Why I Cannot Teach REAL Lifeskills to Today’s Kids

speaker-podium-mic-mdI am an English teacher. I teach good reading and inference skills and quality writing skills. Some would say, and with good reason, that I am teaching to a test. I do teach specific standards because my students are tested at the end of the year by a state-mandated measure of accountability. However, my ultimate goal is to teach “real-world” communication skills so kids can be adults, so they can make inferences about tone in others’ communication, so they can write coherent emails and documents for their employers, so they can express themselves succinctly and without fear. But, I’m just not sure that today’s world will let me teach those skills anymore. It’s not that they don’t want me to, it’s that they act so antithetical to them.

In my first hour, we started a unit on Argument and Persuasion. Most of my classes are subjected to long, grueling hours of research and paper writing. I gave my first hour the option to pick topics and debate their topics as groups. This is my more real world, vocational class. They are smart and fun and creative, but they need a bit more of a push to work hard. We started with debates last week. I gave them topics about school and each group presented their topics, then the other groups were given a chance to ask questions and play “Devil’s advocate.” They did so well. They were concise and funny and serious and I loved it.

Today, after a draft for teams and some planning yesterday, we began our debates. I’ve never seen kids with faces so red and angry. My captains were less than leader-y and my groups were falling apart at the seams. Yes, I set up the discussion with rules. Yes, I made them stick to the rules. But suddenly, everything became personal. Everything was nit-picky and rude and well let’s be honest… it reminded me of this:

http://abcnews.go.com/video/embed?id=36768760

How can I be expected to teach kids good debating skills when the potential future leaders of our nation can’t even keep their heads on straight? How can we expect the kids themselves to remember the rules if no one else is?! I know we are human and that it is difficult not to get so upset. But if the HIGHEST LEVEL OF LEADERSHIP cannot hold their crap together, how can I teach hormonal 15 year olds to keep theirs together?!

In a world that DEMANDS life-skills, that demands the skills to take a position and support it with all your might, I find that I cannot teach my students these skills. In room 8, there are rules and a moderator who still has some power. In room 8, these kids still have some sense of respect for authority and leadership, but that is quickly dwindling. Kids are what they see, they are their leaders. They really are. If we have any desire to make the next generation great, we must be great ourselves. We must stick to the rules we say we enforce. We must learn how to respect one another.

If they get to adulthood and cannot figure out how to communicate without getting butthurt or yelling at the opposition, don’t come crying to me. I tried. Public school tried. It’s the rest of the world that failed them.

MM

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School Starts in Less than a Month?!

[Author’s Note: When I was growing up, all I wanted to do was be a writer. I still do. But every time before I begin writing, I let out this big sigh. I see the blank paper/Word Doc/blog page and sigh. Oh, how am I going to mess up this blank page today? What do my words even matter, anyway? Who even cares? These are words I’m sure you all have fought with as some point, whether with writing or speaking to children or students. You’ve heard them, they’ve been planted by the Evil One. I say all of this for a few reasons, 1. I am NEVER writing about school or life to say that I’ve figured it out. Instead, I’m writing because I struggle so much with my classroom and life that I’m sure someone else does, too. You ain’t alone, homie. And 2. I’m writing because I see Christ in my classroom on the daily (yes, even in summer… Teachers’ brains do not turn off for a second). We should all strive to be like David, the man after God’s own heart, who saw God working and knew of how He worked in the past and he NEVER ceased to tell of God’s works, of who God was/is/and will always be. Just like the secular anti-terrorist saying, “See something, say something,” we, too, as Christians are continually faced with God’s goodness and His workings: we should see Him everywhere! Yet how often do we speak out and tell of His mighty works? I am as much to blame as the rest, but today is a good day to start, no?]

[Don’t worry, the sermon isn’t over yet.]

Dear teachers and parents and students, school starts soon! It’s so close I can taste it. Walmart has the school supplies out. I already have a list. I’m drooling over planners and pencils and the old bookshelves I have revamped in my classroom. I love school, I really do, but I dread its coming.

