Friday, October 1, 2010

The tortoise or the owl?

or, Week one: Getting to know you, getting to know all about you...

From the moment I stepped onto the Number 61 bus outside 7-Eleven in Charles Village, I knew I was in for it.

At least I'd gotten on the right bus! But I barely had time to pat myself on the back before the bus took off with a thundering lurch, slamming me into the change receptacle. I felt tiny bones in my feet cracking. I felt unbalanced, trying to feed my nickels and dimes into the tiny slot, and then I felt uncertain as I stepped away, my $1.40 deposited but no receipt in sight. And as I sat down behind the driver, I felt a green string of snot drip down my nose and balance, threatening, imminent, on my upper lip as I pulled out my phone to track my progress on the journey to Deepdene Road.

In short, it was one of my most poised, elegant, and proudest moments. I was a teacher.

In Miss Osborn's (I say again: Miss Osborn's!) class this semester, we'll be focusing on myths and fairy tales. We began with a discussion about fables: Why is a fable different from other myths? What role do fables play in our lives, as children and as we get older? What can we learn from them to apply to other kinds of stories?

Both classes really took to the idea of animals standing in for human values. Aesop's portrayal of a fox as cunning and manipulative (if not, according to some students, downright evil; a distinction I tried but apparently failed to illustrate), an owl as wise and old (like me, one student rather preemptively asserted), and a turtle as stable, slow and prudent (if a little reserved). Afterwards, I realized I'll probably fall into one of these over the course of the semester: An artful manipulator of the sixth-grade horde; a patient and wise guide or mentor (ha!); or a rolling, unstoppable force unto myself, moving us at a slow but steady pace through the western canon from Aesop to Barth.

Then we moved on to "popcorn" story-telling, an unqualified success.

The part of class I'm most excited about, though, is a little feature I like to call "Life of a Writer." At the end of every week, my students' homework is to emulate one specific trait of a writer. This week, I asked the students to "notice things" as a continuation of our popcorn story. We talked about how important little things are, the difference you can make with the details you use to paint a picture.

I wanted to, but didn't feel comfortable in the public high school setting, have them write "God is in the details!" across the tops of their folders.

Will have to come up with an alternate expression for next week.

Signing off for now, and looking forward to tell you about the no-doubt amazing (and considering this is Baltimore, bizarre and possibly unpublishable) things my sixth-graders notice,

-katie marie