A Realistic Glimpse at the Reality of Teaching Real Students

Several months ago, a friend from high school shared a video of several teens who made a public statement of what they would like, deserve, and should be taught.  They were well spoken, honest, and forthright… and the teacher-part of my heart broke for them, got angry for myself and at the situation, and became frustrated because there is no easy solution.

I responded to her with these words:

        I’m torn. I see them, I hear them, and I believe them. I feel their frustration, and much of it is mine, but I’m also one of the ones teaching them some of these lessons. I don’t know how to fix the problem, much like I don’t know how to fix the problems that exist within my own classroom, where earning an 8% on the latest test is seen as acceptable among peers and I am the one who is expected to put in more effort to ensure student success… They [the girls in the video] are fearless, and I feel powerless.

Being an amazing woman, my friend replied, assured me of my worth, and in the first conversation we had really had in years lead me to respond with the following:

        Thanks for the words of encouragement. The video hit on a day that I was already feeling low. I am finishing a semester with some of the most unmotivated seniors I have ever seen. They are nothing like we were, and so the caliber of many of my lessons is far below where it should be.

        The most amazing feeling is when they get it, really get it. Last week, my honors kids got it. We were reading “The Highwayman,” and as I finished the room was silent. Not the silence of confusion or sleep or way too many things consumed the night before, but the silence of understanding, and awe, and sorrow. They got it… and then they went to their second period classes and were replaced by my eight percenters, who honestly don’t give a damn. And a part of me died.

        The video you shared grabbed that part, and I cried. I want to be like our great teachers were, and some days I am! Then there are the days where I struggle to get them to care at all. I’m stuck between what great education is and should be and having to justify why I have students who expect to play college ball but can’t even crawl their way through my class- all while knowing there is an even greater message to be taught.

She again replied with words that every teacher needs to hear.  She assured me that I was doing what needed to be done.  My students are receiving what I am offering them.  They may chose not to act on it, but it will impact them in some way, at some time.

Our conversation was so simple, so heartfelt, and so real that it prompted us to say things that may have never been said otherwise.  We talked about teaching and motherhood and feeling like we are failing at what we both love to do.

And I was inspired.

Maybe others need to hear that I feel frustrated a great deal of the time.  Perhaps they feel frustrated, too.

So, here’s to us who teach where our words are not often heard.  Here’s to us whose students love us, or hate us, or somewhere in between.  Here’s to us who give of ourselves and the lessons we craft, for teaching truly is a craft, a gift, and a skill.

And here’s to Devon, for helping me to remember that, to see my self worth, and to remember that my words are of value.  Here’s the blog I promised all those months ago.

How to Not Potty Train Twins

Dear World:

Just in case you mistakenly believe that I have this whole mom thing figured out, let me be completely honest.  There is one thing, one huge, smelly, icky thing, that I totally suck at: Potty Training.

Maddie took forever.  There was much attempt at patience as well as smiles, silly songs, a cute potty chair, and an extra attachment for the adult toilet.  Then came the frustration, the accidents, the crying (mainly on my part), and the utter despair.  Finally, my mother-in-law laid down the law.  Maddie was told, in no uncertain terms, that if she peed in Grammy’s floor, she was going to get a spanking.  That’s all it took!  After a year and a half of effort on my part, my mother-in-law’s voice was the answer.  There were almost no accidents from that point on!  It was like a blessing from the heavens.

With the twins, I knew it would be more difficult.  The plan was to wait until they were older than Maddie was when we started trying to house break her.  The problem with all best laid plans, however, it that my twins don’t like plans.  They don’t follow the directives given them, and they make their own rules.  At about twenty months, they began ripping off their diapers like it was the greatest game ever invented.  Imagine, or it may be more pleasant if you don’t imagine, the effects of ripping off a diaper filled with liquid and often solid toddler byproducts, often at high velocities.  Most dramatic were the times when the removal occurred before naps, and again, if you are brave of heart, imagine what that looked like by the time they woke up.

So, with a heavy heart and knowledge of what was in store, I began the journey toward civilized bathroom usage with our identical mass producers of foulness.

What I have learned follows:

  1. Never get too excited too quickly.

When I began this journey, I was so excited to see the twins happily sit on the potty, or even the full-sized toilet.  Maddie never cooperated and we had to coax her to remain in a full-upright and seated position.  I was ecstatic!  Surely this would not take as long with them as it had with her.

  1. Never assume that your positive attitude will affect the attitudes of wee small ones.

I was all smiles.  We were going to do this.  It would not only save me the time wasted in cleaning their goo-encrusted bums, but think of the money that would be saved not having to buy diapers for two!  If I kept smiling they would happily “Let it Go” and the process would be over.  (In fact, we even sang that song as they sat, time after time, on the potty seats and produced NOTHING.

