Thursday, May 01, 2008

Random moody moments

A fifth period student walks in, scowls, and says, "I'm mad at you."

"Why? What did I do?"

She doesn't answer, just heads over to her desk. She's probably not really angry, but I'm curious, so I ask her what the problem is. "Yesterday, you said you were going to sit next to me," she finally says, "but you didn't. I even saved a desk for you."

Oh good grief. I've recently rearranged the desks into a circle. And now, instead of standing at the front of class, I'm sitting amongst the students, hoping for more of a workshop-style of learning. And here's the weird thing: The last thing most teenagers want is to have their teacher sitting right next to them (the desks are pretty much touching). But quite a few actually want to be near. It's a proximity thing, I guess.

And I guess I blew off this girl's invitation yesterday. And now she's angry. "Today, I promise," I say as other students come in, filling in desks. She keeps glaring at me and even invites classmates to sit near her so that I'd have to go somewhere else. And I now understand what it's like to be shunned by one of the popular girls in high school.


Three times in one day somebody calls me a liar. Once during fourth period, once during fifth, and again at the start of seventh. All three times it's a declaration, an accusation, and not really sounding like a joke. Each time it's about the same thing.

"Man, you're a liar," a kid says as he walks in the room.

"Why? What did I do?"

"You said you weren't going to use that thing again," he says, pointing to my LCD projector. And he's right, I had said I was going to teach in this circle, that since the ACT is done, I'm going to chill out and have less structured classes, more discussions, more independent reading and writing opportunities.

"Well," I have to explain throughout the day. "I just want to show you guys a website that you'll use for research tomorrow. So, I'm not really using the projector for the whole lesson. So I don't think I lied."

"You should show us a movie if you want to use that thing."

"I'm not going to show you a movie. Of what? We have work to do."

By the third time I'm called a liar, though, I realize that students do listen, and do take you at your word, and expect you to follow through, and hate to have things changed up on them. Same thing with the girl I promised to sit next to.


Students also want to participate. Especially when it's for an extra-credit stamp.

Seventh period, there's a special education teacher in the room for support. Thing is, he's only here once a week, so he hasn't seen the new class layout or the new bellringer yet. As the bell rings, I ask the class, "Who wants to explain the new bellringer to Mr. G? For an extra stamp?"

And most of the hands in the room go up.

I laugh when I see one cute little girl practically jumping out of her seat. "Ooh! Ooh! Me! Pick me, pick me," she says.

Instead, Mr. G calls on someone he's trying to help pass. "I think I'd like to have Mark tell me," he says.

And I hear the girl, who is usually super happy and bubbly, slam her hand down on her desk and say, "That's bullshit!"

And I want to say, "Relax, it's only a stupid extra-credit stamp. What's the big deal?" But I look at her and realize it is a big deal to her. She really, really wanted to explain. So I don't say anything; I don't even reprimand her for swearing.

Mark explains the bellringer to Mr. G, and he's only half right, and most of the students howl about his explanation, that there's more to it than that, that he's an idiot, that he shouldn't get the extra credit. And I wonder if I'm teaching high school juniors or maybe third graders.

"Thanks, you get the stamp," I say, "but there's more to it. Does anyone want to fill Mr. G in on what Mark missed?" I look over at the unhappy girl, but she's just sitting there, arms crossed, upset. She refuses to speak for the rest of the period.


Years ago, I would have just ignored these little random moody moments. But the more I think about, the more I realize I must juggle the emotions and moods of every student in my room. What seems like a small thing to me can be huge to them. I mean, when I think about how moody I can get, it's so amplified for teenagers.

So, what I'm working on (and it's really hard for me) is saying something like: "You're right. I'm sorry. I'll try not to do that again." Even if I can't for the life of me understand what the big deal is.

Please practice with me:

Student: You're a liar!
You: You're right. I'm sorry. I'll try not to do that again.

Student: I'm mad at you.
You: You're right. I'm sorry. I'll try not to do that again.

Student: That's bullshit!
You: You're right. I'm sorry. I'll try not to do that again.

Make it sincere and you're on your way to being an OK teacher.


rich the photo guy said...

I knew there was a reason I didn't become a teacher.

(Actually, having an administrator and teacher for parents, I had a LOT of reasons NOT to pursue that career path!)

You are a very patient man.

Grandma(formerly MOM) said...

Your newly found system works for parents too. Kids love to be told they're right, or they taught you something. When you exclaim, "Wow, I never knew that. You just taught me something..." they get this almost radiant look crossing their face.

Jay M. said...

It's weird to look at situations like these. I teach an after-school program here, and I'm a bit surprised by some of the things the students choose to remember. Or certain things that actually offend them.

It seems that as we get a little older we make "plans" that become more and more casual. "I should clean the floor this week. We won't be using this book anymore. Let's hang out soon."

These little thoughts we have are probably sincere at the time, but it seems people just don't follow through all the time. Twelve or thirteen years ago, I might have thought differently.

Back then, your word was your word. Maybe it's something we do as adults more often, and in situations with peers, there's an understanding of the casual conversation.

I don't really know, I just know I have to pay close attention to the things I tell my kids.

crankygirl said...

I love this post. I think it's great that the students in your classes trust you enough to take you at your word and confront you with your lapses.

But I couldn't do what you do.