I am a morning person. Most students are not. (Hell, most people probably are not.) This difference, as you can imagine, can cause quite a bit a friction in the teacher-student relationship.
Students walk in just before the eight o'clock bell, groggy, heads down, barely grumbling a hello as I race around the room, making last-minute preparations for the day, humming along with some song I have blasting on my computer.
Me: Hey, happy Monday, how's it going?
Me: How was your weekend? Do anything cool?
Me: I had a great weekend. Want to hear about it?
Me: What's the matter with you? You OK?
Me: Then why aren't you talking?
Student: Leave me alone.
Me: You sick? Bummed out about something? Need to talk?
Student: Please, just leave me alone! Go bother someone else!
(Note: This conversation is not made up. I've had a variation of it just about everyday for the past eight years.)
The bell rings, and if I'm lucky most of the students are there. Very few are talkative, but that's OK, that's what I'm there for, right? After the bell, as the class gets underway during the next 20 minutes, the usual stragglers straggle in.
I used to get completely bent out of shape by tardy students. Used to force them to explain. Used to threaten to call home, but nothing seemed to work.
Then, I tried to get generous. At the start of this year I offered my first-period students free coffee or tea if they showed up at 7:45. Many seemed intrigued by the idea, some even asked if I was serious. "Of course I'm serious," I said, "even though coffee is terrible for your growing brains, you might as well be doing drugs. But if you come in early, and you're tired and need a pick-me-up, I will give you coffee."
Want to guess how many kids have taken me up on the offer?
That's right, zero. Maybe when it gets cold out.
A couple of weeks ago, I had another brilliant idea. "If you're having trouble waking up, I'll tell you what," I announced. "Just give me your cell phone number, and I will personally call you. I get up at 5:45, so anytime after that, I can call you and pester you until you get up."
Whenever I say anything like this, I get the typical laughter and sarcastic responses. This time, though, one girl did something hilarious. As she was heading out of class, she gave me a tiny, folded up slip of paper with her name and number and a note: "6:15 please." This was a girl who had made it on time maybe three times in the first three weeks. "Wow," I thought, "I got some digits!" I was going to use that joke, but then thought better of it.
That night, I set my alarm, then set a special reminder alarm for 6:15 so that I wouldn't forget. The next morning, I was actually nervous, not wanting to call too early or too late. At exactly 6:15, I dialed her number.
"Hello?" a sleepy voice answered.
"It's me!" I said. "This is your wake-up call!"
"Oh hi," she said. "I'm awake."
"You don't sound awake. Stand up. I bet you're going to put your head down as soon as you hang up."
"No, no, I'm awake, I swear."
We hung up. Later, in my classroom, I announced to the earlier kids that I had woken up their classmate, that this whole experiment was a grand success, and that she would never be late again. She walked in at 8:10.
"What happened?" I asked.
"I left early, I swear," she said. "But I missed the bus anyway."
I called her the next morning. She didn't pick up. She never made it in to school that day.
I didn't call the third day. She showed up on time.
"What is this, some sort of weird reverse psychology?" I asked.
"No," she said, "we moved. I was absent yesterday because we were moving. I live closer now. I should be on time from now on."
"We'll see," I said. And we will see. Tomorrow.
I just hope I make it on time. It's 8:30, and I'm heading out to see some band at the Empty Bottle. I know, I shouldn't be doing this on a school night, but I have to. Just recently, my brother so totally insulted me with a reality check that I've been acting recklessly ever since. I was complaining to him that I couldn't find anyone to see Peelander Z (some weird Japanese band) on a Thursday night.
"Grow up," he said. "You're almost 40."
I guess in a way he's right. I am almost 40. But I'll be damned if I ever let my age--or my job--dictate what I do or when I do it. That said, today was a day off so I did get in an afternoon nap. But if anyone is up at around 6 tomorrow morning, can you give me a buzz? I have a 6:15 wake-up call to make, and I want to make sure that I'm awake for it.