Last Thursday was my last day teaching a herd of 22 intrepid youths, and because of them I am forced to say the stereotypical teacher thing: I learned more from them than they probably learned from me.
Here are the lessons my young people taught me.
I will growl at a motherfucker
I reminisce about the days when I was afforded such luxuries as social inhibitions or a general sense that the people near me aren’t fucking off when they know I’m not looking. I see the dead glow of illicit phones at the corner of my eyes always. The phones haunt me. For 16 weeks I beleaguered by the clandestine phones of youths that could not put them down for even 50 consecutive minutes. In the beginning, I was firm but gave allowances–sure, you can take a picture of the board so you don’t have to copy down everything I just wrote. Then I realized that if I could write something on the board while talking, then they could scrawl some analog notes on some paper and forget about it in their notebook like I did when I was their age. So away the phones went for notes, but the phones did not disappear. Like herpes or someone who only knows you at a party, the phones just wouldn’t go away. I was hounded by their clandestine glow. I became stern–put that away or leave my class. I’d scowl and inflict my bitterness upon them, but scowls–no matter how objectively masterful they were–proved ineffectual. I gave up, and that worked for some time. I treated phones like college campuses treat recreational weed: tolerated if I didn’t see it. But then some motherfucker was texting while I was talking to them. Some motherfucker-paying-to-be-here youth was texting while I was asking a question, and that kind of thing really gets my goat. From that day on, when I saw a phone the student would not get a warning that even resembled articulacy. Channeling all the primordial frustration of a cave man who stubbed his toe on the cave he was named after, I growled at those glowing effigies of poor discipline, and that shit worked.
Or, I’ve become old. I can’t say I’ve aged because I haven’t aged any faster than anyone else this last year, but damn I have grown old. There’s nothing like being in charge of a flock of 18 and 19 year-olds to make you feel like you’re in a romantic relationship with a necromancer. I made the mistake of asking my students what “whipping it” and “nay nay[ing]” is, and they responded exactly as I would respond to a question that I think is stupidly obvious: “google it.” I did, and I made my second mistake of the day by doing that on the computer connected to the projector, so they all saw me type “whip it and neigh neigh.” There’s nothing like a pop culture faux pas to make a pack of students cackle like a pack of hyena laughing at an orphaned lion. I was the old man who didn’t understand their culture. Even after watching videos they suggested, I couldn’t say I liked them or wanted to participate, and I have no intention of dabbing.
I’m still not a people person, but some are ok
Like your average domestic hermit, I don’t really care for most people; however, I have learned that I can do some great emotional multitasking because my students ranged from fantastic to deliberately-testing-my-patience definitely required some elasticity. For example–and this example is in no way grounded in reality–I can be completely invested in a student’s emotional and academic growth and do everything in my power to see that he succeeds while simultaneously wanting to slam him in the head with a tennis racket because he won’t stop giggling while ogling his phone. I can care for someone without sacrificing my a deep, abiding disdain for them, and that is just a beautiful lesson to learn.
The children are not our future
I’ve never heard a teacher say ‘the children are the future,’ and now I know why. It’s because people who say this have not met a bunch of children, or a bunch of teenagers, or a bunch of college-aged adults. My students ranged from 18 to 22 which means I didn’t have a single child in my class. What I did have was a pack of children because when you put a bunch of enthusiastic, like-minded people in a small room for 50 minutes a day, 4 days a week for 16 weeks, you do not have a group of self-contained adults. You get an explosion wrapped in tin foil; I was the atom-thick wall containing the madness of a scheduled mob mentality. The children are not our future because our future does not loudly shout nonsense when it is left uncontained–or, ideally it doesn’t. The children aren’t our future because children as a group are monsters that yell and have the mental stability of a sexually frustrated grizzly bear. The reason no teacher says ‘the children are the future’ is because they know it’s not the group or the generation or the even the student body that will define the future. It’s the individual students that will change things because when you put them in a group, students are basically sociopaths with espresso. I liked each of my students individually, but if they were in charge of anything as a group, they’d probably blow it up within a week because they know it would make me roll my eyes.
I’m probably going to be doing this forever.
My bet is I’ll have gray hair by the time I’m 30.