Thursday, October 15, 2009

"Is It Over?" and How We Define Fun

One of the things I love about teaching are the things students say. That and the unique views of the world I get in almost every bit of writing they turn in. Seeing as how I believe in process, practice, and lots of chances and drafts I get to read a lot of their writing, and they always reveal more than they intend to, and I'm very good at reading into things. Very, very good. Just ask Bob.

My writing classes inevitably end up with some work days when the quicker (usually more on-task) students are done and want to talk to me about this, that, or the other thing. It always start innocently enough (I think). Today it was a question about school dances.

Did I know what the last one of the year was.

Yes, Prom.

No, no, the one right before that.

Well, it wouldn't be the last of the year, then, and no I don't know. Sorry. Really, do I look like someone who knows much about school dances? (Which, now that I think about it, is asking them to judge based on appearance, which I don't like to encourage, going to have to think that one over.)

Careful looks and then, "Yeah, not really. But, you went to dances when you were in high school, right?" Truth: yep, 4. After overcoming their shock, they asked which ones. When I said I did indeed go to prom my junior and senior years they asked if I went with my boyfriend. Another shocking revelation: both years I had no boyfriend at that time. During conversations like this it's always funny to see their expression change from shock to disbelief to total incomprehension.

"But, when did you meet your husband?"

"When I was in college."

"Oh, but you had boyfriends in high school, right?"

"Yes, but not for very long."

"That's too bad. You didn't get to have very much fun then."

"Oh really? I think I had a ton of fun." (There's a little bit of revisionist history in there, but looking back I remember the good much more than the bad.)

Again the look of outright disbelief. This was clearly a teacher lie. One they tell to dissuade students from doing bad things. "Oh, the legal kind of fun."

"It was the safe kind of fun. There are plenty of legal, yet dangerous things to do when you're young and old; the illegal things are that way because of the safety issue, and is it really that much fun if the whole time you're doing whatever it is you're having to worry about being caught? Really?"

"Well, I guess not. I hadn't really thought of that."

Here a second student chimed in saying, "Yeah, I was at a dance with my boyfriend, but I wasn't supposed to be and the whole time I was worried my mom was going to call me, and even when she didn't I was still hearing her voice in my head." (It's nice when teenagers validate your world view... ...)

Then, I had a student call me out with the "you're making us write, why aren't you?" argument. Which, while valid also has the side-effect of leaving me distracted while they text, talk, and are otherwise disengaged from their own writing. Plus, then I can't have insightful conversations like the one above. I responded that I do indeed write, but right at that moment my time was better spent helping them with their writing. Speaking of, how was his going? In November I'm thinking of incorporating the NaNoWriMo stuff into the class and they'll certainly see me writing then.

And, it occurred to me that writing and reading, things that appall and bore many of my students are some of the ways I have "legal fun." And that spinning, knitting, talking over ideas, sewing, playing with Bobby, looking through cooking magazines, reading blogs, those are more ways I have fun. The things we consider "fun" certainly change over time, but many of them stick with us. And, we (hopefully) grow into new ones. Adding to our, "Wow this is so much fun!" repertoire throughout our lives. Then, it occurred to me that sometimes the things I do aren't necessarily "fun" in the sense that if you stopped me in the middle and asked if I was having fun I probably wouldn't say, "Yeah! This is action-packed! What a blast! Wow I just can't explain how great this is!" But the sense of satisfaction, of a job well done, and of having been useful for a time, I like that. And in many ways that is how I define fun.

Writing used to be not exactly fun for me. Well, not all writing, but academic explain in 3-4 pages so-and-so's view of fill-in-the-blank writing. I remember sitting in my advisor's office during an early undergraduate year saying with heart-felt desperation, "I hate writing." I think I was even tearing up a little bit. She said, "Then you are certainly in the wrong degree program." But I learned how to write better and started doing a good job, instead of just finishing a draft and hoping for the best. Now, I like writing. I like the process, not necessarily the finished product always, but again, I believe in the process.

All of this came back to me today as I was helping a different student expand her ideas and trying to cajole just a little bit more out of her. After I told her what else to think about adding she looked at me and said, "I hate writing. Do I have to write more?"

"Yes, just a little bit more. Maybe 4 sentences. You've done so much already, and you may not like it, but you're doing a good job."

She waved me over after she had added another paragraph and when I had read it she asked in a subdued voice, "Is it over?"

Obviously different people are going to have different interests. And what is torturous at times, is at others, exactly what we need. I just hope that all of my students one day learn that they can define fun for themselves.


Anonymous said...

You really should submit this post somewhere, both educational and philosophy based areas. Your post about spending time with your children and knitting when you are a grandma should be submitted also.
Fun is reading your posts; along with enriching, though provoking, insightful, chuckly, ...

Northern Lights Fiber Co. said...

Fantastic post. Brought me back and made me think. It is funny how our perception of "fun" can change. Great answers for your students!