In TFA, and in teaching in general, I’ve heard frustrated teacher say so many times “it’s not the children that frustrate me, it’s the adults”–and that might refer to parents, other teachers, or administration.
Well, I’m going to keep it real and say that for me, sometimes it is the children. I can honestly say that there’s not a single adult that I’ve worked with in any capacity that I don’t respect. There’s only one person that comes close, and my collab-mates from Institute know who that is. And even that person had a lot to teach me. Obviously, everyone is flawed in one way or another, and the work we do has a way of exposing any flaws you might have. That, you can count on. You might be able to hide some of it from the kids, but we as adults can pick things out about one another all day long if we want to. But I’ve also learned an immense amount about teaching and even life in general from every single person I’ve worked with, and there’s not a single coworker of mine, past or present, whose shoes I think I could step into and categorically do a better job than they do.
And speaking of admiration, some of the kids I teach have to endure hell just to get an education. I don’t know what it does to the developing mind to be exposed to the profanity, the degradation, the disrespect, and the outrageous behavior that some of their peers exhibit on a nearly-constant basis. No single kid is all bad, but you can count on someone stepping up to the plate to fill that role on a daily basis. And there are definitely some kids that really seem to just revel in it.
I must admit, I have very mixed feelings toward the kids. Sometimes, they can really amaze me with their persistence, their ability to radically change for the better, and even their thoughtfulness, every now and then. But so much of the time, the good things they do are overridden in my mind by the overwhelming amount of poor behavior I have to confront on every day. It’s not so much the show-stoppers that get to me, like when a student curses me out. It’s pretty well understood that most students who would do that are unbalanced to begin with. It’s those days when I see my good kids making choices they know are wrong, right in front of me. That kid might not be cursing at me, but they might as well be. Their actions speak much louder than words would have. And when I have a class full of kids acting that way, it just makes me think “what is the point?”
Of course it’s not always like that. There are rare days when you could hear a pin drop. But most of the time, it’s not like that. I can wait for minutes at a time until the room is absolutely silent, but as soon as I start talking, five kids start talking too. It’s impossible get the entire class’s attention for long enough to explain even the simplest concepts to the point that all the students can do them. It’s incredible, but what separates my best students from my worst has nothing to do with how good they were at math when I first got them. It’s actually really simple. My best students listen, and therefore they know what they’re doing. And if they’re really good, they actually go on to try to complete their work. And if they’re really, really good, they look at the examples and refer back to the notes they took to guide them in completing their work.
It’s just so sad that that is the standard of excellence. I’ve tried so hard, but I can’t break the idea in the students’ minds that it’s okay just to show up, and that once you’re here, you can behave however the heck you might feel like behaving. They’ve been conditioned to believe that they can play all day long and breeze through the process of growing into adults. I deal with kids who won’t follow the simplest rules, like don’t eat, cell phones are not allowed, no hoodies. I spend so much time and energy fighting these stupid battles, every single day. Not to mention, I regularly have kids shriek, sing, or talk about the most profane things in full earshot. I have kids I don’t even teach randomly pop in and out of the room without permission. I’m sure this behavior didn’t start with this generation; it’s probably why we have so many childish adults. And they want to go to college. They look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them that the same sort of behavior that goes on daily around this school would have you escorted off of a college campus in handcuffs.
Obviously, the world needs people who can step in and talk some sense into these kids. It’s not going to be me for much longer, though. I just can’t handle it. Some of my students already know from the rumor mill that I’m not going to be back next year, and they seem genuinely upset. Come class time though, I still can’t get those same kids to simply listen. I guess I do serve some purpose in their lives, as some one who treats them with respect no matter what. That’s really nice, but I’m here to educate them and get them to college. The toughest part of it for me is that I still believe it’s possible, but I don’t think we’re heading in that direction, at least not without major changes. At this point, I’m so weary of the day to day, which is so far from that dream that there’s no way I plan to wait around to find out whether it can be done or not. No way, no how.