I dread the whining and the trouble we will soon face as another semester begins. I dread the ugly. I dread the trials. I dread it. I know it’s coming, and that’s probably why it’s so difficult for me. Anticipation gets me. Every. Single. Time. Anxiety creeps in and before I know it, I’m having nightmares about classroom management and skipping class on accident. But, once I’m in it and I’ve prayed my little heart to peace, I am fine. God is good and He takes care of me and my class, but I’m so anxious to begin this year! There are many trials ahead for my school, my kids, and my department. There is going to be a whole lot of ugly.

Ugly looks like many things. It is attitude, lack of support, frustration, stress, overwhelming priorities… the list goes on. However, for me, ugly most commonly looks like a 15 year old. (Any parent and teacher who has one knows what I’m talking about.) I see 120 uglies a day. I see attitude, rolling eyes, promiscuity and lack of self-respect, lack of discipline, disrespect of authority, apathy… I SEE MYSELF, YOU GUYS. I SEE MYSELF. And it’s ugly.

Phew. Now, I see myself and that’s what drags me down. How can I help them, how can I live the Word, when I myself know that I’m just as ugly? Again, words from the Evil One. But today, with the help of the Spirit, Paul, and Ann Voskamp, I see something else.

I am ugly. And so are you. I deserve a great deal of punishment, and so do you. We are surrounded by ugly. BUT, God. God provided salvation for us through Christ, a beautiful embodiment of God. “For in [Christ] all fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.” Colossians 1:19-20 ESV. As His children, once we are saved God does not see us in our ugliness (PTL, literally), but now instead He sees Christ. Christ is beautiful! Christ covers over the sin, takes it away, and shows Himself to God on our behalf. WOW. When I read this, I am amped up. I am ready. I start to get cocky. I am this great thing, now that God sees Christ! I am His beloved, now that God sees Christ! Ephesians 2:8-10 reminds me that I am Christ’s workmanship, not a creation of my own design, not innate beauty. If I boast, I boast in Christ! If I am ugly and now made beautiful, it isn’t me… it’s Christ. Brothers and sisters, we will see ugly today. We may even see it right now while we are trying to read this. As teachers, remember that we are ugly. Remember that we are probably just as bad as the kids we’re tired of, of the ugly we are faced with every day. Remember that, and then remember Christ. Remember the grace, the mercy, the blood, the gift of Christ.

My prayer [thanks to Ann Voskamp today; they’re her words not mine], is to “daily love the unlovely into loveliness.” Just as God looks at me through Christ, may I look at others in the same way. God answers prayer, people. He does. Every time I pray for patience, He gives me six million ways to prove my patience. So I know that I am not praying this prayer for an easy life; I know this year will be hard. I know that God will give me plenty of ugly to love into loveliness. Before we even start this year, I pray that we are encouraged by these words. I pray that we see ourselves for who we really are: Children saved by God’s grace. I pray that we see our children through God’s eyes, as though they are covered by Christ. As though they are just as wretched as we are, but so lovely in God’s eyes.

I am going to mess that up, I’ll tell you right now. But, if you hold me accountable and I hold you accountable and we are praying for one another and God is on our side… anything is possible (even the run-on sentence that I just wrote, yay grammar…).

T-minus 24 days. With Christ, we can do it.

MM

I think I know how He Feels

It’s midterms here at school! That means all of those zeroes are rising up from their sleepy graves and haunting those do-poorly students as they face report cards.

My most unfavoritest time of the year!

I love struggling students. I love to help them and encourage them. I love to see them turn things in. But you see, that’s the rub: turning things in. I would argue that 90% of my failing students fail because they don’t turn things in. Not that they would have made stellar grades on it, but at least they would have gotten points.

