Monthly Archives: February 2011

Thought for Thursday: Loving Them

I made a proclamation on my personal blog that I was going to try to focus on being more mindful and aware in my day-to-day life.  Part of the commitment to that includes setting a “theme” for myself, and this week has been about love.  I’m writing today’s post here, though, because so much of the love that I live is generated in the work that I do

It’s weird to think about it now because it’s become so much a part of my identity, but I was incredibly nervous about taking a job in a high school.  Beyond my internship, I never worked with young people.  What’s more, I didn’t really want to.  I was certain that I was going to work my entire career in colleges and universities because the kind of work I wanted to do in my discipline is usually only done in those places.  I wasn’t (and am still not) terribly interested in, or particularly good at, teaching fundamentals; I want to dig into the critical and the analytical and to make complex and difficult connections in a cooperative, dynamic, discussion-based classroom, not to spend my days lecturing or grading worksheets and bubble tests or teaching kids what a noun is.

I took the job at Charter High for a couple of reasons; I really loved what CHS was doing in terms of teaching and learning, I connected almost instantly with the woman who would be my director, the community college where I’d been working had closed, and I wasn’t getting much of a foothold at Local U; I only taught a freshman English course or two in the fall (and let’s not forget that I had no intention of getting a PhD, and one rarely gets a good job in the English department of a university without one).  I was intrigued, as well, by the idea of working every day with teenagers.

My only real concern in taking the job was the kids.  I had no idea if I COULD work every day with teenagers; please remember that I’ve got one in my house – and one coming up fast behind her – so I had an up-close-and-personal understanding of the… shall we call them frequencies?… of teenagers.  Needless to say, the thought of being soaked every working day in the drama and hormones and attitudes of dozens of young people who were not my own presented a formidable challenge to my courage.

Two years in, though?  I wouldn’t change a thing.

The truth of the matter is that I adore my job – I can’t wait to get up and go to work in the morning, and I think a huge part of that is the kids.  I was, frankly, shocked by the rapidity and intensity with which I fell literally in love with the students.  They are each wonderful and amazing and infuriating and endearing in their own ways, and I find myself caring about them far more than I ever imagined I would.

Because I care so much about them – as people and as students – I am inspired to continue my own growth and development – as a person and a teacher – so that I can provide them with the very best I can possibly offer.  I am mindful of my roles as mentor, teacher, and example of responsible adulthood.  I let my students see who I really am; I talk passionately and honestly about the things I care about, I argue with them when I think they’re wrong about something, and I listen to them when they’re willing to talk to me (which is a lot more often than I would have expected, given how demanding I can be with them).  I make sure they know that I love them; I call them by affectionate nicknames (they are collectively my “babies” and I have been known to refer to some as “Sweet” or “Honey”) and I make myself available to them as much as I can.  I look at them when they talk to me, I don’t bullshit them, and I treat them as if they’re important to me (because they are).  Sometimes, I come right out and tell them that I love them (though that’s often followed up by an admonishment of some sort, as in “You know I love you, right?  Good, now shut up and start writing“).

Of course, that kind of affection brings with it its own set of complications.  My husband worries that I give too much to my students – not that I reveal too much of my personal life to them (though they do know some of our family stories, those stories are always relevant to whatever point I’m trying to make at the time), but rather that I’m opening myself up to pain and disappointment by caring for them as much as I do.  Mr. Chili tends to be more emotionally cautious than I, and I understand what he’s saying, but I simply can’t be any other way.  I can’t think of my students as just a part of my job; that’s just not how I operate.

A few months ago, after a school assembly where the student body was essentially told to straighten up and start working, I brought my class together to talk about what was going on with them; I wanted to know what was holding them back and why they weren’t working at even a fraction of their glorious potential.  One boy, who is a particular favorite of mine (see?  I love them!) looked me in the eye and said “Mrs. Chili, you really have to learn to let us fail.”  That prompted me to go home that night and dream that this student and several others called a meeting to order in which they informed me that I needed to stop loving them because they simply couldn’t handle the pressure.  I went to school the next day and told each of my classes about that dream.  I also told them that I had no intention of ever not loving them, and that they were just going to have to learn to accept that.  They are my babies, and I love each and every one of them, even when they send me to the very brink.


Filed under critical thinking, ethics, I love my boss, I love my job, I've got this kid...., Mrs. Chili as Student, success!, Teaching, the good ones, The Job

Education by Disney

I just had a horrifying conversation with my seniors.

I put a quote by Steven Biko on the board for them to reflect on for this morning’s writing exercise.  About a quarter of the way through the time I give them, I asked if anyone knew who Steven Biko was.  Big surprise, none of them did.

Now, to back up a bit, I have been specifically annoyed and generally infuriated lately by how little these kids are willing to work to connect information – they know so little about so little that they miss an astonishing number of connections and allusions that would make their experiences richer and more fruitful.  That they wouldn’t bother to do a quick internet search (most of them had their computers open in front of them) before they started writing was yet another example of that; even when the information is literally at their fingertips, none of them was curious enough to do even a rudimentary investigation of the work I was asking them to do.

That’s not what horrified me, though.  While I was explaining who Steven Biko was and under what conditions he lived (and died), I asked if anyone knew what Apartheid was.  One student said she DID know what Apartheid was because – and I swear to Goddess I’m not making this up – she’d learned all about it from a Disney movie.  Another kid piped up that he knew who Nelson Mandela was… because he’d seen a movie.

I despair for our future….


