Wednesday, March 05, 2008


OK ... it's March already. I realize I haven't been blogging much lately, and I apologize, and I thank everyone for checking in anyway, and I promise to get back in the writing habit, but winter is winter, which isn't an excuse, but a fact; I get cranky during the long, harsh, dark, gray winter, I sleep more, I care less, and quite frankly, I dream of escaping. Chicago. My job. Students. Responsibility.

Here's an example of a not-too-good day. Today:

Towards the end of seventh period, the principal interrupts classes with an announcement over the intercom. One of our students, a freshman, died last Friday. No further details. But there is a collection for funeral costs. The family wants to send the boy's body to Honduras so that his mother can see him one last time and can bury him. Local charities are involved, but could teachers and students help out, donate? The school treasurer will accept donations in the main office during the next few days and pass the money on to the family.

In my room, silence. Every student, no matter how usually uncaring, can show respect at a time like this. Well, almost every student. All of a sudden, one jackass, a kid in class for the first time in three weeks, says out loud, as if to the principal, "Sorry, I gave to the AIDS in Africa fund."

A couple of kids snicker. Most look at him like he's a big idiot. I notice one girl, who is possibly a friend of the deceased, look absolutely stunned, ready to cry. I have to think fast, say something, tell this kid to shut the hell up, show that certain things just cannot be mocked. But it's been a long, harsh winter, so I have nothing intelligent to say. Instead:

"Why don't you shut the hell up?" I say. "If that's all you can think of saying after hearing about a death, then why don't you just not come back to class tomorrow?" I'm getting worked up, so I continue. "The boy that died, he was only a freshman, but I bet he accomplished more in his life than you will in your entire life!"

When I stop, the entire class is quiet. Everyone this time. I continue with the lesson, reading from Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild the part where a mother explains how her son's death has affected her forever. Yes, what happens in books we read in English class do relate to life.

As the bell's about to ring at the end of class, I notice the obnoxious kid looks upset. I feel a little bad about my reaction. I ask him to stick around. He glares, then gathers his things, marches out of the room, grumbling something how I don't know anything about him and what he has and hasn't accomplished in life.

The last to leave class is the girl who had looked stunned. She asks, "What would make him say something like that?"

"I don't know." It's a chance for me to redeem myself. Instead: "He's just an idiot. Try not to let him bother you."

And so another day ends. And I'm left wondering how to approach the next lesson in the unit: What is the meaning of happiness?


dbt said...

People are afraid of death and hide it behind belligerence.

Rich said...

You are human & allowed to be crabby once in a while. Don't sweat it.

--rich the photoguy

Anonymous said...

You may have lost a student... but I'm sure you made a lasting impression on that kid for a while. I'm sure when someone close to him dies he'll remember how coldly he reacted and really learn the lesson. As for the rest of the class, I'm sure you appear more real to them - after all, you are only human.

appopt said...

Yeah, so the insensitive kid didn't show up today. But the first seventh period kid in the door today said, "So, have you calmed down yet?"

So I guess it was a memorable outburst. Which reminds me of something that happens from time to time: A student will walk in and say, "I heard you were in a bad mood today." And I'll wonder what they're talking about. I mean, it's possible I said something or did something mean earlier in the day without even realizing it. But then I realize that, wow, the kids perceive things differently. And they talk. And that must mean that they care.

ms g said...

As someone who said something horribly insensitive at age 16 at the funeral of a classmate's mother, let me suggest that most 16, 17 year olds have a lot of maturing to do in terms of sensitivity--and that I remember to this day what a stupid thing I said and how bad I felt then (and now)*.

And as far as your students paying attention to your moods--what an amazing opportunity to show them how (somewhat) healthy people deal with bad moods, disappointment, frustration, saying things you regret, apologizing, and the general messy feelings that they probably often see dealt with in violence.

Having a kid has made me humble--I apologize all of the time for not handling things better--and I hope that it will make my kid more tolerant and less judgemental.

And as far as the meaning of happiness...I'm pretty sure it's about loving people for who they really are--faults and all--as well as being lucky enough to be loved back--faults and all.

Or maybe it's a warm puppy or some shit...

(*classmate had no memory of my stupid comment when I apologized for it at our 10 year reunion, but that hasn't made me feel any better.)

appopt said...

Ms G,
Thanks for the excellent comment.
1. I too have one or two totally insensitive moments from my youth that have haunted me. So I guess it's a good point about being adult enough not to make painful moments worse for kids.
2. Love the thought about happiness being a warm puppy or some shit. Maybe I'll use that in class tomorrow.

darlene said...

It's winter, and it has been a long one. Many, myself included, become much less motivated. A little SAD, most likely.

Don't be too hard on yourself about losing your temper. You are, I am sure, doing a hell of a lot of good. You have already learned that you can not save every student. Don't expect to be super human here and never screw up. Besides, the kids need to know that you are real. You just showed them that, albeit maybe not quite in the way you would have preferred.

As for the meaning of happiness, I think each one of us has to define it for ourselves, God help us! ;)

Rich said...

I was just in Chicago for a funeral as it so happens. Upon seeing the dreary grey skies I can't imagine seeing that for weeks on end and NOT being crabby.

-- rich the photo guy