Thursday, October 7, 2010

Like a Broken Record

I have got to say, it is not easy being me sometimes. When I made the shift from working directly with students only to working with students AND adults equally, I never new what was coming. I did not expect, for example, that adults would be just as reluctant to work hard as the most disagreeable middle school boy. Or that adults would ignore emails and memos, claiming to never have known about this or that policy. Or that adults would pretend to listen during a presentation, but really their eyes were glazed over and their daydreams were interfering with their ability to glean even the most superficial information given.

But it is true. Adults do all of those things and more. Not five minutes ago a teacher asked me how to do something that I taught him how to do in a workshop on Friday. He didn't ask in the "I'm so embarrassed that I can't remember what to do next even though I know you just showed me, so please forgive me" sort of way. He asked in the "Wow! That's totally new information that's blowing my mind because I've never ever heard of such a thing" kind of way.

Another teacher today claimed that the reason she sent her kids to the library with a pass scribbled on a scrap of paper is that she never received the school-wide official hall pass binder that all teachers received the first week, and also she's never even heard of such an official pass. But she does suppose that, yes, if would make sense if she wrote, say, the date or time on the hall pass scrap of paper. Maybe even her name could go on there, so I'd know which teacher sent the kids. And even their names could be added, so that I'd know how many and which kids were meant to be there (we are a haven for ditchers, otherwise). She'll give me that. Seriously, if you are wondering why I would care about the form of a hall pass, it's because kids love to ditch class in the library. It's quiet, it's peaceful, it's easy for them. So I just have to know that everyone here is supposed to be here. Makes sense, yes?

On the other hand, I get to talk more to adults who are doing really interesting things in their classes or with their lives. Like the 6th grade math teacher who works on antique sailboats, or the technology guy who is part of a competitive dragon boat racing team. In one 7th grade class, a teacher is reading articles about bullying and sexual identity in response to the increasing number of suicides among the young gay population. Stuff like that is good.

So it's a trade off. I get a lot of the good stuff, and a lot of the repetitive, predictable behavior that teachers learn to expect from students. One teacher signed up for a whole bunch of library visits to keep from getting scolded for never bringing his class, but then conveniently forgot each time, so the kids never got to come, be he's covered just by signing up. Come to think of it, the adults' bad behavior is just like the kids'.

Some things that SOME teachers do that is a lot like some things that SOME students do:
  • Come to school tardy with lots of excuses (for kids: my mom/dad wouldn't leave on time; for teacher: traffic). I've used this one. It's almost never really the traffic.
  • Come to school dressed inappropriately (for kids: usually not suited for weather; for teachers: really high heals or way too casual/rumpled).
  • Talk while the teacher is talking (in the teachers' case, this would be while another adult is talking during a meeting)
  • Sleep while the teacher is talking (same as above)
  • Fail to listen
  • fail to follow instructions
  • fail to try to solve one's own problem before asking for help, even if it's a really simple problem to solve
  • fail to turn in papers
  • claim to never have heard of the assignment/memo/announcement/issue
  • claim to never have received the assignment/memo/announcement
  • use an absence as an excuse to get out of work/responsibility
  • claim that "He/She told me...." to shirk responsibility for a mistake or misinformation
I know teachers who do these things. ALL of these things. So if we do these things, especially during meetings, because were are not engaged, and we feel that were are being mistreated or neglected, doesn't that mean that our students do these things in our classes for the same reasons? Or do teachers do these things simply because over time the behavior rubs off on them? And does this happen in other professions? Lawyers behaving like clients, cops like criminals, doctors like patients?

*****Breaking News*******

I paused my writing because of a ruckus in the stairwell. Let me describe to you what happened in the last 20 minutes of my life.

A class came in. 8th graders who have been in school since July 6th but have not yet been to the library. Not a single time. You can assume that this means they are not reading. Nor do they remember how to behave in a library. They stomp in, followed by a substitute teacher wearing sunglasses. She does not remove the sunglasses the entire 20 minutes. I had an inkling this class would show up, but since the same teacher's morning group didn't come, I sort of assumed he was blowing it off. Especially since when I asked him what lesson he was preparing, he shrugged and said, "You know. Research."

I stopped the kids at the door, reminded them where they were, and invited them in. After assessing the situation, I determined the following: the kids didn't know why they were there, the sub didn't know why they were there, since they were 20 minutes late we only had 10 minutes to go, the teacher had PLANNED this absence and knew he wouldn't be here, and finally (last but SO not least) some of the kids thought they maybe were supposed to be working on a paper called "Does technology help us or hurt us?"

But some of the kids thought that, no, they had already finished that paper. No one was quite sure. I really just don't know what to say. This is so much worse than my usual crappy teacher experience. I could write pages about the problems just in that paper title!

It's funny how well this ties in with what I was writing before. It's classic teacher acting like student behavior. The teacher in question is most assuredly one that comes to mind when reading the list of behaviors above. What is going on in that classroom on a daily basis? It's a chilling thought.

To end on a slightly funny but slightly depressing note, I just had this conversation with a 7th grader:

Me: "So, your name is Justin?"
Boy: "Yes."
Me: "But it's spelled J-A-S-T-E-N?"
Boy: "Yes. The nurse messed it up when I was born."
Me: "Huh. Well. You should write her a letter and let her know."
Buy: "She's dead."
Me: "Oh."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tell it, sister. It's adult behavior like this that prevents teachers from being taken seriously as professionals. And I think it feeds student apathy and disrespect toward school. If our teacher is barely trying, why should we?

If I can add to your list of teachers displaying bad student behavior, it's no fun working with faculty who often: 1) tell students to shut up, 2) verbally humiliate students, 3) play fight with students, or 4) actually hit or pinch students as a means of classroom management. Makes life difficult for the few who ban that kind of behavior in their own classrooms.

I wonder if it's this bad at schools in better neighborhoods, where it's not as easy to hide out and do the bare minimum.