It’s been a rough year for a few of my students; they’ve missed quite a bit of class due to illnesses. It’s weird, though, that I never ever see this illness in my class. They just miss a lot of school. Moving on. I’ve held lunch sessions, offered make-ups, given detailed assignment sheets, given the opportunity for bonus points (that were earned, I assure you). I even offered a full class period of one-on-one help and make-ups last week because our school was “out” for Softball Finals. Did the students take the advantage of it? Yes, actually. All but one. That sick kid who is never sick, he chose to go to the game. “Oh, I’ll turn all of those papers in tomorrow.”

Skeptical teacher look, “Including that 100 point assignment that I’ve given you an extra week on?”

“Oh yeah yeah, I’ll turn it all in.”

Friday comes around: no student, no papers. Monday comes around: student, no papers.

0.

0.

0.

0.

0.

0.

0.

0.

Phew. That’s a lot of zeroes! The kid went from a passing grade to an F in 15 seconds. He was gone on Friday, as well, and when I gave him his absent work (an open notes review test) he refused to do it, “But you didn’t tell me the instructions!”

“Well, I told you it was open notes, multiple choice, and due tomorrow. If you’d even looked at the test, the instructions are right on top.”

Huffing and puffing.

Fast forward to about 15 minutes ago, soft knocks at the door. “Oh hey so… I forgot my test or lost it or something, can I have another?”

My heart has never beat so loud in my ears. I’ve never been so irate. I got him a test, and can’t wait to grade it.

I have given this student in particular time, after time, after time, after time to correct his mess, to finish his work, to do what I asked of him. But he refuses. All I get are half-hearted apologies and assignments that are failed simply because he doesn’t listen to instructions.

And as I sat down to pound all of this out on the keyboard, MAD TEACHER STATUS, I heard a soft whisper (no joke), “Really? Because… isn’t that what you do to Me? All the time? Despite my, you know, death on the cross for your sins and all of that grace I have continually poured out for you?”

Oh. Ouch.

Seriously, this kid is doing to me, an imperfect teacher, exactly what I do to Christ daily. I don’t listen. I don’t “turn stuff in.” I don’t do what I’m asked to do, I just sorta do it. And here I sit, all mad and angry at this kid, seeking justice, wanting him to do better but instead of having pity and praying for him, I am so mad I could spit.

A wise woman once told me that she told her daughter in a time of pride, “I doubt you could ever be so put upon, unless you’ve slammed that crown of thorns upon your own head and had to die for that person’s sins!” (I’m paraphrasing). And isn’t it true?! Who am I to get hurt about the injustice done when I myself am committing an injustice with FAR greater consequences? If we took the time each day to realize the grace poured on our own hearts, how much grace would we then pour out to others?

The kid comes back in about 28 minutes. Praying for grace and clarity, and for a better semester ahead.

Ready for Fall Break! Ready for Christ to break me.

MM

A Lesson in Leadership

I have a problem child. He is 18 and a handful of trouble. He is about to graduate in May and almost every teacher has had a problem with him at some point in time.

He is trouble. He is sneaky. He is hyperactive. He needs Jesus. Really badly.

So I take it upon myself to be the little bit of Jesus he sees from 12:55 to 3:20 every day. But I did not always have that attitude. I don’t know how many times I’ve wanted him to just go anywhere but my class. I go home and yell the situation to whoever has called me after school and I sit and think about how much better my class and my life would be without him. And then it hit me that no, this kid can’t go anywhere else. He’s in my class for a reason. All of this was put together for a reason.

I started praying for the problem child. A lot. Suddenly, my attitude changed. And soon, his attitude changed. He was calm and complacent and my anxiety about the end of the day ceased to exist. Last week I bought two copies of Dale Carnegie‘s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Ever since I was in ResLife at OBU I’ve wanted to read this book. I’m really big into leadership techniques and for the first time in my career as a teacher I realized that I’m not only teaching them English and critical thinking skills, I’m teaching them how to be leaders. I had dropped the ball on that this year. And for that, I apologized to my student. He’s my aide and was my editor and I had done nothing to teach him how to lead. We can’t expect young people and high school students to be leaders until we equip them. Yes, he will have to respond. But it was my job to equip him for his position.

