Tuesday, April 24, 2012

You are just not likable...

I am currently in the process of drafting a couple of different posts at the moment.  They are not yet ready to be published, though; they still need some polishing.  However, I thought that in place of one of my stories, I would share a story from one of my colleagues.  Well, I guess this is actually more of a hybrid story, as I was so impressed with it, that I have actually used the same tactic several times myself.  In any case, mine, a colleague's, or a shared experience from many teachers... here it is... You are just not likable.

Every so often as a teacher, you encounter a student who is unbelievably rude, obtuse, and ungrateful, and it is very hard to find anything to like about the kid.  Now, please keep in mind, no matter what impression this blog may give you, these instances are rare.  Most teachers will tell you that they love their jobs, and can find something to like about most of their students.  We have to be able to do this, otherwise we would never be able to convince ourselves to continue teaching.  However, once in a blue moon, you get that one "special" kid who is a complete and utter ass.  This was the case with one of my colleagues.  Let's call him Mr. Unlucky.

According to Mr. Unlucky, one year he was saddled with this wretched female student.  She was hateful, belligerent, rude, and cursed with a whopping sense of self-importance and undeserved entitlement.  Every encounter with this child was cause for her to "go off up in here".  Most teachers tried to avoid any kind of confrontation with her at all costs.  Her peers avoided any type of contact or interaction with her.  On days she was absent, suspended, or skipping, the class was actually productive.  They could hold discussions without dissolving into screaming matches or threats.  Students would actually volunteer and participate when she was not present.  (Sadly, this is often the case in a classroom where it only takes one rotten student to ruin the entire class.)

So, in short, no one liked this girl.  However, much to the relief of teachers and students alike, this girl was often absent from school, due to multiple, lengthy suspensions.  You see, the unfortunate girl (let's call her 'Marsha', as I always disliked Marsha Brady) was often involved in fights during the school day, threatening people, and just in general being a pain in the ass.  Marsha's repeated suspensions however, meant that Marsha frequently needed to retrieve and complete "make-up" work for her classes.

Now, Mr. Unlucky is one of the most organized teachers I know when it comes to issuing make-up work.  He goes above and beyond to make sure that his students who request the work get everything that was missed.  He is quite diligent.  His one unbendable, unbreakable rule regarding make-up work is that you do not interrupt his classes to retrieve or submit said work.  You must come before or after school, or during his planning period.  Well, Marsha believed she was above the rules, beyond reproach, and entitled to what the hell she wanted when she wanted it.

So, as you can guess, Marsha, upon returning from yet another suspension, walks into Mr. Unlucky's classroom to turn in her make-up work.  Mr. Unlucky was actually in the middle of teaching a lesson.  Now, if you know anything at all about teenagers, you know that they have short attention spans, and get distracted easily.  So, when Marsha pranced into the middle of Mr. Unlucky's room and loudly announces "Here, Mr. Unlucky, I gots my work.  You want it?", it immediately threw the entire class off task.

Marsha:  Here, Mr. Unlucky, I gots my work.  You want it?

Mr. Unlucky:  (with a look of pure exasperation) No. (He turns back to continue his lesson.)

Marsha:  (loudly and with attitude) What you mean 'no'?  I'm tryin' to give you my make-up work you said I had to do and have turned in today.

Mr. Unlucky:  (blandly)  Marsha, I've asked you not to interrupt my class.  You can turn in the work after school.  (Turns back to class)

Marsha:  You ain't gonna take my work?  I'm already here, why can't you just take it now?  Besides, when I walked in it didn't look like you was doin' nothin'.  You was just talkin' and they was just sittin' there.  

Student in class:  (disgusted)  Why don't you just leave?  You know you ain't supposed to interrupt Mr. Unlucky's class.  

Marsha:  (rolling eyes, sucking teeth, and looking in opposite direction of student) I know you ain't talkin' to me.  Ain't nobody talkin' to you.

Mr. Unlucky:  (flatly) Please leave. (Turns back to class again.)

Marsha:  You gonna take my work, or I'ma gonna call my momma.

Mr. Unlucky continues his lecture to his class, ignoring Marsha and her posturing.  The class begins snickering and laughing at Marsha.  Marsha makes a loud exit from the class, exclaiming that "the whole school be whack" and that her "momma be comin' up here" to straighten out the teachers.

Fast-forward two hours later, the school day is over.  Mr. Unlucky is sitting at his desk in his now empty room.  Marsha walks in, huffing and puffing, and stops at Mr. Unlucky's desk.

Mr. Unlucky:  (blandly) Yes, Marsha, what can I do for you?

Marsha:  (loudly and angrily) You know why I be here.  

Mr. Unlucky:  (takes a breath)  Marsha, let's try this again, without all the hostility this time.

Marsha: (rolls eyes, sucks teeth) Just take my work so I can get up outta here. (Thrusts crumpled stack of papers at Mr. Unlucky.)

