l l s of his walk around a park. The hair on my spine stood on end when the very same words I had chosen to describe him in my poem were the words he chose to describe himself. I f e l t nasty and cruel in my i n i t i a l description of Neil; yet, here he was using the same description. The poem indicated a slight embarrassment or self-consciousness of his own behaviour. Maybe, he i s beginning to change. Another poem, however, represents an a t t i t u d e that I find difficult to deal with in the class—an a t t i t u d e of racial intolerance. In this poem, Neil questions the concept of "native land" when he looks around himself and does not understand 110 the language spoken by his "compatriots." I do not know whether Neil i s "racist" or not. Some other teachers have described his comments as "racist." I don't know whether he thinks it i s de rigueur to make "racist" comments, but I have heard him "joke" about Chinese stereotypes and black stereotypes. His remarks are off-handed and a cautioning look on my part usually drops the matter. The poem, however, was blatant in i t s expression of Neil's discomfort or confusion about his position amid so many "immigrants," non-native speakers. Curiously, Neil's own father speaks with an accent. (Journal Entry, Feb. '94) I hope s t i l l to look at racism in an i n v e s t i g a t i v e and structured way in the classroom. At t h i s point, however, I do not want to make an issue with Neil about his personal a t t i t u d e s . Generally, his poems reveal an exciting intelligence, a clever a b i l i t y with words. The question gets bigger: Why i s he not using his talents to some p o s i t i v e end? Why doesn't he write? Why has he chosen to rebel and subvert rather than to achieve and excel? Neil both baffles me and annoys me. I don't know that I will ever know why Neil i s the way he i s . It i s not my purpose as an English teacher to psycho-analyze, but I question whether I can really f a c i l i t a t e learning if I do not take each student as an individual and relate naturally and honestly with each one. I would not be honest if I denied being curious about Neil. It would be unnatural for me not to care about him as a person. But the more I think about him, the more I care that he i s 111 the way he i s , and the more frustrated I feel, the more annoyed I get. These feelings fester j u s t below the surface of my smiling professional face as I r e l a t e to the c l a s s . Lurking behind my mask of pleasant tolerance i s a desire to take Neil and shake the nonsense out of him. Just below my distanced rapport i s a desire to reach out gently and smooth his rough edges. I can s t i l l see the baby fat, the mischievous laughing eyes, hear the s i l l y giggle. But does he know that I can also see those eyes darkening cruelly, hear that giggle hardening sharply, see that dimpled figure hulking menacingly not far into the nearing future? Where i s he going? How long will it be before his playfulness turns bad? What do I fear? (Journal Entry, March '94) A l l of these feelings have wrestled with me behind my classroom facade. I have checked them and calmed them u n t i l now. I did not want face-to-face combat; I did not want a duel and I did not want an outright b a t t l e . Better to be diplomatic and smile insincerely i n the pretence that a l l was i n contro l . One day a week ago, however, the feel i n g s behind the mask erupted. The mask came of f and I revealed my true f e e l i n g s . I did not mean to reveal the strength of my anger. I did not even r e a l i z e the strength of my anger, but there i t was at the end of a tr y i n g class raging through my hardened voice at Rick, demanding that he remain a f t e r c l a s s and account for his behaviour. What had happened f o r me to tear o f f the mask and stand so exposed? 112 The class had been working on debates for two weeks. Ne had brainstormed for issues, formed resolutions and then they had formed teams, e i t h e r affirmative or negative and planned their debating arguments. I had provided information about debating r u l e s , the burden of proof carried by the affirmative, the responsibility of the negative to clash. I had helped them plan their speeches, guided them to their points. They had prepared and practiced and hopefully worked in a cooperative manner so that each member of the team augmented the other. I had counselled them about good oratory s k i l l s . The week and a half of preparation had been trying to say the l e a s t . The l i k e s of Eric, Neil and Paul in one group proved somewhat difficult to monitor and yet my arbitrary numbering system to divide the students had created j u s t what I had wanted to avoid: the wrong combination of p e r s o n a l i t i e s . One student, Leo, a serious self-motivator, joined their ranks and I had felt hopeful that he might be able to tone down some of their blatant nonsense. They knew that he was a good mind to do some of t h e i r serious debating, but they s t i l l found it difficult to remain serious themselves. When their resolution, "Movies should be censored," was the f i r s t to be debated, it was evident that the planning time had been abused and that, individually, Leo, Neil and Eric had speeches, but they did not collaboratively build a solid argument and they really had not known what each other was going to say. Eric and Leonard had prepared speeches. Neil delivered his "off-the-cuff, " perhaps with some planned thought, but he had nothing written, and Peter simply did not 113 prepare anything and, in fact, let the others down. The affirmative side were able to build a strong case in support of their resolution and the negative side did not strongly clash. The class judge determined that the affirmative had won the debate. I was marking the teams on their arguments: their organization, material, delivery, refutation and cross-examination. I felt that Eric and Leo and Neil should not be penalized for Paul's lack of effort and told them that they would be given individual marks based on a total mark divided by three, hot four. That being said, we moved on to the other debates. If preparing the debate had been a challenge for Paul, then listening to the others was even more so. He did not attend to either of the next two debates. During the debate on abortion, Paul whispered, nudged, made wise cracks and loud exhortations that did not even relate to the topic of discussion. I stopped the debate several times to reprimand him and, finally, when he chased Eric out of his desk, I told Paul to leave the room and go to the office. I had given him too much line. His piece of yarn had become completely unravelled and I finally cut him loose. Neil, all this time, was heckling the debaters. He was more a part of the discussion but s t i l l had one eye on Paul and Eric for his support. Eric and Neil continued to be somewhat disturbing during the questioning period—just too ready to joke around. My patience was very thin. When I realized that the bell was about to ring and the last set of debaters was not going to finish, I stopped them and announced to the class that we would have to 114 continue beyond the b e l l . It was only fair to allow this group to complete their debate and have t h e i r arguments heard. It would be difficult to pick up and carry on next day. Most of the class seemed to understand. Neil and Eric complained. They could not wait; they had to leave immediately; they moaned and whined and s t i l l made it difficult for the debaters to finish. When the debate closed, I thanked the majority of the class for waiting, but when I turned to Neil and Eric, I became completely unravelled myself and sternly told them that they would have to remain after the class had left to account for why they thought it was reasonable to waste everyone e l s e ' s time and not want to "waste" their own. At this point of rebuke, my tone erupted in anger and I informed both of them that they could s i t s i l e n t l y until which time they thought they could account for their actions and apologize. It took Eric about twenty minutes of silence before he meekly admitted that he had got too carried away. He apologized and I l e t him leave. Neil was a harder nut to crack. He sat sullenly for over forty-five minutes during which time he rolled his eyeballs and stared coldly. He never did speak and I realized that I had a real stand-off. I did not want to stay longer so I informed him that I would not l e t him waste any more of my time and that I would have to write an interim home to his father. He left and I promptly wrote out my concerns: Neil has consistently been disruptive, noisy, disrespectful and inattentive in class. (Journal Entry, Mar. '94) 115 A t home t h a t evening, I found t h a t I c o u l d not f o r g e t my anger. My anger was a t myself. I had f a i l e d . I had been out of c o n t r o l . I had f a i l e d t o p r o v i d e the c o n t r o l and d i s c i p l i n e i n the c l a s s so t h a t the debates of a l l t h e s t u d e n t s c o u l d be b e n e f i c i a l t o a l l . What k i n d of t e a c h e r was I anyway? How c o u l d I keep up the p r etence of b e i n g a competent, experienced teacher i f I c o u l d not manage a grade n i n e c l a s s b e t t e r than t h a t ? I t was not N e i l a t whom I d i r e c t e d my anger. I knew c l e a r l y t h a t the whole d e b a c l e had been my f a u l t . My anger sank i n t o d e s p a i r . I d i d not f e e l as i f I c o u l d f a c e t h i s c l a s s and I was happy t o have a day of r e p r i e v e b e f o r e I next met them. The next morning I spoke t o N e i l ' s c o u n s e l l o r . I had put the i n t e r i m r e p o r t i n h i s l e t t e r box and he d i d not seem w o r r i e d about the s t r e n g t h of my judgements. He acknowledged t h a t N e i l was a c o n t i n u i n g problem i n o t h e r c l a s s e s , but t h a t N e i l ' s f a t h e r was p a r t i c u l a r l y s u p p o r t i v e of t e a c h e r s . He encouraged me t o send the r e p o r t and t o s e t up a meeting w i t h N e i l ' s f a t h e r . These grade n i n e s demand a l o t more energy than I have t o g i v e . 