I gave the student his book on Monday, with an inscription that said how much leadership potential I see in him. He took the book, “Wait, you mean this is mine? Like, legitimately? That just made this that much cooler.” I told him to read chapter one and that I was too and we would talk about it on Friday. “So, this is a book club? We need a super fly name for this. I’m so pumped!”

As hokey as it sounds, he was legitimately excited about reading. So much of his high school career has been him acting out and teachers giving up on him. While these are his final moments at Bethel, I still think he needs someone to pour into him. Every day this last week he has asked me if I’ve read my chapter, “Ms. K, I’ve read two pages. You better be caught up with me by Friday!”

Yesterday, a day before I told him he needed to have the first chapter read, he bounds into my classroom, book tucked close to his chest, “Ms. K! I read my chapter this morning! I want to talk about it. I know we aren’t supposed to talk about it until tomorrow, but I liked it. Actually I hated parts of it, but I liked some of it.”

While my class started their essays, the student and I sat in the back near my desk and chatted about the contents of the first chapter. He didn’t like that the author advertised another one of his books, it seemed braggy, and he didn’t like that the author included an anecdotal story about a father learning that his scolding was actually hurting his child. He said both were too much and unnecessary. We launched into a discussion about evidence and relevance. I explained that Carnegie used the “advertisement” to prove that he’s not just some nobody with no smarts or experience — he knows what he’s talking about. And he used the anecdotal story to prove his point — to prove that he’s not the only on who feels that way.

“But I still don’t think that by keeping criticism from people, that you can lead people that way. I think there are two ways: that way, the nice way, and the way that Machiavelli explains in The Prince.” I kid you not, he brought up The Prince. 

I took a deep breath as his face shifted into that know-it-all look he gets when he thinks he’s trapped me. “Think about this: let’s say you’re a Prince type of leader: you take life by the horns, you show no mercy, you expect things and you expect them now and perfect. Who will be at your side when you die? Anyone? Will they cry in the streets? Will anyone publish a story about you, about how you changed their life and you meant so much to them? Maybe a few of your closest, most power-hungry ‘friends’ will say a few kind words. But the majority of people won’t even care. You lead them, but they’re more than likely happy to see you go away.”

He looked down, “okay that makes sense. Yeah, I see that. But if you lead by example and do it in a more encouraging way, like he used the example of Lincoln and being calm and nice and stuff, more people would care. Yeah, I see it.”

Lightbulb. Hallelujah chorus.

I then divulged how this book is not just something I want him to read so he can learn something, but so I can learn something, too. I explained that I am a leader in this class. I am not a dictator, and I win no real following or attention by yelling and scolding and highlighting the bad. “In fact, how would you have responded if I’d just yelled at you until I’m blue in the face? If I’d just sent you off to some other class and been super mad at you and not try to teach you how to be better?”

He laughed. “I would have left and learned nothing and I wouldn’t have to read this book. And I kind of want to read this…”

Our conversation was interrupted. But I think the first point got across.

In a few weeks, when he’s calmed down some more, I will re-instate him as my editor. He is so smart and so capable, he just needs a push.

I know there are students that fall between the cracks; students I know I scold and look at crossly for not being together enough. But at the end of the day: I’m training young leaders. They may need some tough-love, and I’ve got plenty of that, but what I can give them is what many, many caring people have given me: the opportunity to see potential in myself and the chance to learn how to lead.

True leaders are not born, they are made.

MK

 

Serial Sleepers CAN’T Slay with Words Instead…

That’s a House of Heroes reference if you didn’t get it…

So…

I have a student who will not stay awake in class. We could be doing swan dives off of my desk into a pool of cotton candy and he’d still sleep in the back. His sleepiness comes from an excessive amount of video gaming at night. He does not do his homework. He does not ask for help. He is 17 and in English II. I have given him all he needs, instruction and reminders, worksheets and encouragement… but he refuses to be helped.

