Tired of Teens

I must say that I am tired of teens. I’m tired of being around them all the time. I’m tired of listening to their enthusiasms and their boredoms. I’m tired of being concerned, of not being concerned enough, of needing to be concerned. I’m tired of watching them challenging me and listening to my every word.  I’m tired of needing to be entertaining day in and day out for each of my students, and for figuring out what will engage each of those students. I know exactly what it means to be drained, because that is precisely how I feel. Depleted. How much can a person give of her mind and her heart and her soul without finding that all that is left is a temper.

Spring break, ah spring break starts tomorrow afternoon. I will not grade papers nor will I plan any lessons. I need to step away so that I can come back full of the energy and excitement that they deserve—that I deserve to be filled with.

To all the teachers out there—enjoy your BREAK by using it as just that, an opportunity to break from the draining but generally enlivening routine.

Observations from a Kindergarten Classroom

On Sunday morning I had the pleasure to substitute teach a kindergarten class at my synagogue. In “regular” school I teach 9th grade, and in religious school at the synagogue I teach 7th grade and 3rd grade, so this was quite an age difference, but not as many significant differences as I had expected.

Crying: This is one that is different, but not too different. I have not had to face a child clinging to her father that she wants mommy before coming into class tearfully, but I have had to deal with tears in class. As much as she clung to him and as much as I sweetly sweet talked her into the class with the temptation of drawing pictures, I must say that I was shocked by how quickly she forgot all the turmoil and became a calm, attentive little girl. I know they tell us that they forget us quickly when we drop them off, but I never saw it from that angle before. 

In the past year I have had two “big” girls cry in class. One girl cried because kids said something hurtful to her while they were in the hall working on a project and another after a confrontation in the cafeteria with another student. Teen teasing really does bring the maturity level down, or maybe keeps it at kid level, which we try to forget that they are. Although I didn’t see teasing with the little ones, I could see the potential.

There was more crying in the past year. I had a third grader cry when he couldn’t do an in-class assignment. And me, I cried in class last year when I read an email from my lawyer about another court delay. I yelled out “Oh No!” and turned around to face the board so my students wouldn’t see that they in control lady had lost the control. Maybe we all cried for different reasons, but it certainly was a needed release. The tension of being in a small room with twenty five other people and their egos and “issues” really has potential for more problems than arise. Perhaps we are at the core compassionate.

Storytime: There was one big-time difference during story time. I have never had a student climb over me as if I were a piece of playground equipment as one of the girls did. It was fascinating to watch as they sat in a circle for story time. Initially, only one boy was sure enough of me to sit really close, but by the time we got to the middle of the story, I had to shoo them off so that I could turn the page. It was like a huddle around a trusted leader and not a tentative group of kids around the new teacher.

Right in the middle of me feeling so confident in my role, one of the girls started crying quietly that she wants her mommy. She put her head down and let her hair cover her face until she was ready to rejoin the group. I don’t know what triggered her, but their inability to hide what they’re feeling and thinking made me realize that being a child is certainly not easy. It really is finding your way without a compass, because parents are their compasses and what are they when they leave us, even for two hours, at that age.

Slavery:  My assignment was to read a Passover story and talk about it with the students. Could someone explain to me how a kindergartener knows about slavery? There was a girl there who started talking about how black people were brought from Africa and were forced to work for white people in America and how bad that was. Unbelievable. I was impressed that she knew that, but wondered if it was perhaps too much to know at that age. Do five year olds have to have the weight of morality on their shoulders?

Script: How is it that kindergarteners can write their names in script? The students needed to write their names on their drawings of Pharaoh in Egypt, while some barely got sort-of letters on the page, others were scripting away. I’m not sure if this is a sign of small motor abilities, intelligence, or the sign of pushy parents, but really, script at five?

Snack: Oh the joys of snack time. We had challah, juice and graham crackers. This was toward the end of a two-hour class. Apparently two hours without food counts as fasting. Seriously, they can’t wait? Do we really have to keep reminding kids to eat? Wouldn’t less snack time and less snacking be better—for them and us?

Joy. When they were full of energy and I could tell that they could not be shushed successfully and seeing no need to quiet them down and get back to task, I just went with the flow of their energy. I didn’t have to force them to sit and do the work, no, the work became a reflection of their energy. I had them channel that energy and re-enact nine of the ten plagues (I thought the tenth plague of death to the first-born Egyptian son was unseemly). They quite enjoyed being bugs, frogs, wild beasts, people being hit by hailstones, and having a bad case of the itches and being caught in the dark. It was wonderful to see them unbridled.

