the final days of senior English class

Dear Reader,

This is the last week of class before my seniors take their finals, so I wanted to do a fun unit with them as a last hurrah! What’s more fun than asking a room full of mixed company if this is a man’s world or a woman’s world? For me, not much…but then again, I’m a little strange. The students uproariously began to formulate their opinions as I calmly asked them to think first, then write, THEN talk. 🙂

After a bit of time, the students were able to articulate their thoughts by sharing them in groups and then corporately. Then I played the Godfather of Soul for them, and asked the class to decode the message behind James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”

They made their postulations – some apt some asinine. Then we read several poems that further complicated the original question – that’s how I know I’m doing my job! It’s my diabolical design, my subversive scheme to get this next generation to THINK for themselves! (Good news, dear reader, I think it’s working for some of them!). After we read several poems and even some newspaper articles, I hit ‘em with Dorothy Parker! She slayed them – as expected. We read “The Waltz,” and the class was equally amused and horrified. One gentleman timidly asked, “is that really how ‘you guys’ feel?” My mouth curled into a smile as I released a sigh, “no, not always, but there is some truth to this piece. We all feel that there are times to say what we are thinking and times to hold it back, and that’s true for both genders.” That eased a little tension in the room, that is, until we read “A Telephone Call.” To which I told the boys: if you say you’re going to call, then CALL HER! The girls gave shouts and whistles, which was interrupted by a deep booming voice asking, “what if she says she will call and doesn’t?” I met him eye-to-eye and nodded. I turned my sharp attention to the girls and gave them the same vehement warning, which was followed by some laugher and cheering. Who says third period, senior English isn’t fun? Not I, dear reader, not I! They eventually came to the conclusion that life is not easy for either gender – both can be mysterious and confusing – especially when societal norms come into play. They also came to the conclusion that women didn’t have a voice for a long time in history or literature, but that they were there and definitely did make an impact. There’s always more to the story (like Helen and her fleet of launched ships, woman have started more than mere mythological wars). As Eavan Boland says in her complex poem “It’s a Woman’s World” (this is just an excerpt from the poem):

like most historic peoples
we are defined by
what we forget

and what we never will be:
star-gazers,
fire-eaters.
It’s our alibi
for all time:

as far as history goes
we were never
on the scene of the crime.

Moving on: teacher brag moment: (you’ve been warned 🙂 ) After reading some of Dorothy Parker’s poetry, I had a particularly bright young man make the connection that although Parker is satirical and hilarious, there is also a great deal of grittiness and pain hidden behind her sarcasm. My eyes lit up – he hit the nail on the head! I wasn’t going to say anything to them about the papers I wrote in undergrad because that sounds braggy and frankly, it’s boring, but I just had to in this case! I had written a paper on Dorothy Parker for my American Lit class titled: Pain Masked by Humor (I think there was a subtitle, but I cannot remember it for the life of me!). Perhaps it’s not that big of deal or it’s rather obvious, but it made my teacher-heart swell a bit to have one of my students (who I’ve taught the past four years) make an astute connection without being prompted; he’s ready for college!

This probably won’t be the last post about my seniors. I grow so attached to my students; it’s always hard to say goodbye. Today, as we watched music videos and compared the originals to their covers – we discussed how perspective can completely alter the meaning of a song. We watched a video that may or may not have had minor disturbing images – which I can neither confirm nor deny, but I will say this: one of my students yelled out: “what happens in English class, stays in English class!” HAHA! I love it – our very own set of rules a-la-Fight Club – or the Vegas mantra – we actually likened it to Marlow’s experience in Heart of Darkness – what happens on the Congo, stays on the Congo. Anyway you slice it, it made my day. And, yes, I know, I’m a huge English nerd.

Until next time,

Jaime

For your reading pleasure:

“The Waltz” — originally printed in the September 2, 1933 edition of The New Yorker.

“A Telephone Call”  

“It’s a Woman’s World”