They Don’t Care About Us

I recently fought a little mini-battle at my school in order to be able to teach AP Art History. The struggle was real, folks. I won’t detail the long and arduous road I went down in an effort to have the privilege of teaching a college-level course to teenagers, but suffice to say it was difficult. This post is really about something else. Another battle that we fight as teachers and what administration really cares about in a school.

So I went in to discuss teaching this course with my principal, not expecting any real support, but asking for it anyways. I guess I thought I would at least get a bit of encouragement. But no. I was denied almost everything I asked for.

Can I change one of my existing classes to AP Art? No.

Can I at least get rid of my homeroom, giving me an extra 50 minutes of planning per week? No.

How about money? The College Board requires us to go on two field trips per year. No.

Will you help me promote and fill the class? No.

Are you going to place students in there who don’t request it? Maybe.

Can I get some textbooks? Probably. The state pays for that.

And I may get textbooks. In a school who’s mission is supposed to be focused on allowing every child the opportunity to take an AP course. Wow. Okay, so that was fine. About what I expected. But what I was not anticipating was yet another reprimand on how messy my classroom is.

Nice. I am here pushing for something you should be promoting and you not only block me at every turn, you then try to make me feel bad.

And honestly, my room is messy. Actually, the floors are filthy. We have charcoal, we have paint, we make a mess. We create! Its art! As far as I know, my job description does not include learning how to work the machine that is supposed to clean my floors. They literally got swept ONCE last year by the custodian. Once. Not to mention that half of my lights were out for an entire semester and I couldn’t even go in the closet without a flashlight because all those bulbs were broken.

But let me get back on track. We are getting a new building this year! Yay! A brand new WHITE linoleum floor. When they were planning it, we asked for a concrete floor. Preferably with a drain in the middle so we can just hose everything down. But of course, this would not look nice. So we get WHITE TILE that we are now under strict orders to keep spotless.

You may not think that this is a big deal. Obviously the higher-ups don’t think it will be that hard. But let me elaborate. Each class is about 50 minutes. If we are doing a project, the students take about 5-10 minutes to get everything out. Then, they take about 5-10 minutes to clean up. Normally, if they spill paint, its okay. We wipe it up and life goes on. There is a stain on the floor which will come up with the mopping machine thing.

But no longer. Now, when we have a spill, we must all take the time to get out the cleaning supplies and call the janitor right away and spray some chemicals on it and walk around it and generally make a huge fuss about it. And those 5-minute clean ups at the end of class? Forget about it. Now, you will need to thoroughly wipe down all surfaces, especially the floors, before you leave. So go ahead and plan on an extra 5 minutes. Ladies and gentlemen, that is a total of 20 minutes out of 50 for set up and clean up. Leaving 30 minutes of actual learning time.

So maybe I can just take my own time to clean up after the kids, right? Sure! Let me spend my precious 50 minutes a day not planning, but cleaning. Let me spend all my energy on figuring out ways to keep this classroom clean. Nevermind grading. I can do that at home. Nevermind planning or organizing my actual lesson. Who cares about that?

Nobody. That’s who.

In the past 8 years, I have not been observed teaching once since I completed my general training. Whenever principals come in, we are doing a project OR they leave. They stay for maybe 5 minutes and then get up and go. I realized that not one single adult at my school has ever experienced what its like to be a student in my room.

I learned a lot through this experience and I have learned that people do not care how I actually teach. Furthermore, they do not care whether or not students actually learn in my classroom. They say they do. Oh, yes. But they block all the good things I am trying to do and then focus on how our school looks. Every single time my principal has been in my room in the past 4 years, he has said something critical about my clutter or the dirt or something messy. Not once has he seen what I can do as teacher.

This is why teachers are leaving our profession. Because our administrators do not care about us. All they care about is how we look. And you know what? Its not their fault. Someone has written into their job descriptions the things that should be important in a school. Hmmm…who could that be? The superintendent? The school board? The state?

The disconnect between what truly matters and what we are measured on is staggering. Teachers are the bottom of this totem pole. The trickle-down effect of priorities results in situations like mine. Where I really just want to teach, but now I feel like a babysitter and cleaner.

Oh by the way- check out this article which sums up REAL research that proves a messy environment fuels creativity.

