The English Teacher

180 degrees
March 21, 2008, 4:13 pm
Filed under: Daily Life, Reflection

” “It is dreadful to be unkind: one keep remembering it.””–Post Captain, Patrick O’Brian

Even though I’m not naturally affectionate or friendly, I don’t think of myself as a particularly mean person.  I will admit, however, that my manner of speaking and my natural expression can be off-putting and may even be construed as stern.  I am not perky, optimistic, or a cheerleader.  Thus, it is unfair for me to be reprimanded for not being bright and happy-looking when I teach.  I try the best that I can, but I think it is unjust that I need to get in trouble for acting the way I normally do.  If I behave like my sister, who is naturally more open and affectionate, or like some of the other teachers, then I am being false and I would feel horribly awkward.  Rather, isn’t it good enough that I stay true to myself while I teach in the manner that best befits my personality?

My personality is something I’ve been reflecting on recently.  I wonder if I’m being too hard on my students.  But considering that most of my classes are doing pretty well and that I get along with most of my students, I don’t think there is much of a problem.  Of course, this is a very subjective viewpoint and that I may be mistaken.  While I think my students and I get along well, they may just be humoring me.  Last semester was a constant battle with one class and I will candidly admit that I am glad to be shot of the whole lot of them.  It’s somewhat unfortunate for another teacher that, with the change in semesters, I ended up getting most of her well-behaved students while she ended up with my “bad” ones.  I just hope, for her sake, that the class composition has changed enough that they don’t present as many problems as they did with me.

On the whole, my students this semester have all settled down and they’re lovely.  Even on the day before spring break, when all students (and teachers) get a little antsy, my students behaved beautifully.  They did as they were asked and they were very, very good.  I was a bit surprised because I was expecting a good amount of fidgeting and excitement.  Instead, they almost seemed….tired.  Strange.  Perhaps this was why my last class was so disappointing.

In this class, I have a student whose behavior has changed drastically.  Last semester, he was a great kid.  Sure, he was no Einstein, but he was bright and friendly.  However, I was a bit concerned at the beginning of this semester because he had stopped doing his homework and had become increasingly truculent.  He is turning everything into a constant battle in the classroom and the worse part of this is that the other kids are getting drawn into it.  I’ve tried everything, calling mom, calling his coach, but to no avail.  I know his mom is troubled by this, too, because we discuss possible strategies that may help and I know she talks to him about his behavior.  When I contacted his coach, the student immediately jumped to the conclusion that I was trying to sabotage his position on the team, which is just ludicrous.  I don’t know if it’s the fact that he has been switched to a class from the middle of the day to the end of the day that is causing him to behave like this, but I don’t like it.  After battling for half this semester, he has developed this attitude that he is going to get in trouble in class and then he acts on it.  In short, he acts out on a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Like I said earlier, I’m not an optimistic person, but I was taught to treat every day like a new day and go in with the assumption that everything will be fine. 

Frankly, I’m just incredibly confused and lost about what to do with this student.  I don’t want him to switch classes this late in the semester, especially into an Honors class, which is what he wants, but I’m at the point where I just want to be rid of him.  This is a real shame because he was such a great kid last semester.  Very bright, eager, and friendly.  This semester, it’s almost as if an evil twin appeared.

I’m also troubled because this student has the tendency to twist words around in order to fit his interpretation of how he is being treated.   Any comment I make, he turns it into an attack.  Unfortunately, there have been a couple of occasions when I snapped at him because he was playing on my very last nerve.  I always replay these incidents again and again and I wonder if I’ve lost him for good.  I always hope I haven’t, but I know, that a little more of the relationship that we had built up last semester has eroded away and that he’s getting further and further out of reach. 

This last part may seem selfish because it makes me look bad, and that is certainly a part of the issue–I don’t know who he is talking to when he is in this mood.  However, I am largely concerned with his self-esteem.  According to his mom, part of his problem this semester is that he feels that he is in more of a “special ed.” class than last semester.  I can guess what that means and I’m a little angry at him.  He is paranoid and evidently suffers from low self-esteem while, at the same time, he is very egotistical.  His ego is big enough that he thinks that he is better than some of the other students in this class.  He is constantly making remarks like he doesn’t need to learn something because he already knows it or that he doesn’t need any extra help, unlike others.  This is ironic because he will certainly take advantage of his accomodations.  On the other hand, he also has trouble digesting objective comments regarding his behavior and he will take it as a personal affront to his intelligence.  The other day, when I said something to another student, he thought I was talking to him.  Even after I corrected him, he would not stop complaining.  Finally, I just went up to his desk and, in a private conference, said, “You know, you need to stop being self-centered.  Everything I say does not always concern you.  The world does not revolve around you.  There are other people who are here, as well.” 

Perhaps not the most diplomatic thing to say, but his eyes began to tear and his nose and cheeks reddened with the effort of holding back the tears while he tried to save face by making a snotty comment.  This is what I don’t understand about him.  He thinks he is better than others while, at the same time, he’ll start tearing up when he is upset.

I’d like to say that this is because he is a typical adolescent boy: annoying, hormonal, and confused, but, with a few exceptions, the majority of my adolescent boys do not act like this.  In fact, two of my biggest behavior problems from last semester, who also happen to be in this class, have changed for the better.  Well, one is still working on it, but at least he is making some progress, which, unfortunately, is more than I can say for the other one.

Three Minutes
March 3, 2008, 5:12 pm
Filed under: Daily Life

It’s hard to believe how the quickly the tempo of a class can change and what can cause that change.  It was an uneventful class period.  The students were working pretty well in their groups on an activity.  Two of my problem students were actually present, but one was actually working and the other was sitting quietly, albeit unproductively.  When it was soon time for the bell to ring, I told the students to hand in their assignments and pack up.  I also had them fix their rows and sit in their seats until the bell actually rang.  Most of them did, except for the two problem students.  When I reminded them again, they caused a big scene, complaining about how mean I am and how pointless it is for them to sit down when they only had thirty seconds left in class (apparently, they need to retake math and learn how to tell time).  I simply told them that this was a matter of respect and discipline.  Frankly, I was surprised by this outburst since I wasn’t asking them to do anything difficult.  I didn’t even mind the students talking to one another since they, for the most part, had worked hard the entire period to finish their group assignments.  However, being told to have a seat and wait for the bell was too much to ask.  Of course, when the other two began their outburst, the rest of the class thought it was hilarious and started laughing and goofing around, too.  With the class’ attention as their reward, the two started acting out more, and one of them even said that I couldn’t tell him what to do because I wasn’t his fucking father.  Internally, I thought, “Well, I’m glad I’m not your father because I would have abandoned you a long time ago.”  Harsh, yes, but this is a student who bullies his own parents so they can’t even stand up to him.  Even when I told them to stay after class, they both left.  However, one of the students came back and I really laid into him.  I told him that I left him alone for most of the period because I could tell he was upset.  He acknowledged that he had had a bad day, but he also admitted that he was in the wrong for letting his frustrations out on me.  I didn’t want to let him off easily so I practically yelled at him and told him that he was smart, very smart and he was wasting his potential by acting like this.  The saddest part is that this was all true.  This kid is very bright and, even though he hasn’t turned in any homework assignments, he is still managing to pass this class based solely on his quiz grades.  He looked like he was thinking over my words, but I don’t know if he was just putting on an act or if he was sincere.  I’d like to be optimistic and say it was the latter, but I’ve given variations of the this speech before, with the same reaction, only to have the same behaviors repeated.

Three minutes can ruin an entire day.