Category Archives: Pupils

Rage and Response

The time in the blog where I rage my feelings and then respond rationally.

Fuzz is so rude to me.  He talks backs, mutters under his breath, and acts all incredulous when I say things such as, “Stop talking” or “excuse you.”  I hate how he holds up his hands in mock innocence and how he gives me his smile as he says, “Oh Ms. Kim, you don’t know how terrible I could really be.”  I hate how he assumes my letting him off the hook is a sign of weakness or how when I sternly reprimand him, he thinks I’m overreacting. I hate his condescending attitude and his know-it-all commentary.  Yet then I feel bad because I’m the teacher, and I’m supposed to be the one that goes the extra mile, swallows his sarcasm, and gives him second, third, and fourth chances.  But, really.  Why do I have to be the person who’s polite, kind, and doesn’t give low blows?  Why?  

Okay. Really?  You are the teacher.  You are the one there who is supposed to care.  You are loved. So you can love.  YES. Who cares if he thinks you’re stupid or easy?  Who cares if he thinks you’re strict and overly demanding?  Either way, you need to love.  And remember, there’s a fine line between revoking privileges and punitively lashing back from a position of power.  Be gracious.

Okay, fine.  I hear what you’re saying but it’s still not really registering.  Moving on. In general, I’m just really disappointed.  I feel like at the end of the year, there’s been no impact.  I read a study recently talking about how in middle school, students respond better from watching than from being preached at, but it feels like none of that works.  These kids are still super whiney and grumpy when it comes to things like my forbidding soda!  I told them today not to purchase soda, and then I left.  Then they snuck soda anyway.  Then today, I’m grading poems and one poem is totally plagiarized.  It’s just.  What do I do? It’s the end of the year.  If they haven’t learned it by now, then when will they learn it?  Do I even bring it up?  I bet they’re tired of hearing it. I’m tired of saying it.

They will look back and remember.  You never know.  And girl, you’re fighting against a system.  The large sugar companies target youths and it’s not your fault if health is not reinforced at home.  At the same time, do you think you’re just pushing your yuppie ideals onto your kids?  Soda and attitude aside, they’re 8th graders.  They’re learning how to function in society, and at least, you stuck by your guns even though it made you unpopular. Good for you.

In terms of plagiarism, yes you need to talk to that student.  I’m not sure what you should “do” though.  You’ve talked with him before about his “minimal is best” mentality, and you know that his parents actually don’t see school as that important. I know it’s killing you that this super bright child is literally wasting his brains, but at the end of the day, are you his parent?  Do what you’re supposed to do – and no more.  Don’t try to add consequences or get him to feel it.  You have plenty more of these kids in the future, and there’s no point in working yourself up about this.  This has happened before with this kid.  You’ve had him for two years.  You have 6 more days with him.  No miracles will happen.  Sorry.

Okay. Um rage and response is not working.  All it’s doing is making me feel more worked up.  At the end of the day, I just wonder.. am I too hard on them?  I know a lot of times plagiarism happens because students feel helpless.  Am I just setting them up for failure?  Yet how do I gauge scaffolding versus student responsibility?  

At the end of the day, be honest.  With the research projects, did you give them enough time?  Were you available?  With the poetry project, were you there, and were you walking through it with them?  I know there’s always more you can do.  I know that if they were listening the first time, you wouldn’t have to explain it again.  And yet, isn’t it also your responsibility to keep them engaged?  Don’t worry- next year, you can have time to figure out how to connect what you’re teaching to who they are as people.  You can continue to edit and fix.  You like that.  You can do it.

It’s the end of the year, and this year, it was sad.  Every time I went on break, I wasn’t refreshed when I came back to school, I was irritated. I didn’t want to be here.  I hope next year will be better, because at the end of the day, if this is how I feel inside, well, I need feedback from others, but maybe I need to move on.

