Sunday, November 2, 2014
What My Students Taught Me
I’m a teacher, pretty damn proud of that fact. Yes, the smell of new textbooks, the sound it makes when the binding is cracked, Ticonderoga brand pencils, Trapper Keepers; it all does it for me. Yet, nowadays, I have noticed that I don’t just teach, I learn. I can be taught. I can listen. I can take criticism. If my lesson sucks, tell me. Does that mean I can tell you about yourself as a student? I sometimes feel underappreciated, I feel worthless, and I get pissed off. If I think about this to myself, I will often get a sudden urge to blurt out in front of room 214, “Do you know how late I stayed up last night doing all this work for you and now you throw it in the garbage can …”, it wouldn’t be the first or last time. I work my ass off to teach my students. But I also understand that I am meant to be a learner, because I love learning. How cliché? Aren’t we meant to be life long learners as educators? Here’s the catch though … I learn from my students. Most of the teachers around me don’t teach me much, but the students do.
They have taught me how to care in a manner I have never cared. I have learned to buy extra snacks for my teacher desk drawers because someone is always hungry. They always need pencils, Band-Aids for too tight shoes, boy advice, girl advice, parent advice, and college advice. They still cry. They’re still sensitive. They know what they want. They know who they are. They know what they believe. You just want to hug them. Girls talk about girls and say mean things when you have thought they are friends … and then they turncoat on each other. It’s sad and makes me first of all disbelieve I was ever that way, even though embarrassingly I know I was. Secondly, and more importantly, they have taught me they are tough on the inside, but also outside. They’ll get through and think back “How silly” just like I do all the time.
What I just said, I have known. Here is what I am learning now. Students. Don’t. Care. I don’t understand. They teach me just how apathetic and ignorant they are. They blame everything and everyone around them for their lack of “whatever” except themselves. This is not one of those stories where I tell you how I walked up hill, both ways, in the snow, with wet shoes to school and I appreciated it. I never walked to school. I never had holes in my shoes. The worst was standing outside in the snow – it was cold – but snow is cold. I did carry textbooks, big heavy ones. There was no such thing as a classroom set. We carried our books from class to class to class because we went to our lockers in the morning, and afternoon, and we never questioned that. Kids have really grown a set to question our expectations in their everyday scholastic lives.
Students believe themselves entitled. Entitled to whatever they want. Now, before you get all hot and bothered under the collar, get your panties in a bunch, take a chill pill … I’m generalizing. That’s right, profilin’. Every student is not this way. There are still the ones who care, who value and appreciate their education. However, I challenge you to show me a teacher who cannot say they have seen this plain truth in the flesh. Students. Don’t. Care.
If our students are passing, that is all that matters. Passing. And I’m talking passing. A 59.5% is passing in the school district I teach at. A 59.5% rounds to a 60, that is the lowest D- you can earn. And I do say earn. Grades aren’t given; at least not in classroom 214. Kids will try to negotiate with me about having homework? One such situation; a boy asked a buddy to do one side of a worksheet and he would do the other side. They could switch answers. This same student then negotiated the other side with someone else. Did he do any work? NONE. What happened to the dignity, the prestige, the honor of earning a really high grade and being proud of your own hard work in the matter? I remember sitting up for hours studying APUSH, doing a French Cultural project, don’t get me started about Calculus … but I did it because it was expected. I was a student. My job was to learn. When I went to school I could not stand in front of a Smart Board and take a picture with my cell phone instead of copying the notes from the board myself. I wrote until my hand hurt … literally. I was afraid to miss something. I fell asleep with textbooks in my lap in the middle of the night. I started the coffeemaker at 10pm. My parents were in bed asleep. I could not imagine failing … let alone a B or [gasp] a C. When did this become OK? When did it become acceptable to not do your best, but just pass? All is well if you pass. Don’t get me started on getting paid for good grades.
Is it all a show? Do they actually care, but just want to act “cool” and seem as though they don’t. I can’t tell. I don’t know. I have had too many students tell me they would rather take a 0 then do the assignment or try again to think it is all a show. How disappointing.
And that is what it is … I’m disappointed. As teachers, we hold on to that hope, that dream, that “joy”, that we will have the privilege of teaching those students (or even a few students, I’ll take a few at this point) who care about their future. That we can say we sat across a table from them, challenged them to think, and saw them win that challenge due to hard work. I wish I saw every day those students who put in every ounce of effort they can … A for effort. Those who know they are not the next D1 athlete, or D2, or D3. They are not the next HOVA or “creative genius” but they are just an everyday all-American, drive a 10-year-old Honda student who works their ass off and is rewarded for their hard work. And they might not go to Harvard, but they go to a pretty great university, perhaps they rush, perhaps they don’t. They go to class because that is what their loans or their scholarships or their parents’ hard earned money is paying for. They earn high grades by going to classes that actually happen, and do their work, and are proud of their achievements and they find a job.
Perhaps they become a teacher and stand in front of a classroom of 30 students who maybe smell, perhaps they seem sleepy, perhaps they’re high, and will say … this is what Mrs. Walizer was talking about.
It’s 10:26 pm on a Tuesday night and I’m tired, but one of my classes did not fair so well today, so I’m rewriting an assignment to help them. Perhaps not all of them will end up in the circular file tomorrow.