Monday, April 19, 2010

mediocrity

Most people have at least a few strong memories - some positive & loving, some more murderous disagreeable - about their childhood teachers. Those of us who chose to become educators usually have particularly vivid visions of great teaching because of certain teachers. Of course I remember the cute ones (foxy, golden, mustached Mr. Hummel taught Geography) and the fun ones (young & vibrant yet non-threatening Senorita Baker) and I can recall a few things I learned from them, but there are a select few who stand out as brilliant examples for my career.

I go through most days thinking of Mr. Barker from 11th grade English because he not only brought us edgy literature (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and corresponding movies we'd never have watched on our own (Cool Hand Luke), he was also reasonable, smartly wacky, and never allowed students to keep acting stupid. I frequently quote him ("Don't be sorry, be efficient."), or want to but am not sure I can pull it off ("Never teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.") He is what I want to be, and some days I think I'm close.

I also loved Mr. Carroll, who asked every few days (mildly jokingly) if I was on drugs [I was not] because my pupils were apparently often dilated. But I didn't just love him because he was seemingly concerned about my health - his attention was directed at drawing me out, making me talk. It was during the College Prep English class he taught that I discovered an appreciation for philosophy via Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance along with an everlasting love of John Keats and the Romantic poets. When I can make timely, droll remarks and connect with kids, I fondly think of Mr. Carroll.

Sometimes, like today, I recall a teacher who was not necessarily horrid (Mr. Lived-With-His-Mother-At-Forty) or ridiculously ineffective (Hello, Football-Coach-Who-Clearly-Never-Took-A-History-Course) but simply blah - the unfortunate Ms. A who taught Sophomore English. I remember her seeming too old to be sporting a perky blonde bob and though I don't recall anything specific, I believe she often attempted to sound "cool" during class discussions by using teenspeak; there was an aura of desperation surrounding this woman and while I could muster some sympathy, mostly I felt disdainful. I was a rabid reader, ready to dive in and devour whatever was put in front of me, but meek Ms. A's stumbly, mushy approach to Romeo & Juliet [which is all I remember reading/watching/doing during that semester] was a major letdown. My interest was piqued by the nuances of Shakespeare, I felt something deeper than just families at odds and young love, but our class didn't go there; we even watched Zeffirelli's steamy movie version but still - never talked about the ferocity of real passion.

I was off my game this morning during my poetry class. I came in thinking of going in one direction and at the last minute decided to change - sometimes that works in my favor but today, no. I stumbled and bumbled, trying desperately to drum up enthusiasm in the kids who insist they can't write while the ones who are already sold & eager sat uncomfortably wondering what to do next. It ended in a brief showdown with a few girls who had been chatting the entire effing time; while I didn't shriek, I did not handle them smartly and class ended with a weak wimper. When I looked in the mirror during lunch, I imagined the bland Ms. A looking back at me. It made me sad for both of us.

10 comments:

Stu said...

You are not Mrs. A, you just had a Mrs. A day. I have seen your students interact with you and you are a teacher they remember for all the good reasons you remember a teacher.

Ami said...

Everyone has off days.

And you're completely leaving out the fact that teenagers, even on their best days, can be a real pain in the ass.

::singing the Angsty Doodle Dandy song:::

The heart that you bring to your work shows in your posts.

Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

I can't top Mr. S's comment. He's right, you know.

scargosun said...

I like what Stu said, you had a Mrs A day. It's ok. I am SURE you have MANY Mr. Carroll days. :)

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I had that day yesterday--it was the first time it has happened. Everything just felt off-kilter.

I am sure Stu is right and I am going to remember that for myself.

Mrs. G. said...

Write if off. You'll get your Barker mojo back in no time.

Texan Mama @ Who Put Me In Charge said...

I love it that you care about whether or not your students are getting a quality teacher in you.

THEY ARE, but it's wonderful that you are concerned. Many teachers nowadays just want to punch the clock and leave.

When I get in situations like yours, the only way I can deal with it is to completely just fess up. I have to tell them, We all have off days and I am having one right now! I wanted to tell you something really exciting but it's just not coming out right. Let's try it again tomorrow, okay?

Not that that approach always works, but they appreciated my honesty. Well, that was 10 years ago since I've been in a classroom, but I still remember it. I think.

brandy101 said...

I had a cool male English teacher, too, my senior year. He was also the tennis coach. He drove a porsche. Yes, you read that right .

*sigh*

Anonymous said...

my 4th grade teacher Mr Coyne, sat me down on the steps one day and had a long talk with me. I was frustrating him and he thought we should talk about it. It was the most amazing conversation, 40+ years later I still remember it, I think he was the first person who Really saw who I was. I would imagine, that there are kids you've taught who remember you the same way. Cut yourself some slack for a bad day. kl crab

MelADramatic Mommy said...

Even Michael Jordan had an off game every now and then. Don't beat yourself up.

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