Tuesday, April 3, 2012

One Size Fits All

I get very angry grading quizzes and papers sometimes.

There are times when I teach the same topic to the same student in different ways over a period of many days. And day after day after day, they still don't get it. These are the same students whom I catch doodling or gossiping during lessons. I catch them coming to school late. I catch them cutting my class. For situations like this, some teachers who have grown jaded over time, tend to generalize and think "one size fits all," that is, they erroneously assume all of these students must not care enough to try. So fail them all.

I may be growing slightly jaded, but that's just stupid.

One size doesn't fit all in city schools. What kind of asshole simply assumes any kid who doesn't do the work must not care? I mean, maybe he/she does care, but not enough to learn. There's a difference. Maybe there are bigger problems they need to worry about: court dates, pregnancy tests, where they'll sleep tonight, the list goes on. Maybe they just don't know how to prioritize. Sometimes, they're too stoned to want to learn or remember anything. Others are delusional: they have this big goal of graduating high school but will not admit to themselves that their current work ethic isn't enough to make it.

It's times like these where I grow confused. At-risk kids come to my school with so many different kinds of baggage. It would be unfair for me to simply get up there in front of the classroom, kick into lecture mode and assume everyone's going to "get it." Most students need more. Some react well to tough love, where I treat them like adults and allow no excuses. Others need to be coddled because they haven't ever been coddled before in their lives. They need someone to tell them that someone believes in them. Yet, others are so spoiled that they can't imagine their teacher would fail them, and for those kids I make sure to make it extremely difficult to grab my attention.

I have to juggle a lot of personalities at once, and that is probably the hardest part about my job. Whether I'm up in front of the classroom or bouncing from group to group, I have to figure out kids in a matter of seconds: how they learn, what they respond to positively, what they respond to negatively, and whether or not I should treat them like a middle school student, a high school student, a college student, a sibling, or a friend. In any given class period, I might have to tap all of those personalities just to get students to understand how to isolate a variable in an equation.

With all of the extra mental work I'm putting in, it's easy to see why I get frustrated and angry sometimes. It would be certainly make things a lot easier if I just taught what I had to teach and considered my job done. But I don't. So the frustration has to come out somewhere: often times, I write students notes on their quizzes that are brutally honest. Something to call them out on their bullshit or a written slap in the face to wake them up. I recently wrote the following on a student's quiz, "I don't know who told you that smoking pot makes you smarter, but do you really think this score proves that? Seriously, get your life together or quit wasting my time."

The next day, as I'm passing back graded quizzes, I see this student come into my classroom with an aura that is completely different from the previous day. I have his quiz in my hand, but I second guess myself. Should I give it back to him now? The kid seems completely different. Does he really need to see this harsh note now? What if it was a one-time thing? Questions like these make me wuss out sometimes. Something about this kid's face tells me yesterday was just not a good day. Maybe he'll try harder today. Maybe not.

Sometimes a kid in this situation really does try and impress me the next day, but sometimes the kid doesn't. In fact, most of the time my kids have left me feeling disappointed, but there are always a few kids that completely change direction. And that's why teachers can't and shouldn't generalize.

Every inner-city teacher arrives at some kind of crossroad during the school year: either the small victories are worth it and you work your ass off for them, or they're not and you hold off draining all the mental and physical effort. If there are teachers out there who catch themselves in the latter category, they need to quit. These kids deserve the benefit of the doubt.


Michelle Hannah said...

this is one of your bests posts that i've read mista!

Yo Mista said...

@ Thanks Michelle!