Tuesday, January 19, 2010

a pleasure to have in class

To say I can identify only two individuals in my history of teaching that I was glad to have removed from my classes makes me feel both relieved and sorrowful. Despite telling myself at the end & beginning of each day that things might be better, ultimately I felt better overall if they were absent. Though better was served with a side of shitty.

Some people unfortunately live & breathe to disrupt, they are catalysts for mayhem no matter what kind of management techniques a teacher employs, and their behavior steals my time & energy & efforts from the other students. But my job is to keep trying to make connections, to figure out how these people can learn. And they are somebody's children, entrusted to me for a few hours each day. I would want teachers to try and keep trying, even if they found my kids unpleasant.

But these two people I'm remembering were not necessarily unpleasant; occasionally they were rather charming & funny. And they weren't unruly in the classic sense - paper-throwers, note-passers, chatters, wanderers; they didn't stage any of the obvious classroom pranks like chair-pulling or tripping. Instead, they were duplicitous and deceitful though not in the aren't-you-clever-shame-on-me-for-falling-for-it way that some kids use when they're trying on personae. These two pretended to cultivate a connection when I asked about their interests & activities - they might even have lied to me about those things. When it was convenient for them, they would smile and nod and say they understood the assignment or my reasons for moving them away from friends. When they felt threatened - when classmates weren't interested in their coy way of snowing the teacher - they would ignore me, or shout that they weren't doing anything wrong, loudly accusing me of always picking on them.

But my real issue with these students is not so much their behavior; what they did was a symptom of bigger problems in their lives or their minds, which is why I waver between the relief of having them gone from my classroom and the sorrow of having failed to help them turn a corner. My real issue is their unwillingness to accept any responsibility for their behaviors and attempt to make changes.

I come back to the fact that even though they're teenagers and live in grown-up-looking bodies, they are still technically children; they are still forming their values and weighing their options for Real Life. Ideally, one would hope they might look to their teachers for some guidance and appreciate what we have to offer. To be clear, I'm not put out that a couple of kids rejected my particular form of education - I regularly ask for, and use, input from students when evaluating my classes and believe me, it's not always blissful gratitude and proclamations of my perfection. Frankly, it's not ever those things. But I appreciate the real-ness of those kids who do make efforts to be involved, to be present, to ask questions and accept help. Even if they do all those things grudgingly, they've at least given me a chance.

I hope someday those two realize how I tried, because I thought they were worth it. But there is only so much I can do against someone's will.