A Loss For Words

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I don’t know what to write today.  However, I’m going to give you ten minutes of my time and we’ll see if anything awesome comes of it.  I wanted to give you a brain dump, but I didn’t find enough research.  Maybe I should tell you about work.

I don’t write very many things about being a teacher.  This week has been particularly stressful and reminded me of… I don’t know what.  All sorts of things about teachers and why we should be treated better in AZ.

Here’s why…

1.  Parents:  Mostly I don’t have problems with parents, but there is generally one every year who can’t understand that her (it’s always a mom) child must earn his/her grade.  I do not arbitrarily hand out grades based on how much I like a student.  Therefore, “I understand that your son put a lot of effort into those chapters he wrote.  I’m glad that he’s being creative, and 8 pages is a lot of writing.  However, the assignment was to write an essay about one of the short stories we read this quarter, so… no.  I can’t give him partial credit.  Why not?  Well, the novel your son turned in did not include a thesis statement, correctly cited quotes from the text, or any of the other requirements laid out on the assignment sheet.”

2.  Data:  There are nine students failing my 5th period class and 6 students with Ds.  On average, the students who are failing are missing 6 assignments and have been absent 6.5 times.  In reality, there are a few of those kids who are failing who haven’t been absent at all and 2 of them who have been absent 16 times each.  I know these things (and about a million other stats on them) because when we hit the end of the semester and students are surprised that the F they’ve had all semester is now on their permanent transcripts… I will be able to explain to them that, “I’m sorry you have been caught off guard by this, but if you didn’t have 16 absences, you may had a shot at passing my class,” and “The 6 assignments you’re missing are worth 35% of your grade, so in order to pass my class without turning those in, you would have needed to get an A on every assignment you did turn in.”  Teachers collect an impossible amount of data.  We collect data on how many times students text in our class, how many times we call their parents, how many times they’ve gone to the bathroom, what time it was when they made out with their boy/girlfriend outside the classroom, which expletives they’ve used and in what context, what they said to the Special Ed kid to make him cry, how many times they took insolin in our classroom last quarter, how many times they’ve written essays about marijuana, whether or not they hold the book abnormally close to their faces, how many bruises they have a week… Some of this data is informal, but I’m not going to lie.  It’s overwhelming to try to keep records of all of these things and more.  I love teaching, and of course I want to be the kind of teacher who is observant.  However, there are some moments when I really am just trying to communicate to students that the Transcendentalists in America were responding to a highly Theocratic and prescriptive society that cared little for individuals – so that they can correctly answer the multiple choice question I know they’re all going to get wrong on the test at the end of the semester… because it’s a difficult question to answer.

3. Relationships:  I’ve been going slightly insane lately, and I’ve talked to a couple of people about this more than once, and I was really trying to talk myself into having close-knit relationships with impossible numbers of people.  Of course I was capable (and even enthusiastic about) talking to everyone all the time and being their shoulder to cry on during the summer.  I like being that person.  However, when this school year started, my shoulder took on the added weight of 68 new students, and picked the weight back up of any students I’ve taught in the past who still need me.  I think my greatest strength in teaching is building relationships with students.  I’m able to care about kids who most teachers don’t even see.  This semester, I’ve gotten visits and emails from about 35 students who don’t even have my class anymore.  14 of those were classroom visits (see what I mean about documenting/data) that involved some sort of big news like “Remember how I told you that I was going to adopt my friend’s unborn child because my boyfriend gave me gonorrhea, which led to Pelvic Inflamatory Disease and infirtility?  Well… Turns out I actually could (and did) get pregnant… with twins.  But I’m going to have to raise the kids alone because I got in a fight with their father last week and sliced his forearm open with a knife.  I love him, though.  He just doesn’t think we should go forward with the marriage,”  and things like “Ms. James, I’m going to fail senior English and not graduate.  Will you re-teach me all that stuff from your class about essay writing?  The Senior paper is due online at midnight,” and occasionally things like “How’s it goin’, Ms. James?  “Thank you for helping me graduate.  I know I was hard to work with, but I’ve been working as a welder for a couple of years and now I’ve decided to go to college.  It meant a lot that you never gave up on me.”  In addition to those kinds of visits at school, I run into students out in the real world kind of a lot, and they all expect me to remember things like… well, their names (it seems basic until I’m standing in front of the kid who quietly got a ‘C’ in my class 2 years ago), what grades they got, that one paper they were SO proud of, their favorite book, their favorite tv show, that one time when that other kid (who neither of us can fully remember) did that one really embarassing thing in front of the whole class, the advise I gave them about their boyfriend, the school blood drive that year and how I was in the chair next to them when they gave blood for the first time, the shirt they wore that I teased them about, the bad haircut they had, their picture in the yearbook, which desk they sat in, what I said about September 11th that year, the critical comment I made on a paper that made them hate me for several weeks, that time when they sprinted out of Taco Bell to avoid having to talk to me in public, the thing I said that helped them finally understand why teachers always mark them down for writing passive sentences, how they thought their dad was going to die from a brain tumor  – but in my class they forgot about that for just long enough to maintain sanity…

I know that people know that teachers are underappreciated, but I don’t think they have any idea why.  It isn’t because we don’t get paid enough.  I knew I wasn’t going to get rich off of being a teacher.  It isn’t even because kids occasionally call me a bitch or stick gum under a desk so that I get a nice wet surprise when I tidy up the room at the end of the day.  The thing that gets me is that I go home and because I don’t tell these ALL TRUE stories all the time, people feel hurt and confused when I ask for a few minutes to just sit and stare or to play RockBand or go for a run.  Of course I don’t want to lose my job every year.  But what really would be great is EVERYONE would take a step back and recognize that being cut off in traffic isn’t a crisis.  We don’t need to talk about how it made you feel.  Of course you’re angry.  Having a disagreement with someone at work isn’t all that urgent.  Life is MORE.  Part of the reason that people my age and (probably Americans in general) face discontent is that we talk about things that are insignificant as if they are ENORMOUS.  We talk instead of listening.  We talk instead of laughing.  We talk istead of singing.  We talk instead of playing.  We even talk instead of being still and knowing God – knowing that HE IS.  We talk.  We talk.  We talk.  We talk.  And no matter how we convince ourselves that we’re outgoing and extraverted and that we love people… WE NEED TO BE SILENT BEFORE GOD SOMETIMES.  We need to be silent before other people sometimes.  We need to be silent before tragedy and loss.  We need to be silent before blessings and joy. 

I started this entry feeling like I was at a loss for words, and I ended the entry ranting about how we ought to quit word-vomitting and BE STILL. 


*Interruption:  The beauty of life is evident in the fact that a student just came to visit me in the middle of writing this.  It was my lunch when he walked in, which was followed by my planning period, which was followed by 7th period.  It is now after the school day has ended, and this student just left my room.  I’ve written about him before in my entry about Working Late.  I will probably be working late again.  Here are two funny things he said while visiting.

“Getting punched in the face is inconvenient.”

“I’m the ultimate woman whisperer.”


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