Mr. Unlucky:  Marsha, have you ever wondered why you seem to be the one that is always getting in trouble in class?  Have you ever noticed that when you are in class, everyone is negative and sniping back and forth, and there is always a confrontation of some sort?  Have you noticed that you are always involved in that confrontation?

Marsha:  (sighs very loudly)  Oooohhhh, these teachers here be buggin' and pickin' on me!

Mr. Unlucky:  See, that is what I am talking about.  How is it that every single teacher you have ever encountered has it out for you?  Why are you the one always getting kicked out of every class?  Why are you the one always getting into a fight?  Why are you the one person the entire class turns against, and tells to shut up?  Why are you the one people are always saying negative things to and about?

Marsha:  People be having it out for me.  I don't no nothin' to cause it.

Mr. Unlucky:  (sadly shaking his head) No, Marsha, if you look back at every single situation I have described, the common thread, the common denominator there is you.  YOU are the one causing the fights.  YOU are the one disrupting the class...

Marsha:  (interrupting) When do I be disrupting class?

Mr. Unlucky:  You disrupted my class two hours ago when you walked in demanding I take your work.  Then you got belligerent with me and the other students.  (Marsha folds her arms and looks the other way.)  Like I said, the common denominator here is YOU.  You are the one causing all the fights, trouble, disruptions.  If you were to step back and look at your life you would see that YOU are the cause of all of your problems.  And you know why?  Because people just don't like you, because you are not a likable person.  Now, you can change that, and become a better person.  But, as of right now, no, I do not like you and the class does not like you, because you are just not likable.  Now, I'll take your make-up work, because you brought it me after school, as you were instructed.  Have a nice day.

Monday, April 23, 2012

What I want to say...

I have a colleague who tries very hard throughout the year to keep up the spirits of her fellow teachers.  One of the ways she tries to break through to us is to text out inspirational or funny quotes every morning.  You can count on her like clockwork.  As a matter of fact, I do.  I know when her text comes through at 6:30AM, I have another 20 minutes to hit the snooze button before I am running late.  Recently, she sent out a message to those of us on her text list and asked what did we really want to say to parents and students.  That got me thinking, and writing.  What exactly do I want to say to students, parents, administrators, and the clueless?

Scenario #1:  Student asking to turn in work late.
Student:  I know this project is due today, but I can turn it in next week?  

What I say:  You've had 2 weeks to complete it. 

What I want to say:  Are you fucking kidding me?  No, you can't turn it in a week late.

Student:  Yeah, I know, but I was going to do it this weekend.  But, my mom wouldn't let me use her computer.

What I say:  You did not need to use a computer to complete this project.

What I want to say:  Are you fucking kidding me?  Just because you got grounded does not give you a free pass to not do your project.  No, you can't turn it in a week late.

Student:  But, I wanted to type it up, so it would be really neat, and pretty.

What I say:  I'm sorry, no, you can not turn it in next week.  You can bring it to me tomorrow, for 10 points off, or next class for 20 points off.

What I want to say:  Are you really fucking kidding me?  Hell no you cannot turn it in a week late, and that excuse is lame.  At least have the decency to put some thought into how you plan to lie to my face.  Now, get out of my face.

Scenario #2:  Parent conference regarding student's poor performance/grades in my class
Parent:  I don't understand how [Precious Baby] could get an F on his report card.

What I say:  [Precious Baby] did not turn in the rough draft or final draft of his research paper.  He has two very low test grades, of which one was an open book test and one a take home test.  Also, he has 6 missing homework assignments.

What I want to say:  [Precious Baby] is lazy, and cannot handle the rigor of an Honors level class.

Parent:  He told me he tried to turn in the final draft of the research paper, but you wouldn't let him.  Now, before I get too angry over this, I want to hear what you have to say for yourself.

What I say:  [Precious Baby] asked me 3 days ago if he could still turn in his research paper.  It was due 3 weeks ago.  I told him he could bring it to me the next day, but I would deduct 50% of the grade, because it is so late.

What I want to say:  Why in the hell should I take whatever crap [Precious Baby] is going to copy and paste off of the Internet?  The paper was due 3 weeks ago.  Why would I take it now?  Are you fucking kidding me?

Parent:  I think that is too harsh.  What is wrong with you?  You are supposed to be a TEACHER, and understanding, and compassionate.  No wonder he can't learn from you.  You do not have what it takes to be a good teacher.

What I say:  You are entitled to your opinion, and I am sorry you feel I am not doing enough to help [Precious Baby].  However, I have asked [Precious Baby] repeatedly to come get help during my tutoring hours, I have sat down and done one-on-one conferencing with him concerning his writing, I have volunteered to stay after, or come in early, any day that would work for you and [Precious Baby] to help him with his paper, and I have even given him a chance to re-take the exams he scored poorly on.  All attempts were summarily rejected by both you and him.  Perhaps, at this time, it might be in [Precious Baby]'s best interest if we look into moving him into another teacher's class, or leveling him down out of Honors.

