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.

Pardon me While I try to Enjoy my Meal

It’s small, crowded, and often noisy late at nights, but one tiny restaurant in my home town is unlike any other I’ve ever been to.  Filled to bursting with Hollywood memorabilia from days long gone by, it has borne witness to celebrations of personal milestones, both great and small, and overheard conversations that I can’t even remember.  Its bustling aisles were the scene a first date that turned into a marriage (I always comment when we pass the table where we ate), and my husband and I visited it at least once a week for years after our wedding.  It’s just that kind of place.

By the time our first child was born we were visiting less frequently, but it was still a great place to be.  We avoided the crowds on Halloween and St. Pats, and we knew that weekends meant longer waits for tables and we understood that the months when college kids filled the booths were also not ideal.  But the comforting familiarity and moderate noise level made us feel it was a great place to take a toddler whose table manners had not yet evolved to the point of eating in many other sit-down restaurants.

It holds a piece of my heart.

Or it did…

Several years ago progress came and change occurred.  Much of what made it a cool place to be was taken off the walls.  The pictures and artifacts were replaced with flat screen televisions, displaying the news and the action of any game occurring in real time.  It got louder.  But still we went.

There’s a table in the corner, the big, round one that used to hold all of my high school and college friends.  It’s now the site of dinners with one of my best friends and her family.  All of our kids, hers and mine, can fit around this table where we gather when our calendars allows us to meet on a Tuesday night (because that is when kids eat free).  Here we make new memories.  Even without the pictures and the autographs, we make due with the television that hangs over us, deal with the other patrons staring over our heads at the game instead of at the dates they came to eat with, and enjoy our food and conversation.  Usually…

Then came the night of great miscalculation.

Without thinking about the sports schedule that I skip over in the guide on my personal television, my family packed into our round table in the corner, under the offending flat screen, to celebrate the last night that our out-of-state friend would be staying with us.  It was a Tuedsay, and we had always made the pilgrimage to this particular sandwich shop when she was in town.  As we gathered my three children, well behaved and hungry, into their seats, I noticed that things seemed a little more unsettled that usual.  Think of it as a second mommy sense.  Something was just a little off.

We placed our orders, received our drinks, and enjoyed our conversation over the louder than normal din of other voices as we watched the kids color the jungle scene on their paper menus.  And then it happened.  Directly to my left, at the table beside us and directly behind one of my twins, a college kid with a sloshing beer stood to full height and let out an ear piercing bellow… over the head of one of my children.  She looked terrified, his date looked annoyed, and I’m sure I looked pissed.

Angrily looking for the source of his frustration, I saw in brilliant color what was the end to my enjoyable evening… The World Cup.

Admittedly, I did bring my children to eat in a restaurant, alas, that is filled with televisions on a night that I should have avoided.  However, as our meal arrived he grew louder and louder.  He moaned each time the opposing team, who even knows which one, scored a goal, and screamed in jubilation when his team made a good shot.  My six year-old attempted to join in with his behavior, for which she was quietly reprimanded.  After all, we were in a restaurant and not a sports bar (where I never would have taken my kids), or a barn for that matter.  She was upset, of course, because she wanted to act like the grown man-child was acting.  The twins grew more and more uncertain of their surroundings, this making it hard for them to eat, and the overgrown ape’s poor date slid a little farther into her seat each time his vociferous cries erupted.

I began to shoot daggers from my eyes as my husband looked around for our waiter to voice a complaint.  We found him.  He was standing beside the now purple man, who at this point was standing in the aisle beside his table, discussing the game.  (I assume it takes too much energy to continue jumping up and down every time a player does something interesting.)  This went on for fifteen minutes.

Finally the couple left.  Apparently the date had announced that she was leaving, with or without him, so he chose to go.  By that point, we were waiting for our check, which the waiter had to go find because he had forgotten we were one of his tables.

As we left, bellies full of poorly digesting food, I was left to ponder the following:  Why were my small children better behaved than an adult, and how are we, as parents, expected to teach our kids how to be respectful and kind when the people they see around them often can’t do it?  Why does becoming more modern often kill all that is good about a tradition?  And why should I have to ask to be allowed to enjoy a meal that I am paying for?  Pardon me, but I’d like to enjoy my indulgence and one of my few nights out of the house with my, for once, well behaved children, my husband, and a life-long friend.

We haven’t been back since…

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?