While I found the mental stimulation not quite what I need on an on-going basis, it was surely a joy to direct children a little as opposed to being a constant dictator. There surely must be some take-away lesson for me here to bring to my big kid classroom. Could it be that I should let their energy flow more? Maybe I should worry less about the wasted minute getting them to be quiet between tasks and see it as their big kid way to release and use some of the energy that is stored in them. Maybe another plague is not letting kids be kids—sometimes, even when they are in high school.

More ENOUGH Beads

Yesterday at seven in the morning my boss came into my classroom to tell me that students have been complaining about me to their counselors. A number of students have said that I am mean and they think I hate them. She then asked, “Do you hate them?” Wow. Glad to see that she knows me. Then she said that they think I’m brusque. To which she added as a statement of fact, "well, you are brusque." Thanks for that support, lady. Some more words of how horrible I am and onto the next topic. Oh, but she did say, in a I-can’t-believe-this tone, that she knows some students like me because they give me cards, but really, what are you going to do to make them think you love them?

Honestly, I have no idea. Some days I feel like a snapping turtle; there I am, calm in my mud and then all of a sudden someone says something, or does or doesn’t do something and SNAP. I know that it is not professional to bring my outside life into the classroom, and I don’t, I don’t talk about my life, but sometimes my nerves don’t realize where they are and SNAP. The SNAP could be a tone that is not the most loving or a comment that is not the most supportive. I’m sorry kids (you boys especially) but honestly can’t you just sit down, stop talking, stop chewing gum like cows, start doing your homework, start doing your classwork, stop talking, stop interrupting me when I’m talking to ask irrelevant questions, stop talking (oh, I said that, but did you hear me say that?), start caring about more than getting out of class to talk to your friends, stop thinking that you know more about everything than me, start paying attention. (That could be an example of a SNAP.)

The next topic was about my colleagues and how she says they feel that I don’t shoulder my weight or I’m not committed enough to the cause. This stems from the fact that I had to cancel helping out at a workshop one afternoon because I had a parent-teacher conference (not for my own child mind you, but at school for a student), and instead of going from person to person to see if someone would cover for me, I just sent out an email. Now I know that that is a big no no. Thanks everyone. One slip-up and you’re on the bad colleague list. Oh, and I came late to the last department meeting, or should I rephrase that as saying I was late to one meeting and poof, I am not a full member of the team.

And with that she left.

At that moment a student walked in (can’t you hang out with your friends and not come to my classroom 20 minutes before class starts?), so I had to pretend that I wasn’t as weak as a 14-year old inside. Then a student, whose sister I had last year and who often comes to visit me, came by herself to visit me. But I was about to cry, especially after I told her that I’m having a bad day and she asked me if I wanted a hug. (I saw her today, and she asked me if I was feeling better. Sweet, sweet girl.)

Then I read an email that notified the staff at school that the mother of two students had died. (I had her daughter two years ago. Another sweet, sweet girl.) I thought, oh no, not another woman dead from breast cancer. But no, I was to find out during my break, this mother of three committed suicide. That information just made me sit, sit with new tears brimming thinking of this woman and how horribly horrible the pit she was living in must have been. Then I just sat some more, unfolded. And there I was, at the wall of ENOUGH, unable to do anything but sit in stillness.

In the afternoon I went to see two short-term rental apartments. One was nice, in that it wasn’t expensive and there was no need to sign a long-term lease. But it really was for a single person, and not one with two teenagers. I imagined the reaction of my daughters if I would take them there: it would be that mom doesn’t want us. It was so obviously a place for one. And it was far, so far from the house, and more importantly from my younger daughter’s school that I wouldn’t be able to drive her in the mornings to school and get to my job on time which would be essential since the house was not in her school district. And the second apartment was actually a wing in a lovely woman’s home. I wish I could have taken it because it seemed that we would get along so well and her daughters are the same ages as mine. But it was too expensive to seriously consider.

And today I am back to wondering how I can save myself and leave them? Yes, I know this situation is unhealthy, but the price that my daughters would have to pay unless I find a place that is really suitable for them would be too high. How good would I feel sitting alone in a basement without exman around if I feel that I abandoned them to him? Would I really be able to start healing? And, would I really be able to start losing weight (thanks for the reminder that I have gotten heavy, mom) and exercise and get my life in order if I thought about them, alone in the house or with his toxic presence.

