Monday, November 14, 2011

Mad Methods: First, Get Their Attention

When you come visit my house, you may be shocked to see People magazine on the coffee table.
You may think “But Melanie is a certified egghead-intellectual. I expected to see first editions of Proust, Tolstoy and Hemingway. How can it be that a woman of such high intelligence reads low-brow People magazine?” I know, right?

It’s self-defense, with a little teaching method on the side.
You have heard that I teach at a community college. One of my important goals in working there, aside from saving the world for democracy, molding  clean and healthy young minds, and making my mortgage payment, is to NOT look like a TOTAL, CLUELESS  DORK when it comes to popular culture.
Yes, I am that shallow. ­
I don’t want to be the laughingstock teacher who doesn’t know the remake of Footloose stars newcomers to the big screen Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough. Twenty-three and dating Ryan Seacrest, Julianne is one of the many gorgeous blonds from Dancing With The Stars.
Although it’s a bit of a losing battle for middle-aged me, I do try to keep up with more than the latest methods to teach an expository essay.  
Does Kate Gosselin have a new hairdo? Queen Latifa a new clothing line? Suri Cruz a new designer bag? Lady Gaga a hat with fruit-colored dollar signs? Just ask me. I feel like the kid who wildly waves her hand in class hollering “I know, I know!”
Through People I grub a smidge of pop culture street-cred by brazenly dropping factoids about Ashton Kuctcher or Laurence Fishburne after class.
Even at my most “hip” (in relative terms), about three decades ago, I preferred watching old black and white movies from the 1930s, was more than slightly fashion-challenged, and didn’t follow the love lives of celebrities.
Yet nowadays I try to stay informed on the cast of True Blood. When the English lesson has gone sour, the students are yawning, and we’re all looking at the clock, I can throw out an "Anna Paquin" and re-charge the atmosphere.  Don’t worry, the off-the-wall comment will get tied back into "how to add detail to a college level essay." But first, I had to get their attention by name dropping.
Does most of this People magazine information matter a whit in the big scheme of life? Heck, no.
Does People help me teach better by keeping my students guessing what nugget of cultural nonsense they may hear next? Yes.
To get and hold their attention, I’m willing to play the fool, the prankster, the geek. Some might see this behavior as beneath a college teacher, but it works for me. I’ll sometimes sell my dignity to roust the dears out of a stupor. They have to break out of the fog before I can reach them.
And you know what? In the end, I have fun, and my students learn. All from an unexpected source: People magazine.
I have copy of Proust if you’d like to borrow it. 


  1. Giving yourself tools and gimmicks to relate and connect to your students is essential. I think it's fabulous you do this for them! But then, I have a (not-so-secret) guilty pleasure when it comes to celebrity gossip. In my defense, I also have a copy of Proust *laugh*.

  2. You do what you gotta do! I use People with my ESL students for the same reason. It's a lot more fun than workbooks, more visually interesting, and it makes us feel like we have something in common. Don't knock it if it works, I say!

  3. Thanks Janey and Desi! I have read so little Proust I'm surprised I can spell his name. Glad to know I'm not the only one reading & using (and enjoying) People. Whatever works. I've even used an essay from Southern Living magazine in class.

  4. I admit, for all the world to see, that I read (well...looked at the pictures) of my mother-in-laws trash mags: Enquirer, Sun, whatever else she read. She LOVED them! They were garbage, but I just couldn't help but look through them - somewhat like being unable to pass by a train wreck and not stare.

  5. Isn't that the truth? I always check the headlines in the supermarket check-out line, and I actually have a subscription to People. I guess folks never get tired of Oprah's Secret Alien Marriage Baby.