I read a post on Life at the Morton School that made me think, especially because of the timing. It’s about the book The Freedom Writers Diary and the movie Freedom Writers, and Miss Eyre is passionate in her reasons for disliking both (the movie much more). Her biggest issue, and one that I totally agree with, is that Gruwell’s process isn’t sustainable. She managed it for four years, and then she left, because how could you possibly keep up that kind of pace? Working three jobs so that you can fund your classroom as fully as you want – I could sure find things to do with that kind of money, but I sure would be unpleasant to be around if I was working that many hours.
I, however, unlike Miss Eyre and unlike several other teachers I’ve seen post about teacher movies, looooooove the genre. I love watching the passion those teachers show, I love watching the kids engage, I love the inspiration I take from the movies. I don’t take them as a message that if I don’t give up my entire life to my students, I’m not good enough. I take them as a sugary Hollywoodized version of education, and you have to find a way to view them through…..whatever the opposite of rose-colored glasses is. What’s across from pink on a color wheel? Green, maybe? Perhaps this is an indication of my youth and inexperience as a teacher, and frankly I’ve always been quite the idealist, but it’s how I feel, at least at this point in my career. I watch teacher movies to be inspired, rather than to see a teacher call his students skanks to their faces, because I see enough crappy stuff every day and I’d rather focus on the positive for my entertainment needs.
Freedom Writers is a movie that I saw in the theatres and I loved it. I bought the book because I was interested in getting a more complete sense of the stories, and I loved it too. Like Miss Eyre commented, the stories ARE extraordinarily engaging and moving, and my kids love them too.
I use excerpts from the book in class as models for personal narratives and responses to literature, because the kids find them fascinating and they’re very nicely done. This year, I also used it when I had an incident with a student being hit repeatedly and no one reporting it – we used two essays to discuss why snitching and being a rat (as my kids refer to it) could actually be important and even save a life someday. I can’t say that they all connected to that lesson, but I had a student later report something that she’d witnessed, and when she did so, she said she’d decided to come to me because of what we’d read that day. So yay! Got through to at least one!
Anyway. For the first time this year, I’m also showing the movie – we’re actually finishing it tomorrow. I’m doing it for a few reasons. First, we just finished writing personal narratives. My kids worked their little butts off and did a simply phenomenal job, and I am so, so pleased with their effort, so it’s a reward. They’re loving it, too, though they are much more interested in the parts with the students than with the adults (which is true for me too). Every time I have to stop it, because, y’know, the bell is about to ring or something crazy like that, they gasp and beg for more. It’s cute.
It also allows class time for the students who aren’t done to complete their writing – many of my kids, particularly the ones who get behind in class and don’t get their work done, just won’t come in before or after school to finish assignments. Am I teaching them a bad habit, that they don’t have to take responsibility for their work because the teacher will make it easy for them to get it done anyway? Maybe – and that’s a post for another day. But this way, they do get it done, and as teaching Language Arts is my primary goal, that’s where I focus.
Watching the movie during class gives me the opportunity to grade some of their narratives. We’re spending two and a half days watching – each full day I can get about one class worth graded. Since each long essay we write takes me anywhere from 16 to 24 hours to grade thoroughly, this means I can get their work graded in a more timely fashion and without spending quite as many evenings and weekends rockin’ out to sixth grade handwriting. Finally, I believe the movie does have lessons to offer about life, school, and writing, and we’ll discuss those lessons at the end. Socratic seminar, I’m thinking.
But I’m a little nervous about one part of that discussion – the part about how totally hardcore and insanely dedicated Erin Gruwell is. I’m a little worried that my students will…I don’t know, judge me for only having the one job, and spending my evenings not selling bras to buy them dinner at a fancy restaurant. I’m pretty sure they know I’m dedicated – they know I love them and work ridiculously hard for them, and hopefully they will understand that the movie, though based on reality, still isn’t actually realistic, because Gruwell’s career wasn’t realistic. We’ll have to see how that goes.