Filed under dumbassery, failure, frustrations, I can't make this shit up..., I've got this kid...., really?!, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

Quick Hit: Education is Not Entertainment

That’s to say that education can’t be entertaining – I certainly enjoy learning new things and many of the experiences I’ve had in “educational” settings have been, well, FUN.  What I AM saying, though, is that I’m a teacher, not a cruise director.  I cannot – and will not – tailor my job to meet your desire to be amused.

I’m tired of listening to kids say they’re “bored” with the work we’re doing, or that they “don’t like it” – see the comment from Little Miss “I-Don’t-Like-That-Movie-Do-I-Have-To-Watch-It?” below.  My answer to her?  YES, you DO have to watch it because we’re not looking at it like consumers of entertainment; we’re looking at it as students.  There is a message in this film that I want you to see – and that I hope you will connect to some of the work we’ve been doing – so I don’t really CARE if you LIKE it.

I need to figure out a way to let this go – it’s stuck deeper in my craw than I expected it to lodge…


Filed under dumbassery, failure, frustrations, General Griping, I can't make this shit up..., I've got this kid...., Quick Hit, really?!, student chutzpah, You're kidding...right?

It’s Too Hard!


Four students dropped one of my classes today.  Four kids.  We’ve met three times, and in that time these four have decided two things – that my class is not what they were expecting and that it’s too hard.


Here’s the thing; on the first count, I’m sure they’re right.  The person who ran this class before me didn’t actually TEACH the subject at all.  In fact, when I spoke to the remaining students this afternoon about my concern for the loss of so many kids at once, one of them actually said that “Mrs. Smith let us free write for the whole semester.  It was essentially journal time.”  Of this, I have no doubt.  I wanted desperately to ask this girl if she actually LEARNED anything in Mrs. Smith’s class, but I couldn’t figure a way to ask that with anything approaching a professional tone, so I let it drop.  Besides, I know the answer to that is “no” simply by how the students who took Mrs. Smith’s class last year are responding to the lessons I’m giving in my class now; they have no foundational knowledge about the subject in question, so it’s pretty clear that Mrs. Smith’s class was, in terms of the students’ academic progress, a total waste of time.

The defecting students’ second complaint is just plain aggravating to me, though, because I know damned well it has NOTHING to do with me.  They’re frustrated because I’m expecting them to think, and they don’t like it.  They’re resisting the idea that this subject entails some real work – that there’s analysis to be done and rules to learn and that they can’t just make stuff up or say “I like it, it’s good” and expect to learn anything – and they’re mad about it.  I’m getting this in all of my classes; in fact, just today, I had this exchange with one of my students:

Me: Okay, everyone, I need you to get this permission slip signed and bring it back to me by next class.

Kid: Mrs. Chili, is it okay if I DON’T get it signed?  I’ve seen this movie before and I hated it.

You’re KIDDING me, right?!  No, really – you’re kidding?  Please tell me you’re kidding.  She wasn’t kidding; she’s decided that she knows better than I what’s going on in our class, and she’s deciding what she should and shouldn’t be asked to do.

So.  Not. Cool.

Just the other day, Mamacita posted an entry about a student who resisted the class discussion because it challenged her notion of what she was in school to do.  It was perfectly timed, this post, because it helped me to remember that I’m not the only one dealing with recalcitrant, resistant, downright belligerent students who don’t want to have their little brains taxed.  Today, I’ve had about all of that I can take.


Filed under concerns, dumbassery, failure, frustrations, General Griping, I can't make this shit up..., I've got this kid...., really?!, student chutzpah, That's your EXCUSE?!, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

More Long Distance Love

Carson Skyped into my classroom again this morning.  I invited him to come and give some background and context about Jim Crow and segregation to my freshmen as they read To Kill a Mockingbird.

A number of my babies seem to be having a really tough time with this book, which stymied me at first.  I understand that I sometimes let my own deep and abiding affection for certain novels cloud my recognition that not everyone can be expected to be as in love with them as I.  I’m working really hard to remember that I’m teaching NINTH GRADERS here; I think I’ve become so used to working with the older, more mature students that I forget, every once in a while, that these little ones probably don’t have the kind of experience, background, or education that they sometimes need to really understand and appreciate the novels we read.

I recognized that a big missing piece for my students and To Kill a Mockingbird was likely the aspect of culture; as mostly white, mostly affluent, mostly liberal Northerners, most of us have never really had to consider the legacy of segregation and racism in our everyday lives, and I think that understanding those things is crucial to really appreciating the gravity and importance of this novel.  Carson did a great job of laying the groundwork for the students’ understanding of the CULTURE of the country – not just the South, but the whole of the US – from Reconstruction on, and I think they left the class feeling like they understood a little better the way that culture informs the characters in Lee’s book.

For myself, I was quietly proud of how much I already know of what Carson covered.  I was taking notes on the board for the kids as he was talking, and at one point I had written the exact phrase that he spoke a moment later.  I joke with the history teacher at CHS that we should consider trading jobs once in a while; he’s a frustrated English teacher and I am most certainly a frustrated history teacher.  I could probably have done a decent job covering the material that Carson taught my kids this morning, but I was particularly grateful that he was willing to get up early (we’re a time zone ahead of him) and beam himself into my classroom.  I think that it’s important for my students to hear a lot of different voices.  I admire Carson’s knowledge and adore his style, and I’m grateful and honored that he agrees to share his time and talent so freely with me.


Filed under admiration, book geek, colleagues, compassion and cooperation, history, I love my job, Learning, out in the real world, success!, Teaching