Things I Wish I Could Tell My Students

I love my job; teaching is constantly interesting because it is a series of unique situations that I get to resolve in the field I’m interesting in, but goddam some of the things my students say and do makes me want to say and do horrible things right back. This is some of what definitely went through all of your teachers’ heads while you graced them with your presence, and they probably cuss more than me. 

You will suffer for that phone

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“So you see, class, this is a graph depicting the projected rise in how much I want to hit you with a wiffle bat over the next 5 months. Questions?”

Every time I see an unjustified phone out in my classroom, I mentally deduct what I call a “mercy point” from that student’s laughably scarce stockpile of quantified benevolence. “Mercy points” are my way of justifying rounding a grade up or leaving that 69.8 exactly where it belongs. I never tell them this, but my students start the semester with 10 points that determine how kind I’ll be when final grades come around. If I see a phone 10 times, then when they come to my office begging for extra credit all they will see is a very kind smile while I lie “I wish I could, really I do,” and cold, unforgiving eyes that laugh “I hope that text was worth it, asshole.”

I hate you a little bit every time you whine
The first essay I assigned last semester had a maximum length of 5 double-spaced pages, 1500 words. It was a review of some event or experience in their life and required no research, and reviews are pretty familiar to anyone who has bought something on Amazon or wanted to hate a movie but needed help finding a reason why. My students had 2 weeks, 1 workshop session, and a one-on-one meeting with me to get that final draft looking pretty. Students in my class have to do a little post-write after turning in an essay, and about 10 out of 22 students said the essay was too long and they didn’t have enough time. Every time a student complains to me from an entirely untenable position, I picture myself raising a black marker to their forehead, and slowly drawing a big ol’ frowny face on their big ol’ whiny one kind of like the swastika-carving scene at the end of Inglourious Basterds but involving far fewer nazis and neck scars.

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Idea for Tarantino-themed tabletop RPG called Nazis and Neck Scars. Someone on the internet please make that happen.

You don’t know what I did to get here
I suffered for school and did horrible things to my body to make sure I did well. The first 3 years of my undergrad were spent chugging coffee to stay awake for a few days at a time so I’d get through writing the hell out of some essays I can now safely look back on and say were shit. But that shit got A’s, and from it I learned to write better shit and then better shit than that and then some of the best shit I’ve written is tangentially related to the unmitigated brutality I put myself through for years–and still do. I don’t know the sum of the pages I wrote in all my classes during my undergrad, but it amounts to a couple dozen full-length books–including a class literally on writing a book. Last semester I wrote about 200 pages worth of new, fully researched essays and projects. I suffer for school because that’s what I’ve learned you’re supposed to do to get through it. So when my students complain that an assignment is too hard or they won’t be able to use it, I like to drift back to all the assignments I hated but still poured my soul and health into, and my eyes get a little cloudy, and I get a little half-smile, and a distant harp seems to play, and then I tell them to get over it.

I don’t believe you
A lot of the things the irrational, mean part of my brain wants to say to my students seem cruel, so I’m going to end on a kind note: my students are fucking liars. Students talking to me seems to be a byproduct of talking to them for a living, and so often all I want to say back to them is “I don’t believe you.” Sometimes it’s mean-spirited: “I’m having car trouble so I can’t make it to class.” “I don’t believe you. Take a bus.” Other times it’s because I know they’re hiding something: “No, I didn’t have my phone out.” “I don’t believe you. You aren’t Dr. Manhattan so your body doesn’t emit a blue glow on its own.” But most of the time I know it’s because they’re lying to me and to themselves to get out of working hard: “Yeah, I did my best on this draft.” “If I can spend less than a minute looking at this paper and find 3 things from the prompt you didn’t do, then you didn’t do your best; I don’t believe you.” Laziness isn’t generational; I was a lazy student a lot of the time, so I know what it looks like, and I know what it looks like when students try to hide it. The most fun I have in class is pointing out the interesting ways students can make their writing better, so I don’t believe a word out of their lying goddamn mouths when they say they did their best because “their best” is always better once they know I actually read their papers.

12 Replies to “Things I Wish I Could Tell My Students”

  1. From a fellow teacher, “This is brilliant! You should write a book.” Seriously, I taught writing to middle schoolers in Spanish speaking South Texas for over twenty years, and then to ESL high schoolers for almost a decade after that. Your humor is not merely humor, it is the essential truth from God. Or maybe “god”. It could be Zeus.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “If I see a phone 10 times, then when they come to my office begging for extra credit all they will see is a very kind smile while I lie “I wish I could, really I do,” and cold, unforgiving eyes that laugh “I hope that text was worth it, asshole.” – Hahahahaha. You have a cracking writing style, hugely entertaining, yet informative. I found you on another blog, and I’m glad I did. *nods*

    – Esme upon the Cloud smiling

    Liked by 1 person

      1. *laughs* The blogosphere is a small place in many way. You liked a post by Dry Sailor Boy, and he’s unusual enough for me to check who ‘likes’ his posts, because they must have a good sense of humour to be there in the first place. Or they’re bedlamites. Both are welcome at the Cloud *nods and grins*.

        – Esme the nosy Cloud lounger

        Liked by 1 person

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