Category Archives: student chutzpah

Teachable Moment

So, I’ve got this student in one of my classes; let’s call him Joe.  Joe is brash and abrasive.  He’s spent his life doing hard work in harsh conditions.  He’s a smoker (and probably a drinker).  My impression is that he’s not exactly amenable to doing the kind of thinking that will get him over what I see as the roadblocks he sets up for himself.  I think he thinks of himself as an “old dog,” and I present a particular challenge to him not only because of the class I teach (he’s not in community college to become a better writer; he’s made that perfectly clear), but also because of the energy I present.

Every class starts with a writing warm-up in the form of a quote that I ask the students to think and write about.  Today’s quote was from Jonathan Swift:  There are none so blind as those who will not see.  Here’s Joe’s response to that prompt:

To see is the ability to acknowledge what is happening around and in front of you.  When you can not see because you think you already have the answers, then you are destined to stumble around blind without a clue.

Those who simply will not see are entwined in an ignorant bliss, unaware of what is happening around them or the impact (or the negative impact) that there (sic) decision will make.  A prime example of this i that pinhead sitting in the white house. He refuse to see what a negative impact the ACA will have on the economy.  He refuses to negotiate to solve problems or simply ignores the problem either through ignorance or simply failure to see what is happening around the country.

When I went around the room asking what everyone wrote, Joe read his paper.  As I do with most of the kids’ responses, I challenged him about it.   I asked him to give me an example of the ACA having a negative impact on the economy, and he responded that employers are limiting employee hours and that it’s just bad.  I told him that, if this was something he was really invested in, he should do some research about it because I wasn’t sure that he could find evidence to support that claim.  Then I moved on to the next student.

When I got Joe’s paper this morning, he’d included an addendum, scrawled in larger letters and clearly showing some frustration at my resistance to his ideas:

IF THE ACA IS NOT HAVING A NEGATIVE IMPACT ON BUSINESSES, THEN HOW COME ALL BUSINESSES HAVE RECEIVED A WAIVER?  OPEN YOUR EYES and see that businesses are going to part-timers and dropping health care to employees.  If the ACA is really good, how come Congress refuses to give up there health care plans for the new one?  How many Dr.s have retired in the last year?

Since I very often write notes on the students’ responses (and because I KNOW that Joe reads every word I write on his papers), I composed this for him:

A couple of things here, Joe;

First, while I appreciate your passion for the topic, I want to warn you against name calling in your professional writing.  It’s perfectly acceptable – desired, even – to disagree with someone; disagreement gives us an opportunity to investigate other points of view and to shore up our own understanding of our positions.  It is not acceptable, however, to be disrespectful to people who disagree with you.  Even if you believe someone to be despicable, calling them names isn’t going to do anything to bolster your credibility.  Remember the Booker T. Washington quote we worked on last week; “you can’t hold a man down without staying down with him.”  Calling the President (or anyone else) a “pinhead” (or any other name) is going to diminish your credibility in the eyes of someone who might want to genuinely hear what you have to say.

In terms of addressing your complaints, I want to encourage you to do some research about the ACA and see if you can clarify and support some of the claims you’re making.  For starters, your assertion that “businesses are going to part-timers and dropping health care to employees” isn’t supported by the figures.  In fact, the recent trend in part-time employment is that it’s been going down, not up (see here for a chart: http://www.epi.org/blog/obamacare-isnt-causing-increase-part-time/).  While there is some anecdotal evidence to support that claim – folks like the man who owns Papa John’s and says that he “can’t afford” to provide health care to his employees are behind a lot of that noise – there’s no reputable, statistical evidence to support that the ACA is causing employers to cut back worker hours.  What’s more, the cry that the ACA is imposing a hardship on employers rings entirely false because the provision that would require employers with more than 50 employees to provide health care coverage doesn’t even kick in until 2015 (see here: http://www.cleveland.com/business/index.ssf/2013/09/charges_obamacare_is_causing_e.html)

Your assertion that “all businesses have received a waiver” is untrue, and is being spread as an issue by some less-than-reputable organizations and media outlets.  There are waivers, but they’re specific to both particular provisions of the health care law and to certain companies and organizations.