This is the End!

The end of the school year! It’s a bittersweet time, filled with exams and movies, whining, complaining, and refusals to study. “I don’t cares” and “what can I do for extra credit?” Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we have made it to the last week of school.

At this point in a teacher’s life, we are as burnt-out as the kids are. All we want to do is give the exam, show a few films dug out from the bottom of file cabinets, and be left alone to finish our paperwork. But the struggle never ends, does it?

The children can smell summer. And they each react differently. Some are so ready to be free from the halls of learning that they simply refuse to do any more work- including that exam review. And sometimes even the exam itself! They breeze through the multiple guess questions and bubble in scantrons with wild abandon. There isn’t even a choice for “E”, yet they bubble in “E”. Others are rushing last minute to bring that B up to an A. Or more likely, that F up to a D. Each class starts with “We have x-many days left in school!”

And every year, unfailingly, parents realize, at this late date, that their child will indeed be failing Art. Nevermind all the phone calls, all the signed and returned letters warning that this course will affect your child’s GPA. That your child will be enrolled, again, in art next year. So they call the school and complain that we are racist. That we are cheating the student. That we do not know what we are doing and etcetera. They ask for makeup work, weeks after assignments were due. They ask for extra time. Now. With less than a week left in the year!

But guess what? We the teachers do not care. We too can sense the allure of sunny days sleeping in and saying what we want when we want and binge watching the new season of Orange is the New Black. And not having to dress professionally or even get dressed at all! The futile last minute struggles of doomed students wash over us like the last wave of a long and brutal hurricane. There is a light at the end of this tunnel! Sunlight! Sweet with refreshing wine coolers at 12:00 noon!

We say “I’ll miss you” to the pleasant children. This is a lie. I will not miss you. I will not wish that I had a teenager to “keep me company” while I eat my lunch standing up and making sure nobody gets in a fist fight. I will not miss you interrupting my planning period to make up some test. I will not miss you knocking on my door in the middle of a lecture because you somehow obtained a pass to visit my room for no apparent reason.

For those of you who are not educators and are forced to toil ceaselessly through the summer months; yes, you should be jealous. It IS nice. And we earned it. Each and every day for the past ten months, we earned it.

So do your worst, ye slackers of the most abominable degree! Say what you will, ye parents convinced that teachers are “out to get” your child.  You cannot touch us! For we are soon free of all school worries to bask in bell-less silence and play music with curse words and watch movies with nudity.

I’m So Cute

First, let me say that I am not typically one of those women who goes around complaining about how our gender is so mistreated. I am well aware of the discrepancies within many workplaces between women and men; salary, degree of respect, lack of promotion, etc. I’m pretty good at ignoring that. Most of the time. I make the same as any other educator in my district who has the same degree, male or female. I handle my classes and discipline and student respect in my own way and that’s fine.

But I had this situation at work the other day and I just can’t get it out of my head and its bothering me. So I’m writing to get it out, I guess.

I was upset. First, I had been sort of irked for several days over the lack of “thank-yous” received from my students whom I have recently been breaking my back for. None from the parents either, for that matter. Not to mention the fact that my principal seems to think the art department doesn’t exist. He forgot the big Portfolio Day I had organized, in which two other schools were planning on visiting so the entire district’s AP Art Students could collaborate and take a mock exam. He gave away the room we had reserved over a month in advance and I ended up scrambling last minute to find us a spot. Oh, and while we were on the field trip, he called to ask where the bus was.

Then, I’d tried to get our visual arts program included into this special awards program that the school has. It’s only for seniors who have completed a certain number of courses in one field (science, math, business, etc.) plus an Advanced Placement course in the same area. This was the first year we would qualify, but somehow, I kept being told we weren’t allowed in because our AP course “is not enough” to earn the honor. All of these things were piling up on me, making me feel that my program is not appreciated. Reminding me that the arts are at the bottom of the totem-pole.

That day, I had submitted an announcement for some winners of an art contest. There were several names and the announcement was pretty extensive. We had gotten pizza and ice cream for all the winners. I didn’t think the length would be a problem since our principals frequently spend 5-10 minutes on the announcements congratulating sports players. Saying each baseball hitter who scored  or reading every basketball player’s name on the girl’s team. Or else he spends time taking “personally” to the students about discipline issues on the intercom.

