When I ask a student to do something, I expect him or her to do it. When I direct them, I expect them to comply. Because I am an adult, I expect obedience. I do not expect to hear an excuse, a reason, or an explanation unless I specifically request it. I will not ask them to do anything that is detrimental.
My parents taught me that I was to do what they asked when they asked and how they asked. I didn’t get to stomp off in a huff, roll my eyes, slam the door, mumble under my breath, and huff and puff loudly in anger. I had to maintain self-control. As a result, I marvel at some young people who find it acceptable to regard me as an equal. I am not their equal except on a human being level. I am the boss. I give directives for their protection, edification, and education. I do not speak words just to hear the sound of my voice. I expect a “Yes, ma’am” and to see feet in action, period. One day, when my students are adults, they will enjoy this same privilege. I too had to wait to become an adult. It took years, but I made it, and they will too, one day at a time.
My students who see me in classroom every day know that I love them. I tell them so. This is not about them.
There are some students who make me wonder why do I teach. Others make me scratch my head in dismay after I’ve tried yet again to figure out their puzzle box. Still others’ smiles light up my world simply because they love me. I see it in their eyes. I don’t teach them. I don’t work with them on a regular basis. I am simply in the hallway and talk to them, and they love me. Some girls compliment my clothing or accessories. Others smile shyly at me as I stand sentinel to prevent misbehavior in the hallway. Some of the boys give me a high five (or we bump elbows in ‘flu season) and a “Hey, Mrs. Johnson” as a greeting. I simply don’t always understand why some of them seem to really love me. On those days when I don’t feel I deserve such admiration, I get a greeting or unexpected reminder that they are also part of the reason I am here. One young lady recently stopped by to see if I needed help straightening my room up. I normally don’t let these little darlings work in my room, but something about Sweet Girl made me say yes. She tidied up my literature books and organized my book shelf. Sweet Girl always has a smile for me in the hallway. I am always glad to see her face as she walks by in between classes. I introduced her to my student intern, Mini-Me, and they smiled the smile of “We’ve got to get her together, or else chaos will once again reign.” You can just tell when they do the silent head nod. I am happily doomed.
Mini-Me was in my classroom six years ago. She asked to be in my classroom; I could not believe that she asked ME. Once again, I wondered why she’d be interested in working with me on a daily basis. Hadn’t she managed to escape my clutches? She has only blossomed into a beautiful young woman as she has gotten older. Her inward beauty and old soul never changed. She keeps me organized, and I am keeping her in Reese’s candy and whatever goodies I happen to bake in my kitchen. Mini-Me is a true gift to me in part for keeping me organized but also for keeping me accountable with some of my more challenging clientele who require long walks of prayers each morning. I pray for wisdom so that I can minister to them according to their needs. When I feel the need for Mrs. Johnson’s Sermon Number —, she stops what she’s doing, listens, and affirms me with a nod. I know she understands what I am trying to do: give my babies some much-needed insight before turning them loose into the next grade.
One of my all-time favorite students is in his last year of middle school. He and I connected two years ago in the hallway because he had a bum right knee and was on crutches. This is Birthday Buddy. I went to the school district’s track meet to watch my former students run. His team won their race and are district champs. I yelled my head off as he took the baton, ran faster than I’ve seen him run, and successfully pass off the baton to the last man of the team. It was a thrill. As I drove home, I reflected on the life lesson he has taught me: it’s okay to be loved and accepted by someone other than your family or friends or students of record. Sometimes they love you in spite of yourself.
The LORD chose my husband, and the LORD blessed us with our son. My close girlfriends and I are sisters of the heart. This young man, my intern, and Sweet Girl are beautiful reminders of the unconditional love God set down on Earth two thousand years ago. With them I see hope for the future and know in my heart that teaching young people is exactly what I am supposed to be doing. They may never, ever know the impact they have on my life, but I assure you, I sure do. I love these three and will make it a point to tell them face-to-face when next we meet. A thousand pardons because this rather pesky wind keeps blowing dust into my eyes in my office. It makes my eyes water, you know.