For example; the ACA eliminates the ability of insurance companies to cap the total amount of medical bills they would pay for each policy holder.  Those so-called “mini-med” plans charge customers very low premiums, but offer few benefits and require that the insured pay out of pocket for anything that exceeds a very low annual cap.  That provision was due to kick in next year, but the Department of Health and Human Services recognized that some insurance companies weren’t going to be ready to phase out those policies in that time, so HHS gave them more time to keep workers from losing coverage altogether while their employers searched for alternative plans.  (see here for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services report on this exemption: http://www.cms.gov/CCIIO/Resources/Files/approved_applications_for_waiver.html)

Earlier this year, the Internal Revenue Service announced an even broader exemption, delaying the requirement that companies with 50 or more full-time workers offer health benefits that met a minimum standard for coverage until 2015 (this is what I referenced in my “part time workers” explanation above). The agency did so, it said, because a lot of employers complained that they wouldn’t be able to comply with reporting requirements (see here for the IRS information: http://www.irs.gov/uac/Questions-and-Answers-on-the-Individual-Shared-Responsibility-Provision).  Notice that the businesses’ complaints were about reporting on coverage, not in providing it.  In fact, most small businesses already provide health care coverage to their full-time employees, so the ACA doesn’t affect them at all (see here for a full report: http://kff.org/private-insurance/report/2013-employer-health-benefits/).

Your complaint that “Congress refuses to give up their health plans for the new one” isn’t quite accurate, either.  Congress is not required to give up their health care plans, and neither is anyone else who already has coverage.  All the ACA does (as regards insurance coverage) is require that people actually have health insurance.  The exchanges are designed for those who can’t get adequate or affordable coverage through their employer.  The ACA makes it so that individuals who have to buy their own insurance (and some small firms) would be eligible to participate in state-based exchanges, which would offer a range of health insurance plans for purchase (unlike pre-ACA insurance shopping; it was difficult – and SUPER expensive – for individuals and small businesses to purchase insurance as single entities.  Don’t forget, too, that these exchanges are made up of private insurance companies; that’s important to remember when someone’s telling you that the ACA is “socialized medicine”).

Those who already get insurance through their employers, Medicare, Medicaid, the military’s Tricare insurance program, or the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program wouldn’t be required – or even eligible – to participate in the health care exchanges. All federal employees, including members of Congress (and the President), fall under the FEHBP. Those who have coverage from a large employer wouldn’t be eligible, either, unless their coverage didn’t meet minimum benefits criteria or was deemed to be unaffordable.

Finally, I couldn’t find any reputable source that confirms that doctors are going to retire over the implementation of the ACA.  Neither could I find accurate numbers about the rate of physician retirement (this was as close as I could come: http://www.lewin.com/~/media/Lewin/Site_Sections/Publications/3027.pdf).  I did find, though, that one out of three practicing physicians in the United States is over the age of 55, and many of them are expected to retire in the next 10 or 15 years.  If you can point me to evidence that doctors are retiring rather than participate in the health care changes (something that wasn’t published by World Net Daily, Liberty News or Fox), then please do and I’ll review my position on this.

We should also consider that the ACA is going to expand access to medical care for millions of people who don’t currently have such access.  That means that the demand for doctors is going to increase.  Expanded coverage is predicted to increase the number of annual primary care visits between 15.07 million and 24.26 million by 2019. Assuming stable levels of physicians’ productivity, between 4,307 and 6,940 additional primary care physicians would be needed to accommodate this increase (see here for the citation for those figures:  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-0009.2011.00620.x/full).

