Some blogs are just too long.
This past week, I ended the unit on Growth and Development for my Grade 8 Health classes.
Though they are streetwise, living in an inner city area, the students still display signs of inexperience. We often take for granted that their straightforward language and their outgoing personalities indicate that they are independent and knowledgeable about everything. However, when teaching them, we can see plainly that they still need guidance; they still depend on teachers as parental figures and role models.
One of the topics I focused on this week was birth control. There were honest questions raised about how babies are conceived. The students were all aware that pregnancy is a possibility as a result of vaginal intercourse; however, some were not so sure about the results of anal intercourse. Or could even say “anal intercourse” for that matter.
Also, when I talked to them about methods of birth control, there were quite a few students, including girls, who were not aware that condoms for females existed. And some of those who were aware, did not know how they worked.
We touched briefly on STDs and how they can be transferred through unprotected sex. There was the usual, expected array of questions such as, “Can one die by having an STD?”
In the next school year, I will most likely be teaching another subject other than Phys. Ed. and Health but I can say with honesty that teaching Health to young teens has been an eye-opening experience for me.
In my novel, More Precious Than Rubies, the central character, Paul Brager, a grade 7 student, has been called into the office of the mysterious principal, Mr. Theisen.
In his short life, Paul has already experienced tragedy: the death of his mother. His father has been nobly trying to hold his family together and this includes Paul’s younger brother, Adrian.
Below is an excerpt in which the meeting between Paul and Mr. Theisen takes place:
The thing about Paul’s memory of his mother was this: he had never let go but he could never really talk about it either. His anger wasn’t only directed at Theisen. It was directed at anyone who cared to mention his mother, even the people who were trying to help him. One day, he’d get over it, he knew, but when would that be?
Theisen crossed his arms. “How is school going for you this year so far, Paul?”
“It’s okay. I mean, it just started.” Paul looked around behind him. Theisen had left the office door open. Teachers needed to do these things these days as much to protect themselves as to protect the kids. So neither could be accused of anything. Paul was kind of glad the door was open.
“You like it here at Dorian Heights?”
“Sure. I’ve been here a long time.” Paul didn’t want to volunteer too much information.
Theisen squirmed a bit. His expression was hard to read, as if he had something very important to say. “Uh, Paul…”
“I have something to discuss with you but…I don’t know if…Well, it concerns your father.”
Paul took on a defensive look before he even realized it was there.
Mr. Theisen put his hands up as if he wanted Paul to relax. “You see, Paul, I think I know your father.”
This passage is in the first third of my book. I wrote it to establish not only some characteristics of these two people but also to establish a sense of suspense about who this Mr. Theisen really is.
It has begun. Something I never thought I’d do as a teacher: teaching the Growth and Development unit in Health to grade 8 students.
One thing I’ve certainly learned about teaching: if you’ve been in the game long enough, you’ll probably have the chance to teach every grade and every subject. Which I think I have.
I have only started the unit but I have had enough time to observe the behaviours of the students. They are street-smart on so many levels; however, they are reduced to a giggling mass, mainly the boys, when I am forthright in my terminology.
When I asked for their definitions of certain vocabulary, one word was “sexy.” In various classes, some boys mentioned “big b**bs” and “big butts.” When I told them to avoid slang, more than one boy was unaware that “b**bs” was slang. One even said, “Well I didn’t use the word, ‘t*ts’” and, after some thought, he finally said, “Oh, I mean ‘breasts.’”
I am intrigued about how what is considered acceptable language has changed since my time in grade 8, over 30 years ago. When I was in grade 8, we would have been sent to the office if we had used the word, “b**bs.” It is still unacceptable to me; however, these days, grade 8 students are probably bombarded by the word in the social media in which they are engaged.
To the boys who said “big b**bs” and “big butts,” I asked, “Do you think this is everyone’s idea of ‘sexy’ or just yours?” Surprisingly, they had to think about that one.
I know I have to be careful about how I teach this subject. There is such a proliferation of bullying these days concerning body image and I know that I have to play an extremely important role in curbing inappropriate comments and beliefs.