In connection with a novel we read in my Pre-AP language arts class, we danced in class. Yes, after we finished Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl, we did the dance “The Bunny Hop” using the 90-second Disney version. My morning class jumped up and joined me; my afternoon class didn’t. I was surprised to hop by myself but kept on doing it. I relate more to that heroine on some days than I do to others, and I am a Jane Austen devotee.
One of my darlings this year is a student who I don’t teach. I see him in the clinic when I pick up my lunch, and he lets me know if I have something good to eat or not. We saw one another in the hallway before class two days ago, and I said hello. He stopped and said, “Hey, Mrs. J!” and waved his hand to say “C’mon!” We did a “jump bump” like they do in the professional games, but ours connected the sides and arms. It looked like the 1970s dance craze “the bump,” but it was in the air. I know, I know. I was laughing so hard because not just anyone can get me to jump around like that. I haven’t picked a nickname for him yet, but I will let you know. And wouldn’t you know it, he plays baseball?
I have a few students who lose their books and expect me to make them a copy or issue them a new one. After a day of this, I begin keeping tally in the discipline log. I believe they are to bring their own supplies. Despite the community atmosphere of some elementary classrooms—kids all bring one box of facial tissues, package of crayons, etc. that are dumped into large containers and kept for all of them to use. I don’t believe in it. I participated as a parent when my son was in elementary school, but I expected him to keep up with his homework, supplies, musical instrument, and locker combinations when he hit middle school. He didn’t have a choice since I have taught middle school for years. Bring your own pencil, bring your own pen, and bring your own notebook paper. Before you send me to the wet-noodle flogging post, remember that I am referencing students with socio-economic needs that supersede pencils and folders. I am talking about the students whose parents have the means, but the kids don’t give a rip. When they enter the real world, they will be responsible for themselves and their monthly bills. I am simply training them for a life-lesson. To just allow them to show up with nothing teaches them that the world owes them a living. I beg to differ.
Student: Why did you give me an “F?”
Teacher: I couldn’t give you a “G.” I saw this written as a joke years ago and never found it, but I just had to share.
One day a student decided that making a wisecrack was the appropriate means of responding to me. I answered, “A smart mouth does not make a smart man.”
Last week I gave specific directions about an assignment. The student looked into my face, smiled and asked me, “What were the directions again?” I silently stared at him for a few seconds.
“What did I say to do?” He repeated them word for word. “Then do what I said.” He left the room.
“What’s the homework assignment?” a student asks. Never mind the fact that I request that they write their assignments in their daily planners. It’s too much work.
I point to my whiteboard. “What’s written on the board?” I respond. She leaves.
Sometimes the best response is a silent look. It’s not “the look” that impales the recalcitrant with fear, but we’ll call it “the look’s” little sister, just for kicks.
On Tuesday, I was talking about a version of the myth “Persephone” my students read with me in class. For some reason, one of them had a mental misfiring and compared me to LA Lakers player Kobe Bryant. I have no personal opinion of Mr. Bryant and am sorry he has to endure rotator cufff surgery. Meanwhile, I whipped around and snapped, “Kobe Bryant? I may have a beautiful natural tan like Kobe Bryant, but I am not making $24 million and enduring surgery. Do you want to know what I make? I’ll tell you what I make.
“I make students sit down, and I make them stand up. I make them read books they don’t want to read. I make them write. I make them say, ‘Yes, ma’am.’ and ‘No, ma’am.’ I make them think. I make doctors, lawyers, bankers, dancers, and future teachers. I teach.” It was dead silent in that room. Their eyes were saucers because they saw the gleam in my eye. When I told my husband and son later that evening, they replied that when I get that look, the best response for survival is “Yes, ma’am.” They were right. Thank you, Taylor Mali, for giving me some apt words to use as a gentle reminder that my chosen profession helps, guides, nurtures, and generates other professions in some way, shape, or fashion.
“Look at my hands. The gloves are off.” – This is the exact statement I made yesterday letting my young ones know that I was treating them more like seventh graders than sixth graders. No more Mrs. Nice Guy, if you will.
“If you want your students to be better listeners, don’t repeat yourself.” This means that their parents email me with questions that their students can answer at this point in the school year.
“Why is Junior failing your class?” Did you ask Junior first before you decided to ask me? The Swiss-cheese nature of my gradebook tells the tale of woe. I send text messages, update my website, and send out mass emails about various due dates and supplies. I still hear, “We didn’t know about —.”