But he only read the first and second place winners. I was pissed. How often does our school celebrate the art achievements? They didn’t even read the last one I sent about contest winners. And that was state-wide! My club meeting announcements are frequently skipped over or trashed. I got angry, and I think rightfully so. I went looking for the man after school to ask him to please announce the winners in full the next day and also to ask why we are not allowed in this AP honors program.

Instead, I ran into two assistant principals and they wanted to know if they could help. I explain why I am so upset and this one man sais “Oh, that’s cute.”

Cute.

My anger at being shoved under the carpet was cute.

Of course, I keep talking. Saying that the arts are important and in general, don’t get enough attention. And he then suggests that this is “That womanly thing”. That I am only upset because I am a female. He asks if my counterpart, the male art teacher, is upset also. When I say that yes, he is but he is not here right now, my assistant principal sais “Well, that must be that thing where men can get over something really fast but women hold onto it.”  He goes on to say that he understands that I want all the names of the kids read aloud because they should get pizza and ice cream. This is my “motherly instinct”, wanting to make sure everyone gets their participation award.

By the way, the whole time, the other assistant principal, also a man, is contributing to what they obviously think is “banter” or “teasing”. They explain to me that I am fun to “joke around” with and if they didn’t take me seriously, they would just tell me to go away or give me a blank stare. Their defense of these patronizing comments is that they are simply “picking on” me.

Eventually, the big boss appeared and said he would read the names tomorrow. Which he did not. But I didn’t bother him anymore. I gave up.

This is not the only workplace incident in which my feelings or contributions have been ignored simply because I am the woman in the department. Recently, I ran into the old art teacher, a retired lady whose job I now have. I was telling her some of the great things we have achieved and thanking her for starting up the program. She literally said to me “that’s only because Mr. (other art teacher) is here now. They would never have let me do that. He gets what he wants because he’s a man”.

This man did NOTHING to build that program! The part that I was talking about anyways. I worked my ass off to get the thing on track and then what? Oh, its all him. Because we cannot do it because we are women.

Obviously, my indignant attitude is nothing but adorable to them. I am not cute. I am passionate. I am hard-working. And I believe in the importance of Art Education in schools. I take my job seriously. I care about those kids and I realize that every little accomplishment matters to them, as individual students.

But how in the world am I supposed to continue in this career when I am literally invisible to the higher-ups? I used to say I wanted to be peripheral. They don’t come in my room and they don’t penalize me for stuff like not posting lesson plans or enforcing dress code or ID policy. But now, eight years into my teaching career, I am beginning to wish they would see me. Not me, particularly, but my program. I wish they would come in my room and see what the arts can do and what my students can do. I wish they would come to the art shows and events we organize and I wish they would congratulate my students in the hallways like they do the winning sports players.

This is a constant struggle. It lies dormant most times, underneath the layer of business and planning and schedules. Occasionally, the problem bubbles to the surface. Like now, when I feel so trodden upon after a week of being laughed at, ridiculed, and underappreciated. And this issue is not unique to the arts. No, many teachers feel this way, in general, about our jobs. If not within the education system, then within society as a whole.

I wish I could change the way people see education, the way they see the arts, the way they see young artists and young people. But this task is too great for one person. I guess I’ll just shove those feeling back into their place underneath the surface of daily life. It is the individual students who I care about most, so let me focus on them and nurturing their interest in art. After all, it will be their generation who decides the progression of education. Their decision on what the arts mean to schools and to American culture. I cannot change the way the public thinks right now. But I can influence those who will, one day, be making the big decisions.

Would You Rather be Liked or Respected?

Would you rather students love you or fear you? Joke around with you or hide from you?

This past weekend, I took 26 students on an overnight field trip with my partner art teacher. It went great! The only issue was that one boy snuck out of his hotel room to distribute Red Bull to the other freshmen boys, who were literally jumping on the bed until 2 A.M. I considered this minor since nobody got lost or pregnant and no one died.