116 B a t t l e Fa t igue I stand beaten on the b a t t l e f i e l d beleaguered by foes Despairing the defeat I am a sad negotiator no longer able to reason out the differences or smile benignly i n the face of t h e i r fervent opposition Respect and allowance come from a foreign language mistranslated too cheap f r e e - f o r - a l l anarchical accommodation of a rampant rabble Looting losses with laughter they suffer the s p o i l s of war i n everyone's defeat 117 I had t o remind myself t h a t I only f e l t e x a s p e r a t i o n and f a i l u r e because of N e i l and Paul's debate. My sense of d e f e a t , some d i s t a n c e from the event, a l l o w s me t o see t h a t i t was not a f a i l u r e f o r everyone. Other students had been o r g a n i z e d , a r t i c u l a t e , l o g i c a l and q u i t e exuberant about t h e i r p o s i t i o n s . Now I t h i n k t h a t the debate e x e r c i s e was u s e f u l . I had wanted u n q u a l i f i e d success, but i f I kept my f e e t p l a n t e d f i r m l y on the ground, d i d not t u r n my back and r e t r e a t t o my bog, I would accept the q u a l i f i c a t i o n s o f a l l my e v a l u a t i o n s . Sometimes progress was two st e p s forward and one ste p back. Sometimes success was s i n g u l a r , not c o l l e c t i v e , i n d i v i d u a l , not the whole c l a s s . Yet, f o r N e i l , I had t o look f u r t h e r , longer, harder t o see what he was about. I love the English curriculum for the opportunity it provides the teacher to encounter the various faces and characters of her students! The writing offers more private thoughts, the classroom chatter and banter, t h e i r social selves; the novel, a chance to r e l a t e t h e i r experiences to identify, c r i t i c i z e and question; poetry, their more s e n s i t i v e , playful, wistful or sometimes mournful selves; non-fiction, t h e i r pragmatic, business-like sensible s e l v e s , and, now the drama, a time to take on disguise but also drop t h e i r disguise. (Journal Entry, Apr. 1994) 118 Drama, i f s t u d i e d as s c r i p t , can o f f e r the same o p p o r t u n i t i e s f o r c r i t i c a l t h i n k i n g and a p p r e c i a t i o n as the n o v e l . When i t i s acted out, i t o f f e r s some stu d e n t s a chance t o l o s e themselves and t r y out other p a r t s i n d i s g u i s e , w h i l e , w i t h others l i k e N e i l , i t l a y s them bare and v u l n e r a b l e . There was N e i l , without h i s armour, hoping no one would p u l l out a sword. The next p l a y was a t e l e v i s i o n drama t h a t d i d not get f i l m e d so they a c t e d i t out i n f r o n t of the c l a s s . I t was a spoof on A l a d d i n . You guessed i t ! I f any s p o o f i n g or f o o l i n g would be done i n t h i s c l a s s , i t would be done by N e i l and company: Isaac, E r i c and Dee. They c a l l e d t h e i r p l a y J a r w a l a d d i n . Jarwal was an E a s t - I n d i a n boy i n my o t h e r grade n i n e c l a s s . I t h i n k the p l a y on the name was without any harmful r a c i s t i n t e n t because Jarwal was a p a r t of t h e i r group i n other c l a s s e s and a t lunchtime. The p l a y , i t s e l f , was f a i r l y w e l l - s c r i p t e d . My memory about the s t o r y A l a d d i n i s vague and I do not know the movie. A l a s ! The weakness o f an E n g l i s h t e a c h e r who doesn't keep up on a l l the "pop" a s p e c t s of our " c u l t u r e . " How c o u l d I a v o i d s e e i n g A l a d d i n even w i t h my own k i d s ? I sent them wit h someone e l s e . A c t u a l l y my t w e l v e - y e a r - o l d was not i n t e r e s t e d and my f i f t e e n - y e a r - o l d went w i t h a f r i e n d . "Mom" was d e f i n i t e l y not i n v i t e d . So t h e r e I was, t r y i n g t o e v a l u a t e a spoof w i t h o n l y 1 1 9 o n e - h a l f of the content a t my r e f e r e n c e . My s t u d e n t s were aghast a t the i d e a t h a t I d i d not know the movie A l a d d i n . They assumed, without much thought, t h a t a l l t h e i r i n t e r e s t s were commonly h e l d . Not wanting t o dissuade them from the enthusiasm o f t h e i r endeavour, I l e d them t o b e l i e v e t h a t I knew enough about the s t o r y - l i n e t o be a b l e t o judge the m e r i t s of t h e i r spoof. At p l a y time I had not so much as r e a d my program. What was going on? "Hasmine" (Dee) is being chased for stealing an apple and running away from a palace because she does not want to be betrothed to some sultan. Someone else (Isaac) comes and rescues her. Abou (Eric) finds a lamp and magically, "Jarwaladdin" (Neil) materializes to grant three wishes to "Hasmine." They have memorized their lines. Dee's black eyes dance their delight at playing the distressed damsel whom Isaac carries off on his "cart" (an A.V. cart cum magic carpet); Eric occasionally calls for a prompt, but happily and clearly expresses his schemes. I am surprised when Isaac, with confidence (and a wonderful voice), sings "A Whole New World" as he collects "Hasmine" into his arms. There they are, a good number of my "warrior" soldiers, having an innocent good time with this "love story." This is reminiscent of their surprising creation of soft and gentle love poems. There is no grisly murder, no whodunnit from these characters. This is simply good fun! They continue to delight and amaze me. 1 2 0 But here is Neil. When he comes amid imagined smoke out of the tin can lamp, there is no exotic flare or mystery. There is big, galumphing, attention-gathering Neil, very awkwardly and undramatically stating his lines almost under his breath, very self-consciously. He plays Jarwaladdin, but he is no eastern mystic with supernatural powers. Rather, he is Neil without his practiced role. Here he cannot deliver quick retorts, off-colour remarks or giggle or burp. His mask is off and he does not know how to assume a different role. (Journal Entry, Apr. '94) T h i s i s another s u r p r i s e . I found the r e a l N e i l exposed momentarily i n the drama: o u t - o f - c h a r a c t e r , o u t - o f - p l a c e , f u l l o f s e l f - d o u b t . N e i l was awkward and almost shy. He was not d e l i g h t e d i n t h i s l e g i t i m a t e l i m e l i g h t . And o n l y when he was s i t t i n g " o f f - s t a g e " ( i n an empty desk a t the s i d e o f the c l a s s ) , d i d he b r i n g back h i s braggadocio w i t h innuendo. Dee play e d the to-be-betrothed but u n d e s i r e d s u l t a n . They had run out of males f o r t h e i r r o l e s and had t o have J u l i e double up as n a r r a t o r and s u l t a n . As he/she p r o c l a i m e d h i s / h e r l i n e s of dev o t i o n t o "Hasmine," N e i l s u g g e s t i v e l y s l u r r e d the shameful aspects o f same-sex encounter. There was N e i l h e c k l i n g h i s own p l a y . Was t h i s macho put-down r e a l l y homophobia i n d i s g u i s e ? H i s s s s s s s and boooooo t o you too! But t h i s was N e i l ' s r o l e i n the c l a s s . T h i s i s classroom drama as i t i s always p l a y e d out f o r him. No one seemed t o mind but me. They a l l know t h e i r p a r t s . 1 2 1 They laughed too. But these warriors are really quite kind to each other. They aim their weapons at me and what I represent, but they would never really hurt each other. Maybe Karla. (Journal Entry, Apr. ' 9 4 ) Karla Where has Karla been through all this? Karla has been the class scapegoat. Or perhaps, more accurately, the scapegoat of this small group. Throughout the year, Karla sat at the front of the room. First, in the second row from my far left and, later, after I rearranged the seating plan, in the window row on my right. She placed herself at a distance from the likes of Neil, Paul, Eric and Chuck, but they s t i l l got to her. They did not care about being subversive or secretive. There was just the odd flippant remark. If ever there was a cause to single out someone with negativity, Karla's name would be spoken out loud. That's all that would be done: a simple flat statement, "Karla." And she would rise to her own defense, in a sense, on the offense: "Oh, why don't you shut up!" Or she would appeal to me in a loud voice, "They just try to get me, you know. They bug me all the time. And you wonder why I sit here. I'm changing schools next year." The kids at the back would not even need to answer; in fact, they just enjoyed listening to her spout off. (Journal Entry, Apr. '94) 1 2 2 I f e l t sorry for Karla, but I saw that she was the root of the problem. She was an i n t r i g u i n g g i r l . She was extremely opinionated and, i f she were to get a l l her marks from comments about the subject of study, she would do quite well. She loved to t a l k and she entered with enthusiasm into discussions about racism, discrimination, family problems, heroism, scapegoating. She loved the s t o r i e s and loved to t a l k about them. But she r a r e l y wrote and she would not be r e f l e c t i v e i n her writing. The curious aspect to Karla was that she verbalized everything. I think that i s why the other students l i k e to r i d e her so much. She was outspoken and very open about her own s i t u a t i o n . She had l i v e d i n numerous foster homes, not knowing her father and knowing that her mother had been abusive. Karla and her s i s t e r had been apprehended at a very early age. Each foster, mother had been referr e d to as "my f i r s t mom" or "my second mom" or the "mom that I have now." When I had assigned the writing on "Fathers" early i n the f i r s t term, Karla had refused to write about i t . She pouted and brooded i n her desk, whispering adamantly to me that she absolutely would not write as she did not have a father. I suggested that she could write about her ideas about fathers, or about not having a father, or about the father i n the story, but she refused absolutely and picked up a l i b r a r y book to read. I l e t her be, not knowing exactly what else to do for the moment. Now, at the end of 123 the year, I look back and wonder what e l s e I might have done. As a teacher, I o f t e n never know what e x p e r i e n c e s my s t u d e n t s b r i n g t o bear on any s u b j e c t t h a t we are d e a l i n g w i t h i n c l a s s . E n g l i s h c l a s s r a i s e s i t a l l . L i f e i n a l l i t s p o s s i b i l i t i e s comes under s c r u t i n y and we never o b j e c t i f y when we are so c l o s e t o some i s s u e . I f e e l s t r o n g e s t i n my p r e s e n t a t i o n of i d e a s and f e e l i n g s when I own them, when I have l i v e d through them and when I have a p e r s o n a l anecdote t o support them. My s t u d e n t s , too, are more a b l e t o d i s c u s s from the r e a l i t y of t h e i r own e x p e r i e n c e . Oh, they e x t r a p o l a t e and t h e o r i z e , but they don't connect. And y e t , they are so young and so e a s i l y wounded and so unsure t h a t when they do connect, they are o f t e n s i l e n c e d . Even K a r l a , who l o v e d t o opine, c o u l d be s i l e n c e d when she was most h u r t . The k i d s , f o r a l l t h e i r s c a p e g o a t i n g e f f o r t s , never s i l e n c e d her f o r v e r y l o n g . But t h e s u b j e c t of " f a t h e r s " d i d . K a r l a would o f t e n come up a t the b e g i n n i n g of c l a s s and g i v e me a hug, or hang around at r e c e s s , t e l l i n g me s t o r i e s of her "mom" ( f o s t e r mother) and how she c o n s t a n t l y approved or d i s a p p r o v e d of what K a r l a d i d . She s a i d her "mom" s l a p p e d her around, but t h a t i t was okay because i t was g e t t i n g b e t t e r and t h a t I should not t e l l anyone because i t would cause more t r o u b l e f o r her. I d i d not t e l l anyone because I had had a note a t the beginning of the y e a r t h a t 124 Karla was prone to sto r i e s such as t h i s . I t was not u n t i l l a t e i n the year that I listened to descriptions of something c a l l e d f e t a l alcohol e f f e c t , a milder d i s a b l i n g condition than f e t a l alcohol syndrome. I could not stop my mind from juxtaposing Karla's image next to what I was learning about t h i s condition. s i l e n t s uffering eyes spaced wide apart can't see th e i r own suspicious stare through f e t a l alcohol intoxication no o f f i c i a l l a b e l her name i s a tag saying kick me up front where everyone can see she l i c k s her wounds in public nasty boys hurt momentarily she can not keep her distance but doesn't know how to make friends 125 Many students at t h i s age exhibit s o c i a l l y inappropriate behaviours. They are learning about mores and boundaries and they