I haven't been posting here as much recently because of MySpace. I joined it on a lark--to keep up with the gossip of my Cousin Stephen and his ridiculously loony love life. My students found me there, and I've been using it to keep up with present and former students in really unique ways.
Sometimes I get a little antsy. There are many social stigmas associated with public school teachers in America today--the primary one being close relationships with students. Of course, this is a terrible thing when it leads to inappropriate sexual relationships, but it really scares teachers like me from burying too much into students' lives.
I've become "MySpace teacher." If the 6:00 news eventually leads off with the headline, "Teacher investigated for MySpcace contact with student" about my case, so be it. I want to be a leader for my students. I want my relationship with some of them to grow and last a lifetime.
That leads me to a student whom I'll call "Jim." In my sophomore class last year, Jim made leaps and bounds, transforming before my eyes from a kind of rebelious kid into a straight-A student--but still a wild card as far as his personality is concerned. He joined the Youth in Government club I sponsored, and we have kept in touch over the summer and this year--when he isn't in any of my classes.
Jim is interested in Germany. Since I am a German teacher, he's asked me about German history, and I've shared books and materials with him. He had a particular interest in Hitler, which concerned me a little. I decided to engage him intellectually on the matter, hoping to use my considerable influence with him to divert any temptations to the "dark side."
MySpace has given me a chance to keep up with Jim and his cousin, Kurt, who took my class for awhile last year, but dropped out of school. Kurt is the lead singer for a "death metal" band. He has played some of his music for me, and I would describe it as something between a low moan and a loud roar. Strange, yes--I would almost describe is as alarming to listen to.
I was following Jim on MySpace last week. He had been absent one day, so I contacted him. I also noticed that he had left the comment on another student's page, "I just saw Satan!" At a club meeting, he behaved erratically and irrationally, as if he had a chip on his shoulder against the world--as if he were trying to push me away from him.
Immediately I scheduled a lunch with him. It occurred to me: Jim is a junior, and I fear that he is at a crucial point where he doesn't really have a plan for a future beyond high school, and he is growing frustrated with home and "kid life."
As we spoke, Jim told me that Kurt was really into National Socialism. He said he had read tons of books about Hitler and Socialism (I don't think he really understands the tremendous gulf between National Socialism and Socialism). Kurt, who has dropped out of school, is some of the influence I'm having to counter.
We talked about his dreams. He's a lot like I was at 17: tired of Tennessee, desperate to get out and see the world. Jim would like to get an English degree and get overseas to teach English and learn about how the rest of the world works. I really tried to imprint upon him this vision, so he might have something to carry him through some of the tough times.
Please keep me in your prayers as this new technology gives me new means to minister to these kids. Kids like Jim desperately want a future that includes hope.