The kids had a great time and so did the chaperones; me, my husband, the other art teacher (we’ll call him Kevin), and his friend the English teacher. The whole thing went so smoothly, you would never know all the behind-the-scenes work that was going on to plan it. I had arranged everything with a travel company, but it was still hard work to make sure everyone was present, accounted for, and behaving. Not to mention that I had my hubby drive me ahead to each venue so there was no wait time for the kids. The point is; I did all the heavy lifting. All the other adults had to do was be there pretty much.

And I was happy to do it. I considered it part of my job and for the kids and blah blah blah, teacher mentality. It would have been nice to hear a thank you from the students. But no, they thanked my fellow teacher, Kevin.

“Mr. Kevin! You are so awesome! Thanks for arranging this!”

“Mr. Kevin, what are we doing next?!”

“Mr. Kevin, we’re having so much fun! Can we get a picture with you?! You’re the best teacher ever!”

There were so many posts on Facebook about how Kevin “is my favorite teacher!” Oh and also Mr. English teacher, who did absolutely nothing in the planning. Of course, the other adults recognized what I had done and thanked me profusely, but the kids? Not a single one. For some reason, they thought Kevin had done all the work. Some even called us to their “legal guardians for the weekend”, Kevin as the fun-loving dad and me as the strict, no-nonsense and no-fun mom!

That hurt a little. By the end of the second day, I was pretty put-out about how nobody asked me for a picture, but ran to be in the boys’ photos. They were bummed about being in my group and always picked Kevin first. I pouted to myself about how much he joked with them while I was concerned for their safety. How he compared crossing a busy street to playing Frogger while I freaked out because they didn’t know how to use a crosswalk.

And then I realized what was really happening. Those photos the kids were passing around on airdrop? At least 15 of them were of Kevin when he wasn’t looking. Kevin making a funny face. Kevin with the caption “My teacher is so cute”, the doggy face filter, little hearts around his face. And finally, pictures of his butt. One of them, complete with a student’s hand reaching for it.

How many pictures were there of me not paying attention? Two. One funny face, and one of my shoes. There were no “She’s the best teacher ever” pics, but also none of my butt or with inappropriate comments.

And I decided this was the difference. The students liked Kevin, but they did not respect him. They may not have liked my disciplinarian attitude, but they listened to me and obeyed me. So I thought, would I rather the kids respect me or like me? It is definitely better to be respected in my opinion. I will not be worrying about lawsuits or parent complaints. I don’t have to think about how my principal might see my rear-end on Instagram.

The struggle between being a fun-loving teacher and being a source of discipline is one many educators deal with. Its a fine line to walk. Everyone wants to be liked.  But I can’t let that get in the way of my job- keeping those kids safe! Yes, it hurts to be the one picked last. Yes, it bothers me to not be appreciated. How much more would it bother me to be in Kevin’s position?

It’s a tough situation to be in, but that’s teaching. Sometimes- most of the time- the students do not realize just how difficult our jobs are, and neither does the rest of the world. They don’t see all the planning that goes on just for them. They’re teenagers. The teachers they laugh and have fun with are not always the best instructors. It is not my job to behave as if I was their friend. Especially not in the situation just outlined. I was responsible for their safety and well-being. And while I was indeed ensuring that they had fun, they didn’t see that.

I have to believe that the students (or possibly the parents) might realize who organized their great weekend. A few of them may be appreciative of my efforts, even if they don’t say so. And if they don’t? I didn’t become a teacher for the fame or the idolization. All my planning and scrutinizing and scheduling was rewarded by seeing them have fun. Isn’t that what it’s supposed to be about?

Field Trip Fiascos

It was time, this past weekend, for our annual field trip. This was the best one yet! My Art Club keeps growing and we took 26 students to Atlanta, GA for an overnight extravaganza. Overall, everything went smoothly, but you are always going to have some hiccups on any trip.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you may remember the Great Penis Incident of 2016, in which we accidentally took students on a gallery tour where the art featured gargantuan male genitalia. Well, that seems to be a recurring theme of our trips because, yet again, I accidentally exposed my poor students to the unclothed human body. Although, it wasn’t nearly as bad this time.

We went to the Bodies Exhibit. If you’ve never heard of it, Bodies was created by an artist/scientist who uses a process called “platinization” to preserve parts of real humans so we can look at them. Some of the works were parts such as brains or organs or skeletal systems, etc. All taken apart so you can see how the body functions. Some of them are whole bodies. The only thing missing are the eyes and skin. I didn’t think anything of it, seeing as how it’s not like the exhibit is all about reproductive systems. But there were several unclothed and un-skinned males. Even during the tour, I never realized.

