July 28, 2006

Love and Hate Those Crazy Students

I just committed to teaching writing at night school again this year. I'm excited and apprehensive all at once.

A few weeks into the 2nd quarter last year, I began teaching a two-hour writing class, two nights a week. The first quarter was tough because I spent the whole quarter reminding the students that I wasn't the teacher I'd replaced. Since the students enroll quarter by quarter, and rosters change, I would have thought that it wouldn't matter that much what the other teacher had done, but there were enough students who'd had the class the 1st quarter and remembered that they liked it better. Well, since I was left with NOTHING to carry on, that meant it was going to be done MY way.

It's okay. I'm a trained professional.

(Yes, I actually say that to my students.)

Now this school is a type of alternative school. Student choose to go there, and there is a waiting list, but they are mostly the students who need a second chance. Most of the girls had babies. Several also attending school during the day but needed to attend at night if there were ever going to graduate. Some had problems with the law. Most had jobs during the day. Check out my post about A Typical Night. (The beginning is typical, but the end wasn't. It's a little deceiving as to what is typical. Or how.)

I appreciated these students' maturity, as it was a nice relief from middle school drama. I was impressed with their drive to not give up. Many of them had great voices in their writing, also. The class was suppose to be remedial, but few of the students were really at the level. They were bright and interesting, yet they were looked edgier than your average teen. I know a few of them weren't, but they tried to be good people. They were passionate and protective of their families. And I know if you were the average citizen you would totally misunderstand these young people.

Don't think it was all great all the time because there were many nights I wanted to quit on the spot. Name 30 teenagers in a school of less than 200 who want to take a two hour writing class because they like writing. Don't strain yourself. Name 30 teenagers in this same school who would take a two-hour writing class because they thought it would be an easy grade. Maybe lots of worksheets or something. Bingo! Sign me up! How wrong they were. It was a WRITING class! What did they think I'd have them do for 2 hours? Well much of that was going be WRITING--long and short. Sure, we can talk about writing, but that's not going to be the focus of the class. Go to college if you want to talk about writing for two hours. Drop the class if your hand gets tired after 10 minutes of writing. Geez.

And you know, they were teenagers. The apathetic, give-me-instant-gratification-on-a-platter I suspect the majority of them had been pushed through with minimal effort. They were motivated to stay in school and graduate, but they didn't expect that they'd have to work for their grades. Perhaps they had the misconception that the school was a cake school--easier than going to a high school during the day. I didn't meet any teachers there who subscribed that that idea, yet students are always going to look the teacher who does, aye?

So I'm talking about attitude, right? Well, that was more than I could tolerate some nights, especially since the class didn't even start until 8:00p.m. It was such an intense teaching experience that I was constantly swinging between loving it and hating it. At the end of the year I decided that I wouldn't go back, but my major reason was because I need to go back to school. It wasn't an easy decision.

It obviously wasn't a firm decision either. Two days after I resigned, the principal asked if I wouldn't reconsider and then gave me compliments on being a great teacher. I was surprised because I know the students tell him everything good and bad, so I was sure I would come out at the losing end when it was all tallied up. And that would have been cool. I thought I'd done a good job, but there were so many struggles. He saw that I was waivering, so he gave me the summer to think it over.

Hmmm...Compliment the teacher and then give her the summer to forget about all the things burned her out. Call her up while she's still relaxing. Remind her of how well the class went. Then give her the choice of which days she'd like to teach...he's good.

So, I've taken the plunge. I know what I'm getting into now, and I have a little time to plan. (But will I?) Hopefully there a little more love than hate this year. Fingers crossed. Get lessons planned. Here I go.

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