  1. Never believe that buying cute products will work wonders.

When I really got down to the business of training them, necessitated again by a frenzied drive toward total nakedness on their parts (I swear no one else in the house is driven by nudist tendencies), I sent my husband to the store to buy a second potty chair that closely resembled the one left over from our trials with Maddie.  Armed with not one but two Froggy Potties, the twins and I excitedly renewed our vigor.  Now they fight over who gets which seat… fail.

  1. Never waste money on specialized butt covering devices.

While I haven’t wasted money on pull-up style training diapers this time around, we did have some left over from several years ago, so out of storage they came.  The babies do quite well putting them on themselves, but guess what else they can do…  Those suckers come off with a fluidity and a velocity far surpassing that of the previously mentioned flying diapers.  I swear!  You could do physics experiments based on the trajectory of these little pink and white missiles.

  1. Never feel bad for ingenuity.

I must admit, in my frustration, that there have been days (many of them) that I have needed a break.  Twice, so far, I have resorted to taping diapers on them.  Interestingly, the sound of the tape being unrolled sends them into panicked sceams, and I am not sure why.  In all honesty, as I type and they run around their room bare butted and threatening to flood the world, I am eyeing the packing take with great intensity.  I am attempting to resist the urge, but resistance is often futile.

In total honesty, the twins are almost no closer to being potty trained than they were when I began this journey.  I am more frustrated than I want to be, but we will continue to persevere.  If nothing else, I can always buy stock in cleaning products and hope for the marked to increase…

Yours truly,

One very tired Mommy

Twas the Night Before Finals

‘Twas the night before finals; I was stuck at my table.
not a student was studying, even though they were able.
My printer was buzzing, there’s no ink to spare,
for I’ve waited too long and am pulling my hair.

My exam must be edited, for typos abound,
and my kids have been threatened: If they make a sound…
This Mama is tired, there never is rest,
and the bed will be calling if I just finish this test.

The scantrons are placed on the desk in my room.
I’m daydreaming of students whose minds are in bloom.
The pencils are sharpened, and all is in place,
If now this one teacher could just finish this race.

At the end of each school year, I must admit,
I’m filled with the urge to throw hands up and quit.
Just a few days more patience and dealing with creatures.
I can do this, I won’t scream- For I am the teacher!

Big Fish/Small Pond: Student Entitlement

Eleven years in, there are still some things that just floor me. Looking at the general population of students at the small school where I teach, from the bottom of my heart, I know that they are good humans. They will grow and mature, become vital members of our community, and someday raise families of their own. There are some, however small that minority, who are so assured of their status in this world.

They make me cringe.

My filter, which is always worn thin by this point in the school years, has great difficulty not reminding them of who they are and where they are (and sometimes where they come from). I manage to refrain.

When, oh when, did we- a civilized group of human beings- start raising a group of children who are so lost in their own expectations of entitlement that they forget to see the value of work and sacrifice, or even determination?

Why do they assume that they get to roam the halls just because they feel like it? In groups of seven or eight? For thirty minutes at a time?

Why do they get to use the bathroom in another building just because they don’t “like” the one only a few feet away from my classroom door? When did their trips start involving being gone for twenty minutes or more, and what do they think they need to do with a cell phone while they are there? When did the expectation become that teachers are to be ok with this? Teachers, who are lucky to get a two minute bathroom break, are expected to sacrifice the content and context of a lesson so that students can take good care of their colon and their Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Snap Chat account.

When did it become an assumption that deadlines don’t matter? Work can be turned in at random, partially completed, and we are expected to simply put a check on it, log in a perfect score, and return it without complaint.

Who made the rule that only certain students need to monopolize classroom discussions, as if their peers have nothing else to say? Or that they should determine the topic of said discussions? And the duration, volume, and intensity?

Why is it assumed that I will award extra credit for being a good student, or following the rules, or being a human being?

Most importantly, what will become of these individuals who suffer from big fish/small pond syndrome when we are no longer around to support their delusions?

And then… The Stapler Became a Whale

Some days just don’t go the way you expect them to. That’s probably true of every profession, but when you deal with the hormones and attitudes of hundreds, teens no less, there never really is a norm. Add in a student who passed (just barely, but it still counts) a test needed for graduation while another failed by one question and you get two girls in the same hallway, one bouncing on the balls of her feet and squealing while the other stands, looking at you for guidance, with tears streaming down her face.

Oh, how did I become the one they look to for all the answers… I feel so…

Toss in my seniors, who are so ready to be done with school that even a cut and glue project reduces them to sniveling toddlers. Their conversations, not quiet in the least, are unbelievable and reduce me to a fit of laughter…

Remember, Fulcher, YOU are the teacher.

Breathe…

Regain your composure…

And then I see it. The stapler, a cheap piece of plastic that usually doesn’t even catch my eye, is a whale! Not metaphorically. Not symbolically. One of my mature, ready to graduate and take the world by storm, seniors has drawn an eye on either side and positioned it so that it cannot help but stare at me.

I am Jonah.

I have been swallowed completely and all that is left to do is remain calm and wait for graduation. Oh, how I do hope it comes soon!