Tag Archives: Teaching

Temptations of Teaching: STOP BEING WRONG AND LISTEN TO ME!

Standard

By Rachel

Today, I had the extrovert’s greatest joy: a day full of meaningful connections after a FREAKING DESERT OF AT HOME ALONE SICKLINESS.

It was awesome.

Anyways, this brought me to a few observations about teen dating practices, based on the comments some of my students were making about Pride and Prejudice in relation to their lives. Here are my observations:

  1. Girls do this stupid thing where we imagine things into existence until forced to acknowledge the passive rejection that is “He is not asking me out.” This is bad.
  2. Boys do this stupid thing where they pretend that things didn’t exist in order to side-step the sensation of actual rejection that is “No. I do not want to date you.” This is also bad.

So what do you (or as it happens, I, their teacher) tell teenagers who are participating in or are victimized by one  of these two very stupid things…besides: stop doing that, it’s dumb.

I ask because I really don’t know. On the girl side, I have an easier time imagining what to say. I could say, “Oooh. I’ve done that. And you won’t believe me, but the just imagining thing is not only a bad and unhealthy thing to do. It is also kindof a sin. No really.”

On the guy side, I mostly want to say, “Stoppit. This does not make you look cool or mature. It makes you look like a 5-year-old throwing a temper-tantrum. Or an ostrich (head in the sand and all that jazz).”

Neither of these is particularly teacher-y. Nor does either respect the prerogative of teenagers to do stupid (and hopefully harmless) stuff and (DEAR GOD, I REALLY HOPE!) learn from it. This is the problem with teaching. Freaking boundaries and freaking knowing that some of the crap that your students do is idiotic… and or damaging.

Right now I am settling for vague statements about literary figures: “Look, isn’t it stupid when Mr. Collins won’t take no for an answer, and then tries to think of Lizzy as less worthy to convince himself that the rejection isn’t that bad. Doesn’t he seem immature!” or “Look, isn’t Caroline Bingley, by reading the second half-of Mr. Darcy’s novel in order to make it seem like they are on the same page, a little bit pathetic and begging for a heartbreak. ISN’T SHE!?!”

Not that these behaviors are limited to teenagers. Nope. No, they are not. So, I can tell you (and through this, my future self) that both of these behaviors are BAD. Reality is good. And difficult. And good… That’s what I am sticking with.

Things My Students say…

Standard

I love teaching. I mean I really love teaching.

Except on the days when I don’t. I have had a couple of those days in the past week or so.

I don’t have a good solution for this or a grace-filled perspective on the problem yet, so I would really appreciate any prayers that you have to offer on the subject. In the meantime, here are some things my students have said to me that have made not laughing VERY DIFFICULT:

  1. (Confusedly, after I handed them a hand-annotated-by-me-in-one-night script, notes packet, and schedule of grades for the Macbeth segment so that they don’t have to use the stupid text book.) Ms. Davies…. you really think! Are you on crack?
  2. Would you like me to buy you a gun?
  3. You go, girl!
  4. How many words are in a sentence?
  5. Wait, Huck isn’t black?
  6. So… you have gold eyes, and you look really young, but you know everything… are you a vampire? (This, by the way, is the worst compliment I have ever received.)
  7. Wait, so let me get this straight: Hester Jester was married to (in a British accent) Chillingworth (in American accent) but then she hooked up with Dimwit and had Rose. I mean Pearl. I mean Rose. What’s her name? Can we go outside?
  8. So adverbs modify verbs? (This is a 10th grader.)
  9. Me: What do you care about?

    Student: Basketball.

    Me: And?

    Student: Nothing. Well, reading basketball stats. Does that count?

  10. Student: I don’t like Pride and Prejudice. Can we read something with dragons again? I liked Beowulf. And Macbeth.

    Me: Macbeth doesn’t have dragons.

    Student: Really? Oh. Nevermind.

  11. Me: I won’t be here on Friday, so you will be writing your in-class-essays for a substitute.

    Student 1: Where are you going? Are you getting married?

    Student 2: No! She doesn’t have a ring.

    Student 3: Are you having a baby?

    Student 2: What did I just say, stupid?!

    Student 1: It could happen…

    Student 3: Well, she’s gonna get engaged soon. I can tell.

    Me: EXCUSE ME!

    Student 1: Wait, we have to write an essay on Friday?

    (We write in-class-essays EVERY Friday. We have written one every Friday since the beginning of the year.)

  12. Student: I think that Twain is imitating Emily Dickinson in this passage!

    Me: I had never noticed that. I think you’re right. Good eye! That is definitely an allusion.

    Student: You mean it’s an easter egg, Ms. Davies.

    Me:… No…

OK, so that is it for now. Pray for me. Laugh at me. Enjoy the mirth that my students share with me daily… mostly unintentionally.

Oh the Humility!

Standard

Hello there. Excuse me as I completely fail to explain my two and a half month absence from the blogosphere (aside from saying “Teaching is time consuming.”)