You know what? Maybe you do.  Or maybe, you at your worst is still better than some at their best.  Let’s keep working at it, and let’s not be depressed.  It’s almost 11pm and you’re tired.  Take a nap and prepare some more.  We’ll try this once more.  Just remember: tomorrow: be cheerful.  So what if they didn’t do their homework? It’s not the end of the world.  What are your objectives?  Let’s stick to that.

Fine.

 

I had to teach on MLK Jr. Day

[PROLOGUE/WARM-UP]

…because it is my school’s belief that Martin Luther King Jr. would be more honored by our  work at school than by our sleeping in and relaxing. The cynical side of me says, “Bullocks!” and thinks that this is yet another demonstration of asserting power for the sake of asserting power.  But I’m glad I went to school today. (I sometimes wish that during breaks, I could take my students on trips.  Or just do little things.  Like garden.  or paint the walls.  Or set up a dodgeball tournament.  We could do homework together during breaks, and they wouldn’t feel bored and at home.)

Today at school, I got to talk to a student.  I was making copies, and I saw him in the room across mine.  Head buried in his arms.

Now, I’m at a charter, so I’m not sure what the rules are, but I patted his back with my left arm as he cried into his arms.

A tough weekend. Family fought. Sister left.  This goofy kid who strutted in at the bottom rung of middle school and told all the 8th grade girls that his name was that of a high-profile rapper.  Tall for his age, his mom chose to hold him back because she wanted him to be ready-ready for middle school.  She felt he still had some growing up to do.  I got to know him because he never does his homework, but he holds his head high and greets me anyway.  I can’t help but laugh at the little mischievous curve of his mouth, his full cheeks, and beautiful bovine eyes.  Girls would kill for lashes like his.

Today they trembled under the watery weight of his pain.  He looks so big, but his heart is still so tender.  In a few years, he’ll learn to be like his older siblings and mask that hurt.  But today, we were able to acknowledge that crying is okay because it shows us that we’re hurting.  And pain is good because it’s a signal that something is wrong.  And God forbid the day when we witness and experience wrong but do not have the physical wherewithal to acknowledge it.

I had him write his feelings, which seems so cliche but it also works.  Kid might hate writing for school, but he’s willing to put his thoughts on paper.  His thoughts are simple, yet I forget the truths he pens.  Families are not supposed to be broken or hurting.  And he wishes he could make it all better.  I asked him what he could do to help the situation, and he said he could do better at school.  And that simple answer tore at my heart a little because for these kids, they truly believe that doing better at school is their ticket.  It’s because that’s what we say all the time.  (But is that even true?  It’s not the golden ticket.)  We discussed what his good qualities were, and I was glad that he knows his strengths.  I also suggested  that we don’t need to suppress our sorrow, but at the same time, sometimes doing something else helps to ease the burden.  It was a gentle hint for him to return to class.  When I came back, he was gone.

At the end of the day, he casually knocked on my doorframe.  “I’m better now, Ms. Kim.”  His friends were nearby and he was on his way home.  “Good,” I responded shortly.  He smiled and turned lazily away, backpack slung over one arm.  Then I went back to tutoring chemistry. Today I hope he remembers that someone cares.

 

Owl, I did you so wrong today.

There’s a girl in my class.  She came in today after being absent yesterday.  She said family stuff happened yesterday and she didn’t want to talk about it.

At this point, I could have understandingly said, “Aw, Owl, what’s wrong!  Oh, it’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it.  But let me know if you do, I’m here.”  And I could have waited because knowing Owl, she always says she doesn’t want to talk about something but then she then starts chatting and chatting.  I know I could have shared some of her burden.

Instead, I just politely said, “Okay, whatever you need, Owl,” and went back to my work.  

And throughout the day, i just felt so irritated by her.  She just.. doesn’t get anything, and every time she misses a day, she falls farther and farther behind.

And now, I’m thoroughly ashamed.  I mean, it’s both overwhelming, but also awful, because it really isn’t her fault she is so behind.  The sad thing is, tomorrow is a new day and I’m sure she and I will be better.  I will ask her for her forgiveness and she will probably forgive me, because she’s sort of a puppy in that way.  She’ll always come back.

