Michael's voice is constantly in my head. "Mish Aggie! When're we gonna make our video?" "Mish Aggie! I finally learnt to say it." "Mish Aggie, wanna hear some of my ideas? It's hard to come up with ideas." He sometimes sounds like a koala bear chewing on lettuce when he speaks. And people sometimes laugh when he begins talking, because he has this way of talking, as if his mouth is full of jellybeans or ice cream slushies and his words are coming from some television cartoon completely unrelated to our class. But if you listen to him long enough, he says the best things of all, the things that help our class move forward: "We should tell the news that they should talk more about Barack Obama so that he can help us to feel powerful and have knowledge and not be afraid to become president one day because before Barack, people were afraid and they thought, 'oh they don't want black people they don't want black people.'" He thinks out loud is all. Sometimes his thoughts travel to fanciful places and sometimes they are exactly where media literacy education would have them be. He wanted today to be the one to revise our typed letter to the news. "I'm good with computers, Mish Aggie."

Quinlin went to Wal-Mart last night. He bought four pieces of white posterboard. 38 cents a piece he says. The day before, in class, he was not paying attention because he was busy drawing characters from his drawing book. We assigned him to a drawing task and when he walked in with his posterboard, the first thing he did was show me the first character he'd drawn. A scary looking thug with drugs in his hand. This image will represent what we no longer want the news to show. He says, "Today, we should figure out our parts for our video." And he goes to his seat where he is busy for the next two hours drawing another character, perfecting its mustache by inserting small dashes in that technique children use when they dot the drawing with their pencil bouncing up and down on the desk. I am too intrigued by his intrigue to ask him to stop making noise. And he's doing it for us anyway. Two hours later, unexpectedly he walks up to me, "And we should put them up on youtube." what? "We should put the video on youtube." oh yeah. we do have a youtube page! That's a great idea Quinlin. Thanks! "You welcome."

Bring in their talents. Bring their gifts into the classroom. Let them speak through what they like and hope that you can make it relate to the lesson. If they are distracted, use that. Use their distractions. I once heard that from a friend and it changed my entire outlook in the classroom. So Naiyana likes to draw. She will draw the "Barack Obama" sign for our letter. Cobay is good at graffiti art. He will create the brick wall with graffiti (which he created in this ingenious way: found a graffiti writing website, then wrote "No Graffiti" into the website which creates a tag-like version of these words which he projected onto the white board and traced and then he traced over the white erase board onto pieces of paper, letter by letter, line by line). Dana wants to draw the emblems of the TV stations to whom we're sending our letters. Aiyona likes cartoons so she will color our drawings. We all ask Quinlin for help making our lines straight and our boxes three-dimensional. But I worry that they need more management, that they need to be reined in better. And I'm so overpowered sometimes by the effort it takes to just show them that I respect them. Today, while Naiyona would throw certain looks my direction, I kept repeating in my head, "You don't have to like me but I want you to know that I like you. You don't have to like me but I want you to know that I like you." That's enough for me, that they know that I have their best interests in mind and that I believe in their abilities.

"You're a big kid, Miss Aggie." Jade is kind and respectful one minute and then an hour later, she is all over the place. But she is always thinking, always observing her world, always full of great ideas. They all came to life today when Susan Houseman came in to discuss television news. They were excited to learn the titles of the anchors, the news desk, reporters, leads, etc. Quinlin even remembered the word we learned the day before, "headline." The students were energized by Susan's obvious passion for the topic. They were excited by KWL charts (What do you already Know? What do you Want to learn? What did you Learn through the lesson?). And Susan perfectly modeled for them how to ask important media literacy questions - while we were talking about how popular the sports section of TV news is, she asked, "When does the news come on?" They answered "last." Susan triumphantly asked, "WHY!?! Why would the news come on last?!" We never really got to the answer but it was, I believe, incredibly important for the students to know that such a question is possible to ask. They just need to hear us asking questions, I believe, because for people accustomed to passively consuming media, they need to simply be surrounded by questions, whether those questions have answers or not. Some of the other teachers and I have been talking and I try to alleviate some of their anxieties about whether or not they're teaching the "five critical questions" by letting them know that it's just important that they ask questions of media at all. The other stuff will emerge from the conversations, but we need to get them used to thinking about these things. So today again, four students choose to stay indoors with me during recess. I let them play on the computers during this time. Two girls, Jade and Jaleeah, go onto their weeworld pages and start playing with their avatars. I try to ask as many questions as I can: "How do you play this game? What is the best part? Why? How is communicating with people different on this website than it is in real life? Which is easier? Why?" the questions don't have to have answers and sometimes the questions are not the best to ask, but at least we are thinking aloud. We are becoming aware that media can be questioned, that it is something with which we can interact in more ways than by just moving a cursor or turning a page.

I worry about those moments in the classroom in which I have to think on my feet, in which I have to pretend to have answers for things I don't have answers for, like when Aiyona asked me today why I can say curse words but they can't. She told every student what I had said. "I can't keep a secret, Miss Aggie!" Michael explains to her that I could potentially be fired if people find out what i said, but Aiyona has to let everybody know. I don't know why and I don't know what to say in response and I don't know whether to shrug it off or have a conversation about it and I feel like these are the most important moments, the moments that shape us as a class, and I frequently just move through them mindlessly, flustered and embarrassed and scared of doing or saying the wrong thing, of being unable to find the right thing, of just being crammed into a corner. In fact, when these moments happen, all I see before me is brightness. Everything in the environment merges together. My eyes stop picking out details because I think my pupils are needed in my brain where all my body's resources are frantically hunting for the right thing to say, for an answer to these questions, for a way out of an awkward moment, a way out that will be inspiring and progressive and growth-inducing. Most of the time, my body comes up blank and I just duck my head and run through the moment hoping never to have to look back. But I worry that tomorrow I may have to look back as Ms. Hadgis confronts me in the hall because she got a call from a parent. I suppose this is how one learns. Or this is how one changes careers...

"You're not a bad person, Miss Aggie. You just use bad language." Guess we could all learn to become powerful communicators, is what I should have said. All I did say was, "You're right, Aiyona. You're right."

--Wed July 8, 2009