What I want to say:  Bitch, please.  Don't act like you are a concerned parent now.  It is April.  Where have you been for the first 7 months of the school year?  Why did you not care the first 20 times I called or emailed you regarding [Precious Baby]'s complete and total failure as a student and human being?  And while we are on that topic, where were you when [Precious Baby] was getting a blow job, during school hours, in the conditioning room last month?  If I'm not qualified to be a teacher, you are not qualified to be a parent.

Scenario #3:  Administrator asking for "volunteers" for after school tutoring.
Administrator:  Okay, we need 2 teachers to volunteer for after school tutoring.  It is a paid position.  I think it is $25 an hour, and it is for 1 hour after school.  You can pick the day you stay.  Any volunteers?


Administrator:  I only need 2 teachers.  And this is a good way to help some of the students who we know need the extra help and struggle with the content.


Administrator:  Well, I'll just come around and ask some of you individually.

Next Day:
Administrator:  Ms. Teacher, you did the after school tutoring last year, would you be interested in doing it again this year.  {TRANSLATION:  Please, no one else wants it, I know you need the money.}

What I say:  No.

What I want to say:  Are you fucking kidding me?  HELL NO!

Administrator:  Are you sure?  You work so well with these "at risk" kids who are on the cusp.  {TRANSLATION:  Oh please!  If you don't do it, I'm going to have to, and I have better things to do with me time.  You don't have kids, or a family, or a life.}

What I say:  Sorry, but I just can't this year.

What I want to say:  Are you fucking kidding me?!?!  FUCK YOU!  $25 is not enough to deal with the trouble-makers who show up thinking that just by gracing me with their presence is enough to make them pass.  They have no motivation or desire to do any work that might actually lead to them learning something.  So, no.  I do not want to run after school tutoring.

Scenario #4:  Student asking to do "extra credit".
Student:  Ms. Teacher?  Can you give me some extra credit or something.  I gotta get my grade up in your class.

What I say:  I'm sorry, but I do not typically offer extra credit.  It is usually built in throughout the year.  

What I want to say:   Are you fucking kidding me?  You did not do half the "regular" work I assigned this year.  Why on earth would I think you would do any "extra" work?

Scenario #5:  Student claiming ignorance (HA!) Part 1
Student:  Ms. Teacher, I wasn't here last class when you did the test review.  Do I still have to take the test today?

What I say:  Where you in class the 5 days I taught the material?  Yes?  Then, yes, you need to take the test today.

What I want to say:  Are you fucking kidding me?  Yes, you have to take the test today.  What would putting it off one or two more days earn you?  You won't show up for after school tutoring so I can review the material.  You will schedule to make up the test after school 2 or 3 different times, failing to show up each time.  In 3-4 weeks from now, I will finally force you to take the test before grades are due for the marking period, by which time you will have forgotten everything, and fail the test.  What will putting it off earn you?  Nothing.  Now shut the fuck up and take this damn test. 

Scenario #6:  Student claiming ignorance (HA!) Part 2
Student:  I didn't know nothing about having to take this state-mandated test today.

What I say:  What do you mean?  We've been reviewing and prepping for this test for over a month now.  It has been on the announcements, letters have been sent home, I've made phone calls home, and I went over the testing schedule in class twice.  How did you not know?

What I want to say:  (wait for it...) Are you fucking kidding me?  Where have you been the last month and a half?

Student:  I wasn't paying attention to any of that.  Do I still have to take it?

What I say:  Well, that is a shame.  But, the whole school district is taking this test today.  So, yes, you still have to take it.

What I want to say:  Are you fucking kidding me?  Why would you think you wouldn't have to take it?

Scenario #7:  Student claiming ignorance (HA!) Part 3
Student:  Ms. Teacher, I don't get it. What are we supposed to do?

What I say:  Well, I just explained it, but did you read the directions?  Come here and I will go over all the directions with you, again.

What I want to say:  Are you fucking kidding me?  What were you doing the last 15 minutes while I was explaining this in detail?  Did you even bother to read the directions yourself?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Frivolous Fight Friday


For most people, the end of a work week is cause for rejoicing.  Friday marks the culmination of a frantic, stressful week, but the beginning of a relaxing, fun-filled weekend.  This is no different for most public school teachers.  However, for those intrepid souls who teach in public middle and high schools, the anticipation and joy of successfully reaching Friday is also mixed with trepidation and anxiety.  Why?  Fridays, particularly at the beginning and ending of the school year, mean one thing... fights.

