A Knight In Shining Armor

I generally don’t fall for the whole damsel in distress thing.  It’s a bit nauseating, at times, when women stand aside and let someone come sweeping in to save the day.  Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy a bit of romance every now and then (especially since my husband is as romantic as a desiccated snake corpse).  At the same time, I’m pretty good at standing up for myself.  Sometimes.  Well…maybe.

Okay…I’m a complete and utter wuss.

But I’m am evil wuss.

That makes up for everything…right?

So, anyhow, the first nine weeks is almost over.  In two weeks and one day, I will be 25% of the way done with the school year.  Yay me, right?.

Nope.

Right now, I feel like a complete and utter failure.  Because I feel like I’m never able to teach.  Almost every week since school started, my classes have dealt with major interruptions that keeps me from really being able to dig deeper into the literature like I want to.

For example.

First week was hello, what is your name?  And then trying to remember their names. Oh, and I had a senior meeting…but I teach sophomores.  Thankfully, I have awesome colleagues who hang out with my kids while I help with the seniors.

Second week was I think I remember your name; now let’s start figuring out how much information you remember from last year.  This week, I think I did some teaching.  I can’t remember….

Third week was guidance coming to talk to my sophomore classes.  My senior class was fine…I think.  I can’t remember….but I now remember their names.  Sort of.

Fourth week was homecoming week.  Only we had the threat of a major hurricane.  And we were getting torrential rainfall that was causing localized flooding.  Teaching that week alternated between crazy costumes and rain boots.

Fifth week was get ready for the PSAT test.  I had the students bubble in their names and addresses on the answer documents.  It should have taken us about ten minutes.  It took almost an hour.

Sixth week was this week?  I don’t know.  Somewhere in here I’ve lost count.  Oh well…maybe this is week seven….I don’t know.  Regardless, this week was picture day.  And PSAT day.

And tomorrow I present at a conference.

Teaching.  Sure.  I love teaching.  But when I am fighting constant interruption, I figure that if I’m lucky I’ll be able to teach in April.  (November and December are interrupted with holidays.  January and February are snow interruptions.  March is state mandated testing for English 10 and spring break).  Yup.  April looks to be like a good month for teaching.  No real interruptions….just one or two senior class meetings.

NOW, YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT I AM NOT COMPLAINING

I really am not.  I’m building context in to why I feel like I’m just not doing my job.  And though you kind readers might send me reassuring messages of “It’s okay.  It’s not your fault,” I still feel like I should have remembered from last year that this was the nature of teaching in the first nine weeks.  These interruptions are normal and I merely have to remain flexible.

Maybe my bones are getting so old and fused together that I can’t bend over?  Nah.  I’m just forgetful (see the trend?).

I really want to make education meaningful for my students.  And I learned today that in a math class one group was writing a word problem about how easy it is to get me off topic.  RED FLAG!!!  Former students used to brag to me about how they would get their teachers off topic so that they could do less in class.  And so I made a point of trying to keep myself from being distracted and manipulated like that.  

So when I heard that my students were making jokes about my ADD-isms…I felt really frustrated.  Because I work so hard and…and…and..WHINE!!!

After a bit of time feeling stupidly sorry for myself, I thought a bit about my classroom strategies.  I do get off topic.  A lot.  But sometimes it’s because I’m chasing ideas around and helping the students see that one can always come up with new analyses for new points.  And, at this point, despite the interruptions and my massive squirrel brain, my students are roughly where I want them to be.

So, maybe….

And then, this afternoon, while I was teaching my AP Lit, someone knocked on the door.  I shouted the “Come in” in my evil voice and the door opened.  And on the other side was blank space.  And then a hand.  And then a familiar face.

Tristan.  A former student who graduated over a year ago and was in a class that I was convinced I had failed because no one would talk in the class.

Discussion helps me see what the students are learning.  Discussion helps me see if the students are comprehending and able to piece together the bigger pictures.  Discussion enables me to understand what areas I need to hone and fix.

