You know, there are only a few occasions (and, thankfully, they don’t happen all that often) when a student does or says something that just hits me in a bad spot. I mean, sure; they all say dumb shit, and I’m convinced that, at least half the time, they have NO idea how they sound to other people. Most of the time, though, I’m able to take it for what it is. Actually, I kind of LIKE that they say the things they say – the material they provide is priceless.
Sometimes, though, it’s just wrong. Take this morning as an example. I have been doing a lot of thinking about my freshman class and their (lack of) writing skills, so I decided that, instead of just setting them to the descriptive paper, I would take them through a series of exercises that would bring them through a logical and carefully orchestrated process which, at the end, would leave them prepared to write the work that I’m asking of them. I sat with them and worked through the exercises myself, so I could gauge how much time each exercise should take. At the end of each section, I asked the students to share the work they produced, and led them through a series of questions designed to get them to see – even if only superficially – how this work was helping to prepare them to tackle the longer, more sustained narrative I am expecting them to craft.
After the third section, I asked a kid – let’s call him Kevin – to give the class a little perspective into what he’d done. “I didn’t do what you asked,” he said. “I didn’t see the point in it, so I just started writing the intro to my paper.”
Seriously. I’m not paraphrasing; that’s what the kid said. I didn’t see the point.
I managed to not lose my shit (though trust me, it was a near thing). Instead, I asked him to consider that I DID have a point, that the lesson that I’d planned for the day was deliberate and purposeful, and that it would do him well to trust that not only do I know what I’m doing, but that I also have his best interests at heart. It was all I could do to not kick him out of the room. I should probably disclose, for the sake of honesty, that Kevin also posted a comment on another student’s facebook page to the effect that the curriculum at CHS is a joke, so this was just a little extra something to make my day.
To be honest with you, I’m still worked up over the whole thing. I remember being a teenager and wondering exactly why my teachers were making me do all the dumb things they made me do, but I never once refused to do them (and you can be certain that I never challenged a teacher in front of a class the way Kevin did to me this morning). What’s more, I make a POINT of showing the kids the reasons behind almost all the work I ask them to do. What’s frustrating about that is, half the time, they don’t get it (and often still don’t get it until they’re in college, which is why Collette’s email from yesterday geeked me right out).
I’m not sure whether I’m going to follow up with Kevin. My boss, Carrie, tells me I should just let it go – that Kevin’s response is a coping mechanism because he’s having trouble keeping up with the “joke” of a curriculum, that he was expecting something from this experience that he’s clearly not getting (namely that he’d be able to get by with minimal academics and play his guitar all day). I can intellectualize that, but it doesn’t keep me from being upset and offended that this kid, who thinks he’s all that, believes he knows more about what I’m teaching him than I do.
Edited to include: I couldn’t let it go. I sent this to Kevin (and cc’d my boss and Kevin’s mother):
I’m writing to you because I never got an opportunity to talk to you this afternoon about what happened in class today. I think it’s important enough to be addressed immediately and directly. I would rather talk to you about this in person, but since we won’t have class again until Wednesday, this will have to do.
While I appreciate that you may not always “see the point” in the work I ask you to do (I do remember being in high school and wondering the same thing, myself), I require that you to do it, anyway. The exercise that you chose to ignore this morning was important in the progression of the lesson I had planned for the you and the class, and while I understand that you may have been frustrated by having to do some of the pre-writing exercises that I suspect a lot of students skip in their writing, I still expected you to at least attempt them. A significant issue I see in most students’ writing (yours included) is a lack of cohesion and purpose; the exercises that I planned for this morning were meant to address that failing and to give the class a valuable tool in learning how to overcome it.
It was very disrespectful of you to simply ignore an assignment and then announce that you did so to the class. I ask that you respect that I not only know what I’m doing, but that I take my work very seriously and care very much that what I teach you makes the work you have to do easier and more productive. I think that you might have found that participating in the exercise gave you an opportunity to plan your writing in ways that you normally don’t do, and that giving yourself that kind of deliberate map would – and will – make writing an extended essay both easier and better.
Going forward, I expect you to complete all the work that I ask of you, both in class and as homework. If you’re ever interested in the purpose of an exercise, simply ask me. I am a mindful teacher – I don’t give busywork and I will always be able to explain to you the purpose behind a lesson. That being said, don’t always assume that you’ll understand – or appreciate – the reason after I explain it to you; it has been my experience that most students don’t really “get” why teachers ask them to do the things we do until long after they’ve left our classrooms. What I’m asking of you is to trust that I know what I’m doing, and to give yourself the opportunity to learn what I have to teach you.