Camera Ready

The most comfortable part of being videotaped is reaching up and down your own shirt to attach a microphone, while a complete stranger watches you.  There’s a real second-base awkwardness to this, at least for a woman.

I have been videotaped in my classroom twice now.  It’s great revenge on a person who used to make her living observing teachers.  Nothing helps you act natural and present articulate directions like a camera swimming up and down the rows of desks.  My only goal was to put on lipstick before I was committed to camera.  Everyone looks way better with lipstick.  This time, I was too busy, you know, doing my job, to apply makeup.  Sigh.

They started the camera as we started class, and my students were writing about the prison system, and forgiveness, and the generational impact of incarceration.  So it was some pretty juicy stuff for visitors.  I had worried about picking up the floor, and cleaning writing off the desks, I had worried about looking incompetent, and, of course, I had worried about what the kids would say.

The teacher-student relationship is inherently antagonistic.  Teachers want students to work.  Students do not want to work.  There are a few kids who are pleasers, and compliant, but generally teachers and students are like farmers and cowhands, dogs and squirrels.  The group I chose for the taping is my sweetest class, interested and basically gentle with each other… but they are still teenagers.  Not my puppets.

They smiled big and spoke at a slightly higher level of formality.  One of them, when the camera was peering at him, fell into nervous laughter.  We came back to him later, after he had taken some deep breaths. Our conversation was a little wooden, but not dead.  The laughing kid stopped the cameraman later to ask if the laughing would be edited out.  He assured us that it would.

Then I gave them this sheet of action verbs to use as inspiration for their writing assignment, “What I Want My Words To Do.”  One of the verbs was “fornicate.”  “Doesn’t that mean something bad?”  somebody asked.

“Well, yeah,”  I said.  “‘Fornicate’ is a negative thing.  It means you’re having sex, and someone else thinks it’s wrong.”  Perhaps I should edit the list.  Other groups had been shocked by “lick” and especially “finger:” the filthiest verb ever.  They said, “This list has a lot of inappropriate words,” and I said, “I guess it depends on who’s reading it.”

Their time up, the camera crew left. We got to finish class without an audience.  “Did you hear me use ‘arduous’?” one student said quickly.

“Yes,” I lied.  “That was good.”

“Do you think they’ll edit out that ‘fornicate’ stuff?” someone else said.

“I’m sure they will,” I assured him.  The discomfort of a foreign audience can inspire such cheerful allegiances.

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