Today, I caught him sleeping, just 10 minutes into the practice writing prompt I gave my 3rd hour. I sat at the desk next to his and saw him drooling all over his booklet. I tapped on the desk. His face turned bright red. I tapped on his booklet and gave him a “stop sleeping and get back to work” look. I stood and watched him stare at a blank page for at least a minute. I walked away.

You can lead a horse to water, but that doesn’t make them drink.

Five minutes later he approached my desk, “Ms. K, I’m not entirely sure what to do.” He didn’t bring me his booklet. He just stared at my desk.

“Why, —-? Why don’t you know what’s going on?” I folded my arms.

“Because… because I was not paying attention at all. I wasn’t listening.” He chuckled.

“Well in that case,” I squinted, “I am not explaining anything to you again. You had your chance. This is a practice for the real deal. Once I set you to working, you work. So go back and try again.”

He walked away.

It takes a lot for him to admit that he has actually missed something. But since he sleeps through 95% of instruction, I felt it best to tell him I couldn’t help him. I’ve been trying to equip him all semester with critical thinking skills that would cause him to think on his own. We have worked on thinking outside the box, on problem solving, on comprehension… but it appears that when you sleep through all of that stuff I’ve been trying to convey: YOU CANNOT FUNCTION ON THE TEST THAT IS SUPPOSED TO MEASURE HOW MUCH YOU HAVE LEARNED.

For about 10 minutes, he sat there and appeared to be reading the prompt or planning. And then, with his booklet in hand, he approached my desk again.

“I’ve read the instructions a million times and I can’t understand it.”

We read the instructions sentence by sentence. The first sentence, “Think of an event or situation that didn’t go as you had expected.”

“Uh, I don’t get it.” was his first response. After an explanation and some prompting, “Uh, I can’t think of any.”

“There’s never been a day that you had planned that didn’t go like you wanted it to? Or a video game that was difficult and didn’t go like you’d planned it to?”

“Well, no.”

“Then you’ll have to make something up. Just make sure it answers the prompt. It has to be something you didn’t expect to happen that you wish you could have changed.”

“I don’t know how to do that. I don’t really care if things don’t go as planned.”

“They’re not asking you if you care to answer the prompt. You have to work with whatever they give you. You have to think of something.”

“I’ll probably just not doing anything at all then.”

“That’s a good attitude. Let’s try this… So what if I told you we were going to have a party in this class tomorrow and we didn’t and instead I gave you a bunch of work to do?”

“That’s if I was even going to be here tomorrow.”

“—-, take the book and sit down. I obviously can’t help you because you’re not even TRYING to work with me here.”

He huffed and walked to his seat. He spent the rest of the class staring at his paper and scribbling down nonsense.

He will be upset and he won’t let me live this situation down because I didn’t help him when he needed help, and that’s what I’m here for right? But what he doesn’t get is that I’ve been here for the last 12 weeks. I’ve been here waiting for him to literally wake up and figure out that life is difficult but I’m trying to make it easier for him. I know he’s a teenager and whatnot, and I know that I was just as ornery to my parents when I was his age. But at the same time: I’m not his parents. I have been patient all year and I have tried to wake him up and keep him on task but if he doesn’t return the sentiment… there’s nothing I can do.

This is an age old question that has no answer. I am mad at this student because while he is probably not ever going to be a straight A student, he could put some effort into his life. And instead of taking out his incompetence and frustration on me, he should unleash it on himself. If students knew what motivation and self-worth meant… they’d all be better off for it. Instead, he will sit there and squander his life and his test and I will get penalized for it.

That’s really fair. Really, really fair. I understand why teachers give up and why they become complacent. It’s not right, but I get it. It’s not us who are failing our students, it’s our students who are failing us. We spend our livelihood, our days, our nights, our thoughts and prayers trying to engage and teach and produce successful students. But they just sit there. Common core is great. It is on the mark and it can work if used correctly. But at the end of the day, if a student doesn’t want to be reached…he won’t be reached. But he doesn’t pay the consequences for that: the teacher does.

You can lead a horse to water, but that doesn’t make them drink.

MK