t e s t . But Karla did not seem to understand the s o c i a l ramifications of her actions at a l l . She was two years older than most of the students, but acted much younger. I do not know the nature of her problems, but I begin to question whether I could have found out more. Chuck I am tired and feeling defeated. I do not want to impose my goals anymore onto the "warriors" who put up so much resistance. Chuck has been missing from class now for more than a month. Sometimes I even forget that he was ever there and then something jogs my memory and, out of recognition for my role of responsibility, I worry. I feel disappointed that I have failed to "reach him." I had wanted him to write. I had wanted him to feel good about himself and find some connection with school and goals. I phoned his mother and talked for quite a while about his situation. His mother says he has a Jekyll and Hyde personality. Sometimes he i s soft spoken and pleasant and other times he i s violent. Now I would at least like to show him the poems I have written about him. Why do I feel this need to connect? (Journal Entry, Apr. '94) I t i s amazing how one ki d out of a couple of hundred can make or break your day i n t h i s profession. I had been 126 p r e p a r i n g myself f o r the s t a r t of another week, reminding myself t h a t Chuck would most l i k e l y be m i s s i n g from c l a s s and t h a t P aul would not have h i s work done. Lana came up t o me a t the b e g i n n i n g of r e c e s s t o inform me t h a t her group had got t o g e t h e r over the weekend t o tape t h e i r p l a y and t h a t they had t o do i t without Chuck because, even though she had phoned him and he had agreed t o come, he d i d not show up. With disappointment and r e s i g n a t i o n , I s a i d t h a t i t was a good i d e a t o have doubled up w i t h h i s r o l e and t h a t they s h o u l d proceed. The problem l a y w i t h Chuck. Lana looked sad as w e l l , but p l e a s e d t h a t they would not be p e n a l i z e d f o r Chuck's truancy. I t was i n t e r e s t i n g i n the f i r s t p l a c e how t h i s l i t t l e group of academic g i r l s welcomed Chuck t o be p a r t of t h e i r e f f o r t . As I watched them working t o g e t h e r over the p a s t two weeks, I b e l i e v e d t h a t t h e r e was a t r u l y c o o p e r a t i v e e f f o r t g o i n g on, and when i t came t o the w r i t i n g , Chuck had done a l a r g e p a r t of i t . That was s u r p r i s i n g , c o n s i d e r i n g t h e f a c t t h a t both Lana and Charlene are p a r t i c u l a r l y proud of t h e i r a b i l i t i e s t o w r i t e good s t o r i e s . Oh, the wonders of a d o l e s c e n t r e l a t i o n s h i p s ! They seemed such an u n l i k e l y combination and y e t i t was working. I had seen them group t o g e t h e r b e f o r e w i t h the debates, but Chuck d i d not show f o r the a c t u a l debate procedure, and I was not sure how much e f f o r t he had put f o r t h . That was j u s t a t the time t h a t he was f a d i n g from the classroom. I had no i d e a t h a t the next 1 2 7 two months would be so d i f f i c u l t for him and that h i s whole presence i n the class would be at r i s k . Indeed, as i t stands now, I am not sure whether Chuck w i l l pass. He has not done any work since spring break. I have given him a l i s t of the writing assignments and he has not followed through. C l e a r l y he needs more help, more structure, more support, more guidance. W i l l he take i t ? Today i n c l a s s I saw a d i f f e r e n t Chuck. I guess he has been l i k e that f o r a while now, but I have not r e a l l y noticed, my attention being directed to Paul and N e i l . crowned t o o s o o n Chuck did not cut and p o l i s h but put on a quick veneer while his gem was s t i l l i n the rough his crown claimed prematurely s i t s lopsided over his forelock i f he's not careful i t w i l l f a l l o f f with a c l a t t e r 1 2 8 Those days, Chuck did not wear a crown. I f i t was ever there, even prematurely, i t toppled o f f , being f a r too weighty for h i s present stature. He was not ready. Any claim to h i s own kingship was weak, without substance, the lineage f a r too t h i n . When one facet of a gem g l i n t s b r i e f l y under the sun, i t can temporarily b l i n d and d i s t r a c t from the impurities i n a l l the other facets. I only saw one facet of Chuck and was quickly dazzled, enticed to invest and dream. But I never r e a l i z e d a l l the cutting, chipping and grinding that would have to be done to r i d that gem of a l l i t s impurities. How sad I f e l t that Chuck could not cope with a l l that work. I t indeed was too much f o r him and I feared there i s not a team of diamond cutters with enough time and s k i l l to work on his gem. For a moment he could aim that one good side toward the l i g h t and r e f l e c t the g l i n t and sparkle that gave me hope, but then another angle revealed the muddied, scratched surface, the clouding within, and the gem turned into a worthless stone kicked about and l y i n g i n the gravel. That i s how I saw Chuck then. He had r a r e l y been to clas s and when he did come, he did not r e a l l y work. Unlike those f i r s t few weeks, he did not f l i c k h i s forelock or prance saucily, snorting steam i n confrontation. He d i d not bother with such coarse greetings, but s i d l e d i n , hoping to remain unnoticed. In fact, I did not know what h i s ha i r looked l i k e . He hid under a baseball cap, the peak low 129 enough to hide the once icy-blue eyes. They too seemed d u l l and clouded. No smart remark, no sensit i v e writing. What had happened? Now, I no longer see any kingly t r a i t s . Chuck has cloistered himself in absence and s i l e n c e . His hat, cowl-like, humbles him in the face of t h i s robust l o t as he s i t s apart, only now and then stealing a glance at the goings on. I saw him on the right of the class, slouched down in his s e a t , his left arm shading his profile from any view of the others. Quiet, passive and almost unresponsive when I spontaneously said, "Hi, Chuck, you're here!" I was so delighted to have him back, particularly, because after his absence the day before and after Lana's comment, I did not expect to see him. I think he was looking on, unaffected, before I spoke, but at my greeting he merely blinked and barely nodded and cloaked himself again. I see that he cannot be exposed. I can feel the rawness of his wounds, the i n a b i l i t y to cope with the world about him, and I momentarily understand his need to hide. I know that he i s hurting; and I am powerless to do anything about it. (Journal Entry, Apr. '94) 130 No one knows what he might have become As now, in the drabness of his brown cloak He wanders about homeless Accepting alms from unsuspecting folk Hiding in the shadows and behind walls He sees the world from without But monk-like though his guise No spiritual light purifies his soul Pulling him further toward his hell His demons hover and threaten While he in the heavy overcast Haunts his hollow presence in the world 131 I fear for Chuck in this limbic state. He has lost a l l substance, i s rootless, disconnected and despondent. My temporary inclination i s to try to save him myself. Offer my own home as a kind of refuge, a purgatory, not a state of limbo, a time to seek and cleanse. But that i s a momentary dream. Reality aims i t s glaring spotlight on the facts of our l i v e s . I have a family, husband, children and job—many personal demands that, i f unmet, can make my own l i f e a l i v i n g h e l l . What kind of resources could I offer Chuck? What extra pressures would Chuck's presence in my personal l i f e bring? Common sense and not my high-spirited desires to be Chuck's saviour must prevail. I am his English teacher i f he so wishes to learn. Is that a cop-out? Is that the state of teaching today? No heart? No feeling? One-hour contact three times a week i s a l l we're allowed to commit. Fat chance of meeting a whole person in that structure! And I, I would take him after school for extra help. I would see him in class time for individual planning. I would see him at lunch hour. But, for someone l i k e Chuck, with so many needs, the school offers no help. Maybe we can keep him in class—physically, as he i s now. But we cannot get at the black spot within, cut i t out, grind and polish. No, my once almost-crowned King has to do i t himself. I could help him show off that crown i f he owned i t . I would even support him in his claim i f he raised i t . But, when he turns his shining facet down and displays only his scars, when he wears his drab cowl and wayward roams about in his own personal wilderness, there i s nothing I, as an English teacher, can do. Any alms I can share can never strengthen his lineage and bring him home. And that i s the most glaring fact of his r e a l i t y . (Journal Entry, Apr. '94) 132 So, amid a l l these ruminations about Chuck, how could I concentrate on the whole class, the drama presentations? I j o t t e d a few notations and compartmentalized my i n d i v i d u a l concerns. I l i s t e n e d i n t e n t l y to the radio play by Brenda, Charlene, Lana, Cheryl and Chuck. The g i r l s laughed with red faces. They were both proud and embarrassed by t h e i r e f f o r t s when, we, I and the whole class, listened to t h e i r play. But i t was Chuck's play too. He wrote a l o t of those l i n e s and stage d i r e c t i o n s . But he did not perform i t . How was he f e e l i n g , s i t t i n g there, listening? Was he c r i t i c i z i n g ? Was he wishing he could have taken part? Was he glad he was not being heard? The s c r i p t , i t s e l f , was t y p i c a l of the age group: Movie star about to receive an award has a birthday party and gets k i l l e d . The r e s t of the s k i t reads as a whodunnit. The dramatization i s weak. The medium, however, a radio play, i s well-developed with d i r e c t i v e dialogue and good sound e f f e c t s . Chuck could have basked i n a l i t t l e of t h i s glory, but he didn't. I concentrated on the play and merited them an 11/15, probably a b i t of a g i f t , but t h i s was a class that worked on appreciating l i t e r a t u r e , and on reading and writing more than on drama and acting. I could not d i s c r e d i t them for what they have not been taught. 133 Paul Chuck has come to class the l a s t two times and has come out from behind his cloak. He offered to play a part in another play. Sam, Basil, Isaac and Donald (yes, Donald Lu who had been at the brunt of the paper jokes made by Chuck and Paul) had written a s c r i p t . Originally, Paul had been part of their group, but he was dragging them down, blocking any efforts to decide on a subject and to write any dialogue. Paul had been demonstrating particularly disturbing behaviour. He was not doing any of his assignments. He continued to s i t on the ledge at the back of the room. Any p o l i t e requests to have him s i t in a desk were ignored—not rudely, j u s t passively, unresponsively. His whole demeanour was passive r e s i s t a n t . Writing that I commandeered almost with force (lifting it off his desk by having to pry his fingers off it) proved to be as inappropriate as his f i r s t efforts involving his supposed drunken cousin. Now, in my own defeat, I j u s t turned it back and told him to redo it. It was never done. His passivity deteriorated to a lethargy and a seemingly deep malaise. His face grew increasingly sombre, his eyelids v i s i b l y drooped, hooding his eyes, and his voice muffled into a barely audible, inarticulate mumble. Responses to any question in discussion were faintly waved off. Pressed to individual accounting for work not done, he delivered half-sentences with predicates left floating in the a i r . Pressed further, he would sigh with feigned arrogance, "I really have no idea." When asked if he cared about his progress, he would answer, "I really don't know." All said with despondence. I became alarmed and angry at the same time. What was going on? Was he in the depths of a depression? Was he on drugs? 