For whatever reason, Fridays seem to be THE day for impromptu brawls to break out.  Perhaps it has to do with the students' anticipation for two days without school, or anxiety of 2 full days with their families, or maybe they, like their teachers, they feel the need to let off steam and workout their stress.  But, again, whatever the reason, Fridays seem to have more than their fair share of fights.

Yes, fights, plural.  Fights in high school are like Lay's potato chips; you just can't stop at one.  If a fight breaks out before the school day actually begins, watch out, as there will be a barrage of bashing happening all day.  Those days, it is the teachers' job to simply maintain order, lockdown the classroom, and pray for the end of the day.  Forget trying to actually "teach".  I tend to use days like that to teach ethics, or conflict resolution.  I mean, seriously, that is all the kids are going to be able to talk about and focus on, might as well use it to my advantage.

Student 1:  Oooohhh, did you see Willie lay into that kid?

Student 2:  Dude!  He was tearin' that boy up!  He was all like... (student jumps up and pantomimes pummeling invisible opponent.)

Student 1:  Nah, man, it was more like this... (pantomimes a different version of pounding and punching on pretend patsy) 

Student 2:  And did you see when he kicked him?  I was all like... (student laughs and falls out of chair... on purpose, to demonstrate his reaction to the fight.)  I was ROLLIN'!

Student 3:  Did you see when Mr. Security tried to tear Willie off that mutt?  I thought [Mr.] Security was gonna get beat down too!

Student 1:  Oh, oh, you mean when Willie turned and swung at [Mr.] Security?  (hysterical laughing and twitching)  AH!  That junk was so funny!  [Mr.] Security was all (pantomimes school security officer breaking up fight, and removing student.)  I was weak.

Student 2:  Why Willie go off like that?  What that scrawny punk do?

Student 3:  NOTHIN'!  You know Willie ain't right...

Student 1:  Dude, that boy be crazy! You 'member when he went off in Mr. Science's room?

And so the conversations go all day, recounting one fight after another, rehashing the same fight, or reminiscing about past fights between the combatants du jour.  And, as the boys stated, no one ever really seems to know why the fights break out, or if there is a reason, it is usually pretty... lame.

(Actual reasons given for fighting)
I didn't like the way that girl be lookin' at me.  So, I ask her what her problem is, and then I hit her.

She kept sayin' [boy's name], and she knows we be talkin' and stuff.  She got no right to be sayin' his name.  She just pickin'.  

Don't nobody like that [kid] anyway.  And I was mad, so I thought he'd do.

He looked like he was gonna hit me, so I snuck first.

Why you be buggin'?  Somebody yelled 'fight', so I turned and started swingin'.

I ain't tryin' to go down like no punk.  (Yeah, I don't know either.)

Yeah, things like this really happen.  And, for all of you teachers who have been privileged enough to never teach these students, or work in a similar environment, or live with blinders on and your heads buried in the sand...  Why don't you try opening your eyes, picking up your heads on occasion, and actually noticing what is happening in the school around you.  But, I am digressing.  I'll talk the clueless teachers in a later post.

Anyway, it is for these reasons, I have dubbed Fridays in the 1st and 4th marking periods and right before a holiday or break to be... Frivolous Fight Fridays.

Of course, Frivolous Fight Friday is not to be confused with Thug Thumping Thursdays, Wuss Whooping Wednesdays, Teen Tussling Tuesdays, or Mob Melee Mondays.  But, those are different stories for different days.

And, so far... it is 10:45AM, and no fight.  This might be a good day.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Overheard, or The Kids in the Hall

I teach teenagers; 15, 16, 17, and 18 year olds.  They think they are worldly, knowledgeable, and "grown".  I know this because they are constantly telling me so.   Bitch, I'm a grown-ass man.  I ain't gotta do no nothin'. Anyway, after a few years of being repeatedly told this, over and over, by a growing number of students, I decided to take a step back to listen to their "wisdom".  Surprisingly, I learned something.  No, I did not learn that these kids have a wisdom beyond their years.  (Please, they are teenagers.  And, for the most part, pretty disconnected from the "real world".)  What I did learn is that their conversations hold a vast entertainment value.  Here are few of the gems I've overheard from the kids in my classes and randomly wandering the hallways this year.

Conversation #1:
Girl#1: I got my CPR certs this week.

Girl#2: Oh, I done been having mines.

Boy: You ain't got no CPR licenses.

Girl#2: Oh, I gots mines. digs through suitcase/purse, pulls out card See? I'm O-fficial.

Girl#1: I ain't got my card yet.

Boy: snatches card, looks You know now you be official, if somebody be choking and you don't help them, theys can sue you.

Girl#2: I ain't going help nobody. I don't even remember that shit. I sat through the class, but they didn't really teach me nothin'.

Boy: Then why you sit through that junk?

Girl#2: I had to, for my job. I was a lifeguard last summer. They wouldn't let me be doing it if I didn't.

Boy: Yous a lifeguard? You be saving anybody?

