Friday, February 15, 2013

A Good Bad Day

This morning, a little earlier than I usually wake up, my stomach decided I couldn't sleep any more. I took a shower, during which my stomach decided that it would relinquish everything that it had held from the day before. I puked everywhere.

By the time I was out of the shower, I had missed the cut off time to call in a substitute teacher, so I had to go to school. During first period, when I don't have students, I had to run to the girls' (not staff!) bathroom, barely making it to the toilet before I lost it. Through the day, it kept happening, and my peers stepped in to cover my classes for the time it took for me to get sick all over again. I puked just outside my classroom on the lawn, another time in the girls' bathroom again, and finally, during the last period of the day, in the wide open and very public grassy space outside of the computer lab.

Not once did I hear "Ew!" or "So disgusting!" or "Oh my god, did you just see that?" Instead, the responses from students were the following: "Are you okay?" and "Can I help you back to your classroom?" and "Can I get you a bottle of water?"

With rare exception, teenagers are learning how to be nice people.

Earlier this week, a friend asked me how I could work with teenagers, when they seem so wild, unmotivated, and disrespectful. I didn't give a good answer then, but I hope to now.

Once, a student who knew me and my classroom and the school dress code quite well wore a shirt to my class that pictured a half-naked woman with breasts exposed. I told him privately he couldn't wear that shirt and he needed to step outside and turn it inside out.

Outside, he ran into two other teachers who grilled him about his clothing choice: Does your mother know you wore that? How would you feel if some guy wore that shirt and sat next to your sister? My student got very angry at the grilling, and came back inside with his shirt inside out, his hands in fists, and cursewords in his eyes. He steamed through the rest of the class period, and stormed out during break to go tell the assistant principal that he felt disrespected by the teachers who accosted him. While he and the assistant principal were talking, the two teachers who had addressed him walked up to join the conversation. My student turned to tell one of the teachers how inappropriately he felt he had been treated, but when he started to talk, he wept instead. The teacher hugged him until he stopped crying. Change is hard. It is hard to be called onto the carpet either gently or violently, and this kid knew he was wrong and had to learn to swallow that pride. He apologized.

Here is a more succinct example that happened today after my students took a test. During the test, I had tried to pull my usual eagle-eye cheating prevention, but I was so sick I could hardly stand up. I received this email, unsolicited, later in the day:
Hello Mrs. W., I hope you are feeling better! Unfortunately I have bad news. I wanted to let you know that I am willing to accept an F on the vocab test. I was not honest with my answers and I am very sorry. I promise it won't happen again. 
Why do I like teaching teenagers? Because this is the age when they decide what kind of people they are going to be, and most of them, in the course of their time in high school, choose wisely.


Gina said...

I think our society fundamentally devalues children and is often insulting of their opinions; particularly teenagers. I believe that in most cases people, including teens, will rise to our expectations and treat others the way that we treat them.

I hope you make a quick recovery - it's great to give your students the example of preserving through adversity but not at the expense of your health!

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Are you comfortable sharing what you teach? What pluck you have and a harrowing day indeed - but isn't it encoded into us to have empathy for another's suffering? I take solace in the greater good of our natures.

I was always surprised when a teacher reached out to me with kindness. I was heavily guarded, mostly unreachable by 15-up. Learning difficulties, dummy classes, frequent humiliations blah blah blah - but those rare gestures screwed with my footing, and I would return the kindness. One elderly teacher actually went out and got information on how to become a Farrier. A warm memory 38 years later

Christina said...

Thank you, Gina.

PA: Thanks! The kindness of teachers was essential for me getting through school; the story of your teacher finding out about farriers for you resonates. I teach high school English.

Soilman said...

What a terrific thing to read. Inspirational. I take a fairly dim view of teenagers, as a rule, so this was a good reminder for me to be a little less harsh and a touch more understanding. Being young sucks.

Christina said...

Soilman: Yes, being young does suck. It is so hard. Thank you for your kind words.