134 Was there more going on than "meets the eye"? Yes, I was alarmed, awakened to Paul's problems. But I was angry too. I was angry at him because he was a bigger challenge than I had realized, because his passivity had successfully brought him to his own prescribed end: failure. Did he not believe in himself at all? I was also angry at myself for allowing this progression into bleakness and failure. I remembered my initial meeting with his parents and my goal to help Paul have a successful year. I had a choice. I could allow Paul to live out his own predictions, his own defeats or I could make a last ditch effort to save the year for him, to prove to him it did not have to end this way. I felt an urgency to act. I sent him to the office and told him to speak to the Vice-Principal about his reluctance to work. Unfortunately, the VP was not in and Paul wandered off when the bell rang. I needed to take further action. I called his home and spoke in exasperation to his father. My feelings were echoed by him and reinforced. He felt the same way and said they had "thrown their hands up in the air" and tried to distance themselves from wanting to take control of their non-communicative son. I spoke also to his mother who made excuses for herself, saying that she was busy with an invalid mother-in-law and could not find the time to give Paul any more special attention. Between their words, I sensed the same exasperation and annoyance that I was feeling. Wasn't it time for Paul to take some responsibility for himself? And yet, I could not just pronounce a failure and have Paul go to summer school. I did not see the sense. He did that last summer, passed English 8 and returned this year to repeat the same pattern. In fact, in one prolonged session with 135 Paul (prolonged meaning an exchange that went beyond two sentences) I cornered him until he admitted that there was not much point in doing anything because it was obvious that he was going to summer school anyway. He had given up. He had decreed his own failure. When had t h i s happened? Probably a month or so ago when he failed to hand in his research assignments on "Disasters." (Journal Entry, May '94) 136 Pfflol h a n g s at the edge t a l l blond neatly dressed i n no cu ous c i pher hard l y makes a mark be neath seemingly be nign smile lurks a hint of mis/chief His secret silence could beguile a mona l i s a mystifying denying there and not there Where i s his story hiding? 137 The students had been reading A Night to Remember, a non-f i c t i o n a l accounting of the sinking of the T i t a n i c . I f e l t the drama of t h i s account, the detailed investigation and co l l a b o r a t i o n of personal st o r i e s , was worth study both f o r the impact of t h i s disaster on the individuals as well as for the reporting techniques that were involved i n the r e t e l l i n g of i t . We had read the story and discussed the personal responses from the sense of d i s b e l i e f and i n f a l l i b i l i t y that the t r a v e l l e r s f i r s t f e l t upon h i t t i n g the iceberg to the growing sense of danger to sheer t e r r o r or stalwart acceptance of t h e i r fate. I t proved to be a good medium to generate the students' response to the way d i f f e r e n t individuals on the ship had responded and to discuss how each one of them might respond i n s i m i l a r s i t u a t i o n s . This account provided a broad spectrum of human reactions by d i f f e r e n t p e r s o n a l i t i e s . Many were absolutely dumbfounded at John Jacob Astor's a b i l i t y to stand steadfast and unmoving as the ship went down. Why? How? Most of the class thought i t absurd that the band would keep playing u n t i l the end. Were people d i f f e r e n t i n that time? Were the l i v e s of women and childre n more valuable than those of the men? Or was i t that the men saw themselves more i n v i n c i b l e and more capable of withstanding death even unto the end? Despite the read being belaboured with small, seemingly d i s j o i n t e d d e t a i l s , the students seemed r i v e t t e d by the story and were a c t i v e l y engaged i n discussions and questions. We watched the video and wrote personal responses. The follow up assignment was a l i b r a r y research project, the 138 l i b r a r y project that became so disastrous for Paul. I had arranged with the l i b r a r i a n to " p u l l " a l l materials on d i s a s t e r s through-out his t o r y . The students would then go to the l i b r a r y , be introduced to the concept of disaster—human disaster, natural d i s a s t e r , i n d u s t r i a l disaster, any unplanned catastrophe. They were then to peruse the material displayed on the bookcases and table tops and s e l e c t a topic for t h e i r further i n v e s t i g a t i o n . They would assume the r o l e of a reporter and write up i n the s p i r i t of an on-the-spot j o u r n a l i s t a hard news story as i f i t was fast-breaking news. I was also i n the process of introducing news reporting as a p a r t i c u l a r writing s t y l e : the inverted pyramid structure, the sensational d e t a i l s f i r s t , the narrative d e t a i l s , the lesser s i d e - e f f e c t s — t h e descending order of importance. I had c a r e f u l l y planned t h i s unit. The l i b r a r i a n and I had collaborated and he had drawn up a note-taking form which allowed them to make notes i n a framework that would lead to the kind of j o u r n a l i s t i c organization of story d e t a i l s that makes for quick reading. I had great hopes for t h i s assignment. I wanted the students to take i t seriously. I wanted them to be able to account f o r the human condition under d i r e circumstances. To look, to imagine and to d e t a i l . I also wanted them to take p a r t i c u l a r care with t h e i r presentation. They would design t h e i r own newspaper front page. This would involve computer work where they learned to work i n columns and to "typeset," e s t a b l i s h font and placement. I t also was the kind of assignment that was not 139 p e r s o n a l l y t h r e a t e n i n g . They d i d not have t o p e r s o n a l i z e . I t was t h i s p e r s o n a l i z a t i o n t h a t seemed t o pose such a problem f o r them. They c o u l d be detached observers... or c o u l d they? Yes, if I thought about it carefully, this was where Paul stopped. I chose a book that offered a chronology of world disasters and took it to the classroom and told Paul that I was sorry he could not be with us in the l i b r a r y . I told him to look through the book and choose something to write about. I had checked the book (a big one) out in my own name so I asked Paul to return it to the check out desk at the end of the period. I did not see Paul at the end of the period and I had to trust that he had, indeed, done t h i s . I believe that I should trust my students, but I always feel it i s a b i t of a risk-taking. I was relieved that Paul had turned in the book. But l a t e r classes revealed that he was not doing his assignment. The follow-up class in the computer lab was seemingly productive for Paul. He was more engrossed in writing than I had ever seen him. The librarian, not the same librarian that had sent him out, said that he i s often there and obviously more motivated to work when he uses a computer. I was pleasantly surprised and hopeful that the "disaster" of the day before could be rectified. Sadly, Paul's assignment never materialized and he seemed to stop working from that point onward. So, his shut-down continued until the f i r s t week in May when I sent him out myself. I needed help and spoke to the Vice-Principal. If he had given up then he could give up somewhere else and allow the r e s t of the students to finish off their year successfully. That was the anger in me talking. (Journal Entry, May '94) 140 Stuck Fading from focus fuzzy headed, sleepy eyed what dust has s e t t l e d into your inertia? forcing your failure ...and mine/to anger you s i t on that shelf l i k e some unusable cipher j u s t for looks only scratching a mark in subversive notation that muffles your s i l e n t passive emptiness that layer of dust your aura makes you fuzzy, out of focus the armour of some undercover agent an unnoted presence who forgot his mission quietly defied detection and became unconscious objector what s t i c k s you where you cannot talk? I took time to think and plan. Paul hated putting pen to paper, but he liked the computer. Perhaps it would help him get his work done. I talked to his parents, the VP and Paul. The plan was for him to stay out of c l a s s , report to the computer lab and work in the lab until all his unfinished work was ready to hand i n . Then, he could return to class with work in hand and try to r e i n s t a t e himself. He was to report to me at the beginning and end of each c l a s s . Paul did not show much of a response, but he did report to class and after ten days, he came into the classroom with three assignments: his disaster newspaper a r t i c l e , one of 141 the best that had been done in that class; his writing, If I could b e . . . ( a famous athlete); and the summary of "Sneaky Fitch." His writing was mediocre but acceptable. His newspaper a r t i c l e was an exciting "A"!! (Journal Entry, end of May '94) Re-reading t h i s journal entry and my poems about Paul t e l l me that i t takes time, and careful consideration to answer Paul's needs. Silence, i n e r t i a , non-communication are much more powerful than the boisterous acts of kids l i k e N e i l or Chuck. I s t i l l do not know the reasons for Paul's seeming complacency or pa s s i v i t y , but I do know that i n d i v i d u a l i z i n g h i s method of work and place of work, i n d i v i d u a l i z i n g h i s time-lines and h i s incentives, was the most expedient and p r a c t i c a l way of helping him pass. My cipher metaphor speaks my f r u s t r a t i o n at h i s i n a b i l i t y to communicate and the need I had to decode him. With i n d i v i d u a l support and di r e c t i o n , he revealed an a b i l i t y and desire to be successful. My writing considerations reveal to me that h i s s i l e n t b a t t l e may not be purposely deceptive. He ju s t may not be able to " f i g h t " (for himself) on hi s own. I s t i l l do not know who or what h i s foes are, but I know Paul's c r i e s f o r help are i n d i r e c t , f a i n t and unassertive and too e a s i l y unrecognizable. 