Friday, March 27, 2009
sometimes they want to punch you in the face
So, I stayed home today. Mostly, it's because I've been fighting a losing battle with some bug all week, and by the end of the day yesterday it had rendered me achy and snotty and utterly exhausted. Couple that with the seventy rough drafts I collected on Monday but have not yet touched, and I figured it wise to work from home today.

(And yes, the fact is not lost on me that rather than reading essays, I'm currently blogging. Whatever. Shut up. Don't judge me.)

Anyway, rather it be from illness or stress or the fact that I'm currently worrying myself silly over something that may or may not be a worrisome thing, I've been terribly off for the past handful of weeks - irritable, impatient, quick to frustration, and occasionally downright unpleasant. If you haven't noticed, then good. If you have, then, well, I'm sorry. Imagine me making weepy doe eyes of apology to you through my computer screen if that helps.

I only mention any of this because due to my weakened emotional and physical state, I threw a bit of a fit yesterday regarding a student. My 9th graders are in the middle of writing their one, big, formal essay of the year, and, as I've already mentioned, their rough drafts were due on Monday. We spent all last week in the lab - brainstorming, organizing, conferencing and drafting - and although folks LOVE to bemoan the writers that public high schools produce, that's because none of them have any idea how difficult it is to teach 34 9th graders how to properly write a literary analysis essay in a 54 minute class period. Know that I did the best that I could. It was exhausting, but most of my kids had a draft for me on Monday, and whether or not they're any good really takes a back seat to the fact that they are (mostly) COMPLETE. And being that it's high school, those kids who didn't give me an essay received e-mails and/or calls to mom, which took loads of time but largely did the trick. One way or another, I got drafts from nearly all 64 of my 9th graders by Thursday. That probably shouldn't be a source of pride, but - sadly - it is.

So, after all of this, when little Brian turned his "essay" in - three days late and consisting of one lone, solitary sentence - it set me off. Amazingly, I managed to keep it together when I talked to him about it, politely asking where the other sentences might be, and what the heck happened, and why didn't you ever ask for help if you needed it, and WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO ALL LAST WEEK!?!?!? For his part, he said very little, clenched his jaw, and looked as if he wanted to punch me squarely in the face. Needless to say, I've had more productive meetings.

A third call to mom later, and Brian was finally convinced that he needed to come in after school yesterday for some one-on-one help. Surprisingly, he did, and it didn't take me more than five minutes to realize the core of this kid's frustration: he can barely read. His spelling was AMAZINGLY bad, and when I asked him to read the sentence he had written aloud to me, it was made clear from his stumblings and fumblings that mom had written his sentence for him. No wonder he hates me. If my skills were as low as his, I'd probably hate my English teacher too.

I wasn't feeling well and he clearly hated what I was making him do, but after thirty minutes or so we had both resigned ourselves to the fact that neither one of us was going home until this was done. We started with his one sentence, and managed to construct the skeleton of a less-than-average essay around it. It's not going to be good, but I think it will be COMPLETE - maybe the first complete piece of writing this kid has ever written in his life. So really, how good it'll be should probably be a moot point.

It took us an hour and a half, and for most of that time Brian worked without looking at me, grunting his responses to my questions, and basically silently despising me. But then something happened to him during that last half an hour. He must have been noticing how much he was accomplishing, and that led him (and me) to lighten up considerably. He started looking at me, asking me questions, and at one point even smiled at something I said. I'm not saying that he liked me during that moment, but he no longer appeared as if he wanted to punch me in the face. He even told me that he hoped I was feeling better as he walked out my room, carrying a complete outline in hand.

And that, folks, is progress: when they come in wanting to murder your face but leave smiling and wishing you well. Isn't teaching MAGICAL?



Your post brought a great big smile to my face. Thank you for expressing something I've felt so many times, but rarely shared because I thought most people wouldn't understand. I don't think people outside our profession really get that sometimes, an outline and not hating is a major victory.

And I, too, hope you're feeling better!

Blogger Gregg said...

I'm not a teacher, and don't know that I could ever be an effective one, but I have great admiration for those who are. I loved the tension of this post, and the breakthrough at the end. Congrats, Mrs. White! Something to be proud of.

I'm glad you didn't get punched in the face...and I hope you're feeling better.

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