“We didn’t know about —.” Perhaps I should become a tattoo artist after all and start making my mark on the more forgetful of my young charges. Oy vey!
“Why isn’t this novel on your website?” It is copyrighted materials. I make enough money to pay the bills. I cannot afford a lawsuit from an angry author and publishing company.
“Why do I have to buy this novel if JimBob will only read it once?” I buy novels for my son every year; he reads them for his English class. If he wants to, he can annotate in them for his studying. When he’s finished with the novel in question, I add them to my personal library at school. I’ll miss out on that once he heads off to college.
We were listening to that song while chatting, and it seemed an appropriate title. I am so glad to have time away from grades, deadlines, and truthfully speaking drama. Some of my students seem to attract drama with their personalities and/or actions. When spring comes in a few months, the romantic notions take root, and we’re off to the dating races. In the meanwhile, I will enjoy a cup of coffee without rushing out the door holding my breakfast bar or smoothie in my hands. My son can enjoy breakfast with his grandparents each morning that we are with them, and I can read a book or two to increase my tally for the year.
Christmas truly is about the birth of Jesus Christ the Messiah. We pause during the candlelit services singing “Silent Night” a cappella in reverence. This only serves to remind us of our service to our young charges. It reminds me to read their letters to me about plans for the holidays–real or imagined. They enjoy sharing their thoughts and dreams; I relish seeing a little more into who they are as individuals. It makes me miss them a little less over the holiday break. I know that makes me hopelessly devoted, but I cannot be anything other than who I am. Merry Christmas to you and yours.
I’ve gotten inches from doing a word study on the word “mean” to snap open some minds that need to grasp multiple-meaning words. Mean is average. I am not average. Mean implies a sociopathic viciousness that plans and seeks ways to do harm. I struggle to sleep more than five hours each night as it is. I don’t need more sleep robbed from me because your student has decided that I am “mean.” My love language is discipline and structure. I maintain order and demand a quiet atmosphere for writing because too much stimulus can stunt the thought process. I find intriguing journal prompts that foster thinking and creativity. I ask for a minimum of fifteen to twenty minutes of absolute quiet in my class each week. I don’t let you bark at me rudely, and this is “mean.” I insist that you look me in the eye and answer my questions clearly. I require that you tell me the truth every time. I expect you to do your best and to listen when given directions. I object when a student makes a bad decision to bother someone else’s person or property. I correct disrespectful behavior and suggest a better choice for your actions while speaking in my one-inch voice. I discourage running down the hall with a sign that reads “walk” in order to preserve my voice. I make you wait until I finish speaking with an adult to show you how to take turns. I remind you that I am an adult and not a child. I am one of the bosses in your life right now. I encourage you to read aloud to help your fluency rate. I defend anyone who I see being hurt. I snatch you out of the classroom when you are about to become ill. I line you up to enter my classroom in an orderly manner. I straighten my desks at the end of the day to provide a tidy classroom for learning. I remain at work hours after school ends to grade papers, respond to emails, make copies, and pray that I have done my absolute best for the day. I pick up trash when my feet are tired and my back aches. I hoard pencils for a rainy day when they are needed. I rise energized nearly every morning of the school year except when I am sick. I arrive in a punctual manner each morning and meet my obligations. I live in hope each day for a light bulb to flash and for the look of “I”ve got it!” to cross your face. I read faces and body language to decide how to approach an angry, agitated student. I embrace hurting students with bear hugs. I escort you to the clinic when you don’t look as if you’ll make it there under your own power. I crack open lockers like a female Heracles, and I make jokes with former students who understand my humor and miss me. I nag you about wearing protective clothing during the winter months to preserve your health. I tell you to be kind and do good. I quote Shakespeare at the end of each class period and Lewis Carroll on test days. I startle you with singing when my tongue and brain get out of sync. I laugh when you catch me with a great turn of phrase. I dare you to do your best in life. I challenge you to live and not merely exist. I allow you to nurse your own opinions about who I really am, but I will give you one piece of advice. I will not permit you to talk back to me. And I will not be categorized as “mean.”