The Terms of My Divorce (Part III)
[The stunning conclusion to my teaching memoirs. Parts I and II are ready for you here and here. The original article (Melanie Hubbard’s “Too Much to Ask”) which caused this mess is also still available right here.]
Unfortunately for everyone involved, I love a challenge. And screaming. I ended up using every resource available to me to reign those kids in. I remember distinctly there being a day where I left my classroom Scanners mad. You know, so frustrated that you’re glad the thoughts flying out of your brain can’t explode a bystander’s head. I just didn’t know what to do. The kids weren’t learning and I was (essentially) wasting my time and effort trying.
It was then I realized that I wasn’t going to let them win. I mean, c’mon here, I’m the adult. I’m in the position to cause them pain. Not going to pay attention in class? That’s fine, I’m doubling the workload regardless. You can either run to catch up or pray that your next seventh-grade teacher will be a bit more accommodating.
My class had been learning one new vocabulary word a week. One! Everyday the teacher would start the class with them reading it (one!) off the board. Then someone would read the definition. Someone else would use it in a sentence. Every friggin’ day.
I started writing five words (accompanied with their definitions) on the board every week. We’d go over them just once, on Monday, as they copied them down. After that it was their responsibility to study and learn them for the quiz on Friday. I had other things to teach (like boring grammar!); I have no time to help you when you should be helping yourself.
Mrs. Hubbard notes that her fellow teachers told her that she couldn’t assign homework. ‘Cuz the students just wouldn’t do it. Who is running her class (or school)? Kids aren’t going to ask for more responsibility (if they’re smart at least). That’s one of the true life skills school imparts: refusal for and eventual acceptance of responsibility. (Along with learning to obey the clock.)
If they refuse to do homework, they’ll have a much tougher time passing. If they don’t pass, then you’ll be seeing them again next year. Eventually they’ll get the hint. No one wants to be in the same grade as their own child. That kind of shit is just embarrassing.
Hubbard felt that since the office and her peers were on the same page concerning homework that her hands were tied. But who’s listening to the suits in the office anyway? They’re not down in the trenches. Which is an important fact and bargaining chip. They don’t want to be in the trenches with you. That’s why they took administrative jobs (that and the money). Don’t listen to them. What are they going to do? Fire you? You’re thinking about quitting anyway!
Mrs. Hubbard quit her job before I wrote this. So how’s that any different? She’s out of the job either way. At least my way she’d have left with a bit of pride intact. Unpopular decisions is another thing that teaching is all about.
A certain Mr. Davis (who will play a much larger role in this series) [Zing! “This series” officially died with this one, ‘cuz I really have nothing but hatred and spite for the man above and his equally evil wife.] once asked me, “Five words a week? Don’t you feel that’s a bit much?” It took all my self control not to laugh into the phone. He was (is still?) another teacher. He should’ve known that a goal of learning five new words a week is perfectly within the realm of what a seventh-grader can do. I instead informed him that my peers had advised me to boost the weekly regimen to twenty. I thought that’d be a bit much to take on so soon, and was slowly working on increasing their tolerance. So I split the difference twice and came up with five. Plus it’s a prime number. Take that four! Now anyone reading these blogs (this includes you!, but maybe not you) knows I’m subhuman. So if I can recognize that there’s a problem with the way the class had been running, you’d think the rest of the county would jump on board. I was sure Mr. Davis’ golden child could surely do a mere five words. It’s practically a bargain!
No, I didn’t feel I was being unreasonable. Just because they hadn’t been doing something didn’t mean they couldn’t. It just meant you’ve been lazy. Or complacent. Possibly both.
In all fairness, in this instance not all the blame can be placed on Mr. Davis and his brethren. I made few friends in the school’s administrative staff with my hardline stance. The principal (named Mr. Wilson!) was against it. His policy was that no student could fail. This was gospel. It was our job to pass them, no matter what. Like Mrs. Hubbard, Mr. Wilson and myself didn’t agree on this. Unlike Mrs. Hubbard I had no fear about losing my job.
The kids had to pass. Or what? He’d fire me? Reread a few paragraphs back. No one wanted to be here. I was all they had at this point. Get rid of me and there was no assurance that there’d even be a body in that classroom everyday. My temporal status as a sub became my greatest defense.
It’s a defense Hubbard failed to utilize.
I do occasionally feel sorry for the children. It’s doesn’t bode well for them that no one has any faith in their abilities. Hell, I’ve spent my entire life trying to convince my acquaintances that they should expect less from me; ‘cuz clearly I’m not capable of greatness. Or even mediocrity. And no one believes me!
Imagine how these kids must feel. The people who don’t feel they’re capable don’t even have the balls to tell them that. The students are effectively being called dumb behind their collective back. Before they’ve had the chance to prove themselves