This is my very special attempt to jump back in. Bear with me, it’s gonna be rough at first.

Teaching is a heady thing. For instance, on Thursday I received an unusual amount of compliments.

If I were a naturally humble or sane person, this would not have been a problem. Unfortunately, I am neither humble nor sane, so every one of those suckers went directly to my head. From compliment to ego-trip in less than 8 seconds! There might as well have been bouquets and tiaras so far as I was concerned.

Teacher of the year! Coming through! I am making a difference! I am molding the minds of young people!

Anyone who knows me at all should know what comes next –  HUMILITY FACE PLANT OF DOOM!

Which brings us to Friday.

On Friday, I agreed to play for the faculty in a Varsity v. Faculty volleyball game. Not to brag, but I have (had) a mean serve. Also, because I am not short I have (ahem HAD) a decent spike. So, of course, I was teasingly trash-talking my students. Because I am Awesome Teacher-Lady who  can do no wrong and at one time  was not entirely uncoordinated! Obviously.

Then they trounced us.

I was not happy.  And amidst my unhappiness, I realized that the fall had only just begun. Not only Because I  cared (a lot) and wanted to win (a lot) and bragged (A LOT), but also for some thing even worse.

You see, I realized that Normal-Me has a solid set of evasions for just such an embarrassing occasions.

Option #1, we have the itemized list of all the reasons this was a ridiculous contest:

  1. They had been practicing for 6 months.
  2. We did not know we had a team until the day before.
  3. The other teachers didn’t communicate.
  4. My shoulder went numb.
  5. One of the male teachers kept stealing my spikes.
  6. Etc.

Or Option #2, the classic: “It’s not like we were really trying.

Yes. You can hate me, because that option actually occurred to me. It occurred to me to pull the “not trying” card on a group of 17-year-old girls. Whom I teach. Whose minds and emotional well-being is at least partially under my protection. (Did I mention that  I do not like to fail? I do not like it at all.)

You see, the real problem with all of this was not the volleyball shame, but the panic-inducing pride that took over my brain. Fortunately, I am a teacher. And you know what is the best and worst thing about teaching? My students’ faces.

The are like tiny post-it notes reminding me exactly how terrible of a person I am for considering the options above, and how much more terribleI would be if I used any of the options above. Which I probably would, if they were not my students. Curse their tiny impressionable faces for alerting me to and protecting me from my tendency toward  sin, pride and general badness!

How, you might ask? By noticing.

Please imagine Eyeore saying this.

That is what students do. That is ALL students do. No more, and no less. Try though I may, I do not mould their minds or make them who they will be; wish though I might,  they are not oblivious or impervious to my failings. They simply notice what I say and do. 

So this is the blessed and stinging enforced humility on my plate for tomorrow. I get to go in and try to say: “Congratulations! You destroyed us. Yes, I apparently have lost all skill at volleyball, along with the sensation in my right shoulder. Also, I seem to have totally misinterpreted the passage we talked about on Thursday. Now please open your books and try to remember a fraction of the material we talked about on Friday.”

That really should not be hard, but it is.

So, thank God for teaching and for my students. May they never be in as desperate need of  a spiritual smack down as I so frequently am. Because humility FREAKING STINGS! 

Vocation: Where Your Weaknesses Meet the World’s Needs?

Standard

I have been wanting to write a post about how the first two weeks of teaching have gone for me. There are the obvious bits: I am so unbelievably tired; I already love my kids so much; my feet have never been so sore; this generation does not know how to write a sentence; teaching is tricky; and lesson planning was invented by the devil to give me panic attacks.

But this blog post is not actually about any of these things. It is about vocation.

Have you ever heard the phrase “Vocation is where your greatest love meets the world’s greatest need”? I have. Repeatedly. At so many retreats and in so many deep and anxiety-ridden conversations about “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH MY LIFE?!”. And I have always found it vaguely comforting, but also pretty unsatisfying.

I love a lot of things. How am I supposed to know which of those things is my “greatest love”? Heck, the only reason I got  away from college with a single major (or a major at all) was that my other  “greatest (academic) love”, was not an option for a full major, just a concentration.  (Concentration is UD for “minor”.) After graduating I still hadn’t decided on anything, so I spent all last year testing out the possibility of music as a career – Woohoo Opera! The whole time, I was hoping either that the heavens would open  tell me that I was a musical genius who could skip the whole grad school thing and go directly to awesome, OR that I would suddenly realize that I didn’t love music as much as I thought I did…

Neither happened.

So,  I got a job teaching English. (This isn’t me settling. Like I said- I love many things.) Two weeks in, I can tell you that at least for this time, I am EXACTLY where I am supposed to be. Not because the heavens opened. Not because anyone has told me that I have already changed their life or the way they think about literature. And  definitely NOT because my strengths are perfectly suited to teaching.

No. I am supposed to be a teacher right now because all of my most annoying  quirks are somehow a good thing for teaching.

