Monday, August 29, 2005

I Tease Because I Care

Optimism had it where the start of my second year would be exponentially smoother and more successful than my first time around the horn. Reality, however, had the two pitted more closely together, and I suppose that’s probably just about right. We all grow and learn at slow paces. Truth be told, two of my three classes this semester have gotten themselves off to a wonderful start. The remaining one would even test the patience of Mother Theresa, so I can’t get too down on myself there. I feel pretty good, and I’ve been able to use some quizzes and worksheets I created last year, but somehow I’m still busier than a single mother. It’s all rather curious, don’t you agree?

My day starts with a preparatory period, where I’m given an hour and twenty minutes to grade papers, make photocopies, and indulge in heaping mounds of cheesecake provided by the student council in the teacher’s lounge (This, by the way, is the reason why no matter how often I eat properly at home and exercise, I am unable to lose even an ounce of body girth. I’m not saying I’m Kirstie-Alley-fat, but I can’t seem to get myself to 170 pounds. It’s as if the Gods of Delicatessen Desserts will it so). I had this preparatory block at the END of the day last year, which was wonderful because I was able to grade and plan everything after all of the classes were over. It was as if the day ended an hour and twenty minutes sooner. But this new way makes me feel sad like raindrops and lost kitties. It’s like I’m just needlessly at school way too early. Granted, I’d get a lot done no matter what part of the day my prep was, but it’s a psychological thing. It’s like doing all the hard problems on a test first so you can get them out of the way. From there you cruise… Take a moment to digest my analogy. I’ll be down here.

Down HERE! See, I complain about my prep being at the start of the day, but that’s NOTHING compared to what I endure second block. Before I get going on this one, understand that I’m bitching about the first half of my day because it is not particularly pleasurable. Actually, this part is distinctly unenjoyable, but I’d like to adamantly reassure you all that I do still love teaching very much, as you are sure to read about when I beam about my last two classes of the day. That disclaimer out of the way, allow me to explain to you all about English for Life.

This class exists as a required senior English course for students with pretty specific records of poor behavior and lousy attendance. I inherited this class when I took the Olympia job last summer because no one else wanted it. Colleagues talk about it now like it’s some mutant form of a black plague that slowly deteriorates both male and female genitalia and eventually results in fire. Last year’s experience with this class was a complete nightmare. The kids never shut up, and half of them are absent more often than Clay Aiken at a heterosexual convention. I knew this year’s class was going to be bad as well when a teacher in department told me she had most of this year’s class in English 3 the year previous, and they made her question whether or not she was enrolled in the proper profession. I’m telling you, these kids are enough to make you go sterile. They don’t listen, the loathe authority, and some of them could care less whether or not they graduate. The amazing this is that one of the special ed teachers who worked with a number of last year’s English for Life students said that they all loved the class and thought I was a great teacher. Figures, right? It’s a perfect example of how sometimes there are just way more long-term rewards to educating than short-term ones. I’m four days into this new class, and I’ve already torn out enough hair to be mistaken for Patrick Stewart, but if these kids really are going to get something out of the class (as last year’s students did), I guess it’s worth putting up with all of the severely painful headaches. The Good Lord knows I’m going to have at least a baker’s dozen. Daily. Some things are bigger than noggin pain.

My English 2 sophomores are a conglomerate of great new kids and some of my old favorites from last year. I had previously taught at least half the class before this year, and many of those had requested me as a teacher, so it ended up being a pretty good chemistry of kids. It’s an American Literature class with a non-existent curriculum (that’s right, I’m expected to make it up as I go along! Ha!), but so far so good! I’m trying to cover some things that will really interest them, and they seem to be responsive so far. Sophomores and freshmen are infinitesimally better than upperclassmen, as they are more open to listening and obeying. As young’ns, they still maintain a small (very, very small) amount of respect for adults (of which I now consider myself one), and that definitely works to my advantage. The other nice thing is that younger students are still trying to act more like kids than pseudo-adults. They don’t mind acting a little silly here and there, where seniors are much Too Cool for such things. Blah… the younger goombas are just more fun. Personal opinion. You’re welcome to disagree, but if you do I’ll hate you forever and potentially cause you physical harm.

Last block of the day are my freshmen, and I’ve got a feeling that this could be the brightest class of 14 year-olds I’ve had so far. We discussed a short story today for 45 minutes without getting off topic even once! I know for a fact that’s a record for me personally, and it may be a Mclean County record as well. I don’t know for sure. I’ll have check county records. I’ll be in touch. In all seriousness, these students are impressing the pants off of me (which is highly inappropriate—administration frowns upon pantslessness) with their wit and ability to debate and discuss. If God is as good as everyone keeps telling me, he’ll allow these students to resume this impressive pace so I can end my days a whole helluva lot better than I start them. I need a class like that as a beautiful gold bookend, ya know? The bookend on the other side is rotting wood.

Okay, maybe I exaggerate a little, and perhaps I’m overly cynical and joking about how my days go, but the certainty in all of this is that I’m still doing well with the teaching thing. I enjoy what I do, and sometimes I’m surprised that I get paid for doing what I do. I’m a lucky guy to be able to hop out of bed gleefully in the morning because I’m excited about heading to work. It’s definitely better than working at a sweat shop or random factory (The Graham Cracker Factory? Perhaps the Plastic Scissor Handle Factory? I’m just brainstorming here). As much as I tease my profession, I thoroughly enjoy it. As I tell my students: “I tease because I care.”

That pretty much sums it up.

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