Wednesday, February 22, 2012

When I Was Your Age

If given a chance to take back some mistakes, I think most of us would take back things from our four years we each spent in high school. Poor choices in study habits, peer pressure, romantic relationships or attempted romantic relationships and even fashion-- yes, looking back at high school sometimes seems a parade of our most glossy mistakes.

Which makes it very fun to teach high school and watch all of these same mistakes being made. And by fun I mean difficult, stressful, insightful and maturing.

In short, I feel like I am doing an improvisational comedy show five days a week.

Some highlights of this, my first year teaching, thus far:

I proudly typed my syllabus and course objectives, wording it to make sure that the class seemed rigorous and I seemed strict and intimidating. I tried to hide any evidence of my youthfulness since my mere presence spoke for itself.  People told me not to smile for the first quarter; some said year, some said month--- but the general message was don’t smile. The bell rang for my first class on my first day in my first “real job.” I handed out the syllabus and gave the same verbal overview to all of my classes: I will reward hard work, but I will punish laziness, you must read the material, writing does not have a formula, you will respect each other and me, you will not get off task on your laptop, you do not “get” grades-- you earn them. I finished my lecture, lips tightly closed over my teeth, and asked if there were any questions. A few brave hands shoot up:

“Is it true you are dating a professional baseball player?”
“What was it like being in a sorority at Ole Miss?”
“Did you like SEC football?”

And my favorite:
“Are your shoes Christian Louboutin?”

I garnered their respect from the start.

When I got the job, I was ecstatic. I had wanted to teach high school English since I was taking high school English. There was the promise of a creative writing course in the future, too. I was thrilled to mold and shape students the way I had been by my amazing and engaging English teachers. I was proud to tell people when they asked what I was doing after graduation, “teaching” “Oh, what age?” “Sophomores and juniors” “High schoolers?!” “Yes...?” “Those boys are going to be all over you.”

Gross. I decided this was a myth, something made up by Britney Spears music videos and The O.C. I wouldn’t have students like that. They would see me for my brain and my brain only.

For the most part I was right, I was able to sass back at them and gave them a seating chart and graded them hard enough on their first paper to prove whatever it was I needed to prove to them. But there is something about boys ages 14-23 (yes, I realize the giant age bracket and that it includes guys my age) that makes them nearly intolerable.

Around homecoming, this particular student came in my room and asked if I would wear his jersey on Homecoming Friday. “What in the world? Are you trying to get me fired? I don’t think you should ask things like that!!” He responded that all the teachers do it, it is a tradition. Tradition my left foot! I quickly e-mailed my other young teacher friends and it was confirmed that teachers do wear players’ jerseys, but that asking on MONDAY of Homecoming week was jumping the gun a little bit. Even though all the other teachers had on jerseys, it still felt a little weird.

Something that really makes my day, and by that I mean makes me really insecure, is being mistook for a student. Moms do this a lot. Of course, they themselves can often times look like students, or at least much closer to my age. Yes, hot-tennis-mom is not a creation of the writers for Desperate Housewives, they exist in the real world. Bless them for not working and being able to do so much for the school (luncheons, goodybags, breakfasts, cupcakes-- seriously, they take care of us and we would be a public school without them), but I would appreciate you recognizing, if nothing else, I am in a pencil skirt and a blazer-- the kids are in jeans and flip-flops.

These same well-meaning parents have had some glorious comments such as:
Laziness is a learning disability, my son has it and you need to be sensitive to it*
I know that all the assignments are online, but could you e-mail me what they are everyday?
My son will be grounded if he doesn’t have an A, I just think you should take that into consideration when grading.
Do you think you could change the research paper from Macbeth to the play they read last year because I know my daughter read that one?
My daughter said I needed to come to Parent Night to see your shoes, she said that is all she looks at in class.

In closing:
Our boss told us this quote in our first faculty meeting : It is the job of the parent to prepare the child for the path, not prepare the path for the child. I love this because it can translate to so many other aspects of life. How often do we want to change our circumstances before we admit we need to change ourselves? A LOT.

I hope I am helping prepare each child.

And if not, well, at least I tried while wearing great shoes.

*This was not said directly to me, but I heard from an eye witness.

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