So this weekend I will be doing the realtor’s “to do” list, and she will help organize some repairs that she thinks will help sell the house. I’m still looking for a short-term rental, but it has to fit us all, hopefully I will find it before my birthday or we will have a contract by then.

Lastly, please drive carefully. In the past two days I have passed three accidents. 

Five and 0! Go Girls!

My daughter’s 7th/8th grade basketball team is five and 0 mid-season. Yeah! There are eight girls on the team, with one coach and one assistant coach (two dads, so they need two titles and a hierarchy). One of the girls on the team was a friend of my younger daughter’s, but I did not know anyone else on the team. When I was waiting to pick up my daughter from one of her early practices I talked with the mother of that friend. She told me that there is a girl on the team with some kind of developmental disability but that the coach is playing her like any of the other girls. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that.

When looking at the team, at first you don’t realize that there is anyone who is different than anyone else. You need to pay attention, to watch this girl, before you realize that she is different in any way. She runs across the court like the other girls, but when they are playing either offense or defense, she looks kind of lost and distracted, and is physically awkward. But she stands where she needs to be and lifts up her arms when the coach calls out to all of the girls to lift up their arms. And she plays as much as the other girls.

Today, she was the last to make a shot during the pre-game warm-up—and she got the ball in. My daughter high-fived her.  During the game today, which was played four-on-four (it’s a four-day weekend here so I guess some people made the most of it by getting out of town for the inauguration), for the first time today the girls threw the ball to her a few times and each time she threw the ball back to someone on the team. Again, my daughter high-fived her, and I saw my daughter tell her how well she had played.

And that made me think of the classes that I teach which combine kids with special needs and “regular” kids. On the whole, if you observed the classes not knowing which kids had special education and accommodation plans you would have a hard time figuring it out. It’s not that only the “special” kids need help or a dose of a teacher voice to get them to settle down or focus, but so many of them do.

A world that acknowledges differences and doesn’t seek to separate because of them is surely an understanding, and maybe a compassionate, world. Something to consider not just for classrooms, but for life in general, across the globe.

The other day I got two new students in two different classes: one student is autistic; the other dropped out of school a few years ago and is back in the classroom, piercings, tattoos and all. I’m thinking that they both are going to need attention, whether they have the papers to attest to it or not. But I am also thinking that their acceptance by their classmates will be critical for both of them. Maybe I need to bring a basketball into the classroom, or at least a metaphorical one. 

Did I say that my daughter’s team is undefeated?

Writing about Loneliness

At the beginning of class the other day I had my students write in their journals about being lonely. What does it mean to be lonely? When were you lonely? What does it feel like to be lonely? So you don’t think that I am a prying teacher, this is because we are reading Of Mice and Men and loneliness is a pervasive theme in that very sad book.

My students are all 14- or 15-year olds so I would have thought that by this time in their lives they would understand what it means to be lonely. But most of them wrote about being alone, and they certainly did not talk about what loneliness felt like. Most of them wrote that they had been lonely when they were left alone for four hours at home (oh, mom was home, but she doesn’t count), when what they were really talking about was boredom. One kid wrote about getting lost on his way home from a friend’s house in the dark and feeling lonely; of course, he wasn’t lonely, he was scared. One boy wrote about how he and his friends were hanging out together and only his girlfriend wasn’t there, so he felt lonely; this, it seems, is jealousy and not loneliness. Are kids so un-self-aware? Do they not even recognize what it feels like to not have anyone who understands what they are experiencing? Not having someone with whom to exchange ideas? Not having someone who “gets” them? Not having someone whose company they can take for granted?

There were a few who got it, especially the military kids who have moved so often that every three or four years they must revert to being the new kid at school walking in the loneliness of knowing no one in a building with hundreds of people. But the other kids, there was no real cognition of what it means to be lonely, which makes me think that perhaps they really don’t know what it is to be lonely. Perhaps they are so busy with their I-whatevers, and texting, and Facebook that they are never alone—they really don’t know what it means to be lonely. And even if they are physically alone, they have so many avenues to “call up” people and “meet” people, that the sinking feeling of being the only person in the universe to be so devoid of company never hits them. Even the least gregarious of children can find company somewhere.

Which makes me wonder: If these children never let themselves step outside of the hustle and bustle of interactions, do they know what it feels like to be themselves? Are their very minds being wired to only operate within a group? Can these kids be individuals?

