Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I Am EXACTLY Like Michelle Pfeiffer

Michelle Pfeiffer, in her starring role in Dangerous Minds

Me, at the Los Alamos Little Theater, watching a local production called "Seussical"
My friend Patrick Kelly took this picture, by the way.

Do you see what I mean? No? O.K. So, if you're going to require further explanation, here goes:

Did you see Dangerous Minds?

Well, I practically live that movie.

In the movie, Lou Anne Johnson (Michelle Pfeiffer) an ex-Marine, gets a job teaching high school English in a hell-hole California gangland school whereupon she rocks the system and saves the souls of the bad-ass teenagers in her class through her blend of Bob Dylan, candy bars, personal affection, and an unwavering expectation that they deliver the academic goods.

Very few students actually died.

My story is similar.

I work in a Los Alamos school, in a  place where the median family income is just under $87,000  similarly disadvantaged area , and schools that earn scores such as 10 out 10 on GreatSchools.com's measuring stick  allover crappy schools , the greatest concentrations of PhDs per capita in the nation , and uneducated, indifferent, parents.

Just LIKE Michelle Pfeiffer. With me so far, right?

So, they let me teach a scripted reading program program I made up out of my own brilliance under very limited supervision all by myself, to kinder and second grade kids who need an extra scoop of help, for one reason or another, at this point in time.

And I have these visions of myself.  Saving their souls.

I will teach them phonemic awareness. We will clap syllables together. They will blend phonemes. They will learn to read "consonant-vowel-consonant-e" words correctly. They will learn to correctly distinguish the main idea from the details in a story. They will learn the meaning of the word "gusto".

And they will rise up to greet me at their high school graduation, at which they will ALL be valedictorian at the same time and they will say to me "Ms. Adams, you have taught me how to be aware of phonemes and now, because of that awareness, I am able to go out into the world and solve all of the problems in the Middle East.

You are the LIGHT."

And so on.

I think we are moving in the right direction because some of them can tell the difference between letters and numbers now.

The nice thing is that these kids are generally thrilled to see me no matter what I am asking them to do and learn. Today one little girl RAN all the way to my classroom to take a short standardized test. Who RUNS to a test?

I appreciate the love. And, I find I really love these kids, too, and look forward to seeing them each day. They totally laugh at all my lame jokes, and some of them even like my hair.

They must think I'm Michelle Pfeiffer, too.

In all seriousness, though, I have a private student, much older, whom I adore. He is someone I have known for years now, and I am helping him to learn to write without getting upset about it. He is brilliant and creative and smart, but he has a learning disability and so he dislikes writing. I have told him that I do not care if he spells one word correctly, or if his punctuation is correct, or even exists, but I want him to have fun, so we have practiced re-writing boring, stupid sentences and making them interesting.

Then I tried giving him a worksheet, sort of like something you might come up with in Dungeons and Dragons, to create the basic outline of a fantasy character. Secretly, I felt like an idiot having him to do this, and I kept worrying that he might notice that this was a really stupid idea. The next time we met he chose a writing prompt that had him create a scene where the character he created got in trouble with authority.

And he sat and wrote for over thirty minutes on his own.

When he read what he had written, I wanted to cry, because it was REALLY good. He wrote GOOD dialogue, with an interesting plot twist and realistic sounding speech.

And then he wrote a brief description of the setting and it was good, too.

So maybe I'm not the light, but THEY are.

And, that folks, is why I get up in the morning. Because kids inspire the Hell out of me.

Despite the fact that I am nothing at all like Michelle Pfeiffer.

And in MY story, NO ONE died. :)


  1. You are such a wonderful writer. And so is your mom. Even though, like me, you are a blog follower whore because you so blatantly asked for followers on facebook. I would have immediately become your follower but I already was.

  2. *Thunderous Applause* to Tara, not Michelle! I'm grateful for what you do!

  3. Jenn, you are a much more successful, popular blog whore than I am. :) I am still that not-at-all-popular middle school kid who is trying to get in with the in-crowd. I have this fantasy someday someone will pay me to write something. So you guys are all really helping me establish my resume. At least that's what I am pretending.


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Faith in Ambiguity by Tara Adams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License