142 Sam I remember my f i r s t impression of Sam. He, with a cute, impish smile under h i s baseball cap, sat over on the r i g h t , near the front. He seemed younger than the others and didn't know where to place himself. Yet, I watched q u i e t l y as he eyed the boisterous types at the back, peering out beneath h i s rim, sneaking peeks at t h e i r "goings-on." He l i k e d them, wanted to be with them and then he found a way. He s l i d down that row and perched himself next to Paul. I didn't mind because I enjoyed knowing that he found comfort i n t h e i r company. He wanted to be part of the fun and I wanted him to f e e l good. My f i r s t impression of Sam was that he was the c h i l d of Po l i s h immigrants—a minority looking f o r a hook i n . I imagined that he was lonely. He looked as i f he was t r y i n g too hard—dressing i n the skater look: big, wide pants hanging barely from the hip, crotch at knee l e v e l ; baseball cap on backwards and long skirt-length s h i r t over the pants. He was a l i t t l e boy t r y i n g hard at image. I t a l l seemed benign enough. His f i r s t writings showed a l i t t l e boyish aspect as well. The handwriting was big and sloppy with l i t t l e attention to punctuation or paragraphing. And yet, there was an a n a l y t i c a l perception revealed that belied the "simple-minded" appearance. I thought he would be a l r i g h t . Ashamedly, I admit that that i s about as fa r as I thought about Sam. He always seemed to be laughing q u i e t l y at the others, never the ins t i g a t o r but r e v e l l i n g i n t h e i r a n t i c s — a 143 s i d e l i n e r . I knew that he was f l i r t i n g with danger, but I thought that he would keep himself out of the centre of i t . I did not give Sam enough help. And then, I r e a l i z e d that he was going to f a i l i f I didn't give him that l a s t d i t c h chance to get hi s work done. The interim I had sent home did not seem to be enough. I outlined some outstanding assignments and gave him a deadline. I f they weren't i n by Monday, he would f a i l . Monday came and went. Sam did not hand i n the assignments. The l a s t week of school came and went and I was doing my reports. I was h o r r i f i e d when I r e a l i z e d that of a l l my students, the most challenging ones, Paul and Chuck, had passed but Sam had f a i l e d . Had I f a i l e d Sam? I f I had given him the same degree of attention that I had given Paul and Chuck, then, maybe t h i s would not have happened. I did not have the assignments and h i s grade for the year was forty-four. 144 Sam I saw him s l i d e f a r down that r i g h t row down that slippery run to the ledge where Paul perched and N e i l and E r i c Isaac Angela and Dee So i n v i t i n g i t was, that downhill slope and he i n good skater fashion had no other hope but to ride snowboard down each hour r o l l i c k i n g swooping dipping swivelling never putting on the skids to slow down and think u n t i l the f a l l 145 The r e p o r t s went out and I d i d not hear a n y t h i n g . Then I was c l e a r i n g up the classroom f i l e s . There l a y Sam's p a r t of the b a r g a i n , h i s assignments caught between o t h e r papers on t h e s i d e cupboard. I couldn't" b e l i e v e my eyes! Or the s i n k i n g of my h e a r t ! He had done h i s work, and I...I had m i s p l a c e d the papers. I d i d n ' t even remember h i s handing them i n . When? Now what? Had he done them w e l l enough t o pass? I s a t down t o read the l a r g e , sloppy w r i t i n g once a g a i n . Sure enough, h i s i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of the d i a l o g u e between Oberon and Puck i n d i c a t e d a competent grasp of the s u b j e c t . H i s r e f l e c t i v e response t o the f i l m , A Midsummer Night's Dream, r e v e a l e d a t h o u g h t f u l n e s s and a q u e s t i o n i n g where he d i d not understand. And h i s s h o r t s t o r y about " D i s a s t e r on the S k i Slope" was an a l t e r n a t e assignment because he had not done the newspaper a r t i c l e , the d i s a s t e r r e s e a r c h assignment. The s t o r y had a good p l o t l i n e , and good d e s c r i p t i v e phrases. I t was a s o l i d f i r s t d r a f t . Could I pass him? I needed t o t h i n k . I needed t o c a l c u l a t e h i s percentage. What d i f f e r e n c e d i d t h a t make? I had s t r u c k a b a r g a i n w i t h him. I had not guaranteed a pass j u s t f o r d o i n g the work, but I had t o l d him t h a t i f he d i d the work, he would have a chance t o pass; i f he d i d not do the work, he would d e f i n i t e l y not pass. Now the q u e s t i o n was two-f o l d : d i d he r e v e a l enough a b i l i t y t o move on t o the grade 146 10 l e v e l and did he deserve to pass, despite h i s lack of e f f o r t and his poor attitude? When I placed that f a i l i n g grade on his report, I had r a t i o n a l i z e d that f a i l u r e would be a good lesson f o r him. Fa i l u r e would make him take summer school where he would have to work and bui l d up some extra experience. I had no doubt that he would pass summer school and e n r o l l i n grade 10 i n the f a l l . I had flogged myself for not ensuring that Sam would pass the course. I t was p a r t i a l l y my f a u l t f or l e t t i n g him s l i d e . I t had a l l been so slippery and I had l o s t a good gr i p . I had accepted the si t u a t i o n . Now the picture changed. Not only had I l e t Sam s l i p toward f a i l u r e , but I had f a i l e d to catch him as he reached out f o r that l a s t hold. I had turned my head and missed h i s f l a i l i n g arm! He had t r i e d to stop h i s f a l l and I had not been there to catch him. I did not want my own g u i l t to make me change the f a i l to a pass. I did not want to leave i t as a f a i l i f he indeed had upheld his end of the deal. In the end, I decided to change the grade and give him a pass. 1 4 7 Teaching i s a big t e s t : T or t r y i n g tolerance on N e i l f i n d i n g out i t doesn't f i t teasing the t a l k out of Paul for c i n g a fumble and a fidget troubling over Chuck's te r r o r fusing i t into a fugue t r u s t i n g Sam's teasing smile f o i l i n g the heart of a f o o l f u g i t i v e s from truth i n the falsehood of time thespians i n f r o l i c f o r c i n g t a l e s i n a rime oh teach what i s f i n e f i g h t for t h e i r t r u s t t e l l them the truth don't fumigate t h e i r fuss or truss up t h e i r trouble into t h i n l i n e s of f r o t h but figurate, t r i b u l a t e t e x t u r i z e the cloth f e e l for the f a b r i c don't teach to the t e s t there i s no formula i t ' s a l l i n the text T or F? 1 4 8 My cla s s t h i s year has unknowingly accompanied me on my journey. My students have provided the ground, the s i t e s , the t e s t s . On the surface, they know that we have been on a journey together, encountering battles, reaching plateaus of discovery, impasse and sometimes f a i l u r e . For me, however, my wri t i n g has made i t "the journey of attention, of a perpetual walk toward an edge" (jagodzinski, 160). Heightened consciousness i s the mediation between l i f e and death; both inform and deform the moment of movement. Only then can new ground be found and l i f e l i v e d . To avoid the di r e c t i o n of the body, choreograph i t s trajectory, keep i t on track without deviation, one must take r i s k s ; otherwise human f l e x i b i l i t y i s l o s t . F a i l u r e replaces tolerance. "Grades" are not l i v e d as plateaus; they become the imprisonment of a l e t t e r . This s t i l l s the body needlessly. I t s l i f e i s l o s t , (jagodzinski, 161) My writing i n t e n s i f i e d my relat i o n s h i p with my cla s s and with each of my students. After writing about some issue of consternation, I could f e e l the pulse of the in d i v i d u a l students the next day. I could step beyond my armour, beyond my skin, i n my desire to get beneath t h e i r s . The experience with t h i s class, enriched by my heightened awareness of my p a r t i c u l a r "warriors," indeed was a "mediation between l i f e and death." As new attitudes and understandings were born, so old ones died. My wr i t i n g helped me perceive the dynamic v i t a l i t y i n t h i s c l a s s . I 149 saw the c l a s s as a whole, l i v i n g , b r e a t h i n g u n i t — a b e i n g i n i t s e n t i r e t y t h a t I had become comfortable g e t t i n g t o know. IVe have one more week to go and I feel a profound sense of pending loss. The students are giddy at the prospect of their escape into summer, and I must reconcile myself to letting them go. I've had my encounter. For a brief moment in time, we have learned together. As a whole unit, this class has reached its end. Individually they will go on, differently, each with a unique journey, each with a different set of battles. Perhaps their encounters with each other and with me will help shape their future. But this time, this phase of the journey has come to an end. The battles, here, are over, but the "war" will continue, on a different plain, at a future time. (Journal Entry, June '94) 150 Class of 94 born amid the seasons of change a living thing pulses and throbs within its walls unconscious of its near death animus and anima conjoin blow their collective breath into momentary briefness undeveloped imago so soon summer's gleam pulls and this entity in heliotropic tension bursts these cell walls spitting all its organelles into the vast formlessness only its vapours can now shape some future memory 1 5 1 Future Faces I see the face distort momentarily dissolve reform into yet another from the past and then again a bulging and fading into one more all different and somehow all layer upon layer disguised in one another bit by bit It is like some computerized television trick massed through the media of years of teaching I used to know them all by name now my recall plays with their history this student in that class 152 This year, through my writing, I have learned much about my own armour, my battles, my bogs and my golden p l a i n s . I have learned a l o t about writing. Through my wri t i n g I reached out and connected with my warriors, and got to think about my students and t h e i r challenges much more intimately than I ever would have i f my communication with them had only been based on t h e i r writing and classroom t a l k . Their poems and my journals w i l l keep t h i s year a l i v e i n my memory for a while. But, i n some future time, i t w i l l s i t on a shelf, l i k e Paul, as I leave i t behind and write some other narrative, linked to t h i s somehow, but d i f f e r e n t i n t h i s process of constant becoming. These students won't be there then. Paul, I hope, w i l l move o f f the s h e l f ; N e i l w i l l learn to feed his soul some tempering food; Chuck w i l l write a growing narrative of his own and Sam w i l l learn to climb up the h i l l before he snow-boards down. The ind i v i d u a l s w i l l go on, the stories w i l l grow and change, but t h i s c l a s s , as i t was for t h i s time, w i l l always f i n d i t s own place on my shelf. 