For example: I think out loud and in conversations. The only reason my blog posts ever get to points (if they do get to points), is that I am mimicking my own natural speech pattern and imagining that I am talking to my most patient and intelligent friends.

To see the real weakness of this attribute, I offer up my Worst Summer Job Ever. I worked in a cubicle. I got to sit and write and edit and think up new and exciting things for a non-profit company to do marketing-wise to better serve their clients. To some people this is the good life.

I wanted to die. There are no words for the misery I experienced.  I felt so alone, and so stupid, and so incapable of original thought, and so far from God’s plan for me. My absolute dependence on the ideas and feedback of others was crippling.

Not so in teaching. My desperately relational form thought, somehow makes me responsive to the confusions and thoughts of my students without realizing it. It makes me completely comfortable with asking for help from more experienced teachers. It makes me intensely aware of how much of my continued sanity – ALL OF IT!- I owe to the generosity of others. Because of this weakness, I am actively aware every day of the the community that surrounds me… even when I want to duct-tape  my students to their chairs just to make them sit still.

For another example: if Reesa is the quintessential ENFP, I am textbook ENFJ For now we are going to focus on the J part.

The big difference between Teresa’s P and my J is that where she dwells in and thrives on possibility (specifically the possibility for perfection), I am a closure-fiend.

That feeling you get after you turn in a paper and can no longer be expected to do anything to make it better in any way? THAT’S THE STUFF!

To make it clear – Js consider time as a finite quantity. As in: you can run out of time. That means that, however perfection obsessed a J may be, “Good enough” will always be “Good Enough”. So long as it is on time. I could not care less about the possibility of perfection. Frankly, if the choice is between a perfect action that takes more time and a mediocre one that I can stamp as “DONE,” I will take the mediocre one every single time. 

This is also why my blog posts will always have less-than-perfect proof-reading and sentence construction. Sure, I could take the 10 minutes to double-check. But that would be 10 minutes less of that blissful DONE feeling….
Did I mention that time is a finite commodity to me?

Because of this, I love deadlines. Now, those of you with any knowledge of what it is like to teach might be thinking: “Hang on, teaching is a continuous action. Teachers are always grading, planning, prepping, grading some more, prepping some more, tweaking the lesson plans, grading EVEN MORE, imagining exciting projects, etc…Teachers. Are. Never. Done.”

You . Are. Not. Wrong. So, in order to not go screaming off the deep-end in this wasteland of non-closure, I delight in my own little deadlines: turning in lesson plans before the weekend, entering a massive stack of grades into my grade book, finishing comments on all of my little (or not so little) ones’ essays. Basically, I become the single-minded speed demon of grading.

My pathological obsession with closure (which sabotaged all my professors’ faith in my proof-reading skills, and caused me to turn in more than a few sub-par papers just for the joy of turning in something) means that, so far, I am not behind in grading.

So because, in addition to being closure-fiends, ENFJs (and the other iNtuitive Feelers) are pattern obsessed: I will now make the argument that my particular isolated experience of vocation is part of a pattern in God’s creation.

My current theory on vocation, which may easily be replaced tomorrow when I encounter the massive stack of in-class-essays that I have to grade, is as follows:

Vocation is where our greatest love meets the world’s need. However, that is not enough. God is not satisfied with just using our strengths for the good of the world. He does not just embrace and transfigure our most beautiful and perfect qualities – the ones that we want  to share (or if you are as performer-y as I am, show-off).

Please ignore the sins and flaws behind the curtain!

No. He sees, embraces, transfigures, and uses the embarrassing bad habits, the weaknesses, the weird ticks, the irrational dislikes, and especially the sufferings that plague our short little lives. He allows our weaknesses to fill the world’s need. And because we know them to be weaknesses, when they are suddenly useful and good, it is much harder to say, “Oh yeah! That victory right there? That was all me.”   

Not so much.

After a few minutes of “…What? … How did that just… What?”,  occasionally we can move into “Someone was protecting me,  standing with me, and using me to the betterment of the world, though I knew nothing of it.”

I could list off a fair number of holy people to prove this point…

However, I have yet another annoying habit: I relate everything to movies! So, remember the movie Signs? (I flipping love that movie.) You know how the little girl, Bo, refuses to drink a full glass of water and says that everything is “contaminated”?

As I watched that movie the first time, even the large part of my that loves small children couldn’t help thinking, “THANK GOD I DO NOT HAVE TO BABYSIT THAT OBNOXIOUS BUT ADORABLE CHILD!”

Then, at the end (SPOILERS!), the millions of water glasses all over the house are what saves her family and the world from the creepy alien things!!!

It’s like that. Vocations are exactly like the obnoxious contaminated-water-child saving the world from aliens.

So, for those young (by which I mean probably less than a year younger than me) people who are wondering about your vocation, or what you should do when you “grow-up”: By all means, find something you love that also serves the world, but also watch for the moments when that service comes through your weaknesses. Those moments are Signs (see what I did there?) that you are not standing alone and that you are where you are meant to be. To quote a more reputable source than M.Night. Shyamalan: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10).