Girl#2: Oh hell nah... I ain't trying to be doing that. I's afraid somebody would drown, then I have to get my hair wet going after them. And some those people be fat, and ugly. They probably drown me with them.

Boy: If you ain't like it, why you do it?

Girl#2: It be easy. Me and LaLa didn't have to do nothing. We sit around the pools all day, and got paid.

Boy: Where you be lifeguarding?

Girl#2: You know where all the white people's be havin' they houses over in Kiln Creek? We be over in there...

Apparently, according to my students, all white people live in the same neighborhood.

Conversation #2:

I have a female student who is always trying to get male attention directed her way. Today, she stands up in class, starts loudly talking about her new belly-button piercing, and pulls up her t-shirt to point to it. She moves to stand right in front of a male student to force him to look at her mid-drift.

It is at this point I should point out that I have no clue who the male student is... He had literally DANCED into my room a few seconds before this altercation, and had a seat.  Normally, I would have publicly humiliated a student for such impertinence, but on this day my initial thought when he danced into the room was "Huh, I wonder if he knows he is gay?"  

Anyway, before I was able to refocus and address the male student who danced into class, my female student pounces.  However, as she is not that bright or observant, her little plan for his attention backfires...

Girl: Look! Ain't mys new piercing so cute and sexy?

Boy: Ain't nobody wanna look at you. Get outta my face!

Girl: You know you wanna hit this. stands in front of boy, playing w/ring

Boy: Gross! Why is you belly so hairy?

Girl: quickly pulls shirt down No it ain't!

Boy: Yes it is. You belly be lookin' like a sasquatch. You nasty.

Girl: No I ain't! And don't be puttin' my business out there like that. I didn't have time to shave my legs this morning.

Boy: laughing hysterically You the one struttin' 'round with yo hairy sasquatch belly hanging out for all to see. And what do shaving yo legs gots to do with that hairy belly. You a nasty ho...

It was at this point I walked out of the room ... so I could laugh.

Conversation #3
This little gem of a conversation started after the girl came back from a visit to our illustrious Dean of Girls, mistress of discipline, whom I ADORE for her no-nonsense, take no prisoners attitude.  Apparently, my little darling has trouble coming to school on time.
Girl: UGH! Let me go out here and listen to my momma mouf. She gone be yelling, "Why the F you get suspended? You always be gettin suspended."

Boy: You got suspended? What you do?

Girl: It ain't be my fault. It be my momma fault. She know I caint be getting myself up on my own. She aint been tryin to wake me up, and I be late for skoo all the time. I done been late the last 10 skoo days. And now they tryin to suspend me for it. So now I gotta go listen to my momma mouf, when it really be all her fault.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I'm Not a Morning Person People

I am not a morning person.

I am not a morning person.

I am not a morning person.


No, I am not a morning person. Usually, this is the very first thing I announce to any class of students I teach before the hour of 9AM. My brain is incapable of functioning rationally before 9AM. It really does not matter how early I wake up, or how much coffee I consume, my brain refuses to think or work before 9AM. I have accepted this fact of my life and adapted my life accordingly. I do not schedule early morning meetings if I can avoid it. I start my morning off with the least stressful and strenuous activities I can manage. I drink gallons of coffee. I do yoga, meditation and breathing exercises. I do all of these things in a vain attempt to appear to be human. However, it is just an illusion. I am not a morning person.

I give my students fair warning from the beginning.  Do not approach me with inane comments or requests first thing in the morning. You will not receive a rational, or possibly even an intelligible answer. I can guarantee you will not like the manner in which said response is delivered.  And, in all likelihood, you will walk away from our verbal altercation either in tears, or seething with rage.  However, it never really seems to matter how many warnings I give, my precious, pubescent pupils never heed them.  At least once a week, one of the intrepid teens will accost me upon my arrival at school, insisting that I give them my undivided attention and bow to their demands.  Inevitably, said student leaves my presence wounded and hurt, figuratively speaking of course.  Well... mostly figuratively speaking.  What can I say?  I am not a morning person.

By the end of the school year, one would think that most of my students have learned not to disturb my morning rituals, either through direct, personal experience or the experiences of friends and classmates.  However, every year, I seem to get one student who is incapable of learning that particular lesson.  This year, that student is Carol.  (Obviously, "Carol" is not her real name.  As a matter of fact, Carol is as far removed from her real name as I could get.)  Carol just cannot seem to grasp the meaning of the words "I am not a morning person".

8:05AM - I take a deep breath, open the door, walk into the high school, and begin weaving my way through the throng of trash-talking teens in the hallway to my classroom.
8:07AM - Keys are in hand, I am mere seconds away from the blissful silence of my classroom, and then I hear it...

Ms. Teacher!  Ms. Teacher!  Ms. Teacher!

Me:  (FUCK!  Maybe if I do not turn around, it will go away. I walk faster.)