153 6. Writing in the Sand The Ocean Shore i quiet my thoughts with the hush of the ocean t i d e whispers of white noise soothe the synapses i n the rinse of re t r e a t over the etched sand i f i n d the s h e l l s and stones for my c o l l e c t i o n jasper and agate tossed up from the deep polished and shaped amid the s h e l l of l i f e gems of understanding g l i n t and f l a s h r e f r a c t and absorb and a l l the while an afternoon breeze laps at t i d a l pools and waves away the hazy a i r Traces My wri t i n g has transported me across the bogginess of my s h i f t i n g understanding. I t reveals my own eco-system, the balance I seek between who I think I am and what I think I do. There i s , however, more underbrush than I expected. I see, now, that my bog i n i t s very boggy nature w i l l never be a l l cleared, nor w i l l i t break down, decompose on i t s own. I t s tanglement of memory, assumption, desire and 154 i n t e r p r e t a t i o n has not onl y snared my r e l a t i o n s h i p w i t h the w a r r i o r s I i n i t i a l l y knew as the d i f f i c u l t r e b e l s and r e v e l l e r s a t the back of the c l a s s , but has a l s o made me a c u t e l y aware of a l l the r e l a t i o n s h i p s , addressed o r not, t h a t I form every day. Through the medium of my w r i t i n g , I have f e l t t he s t i r r i n g of phantoms: haunting w a r r i o r s frojn my p a s t , of my g o a l s , in my s t r a t e g i e s , behind my assumptions, my own i n v i s i b l e w a r r i o r s t h a t bog me down, h o l d me back or scrape me as I t r y t o pass. A l l t h e s e p r e / p o s i t i o n s ground me, surround me and d i r e c t me, a l l a t the same time. My w r i t i n g through the course of t h i s p a s t year w i t h t h i s p a r t i c u l a r c l a s s has expressed the t e n s i o n s , problems and s t r u g g l e s I f e l t i n the grade nine classroom. The hermeneutic i n q u i r y i n t o my w r i t i n g d e c o n s t r u c t e d t h e b a t t l e metaphor and d i s c o v e r e d l a y e r s of p e r p l e x i t y , s t r u g g l e and i n s i g h t . The c l a s s , now gone, remains w i t h me f o r my f u r t h e r understanding. I am s t i l l "becoming" and, although I f a c e d the b a t t l e , e s t a b l i s h e d a c e r t a i n peace, I have not ended my journey. Where have I been? What have I seen? As I r e / r e a d my w r i t i n g , f u r t h e r s h i f t s i n my understanding confound my n a r r a t i v e . I have been on q u i t e a journey i n t h i s l a n d of t e a c h i n g . I have r e c o r d e d many ex p e r i e n c e s and they have shaped my understanding. But now, the t r a v e l over the land has come t o a pause i n t h i s r e t r e a t . I e n v i s i o n a v i s i t t o the ocean shore and see 155 these writings as i f they are i n the sand. U n t i l another flow of t i d e washes across t h e i r impression, they are with me. But I become a l l too aware of t h e i r temporality. When I re/read my visible student/warriors, I must acknowledge that, with the exception of Karla, they are all male! I don't know what this means. Carl asked me if there are gender issues and I know there are, but I cannot analyze them, the boys at the back. There are boys all over this class. Why would the boys at the back exemplify maleness and aspirations to patriarchal power any more than any of the other males in the class who do not behave in the same way? There are also girls at the back, girls cheering on these boys. Are they part of a gender issue? (Journal Entry, Mar. '94) Haunt ings I could not begin to question while I was writing about them so intensely i n my journal. I f e l t so connected to t h e i r i n d i v i d u a l i t i e s , t h e i r needs, that I could not o b j e c t i f y any broader issues. If I acknowledged the gender issues, I f e l t I would deny the person, the heart and soul that I so wanted to reach. Was i t t h e i r maleness, t h e i r gender that made them thus or was i t the i n d i v i d u a l circumstances of t h e i r i ndividual l i v e s — o r was i t the combination? I t was surely bigger than what I could address during the c l a s s . Maybe now. 156 Maybe the maleness Maybe the maleness part of you shielded your inner s e l f that I yearned to know Maybe the maleness was the menace that muffled my message and mocked my motherly attempts to nurture a soul? Was i t your male gender that armoured i t s e l f against my intruding ideas? I requested r e f l e c t i o n sought softness and c a r e f u l considerations of human relationships You fended o f f feelings with retort s and b u l l i s h bellows You i n your T.V. s t y l e changed the channel to high speed car chases and vi o l e n t adventure Your communication was instant replay quick comebacks and reluctant writing drinking s e r i a l k i l l i n g drugs the negative upheld laughingly i n r ebellious power 157 Is t h i s a gender issue? Each of you j u s t unnamed products generic samples of male power and domination My r e f l e c t i v e s e l f my woman's sense my motherself pains f o r your misdirection sees past your s h i e l d sometimes i n t u i t s your inner s e l f so denied by you Can I deny your outer s h e l l i n my struggle to get past your shield? Can I s t i l l refuse to see i t as part of your gender? I immerse myself for the moment i n my b a t t l e f i e l d metaphor. Personally, I have often f e l t on one b a t t l e f i e l d or another. When I was young, I battled with my father i n my struggle to assert my independence, and my w i l l , i n f r u s t r a t i o n against his p a r t i c u l a r brand of fatherhood. There was d e f i n i t e l y competition between us. The day a f t e r a huge confrontation with my father when I was twenty-four, I had a major car accident and was hospitalized. The f i r s t person leaning over me as I lay half-conscious i n the emergency room was my father. He assured me that I would "make i t " and l a t e r he r e v i s i t e d me with a tattooed wooden puppet i n boxer shorts and boxer gloves to hang over my bed because I was h i s " f i g h t e r . " That b a t t l e imagery has been 158 near me a l l my l i f e but I have not thought about i t u n t i l t h i s writing. In my struggle to r a i s e my handicapped son, I have sometimes seen situations i n a "me-versus-them" condition where I have expectations, make requests, make demands and "they" (doctors, educators, service providers) f a i l to meet my expectations, deny my requests, refuse my demands, or disagree with any number of countered acts. In such s i t u a t i o n s I f i g h t f i e r c e l y with a l l my armour and I f i g h t to win! What i s my armour? Impassioned ideals about equality and the n o b i l i t y of the human s p i r i t . A b e l i e f i n the magnanimity that reaches beyond i n d i v i d u a l differences and embraces f u l l y each individual amid the masses. Above a l l else, a commitment to my son to ensure h i s f u l l e s t development as a whole person with equal worth and equal r i g h t s . Yes, t h i s i s my armour with which I f i g h t that p a r t i c u l a r b a t t l e . When I know the cause i s worth fighting for, then I fight with f u l l metal jacket of ideals and feelings and arguments. Good male imagery. Why do I use i t ? I must investigate this battle condition further. (Journal Entry, Mar. '94) Does my b a t t l e metaphor spring from some hidden animosity I hold toward the opposite sex? Or i s the tension and antagonism a natural state of existence between my femaleness and t h e i r maleness? Forever a difference; 159 f o r e v e r a t e n s i o n . The b a t t l e of the sexes. P a r t i c u l a r l y a t a time when hormones rage i n t h e i r i n i t i a t i o n and r a c e through v e i n s unsure of themselves. F i r s t e f f e c t s a re shocking, funny, u n s e t t l i n g . I do not l i k e i t . I grew up i n a female dominant f a m i l y . My f a t h e r , when he swore, was c r i t i c i z e d , reprimanded. He was wrong. These boys are wrong. My father, when he was irreverent, was wrong! My f a t h e r t r i e d t o be funny when he wrote, I love you dearly; I love you mighty. I wish my pyjamas were next to your nightie. Now don't get so bashful; now don't get so red; I mean on the clothesline and not in bed. He shocked my mother and her chastisement b a f f l e d me. I thought i t was a joke. My dad t o l d my mom she was s i l l y and laughed and laughed. I t was a joke, but now t h a t I t h i n k o f i t , i t was a weird one. My dad never made any s e x u a l o v e r t u r e s t o h i s daughters. Did he make up t h i s v e r s e o r d i d he hear i t somewhere and t h i n k i t j u s t funny t o put i n h i s daughter's autograph book? Not a wise father-knows-best k i n d o f f a t h e r , my dad. He was funny though. These boys i n f r o n t of me are funny too. But they annoy me, j u s t as I saw my f a t h e r annoy my mother. W i l l they not l e a r n ? I can't l e t them t u r n out t o be the k i n d of man my f a t h e r was, r e a c h i n g out wit h jokes and put-downs, never t a k i n g time t o know h i s own mind, t o come t o terms w i t h l i f e . And l i f e was not good t o him. He s u f f e r e d . I t cut him down w i t h Parkinson's Disease, e a r l y , maybe even b e f o r e he c o u l d grow up. A v o i c e i n me says, "Give them 160 time; it i s a passing phase. They will grow out of it." My experience t e l l s me that some men do not. And N e i l , he has no mother! And Chuck, he has no father. And Paul? and Sam? These boys are my warriors. We f i g h t . My armour i s b u i l t with the metal of my mother's words, b a t t l i n g my father's challenges. What i s t h e i r armour made of? They b u i l d i t as they go, but i t already has a f a m i l i a r s t y l e , already very strong. I f one asks what marks a l l those male friendships that have been acclaimed "from the days of Homer," the answer i s clea r : reverberation upon the public sphere. Male friendships were not en t i r e l y , or even primarily, private; they resonated i n the realms of power... Friendships for men...affect the world of event. Male friends do not always face each other; they stand side by side, facing the world. (Heilbrun, Writing a Woman's L i f e , 100) 161 "Boys w i l l be boys" (What are little boys made of? Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails) "Boys w i l l be boys" the old wives say and t e l l me about "what l i t t l e boys are made of" and the old mother honks her i n v i t a t i o n f or " l i t t l e boy blue" to blow h i s own horn (as i f he needed to be asked) never mind those sheep and cows and other issues of domesticity and c i v i l i t y that's okay 'cause "boys w i l l be boys" they say playing boy's games "the only difference between men and boys i s the [size] of t h e i r toys" those "boys i n blue" and "green berets" and "brown s h i r t s " Are they l i k e some airborne regiment "knights i n shining armour" playing with things more s i n i s t e r than snakes? 