Monday, April 07, 2008

One in a hundred

Every once in a while, people tell me that this blog makes them wish they were teachers. Well, it's actually happened only twice, but both are writers, people whose opinions I respect, so I'll just assume that others think the same way.

To all those who think teaching is the glamorous picture I present here--stories of cockroaches and kids borrowing my clothes and birthday cake in the face--let me tell you about this weekend. I had with me a stack of essays. It's the end of the quarter, so kids are turning in work, thinking it'll help. And I'm stuck reading. And wondering where I went wrong. And contemplating accidentally losing all those essays and just giving everyone a C.

Here's a typical paragraph:
"I'm scared" I thought. I was on my way to finishing elementary school. I was happy that me and my friends we were going finish elementary school after the 8 long years. We were having the best time, just having some jokes here and there, and having some fun with the teachers, acting out some TV shows like Jerry Springer that was real fun.

Let's say I just read 100 essays. My brain is scrambled. And in that entire stack of essays, only one student turned in something that on my rubric "exceeds expectations" when it comes to organization and technical command. The rest, it seems, can't tell the difference between our and are, lose and loose, might of and might have. Every single error that I've talked about, everything they've corrected all year long, yup, it's all in their writing. There are 100-word sentences with no punctuation, 40-sentence essays with no paragraphs.

Want my job? Take it.

Then again, in that stack, there is one essay that makes it all worthwhile. I was lucky to read it early on; it gave me hope that there would be more like it. There weren't, but still. This one essay sustained me.

Of course it was about something illegal. The kid is (was) a tagger, and he turned in a nine-page handwritten essay about breaking into an abandoned building and trying to paint his name on the side of it. And to be honest, he did such a good job, the essay was actually suspenseful. Funny. I was left thinking, This kid's a writer!

He wrote about how he broke into the building and took pictures, but when he had them developed, certain rooms came out looking blurry or smudged. He went through nine or ten rolls of film, and the same thing happened each time: Hallways and certain rooms came out clear, but other rooms always came out destroyed. He decided he was dealing with a ghost.

I was thinking of sharing some of it here. I typed a paragraph from the essay. But on its own, it's not that great. You'd need to read the whole thing. And I definitely don't want to type that much, definitely not after reading so many essays this afternoon. You'll just have to take my word for it.

I'm just left with one question. Am I obligated to turn in this kid for what he did a couple of years ago? Which, actually, leads to another question: What about other kids, the ones who wrote about illegally entering the U.S.? Do I turn them in, too? And do I call the homes of the kids who wrote about things they do with friends after school?

Which leads to yet another question: Does any of this make you wish you were a teacher?


appopt said...

It is now three hours after I wrote this post. And, wow, my brain must have been really scrambled ...

I told a friend about all the mistakes I read in student essays, and he asked if that ever screws up my writing. And the answer is, yes, absolutely it does.

SKO said...

Hey, I actually found your blog a while ago looking for blogs about teaching. All of your stories, the good and the bad, make me want to be a teacher; I've wanted to be one for a while - I've always liked teaching and explaining things. But I don't have the balls to do it, when a degree from the Ivy League university I'm attending will get me a job that makes me a bajillion dollars a year and that would likely be less stressful. Such is life. I'm a sellout. =D

re: your first group of questions: I think there's a difference between what you're obligated to do and what you should do, y'know? So I would say no for the first two questions. For the third one, I'm not sure. I would feel squicky betraying the confidence they placed in me by telling me that info, given that a teen's confidence in an adult is hard to come by. Then again, I guess it might depend on the gravity of the offense, too. Graffiti, smoking pot - not so much. More dangerous drugs, endangering themselves or others (aside from the possibility of getting arrested, which is a given; I mean, like health- or life-threatening) - probably yeah.

Ha, I realize you have no idea who I am, yet I'm giving you this super in-depth response. Reason #2 that I like your blog: Effective procrastination tool.

Jason said...

You can't turn these kids in for what they write about. They are putting forth a great effort in writing about things they know and care about, which in turn leads to good/great writing. They trust in you, so they are willing to share. You can't destroy that trust. Great blog! Tony Scott pointed me to this, and I am glad he did.

Anonymous said...

I agree; you can't turn them in. You have no evidence for what they did save their own words, and they might have (might of, hee hee) made it all up just to write a better essay. So, if something bad happens and you are called on the carpet for not doing anything, I would simply say "I had no way to know if any of it was true."

And you don't want to betray their trust, either, that's for sure.

spacedunce-5 said...

It's funny how few kids realize that what makes a good essay isn't what happened; it's what you feel when it happens!
Or of course, you could go with the hyperdescriptive put-the-reader-in-my-shoes routine.

I've got to write in English for you one of these days......

freelunch said...

The kids like you and trust you about as much as they are going to trust anyone in your position. Unless there is ongoing destruction of property or an clear threat of harm to someone it makes no sense to turn anyone in.

It's a story, a ghost story, not a confession, why would you consider turning him in? I hate it that kids and even adults engage in tagging, but this story doesn't really persuade me that the vandalism is that serious, even if it did happen. Most abandoned buildings are eyesores that are improved by a few artistically implemented tags. Maybe you should consider turning in the landlord for not taking proper responsibility for the building.

appopt said...

Wow, lots of great comments on a not-too-good post! Thanks so much. First off, I agree with everyone saying not to turn in any of my kids. The way I see it, no blood, no foul.
Now then ...

sko: Over the years, I've seen plenty of Ivy League teachers come and go. We've had teachers with degrees from Harvard, Brown, Northwestern, University of Chicago. Some of them stuck around for a year or two, then went on to bigger and better things. Others are still slaving away in the public schools. Despite all the negatives (esp. the lack of money), this is a job that can suck you in.

Jason: Thank you and a big thanks to Tony and anyone else pointing out this blog to others. There's a ton to read on the Internet, and I'm always amazed that anyone would come here more than once.

Anonymous: I am very, very good at playing dumb. Then again, maybe I am.

Spacedunce: You do a pretty good job of writing in English in the comments. Keep it up!

Freelunch: I agree. I'm not a huge fan of tagging, but some of it is actually quite beautiful. Definitely more beautiful than the eyesore that any abandoned building is.

The Husband said...

I don't even know that the rationale for not turning in your kids should be that you have no evidence.

It'd not your job--you are a pedagogue, not a police man. If you think they are endangered or it might harm their ability to learn, that's a different story.

I am taking the kind of opposite route of the Ivy Leaguer before me: I've always wanted to be a bigshot. You know, someone who is famous--maybe a social theorist who is interviewed on CNN and MSNBC, has many book.

I was in speech in high school. I recently returned to coach and speech on the side a little and I realized that this is where I am really happy. I was previously at DePaul in Chicago (i'm assuming you know it) but I kind of had a post-high school crisis. Took off the rest of the year and I'm returning to school in Milwaukee in the fall to become a teacher.

I am really inspired by how much work you do--I think it's really great and inspiring. But I wouldn't say you made me want to be a teacher--but you've made me excited for it.

I will be a HS Social Studies teacher, and what I want most is to teach some kids who understand basic history and how our society and government works.

Keep on keeping on!

Bill said...

My rule is to keep quiet about what the kids tell me unless I think my silence is harmful. I have ratted them out over small stuff like cutting class when I thought they'd get over it and trust me. I'm no cool but I want them to be safe. Tagging is fine, hang banging less so