March 12th, 2009

The Kids Are All Right

A few people have asked me how my residency at a local high school is going–I teach grade 10 and 11 creative writing every Wednesday through the Descant Arts and Letters Foundation’s SWAT Program. I won’t be able to go into detail about my students’ specific weirdnesses and wonderfulnesses, because I think if they found out I was posting about them on the internet, they would quite rightly stop coming to class in protest.

Within the bounds of the privacy act of teenhood, I can tell you that I love my classes and that I am exhausted. Teenagers have a lot of energy, and this energy is resulting in some really funny, honest, interesting work. It’s also resulting in a lot things information needing to be repeated, things falling on the floor, papers getting lost, people not writing their names on their work, not being in uniform, not understanding the assignment, not understanding that the assignment was supposed to be handed in, and/or being in the bathroom when the assignment was mentioned.

Much as I love learning, love talking, love a challenge, I am very much not a natural teacher. I am a selective chatterbox: show interest and I’ll tell you more than you ever wanted to know; show indifference or distain, I’ll clam up like the proverbial shellfish. One of the many incredible challenges of teaching is to have enough faith in what you are saying to keep saying it to people who…aren’t super into it. I think I’m lucky to have quite engaged, intelligent students, but they have a lot on their minds, and as soon as I see attention waver, I get intensely doubtful about the whole endeavour.

If we were chatting over lunch, this would be the point in the conversation where I’d hunch back in my chair and say, “But of course, what do I know? What do *you* think?” Sometimes I can, in fact, throw the discussion point to the class, but sometimes I’m not at place in the lesson where I can do that (or I throw it open and no one responds) and then I’m stuck pursuing my thesis that I believe, though I am fast losing faith in my ability to explain it.

This is unusual for me, and very hard–I hate trying to convince the unconvinced; I’d rather just allow them to remain unconvinced. Also unusual for me is granting people permission to go to the bathroom, so let’s just say the whole experience is foreign, but I’m learning a lot from trying to stick to my guns, as well as from the questions I get asked.

I’ve listed some of the things we’ve been questioning and discussing below. For sure I have my own opinions on these matters, but since I’m not so sure I can prove’em anymore–or that these are questions on which definitive answers are possible–maybe I’ll throw it open to the blogosphere and see if anyone responds. What do *you* think about:

1) What does bubblegum taste like? What does Red Bull taste like? What does Axe Body Spray smell like? What does Christmas smell like? What does hair smell like? What does the inside of a vacuum cleaner smell like? What does a sour-cream doughnut taste like?
2) How much imagination is too much? When can you make it all up and when do you have to do research? Why is ok to write a fantasy novel about an imaginary kingdom that you made up, and not ok to write a prison novel without knowing anything about prisons? Or is it, in fact, ok to make up an imaginary penal system and set it not Canada but “Canada”? Because it’s *fiction*, after all–people should know that, right?
3) Do all major characters in books have to have flaws? Can you think of a character in a book (or a movie) with no flaws? Do all villains have to have some complexity or good qualities? Can you think of a villain with some good (in a movie or a book)?
4) What can you infer about a man who wears cords with his t-shirt tucked in? What can you infer about a woman who wears a dress with holes in it? What can you infer about someone who is very pale and always wears hats? What can you infer about someone keeps a barfridge in his bedroom? What can you infer about someone who hangs salamis up in her kitchen?

I await your responses eagerly. Cause really, what *do* I know?

Oh I take a look at that picture

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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