Ms. Teacher!  Ms. Teacher!  MS. TEACHER!!!

Me:  (Almost there...)

Carol:  OH!  Ms. Teacher!  I've been waiting for you since 7:30 this morning.

Me:  (FUCK!!!  Carol.  I was so close.) *sigh* Carol, I know I've told you this numerous times before, but I'll try it one more time.  I do not get to school before 8AM.  Ever. 

Carol:  Oh, yeah, I know, but this is important!  And I emailed you, and posted a question on the online forum for the class last night.  I even left a message on your voice mail.

Me:  takes a deep breath.  I replied to your email last night, and to the same question you posted on the discussion forum 2 hours later.  Obviously, I have not gotten your voice mail message, as I have yet to walk into the classroom.  But, do you ask the same question in your voice mail?  The same question you posted and emailed me about, that I have already answered?
Carol:  Yeah.  So, anyway, the homework that you assigned, that is due today, do we have to write complete sentences?  Or can we just, like, write the answer?

Me:  sigh  Carol, just like I said in the email, and on the online forum, and in class the day I assigned the homework, and for every other homework assignment like this one,... You must write the answer in complete sentences.  Turns toward the door, dismissing the conversation.

Carol:  But... why?

Me:  Stops in mid-step, halfway through the doorway.  Excuse me?

Carol:  Why?  Why do we have to write a complete sentence?  Why can't we just write the answer?

Me:  Carol, the two are not mutually exclusive.  And, as I have explained to you before, I require a complete sentence because I am also tasked with teaching you how to write.  I want to make sure that you know what a complete sentence looks like, that you practice it.  Also, you are a 17 year old honors student in my 11th grade English class.  This should be a non-issue by now.  Turns away and proceeds to, finally, enter the classroom, now feeling irritated and disgusted.

Carol:  But... I just don't think you are understanding what I am asking.  Let me try it this way... As long I put down the answer on the paper, does it have to be a complete sentence?

Me:  Thoroughly disgusted.  Let me try it this way... Your answer will be worded in a complete sentence.

Carol:  But...

Me:  Oh good grief, Carol!  I do not know how else to explain it so you will understand it.  Do you not understand the words I am saying to you?

Carol: It's not that, I just...

Me:  YES or NO?  Do you understand the words I am speaking?

Carol:  Yes, but...

Me: holding up hand  Yes?  Okay, good.  So, you understand that your homework should be answered in complete sentences?  Yes?

Carol:  Well, yeah, but...

Me:  holds up hand again  Yes?  Okay.  Glad that is settled.  Please close the door as you leave.

Carol:  But... that's not the answer I want.

Me:  stops dead in tracks, glances back over one shoulder  Well, I apologize for that, but that is the answer you got.

Carol:  I don't want to write a sentence!  stamps foot

Me:  Did you really just stamp your foot at me?  cue hysterical laughter

Carol:  stamps foot again  Don't laugh at me!  I'm serious!  I DON'T WANT TO WRITE A SENTENCE!

Me:  wiping tears from eyes  That is a shame, since the assignment requires it.

Carol:  Well, I'm just not going to write a sentence.

Me:  sits on corner of desk, sips coffee, and drawls out Well, sugar, that is your choice. (It should be noted that when I lapse into a Southern drawl in class, bad things are soon to follow.  For some reason, I tend to use a Southern accent to chastise my students.)

Carol:  mollified  Oh, so I don't have to write a sentence?  Whew!  Thanks!  Turns to leave.

Me:  No, darlin', I said it was your choice.

Carol:  What does that mean?

Me:  in a Southern drawl and with a smile that doesn't reach my eyes  The directions require a sentence.  If you choose to not write a sentence, you have not followed the directions, and therefore have not correctly completed the assignment.  As such, I will be forced to deduct the necessary points, as you failed to accurately complete the assignment.  So, we are back to it being your choice.  You can choose to do the assignment correctly and completely, or you can choose to half-ass the assignment.  Either way, your grade will reflect accuracy, completeness, and effort.  The choice is ultimately yours, as it always is.  Sips coffee

Carol:  But, but... stamps foot, AGAIN THAT'S NOT FAIR!

Me:  drawls  The fair only comes to town once a year, princess, and it looks like you missed it.

Carol:  But...

