The first link "music assignments" will reference the handout "Poetry Wednesdays," the second link. I have used the Poetry Wednesdays handout to teach poetry techniques to my AP English students. I think using the music connection will be a good way to "sell" poetry to them. So many hate poetry because they don't see it as approachable and are quite afraid of it. If I can show them that music is very much like poetry, then I think they will be more open-minded and willing to jump into a serious analyis of the genre.
June 2010 Archives
All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I've been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don't mean anything
When you've got no one to tell them to
It's true...I was made for you
Brandi Carlisle [ The Story Lyrics on http://www.lyricsmania.com/ ]
I love this song. I am a survivor. I have been through a lot, and when faced with a challenge or crisis, I know I will get through it, even if I am a little more bruised and scarred than before. My "battle scars" tell "the story of who I am." I am a divorced woman who has found love again; a single-mom raising three boys; a teacher demanding the best from her students, rejoicing in their triumphs and grieving in their defeats; a daughter and a sister; a friend and a mentor. All of these things make me who I am, and in this song by Brandi Carlisle, I appreciate the fact that the people in my life love and accept me for who I am. They listen to my stories, and most, if not all of them, make up the threads to my tale. Songs like this are the kind that makes me appreciate those in my life. Songs that speak of overcoming adversity, rising to the challenge, celebrating or grieving the human experience are the ones I will stop and listen to and remember the words to. (And if I am alone, I will sing along with! ) These are songs I find to be "authentic."
Now, when I first heard this song, I thought, "Wow, she is an old soul. This song totally speaks to me. She has to be someone who has experienced this stuff. She has to be older than me." Uh, no. She is not quite 30, and I am pretty sure she is single with no kids. Does this make her any less "legit" in my eyes? Well, sort of? Maybe not? You see, I connect well with people who have been there, done that in their life. I am not one who makes superficial friends. I want to know your story, and I want to understand where you have been, and if we can't understand each other, then we just can't be friends. That's the same with music. If I can't understand what the singer is talking about or get their experience, then I can't connect with the song. And if the singer hasn't shared the experiences they are singing about, how can I trust them? How can I believe they mean what they are saying? If the singer hasn't experienced the emotions in their song, it is authentic? This is where the "sort of"/ "maybe not" comes in. For me, a song is "authentic" when the singer has either experienced what they are singing about, or they are able to empathize with those who have gone through this experience and are sincere in the message they are trying to convey to the listener.
Now, of course, I see musicians that are "created" or "branded" to be a little less authentic than those that just sing and worry less about the image they portray and focus more on the music. I'm a big fan of country music, but some of the newer singers are bit too flashy for me, and as a result, I don't like their music as much. Also, if a song is too harsh to my ears, I can't even begin to listen to the words. (Hello, rap singers and head-bangers, I can't stand listening to some of the stuff that is out there.) But is that to say then that just because I can't stand it, it isn't "authentic?"
I think every generation and culture has its own version of music they consider "real." And I think everyone has their own definition of what makes a song "authentic." (Though does anyone think Lady Gaga is for real?). I could spend all day talking about why my music tastes are more authentic than, say, rap or heavy metal, but then I would probably be offending the lovers of those genres that feel just as strongly as I do. That type of music speaks to those listeners for a reason, right?
Now what if I told you I am NOT a music nut? Would that change the value of my opinion. I love listening to a good song and have some favorites from when I was growing up, but I don't have a favorite artist that I would absolutely lose it for. (I wouldn't have fit in so well with Elvis or Beatle fans.) So does that make my opinion about what makes music authentic less valuable than someone who is a total devotee to a genre or group? Details, detail.
So my final thoughts on this? I think music that connects to you in a way that moves you emotionally and makes you think and makes you feel is "authentic." I might not agree with the message (I certainly will argue with anyone that loves a song that promotes some perverted and/or deviant behavior), but maybe you have had experiences that the music can relate to and I can't. We all have experiences that make up who we are. We all have stories that we want to tell and sometimes that story is best told through music and its lyrics.
This assignment is the final project for our satire unit. It asks students to research a topic they feel strongly about and see what is being reported and written about it in the news. They are then to create a satire about this topic to advocate some kind of change. As another option, students can also create a topical portfolio that showcases different ways this topic is being satirized. It proves to be a successful assignment each year.
This first assignment is one I use when I introduce satire to my seniors. Just stay with me as I make the news connection. In order to understand satire, students need to understand the news events surrounding the topic being satirized, otherwise they won't get the "joke." As they begin to gage their understanding of satire, they discover that they need to know how to understand the news that is out there. As we move through this unit, kids begin to see that news has a way of being biased and that satire can bring to light the follies of both those that deliver the news and the targets of that news.
I can't figure out how to put a table into my blog so I am including the above link that will give you my news analysis (in table format!). How's that for problem-solving!
This is a lesson I have tried with my students for the novel Montana 1948 by Larry Watson. The novel explores the idea of what is truth and our notions about certain people and stereotypes. The main character David lives in a small town in North Dakota and is in the middle of a scandal that pits his father against his own brother. Students talk about the myths the book constructs and then deconstructs, and then look at how these myths are portrayed in media.
Media Representations: Teachers in film
I watched Freedom Writers; the story about Erin Gruwell, a teacher in Long Beach, CA, who makes a difference in the lives of students the system has written off. It chronicles her journey from a wide-eyed fresh young teacher who has no idea what she is getting herself into to a seasoned veteran that has transformed the lives of at-risk students. She sacrifices her time, money and marriage to buy books and supplies for her students. She inspires them to believe in themselves when no else does, and as a result of her determined and dedicated spirit, she is able to teach these kids for four years (freshman through senior year) and helps them achieve what no one else thought they could: graduation and a published book based on their journals they wrote as a part of her class.