Then, we got back on the bus, where it was pointed out that I had yet again scarred kids for life. Some of them were the same kids. Whoops. At least they weren’t allowed to take pictures this time.

The first day was crazy busy. I had planned it that way on purpose so the hellions would be so tired, they’d just fall into bed and pass out at the hotel. Great way to minimize the sneaking-out tomfoolery that sometimes happens on these things. So we get all checked in and set a bed time and go to do room checks at 10:00. At this time, they were supposed to be in the room, winding down, and they are not allowed to leave for any reason except an emergency.

I’m going around, knocking on doors, and reminding them of the rules and everyone seems to be okay. Then, I get to these girls’ room and go through the whole thing. “You can’t leave, don’t open the door for anyone, need anything? Okay, goodnight”

And she sais, “Okay, goodnight! Oh, by the way, we can open the door for the Chinese food right?”

“…….what Chinese food?”

“Oh, we ordered Chinese food and it should be here at 10:30.”

What is wrong with these children? No, they could not open the door. They had to call the delivery place back and un-order the food.

Next door, the boys say “Oh, we were just leaving.”

“What for? Its ten. That’s room check.”

“We were going downstairs to get some drinks.” An argument ensued over tap water and the free time allotted in which they could have gone to get drinks (an hour beforehand). Too bad, so sad. Goodnight.

It was a relatively peaceful night after that. Or so I thought.

At breakfast, I sit down next to another chaperone who divulges that two students had been out of their rooms. Hannah and Andy. Hannah proceeds to explain herself by saying “I needed socks.”

“You needed socks…..”

“Yeah, my feet were cold so I had texted the next room over and I was just sticking my head out of the door and he was going to hand me some socks. But then he (the chaperone) saw me, so I closed the door.”

“Why didn’t you just lay under the covers to warm up your feet?”

“I can’t sleep under the covers because I get too hot and nobody in our room had extra socks. It was an emergency.”

So, there’s the definition of “emergency”, folks. The girl’s feet were so cold, they were apparently going to fall off if she did not borrow someone else’s socks. I suppose its my own fault in a way, for not explaining what, exactly, constitutes an emergency.

Andy’s daring hotel room escape was much more interesting. After swearing he was going to bed at ten, Andy thought it would be a nice idea for him to share his Red Bull (he brought a whole case!) with his two friends in the next room. So he grabs the cans, goes over, deposits them, and then goes back. The two other 14 year-old boys down the extra-large caffeine-loaded death-drinks and become (surprise) super excited that they are all alone in a hotel with two very bouncy mattresses. They proceed to jump on the beds until 2 A.M., at which time one of the chaperones wakes up, hears them, and has to go knock on their door.

Well, the punishment was that we were going to call parents. But I really really did not want to do this at 7 in the morning on a Saturday and the other chaperones didn’t want to punish the kids at all.

“Well, I guess I’ll have to call your parents…..unless you want to get it over with yourselves.” They boys ended up texting their mothers and spending the entire morning agonizing over what the reaction would be when mom and dad woke up and saw the messages. Then, of course, they got chewed out over the phone and after about four hours of them pouting and worrying, Andy finally brings his phone to me and sais, “My mom wants to know what my punishment is.”

That kids spent hours in punishment already, that he had created for himself. I didn’t even have to do anything! This is the kind of psychological torture that teachers learn to be great at performing on unsuspecting children. I strongly encourage any new teacher to become a master manipulator of the teenage mind. The threat of punishment, in this case, was the punishment itself. The adults died laughing at Andy when he realized what had just happened. They don’t teach you that in college, by the way.

In conclusion, I think I am getting better at this field trip thing. I am going to go ahead and declare it a massive success!

 

The Stress of Spring

Well, its been a while since I’ve written and let me tell you, things have been ridiculously stressful here. For starters, I’m in grad school and a side note about that: grad school is overrated. It honestly feels like I’m in a class with a bunch of idiots, run by a person who barely speaks the English language and grades me on spelling and grammar. In addition, I someimes google the info I need to know and then copy and paste into the assignments to get an A. But hey, it gets me a pay raise in the end.

