I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed, but teaching is hard. It’s not hard like I suppose brain surgery probably is — like if you get it wrong then someone’s head could explode or result in death. It’s probably not hard like saving people from a burning building, or even designing and building bridges or buildings. The difference in teaching and those other professions, to me, is simple: the number of potential bodies in one spot for a specified amount of time with no way out!!

Here’s what I’m saying, as succinctly as possible: I worry for the future. Now, I’m only basing my hyperbole on the population of teenagers in one rural high school. But  even with that small number, I weep for the future.

And every time  I think those thoughts — you know, the ones where the only thing that could possibly save us all IS a zombie apocalypse? — I have a meeting with a parent who’s crying over his/her teen because there’s no words to get across to said-teen that the world is not a nice place at the moment, and the ONLY advantage one MIGHT have is going to be a high school diploma — which may or may not be a tangible the teen has bought into.

My classes this semester are 10 to 1 boys over girls. Something happened to the water supply, or something, because there are NO girls in this particular cohort. And, just like all good little boys, they distrust ALL authority figures, but especially the ones who can wear a dress (without getting laughed at). Needless to say, my year has been challenging on a different level than I’ve had since beginning my career in alternative schools. They actually wanted to argue with me over using the word “ain’t” when they write! I have NEVER had anyone argue over that! Here’s the typical conversation:

Me: When you write a formal paper — or something for a grade, please do not write the word “ain’t” — It’s not standard English, and I want people who read your writing to know that you know your topic.

(Typical) Students: But “ain’t” is in the dictionary.

Me: Yes, I know. And Shakespeare was one of the first writers to use it. However, it is a word that has come to mean a person is lazy or ignorant. When you write, it’s important to sound as smart as possible, so your reader will believe you. Appearances matter — especially when you might not meet the person/people who read your writing.

(Typical) Students: Okay.

See how simple that was? Seriously, that’s usually the extent of the exchange. We may have already done the lesson where we cut out pics from magazines that show formal  and informal items; then list formal and informal words (ex: going to vs. gonna). And I may have already talked about code-switching — or you talk differently to different people in your life, therefore, you’ll need to consider your audience when you write.

But this year’s group is having NONE of that typical stuff. They suspect EVERYTHING I tell them. E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G!! It is oh, so annoying, that I think I might actually lose some weight because I’ve had to start running in hopes of not committing a felony! haha….I was so frustrated yesterday that I could barely contain my trailer-trash thoughts of cussing the little kids out. Thank God the lunch bell rang! 😉

Then, today, I had an epiphany. They are teenagers. They are Holden Caulfields all, begging the world to right itself and not be so scary. They hear from their parents that times are hard and jobs scarce. They hear the news (or see a headline on Facebook), and know that something is not right with the world. This group of teens have NEVER known America to NOT be in a war. Can you imagine? And these are the thoughts I had just on the drive to school this morning. Then I met with a father whose son is failing miserably, all four of his classes, and who is sent out for behavior every single day (cumulatively). And this poor man — who is literally poor, not just figuratively — sat across from me and begged me to not give up on his kid. “He’s a good boy, ma’am. I wish you could have known him before now. He’s funny, he tries to make me feel better about not being able to find a job, and I love him. Please, help me keep him in school.” Yes, sir, I said…I’ll do what I can.

So, I found myself thinking afterwards that school is all about what we (teachers) are “selling” — and right now, at least to the teens I’m with every day, I seem to be selling snake oil, and they are having none of it. And I’m going to be okay with that. They ought to be questioning — I just need to show them how to question effectively, not disrespectfully, like in a I’m-never-going-to-believe-you way, but in a genuine I-want-to-know way. They ought to be able to be creative (for some reason, most of the students are loving the creative writing we’re doing right now); they ought to be able to work together in groups and help each other out.

I’m not peddling snake oil. The product I’m selling is a future that without a diploma, might be much more difficult than without. But I have to lighten up about “kids these days” because they are getting that from every place they come in contact with. There was a time when they liked learning and wanted to show their parents and teachers and whoever would listen what they could do NOW (“Did you see me…..?). And somewhere, we stopped listening — and they stopped trying it our way. Maybe that’s just growing up and not being the center of the universe, but I find that I don’t like it much. I need to do better.

“The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they know everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls. they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior,and dress.” (Peter the Hermit, 1274 <a leader of the first Crusade in the Middle Ages>– as quoted in Carol Jago’s Rigor for All, 2nd ed.)

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