When I first watched this film, I have to admit that I was impressed with what she was able to do with those kids. I often wonder what it would be like to work with kids that tough. I have some pretty serious issues in my class, but my students don't seem to show it as freely as these kids do. The school looks like a stereotype of what most people think of when they think of an inner-city school, and the students in the film seem a bit like a cliché, but are they? This is a film based on "truth." Erin Gruwell is a real person who worked with kids like this. She was able to accomplish much with so little. How? What does that say about education and teachers who work just as hard, but don't get results like she did? And she never seemed to get angry or upset or lose it with her students. And her desk and classroom never looked like a storm just whirled through it. And of course, she faced opposition from teachers and administration that didn't believe in what she was doing. They felt a little like a cliché, too, but then I wondered, "Don't I sometimes sound like that?" (I'm being honest here!)
And of course, I bought into the hype of the film. I was inspired, and once, even showed this to my students at the end of the year to encourage them to fight the good fight as they left school and followed their own path and overcame their own challenges. I thought "If she can do it, so can I. I want to be that kind of teacher. And as I watched this film again, I am reminded of why I became a teacher: to change the lives of students, to maka a difference in their thinking and learning, to feel like I am leaving a permanent mark in this world.
As much as I enjoy a film based on true life events, (I am grateful there are people in the world like this who are so willing and able to give of themselves like the actor portrays), I am a bit concerned about the message it sends to audiences. While I don't want to devalue the work of people like Erin Gruwell and teachers like her that are portrayed in these types of films (Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds), I don't find these portrayals to be very realistic and completely truthful. I do think that film and other types of media that portray teachers as this "savior of students" ignore and/or simplify the amount of work and sacrifice these people had to go through to accomplish their feats. The movie portrays her working with these kids for countless hours upon hours. And according to the film, she worked two jobs on top of this full time job to pay for things her students needed. And again, while I don't want to diminish what she was able to accomplish, all I can think is, "Is she crazy? Who can realistically do that?" And that is when I stop enjoying the film and start getting irritated with movie makers.
Though Freedom Writers shows the success of her students graduating from high school and publishing their book, the movie glosses over the fact that she lost her marriage because of her complete dedication to her students, and she didn't stay in teaching for long; she only taught for 5 years total before leaving the profession to train future teachers and start a foundation. What does that say about her dedication to teaching when she is now making quite a bit more money through her foundation, book sales, and speaking engagements? Does this mean that the "good fight" isn't in the classroom, but instead, in front of people giving "inspirational speeches" where she speaks, leaves and lets teachers figure it out on their own? (Sorry, I sound jaded, but if she was really dedicated to teaching kids, wouldn't she try to replicate what took her 4 years to accomplish?)
While the point of these types of films is to inspire, I think these types of films perpetuate the very idea that teachers can do it all if only they put in the time and energy. Teachers should be able to transform each and every student; and they should be able to do it without the help of parents and other adults from the outside. (Where were the parents in the film? Did they help at all?) And they should be resourceful and figure out how to do more with less. Because what these films do is down plays what we already do for our students in the "real world." While I admire Erin Gruwell, I have to say, I could never do what she did. Not because I don't want to, but because I have three of my own children that I don't want to end up a statistic. I have responsibilities as a single mom to my own family.
Okay, so I feel like I am babbling. Here's the problem with representing teachers like a savior to all of humanity (or just a classroom).
Films like these assume that teachers are the only ones capable of saving students. Rarely do you see parents actively involved in the process. And usually it takes a team of teachers and other adults to work with at-risk students.
It assumes that if a teacher works hard and long enough, every student can be saved in a short amount of time. Gruwell was lucky enough to work with these same students for four years and build a trusting relationship. Schools do not normally work like this, and to make the exception for one teacher may not be possible.
It assumes that teachers can do whatever they want without too much backlash from other authorities. While teachers are pretty autonomous in how they deliver lessons to their students, we do have a curriculum to follow and with state testing, what we teach needs to get students ready for these tests.
It assumes teachers have no life outside of school. Teachers who work this hard with students all the time could burn out and leave the profession. Great teachers are hard to come by, and need to find a balance between work and home. Films like this neglect the complexities of a teacher's life and the need to create healthy boundaries to stay sane.
However unrealistic these representations seem, they do have some good points.
These films show the importance of being flexible and to be allowed to tailor curriculum to meet the needs of students.
It shows the importance of building relationships with students and how vital it is to have funding that will allow for flexible scheduling so kids can have the same teacher for a whole year (I rarely have students for a whole year, making relationship building a bit more difficult)
These films do inspire us to rethink our approach to teaching students. It might even validate what we are already doing.
And these films do show that students come to us with all sorts of problems that need to be addressed and how all kids can learn when someone shows them they care and "sees" them for who they are.
I don't think Hollywood can accurately portray the day-to-day life of teaching; it's too complex and not exciting all the time. The real work of teaching is mundane, tedious, frustrating and changes in a student are not seen instantaneously and are sometimes not seen for years. What we do can't be put neatly into a 2 hour film. I think people like to simplify what they don't truly understand completely. Teaching is multifaceted; and my hope is that audiences are smart enough to see through these stereotypes and question their authenticity. If they had experience with a good teacher, then this will definitely be the case.