I remember learning how to do a back flip on my trampoline as a kid. Back flips are hard. People tumble forwards most of their lives–we seem built for front flips. Backwards, however, is an unnatural direction, and I’d feel that every time I jumped up and attempt one.
I knew exactly what I needed to do (fling my body backwards–simple), but that uncertainty just wouldn’t allow it to happen. Eventually, I could will myself sort of halfway through the motion and land on my head. Even more eventually–eventuallier–I pulled it off (the back flip enthusiast in my class would call this “killing” a back flip, though I think he can do it without the aid of a trampoline). After that, the back flip was easy, no longer an unnatural or foreign sensation.
I think teaching may be like that. I know exactly what I’m supposed to do; I just can’t bring myself to actually do it. Last Friday, I got became particularly intrigued by this review of Iron Man. “I’ll show it to my students!” I thought. We would all marvel at this piece of writing: who is its audience? what is its purpose? what does “snark” mean? I made copies for every students (a class set just would not do–no sir, students are gonna want to keep this baby!), marked up my own copy with all sorts of comments I wanted to make about it: definitions, structure, grammar. We were gonna crush this thing!
Alas, everything fell apart. 4th period had a drama-inspired meltdown complete with students crying, others storming out of the classroom, and what I thought were best friends screaming at each other. No one felt like listening to Claudia Puig’s thoughts on Iron Man, let alone my thoughts about Claudia Puig’s thoughts on Iron Man.
6th period did a little better, but 7th period wasn’t in the mood to read movie reviews either. After a few failed attempts to even read the thing out loud, I just gave up. I retreated over to one of my more motivated but challenged students, read it aloud for her, explained what an anti-hero was, and called it a day.
Just like killing that back flip, I see exactly what I’m supposed to do–get stern, move some kids around, and throw some write-ups at the ones who deserve it–but I just can’t for some reason. I give up, sending them the very real message that they’ve won, and all they have to do to continue winning in the future is keep up the tomfoolery. With only three weeks left before the year’s end, I’m sad to say I’m already starting to check out and concentrate on what I’ve gotta do next year to make things better for myself and the kids. I’m starting to take the students’ misbehavior personally, and that’s bad for all sorts of reasons.