Me:  NO!  Let me tell you what isn't "fair".  It isn't "fair" that for some unknown reason you seem to think that rules do not apply to you, that you do not have to do the same work, put forth the same effort as your classmates, or follow the same directions.  You are not special.  You are not above the law.  You do not get to do what you want simply because you don't feel like doing what is required.  It isn't "fair" I am forced to have the exact same conversation with you week in and week out.  It isn't "fair" that I am forced to endure the spoiled antics of a pampered princess who refuses to listen to anything that is said to her if she does not want to hear it.  It isn't "fair" that my morning is ruined at least once every couple of weeks because you decide you do not see the merit in completing an assignment, and want my permission to not do it.  It isn't "fair" that I am forced to tolerate your presence before school even starts because you want to question and debate every single assignment and direction given to you.  Let me enlighten you, sweetheart.  I'm the teacher.  You are the student.  That is how things work.  I create meaningful assignments that usually serve multiple purposes to try not only to educate you, but also to mold you into some semblance of a decent human being.  Granted, at least on that front, in your case, I seem to be failing miserably.  But, I am going to continue to try.  I will give the assignments and directions, and you will follow them.  Or not.  The choice is ultimate yours.  But, I guarantee that if you fail to meet the requirements, follow the directions, put forth the effort, or live up to my expectations, your grade will reflect your failure.  And trust me, it will be YOUR failure.  You can suck it up, accept life as it is, and pass the class on my terms, or you can be stubborn and obtuse, continue to rail at the wind about how "unfair" life is, and fail on your terms.  Choice. Is. Yours.  Now, I am done with this conversation.  For. The. Last. Time.  Get your things, turn around, and walk out the door.

Carol:  Stamps foot But...

Me:  Stamp that foot at me again.... 

Carol:  does not stamp foot, grabs belongings, begins walking out the door But... UGH!  This is SO NOT FAIR!

Me: can't resist, yells after student  Ah, sugar, maybe you'll catch the fair the next time it is in town! 

As I close the door behind her, I can hear her ranting her way down the hallway.  I sigh, turn back to me desk, shake my head, and repeat... I am so not a morning person.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Big Brother Is Watching...

Once upon a time... I used to try to teach George Orwell's novel 1984 to my honors level 9th grade English students.  I always had the hardest time getting them to understand some of the basic elements and themes of the novel.  As they often lamented, they just didn't "get it".  Eventually, as the curriculum changed, I found other novels and pieces of literature to teach, and 1984 was put back on the shelf.  On occasion, however, I would revisit the novel and try to figure out how I could make the story relevant to my students, so they would "get it" when I next decided to teach it.  In actuality, it wasn't that my students just didn't "get it".  They couldn't imagine it.  And, I couldn't paint them a picture because I didn't "get it"; it was not relevant to me.  Until I could find a way to truly understand the dystopian universe crafted by Orwell, there was no way I would ever be able to get my students to understand it.  As it turns out, I did not need to wrack my brain.  All I had to do was wait for the world to catch up to Orwell.

Enter the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, ethnic and racial profiling, threatened government shut downs, a tanking national and global economy, restrictive union laws, an eerily long series of natural disasters, rising oil and gas prices, multiple foreign "wars", and the increasing popularity of Facebook and Twitter.  Welcome to the new dystopian world.  Perhaps Orwell would have done better to title his novel 2011.

Today we have government sanctioned phone taps.  Any law enforcement agency can pull up a person's phone, email, financial, and personal information at a whim.  The government can also 'monitor' your personal email for keywords and phrases.  Is it just me, or has this all gotten a little out of hand?

Take for instance the recent string of news stories involving teachers and students.

1.  A teacher gets fired for a comment she post on her Facebook page regarding the intelligence of her students.  No names were used.  Just a person venting a frustration.  She gets canned for it.  A personal comment made to friends and family about a crappy day at work.

2.  A school district is under fire for inappropriately monitoring students, and teachers, via district issued laptops.  Some person in the technology department for the school system (most likely under direct orders from upper level administration) logs on remotely to a laptop issued to a student.  The tech person witnesses (allegedly) an illegal act and use of drugs.  The student is disciplined by the school.  The parents and community are enraged.  And rightfully so.  Invasion of privacy?  Most definitely.  Tell me, how many times before has that school system remotely logged onto a teacher or student's computer.  What else did they see?

3.  A teacher gets fired for a tirade she posts on her personal blog.  Again, a teacher frustrated with her day, week, year, school system, political maneuvering, and the grow apathy of students and parents, vents to family and friends via a personal web page.  Someone else sees it.  A parent, most likely, or administrator is outraged.  The teacher is fired.

Now, please, I ask you.  How many of you have ever left work after a stressful and trying day and said unkind, mean, derogatory, or insulting things about your boss, your employees, or place of employment?  Yes, that is what I thought.  Every one does it.  Even people who love their jobs have bad days and say mean things on occasion.  So, answer me this, why would you think it would be any different for teachers?  Why does the entire world think teachers have no life outside of the school?  Why are teachers not allowed to voice their frustrations?  It is not like the teachers began verbally berating and abusing their students in class.  They vented to an outside source to attempt to dispel the frustration and not take it back to the classroom.  How is that wrong?  Why are teachers not allowed to be human?