But I need to stop wounding my kids!  Even if on the outside, I’m doing nothing wrong, I know there are ways I could have been a support, but chose not to.

Conversations with 8th grade girls are so hard.

“Hi, how are you.”

“Good.”

“Getting a lot of work done?”

“Yeah.”

“How’s your grandma?  Is she back?”

“My grandma, she’s in Mexico still.  I hung out with my cousin.”

“Aw, that sounds fun.”

“Yeah.”

“Wait, do you have a rabbit?”

“…”

“Or, you have.. a cat?”

“Yeah, I have a cat.”

“Oh cool.

“…”

“Mm.”

“…”

“Do you smoke pot?  When?  Where?  Does your cousin give it to you?  How did you get it?  Do you do other things too?  Why are you posed like that in your Facebook picture?  Why are you so spacey in class?  You could be brilliant, you know.”

How to Break a Teacher’s Heart

Dear Class 7a,

Today was a good day.  This week has been a good week.  You don’t know how proud I am of you guys, seeing you guys walk into class everyday (rain or shine) with your homework (done or incomplete) in a line that is (more or less) straight.  I’m constantly amazed at your perseverance and how you guys never fail to keep trying (in the face of mountains of homework, thick break packets, failed math quizzes, and borderline grades).  It’s wonderful to feel confident when an observer walks into my class, knowing that you guys won’t fail me – you’ll consistently be alert, attentive, and –best of all– eager in answering my questions and contributing to discussions.  (Well, except for math).

Yesterday, while talking about Sir Gawain and King Arthur and about chivalry, we happened upon the topic of modern-day respect and how to treat women now.  Steubenville happened to come up.  It was amazing to be able to talk about this with you guys in a more or less mature manner (although some of you did giggle, I just assumed it was out of discomfort).

Today after school, a coworker brought me a notecard that had apparently been circulating through the 7th graders.  I automatically assumed it was the other class, because honestly, you guys are so great compared to them.  We always get better grades, we have less behavioral issues, and you guys are so polite in public.  But according to all students involved, the story originated from my class.  I was skeptical, and as I read the story, my heart sank.  One of you (and I’m pretty certain I know which one because the handwriting corroborates with the person that each student named) wrote a story about a girl who would do anything for a piece of gum and a boy who would take advantage of that.  The demeaning resolution of this horrifying story that you apparently made up (I googled words, plots, and key phrases, and I’m pretty sure it’s original) and just the fact that you could make this up astonished me.  Furthermore, I was sickened at the fact that it was circulated amongst you guys first and that both girls and boys found humor in the situation.

I know that right now, you probably don’t understand the implications of this story.  Right now, it’s cool to laugh a girl who’s “dumb enough” to do anything for a piece of gum.  It’s funny that a boy is clever enough to exploit it.  It’s downright hilarious that the finale of the story has a clever pun on the boy’s name and includes his mom as a witness.

If anything, this story would have been easier to swallow if this happened with the “bad” kids, but no, it was the model kids.  Thank you for the reminder to not be so naive.

Part of me wants to get incredibly sarcastic.  How dare you use your amazing brain to create something like this.

Part of me wants to shun you forever.  How can I look any of you in the eye when you guys can betray my trust so casually?

Part of me wants to show you a scarring documentary that is so real that you guys would never laugh at this again.

But the largest part of me wanted to just cry.  I wanted to cry because I realized that no matter what I do, you are your own people.  I wanted to cry because I know that you guys are not innocent and that there is no excuse.  I wanted to cry because you do have one excuse, and that is ignorance.  I felt powerless in that my teaching and example is nothing compared to everything in society, the media, and the playground.

I’m glad that I have other teachers around me.  Teachers who remind me that you guys are in middle school and you don’t realize everything you’re doing.

I’m most thankful though that I can find comfort in the Truth – that we are fallen.  We are all depraved (which is something I sometimes don’t believe is the case for you – you guys are all so bright, smart, and charming).  But times like this remind me that what we all need is not education, not morality, but we need mercy to save us from ourselves.

