The Terms of My Divorce (Part I)

[This was actually one of the blogs that convinced me to keep writing a blog. I was so tired of explaining to people why I stopped teaching, that I decided to write it down and just direct them here. Good luck!]

Melanie Hubbard wrote an article for Tbt (Tampa Bay Times) called “Too Much To Ask.”  It’s a disasterous recounting of her equally disasterous “career” as a high school English teacher.  According to her credentials she should be talented, or have some talent.  After reading her stories, though, one finds she actually earned her doctorate at Columbia University in being a “punching bag.”

She took a job as a permanent substitute to escape the grind of being a perpetually part-time university professor at USF.  Her second chosen profession mirrored my own teaching stint in that we were both permanent subs.  I never stooped to being a punching bag though.

Hubbard’s first mistake was believing that the kids would listen to her because she has a title.  To quote the Locust (who played a key role in getting me “over” with the kids), “Haven’t you heard yet?  No one listens to anyone anyhow.”  This is true in life, doubly true in a classroom.

The only things kids understand and identify with are flaws.  This is because 98% of us will join the ranks of the Morlocks at some point, if we’re not already amongst them.  Some become hideous after graduating high school; others (like myself) were born grotesque and have no choice but to bask in it.  This is how you earn their respect. 

Most students are coming from homes that are either broken or held together by the hope that it won’t break in the near future.  Projecting the image of being a flawless doctor coming in to impart your wisdom to a bunch of kids is something an ass would do.  Of course they’re going to call you out on it.  I would too.  (It’s probably her “ass-stuck-up-pid-ness” that prevented any university from hiring her full-time in the first place.)  By showing off your flaws you give the children something to grasp onto. 

My students knew that I wasn’t a genius.  I would tell them that had I been born intelligent, I would’ve taken a job that paid in money, instead of insults.  (Psst… kids identify with failure too!)  I remember one time the kids acting incredulous because I looked up the answer to one of their science questions in front of them.
“But you’re the teacher!,” they cried.  “You’re supposed to know these things.”

“What you’re forgetting,” I replied, “is that I don’t care.  This situation here is why we have books; for the answers.”
So the kids knew that I: couldn’t count past four (which I demonstrated numerous times for the (gasp!) non-believers), was addicted to crackers and diet soda and loved the mall.  This made me human in their pubescing eyes.  More importantly though, was that they also knew that I could talk their ears off about grammar. 

You’re being paid to be the center of their attention for an hour a day.  So yeah, they’re going to tear you apart.  Or at least try to.  What would you do in that situation?  Probably the same thing.  My own misanthropy is well documented in these blogs.  So you give the kids something to start with; preferably something that doesn’t bug you so much.  Damage control before the actual damage occurs.

Hubbard writes in horror about a group of kids who joked around with her before skewering her in a story in front of the class.  A story about “a tiny ‘new teacher’ with sweaty armpits and vampirish ways!”  She acts as if that description is insulting.  No where does she mention if their story was any good.  Which would be the true test.  If their tale is nothing but a collection of obvious insults, then yes, it’s a hack job.  Tear them apart.  But if has that creative spark, perhaps she should start looking past herself. 

I remember teaching poetry to my class and really disliking it.  Now I had never been much of a fan of poetry to begin with, so a lot of that baggage was mine (i.e. all of it).  But you can only read Riki-Tiki-Tavi so many times before you start to get tired of cobras and mongooses.  (Which, clearly, should be an impossibility.  “Tired of cobras and mongooses!?!”  How I’ve drifted…)  So to share the pain I felt in teaching poetry I used the age-old torture method: make the students write poems.

[The Terms of My Divorce (Part II) shares the aftermath of forcing children to write poems at grade-point. It’s amazing how some kids will impress you when put to the test.]


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