1 6 2 I write r e l u c t a n t l y about gender because I do not know where i t begins and ends. There were other boys i n the clas s who did not come to class i n ba t t l e dress. The warrior boys were the father that I battled when I was t h e i r age. I am sure they are b a t t l i n g t h e i r own fathers or mothers on t h e i r own personal fronts. In the classroom, they wage a d i f f e r e n t kind of warfare. I look f o r t h e i r expression, t h e i r b e l i e f s , and I challenge them i n t h e i r w r i t i n g assignments. As I read t h i s poem, I remind myself of another poem I wrote during my writing course with Carl Leggo. Carl began the course by t e l l i n g us that he believed that teachers of writi n g must be writers themselves i n order to understand the nature of writing as they want t h e i r students to understand. I remember the excitement I f e l t at the prospect. I remember the confusion I f e l t when he added that our exploration of writing theory would also immerse us i n feminist theory. Hmm...I had never embraced feminist ideology completely, but I considered myself to be an assertive woman. I think of Karla and her assertions and wonder i f the assertions of, a l l women are seen as i n e f f e c t i v e as Karla's i n the face of those heckling boys. With Karla i n mind I wonder i f femaleness i s some congenital anomaly that disables us a l l our l i v e s . In those e a r l i e r years, I thought I had considered my equality, knew I had to f i g h t f or i t , but I believed I had 163 achieved i t . Did I understand feminist theory? Was I a feminist? I was a strong woman. I worked i n a profession that had always admitted women and had given them equal pay for equal work. I t did not, however, advance many women to positions of authority. Had I been aware of c o n f l i c t s around feminism i n the workplace? Had I f e l t c o n f l i c t s about my status i n the home? Oh, most c e r t a i n l y there. I fought my husband's past, h i s eastern European upbringing, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, every day that he did not do the dishes or make the bed. But I never considered deeply how feminist issues affected me beyond that. I, an adolescent of the s i x t i e s , a young woman of the seventies. Beginning to read feminists l i k e Carolyn Heilbrun, P a t t i Lather, Carol G i l l i g a n , started something s t i r r i n g , something disturbing. There was my bog moving under me, spongy beneath my feet. I picked up the moss, examined the lic h e n and wrote. 164 Feminist Statement Dish-rags from my past bind me to my present state where my feminism must reside surrounded by the ever-growing metaphors of my l i f e : everything and the kitchen sink t i e d to the apron strings of my mother's giv i n g ways Growing up among s i s t e r s I found my voice i n female c a p a b i l i t y and certainty I d i d not need a man to be fractured father figure of the only maleness that I knew Mother became provider and protector bringing home the bacon putting the bread on the table making ends meet fi n d i n g time to lend a helping hand lay down the law wipe the wistfulness from our eyes give us a lesson i n r e a l i t y where the game was ruled by necessary cooperation p u l l i n g together becoming a l l capable Now, defined by my mother's metaphors I l i v e i n a d i f f e r e n t r e a l i t y where men play games, have opponents, take the lead body check, stay i n position, shoot and score! As a woman among men I am an unwilling competitor and w i l l not play defense, offense or embrace an exclusive metaphor that makes me play by t h e i r rules My metaphors w i l l teach my sons to do t h e i r own laundry make t h e i r own bed and l i e i n i t My sons can have my apron strings lend a helping hand, p u l l together, share the load become a l l capable So i n a new r e a l i t y where the metaphors are mixed I can be an equal participant i n a game that i s played on l e v e l ground 165 What does my up b r i n g i n g , my ideas about what men a r e l i k e , what women are l i k e , what l i f e i s l i k e , have t o do w i t h me as an E n g l i s h teacher? I q u e s t i o n the v a l i d i t y o f d i s c u s s i n g these i s s u e s i n my formal w r i t i n g . But, through t h i s hermeneutic i n q u i r y comprising some twenty y e a r s o f t e a c h i n g , I have become more aware of the f a c t o r s t h a t shape my t e a c h i n g and l e a r n i n g . When I was i n my s t u d e n t - t e a c h i n g p r a c t i c u m , I remember being very concerned about my " r o l e " as a t e a c h e r . How c o u l d I assume a r o l e , a personage, which seemed t o deny myself? At the time, I had not i n c o r p o r a t e d " t e a c h e r " i n t o my sense of s e l f . I was f u l l of myself. Young woman, daughter, f r i e n d , h e l p e r , l e a r n e r — a l l v e r y n a i v e and unsure. But "teacher?" I was so much a l e a r n e r t h a t I d i d not see teacher as anything i n t e g r a l t o my sense of s e l f . How c o u l d I teach? I had t o pre t e n d t o be an e r u d i t e , a u t h o r i t a t i v e , e n a b l i n g , d i r e c t i n g , persona of knowledge. I must, I thought, deny my d a u g h t e r / s i s t e r / f r i e n d / s e l f . They d i d not have a p l a c e i n the classroom. The h e l p e r , I knew, d i d . I t was t h a t " h e l p e r " a s p e c t t o t e a c h i n g t h a t e x c i t e d me and drew me i n t o the p r o f e s s i o n . When I met my f i r s t students, I presented an image, c a r e f u l l y c o n t r i v e d t o cover any p e r s o n a l s e l f . I put on armour and d i s t a n c e d myself. My armour was c o n s t r u c t e d from a f r i e n d l y m a i l , a l l s m i l i n g , accommodating, p l a n n i n g , and hard working. Was the r e more? I remember squirming when my male c o l l e a g u e s sneaked sexual innuendo i n t o d i s c u s s i o n s of 1 6 6 classroom management. Jokes about what my students were learning. What kind of teacher did they see? m e t h o d o l o g y my te[aching]days started early as I brushed my long hair down to the tops of my miniskirted legs clutched d i t t o masters prepared at two i n the morning between my polished fingers and stroked the gaze of five-year younger almost adult boys who sat at the front of the room i n those days &I turned my back arms reaching to the lesson writing i d e a [ l ] s i n green and white amazingly fresh from my late night labours only becoming a/ware of the e f f e c t of such a key visual? 1 6 7 Sexist joking i n staffroom, classrooms, and hallways, and the derogation of women and of women's achievements are part of a wider pattern of gender harrassment. The inordinate amount of attention focussed on white male students, the differences i n the nature of question and i n the qu a l i t y of teacher response directed towards female and male students, and male strategies of interruption and v o c a l i t y that silence women are . . . examples of ways i n which g i r l s and women experience the c h i l l y climate i n education. (Briskin, Coulter, 1992, 250) My journal writing helps me address these gender issues i n a way I never spoke of before. I remember, i n those days, i t being d i f f i c u l t f o r me to reach mentally across a male response to my physical appearance. I t seemed that I had to cross t h i s b a r r i e r before I could express my ideas and feelings. That gender b a r r i e r , sometimes translucent, sometimes not, was always there. I had to s u i t up against i t . My teacher persona helped i f I could make i t strong enough. I t helped i n the s t a f f room. I t became even stronger i n the classroom. But, s t i l l , i t was but one b a t t l e I fought. Today, I know that gender cannot account fo r a l l the challenges I face with these, my grade nine students. There i s age, culture, class, race, my values, t h e i r values, t h e i r becoming, my becoming, a l l converging i n an e x c i t i n g complex dynamic that cannot be compartmentalized into the lesson of the day. When I f i r s t started teaching, I thought I took o f f my personal clothes and put on some kind of teacher's u n i f o r m — donned another s e l f . 168 New Clothes my teacher s u i t protects me against my f a i l u r e s i t i s my armour between them and me goals and objectives rationale knowledge of subject strategy method plan power under t h i s armour an i n v i s i b l e s h i e l d care b e l i e f knowledge patience nurturing girds me with or without a l l that i s t i l l fear exposure i t a l l f a l l s o ff on occasion 169 A [M]other L o o k Somehow, d u r i n g the ensuing years, t h a t u n i f o r m became an armour t h a t I thought must s h i e l d my p e r s o n a l s e l f and p r o t e c t me from my students as t h e i r armour would do f o r them. From t h i s p e r s p e c t i v e , when my s h i e l d of understanding and p a t i e n c e f a i l e d , I gave up the b a t t l e , a v o ided the p l a i n . A f t e r I had my f i r s t c h i l d and r e t u r n e d t o the classroom, I saw the students very d i f f e r e n t l y . I was aware t h a t my t e a c h i n g changed. At t h a t time, I was d e a l i n g w i t h v e r y deep c h a l l e n g e s about how I viewed l i f e . My c h i l d had s u f f e r e d a b r a i n hemorrhage when he was born. My p e r s o n a l p l a i n was no longer golden. My l i f e view had darkened and I s t r u g g l e d t o keep i t l i g h t . I f these c h i l d r e n i n f r o n t of me o n l y knew what my son's l i f e was l i k e , what my l i f e was l i k e . . . . But I never t o l d them. I f e l t I c o u l d not use the classroom f o r some k i n d of soap box about compassion and t o l e r a n c e of d i f f e r e n c e s . I a l s o d i d not t h i n k they deserved my hard l u c k s t o r y . Now I look long and hard a t how I have changed s i n c e I have become a mother. My mothering i n s t i n c t s r e a c h through t h e t e a c h e r persona and a l l o w me freedom i n my d r e s s . I am not so concerned w i t h my teacher s u i t . I nstead, I look l o n g e r and harder a t the c h i l d r e n i n f r o n t of me and f i n d some communion i n our v u l n e r a b i l i t y . I have l e a r n e d from the t e a c h i n g s of my own son. 1 7 0 G o l d e n Boy oh g/old/en boy how you guide me a/cross my p e r / s o n / a l p [ l ] a i n v u l n e r / a b l y s t r o n g you d i / s p l a y [d]reams of hope am/id the s t r u g g l e i n y/our need we s t r i v e f o r the idea/1 i n s i d e i t a l l and ex/pose s t a r [ e ] s t h a t g l / a r e at the i m p / e r [ f ] e c t 171 Over the years of my [m]othering/[t]eaching, the r o l e s have been [f]used. One composite of beings and r o l e s , I now stand imperfect i n my classroom with my students. I do not pretend to be, I am and I allow them to be. Now that I have explored the hermeneutic, I cannot f i g h t my boys at the back. I t r y not to set up a me versus them structure. En/couraged I position them about the room not to divide and conquer, but to help them take off t h e i r armour. If I break up the power structures and power struggles, I f e e l I can embrace the c i r c l e of the classroom and allow the classroom to embrace me. S t i l l I must be on my guard. I must calcu l a t e , a r t i c u l a t e , contrive, balance. Focus a l l those parts of me on the common goal of the classroom. And my students, too, must learn to balance, turn one side out at a t i m e — a s I had wanted Chuck to do. They can come out from behind t h e i r armour, but with a c a r e f u l attention to the purpose. Without the structure, without a goal, without the tension, these students do not have anything to balance. The weight i s a l l on them and i t proves too much a burden. I f my writing has illuminated anything for me about my teaching methods, i t i s the absolute need for my own power. I have always abrogated i t . Instead, I embraced the students i n the hope that they would give up t h e i r power without a struggle. Some students do not need to struggle, do not need to t e s t the hegemony. Others have too much struggle already, know nothing else. 172 They need a d i f f e r e n t armour. I must tend to that. L a n g u a g e L e a r n i n g A f t e r twenty years of teaching, I needed my wri t i n g to l e t me understand the v i c i s s i t u d e s of the b a t t l e . Writing brought i t a l l out i n the open: gender, r o l e , power, desire. I t happened i n the ebb of a ti d e with the water r o l l e d back fo r me to see. Momentarily, as i f I wrote i n sand, I played with d i f f e r e n t slants, and saw the in d i v i d u a l grains i n d i f f e r e n t shades. But writing has not ca r r i e d me out to sea; instead, i t has grounded me to the root of my becoming an English teacher. My writing has allowed me to glory i n the wonder of language. My hermeneutic exploration only e x i s t s by and because of my work and play with language. Language . . . i s by i t s e l f the game of interpretation that we a l l are engaged i n every day. In t h i s game nobody i s above and before a l l the others; everybody i s at the center, [everybody] i s " i t " i n t h i s game. This process of interpretation takes place whenever we "understand. 