My journey continues.
In my children’s book, More Precious Than Rubies, the grade 7 students of Mr. Donlevy see him as a trusted adult figure who will help them defeat an evil presence in their school. Here is an excerpt from the novel, showing what kind of teacher Mr. Donlevy is:
“If you only had a day left to live, what would you do?”
The students were quiet. Mr. Donlevy’s question took them by surprise. Usually, they were eager at volunteering answers in Mr. Donlevy’s room because he seemed so interested in them; however, since they had all met Mr. Theisen by now, all words, even those uttered by confidants, appeared suspect, out-of-the-ordinary, dangerous. Mr. Donlevy’s question could have been a trap, for all they knew.
They were reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and had gotten to the part where Aslan had sacrificed his life for Edmund in order to appease the White Witch and the laws of Narnia.
Mr. Donlevy had started a discussion about sacrifice and what people were willing to sacrifice or who they were willing to sacrifice it for.
“Perhaps I should ask this differently. If you only had one day to live, what kinds of things would you do? What would you say to friends and family? Or would you? What would you eat as your last meal?”
This excerpt is important to the novel as a whole because as Paul, the protagonist, will eventually discover, he may be willing to sacrifice himself for his younger brother.
Almost a year has passed since I self-published my children’s fantasy novel.
When I finally had the hard copy in my hands, I decided to give it to immediate members of my family and told them not to tell anyone else about it.
My intention was to establish myself with social media first: set up a website, for example. I wanted to see the true power of social media; to see if others I knew would recognize my book without being told by my family.
One advantage I have is being a teacher in a middle school where students are using social media not only at school but also inside and outside of their homes. I figured that one day, one student would stumble upon my creation. And students do not shut up about these things, as if they have just unveiled a crude secret about their teacher and want to be the first to clue in their friends.
This past week, one of my more difficult students passed me in the hall and spluttered, “Hey Mr. Coates, I saw you on Google Images.”
This, in itself, is not surprising. This boy does not care about me. Obviously, he wanted to “dig up some dirt” on someone. My name was probably one of the many he looked up and he happened to find the picture that is on the book’s back cover.
“Yes,” I grinned, “but do you know why it’s there?”
This was probably the cleverest thing I could have said: I wanted to create some mystery, some suspense.
He, or perhaps others, pursued their investigation. Maybe because they were curious to see what crime I had committed, or what had made me famous. Perhaps they were wondering if I had been on Dancing With the Stars.
It does not matter. The fact is their hard work led to their finding that I had written a children’s book.
One student said, “You actually wrote a book?” in that dumbfounded way that students often sound when they don’t believe their teachers have lives outside of school.
Uh, the power of the Internet.
Here in Toronto, the Toronto Public Library has launched its #KeepTorontoReading campaign which starts every April and encourages people to read one book in particular.
The book chosen this year is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 which was written in 1953, certainly a time when the world was advancing towards nuclear realities, but also a time when iPhones and Blackberrys were only fantasy.
Bradbury is one of my favourite writers who, as noted in one of my previous blogs, wrote books and stories that could be entertaining for both children and adults. Some of his more disturbing elements of fiction are contained in stories such as Fahrenheit 451.
There are many events throughout the city that recognize Bradbury’s masterpiece. Panels of speakers are discussing the famous novel and what bearing it has on the 21st century. Sadly, the fairly recent death of Bradbury adds to the sometimes poignant moments of the discussions.
A big part of the discussions reflect on the message in the novel versus our technological world of 2013. Bradbury, an obvious lover of books, thought up a society where books are considered dangerous. Owning books is thought of as a criminal activity and firemen’s jobs are to burn these books, not to put out fires.
The book is relevant today, not because people avoid reading but because they do it so often via technology (e.g., on Kobo readers). Soon, books made of paper may become obsolete. Perhaps, libraries too.
If people continue to read via technology, I am okay with that. However, as one audience member said about a Fahrenheit 451 discussion, “the book is more about apathy than about censorship” because, as one character says, people lost interest in reading long before books were burned.
The real fear, of course, is not advanced technology but the possibility that people no longer read.