I currently refuse to reside in the same city in which I teach.  My reasoning? The last thing I want when I leave work is to run into students or their parents at the mall, a restaurant, or the gas station.  Why?  Because they ALWAYS feel the need to approach me and interrogate me.  Don't believe me?

1.  First year teaching, my husband took me out to dinner one Friday night for my birthday.  In the middle of my meal, an adult approached me and asked, "Are you Mrs. So-and-so?  At Such-and-such High School?  I'm Fill-in-the-blank's mom."  I smiled and nodded, and acknowledged the woman.  Before any thing else could be said, she sat down at our table and began grilling me about a recent assignment I have given my class.  Half way through her questioning she states, "I hope I'm not interrupting your meal, but..." And continued on with what she wanted to know.  After approximately 10 minutes, when I had answered her questions as best I could, I suggested she call me at school the following Monday, when I would be better prepared to answer her questions, or she could schedule a conference and come in to the school.  At that point, she reacted as if I had insulted her, replying, "Well, I was trying to avoid having to do all of that.  You can't just explain it to me here, now?"  Is that how other professions work?  Do you interrogate your physician on the golf links about an upcoming surgery?  Do you corner your CPA at the grocery store asking about your taxes?  Do you pester your attorney at the local YMCA about a court case?  No!  You call these people, these professionals, at their respective offices, make appointments.  Why would it be any different for a teacher?

2.  My second year of teaching I went to the local mall early in the spring to shop for a bathing suit.  Now, I am a female, so this is never a pleasant experience.  Even women with perfect bodies experience anxiety over shopping for and selecting a swimsuit.  Well, I am definitely less than perfect, making swimsuit shopping doubly traumatic.  Anyway, I went to a local mall to purchase the least offensive suit I could find.  I selected a few options, and proceeded into the fitting room.  Upon exit my fitting room to look in the mirror, I was accosted by a parent of a Journalism student.  The parent was upset about an article her child had published in the school paper, and was demanding that I explain myself and reasoning to her.  So, there I stood, in an ill-fitting bathing suit, with an angry woman blocking the door to my fitting room, demanding that I explain how I had allowed her daughter write an article and publish it in the school paper.  (I want to add at this point, that this is the same article I sent home for her parents approval.  The same article that came back with a parent's signature and a rather terse note asking why the parents were being asked to "edit" the article.  After all, wasn't that my job?)  I attempted to politely extract myself from the situation, but the parent would have none of that, still refusing to allow me entrance to my fitting room.  The entire situation ended with store employees having to intervene.  Several days later, the parent showed up at school for a parent conference.  When I showed her the paper with her signature and snarky letter granting me permission to use and publish the article, all I received from the woman was an "Oh" before she left.  No apology for her rudeness or impertinence.

There's never an apology, by the way.  I have been witness to many parent conferences over my career where parents come into the school building yelling, and screaming, and cursing out the entire school.  Even when they are proven wrong in their assumptions or false conclusions (or discover that their precious child lied outright to them), there is never an, "I'm sorry."  It is always the same.  "Oh."

Yes, in today's world, we are getting closer and closer to Orwell's dystopian universe.  Emails, phone calls, websites, and blogs are all monitored.  People are being punished, disciplined and fired for making disparaging remarks about their employers.  The government is attempting in control everything.  Professionals are having to spend more and more time justifying decisions and choices than actually working.  Everything is being scrutinized.  Every decision is examined by a multitude of people.  Every person is placed under a microscope.

Now, while I agree that there should, naturally, be some measure of checks and balances in place.  Not all teachers good.  Not all government decisions are bad.  But, there needs to be some level of common sense injected into every situation.  Where has our common sense gone?  If people do not find it, and start using it, we are all really going to see firsthand, George Orwell's vision of the future.

Remember, Big Brother is Watching...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

So What If I Don't Have A Penis?

"So what if I don't have a penis?!?!" the boy shouted across the room. The rest of the class immediately bursts into hysterical laughter. The teacher, who was expecting it, dissolved into a fit of giggles. The young man smiles proudly, and receives high praise from the whole class and the teacher for his excellent delivery.

Oh, and I suppose I should mention that this is not a fictional anecdote. Nope, not at all. This was the scene in my classroom about an hour ago. And, I must admit, I am immensely impressed with that student. Actually, I am impressed with most all of my students today.

Today was the culmination of two weeks worth of studying, analyzing, and reading drama in my summer school classroom. Today, the students got a chance to showcase their acting abilities, and their creativity.  Students broke into small groups to perform their version of David Ives' one-act play, "Sure Thing".  I am not sure which I found more impressive today: my group of all girls who performed a modernized version of the play complete with "grills" or my three groups of all boys who actually embraced playing the role of the "girl".  One thing I can say for certain, the class enjoyed the activity.  And that, I will gladly count as a success.

Oh, and it was pretty entertaining to hear all of them proudly shout across the room my favorite line from the play, "So what if I don't have a penis?"  ;)