Saturday, May 12, 2012
Someone To Learn From
Whew! Finals week is over at OSU-OKC. I graded three classes worth of the fourth essay and the final exam, figured out the grade book and entered the grades into the system with almost three hours to spare yesterday. Since Monday, my routine looked like this: wake up around 6:45. Hit snooze until 7. Add coffee and shake. Go to work- I carpooled this week not only because it's with my best friend but because it saves gas and money and a bit of the environmental impact of my suv- and be there by 8:40 or so. Teach all day until 4. Come home, deal with house stuff for an hour and hit the grade books until about 11 or until my eyes give out. Talk to Grey for half an hour in there somewhere. Try to sleep by midnight. Actually sleep around 1:30. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. This week I probably put in 65 hours of work between Monday morning and Friday at 4. And I'm done for the semester! Woohoo! Our middle school gets out on May 31st and until then, it will feel as though I only have one job.
My final exam for the online Composition I class is to make an argument for your grade. Seems easy, right? Not if someone took the assignment seriously. And people tend to. They can write the essay in any of the four styles we learn during the semester, or a combination thereof. Nobody who doesn't have an "A" ever asks for an "A". In fact, some have said it's the most challenging part of the course. I often get their most insightful writing on this last assignment.Said one student "I never understood the requirement for taking English and History along with all the other classes that do not really "pertain" to most degrees. It has always been frustrating to be told that if I want to continue on and get my Associates Degree in Nursing that I will need to take anywhere from 8-15 additional classes depending on the school. Well, let me tell you that I understand now, I can hardly believe I am the same person that started in your English Composition class in January 2012."
That was from what I would term an "easy" student, one who is polite, asks questions and reads the syllabus. Students don't always read the syllabus before they stress out. And sometimes that stress and misunderstanding can lead to me getting my butt chewed out through email. About halfway through the semester I learned that one of my students, who is 62, is taking care of her mother who is at the end of her life. I know this because she turned her essay in about ten minutes late and caps-locked it while mistakenly telling me that since her paper was late she wouldn't even get any credit and that I am a horrible person. If I were in a Harry Potter book, I would think of this as one of those messages where the person screams at you.
But I gently emailed her back and reassured her that things would be ok, that I accept late work and inviting her to call or text so we could work out details. It was the right thing to do. Compassion and understanding are always the best choice. Even if someone is just being a jerk, it's important to me to not be one back because that doesn't teach anyone anything. In this case it paid off. While I did not hear from her for some time, she sent an email at the end of the semester.
To be honest with you, I was embarrassed at how I reacted. It is not my norm. I was just so stressed out after having worked so hard on that paper then it was too late to turn it in. It was just too much for me. I do appreciate you accepting my paper.....Thank you for your concern.
I'd rather turn a cheek and sometimes see a change in someone's personal rhetoric than be angry and punitive and shut them down, even if they deserve it. Yeah, I do specialize in the more prickly students. I like that at least they say something to me, rather than go behind my back or try to hold it in. Even if my answer is "no", at least the communication can be positive.
There is payoff for me too. I can go a long ways on just a compliment. I sent an encouraging email to a student after everything had been graded and she sent me a reply:
This brings tears to my eyes. I am truly amazed by teachers like yourself, you are what gives students the drive to go on and make a difference in society be it a nurse who cares, an engineer who builds or a doctor who heals. It all starts with a teacher that truly cares and inspires others.
So thank you for all you do.
And know you truly gave me the knowledge and faith I needed to succeed.
I kinda felt like a million bucks. I'm looking forward to teaching this summer too.
At my middle school, life is still going on. It was my student intern's last day and we did a fun project all week that involved art and poetry. We did presentations and had a little free time- something that doesn't happen very often in my classes. "Free time" involves chess, checkers, jenga or word puzzles and sudoku. For teacher appreciation week, my principal brought in two dozen donuts for the teachers. I'm not certain if there was an announcement because there is no intercom in my room, nor did he send out an email or speak to the people in the portables. The church group that comes to do work in our school, Faithworks, brought us all lunch from Chik-fil-a, which I thought was extremely nice and totally unexpected. While I don't eat meat, the thought was much appreciated! I'm often highly critical of organized religion. Faithworks and Jase, who works in our school, are effective, kind and extremely open and honest. Jase has been working in our community for 7 years and has known many of my kids their whole lives. He loves them and they love him. And he speaks fluent Spanish. If I had to pick one teacher to thank this year, it wouldn't even be a "certified" teacher. It would be Jase because he is a good listener, a caring heart and a good role model for my kids of what a man should be. As someone who calls himself a Christian, it would be my not-very-leared but strong opinion that this is what a Christian might want to look like. I strongly suspect that his whole group operates on a model of Jesus-like behavior.
Speaking of behavior, one of our teachers took it upon herself to organize a potluck lunch for the faculty and staff for teacher appreciation week. She is also one of those wonderful people- head of special education, loving towards the kids and prickly as a pear to people she doesn't respect. She's been teaching "in the ghetto" for more than 20 years. She also lives in this community and knows not only the kids, but their parents as well. There is just no room in her life for bullshit of any kind. So when she said "everyone bring something", almost everyone brought something. And it was lovely to have lunch, for the first time, with my fellow teachers.
And in the afternoon, the letters arrived.
One of our other teachers asked her students to write a letter to their favorite teacher saying "thank you" to them. I was teaching at the time and my intern was trying to get out the door. Then I didn't get plan because I was covering another class and then cover afternoon bus duty for a teacher who did not show up. Then I had to rush home and get to my weekend of sitting in front of a computer typing while the love of my life sleeps in, enjoying an hour of typing, thinking, sipping coffee and reflecting on my teaching week. But sitting on my desk are several hand-written notes. I will probably write all of them back, to reward and reinforce that behavior.
Before I do, however, I'm going to sit and be quiet at my desk and read those and feel glad. The important part is the students and their futures. It doesn't matter much if I didn't get any sweet letters from schoolchildren- my kids struggle with basic literacy and writing letters can be difficult. It meant just as much that on Mexican Mother's Day, they wished me "Happy Mother's Day" in the hallways and the classrooms.
Sometimes my job is difficult and thankless. My principal obviously couldn't give a rat's ass about me or any other teacher except as warm bodies who can raise test scores. Teachers in this country are under fire and every day I step into that classroom, it's a political act. Anybody who doesn't know that hasn't thought about it. Any teacher who denies this is unconsciously colluding with an established and usually oppressive system, or they don't know that it used to be illegal to teach African-Americans to read and write because it would ruin them as slaves. that's the point, though, isn't it? It's worth it-even in parts of the world where it is dangerous-to be a teacher. To help people change their lives and to let your life be changed by those interactions. I may never make a whole lot of money but my life is made full, meaningful and blessed by those whose lives intersect with my own.
If you are a teacher, thank you.
And thank you to all those who have been my teachers, either in a classroom or out in the broader world.