Friday, December 2, 2011

Four Percent

Ten days until I graduate college.
More importantly, ten days until I am done with my student teaching.

All semester, as I've talked with teachers about the difficulty of dealing with some students (their attitudes, their complaining, their work ethic and such), I've gotten similar answers:

"Meh, they're just kids. They'll grow out of it."

"They're adolescents."

"What did you expect? They're teenagers."

"The behaviors associated with minor mental illness, substance abuse, and adolescence all look the same. It's hard to tell them apart and easy to misdiagnose."

This doesn't say much good about the state of some of our youth. I don't think this is a recent phenomenon that I was unaffected by 5-8 years ago. Yet, only now, it totally perplexes me. Hearing what teachers have to say about the norms associated with this age group makes me sad. Aren't we giving up on them? Shouldn't we expect more? Shouldn't what one teacher calls "egocentric impulsivity" be harnessed? Tamed? Managed? Can we save them from this self-centered, irrational roller coaster? In short, shouldn't other teachers be as equally bothered by this as I am?

Experienced educators have, not only thick skin, but a better understanding of the development of human beings than I do. Most of them are parents. This might have something to do with it. Because they seem so unaffected and unconcerned with the attitudes of the teenagers they encounter day-to-day.

For example, today in class a student was doing her chemistry homework while I was teaching. I didn't actually notice, but Ken did. He took the piece of paper and put it on his desk to be given back at the end of class. A simple move to get the student on-track and focused on the task at hand. I thought. She rolled her eyes, pursed her lips tightly together, glared straight ahead, crossed her arms in front of her chest, and remained absolutely silent and apparently disgusted for the next 40 minutes.

This blows my mind. Of course, you can't be so obviously disrespectful and ignore what the teacher's trying to teach, but to her, this was an abomination. An infringement on her rights. An outrage. To her, this was nearly the end of the world. Or at least the end of the next 40 minutes (which might as well have been her world).

When the bell rang, there was no reasoning with her. No talking. No conversation about why Ken just might've been trying to keep her focused. No. She was pissed and wanted to be pissed. Congratulations.

Things like this drive me crazy. I want to sit them down and say, "Really? You're sixteen years-old and this is what you're throwing a tantrum over (a lost assignment, homework, a quiz, for the classroom to be quiet)? Do you see how this is helping no one? Not me? Not you?"

I don't understand it, yet, I know my own irrational behaviors.

Such as, one morning a few weeks ago, I decided to write down what was stressing me out about school. It came down to this: of the roughly one hundred students that I interact with every day, there are about four students in particular who frustrate me to no end. Four percent of the students I encounter each day cause about 95% of my stress. I've been letting the minority rule me.

I can't change difficult students. I can't make them see that what they're SO angry about in this moment is really not a big deal. But I can focus on the fact that ninety-six percent of my students are pretty descent. That other four percent may be ornery and make me want to hit myself in the face (with a cast iron skillet), but at the end of the day, they are only four percent.

They are only four percent.
They are only four percent.

Yes, alas, I'll need to repeat this numerous times in the next ten days when that four percent threatens my sanity and my sincerity toward the other ninety-six percent who make me smile, who work hard, who don't complain, and who have brightened my day. Every day.