I want to encourage you to put your energy and passion to good use on this issue, but remember that it’s sometimes difficult to argue about something when we are too wrapped up in our feelings about it.  A good argument comes from a place of respect, inquiry, logic, and evidence.  Try taking a step back and a deep breath, then go looking for evidence to support your position.  Work from a position of facts, and keep the name-calling under your hat.

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Quick Hit: Do NOT Start with Me

This afternoon, I came to the high school at 2:35 to pick Punk up for an appointment that she’d be late for if she took the bus home.  A group of students was waiting for their bus on the sidewalk on the far end of the driveway that loops to the front door, and a few kids were across the driveway so they could all throw snowballs at each other.  No problem; I expect that (especially considering there was a doozy of a snowball fight happening in the senior parking lot as I drove by).

I slowed and stopped so they could see me, and made eye contact with the two kids still on the driveway.  One of them crossed back to the sidewalk, so I slowly proceeded toward the door.  As I made my way by him, one of the students threw the snowball he was holding at my car, hitting the drivers’ side rear window.  He crossed the street behind me and rejoined his peers on the sidewalk.

In a dark red coat.  He was easy to pick out of the crowd.

I stopped the car, backed up, and called the young man to my passenger window where I calmly but sternly scolded him (I’m the mother of two teenage daughters and a high school teacher myself; I have some experience with this sort of thing).

Me:  You.  Over here….  What was that?

Kid:  It was a snowball.

Me:  I know it was a snowball.  Why did it make contact with my car?

Kid:  Uh…

Me:  NOT okay, do you understand?  Do not ever do that again.

Kid:  Okay.  Sorry.

To his credit, the boy apologized to me, and I heard him being soundly ribbed by the kids watching from the sidewalk as I drove away.

My intent was to embarrass him – which I did – and to make him think twice before he does something like that again.  I think he was genuinely shocked that I backed up to reprimand him, and I know that many (probably all) of the kids looking on were surprised; I’m sure they’re not used to being called to task by total strangers.

Punk-ass kid.

 

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How Far the Ripples Go

Very long story somewhat short: I’ve got this kid… or, rather, I should say I HAD this kid.  Let’s call him Mitchell.

Mitchell and I never really got along very well.  While I’m sure there are a number of reasons for this, the one I come to first is that he’s a pretty insecure young man, and I think that my forthrightness intimidated him.  Regardless, he ended up leaving my class on ideological grounds; his mother, it seems, is a fundamentalist Christian, and from what I understand, she didn’t appreciate my challenging her kid in the ways that I did.

The truth is that I have nothing personal against the boy, and never have, though I don’t go out of my way to chat with him as his behavior around me makes it pretty clear that I make him uncomfortable.  That’s why I was surprised, and pleasantly so, when Mitch asked me this afternoon if I had a few free minutes I could give him.  I invited him into my room and gave him my full attention.

He started out by asking me some vague questions about how I handle fear.  I spent a little while talking about how different fear – fear for physical safety, fear about personal conflict, fear of intimidation, fear from shock or surprise – have different effects.  I let him know that I, personally, have difficulty managing my physical response to fear; despite going into a conflict armed with confidence and knowledge that I have a strong foundation upon which to stand, I still shake and my palms still sweat and I often find myself in angry tears.  I told him these things as a way of humanizing myself to him because, as I say, I know that his impressions of me have not been entirely favorable.

It turns out that, despite what else he may think of me, Mitch understands that I’m someone safe to go to with difficult personal issues.  He confided that he is having some pretty serious problems with a family member (not his mother), and that the issues are sufficient that he felt it necessary to warn the school about what’s been going on.  He asked me for advice on how to comport himself through these experiences, and I told him that while I could not counsel him – that I’m neither a social worker nor an attorney – I did know that, as an adult (he’s 18) he has absolute freedom of association; he gets to choose whether or not to spend time with someone, and that his fears of being compelled by court order to associate with the person in question are unfounded.  I recommended that he seek the advice of law enforcement about the possibility of a restraining order and that, if he feels it would do him some good, he should talk to a counselor to sort out how he feels about the whole mess.  I offered that I grew up as an abused child, and I understand that there are a terrible lot of mixed emotions that come with that legacy.  I also offered up confidence to the boy that I had faith in his ability to find his way through it, and told him that I would always be a listening ear if he felt I could be useful to him.