But when the students don’t discuss, then I’m left standing in the front of the room, emotionally flailing and wondering what I had done that discouraged discussion.

Tristan’s class inspired me to start researching senioritis which led to my research project last year which has lead to a presentation that I am doing tomorrow about student apathy and its effects.

***Editor’s note….please know that I’m not saying Tristan’s class was horrible.  They weren’t.  They merely showed me that senioritis really was a problem that needed analysis.

Note, I said Tristan’s class…not Tristan.  And for those wonderful former students from Tristan’s class who might be reading this….you are likely not responsible either.  Because Tristan and a handful of his classmates would talk.  But this was a handful in a packed room.

Student-silence makes me question everything.  Am I doing something wrong?  Have I offended someone?  Did I forget something important?  Did they read?  Did they not read?  Did they understand/not understand?  Am I boring them?

Questioning is a good thing, but this level of questioning drove me to distraction.

And then, Tristan, a man who might have been named for one of King Arthur’s knights, stepped into my classroom today.  After I hugged him, we started talking.  I should have paid attention to my class, but Tristan was there.  And I needed to check in on him.

When Tristan was in my class, he was assigned to complete a project about an interesting person.  I was shocked (really, I was) when he asked me if I would be his subject.  I nearly started weeping, I was so honored.  I didn’t think I was interesting.  I was just an average person who lived in a couple of countries and did normal, average things.  It meant so much to me….and I’m not even certain if I can explain why.   But it did…

Today, I admitted to Tristan that I had felt like I had failed his class.  And I watched as his expression faltered and he told me, in no uncertain terms, that I had done what I had set out to do.  I had prepared him for the collegiate realm.

But what he said next floored me.

“You let me write with my voice.”

I know that this is not a direct quote.  But that is roughly what he said.

I had been told in my English pedagogy classes to give students freedom of choice in regards to their essay topics.  And, for the most part, I did (and still do).  Selfishly, this keeps me interested in reading the essays because I’m not reading up to 140 essays about the same topic (trust me, after ten of those papers, I want to bang my head into the wall).  In terms of the students, if they get to choose their topics, they will write better papers.

Easy.  I’m not bored.  You write better.  Go for it!!

But I never thought of that as giving the student a voice.  I thought I was forcing them to lose their voices because they were using research and academic writing standards to communicate.

Today, I didn’t see myself as a damsel in distress.  I saw myself as someone who was (and is) a bit worn out because this is a crazy week filled with constant distractions (Monday=Writers’ Group; Tuesday=grading; Wednesday=Specialty School Stuff; Thursday=tutoring; Friday=drool; Saturday=senior class trip).  And that preceding list was the stuff after school.  And I really don’t want people who know me and work with me to think that I am pointing a finger and screaming in a castigating voice.

I am merely stating experiences with perceptions.

But, apparently, my shielding that I have layered around myself was a bit frayed and tattered.  And no matter how much I was restricting myself, I kept on feeling like bits and pieces of everything were just floating to the ground.

And then, a knight in shining armor stepped into my room. And we spent almost an hour sharing memories, and talking about the curriculum, and talking about my current students and their needs and what I can do to meet their needs.  And the play that I am going to “direct” this spring (as in I have a student director and I am going to pay attention to what he is doing and will make sure ceiling tiles don’t fall on students’ heads).  And what I did well.  And what I could have done better.

And Tristan floored me when he told me that I was an inspiration.

I only meant to be a teacher, dear one.

You see, this is what surprises me over and over.  Every now and then, a student will return and tell me something like that.  And I say, “Thank you” because I know I’m supposed to.

But…

don’t they understand that they inspire me?

Tomorrow’s presentation currently has six people planning on attending. I hope more will show.  Because I am going to do my best and speak for my students, current and former.  I want the world to hear their voices, know their needs.  Because they are more inspirational than anything I could ever do.

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