Anyways, on top of that, my school district has gone berserk. The new superintendent has managed to infuriate all the parents and teachers and administrators across the region and the local news channels have picked up the story. So, I find myself trying to hide from the public eye in my classroom and do what I do best and am paid to do-teach art.

It is frustrating to say the least. I hope you never have to go through a situation that my school is in now, but you probably will, as is it not uncommon. Also, it is Spring. The stress starts here. We have all kinds of testing and homerooms and every other thing you can think of pulling kids out of class, so you can pretty much forget about teaching for the months of February and March. Instead, we manage.

I managed my fourth period class this week and it was wonderful. Let me tell you how I dramatically reduced the amount of stress I suffer during the day. Maybe it will help you.

Some background info: this class is awful. There are multiple students enrolled who have failed art several times. Yet, they continue to be placed in this course. There are multiple seniors who view the class as an “easy A”, who care nothing for discipline or politeness. There is one Freshman, who is, every day, the source of childish behavior in an otherwise “senior mentality” group of kids.

Again, this class is bad. They do not care about the assignments and half of them do not care about the grades. I was tired of this group wasting my supplies, being too loud, not focusing on the subject I am teaching, and generally raising my blood pressure. So, beginning this week, they are on punishment. And oh, what a relief it is! I should have done this in November, honestly. Here is what I did.

Firstly, some of the naughty children want to come in during lunch, right before the period starts. Nix that. There is now a sign on my door saying “NO, you may not use my microwave, etc”. The door is locked. It is nice to eat my food without someone asking “can I have some” or declaring how terrible it looks or smells. AND nobody asks to borrow my hot sauce.

Next, the hellions got assigned seats. I placed each student next to someone he or she severely dislikes. Awesome. Now, they can feel the pain of having to listen to someone say stupid things, just like I have to. Mwahaha!

After that, they get the crappy art supplies. Not only do they not get to do the linocuts (a super-cool thing, for those of you who don’t know), but they have to use these oil pastels I have been saving for just such an occasion. They are covered in black grease and there is no way anyone is going to make them work.

It may seem like revenge. It may seem unfair. It may seem like I am out to get them. This is mostly true. It is revenge for the months of August through January where I gave them chance after chance to shape up. It is that I am out to get them, in the fact that I don’t want them to waste my good supplies. But I will contend that it is not unfair. It is what they have reaped from the seeds of terrible behavior sown throughout the year. It is me doing what I have to do as a teacher to survive and not to flip and start cursing at children. It is fair.

I am so done. I am so stressed, just like any other education professional at this time of year. Especially in our district right now. This is that time that makes us argue about summer vacations. We need them to stay sane. I can’t wait for summer…..

Dear Betsy DeVos,

Welcome to America’s Public Education system. I think you’ve had a rather accurate example, if a small glance, this week of what its like to be an educator at a public school.

On your first day, people were mean to you. They showed an enormous amount of disrespect from the moment they saw you and they didn’t even want you in the school. Worst of all, there was no effective way of disciplining these people. You must have felt helpless and maybe even felt like you were getting no aid from the authorities.

Welcome to a High School classroom, where we deal with the same disruptive behavior and disrespectful attitudes every single day. Yet we continue to teach.

From the beginning, people thought you would do a bad job. They quoted statistics at you about your ineffectiveness and asked you to prove, with numbers such as test scores, that you are good at what you do.

Welcome to our teacher evaluations, where we must prove our worth by “making” students score higher on standardized assessments.Yet we continue to teach.

It must seem to you that every effort you make, every joke you nervously post, every time you try to reach out, your good intentions are thrown back in your face.

Welcome, Ma’am, to Public Education. Where in spite of every obstacle, we continue to teach.

Even though we are all pretty emotional about your appointment as Secretary of Education, we do want you to succeed. And our ideas of success are not all that different. We all want America’s schools to be the best! To be focused on our students and to propel our nation forward. The path to our goals is where we differ.

If you think that our public schools are doing a bad job, its probably because you don’t know us yet. I applaud your effort to visit us and see what its all about. I am proud of what we do and I would love for you to experience more of that first-hand.  I would love for you to see all the amazing things our students have accomplished this year. I would even invite you to visit my own classroom and my school, where we are Title 1 (please know what that is…) and still have a graduation rate of 93%.

