Saturday, November 01, 2008

One man's loss of control is another man's breath of fresh air

On Wednesday, I popped off at a kid. It wasn't a big deal...I didn't cuss, I didn't embarrass him in front of everyone. But I did let him know he was out of line. He had done very little of the homework, and even as he made a couple of lame excuses, I let him know it wasn't acceptable. When I got about a step away, he shouted "God! I HATE this class!" I turned right back around and let him know that this wasn't acceptable, that there's no way he should talk like that when he knew I could hear, that his not doing the work was not a reflection of the class, that he needs to learn not to quit when things get hard, but to solicit help, etc.

I was pissed.

It was only two weeks ago that I had similarly laid into a kid at a meeting with his parents and the counselor. It was similar shit...he was giving extremely lame reason after extremely lame reason why he was not turning in work. (He is getting a 30% in my class, which is higher than what he got for me last year as a sophomore.) I called bullshit on him without cussing...but I absolutely did point and raise my voice, telling him that he had a whole room full of adults here who wanted him to get a diploma, but it didn't matter if he was going to make such terrible decisions and back them with lame excuses all day, every day, for two years.

I'm worried enough about these episodes' impact on my psyche...and my ability to teach long-term without burning out...that I visited the principal and told her about my recent misadventures and my worries. I recounted the issue in class that day, then the issue with the kid in the counselor's office.

"Oh yeah! Bob [the counselor] came in after that meeting and told me about it!"

Really? Was it that bad?

"No! He loved it! He said that you were giving the kid absolutely no wiggle room as far as making excuses or avoiding work! He said it was refreshing, and he wishes he had more meetings like that!"

Wow. Refreshing??? Really, when you come right down to it, all I did was have a minor meltdown. If that's refreshing, I could do it daily! But, to hear my boss say it, enough teachers in my building are willing to look the other way while kids' bad decisions are fucking up their lives that a lashing-out like mine is actually the sign of good character, not a character flaw.

Of course, this doesn't solve the problem of potential burnout. But hey, popping off at a kid every two weeks isn't that bad if it's "refreshing." If I can leave the stress at work and not take it home, it might even be sustainable over my career. And if we change the culture in our building such that people who don't accept failure become the rule rather than the exception, perhaps I won't be the countercultural maverick any longer.


Greg said...

Bravo! I'm delighted to hear you're willing to give an obstinate student a verbal whap upside the head. Sometimes I think that's what it takes to get through to them that the situation is serious.

tommyspoon said...

Hear hear! Most of us don't like to confront unpleasant issues, particularly when it comes to our own families. As a third party, you can say the things that need to be said. The Good Cop/Bad Cop routine only works if you exercise both roles... ;-)