Monday, October 18, 2010

Life of the Mind, Mondays

Sometimes as a teacher it is hard not to be discouraged. This morning, my students all come to class--half of them what I call "just late," meaning walking in as the clock strikes 9 a.m., which is when class starts. They are slow, sleepy, hungover from their doings of the weekend... and bring no energy or vitality into the class.

We start with writing exercises meant to get their engines revving. Nothing. They lean on their hands, yawn, scribble. We read aloud, and the work is good. They get no charge from that, however, so the second bout of writing reads just as sluggishly as the first. Disconnected, sleepy bodies, turning heads to see the clock, eating breakfast they brought with them.

We read aloud again. Again, good work, but no charge for them in hearing their own work, or each other's.

We break. After break, we talk about their weekend's assignment, which had too many requirements, or didn't connect for them with the base-work writing we did last week in class to prep for it, or the format is too hard. Every answer demonstrates an "I can't" resistance. All excuses for leaving the assignment to the last minute and then doing it half-assed. "Not my fault, the assignment wasn't what I expected."

We talk about the assigned reading, from WRITING DOWN THE BONES by Goldberg. Still, they don't spark, they worry about what she means by "their voice," "having fun," "trust the process." In essence, they demonstrate that they don't trust the process, their voice, their work, and are simply fearful about where they are. Why can't it be easier? Why can't they just write without adding criteria? Why use this format, because it is too restricting? Why not use multiple voices? Again, their questions demonstrate their resistance to trust and their own possibilities.

They are the tofu Goldberg talks about: impossible to wrestle with, they are simply inert beings this morning. Everything I require, right now, is wrong--which they tell me, by sighing hugely, staring at the clock, telling they didn't get anything out of the exercise but they're sure I had a reason for assigning it--they just couldn't/didn't do it as I laid it out and if they did, it failed for them. But the thing that is wrong is the assignment, not their own resistance. They are stuck in their process, unwilling to acknowledge that they've reached a place where they must work harder to achieve success. Untrusting of their own talent or ability, so undercutting it by presenting poor work and blaming the process.

What they don't understand is that they are creating a failure trap for themselves: they'll tell themselves they fail because the assignments were "wrong" or "too hard," not because they didn't step up. Not because they slipped the criteria (because they were "hard") or because they put off the work (because they were "busy"). Their writing is not about me, but about what they bring to the assignments and to the class--which, today, was discouragingly little.

On another day, they'll be lively and fun. They'll jump in and grow. They'll stop standing betweenthemselves and the work, and they'll be fine.

But that is another day.

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