Current/Recent Reading List

18 March 2007

Am I My Students' Keeper?

The teaching life should be pretty good for me right now. We are finished with the state writing test, we are edging towards the half-way point in the semester and are less than three weeks until spring break, and I don't have a lot of huge school responsibilities looming right now. And yet...

There is a constant dilemma for me, one that rears up from time to time and gives me a measure of emotional and spiritual trauma. Perhaps it is a function of inexperience, or perhaps it is a function of my personality, but I tend to have a hard time finding a necessary equilibrium when it comes to students and their problems, issues, and behavioral inadequacies. On the one hand I could, and do, spend considerable time being consumed with fretting. The other approach is to be an automoton, leave these problems at the office (so to speak), and even further, see the kids as nothing more than a parade of ever-changing faces who will come and go during a career in teaching.

I know teachers who take the latter approach, and I see the temptations to doing so myself. Who needs to worry so much about that which you can't control, and don't want to think about? Drugged-out parents? Raising their own siblings? Working 40 hours a week to help pay mom's medical bills? Filthy rich and spoiled from hands-off parenting? Hey, I've got my own problems, bud, and don't have time to worry about yours. Get to class, do the work (or not), get the grade, and get out.

As you can guess, however, I lean more the other way, and I think most teachers do. After all, teaching is a job that entails forming relationships, and should involve forming character. If you don't like people and hearing about their lives, you probably aren't going to be effective or happy as a teacher. What I have a hard time remembering is that being involved doesn't mean being in control, or completely responsible.

So last week I had to deal with a tearful Honduran girl begging to switch from first to second period because the rednecks and a Mexican kid do nothing but pick on her and her accent (and she always reacts badly, btw). I had to deal with the aforementioned redneck/roughneck boys and their various angry, surly, and disruptive attitudes. And then there was Friday. All the tenth graders in the county got to attend an a cappella musical performance at the county's civic center. I, of course, was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the chaperones. During the show, a group of our black boys were engaging in marginally disrespectful behavior. But after the show was over, they took it upon themselves to, in unison, yell out something inappropriate (I still don't get it, but it involved the word "nuts") for the 500 or so kids and teachers from the other schools to hear. I had to write down their names and sadly report the event to the principal when we returned.

The thing is, I shouldn't take this personally, but I do. I keep thinking there is something I could say, some sermon I could give, that would help all my kids see the light and magically attain maturity. Some of these troubled ones will straighten up, but many won't, and I'm not in control of any of them. I know - surprise, surprise, I'm not God.

I guess it's no wonder that the first week of summer always feels like the first week at detox.

1 comment:

locomotive breath said...

Most of these young people are fully formed by the time they reach you. You will not be able to do anything life-altering for them. Except for one or two. Find the one or two and take satisfaction in that.