Friday, November 11, 2011


A teacher at school found out that I teach Zumba and asked me to come teach her P.E. class. I did. It was a grand 'ol time. As usual. Afterwards, a girl whom I've never met before came up to me and said, "I wish you were my student teacher. Do your students, like, absolutely love you?"

I assured her that no, all of my students do not absolutely love me. Maybe if I just taught them Zumba they would, but indeed English and literature classes come with a certain amount of studiousness and alas, homework. This didn't seem to faze her as she pranced away.

This student teaching experience has made a certain quality loud and clear:
I may be too sensitive for this teaching thing.

I struggle with students who lean back in their chairs, fold their arms across their chest, roll their eyes and huff and puff.

I loathe preparing lesson plans, initiating discussions, and having students stare in silence, while I contemplate dancing the macarena and singing the Canadian national anthem simultaneously in a desperate attempt to make them give a damn.

It's hard to stand in front of teenagers only to have them completely ignore you because their calculator, their other homework, the person sitting next to them, or the wall is more interesting.

I don't know exactly know how to handle that student who constantly complains about the homework, the assignment, the class time, or...just about everything.

It's super hard for me to look past that difficult student, to pretend like it doesn't get to me, or doesn't make me feel like a bad teacher. Because I can't pursue teaching at this rate. I can't let these little things get to me and actually survive, nonetheless, thrive. The alternative seems to mean being distant or removed so that individual students cannot penetrate my exterior. And if that's my goal as a teacher, why bother?

There must be balance somewhere, but at this point I have not found it. The thought of waking up early, driving to school, and encountering 100 different students who have 100 different needs, makes me anxious for the day (coming quite soon, by the way) when I will be done with student teaching and can go be a barista. At least for a few months.

There are those students who seem to realize that I am a human being. I cherish them. I need them. I appreciate when after asking 30 different students about their lives, their homework, and their hobbies during one class period, one student dares to ask, "Ms. Bo, how are you today?"

There are those students who seem to understand that I have fears, and doubts, and talents, and a life outside of the 50 minutes we spend together each day. This is refreshing. Ya know, to be treated like a human being instead of a teacher-alien thing who is only out to punish and torture with insurmountable loads of homework and discipline. That is not at the bottom of my list, that's not even on my list! But convincing them of this is futile.

The answer that I get from most teachers about this problem is: "They're teenagers."

Is that really it? Is this just a phase? Was I like this in high school?

I am 100% positive that there are a couple teachers who would say, yes. However, I can say with confidence that I was a student who connected well with teachers and thrived because of it. I knew them. They knew me. I was not pouting at each homework assignment and arguing with every decision made in class.

So if teaching is an environment where some students will be absolutely wonderful and others will fight me every step of the way, do I want it? Is it worth it?


Anthony said...

Shatter the norm. It takes a long time, but students are acting the way they have been taught to act. They are acting the way they feel their peers tell them to. Break it all down, remove the normal every now and then. Put the work load on them. Let them hang and feel some of the responsibility of failing. Failure can be so important. (Too much can be discouraging.)
Don't worry, I was not a bad student, but I did lean back in my chair, occasionally ask for less, skip class from time to time, and I could smell blood in the water as a student. But that is okay, because now I am a teacher. They made a difference.
You can't drag them to water, but hell, feed them the saltiest things you can find.
Thanks for the inspiration Heather.
At some point, if you get a chance, I'd love to hear a compare and contrast between your SDA placement and your public school placement.

Anonymous said...

Most teenagers feel threatened by student teachers. You are quite possibly us, in just a few years, and most of the time you are way cooler than they think they'll be. They're scared about the future, and you're living their future. Some teenagers will express their feelings easier; they will let you in, and allow you to be their friend. For the others, not caring, or at least seeming to not care, is how they maintain the status quo. Because the second you show interest in an adult, you become a suck-up. Some kids can live with that label, others choose not to. Now, I know there are kids who really just don't give a shit, but they're the ones you should focus on, not because you think they don't like you, but because they probably have more problems outside of school than inside. And in all likelihood, they will be threatened by your attempts to help them. So, be subtle. Make your helpfulness passive, by allowing them to make up homework they missed, fix things to earn back points, etc. Don't make it mandatory. That may mean they fail or just barely slip by with a 60%. But if you cause them a little less stress, they'll be glad, even if unconsciously. And who knows? Maybe they'll treat you better for it. But don't be confused by the looks in kids' eyes, by their postures in class, by the way they roll their eyes or stare at anything but what you want them to focus on. They don't dislike you, they just have other things to think about. They're kids; they'll get there eventually. Everyone has those days, maybe even those months, where that one thing you have to do simply sucks. And, quite frankly, it causes the other areas of your life to suck. But don't be discouraged by what you assume these kids think of you. Whether you think you can read their minds or not, there's always more to the story. Be a duck. Let her eye roll, his slouch, their constant sidebar conversations, slide off your back. They'll learn from you, even if simply how to interact with difficult people. And trust me, all the students who do obviously rude or disrespectful things, they feel like jerks. Always. Even if they say they don't, they do. So, take heart! You're almost finished. And there are many, many students who have learned a lot from your example and your teaching. You can't pass through a student's life, day in and day out, for a semester, and not leave a mark on them. No matter what any of them think of you at the end of all this, just make the impact you leave a good one. Even unheard or unseen, they'll thank you in the end.

Heather said...

Thanks Anthony and Anonymous (whoever you are)...

I imagine that many teachers struggle with difficult students in the beginning. Maybe it's that years-of-experience piece that is obviously missing and would help me feel more confident and sustainable in day-to-day teaching.

Your thoughts and insight are appreciated. Mucho.

Carley Brown said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the post, and the following comments. I don't think there was much left unsaid after 'anonymous'