Monday, May 7, 2012

Here comes a teacher rant... be ready.

For as much as this blog is about writing in general and my own writing, it's also about me, and I'm not just an author—I'm an educator. And, I have to get something off my chest.


I teach Advanced Placement English Literature and IB English, both to 12th graders. These are college level (college credit bearing) classes that are rigorous and demanding. They require a devoted mindset, an understanding of time management (for the most part), and a willingness to learn.

Why, then, do you suppose that students who have no real connection to an AP work ethic or desire to learn take such a class? Torture? They see themselves having erred heinously in a past life, so they sit through an elevated course for the entire school year to reaffirm their mortality and flawed personae? They want their GPA bumped a little, no matter whether they do well or not?

I come into the classroom with a passion for learning, for writing, reading, discussion, insight-gathering, challenging minds, and pushing people to think beyond their comfort zone. Imagine how frustrating it must be when being in a room where some people have absolutely no interest in success. Currently, we were reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, a labyrinthine tale to say the least. Joyce's stream-of-consciousness style could make even someone with Attention Deficit Disorder cringe. However, that was the novel I chose for my students because I believe that Stephen Dedalus' journey through his younger years definitely has relevance to our seniors who are departing high school at around the same age as Stephen departs Ireland. Anyway, it was the required reading.

With all of the challenges that this novel brings, no one came to see me with questions outside of class. No one emailed me. No one called. It was as if they didn't take me seriously when I said, "Your final exam will be on this novel." In addition to that, people don't seem to take seriously the idea of personal responsibility for when they don't understand something. The expectation is that I will just regurgitate everything from the novel so they don't have to do anything. And then, there's SENIORITIS. So, the day of the final comes (today!), and one of my AP students basically writes how he doesn't really know what to do with the novel.

Really? Did you seek help? (No.) Did you ask questions in class? (No.) Did you... NO, NO, and NO.

We've only been talking about analyzing texts all year. We've only been discussing diction, syntax, and other devices ad nauseam all flippin' year. I've been trying to get you to PAY ATTENTION IN CLASS all year.

I long for the day when students come in yearning to learn about Joyce or Shakespeare or Jonson or Conrad... where has intellectual curiosity gone? where has work ethic gone?

Alas, this year is coming to an end, and I will watch these students go soon enough, but there will always be a twinge of remorse in my heart for those students who chose to be in my class with no higher purpose in mind. Sad.

1 comment:

  1. For me, being pointed at a work and told to analyze runs counter to my intellectual curiosity. I tried to take pleasure in what I was told to read or do in High School, and sometimes I did. Whether I reflected it in my grades or not, I remember 'The Odyssey' and 'Romeo and Juliet' as amazing stories taught by a great teacher. In the end, though, it likely didn't reflect in my grades, and for my own personal growth, I didn't need it to.

    Even if you are set about to the task of herding cats while you roll that boulder uphill, some students will grow, and you've proven many students will look back on their time with you as one where they learned something. From a person who let a lot of high school wash away in a few years, I'd say that if you reach even a handful of students with even one real lesson, it's worth a million 'A+++'-es.


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