Hey! Teacher! Leave Them Kids Alone! Confessions of a Wanna Be…

For years I’ve thought of myself as a master teacher (that right there is what we call foreshadowing, and it usually portends some bad juju). I’m always going around dispensing teaching advice and solving the world’s education problems in two hour conversations over coffee or five hour conversations with roommates on UIL trips or in blog posts here or all over the Internet on twitter and Facebook and the Diane Ravitch blog…

So when my principal and assistant principal asked if I would be willing to take over our new AD’s 7th period senior English class with nine weeks left of school I said, “Yeah! It’ll be fun!!!!” (No really, all those !!! belong there. No, really, I said fun. With a bubbly smile and perky personality. And all the hubris of a 20-year veteran teacher–with all the answers–who’s had a blast the last 15 years teaching classrooms filled with kids who apply to take her class for the most part.)

The last time I taught English I was in my 20s. I could wear high heels and did, often…weird, weird, weird. My daughter was in early elementary school. Obviously, I’d forgotten the realities of teaching a required core subject. I longed for the days of literature circles and vocab tests and essays over real life issues.

And that hubris…well, it came back to bite me in the backside big time.

Those kids…

The worst class I ever taught was my first year. I taught all juniors except one group of freshmen. There were around 30 kids in last period, six girls, the rest boys. I had no freaking idea what I was doing and discipline was just not even on my radar. But I was also 25. And by the end of the first semester I loved that class and most of them liked me and we had a lot of fun. I’m even Facebook friends with some of those kids, so if you’re reading this, “HEY!”

The second worse class I taught was a couple years later. I’d volunteered to take on the juniors in “regular” classes. Classes that were supposed to be smaller for more individual time with students who struggled. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Those classes were huge. And their real purpose was because Honors English was too tough and they wanted a second tier option so kids wouldn’t be held back by the others or bothered by discipline issues. That quickly became apparent. My friends saw my roll sheets before school started and said they’d pray for me.

I LOVED those kids (for the most part) from day one. We had fun. I was still in my 20s and discipline still wasn’t all that great. Once I sat on the floor with a poster that said I AM CRAZY on it and held it in front of me until they shut up and let me talk. One boy said, “Miss, why you got that poster?” And another answered, “Because she wants us to know she might go nuts in here.”

Actually, what I wanted was for them to think I might just throw someone out the window. Not really, but maybe if they thought it was a possibility….

A fellow teacher and I had a stalker from one of those classes that year. One of the kids ate pages from my personal copy of The Last Picture Show.

And I still had fun. I’m even Facebook friends with some of those kids (not the stalker or the book eater), so if you’re reading this, “HEY!”

Fun kind of drives my education car. If you were in the MSU education department in the early 90s, you understand that. If not, well, just accept it as a fact.

Flash forward to two weeks ago and that hubris I mentioned earlier.

Day one was awesome. I was a rockstar. (Again with the foreshadowing and bad juju)

Day two was a disaster. But they were still along for the ride.

Day three was OHMYGODYOU’VEGOTTOBEKIDDINGMEWHOARETHESEPEOPLE(SPAWNSOFSATAN)ANDWHYAMIHERESOMEONECALLWALMARTINEEDANEWJOB.

I. Cried. In. Front. Of. The. Class.

Oh, teacher with all the answers….ha! ha! ha!

Day four I looked in the mirror and told myself to get over my whiny self. Fun was not driving my car. And I was done going to them. They came to my class.

Day five one of the kids who’s in an earlier media class with me said, “Yesterday was good.” He was talking about English. I was a little surprised. And I almost got a little cocky about my awesomeness. But then day five happened. I didn’t cry, but yeah….There’s probably a youtube video out there. If there is, please don’t tell me. It won’t be the first time, though. The first time was when one of my students (one of my now Facebook friends) and his cohort in crime decided to do their project on how to get D-Hall in 60 seconds or less. It worked.

When I got home last Friday I just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry and maybe eat some ice cream. And Cake. And Peeps…because, you know, they have all those new flavors.

I couldn’t have a margarita or 10 because I have a no drinking when you’re super stressed policy. Those kids were not only keeping me from fun and my dream of awesome English teaching and my self-actualized reality of awesomeness, they were keeping me from tequila. This was not okay.

Monday of this week something in me changed. When they walked into my room, I greeted every student the way Spanish teacher Lisa Williams taught us at inservice once. And as the kids walked in my room I saw them as people–who were stripped of a teacher they liked because he got an awesome promotion–getting ready to face the realities of a world that kind of sucks on a regular basis these days. I mean we’re on the brink of a new Cold War and there’s all this hate and it costs a freaking fortune to go to school and we’re 36+ inches behind on rain and the wealth gap is growing at astronomical rates. But these kids…they’re excited and probably a little afraid and it doesn’t really matter if they get satire or not but it does matter that they know they matter and who cares if fun drives my car and I thought teaching English would be fun?

Tuesday of this week was ok. Sort of.

Wednesday of this week was ok.

Today was ok.

Tomorrow’s going to be ok.

Will it be awesome, amazing, wonderful, terrific? Probably not. They’re seniors in their last six weeks of school with a new teacher they didn’t want.

Is that okay?

Yeah.

Will I show up in that classroom ready to teach to the very best of my ability?

Yeah.

Have I learned a bajillion and twelve lessons in the last nine days?

Oh yeah.

And all those answers….it’s easy to have them when you live in a glass house.

The newsroom is a glass house in a lot of ways. I mean we have deadlines, but we also have people who WANT TO BE THERE and usually love us.

Confession: for years my friends have said, “You have no idea,” and I’ve said “I know,” but on the inside I’ve smugly thought they were wrong. I totally knew.

Well, I didn’t know. I still don’t know.

And the truth is I will never really know and that’s okay because the not knowing is what makes us seek answers and seeking answers is what really makes us grow as teachers and for years I thought I knew, which means in a lot of ways I was stagnant, and that’s a scary bad place to be as a teacher. Whatever else happens, I’m no longer stagnant. And that’s something I can’t thank these kids for enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 responses to “Hey! Teacher! Leave Them Kids Alone! Confessions of a Wanna Be…

  1. You’re so amazing for what you do, and you possess remarkable strength and drive. I cannot thank you enough!

  2. I love reading all of your posts, but this is my favorite (btw, love that lede). I totally get it and love that you validate my world. For me, it’s that one or two sections of freshman English I’ve had every year along with the newspaper and yearbook kids, who, yes, want to be there. I keep saying that’s the difference, and I keep coming up with new ideas for electives and asking to drop English, but they keep needing me to carry at least one section.
    I considered early in the year what the differences are between the classes (besides choosing to be there), and the other major difference is being project based. J-kids are creating real projects/products, and they are practically running the program themselves. So I took advantage of having a Mac lab in my room and came up with a few projects that allowed for some creativity, some autonomy. Mild success for some, the ones who were mostly motivated anyway. But the others are still so used to being told what to do (so they can refuse), that they can’t figure out what to do on their own. Whole thing just makes me sad, and if I want to be productive (and sane) next year and the years following, I really need to drop the class that makes me want to scream and cry (so far no actual crying in front of them, but they have gotten me flustered enough to be fun for all).
    Sorry, didn’t mean to vent/rant for so long, but I so get what you’re saying. From experience, you and I both know that some blessings will come from your situation as they do from mine, no matter how exhausting the whole experience is.

    • The article published earlier this year that said 70+% of high school kids are bored helps me understand. Our curriculum has been narrowed because of testing and teachers have had to cut so much and kids are used to test, test, test. It’s sad. But I’m definitely learning a lot about myself as a teacher. :)

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