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23 September 2006

Road to Societal Suicide, Next Exit (3 Miles)

A former student who transferred to a bigger school in the next county dropped by for a visit yesterday, her school system having the day off. She mentioned that it is easier to feel lost in the bigger school and she felt sad coming back to see her friends, but that one of the advantages of the larger school is the lack of interpersonal drama. Her point was that since you don’t know your classmates or teachers nearly as well, you don’t have the small town gossiping and scheming. Nor the provincialism, I gather.

Ah, the provincial. Like that student, I love it and hate it. I don’t hold it in disdain, like the cognoscenti do, but I’m not going to pass over its rotten spots with sentiment either. People in general can be vicious, and charming small-town types are not exempt.

Witness yesterday, when I found out about 15 minutes before school was over that our newest English teacher was taking her toys, and books and furniture, and going home for good. She was already retired, you see, but in our state you can start pulling retirement benefits and go back to work for a regular salary as well, when a teaching slot desperately needs filling. Having taught for thirty years, mostly at a rival high school, she thought last year was going to be it when her part time position was dissolved. But when a last minute need arose at our school, she was approached about the position and accepted it.

Quite unbeknownst to me, her senior classes had been giving her absolute hell, perhaps because she was a stranger, or perhaps because the teacher’s name that showed up on their schedules this summer was the one they got mentally prepared for. In any case, it seems these future guardians of our civilization started rebelling against her en masse, and she had been in tears every day this week. They fought her on tardies, they fought her on schoolwork, they fought her by not shutting up, and then fought her by talking back to her as if she were their shop girl. Sure they got written up, and were forced to apologize, but eventually they wore her down, one month into the school year. She told me they would actually get just as much out of a sub for the rest of the year, since they had made up their minds about her.

And the thing is, she was a good teacher – the type I aspire to be one day. So, allow me to vent, oh, just a little. I totally understand why she decided to give it up. I really do. But I hate the fact that these kids, a few of whom are real assholes, got the satisfaction of driving her off. Exactly who the hell do they think they are? And how can anyone deal with them now that they are no doubt drunk with power? Some of them didn’t intend this, I’m sure, but the thing about these kids, even though they often can’t stand each other, is that their solidarity is strong. Even those who don’t go with the crowd won’t oppose it.

I really want to know what Principal Goldberg is thinking. He’s accomplished and impressive, but he’s young and has never administrated a high school. Yesterday, when I left, he had a bit of the deer-in-headlights look. I believe he will respond and get a grip on these kids, I really do. But it needs to happen now.

The whole episode also makes me reflect on whether I would ever get pushed by certain kids to the point of no return, as it were. Of course, I’m still relatively young and hot-blooded compared to someone with thirty years in; I’m also a typical man when it comes to matters of pride. But trying to put all emotion aside, I’ll be damned if I ever give some 17-year old punk or punkette the satisfaction of determining my retirement. They’d have to forcibly remove me from the classroom before I let them defeat me. If I’m blessed to be here and am still blogging in twenty-five years, you can hold me to that.

In a sense, though, this is a sign of a society defeating itself. Teachers shouldn't have to be reliant on their own iron wills in order to survive at what they love doing. We have to be mentally strong, but we're not supposed to be soldiers, for God's sake. I'm not going to hearken back to a particular hallowed time period, but dammit, I know it wasn't always this way.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

wow. Again, I'm in tears at a very well-written post. I got my degree in English Teaching, but I found that I lacked the guts to carry through. Some can, I can't. You've effectively captured all my feelings on the subject. Keep up the good work -- both in and out of the classroom.

middleagedhousewife said...

I blame the prinicpal. I can't think of anything that could have been done to fix the situation that doesn't, ultimately, go back to the head of the school.
How sad that is has come to this but we can't say we didn't see it...

dick said...

I can see blaming the principal a little bit but I also blame the parents of the kids who allowed them to grow up thinking that this was acceptable behavior. I grew up in a small city in the midwest and I can tell you that if we had behaved this way with out teachers there would have been hell to pay from our parents. I can even remember when the head of the school board came to the high school with his son and took him around to all his teachers and told the teachers in front of his son that if the kid misbehaved he wanted to know about it so the kid could be corrected in his actions. Now I live in NYC and I can tell you that the parents here are just looking for a lawsuit against the teacher if junior doesn't get his way. I also know which way I prefer.

School Master P said...

To maybe hearten you guys a little, here's this: I called a dad on Friday after his daughter smart-mouthed me and told me I was treating her like a kindergartner for making her raise her hand and ask before leaving her seat. I had taught his other daughter, as well as this one, before, so he knows me pretty well. He was pissed, I could tell, and told me he'd handle it. Today she was very quiet, and after class handed me a note. She was totally embarassed. The note said, "Sorry for disrupting your class. Please don't let anyone else see this."

middleagedhousewife said...

I was the youngest of 6. My oldest brother graduated in June of the year that I started first grade. I had the same teachers my five sibs had, rode the same bus and was chatised in the same way -probably with the very same ruler. Had any of my teachers ever had the need to call, they would not have had to look up the number. It was a small town and everyone knew everyone.
I am in my sons' classes on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis as either a volunteer or that-boy's-mom-that-brings-pizza. I did it when the oldest started k-garten in 1985 and I will continue til the current 5th grader graduates, hopefully 2014.
I've seen a lot of changes and, like Schoolboy, I s'pect I'll see many more. I consider lack of respect for authority as one of the biggest challenges teachers deal with. For whatever reason, education is not a priority in a particular child's home so one cannot expect him to strive for the "highest AR points" trophy at year's end. Because he is not in it, he will belittle the AG program and the kids that leave class early to go down the hall. Because he is not capable of doing the work, he will disrupt the class and keep them back.
BUT that's MY son he's holding back. That's MY sons' classes he/they are disrupting.
It's not my child acting out. My children know the consequences. Good parenting cannot be legislated. There comes an age when the student is old enough to know better. "Those' kids know what they're doing and they know it's wrong. When can we stop wringing our hands and simply let these kids go home and allow the rest of class to proceed with learning? Unless I missed something, the legal age to drop out is 16.

School Master P said...

MiddleAged,

I'm all for you. If someone asked me the number one problem today in high schools, I would boil it down to this: there are too many kids there who don't WANT to be there. They aren't interested, and aren't going to do anything except disrupt class. Either they come because they aren't yet 16, or their parents (or some authority figure) makes them come. But they have no motivation on their own to come and do well. Yet, we have to waste time and resources on them, when we could devote even more time and attention to the majority of kids who DO want to be there (most days, anyway).

What will get pointed out to you when you make this argument, however, is that if everyone who needs to just stay away was kicked out of the school, enrollments would dip and position would be cut. But I swear that only getting rid of a tiny minority would make a huge difference.