Sunday, September 19, 2010

tiny tragedies

Teaching high school seniors is difficult because they are at once somewhat mature and therefore potentially more aware of the importance of Education while also weary of school and the idea that they still have to be there for 9 more months.

The class I am in charge of now for the first time ever is English 12, which requires them - in the next 9 weeks - to research a topic they are presumably interested in, form an opinion about it, write a persuasive paper, and get started on a project related to that topic. Helping students come up with something they are interested in might seem simple and possibly fun but let me tell you, with many it is akin to offering assistance with selecting a method of execution.

One of my students is a girl who listed "being funny" when I asked everyone to write down skills they have or want to develop. I thought that was brilliant and told her so, only to have her respond "No it's not, it's stupid. I didn't know what to write because I'm not good at anything." Wow. I'm no psychologist but that seems to me a pretty blatant signal of Low Self-Esteem. So I tried the reassurance tactic - from what I've seen in class and the hall so far, people do think she's funny, and that's a skill. No it's not. Okay, what would you like to be good at? I don't know. Nothing. I don't care. Hmmm. We'll talk later then.

Last week, after three (dramatic, angst-filled) topic changes, I came back to Funny with this girl - I told her she reminds me of Janeane Garofalo [true] and she might look into doing research about women in comedy, AND I could possibly get her connected to a very funny local female comic writer/performer for a project [hopefully true]. Though I could see her trying to hide it, there was a spark of interest in her eyes. She spent the rest of the class period taking notes from Internet articles about funny women throughout history; I spent the rest of class helping other students and feeling slightly smug.

The next day she announced that topic was not going to work for her and, in fact, she might just quit school because she'd never figure anything out and it was all too hard. These are the times that try teachers' souls.