I always find it amusing when a new acquaintance asks where I work. Being the allusive person that I am, I say “I teach.”
The reply is usually, “Oh, what grade?”
I tell them, “9-12.”
At this point, my acquaintance sort of crinkles her nose and says something to the effect of, “Wow, you must be brave.”
Then, the inevitable comes when the new acquaintance asks, “So, what subject do you teach?”
I tell them, “English.”
My new acquaintance usually follows up with another nose crinkle. Then, she says, “Wow, you must be pretty patient, too.”
The public perception of what goes on in my classroom is often misunderstood. Whether it be the imagine of union-pushing teachers, or back-talking, gothic-clad teens; this is not what my day-to-day experiences are like. The 21st-century image of a student has changed, but the student has not. He or she still sits before me with insecurities of failures, fears of rejection, anxiety about home life, and fatigue from early morning sports. This student often complains and often doesn’t listen. This student often looks annoyed at the work I assign because “it’s too hard.” However, this doesn’t bother me, nor should it. I care, and I think students really do understand this. If I’m ever doubting my high expectations, I always get some sort of sign that reassures me. And, boy, is it nice.
Today, as my third block class was dismissed, I was getting ready to begin my lunch. A student (we’ll call him Tom) from last year walked in my class. Tom was the type of student who seemed totally apethetic last year, and he usually dismissed any of my efforts to get him involved in class. He was never rude or disrespectful, but he certainly didn’t seem to care at all. When I saw Tom today, my first thought was that he was just another student coming out of the woodwork in order to ask me for a letter of recommendation. But, as he approached, I noticed something different in his demeanor. He had just watched Jack Black’s rendition of Gulliver’s Travels and wanted to discuss the differences from the actual text.
We talked about these differences, and then he told me how much my class had helped him last year. At these moments, I have to hold my facial muscles down or else I know I will erupt in some goofy grin. Is this kid actually happy he took my class? We then had a nice conversation about his future college plans. He told me that he had recently broken up with his girlfriend from last year, which has probably made all the difference for Tom.
After he walked out of my classroom, I thanked God for letting that student stop by. Then, I also thought about how imporant it is to teach my heart out, no matter how apathetic or careless a student seems. It may take longer than a year, but, after emerging from the troublesome times in high school, a student can very likely come around.