Me, the woman who has known loneliness create a cavity of separation that all unknowingly step around, thinks that this is not good. From the depth of solitude (which is certainly an aspect of loneliness) so many thoughts finally have a chance to bubble up. Thoughts that aren’t able to come to fruition amidst the clatter of conversation. How can thoughts rise like dough if you haven’t even added flour? If you haven’t had the opportunity to have a thought that isn’t just in reaction to what someone else said or did, then what creativity and innovations can come to you? And if your life is always lived in company, or seeking company, then when do you have time to expand your understanding of yourself? Empathy is good, but how can you truly feel for someone else if you don’t even recognize yourself?  
But someone else, not me, who is forward thinking may see that perhaps society—people—will be able to create a better society, a more successful society than the one we have now that is always warring and contentious and competitive and grasping and materialistic. Perhaps this converging of selves might point to a society evolving, and not one that is devolving. Perhaps.

It’s still disconcerting that they don’t recognize that alone, lonely, scared, bored, and jealous are not the same thing. Truly, any society needs citizens who are introspective, at least to recognize what it feels like to be human. And to say that to be sad, happy, or lonely are the only emotions you recognize from within surely reflects paucity of thought.  

Lesson Plan for Monday: discuss emotions.

Note to Parents

Parents, please note:

  • your child’s teacher does not hate your child;

  • your child’s teacher does not have it in for your child;
  • your child’s teacher is not failing your child;
  • your child’s teacher does not purposely NOT tell the homework assignment to your child;
  • your child’s teacher does not purposely NOT pass handouts to your child.

Parents, if your child is telling you those things:

  • maybe it’s in your child’s mind;
  • maybe your child has done something to disturb the teacher;
  • perhaps your child talks during class;
  • perhaps your child sleeps during class (oh, sorry, rests his head on the desk and closes his eyes so that he can better concentrate);
  • perhaps your child does not pay attention (oh, sorry, focuses well but the way the teacher expresses herself is not understood by your child);
  • perhaps your child left the handout in class;
  • perhaps your child did not: do the homework, take the homework from home, take the homework out of the backpack, and/or pay attention when the teacher collected the homework.

Does your child clean up his/her room when you ask him/her?

Hmmm, maybe there’s a pattern here that is repeated in school.

But wait, how many children do you have and do you ever get upset with them?

As a high school teacher I have approximately 125 students. Guess what?

  • It bothers me when they don’t do their work.
  • It bothers me when they don’t pay attention.
  • It bothers me when they mock me.
  • It bothers me when they try to annoy me.

Yes, it’s true, I am a person.

So next time you want to accuse a teacher of sabotaging your child’s future, go find your kid in his room and speak to him—honestly—about what is really happening in school because it generally is not the teacher’s fault that he got an F, D, C, or B (if you are so grade-greedy).

A caring but annoyed teacher.

Fourth Week of School

Man in the Class (MiC) and I seemed to have found a groove this week; and even when we were “Mr’ing” and “Ms’ing” each other over the kids’ heads because we didn’t quite agree on what the other had said during class (okay, it was mostly me “Mr’ing him, but I am the teacher with experience), we were absolutely respectful of each other and the decorum we wanted to maintain in the classroom.

On Back to School Night I almost gagged when he told the parents that we both check our emails obsessively and that they shouldn’t be surprised to see a response at 2am—at this I lost my listener status and yelled out “not me.” I am surely trying not to do too much work from home this year; I need to maintain a separation of work and home. While the number of essays I grade makes me break this rule on occasion (Sunday mornings are usually my paper grading time), I really do try to maintain the separation. Perhaps because I really do see myself as a writer, I have never been 100% committed to any job: I was never my work.

But back to the classroom. There have been far too many deer in the headlights looks from 14-year-olds when they realize that there are implications for blowing off their homework. Yes, if you don’t do your homework 0’s will be inserted in the gradebook and the grade will reflect that, and not the fact that you had intended to do the homework, or that you left it at home, or that your printer broke, or that you, yes, forgot about it but would have done it. Do you not get it? I, of course, break with department policy and grant them a week to get things in; I mean who wants to see kids grounded for a lifetime after just the first month of high school? Surely not me.

I have four Asian girls with very similar first names; it took me a month to distinguish between the names and the girls. Every year there seems to be a name that repeats itself in a few classes, as is the case this year. And, for some reason those kids with the same name always look similar, making my life complicated in the “needing to distinguish each child for his uniqueness” way. 

On a truly positive note where I will ignore students from last year who did not say hello to me when they stopped by my room to pick up papers from last year, a couple of students did yell out to my class “she’s the best freshman teacher!” Yes!

I think that I will end this update on that note. Have a great week.

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