When I graduated college as a fresh, hopeful educator, I was all about changing lives and being understanding and reaching out and working for the kids. Too bad nobody ever told my fellow cohort and me that often times, the kids don’t want change or understanding or help. They want everything. Now. And they want to get a rise out of us. They want to look “cool” to or obtain attention from their peers. They don’t care how rude they sound – and half the time, pointing it out only causes MORE rudeness to erupt.
You live. You learn.
A student in a class of mine has been getting progressively uncooperative. The attitude I receive in one class period from this child is enough to fill the entire day’s quota of attitude for all of my classes. And the thing is, I always clean a student’s slate, every day. I still firmly stand by that one thing I believed I would do as an undergrad; however, no matter how often I clean the slate, this student (we’ll call the student Jo) throws paint on it again and again. The other students have started taking note by now, giving Jo bits of advice like, “Why you gotta start something again! PLEASE don’t!” Any time Jo gives me sass.
Attitude with Jo has been steadily increasing up ’til today, when I seemed to have reached a personal breaking point with Jo. I was in the middle of helping one of Jo’s peers when Jo leaned over and loudly said, “Ms. Smith, I don’t understand.”
I SHOULD have told Jo to hold on, that I would answer questions after helping the student I was helping currently, but I paused for that student and asked Jo a few questions about the assignment to encourage critical thinking instead of merely giving Jo the exact answer I knew was being sought. After all, it is not helping a student learn to just give the answers away. The questions-to-answers technique I use for all of my students is something I learned in college as an effective form of help in that it allows students who really do have questions to reach their needed answer by asking them more questions. Sometimes it may take several questions, but the student can feel accomplished in figuring something out on their own.
“I’m not sure if quickly is an adverb or an adjective.”
“Well, what is the noun?”
“Right. What is the verb?” ”
“Good. So does quickly describe Jenna or rode?”
“Yes. And what do adverbs describe?”
“Verbs… OH! So quickly is definitely an adverb!”
This technique works about 95% of the time when students have questions about their work. The 5% of the time it doesn’t work, it is because students are being uncooperative in some form or another… like Jo was being today. I looked up from my current help project and asked Jo, “How long has your character been in her new house?”
“How am I supposed to know?” the student lashed.
“It’s on your paper.”
“Okay. Your character is looking for all sorts of things around the house. If she’s looking all over, what kind of person might she be?”
Jo sneered at the paper, and refused to look at me, “I dunno. Boring?”
The other students started giving Jo “stop it” looks… and I tried one more question: “What specific thing does your character find in the woods of the house?”
“I dunno. Rocks and trees and stuff?”
I did the weak thing at this point, and snapped.
“If you want to be a jerk about this, fine.” I kept my gaze steady on Jo’s cross-armed figure. “In order to do the work, you actually need to read. I am not required to give you a grade for work you do not do.”
Jo shot me an icy glance. “I’m not a jerk!”
I did the weak thing again and fought back. “You are being a jerk to me, and I will not allow it.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I am trying to help you understand, but you won’t help yourself. You wanted help, and are shoving it away. You are blocking out my help, and it’s not doing anything good for you. I will help you if you will let me, but you are not letting me help you. You are throwing it back in my face and being a jerk. I’m not going to do the work for you, but I will help you. Just don’t be a jerk.”
I went over the questions again with the student, and received the same snarky, rude shut-down remarks as before to each question. Eventually, I just had to turn away and help other students that needed help, and were receptive of the help.
Almost immediately, I felt bad for what I told Jo. Perhaps I should not have told the student s/he was being a jerk to me; it lets the students know I can be wound up and snapped.
Teachers are supposed to somehow be the epitome of cool and collected. I’m not totally sure that’s fair when we’re also supposed to care INHUMANLY amounts about each and every individual student we encounter. I care far too deeply to go around acting like what the students do doesn’t effect me – because it does in ways I could have never imagined and ways that nobody from the outside world can imagine.
What frustrates me the most about students who don’t want help or change or understanding, what frustrates me the most about the students who need to be the center of attention to feel accomplished, what frustrates me the most about the students who cuss at me or write threatening essays… what frustrates me is that none of these kids want to change, and I know that, more than it affects my life as a teacher, it affects their own lives and futures as students and career men and women. Too many students these days are robbed of the disciplines of respect and dedication. They are robbed of the disciplines of responsibility and perseverance. They are robbed the ability to actually achieve because they are expected to be babied and pampered and given gold stars simply for doing something that – when I was young – would have warranted a spanking had I NOT done it. They are robbed of qualities that construct successful human beings, and yet are told that they can be successful without these qualities. This makes me cry semi-regularly for a lot of reasons…
Many students, like Jo, do not want help. Why? Because they believe they are entitled to everything without having to do anything for it. They want what Veruca Salt wants: the world, the whole world. And they want it NOW. Secondary students today have better access to more information than I could have ever imagined having when I was in middle school. Yet, these same students don’t know how to use the Internet for anything apart from social media and gaming. I once had an entire class tell me they were all too lazy to Google things when they had questions. TOO LAZY TO GOOGLE – Google, which takes the energy typing a few words, hitting enter, clicking a result, and reading an article. This, to them, is not “NOW” enough, as it holds within it the expectation of having to read. Their thought on the matter is, “Somebody else knows it for me. That’s good enough.”
I’m flabbergasted – utterly shocked. Nobody tells you as an undergrad that you are going to run into entitlement at its finest. And, especially, nobody tells you the worst part of all, which is that educational institutions pander to this sense of entitlement more often than not. Education would rather give a student an A than tell the student that s/he did not fully understand a concept…
I don’t think I will be able to stay in education if it continues down this path. I do not want to be forced to be an enabler of entitlement. I don’t want to be an enabler of jerks who don’t want change or help or understanding.
I attempted to right my wrong of snapping at a student by letting the mother know the student can come by after school to work on the assignment if s/he still does not understand come tomorrow. I don’t want the student to fall to the wayside. But I don’t want the student to think they can control me and make me snap, either.
With a pounding head, I plea for a reading soul and perhaps any advice that is not about trying not to care. How can you expect an educator NOT to care?