It turned out that I had some things to take care of a the end of the day, so I was on my way out the door when Mitch emerged from his meeting with administration.  He was clearly upset, so I hung back to offer up one last shot of support.  I took him aside, so that we wouldn’t be in the middle of the hall, and asked him how he was doing (though it was patently obvious the boy was on the verge of tears).  As I was giving him my “you’re not alone; there are plenty of resources; you’re strong and smart and I believe in you” pep talk, his mother came around the corner and stopped dead in her tracks.  I know, though I’ve never been told outright, that she has very little use – and even less respect – for me, but at that moment, I didn’t care.  Her son recognized me as someone safe to confide in, and I was not about to disrespect that for fear of what his mother might think.  She stood there, a respectful distance away, listening to every encouraging thing I had to say to her son.

Though I’m truly sorry for what’s happening to Mitch, this could not have happened at a better time for me.  After everything that’s happened at school these last several weeks, having THIS kid come to ME to address something difficult and painful and personal is nothing short of divine confirmation that I am doing a good job.  He sees me being a support to other kids; he recognizes me as someone safe and caring and generous, and came to ME despite our previous rocky history.  That tells me that what I do – and the way that I do it – are working.  This boy’s choice to seek me out for this personal issue is a vindication of the very public, open, and honest way I love my students.  ALL of my students.

Thank you, Mitchell.

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You Get Out What You Put In

Every afternoon, a teacher in our school leads an end-of-the-day activity with the entire community.  These vary widely – we’ve done everything from music and movie trivia to musical chairs to a flash game of Apples to Apples.  Nearly anything goes.

Tuesdays are my days, and I had settled into a movie-related theme months ago that the community seems to like.  As yesterday was the last Tuesday with this year’s seniors, though, I decided to do something a little different.

In the past, we’ve had what we call “sticky note days” at our school.  These are randomly chosen days where, throughout the day, students write positive things on Post-Its and stick them to one another.  I love sticky note days; the notes are always positive (and often surprising), they can be anonymous, and the small space forces the students to really condense the things they want to say.  In this spirit, I cut a bunch of copy paper into smaller squares and invited the group to write love notes to each other.

“We are influenced for good by a lot of people,” I told them, “but rarely do we take the time out to tell them how much they mean to us.  The seniors are leaving on Friday, and I wanted to give you all an opportunity to say something to them – and to anyone else you want – to let them know that they mean something to you.”

The bulk of the group took advantage of the opportunity, and I was surprised that I ended up having to get more paper.

This morning, as I was handing out love notes during the chaos of the start of day, I overheard one student complaining about the activity.  “It makes some people feel bad,” she said, “because not everyone gets notes.”

She’s right, of course; not everyone DID receive notes, her among them.  I think she’s missing something important in her disdainful assessment, though.  The students who didn’t get notes this time around were, by and large, the students who don’t go out of their way for others.  The kids who didn’t receive notes are the kids who criticize other students, look down on them, or decline to participate fully in the things we do together.  These are the kids who don’t eat lunch with anyone other than their tight group or who – like the girl who spoke her complaint – openly speak ill of other students, often within their hearing.

I understand that it’s not a one-for-one formula, but I have discovered that, generally, one gets out of a situation what one puts in.  If you want to be liked, you’ve got to open up a little and make yourself available.  You’ve got to practice some generosity, some patience, and some forbearance.  You’ve got to treat others kindly and foster the kind of goodwill toward them that you’d like returned to you.  I didn’t point this out to the girl – I’m already on eggshells with her as it is, and she’s not in a place where she can hear these things from me – but I’m hoping that she does some thinking about it.

