June 5, 2007

I Don't Really Hate Them

I know that I irritate students pretty frequently. Most of them get over it and recognize later that I was only doing my job and/or what I was doing that was so irritating to them was really for the best. You know, like making them practice writing until their hands cramp--or so they say that happens. In fact, during Teacher Appreciation Week, I was rewarded with certificate saying that I was a #1 Hand Cramper Teacher. I took it was a compliment.

In my night classes, which are called Composition and Creative Writing as I constantly remind my students, I push two basic ideas:

  • If you want to be a better writer, you have to practice--it's like riding a bike.
  • Just put your pen to your paper and give it a try.

Last night one of my students from earlier in the year stopped by with a nice note and a box of Godiva chocolates to thank me for being a good teacher and helping her pass her proficiency exam. She claims that although she complained about all the writing I made them do, she learned a lot and attributed me and my class to her passing the exam. Makes me want to cry.

The students actually enrolled in the class this quarter made me want to cry, too. For the final exam, I assigned them three essays to write in two nights, which is about 4 hours to complete the work. None of them are the type of essay that will be more than five paragraphs, and the assessment address the different types of writing we've done this quarter. I have not asked them to do more than they are capable of doing, but they were super irritated with me last night. No, actually I'd say they were just plain pissed at me.

(For some of the students, I might be asking too much, but for others it's just right. It's a multi-grade, multi-level class so I'd be willing to look at the amount of effort the students make in trying complete the essays. Do you think I'm willing to work with bad attitudes, though?)

It was a rough start to the class. It took me forever to get everyone's attention. There were just enough hyper monkeys throughout the class that once I thought I had them, I had to stop and wait. While I was reading the directions, they kept trying to revolt, and they also kept wanting to ask questions that they would get the answers to if they'd simply listen and read the directions. They complained that it was too much, but rather than dig in and start, the majority of them chose to goof off. I separated students from each other and had to constantly remind students to get on task.

By the end of the night, I was so done with them, but I backed down because I gave the assessment, including a detailed rubric. They knew what was expected, and by their actions they were telling me what they planned on earning. That's another idea I make clear--I don't give them grades. They earn grades. They are only victims of themselves.

Perhaps I should have kept at it, but this isn't my first gig. I know a kid that can be cajoled into working, and last night, my classroom was lacking any of those kids. (Okay, not totally. The hardest worker was my goofball ELL student who always tells me the work I give is too hard. Of course it is for him! He often spends his time trying to get out of work. But he put pencil to paper and actually made more progress than any other student.)

By the note one of them left me on the board, F***Y** Ms. HappyChyck, I know they were so done with me, too. That hurt. It's been a while since I've had such a public slap in the face. (Mutterings under the breath and whispers to classmates are nothing compared to this.) This is another indicator of how wrong the night went. You know the girl who stopped by earlier to thank me? She would have complained about the assessment and the amount of work, but she would have gotten busy after a while. Furthermore, she would have never allowed such a harsh note to remain posted on the board. She wouldn't have exactly defended me, but she would have rallied the class--or at least the students around her--to do what was expected of them. The hate they felt for me would have never made it past whispers and 20 minutes--let alone such an eloquently written note left on the board for me during break.

As you can imagine, I am not looking forward to finishing the class tonight. They think I should have a party for them on the last night. I think they should grow up, and with the lack of respect they've shown me this quarter, they wouldn't really want to eat any cupcakes I might bring, anyway. >;-)

My personal mantra will be to remind myself that some students do appreciate how hard I make them work and don't take it as a personal assault when I set the bar high for them.

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