We are in this together now, for better or for worse. I hope that, with the help of America’s teachers, we can make it better.

Teens and Tech

I’ve had writer’s block all year! Hahaha…..But really. I haven’t been able to think of anything worth writing about since before Christmas. This blog is supposed to be about students and teaching but we got a break. Oh, glorious Christmas break! All other professions are jealous, and rightfully so. But now, we are back babysitting your children. Back to the grind of snotty noses and even snottier attitudes.

We had a “professional learning” day on Friday. That’s when all the teachers in the district have to attend what they are now calling a “conference”. Only the people leading the sessions are other teachers. They do a good job of trying to make the day more interesting, or at least relevant. Some do better than others. I learned some cool stuff, actually. Like how to use QR codes in school and a neat music and writing game.

I went to one session where another art teacher tried to apply critique methods to other disciplines. She didn’t really make it connect and all she succeeded in doing was making our job as art educators look really, really hard to everyone else, which was pretty damn hilarious , in all honesty.

Then, I went to one about “Storytelling in the Classroom”. It made me think and that’s what I wanted to talk about to you, dear readers. All three of you. Lol.

So in this session, the teacher starts out by telling us the story of George Seurat, which, being a fellow art person, I already know. The other educators listened with interest. It was just as if she was teaching a high school class. She talked about the rise of Impressionism and the Industrial Revolution, all through the lens of this one guy, Seurat. She spoke about how young George felt, and his family and career. Then, she showed us some statistics about Generation Y, concluding that teaching as if the lesson was a story is the most effective way to reach them.

I love this idea. I love teaching this way because the kids get engaged with your characters from history. I realized that what she said was true in my own classroom and I had just never seen it before. But why is this true?

Generation Y is also being called “Generation Me”. They are more self-absorbed than ever before. And that’s not just our age talking. Research statistics show that teens are becoming more and more isolated, focusing more on themselves. So, if you can relate a character to them, if they can find something in common with Washington, Einstein, Hemingway, they will latch onto that knowledge and remember. This has always been true, but it is becoming “more true” for young people.

So we talked more about the “why”. Generation Y are the children of the Technological Revolution, growing up where politics and world disasters are immediately reported and shoved in their faces. Constantly. And so, they are tired of hearing the gloom and doom of news reports and retreat into their own worlds. Music blocks out the crowds with earbuds. Netflix and Hulu and Playstation allow them to escape. They want a fiction created to get away.

Most live entirely on social media. Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook. Here, they can create their own, fictional, personalities, showing only the best selfies or most beautiful angles of profile. They can even make up a life they never lived.

They can meet people from around the world, see famous landmarks, and travel to exotic venues without ever leaving home. Who of us, as a teenager, would not want to escape the harsh reality of responsibilities and growing up?

And they can. And they do. And they become absorbed into the internet and texts and vines, letting these things represent them, focusing on them, forgetting the real world and real people and real, human interaction. Teens are losing the ability to have real social experiences. They forget because they don’t practice, just like that violin you played when you were in 5th grade. They become socially awkward.

And an awkward kid retreats further into that isolated, make-believe world. More children are reporting disorders such as anxiety and depression, as well as social disabilities. Some professionals blame our environment, chemicals in our food and water, or even vaccines and medicine.

Could the issue not be the alluring fantasy world of technology? If so, we appear doomed to watch as our children become the socially crippled characters of a Ray Bradbury novel. The implications are terrifying and what can we do?

Each generation wishes to turn back time. In our case, to a world where there was good conversation and good manners and no cell-phones. But of course, we cannot. I want to show these kids that human relationships are amazing and important, however difficult they might be.

But, time will march on. Generation Y will create a new world in which to live and we will be outdated, obsolete, old. They’ll figure it out and make it work somehow.

I just hope that whoever is taking care of me in a nursing home is competent. And I hope it’s not a robot.

 

Febreeze La-dee-da

Everyone knows that the holidays make high schoolers crazy. Their brains are slowly going into hibernation for the winter while teachers everywhere are counting the hours until the break. The gradual disintegration of neurons make students say randomly hilarious things as the barrier between thoughts and speech becomes thinner by the minute. There are many accurate memes on the subject of the week before holidays and teaching.

