10 October 2009

There Are Lots of Alligators

In order to review literary devices with my students we read Sandra Cisneros' short story "Eleven." It's the protagonist Rachel's eleventh birthday, but her day doesn't go as planned when the teacher makes her put on an old red sweater that isn't hers. Cisneros captures the flexibility of age, how just when we believe we've arrived at a particular age we bounce back to years before. In the story Rachel reverts to about three years old when she cries in front of her class, except she is clearly mature at the same time because she is able to recognize that she is not "acting her age."

The class always enjoys this story and it allows me to become more real to my students when I tell them that every once in a while they will catch me acting like a twelve year old. Like Rachel, I can see that I've slipped and will acknowledge that mistake. For example, I have a lovely student who is extremely outgoing and always willing to volunteer. She's the first to put her hand up and call out answers. Since I'm always trying to get more voices out in the classroom and hoping that others will share too, I sometimes have to ask her to wait (not unlike the time in college when my beloved professor silenced me by saying, "We know Sylvia has the answer, but let's hear from someone else"). My student not only puts her hand way up in the air and rises from her chair but calls out, "ooh ooh, ooh ooh" and waves her fingers at me. Well, the other day I slipped back in time and said, "I think it's funny how you always say ooh ooh, like it's gross." I said this in front of the class and thought nothing of it, until I heard her say under her breath, "That was rude." Thankfully, I recognized my mistake and later I pulled her aside and apologized. From all appearances on her part, I have been forgiven.

To anyone who thinks relationships are challenging, try maintaining 90 student-teacher relationships plus 18 colleague relationships with integrity, compassion, and love. It is no wonder I often feel like a therapist, but also need to visit one.

But back to the story of "Eleven." One of the devices I had students searching for in the short story was alliteration. Many of them struggled with the pronunciation of the word alliteration, but most of them were able to identify it, especially in Cisneros' work since her stories are simply poetry in disguise. My favorite moment of the day's class, however, was when a confident young woman said, "Ms. Barrett, there are lots of alligators in this story!"

A collective pause ensued as we all pieced together what she meant.

"Alligators? Do you mean alliteration?"

We all had a good laugh, not at the expense of the student but the play of language and the alliterating alligator, as if we were all eleven together, enjoying a children's book during story time.

1 comment:

  1. Aw, that's really cute! Nice post.