11 February 2013

When You Have One of THOSE Years . . .

The reality of life as a teacher is that some years are better than others. Different mixes in your classes mean that each year--despite teaching the same content--is radically different than the year before it. Last year was one of my good years: a fantastic mix of kids created a magical mix that made coming to work a joy.

This year is not that year.

As such, I've been struggling this year to find a coping mechanism. It's particularly harsh to have a low year after such a previous high, and it seems in the 9 months last year of fairy tale class discussions, I forgot how to manage the stress and disappointment of a rough year. Here I present to you my (admittedly lousy) coping mechanisms in the hopes that somewhere out there, someone's got something better:

1. Patiently Explain the Situations to Students: Let's face it, students whine when you make them work, especially if what you're doing in your room is harder (or perceived as harder) as another teacher teaching the same class. "Why do we have to do this--THEY don't have to!" This is normal, and I have never had students who don't do this. So, each year, I patiently explain the following:

Students have to be in class. They are mandated by law (at least, my freshmen and most of my sophomores are), and as I teach a core class, they have no choice but to spend an hour a day with me. I respect my students enough not to waste their time--yes, it's fun to play games, watch movies, or sing for the entire hour, but students are there to learn, and I owe them that. While I try to make things fun, I also have high expectations for my students. No, my class isn't easy, but that's because I respect my students, their time, and their futures. And I will hold them all to the same high standards, no matter what their future plans are. As I tell my students, easy teachers are disrespecting their students--they are telling them that they aren't capable enough to be challenged. I don't do that.

Believe it or not, this response works 8 times out of 10.

2. Turn on the Sarcasm: When the "Patient Explanation" fails, I turn to my go-to response to all things which annoy me: sarcasm. "Oh, I know, it's awful we have to read in English!" "Oh Lord, you have to write a paragraph, try not to die!" If things get truly dire, I may spit out a "Buck up, Buddy. It's time to act like a real person." Believe it or not, this typically makes students laugh and stops the whining. I rarely have to go beyond this level.

Until this year.

3. Plan for Quiet Time. Lots of It: If students really won't cooperate, we do a lot of quiet-time activities. These activities include silent reading of assignments, silent written reactions rather than class discussions, and (in the most extreme cases) quizzes and other quiet study guide activities. The plan is that, as long as they aren't talking, I don't need to hear how awful and unfair class is. Needless to say, assigning a lot of not-fun work to a bunch of kids who are whining about working doesn't keep them quiet for long. This phase usually lasts about a day.

4. Cry: Not in class, but anywhere else is acceptable: the car to/from work, at home, during prep, sometimes in the bathroom between classes. This phase typically coincides with all remaining phases.

5. Remind Yourself that it's "Just a Job:" This plan always fails spectacularly. I'm a teacher--it's not a job, it's a calling I've heard since I was 5 years old. It's not something I do, it's something I am. This phase typically lasts about 5 minutes because I acknowledge it's uselessness and move on. This is a good time to revisit phase 4.

6. Become the Loathsome Human They All Suspect You Are: They think I'm mean? I'll show them mean. While in the classroom, I am limited as to what I can say to my students, so this phase is usually one inflicted on those around me. I turn on my students, I begin to hate what I do and who I do it for. My frustration spills out in mean-spirited rants that often leave me feeling guilty. However, with no where else to go, it becomes my last-ditch effort to convince myself I am not, in fact, a totally unfair teacher, that it's really those asshat kids' fault, and that I will be vindicated when they all fail the tests because they didn't listen.

When the guilt overwhelms you in the rant, repeat phase 4 before trying again.

7. Decide They Must Be Right: I'm awful, mean, and unfair; class it too hard, and they're learning nothing. Stare in despair during prep for about 20 minutes. Revisit phase 4 for at least a week.

8. Give Up. Count the Days Until Summer and Start Planning for Next Year: My current stage. This one also coincides with 4 and 6.

Oh...and by the way, 73 student contact days left until summer.

Here's to next year.