I haven’t written in a few years because someone was metaphorically standing over me with a scowl and it was no longer fun to write. However, I realized tonight that I always tell my students to write in their journals that I have given them, when they feel things, any things, meaningful or not. Write them down, I say. Don’t shy away from what you are feeling because you will learn from it, I say. Face your fears and realize that by writing you may figure out a few things, I say.
Well, tonight, I’m doing just that.
I am addicted to Facebook. There. I said it. I owned it. I’m good with that. Most of you reading this are addicted to Facebook also because you are reading my blog on Facebook, so ya know, there’s that. There’s nothing wrong with this. I think. Although sometimes I think I really don’t need to see your dinner before you eat it and some of you post way too many non-relevant YouTube videos. Not that I’m complaining. The downside of Facebook is that I have found out three people have died in the past year by simply logging on. Seriously, it’s ridiculous. I log on to post some snarky reflection on a disastrous yoga class and Bam! I find out someone I cared about is dead while standing in line at Nordstrom Rack. (The lines are long when you can’t find some random green-shirt person to check you out so I get bored). Because of this, I have put back serious sales items. One cannot just stand in line at Nordstrom Rack whilst crying just to purchase a pair of Betsy Johnson pink leopard pumps that are 70% off. Even I can’t do that. The sad thing is that they are never there when you go back after you have stopped crying. Sigh…
Today whilst on Facebook, I saw that one of my amazing high school students from four years ago graduated from college. I posted how proud of her I was. She and her twin sister (who is also graduating) will probably never know how amazing I thought they were in high school; they are the kind of students teachers hope for, wish for. I loved having these two girls in my classes. I loved watching them grow and blossom and then after they graduated from high school (and I let them “friend me”) watching them blossom into women who will hopefully take over the world or at least add to it with their immense presence and fabulousness. One of them wrote back to me about the influence I had one them. Her eloquent words made me cry and made realize a few things.
Being a teacher is like being a combination of a pit bull, a punching bag and a white wall. You push and push and hope your students learn and of course (groan) do really well on all of those new sparkly Common Core tests. You yell (hopefully not a lot), you take their bullshit and disrespect and hope they learn from how they treated you (after a detention or two) and the reaction you gave them (death stare) . You talk and lecture and teach and then get the wonderful questions like “What are we doing?”” and “Was there homework?” I’m thinking of having my favorite statement of “I wasn’t listening” turned into a tattoo or a billboard to hang outside my classroom. I’m teaching The Stranger right now and can’t help equate Camus’s absurdity of life to the sometimes absurdity of teaching. My absolute favorite student statement has to be “I don’t get it”. I then ask them to be specific and tell what exactly they “don’t get”. I usually get the blank stare and a repeat of their comment. I then repeat my comment and then, well, it just gets ugly.
I hate it. I love it. I will do anything I can to make them learn but occasionally have to throw in the towel when the absurdity of the apathy gets just too much for me. I have actually asked some students if they are happy being in school. The ones who show up every day but do no homework, don’t participate in class and don’t give a crap – those are the ones I ask if they are happy. They can’t possibly be happy. When I ask this question, the ones who aren’t actually happy usually begin trying to become the student they realize they could be and then they get an adorable journal from Barnes and Nobel in their favorite color. It’s not a reward, just an idea or a suggestion for them. It usually helps. If not, at least they can use it as a coaster.
The ones who say they “don’t care” just get mandatory tutoring, which of course, doesn’t really help, because, let’s face it they didn’t care to begin with then no pretty purple butterfly journal will amount to a hill of beans with them. AAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH. It’s so frustrating to teach to people who don’t really want to be taught. They become an elephant on my head. Something who really shouldn’t be there and just gives me a headache. I still try to make them become students. I don’t give up that easily. After ten years of teaching, I don’t give up without a fight or at least a parent conference.
Usually the slackers in my classes like The Stranger because of the apathy and they find themselves engaged without really even realizing it, but unfortunately by then, it’s no use and they will still be taking summer school no matter how much work they actually do during this unit. And I teach English for summer school so they will still be stuck with me. Hah! It’s a wonderful paradoxical irony.
I teach, on average, 160 students a year. Teenagers. Ugh. They are their own paradoxes and don’t realize that until I teach philosophy whilst teaching The Stranger. Remember back to when you were that age? Too young to be an adult and too old to be a child. Their parents want them to have responsibility but won’t let them stay our past ten o’clock on a school night. They can shave but they can’t vote. Seriously, they relate to the word paradox simply because they are one.
But then, with all of that, most of them do learn. Something. Well, something-ish.
But…will they remember it? Will they apply it to college and adult life? I have no freakin’ clue. I have kids who are fighting in Afghanistan and in Iraq and this makes me begin to wonder if poetry and Shakespeare really play a part of their lives now. It should, right? Maybe? Learning what figurative language is…will that really help them? Ugh. Of course, the crap I teach helps some of them at least get decent scores on their SAT’s and I’ve had kids get into UCLA, Brown, Occidental, Tuskegee, Clark, Spelman – the list, thank goodness, is endless. I had one kid, a retired drug dealer, who got a 2200 on his SATs with a 4.0 GPA. He’s going to Berkeley. I wrote one of his letters of recommendation. He came and hugged me when he got his letter of acceptance. I’m good with that.
Okay, here’s my point: A childhood friend of mine died a few weeks ago (yep, found out about that one on Facebook too). It seems that someone always dies while I’m in the middle of teaching The Stranger. Maybe I should stop teaching it. Anyway, here I am, in the middle of explaining absurdism and that Albert Camus said that life has no meaning and then someone who is MY AGE dies some stupid tragic death and I start looking over my life and wondering if there is any meaning at all. Ya know, in my life. Then I look at my children and realizing that despite all odds, I am raising two beautiful souls who are kind and intelligent and funny. Who love to snuggle and make me wonder with amazement at the things of which they are amazed. I look at the students I have pushed to go to college or to find their own way in the world, and they share their accomplishments with their old teacher on Facebook and I realize that I do have a legacy. That I will be remembered as the crazy English teacher who wore high heels every day and made them write a million essays and do weird but poignant projects and made them think or consider or analyze things in a whole new way and made them care about their future and realize they need to be selfish with their education and destinies.
That maybe, just maybe when I die there will be people who will live on after me who will remember, and push the next generation forward because Ms. Levine would have wanted that. Maybe…
Tell you one thing – it sure felt good to write this.