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Teaching the Pigs to Sing

Honest to God, you guys; I feel like barnyard the choir director.

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The last few weeks have been an unending shit storm of apathy and belligerence.  Tuesday, for example, 4 out of my 25 freshmen actually did the reading I assigned.  FOUR.  Out of TWENTY FIVE.  They had a major project due – for which I’d given them at least 3 in-class opportunities to work – and only two of them were able to present the project on time (and of those two, one of them was so poorly done as to be laughable).

This morning, three of my 16 seniors read the article I posted on the website.  I should mention here that the reading was due Tuesday, but I extended the date to Thursday because no one had read the article on Tuesday, either.

The thing that astounds me about all of this is that no one can give us any indication of what the cause of the problem is or of how to fix it.

I’ve about had it with this shit; I’m disheartened, I’m tired, and I’m sick unto death of caring more about the students’ grades than they do.

Thank God vacation starts tomorrow.

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Guest Post: Sending Out an SOS

Help a blog buddy out, would you?  I think we’ve all felt like this at one point or another; how do YOU get through the impossible classes with little or no outside help?

*Note; I’ve changed some of the identifying details, but the rest is as my friend wrote it to me*

I can’t blog about this, as some of my co-workers read my blog, and I have to tell someone, so I figured who better than someone 2,000 miles away who  doesn’t even know where I work?!

I left work early yesterday.  I concocted this story about feeling a migraine coming on.  It was during my second class of the day, a senior class, so I had three classes of juniors remaining.  Here’s the thing, I wasn’t starting to see halos, I just had to get out of there.

Backstory: I hate my 5th period juniors.  I hate them with every fiber of my being.  Walking into the class makes me bristle and turns me into a completely different person.  The problem is this; in a class of 34 I have, depending on the day, 7-10 boys who are hellbent on making my class awful.  They’re rude, disrespectful, and generally awful.  They make me feel like I’m 16, that I’m stupid, that I have no control over my class.  I’ve NEVER in my 8 years of teaching felt like that.  From day one I’ve been (OK, I’m going to sound like a real fucking asshole here) a great teacher.  I’ve had control and respect and it’s seemed as thought I was born to do this.  But these boys make me question everything about my job and my competency to do it.

So yesterday, sitting in first period, I started having a panic attack about having to see my 5th period.  I just couldn’t handle it.  So I made up the story, got a sub, and left.

Am I a completely terrible person?  Am I going to some sort of teacher hell?  And an even bigger question, how the fuck do I make it through the next 17 weeks of my life without a) murdering someone, or b) killing myself.  Any thoughts?

I wrote back and asked her if she could go to anyone for support, or if she could implement any structures that would help.  Here’s what she replied:

I’ve tried everything.  I’ve sat down with individuals, pointed out their behavior issues, and asked them to be class leaders.  I’ve kicked kids out.  I’ve instituted bathroom passes because they asked to go every day (I’ve NEVER had bathroom passes before because I believe by 16 you should be able to be responsible for your own bodily functions).  I’ve taken away behavior points.  I’ve written kids up.  I called security once.  I’ve talked to everyone can I think of, counselors, my dept chair, my co-workers, basically everyone says the same thing “suck it up”.  I’ve tried having a good attitude, which is harder than anything else.  Nothing seems to work.

I thought that maybe it was just me, but several co-workers have subbed for me (I leave early on one afternoon about once a month for a workshop) and they all agree that if they had that class, they’d murder them.  

I keep a bright pink feather boa in my classroom.  I bought it when one of my co-workers from another dept, who I’m particularly close with, was voted grand marshal for the homecoming parade.  Now I keep it around for when I or my co-workers have bad days.  I wore it yesterday morning.  :)

So, my beloved teacher-blog community; what kind of aid can you offer?

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