Bloom Where You Are Planted

Last night I got to see Hidden Figures.  I say got because for awhile we didn’t think the film was coming to the State 123 Theatre here in Pierre; the next closest theatre is over an hour away, is owned by the same company and is also of a very modest size.  Rapid City and Sioux Falls both have much larger theatres, which of course played Hidden Figures starting last week, but we don’t get edgier films playing at independent theatres like the Cedar Lee Theatre I used to frequent in Cleveland.  I really enjoy going to the movies, but sometimes there isn’t a movie I want to see; I like my brain cells the way they are, and the movies that put them in jeopardy are often the ones that bring in the dollars.  

In speech class we teach that the goal of presentation—sharing of something in any form—is to inform, persuade, or entertain.  (There is sometimes a fourth, but these are the basic categories.)  To me, movies that do all three justify the money spent on them and the time I take to sit and watch.  Hidden Figures was such a movie, and, in a time when our society has recently reverted to  the disgraceful hatred  of the past, I was so glad Pierre audiences were there to reap the rewards.  The film touched the audience in such a way that people actually clapped at the end.

We live 1.2 miles from the theatre, and Pierre is a small town, so we don’t usually need to arrive super early, but it is nice to chat with my students as they fill my popcorn bag.  I also hate missing the previews.  Last night when we walked in, however, seeing the previews was the least of my worries.  With three popular films, the line was out the door, and I wondered if we’d miss the beginning of the movie altogether.  Kevin went to the popcorn line, and I had the fortune to meet one of our friends in line, so I didn’t mind waiting.  Aside from hoping the girls in front of us weren’t planning to view 50 Shades Darker, we actually talked about how it was great to see so many people frequenting the small town business.  Don’t worry; the girls ended up in Hidden Figures.

My point here isn’t to review this film.  I liked it a lot—more than I liked La La Land.  You’re expecting me to say, and I really liked La La Land, but I didn’t understand all the hype surrounding that one.  You can go watch them both, and make those judgments for yourself.  What I need to talk about is that feeling I get after a good movie is over.

On Friday I administered a vocabulary test in my 9th grade English classes.  Administered makes it sound dangerous and difficult, but it was neither for most of my students.  I used Google Forms to give the test, and, because I enjoy data, I asked a few extra questions at the end regarding how students prepared for the test, whether that preparation was enough, and what areas of our subject they’d like to improve on.  The list of options for the latter question was quite extensive, covering the basics of reading comprehension and essay writing to the more technical aspects of grammar and poetry writing.  I had one student call me over, pointing to his screen and cursor, asking why he could only select one.  Of the 13 options I gave, 21% of students selected: Feeling motivated and self confident in my work.  Boy do I appreciate their honesty, but I don’t have a worksheet to whip out for that one.

Student motivation has probably been an issue since the dawn of time.  I’ve tried to address it head on this year through with the help of a local grant and eight copies of the popular board game Ticket to Ride.  Students went through the process of learning the game, recording their scores each time they played, and reflecting on the growth they achieved.  We talked about growth mindset and, for awhile, I saw more optimistic approaches to our daily work, but clearly the panacea has worn off.

Driving from the theatre to the bowling alley last night, I couldn’t help but share with Kevin that watching all the motivation wrapped up in Hidden Figures had me filled with a deep desire to skip cosmic beer drinking and head over to work.  There are minds to mold, literature to be shared and skills to be taught!  If nothing else, I could get some cleaning done at home.  Alas, he didn’t stop the car, and I did enjoy hanging out with our friends, getting a few strikes, and sipping on my seltzer water.  Since I didn’t seize the moment of inspiration last night, will it still be there on Monday morning?

I’m reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho with my classes, and in it the main character is told that not everyone can learn to turn metal into gold because if they did gold would lose its value.  I put the book down in one class, and I asked how that idea related to education.  It didn’t take long for someone to pipe up that in some places in the world not everyone is allowed to have an education for a similar reason—if everyone is smart, then having knowledge isn’t as powerful.  We discussed how inequality in access to education in America is still present in many ways, why education and gold aren’t the same and, realistically, how when you don’t have to fight for something it might not mean as much.  

By no means do I wish for the men at my job to challenge my abilities because of my gender, but I want more motivation to be better.  That is the feeling I’m left with after watching a movie that informs, persuades and entertains me.  Why can’t that feeling stick around, but the calories from the popcorn I consumed while watching can?

I used to have a thrift store t-shirt that questioned whether the writer finds the story or the story finds the writer.  The Alchemist tackles this idea as it weaves a tapestry of free will and fate to create Santiago’s journey to find his treasure.  I’m not sure that who found whom matters so much in the end , but how the story plays out does.  There might not be an overt force pressing against my success in this world, but there certainly are invisible ones, and they’re growing stronger every day.  We have to be willing to live the life we’re handed, and to also think beyond what is right in front of us to imagine more.  

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