Throwing Chalk

[I actually wrote this a few weeks ago and just noticed it never went up.  It’s been dangling around in the “draft” zone for a while.  If I sound particularly hopeless and angry at the universe, rest assured things are at least 4% better right now]

I don’t know why I expect students to behave on their own, but I do.

Actually, I do know why I expect such things: I wasn’t a belligerent turd in the ninth grade. With the exception of the time I called Mr. Mattox a dork, I mostly just shut up and did my work.

Three and a half months into this whole teaching thing, I’ve learned that I was the exception, not the rule. I see the versions of my former self scattered throughout my classrooms, and we are indeed a rare species. The disinterested, unmotivated students are the prevalent force in my classroom, and while I will  admit that the majority of my management/discipline fiascoes are my own creation, I’m consistently baffled by what some teenagers think is acceptable behavior in a classroom (screaming, throwing things, swearing, blatant disrespect, the inability to sit down, etc.).

Lately, I’ve been reminded of those instances where my own public school teachers lost their tempers. Poor Mrs. Puckett would cry. Ms. Artigas would remind us just how miserable she could make our lives with homework. But no one stands out more than my 9th and 10th grade math teacher, Mr. Hebert. Now, I understand math because I had Mr. Hebert–he was simply a fantastic instructor [quick statistical anecdote: I had Mr. Hebert and a 100(!) average for my 1st semester of tenth grade Algebra 2; poor Coach Brooks and I could only manage a generous 72 in the second semester], but not everyone was wowed by geometry like me, and he would occasionally lose his cool. It always looked the same. He’d yell, turn around, and throw his piece of chalk at the board as if to say “to Hell with this chalk, and to Hell with the kids I try to teach with it.” It mostly worked, too. It took him a second to reconsider just walking out the door, I think, but he eventually got on with the lesson, and I learned me some triangles.

My problem: I have a dry erase board and no chalk to throw. Really, I just don’t like raising my voice or punishing students at all, and my students know this. When I’m close to hanging myself in front of thirty kids, I kind of just shut down. The day’s shot anyway, so I sort of just make a last attempt to steer some people on a task (any task) and just stand there, silent for the remaining ten, sometimes twenty minutes.

What’s weird is that students are surprisingly open about what should be done. They know. When I have a rough class period, my students can tell, and they’ll occasionally call me out on my sour demeanor. They know better than I do what needs to be done–“Just be mean to us, Mr. Harding.” “Start writing us up.” They’re asking for it, and I’m still reluctant to follow through, because it means me showing people that I’m angry, and part of me would honestly rather be trampled upon than do that.

This week, an extremely knowledgeable professor of mine said two things that scared me:

  1. Don’t quit teaching until after your second or third year, at least.
  2. Anyone with a college degree knows high school content. Teaching it is the hard part.

Now, I’m pretty sure my school’s gonna let me come back for round two (1.5, really) next year, and I’m sure it’ll be an improvement over how things are now. I’ll have a new group of kids, and they’ll be mine from day one. However, I don’t see myself being able to address what are serious incongruities between my personality and that of a competent teacher’s.

Also, much of my teacherly aspirations come from my love of the subject. Writing is cool. Reading is cool. I love thinking about this stuff, but a fascination with English is hardly what makes a good teacher. Teaching requires skills like articulation, long-term planning, and discipline that I simply don’t have (yet or ever?). When I interviewed for teaching positions, no principal asked me what my favorite book was, but every single one asked me how I’d handle discipline problems. For good reason, too, as students want a commanding personality to lead them through a course, not some brainy nerd who wrote some long papers about George Orwell.



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