Quote

When He Didn’t Show

We get to the crux of my lesson, sans a-ha moments and quasi-discovery. A week’s worth of lessons compressed into ten minutes. You’re trying hard to retain it, but you’re farther removed by the minute, a palpable agita festers in the room, elements seemingly out of my control.

While I refuse to share what happens only a few seconds after, I knew what would occur. What people outside of schools sometimes forget is that teachers can only control the 45-90 minutes a day we have with our students. The first activities, routines, and seating arrangements of the class accompanied by our lesson plans and conclusions serve as the bookends to what a class session might look like. Students carry luggage much heavier than their book bags, a set of issues that my pleas and advises can’t solve so readily.

Sitting down with students, we as teachers can even suspend time for them, create a hub that lets them detach themselves from their other worries. Such a hub only exists in the mind, though, a fragile force field interrupted spontaneously.

When I was done, I realized just how much potential you had for excellence. For a minute there, during that suspension, I had the student I thought I would inherit. Now, we all have to suspend these hopes and let disappointment sit where you just did.

Today Dimaggio* was absent.  It was noticeable how much easier getting through all my lessons was.  I even got to take the class outside to read The Martian Chronicles (they agreed to use their “PAT” time for that!).  We started a new math unit optimistically.  We finished talking about poetry.  Science wasn’t too bad.

Tomorrow, Dimaggio is going to have to take his Social Studies test and a lit quiz unprepared.  He’s going to have to make up his math test, science quiz, social studies quiz, and a lit quiz.  He’s going to “not care” even more.

And reading JLV’s blog echoes exactly how I feel about Dimaggio.  It feels like I have so much invested, but in the end, am I just prolonging the inevitable?

*kid loves baseball.

I love reading creative writing.

I’ve been at my school now for a few months now.  I feel like I have “hang” on how to balance grammar and lit, social studies, follow a system for math, and science… well, science is always a fight.  But yeah, I feel like the I have a rhythm with the quizzes and tests and I feel confident / I know how to review with my kids so that they do decently on tests (standard, benchmark, or otherwise).  I’m also glad because even though now things are getting tough with social stuff, academic stuff, and you know, just middle school stuff are getting in the way, I think my kids and I click pretty well.  I FEEL (and obviously, I’m biased) like even with the punishments I deal out (our school is so merit- / consequence-based.. welcome to Charterland), my kids understand why I do it (because I tell them).  and they seem like they get it.  One thing I try to consciously do is after something hard, I talk to them individually or as a class and try to end with an encouragement.  [/introspection on classroom discipline]

Anyway, I’ve  been having students SSR for about 15 minutes after lunch.  Yeah yeah, I know there’s no research supporting it.  BUT, it honestly gives me a break because lunch time is so short (20 minutes, but realistically about 15 min). BUT, today I decided to switch it up a bit and  bring in some creative writing.  It’s honestly quite frightening to see how difficult it is for my kids to write since that’s really the essence of college.  As I said before, the main school focus is tests since that’s California’s focus.  HOWEVER, I’m finding time where I can bring writing and different genres of reading into the mix.

I really wish I could up my vocabulary … ack. So much.  But, anyway, right now, just working on writing.

 

Here’s a cute excerpt.

(Prompt = write about a special place in your room)

On my cozy bed my sister was playing And when I heard something crack it bed to mine.  I launched her so hard that it had broken the bottom of my bed.  Then I got in an argumend with her.  but I did not maked her cry.

This kid has some sophisticated vocabulary (launch, cozy) and can use some more complicated sentence patterns.  Capitalization, spelling, grammar.  Issues.  But a pretty decent narrative for an 8-minute writing piece.

This is my student who is slightly awkward, can do really well, and then also goes weeks without completing homework.  Has a sister in special-ed that he has to help… and his parents don’t let him come to tutoring because they can’t pick him up.  Although right now, he gets so many detentions (from not doing homework), that he might as well just be in tutoring.