One year, during movie time, Sherice saunters up to me with a quizzical look on her face. She’s obviously in distress over some mental exercise that teenage minds simply cannot handle.

“Miss P!” she shouts over the movie, “What does Febreeze la-de-da mean?”

I have no idea what she talking about so I just look at her with raised eyebrows. “What?”

“What does Febreeze la-dee-da mean?” she sais again. “You know, people are always sayin’ it around Christmas?”

“Sherice, what are you talking about?”

“You know, like in that song?”

By this time, she has the entire class’s undivided attention, which is more than I can say for whenever I’m speaking to them in December. To my surprise, they all AGREE with her and start in on a chorus of “Febreeze La-Dee-Da!”

My class of twenty-five teenagers (the future of America, I might add) is singing this to the tune of “Felize Navidad”.

After I finish my laughing fit almost doubled up on the floor, I attempt to explain that felize navidad is Spanish for “merry Christmas”. No one believes me and they sing “Febreeze La-Dee-Da” for the rest of the week before break.

The Hardest Thing

This past week, I did the most difficult thing I have ever had to do in my entire life. I attended the visitation and funeral of a former student’s child. The little girl was only five months old.

The mother, Star, was a girl I had seen grow exponentially throughout high school. Star came to me my first year there. Or rather, we came into each other’s lives. She is Mexican and was a feisty, and often mean 9th grader. She led discussions behind my back in Spanish about how awful I was and how I smelled like cheese. We had arguments. She yelled, I wrote her up. She was kicked out of my classroom more than once. She appeared doomed to fail out of high school, with a report card of straight F’s and multiple disciplinary issues, including fist fights.

Then, for some reason, Star began visiting me at lunch and during study halls in order to finish work (and sometimes for detention). She warmed to me in a way that probably neither of us had expected. I became her mentor.

Three years later, the same child who had once openly defied my authority and who seemed destined for alternative school, graduated as a Junior-one year before her peers. Her final grade average was a B. She had been accepted into cosmetology school. The enormous turn-around was even more of a feat because Star had accidentally become pregnant her final year. She walked across the stage at graduation looking ready to burst with that baby right there. She asked me to visit her and the baby in the hospital when it arrived.

The very next day, I received a text. Star had, indeed, been having labor pains during graduation and had given birth that night.

When I went to see them, I was so proud of what my girl had accomplished. The baby, Sophia, was the most beautiful bundle of pink fat rolls I had ever held! If there ever was a down-trodden student success story, this was it.

Star continued to come visit me at school and brought Sophia with her, calling me the baby’s aunt. Always sharing photos and stories. She was a happy baby, growing and crawling everywhere. Star and the father remained friends, despite having split up. The families shared responsibility.

Then, on Thanksgiving Day, I got another text. Sophia had unexpectedly died in the night. They think she suffocated while sleeping in the bed. Would I come to the visitation and funeral.

I took a half-day. Star was beside herself with grief. We all were. The father collapsed onto his knees in front of the tiny coffin, unable to rise. The family lifted Sophia’s body out of the coffin to hold her one last time. She looked just like a doll, as if she was sleeping and would soon wake. They passed the small body from arms to arms, hugging her close even though she did not move. Body rigid, legs stiff under a white dress. Her tiny feet, grey blue and pale, peeking out from underneath.

It was hard. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do and I couldn’t put it away, out of my mind. I wept for days. I slept poorly. To see Star go through so much and triumph over adversity just to have Sophia, her greatest accomplishment, stolen away, snuffed out so suddenly. My heart broke for those two kids, a young mother and father.

People don’t realize that teachers can love their students like this- to be willing to offer anything, even if its just attendance and condolences to our kids in times of tragedy. Most teachers who knew Star did not attend the funeral. I don’t know how she feels about that, but I was hurt. So many badgered her about being pregnant. So many sent gifts and asked for pictures. But only five months later, they had forgotten her.

If you are an educator or are thinking of becoming one, please show your students that you care. You mean more to them than you often realize. Be there to support them, not only in success but also in failure. Not only to congratulate, but to console.

It may be the hardest thing, but there are some things in life that we just need to do.