The first half of my creative writing class (which started in September), is now over and the next half is about to begin next week. It was a big class: 28 students, when usually it ends up being a core group of 15-20.
Among the highlights was the student who came to class loaded on those caffeinated alcohol drinks that are the rage apparently. I finally managed to get her escorted out of my room and into the main office...only she somehow (in her state) kept escaping the counselor and the security guards, and finding her way back to my classroom where she'd bang the door, demanding to get back in. First she said she'd left her stuff there. When I finally opened the door, she stood in front of the class, wobbling, pointing a finger in my face. "You're a BAAAAAD Lady," she said, before sliding onto the floor.
After like the third time she came back, I gave up and tossed the poems I was still trying to read.
"OK," I sighed, "I was gonna ignore it and go on but let's talk about what just happened..." Teenagers being teenagers, some said they thought it was funny. But most sat shuddering in their seats. There were several who had just finished stints in rehab, jail, even. Those students said there was nothing funny about it, and it served as a stark (broad daylight) reminder of how stupid they look when intoxicated like that.
And then there was what I now refer to as "The Factioning." I've taught the class for so long and this is one of the few times this has happened. I vaguely noticed the two groups forming as the class progressed, but it's natural for people to gravitate to people with whom they are more compatible with, in high school and IN LIFE. I didn't give it another thought until I got a call from the counselor. The two groups had gotten in an argument which had escalated and had all ended up in the counseling office.
Later, one of the students told me she wanted to drop the class. She said that what I'd said about the class was not true. It was NOT a safe place to be honest and free to write what you want, and not be judged. The argument she'd gotten into had revolved largely around stuff she had read in class. The opposing group had done just that: judged her by her stories.
It is the most important thing I try to drill into the students (and myself): treat the writing as just that: the writing. Once it is on paper, it is just a story, subject to faulty memory. DON'T JUDGE THE PERSON, JUDGE THE WRITING. If they can grasp this complex concept, then they could gain enough distance to write the hard stuff, the deep stuff of the heart, the REAL and ultimately, most touching stuff effectively. As for me, I have to remember this concept so that I can read their work and not fall apart. So that I can cope with such hard core stuff and continue to do this. It's worked for the most part, for the 8 years I've been teaching the class.
No one had ever said to me that it was not true. That really, there could be no such thing as this safe bubble I'd tried to create. It was hard to hear and I had no idea how to handle it.
A good friend who also teaches writing told me, "There are bone heads every where! Boneheads in high schools and boneheads in 'advanced' workshops! Boneheads in life!'"
It was a good reminder to get off it! Why would I think my class would be so flawless? I decided all I could do is be honest with the students, as I ask them to be in their writing.
And so the second part of the class starts this week. Hopefully I can find a way to save some of my creative energy to write another blog before January, when the second half of the class ends...