1 1 (Jardine, 1992, 10-11) Language, the interweaving of the symbolic and semiotic, creates and ex/presses the text/ure of my l i f e . Deconstruction, the unweaving, does not unravel i t a l l , but examines the f i b r e with a l l strengths and weaknesses, sees other meanings embedded i n the i n t e r s t i c e s of the weave, there and not there. My writing creates the metaphors and becomes the r e a l i t y that I l i v e . 173 Obsolete Thought (the pen as metaphorical penis) Writing without a pen is no problem when the composing is done with my user-friendly responsive acceptance of a light touch that dares disturb a dream coaxes, shapes, plans new visions processed into inspiration as a blossom on a screen. powerful new metaphor my box full of tricks replaces the genitalia of old expectations with a feeling for newborn harkening of head and heart from the heated hand of woman writing 174 The metaphors i n my poetry reveal connections I would not make i n the practice of my d a i l y lessons. A r e f l e c t i v e moment creates them and they d i r e c t me to a deconstructive mode. I push past old meanings and f i n d new ones that I cannot deny. Have they always been there, hidden behind d u l l routines and worn out expressions? The power of t h i s inquiry has provided an enduring energy that i s embracing and creative. I t i s not an impulsive surging energy, but a patient one, a tr u s t i n g one. In seeking reasons, understandings, guidance, I know i t i s there; i t w i l l be there. Now, having said good-bye to t h i s c l a s s , I continue to question the successes and f a i l u r e s , and evaluate the events. They are not etched i n stone, but are momentary marks i n the sand, part of a process for a l l of us. Now, some s i x months l a t e r , I smile when N e i l approaches me and asks i f I w i l l be teaching grade eleven next year. I f e e l excitement when the counsellor rings my classroom to t e l l me that Chuck, who transferred out to an al t e r n a t i v e program, was back at the school asking for me. And Paul, who passed me i n the h a l l the other day, looked r i g h t into my face with a smile and said, "Hi, Mrs. Wittman!" I know I would always have enjoyed such contact, but through my writing I have learned to appreciate much more. Across my teaching land, from bog to b a t t l e f i e l d and p l a i n and then seashore, I met warriors i n armour, 175 discovered shining, faceted gems, picked up the threads amid the weaving. A l l connected i n metaphor, a l l predicated here i n the language. Subject Action Object Place. 176 s u b j e c t a c t i o n p l a c e t i m e \/ o b j e c t i f i e d m o d i f i e d m e t a p h o r i z e d c o n f i g u r a t e d b i f u r c a t e d t h e n now \ = = = / \ = = / \ = / \ = = / \ = / i n t e r t w i n e d / \ / \ / \ \ / \ / \ / b r i c - a - b r a c o f b e i n g a b r a c a d a b r a f a b r i c o f l i v e s 177 L i s t of References Aoki, T. 1990. "Layered Voices of Teaching: The Uncannily Correct and the El u s i v e l y True." Understanding Curriculum as Phenomenological and Deconstructed Text. Eds. William Pinar and William Reynolds. New York: Teacher's College Press, Columbia University, pp. 17-27. . 1993. "Legitimating Lived Curriculum: Towards A C u r r i c u l a r Landscape of M u l t i p l i c i t y . " Journal of Curriculum and Supervision. Spring 1993, 8:3. pp. 255-268. Armstrong, David M. 1965. Berkeley's Philosophical Writings. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. Atwood, Margaret. 1988. The Cat's Eye. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. Beck, Dahlia. 1993. V i s i t i n g Generations. Bragg Creek, Alberta: Makyo Press. Belenky, M., B. Clinchy, N. Goldberger, J. Tarule. 1986. Women's Ways of Knowing. The Development of S e l f . Voice, and Mind. U.S.A.: Basic Books, Inc. B r i s k i n , Linda and Rebecca Priegert Coulter. 1992. "Feminist Pedagogy: Challenging the Normative." Canadian Journal of Education. 17:3. pp. 247-263. Bridwell-Bowles, L i l l i a n . 1992. "Discourse and D i v e r s i t y : Experimental Writing within the Academy." College Composition and Communication. 43:3. pp. 349-367. Brodribb, Somer. 1992. Nothing Mat(t)ers: A Feminist C r i t i q u e of Postmodernism. A u s t r a l i a : Spinifex Press. Brown, Robert K. 1992. "Max van Manen and Pedagogical Human Research." Pinar and Reynolds, pp. 44-63. C l i f f o r d , James. 1986. "Introduction: P a r t i a l Truths." Writing and Culture: The Poetics and P o l i t i c s of Ethnography. Eds. James C l i f f o r d and B. Marcus. Berkeley: University of C a l i f o r n i a Press, pp. 1-26. Crowley, Sharon. 1989. A Teacher's Introduction to Deconstruction. Urbana: NCTE. 178 Deleuze, G i l l e s , and Parnet, C l a i r e . 1987. "Preface to the English Language Edition, and Chapter 1: Conversation, What i s i t ? What i s i t for?" Dialogues. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 1-35. Derrida, Jacques. 1978. Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Ford, Boris (Ed.). 1963. The Modern Age. The Pelican Guide to English Literature, 7. Baltimore, U.S.A.: Penguin Books. F r e i r e , Paulo. 1985. The P o l i t i c s of Education. Culture Power and Liberation. New York: Bergin and Garvey. Gadamer, Hans. 1975. Truth and Method. New York: Seabury. Gallagher, Shaun. 1992. Hermeneutics and Education. New York: State University of New York Press. Gillanders, Carol (Ed.). 1967. Theme & Imagef An Anthology of Poetry/Book 2. Toronto: Copp, Clark and Pitman. G i l l i g a n Carol. 1982. In a Different Voice. Psychological Theory and Women's Development. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. Grumet, Madeleine. 1988. "Bodyreading." Contemporary Curriculum Discourses. Ed. William Pinar. Scottsdale, Arizona: Scarisbrick Gorsuch Publishers, pp. 453-473. .' . 1992. " E x i s t e n t i a l and Phenomenological Foundations of Autobiographical Methods." Pinar and Reynolds, pp. 28-43. Harris, Joseph. 1987. "The P l u r a l Text/The P l u r a l S e l f : Roland Barthes and William Coles." College English. 49:2. pp. 158-170. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. 1850/1992. The Scarlet Letter. Hertforshire, England: Wordsworth Editions Ltd. Heilbrun, Carolyn. 1979. Reinventing Womanhood. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. . 1988. Writing a Woman's L i f e . New York: Ballantyne Books. . 1990. Hamlet's Mother and Other Women. New York: Ballantyne Books. 179 Hunsberger, Margaret. 1992. "The Time of Texts." Pinar and Reynolds, pp. 64-91. jagodzinski, jan. 1992. "Curriculum as F e l t Through Six Layers of an A e s t h e t i c a l l y Embodied Skin, The Arch-Writing on the Body." Pinar and Reynolds. pp. 159-583. Jardine, David, W. 1992. "Reflections on Education, Hermeneutics, and Ambiguity: Hermeneutics as a Restoring of L i f e to i t s O r i g i n a l D i f f i c u l t y . " Pinar and Reynolds. pp. 116-127. Jardine, David, W. 1992. Speaking with a Boneless Tongue. Bragg Creek, Alberta: Makyo Press. Joyce, James. 1992/1922. Ulysses. London: Paladin, Harper C o l l i n s Publishers. Kaufman, Michael. 1993. Cracking the Armour. Power Pain and the Lives of Men. New York: Viking Penguin. Kellow, B. and Krisak, J. Eds. 1983. Poetry and Language. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd. Lather, P a t t i . 1991. Getting Smart. Feminist Research and Pedagogy With/in the Postmodern. U.S.A.: Routledge, Chapman and H a l l , Inc. Lee, Harper. 1982/1960. To K i l l A Mockingbird. New York: Warner Books. Leggo, C a r l . 1990. "Ninety-Five Questions f o r Generating Disputation on the Power and E f f i c a c y of the Pedagogical Practices of Writing Teachers." Language Arts. 67:4. pp. 399-405. . 1991. "Noting/Negating/Negotiating Voices." Phenomenology + Pedagogy, 9. pp. 123-131. . 1994. "Writing Lines of Connections: Re/searching Narrative and Education," Department of Language Education, University of B r i t i s h Columbia. Presented at the Canadian Society for the Study of Education Conference i n Calgary, June 18, 1994. . 1992. "A Poet's Pensees: Writing and Schooling." English Quarterly. 23:3-4. pp.4-10. 180 LeGuin, Ursula. 1990. Dancing at the Edge of the World. Thoughts on Words. Women. Places. New York: Grove Press. Lord, Walter. 1971/1955. A Night to Remember. New York: Bantam Books. Lu, Min-zhan. 1987. "From Silence to Words: Writing as Struggle." College English. 49:4. pp. 437-448. Macdonald, James B. 1988. "Theory-Practice and the Hermeneutic C i r c l e . " Pinar. pp. 101-113. Martindale, Kathleen. 1992. "Theorizing Autobiography and M a t e r i a l i s t Feminist Pedagogy." Canadian Journal of Education. 17:3. Toronto: York University. pp. 321-340. Merquior, J.G. 1991. Foucault. London: Fontana Press. Miedzian, Myriam. 1991. Boys w i l l be Boys. Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence. New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday. M i t c h e l l , W.O. 1966/1947. Who Has Seen The Wind. Toronto: MacMillan of Canada. Murray, Donald M. 1991. " A l l Writing Is Autobiography." College Composition and Communication. 42:1. pp. 66-74. Pinar, W. and Reynolds, W. (Eds.). 1992. Understanding Curriculum as Phenomenological and Deconstructed Text. New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University. Pinar, W.(Ed.). 1988. Contemporary Curriculum Discourses. Scottsdale, Arizona: Gorsuch Scarisbrick, Publishers. Salinger, J.D. 1989/1951. The Catcher i n the Rye. Boston: L i t t l e , Brown and Company. Spender, Dale. 1989. The Writing or the Sex? New York: Pergammon Press. Tompkins, Jane. 1987. "Me and My Shadow." New L i t e r a r y History 19.1. pp. 169-178. Twain, Mark (Samuel Clemens). 1965/1848. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Bantam Books. Woolf, V i r g i n i a . 1992/1929. A Room of One's Own. London: Grafton Press. 181 W i l l i s , George and Schubert, William, (Eds.). 1991. Reflections from the Heart of Educational Inquiry. Understanding Curriculum and Teaching through the Arts Albany: State University of New York Press. Van Manen, Max. 1986. The Tone of Teaching. Richmond H i l l Ont.: Scholastic-TAB. _^ . 1988. "The Tact of Teaching." Human Science Monograph. Edmonton: Faculty of Education, The University of Alberta. . . 1988. "The Relation Between Research and Pedagogy." Pinar. pp.437-452. . 1992. Researching Lived Experience. London, Ont.: The Althouse Press. University of Western Ontario. 182 

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