Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Mediocrity Marathon

Yesterday, during my toughest class I was struck dumb. Literally... dumb. But only for a moment.

While discussing their recent "Standardized Testing -- The Preview" scores, I told them that of all my classes, they, as a class, had the lowest overall passing percentage. For real, just over 50 percent (and of those that "passed" did so with the lowest score possible. Only one student scored above a 60). I also took a moment to try to help them make the connection that behavior relates to academic performance as they also have the highest rate of misconduct slips of all my classes. That my need to manage behavior makes it nearly impossible to disseminate the information necessary to them. Because they. are. wild.

I knew that they might take the news poorly, but I had no idea. And that's when it happened.

Little Miss Sassafrass stood up, crossed her arms and retorted, "You're so rude. Why do you gotta be putting us down like that?"

Uhhh... exsqueeze me? Baking powder?

I stood there for a moment, choosing my words carefully and asked her how exactly I was being rude if I am simply stating a fact.

"Because you are our teacher, and you should be making us feel better about this. You should be telling us that it's alright. That we can do this. You shouldn't be telling us how we failed." This, of course, was met with lots of furious head nodding and angry muttering agreeance.

C'mon now. Really?

Hello world. It's Entitlement and Mediocrity at your door, and we're here to sell you some more of our bullshit. At that moment, I wanted to punch something. Hard. Not a child... more like their parent.

Since when is speaking the truth and pointing out NECESSARY improvement a bad thing? I did not throw my hands up in disgust and announce that I was through with their effing apathetic, righteous load of horseshit. I did not call them losers. I did not say things like, "How the eff can you make a 27 on a multiple choice test? I could train a brain-damaged chicken to make a 27! (And I could. I truly think I could, by the way.) I did not sit down at my desk, pick up my Diet Coke, and write them off. Because, believe me, THAT would be a less troublesome choice. Letting someone fail is only about a billion times easier to accomplish than pushing someone to not only succeed but also to push past a limit they never thought possible.

So there I am, struck dumb as I told you before, processing this load of nonsense. But like I said, that moment didn't last long. It never does really. My righteous indignation has a fairly quick on switch, and it takes a while to burn out.

"Whomever has told you that your feelings and self-esteem is more valued than your need to work hard, pay attention, and learn from your mistakes has done you the biggest disservice possible. People who claim to love you, but never push you, are cowards who are holding you back from your own success. People who ignore your mistakes and failures because they don't want to hurt your feelings are afraid of you. They are afraid that you'll stop loving them. They're terrified that you will leave them. They are convinced that pacifying you is the only way to keep you. They strap you into a straightjacket of politeness.

We have become a society that has swung too far on the pendulum. In order to combat segregation and degradation, we've developed a passivity toward the truth. We've made everyone feel so special that it's become difficult to spot the truly extraordinary. We live in a time where we hand out ribbons and trophies simply for participation. What? In truth, that means you are being recognized just for showing up. We've shot ourselves in the foot with the need to be politically correct, socially equal, and FAIR.

(Oh, dear Lord, do I ever hate that word. I practically spit it out like expired milk.)

Do I want people to be mistreated? No. Do I want people to feel unloved or unnecessary? By no means.

Do I want people (i.e. you) to understand that success is a goal? That your happiness and self-worth can't be handed out like mashed potatoes on a serving line? That although you and I are not perfect, the quest to attain the best can be both exhausting and exhilarating? Absolutely. "

And then I breathed. And I breathed some more. I took a quick check of my mental faculties and tried to gauge whether I was about to have a stroke right there in the middle of room 207 (sometimes my rants are like an out of body experience, and I'm a little light-headed from the sudden rush of anger flooding out of my mouth). And I looked out into my class of 19 miscreants and mouth breathers who were finally shocked into silence and told them one last thing. "You might not like me right now. Heck, you can go ahead and hate me for all I care. But understand this - I have dedicated my life to making you better. I've dedicated my life to being the best teacher I know how to be. I'm not there yet, but I know for sure that I am not satisfied with being a teacher of a class with a 50% passing rate on this test. Getting better, being smarter, has no quick fix. Education is not a sprint; it's a marathon. But I plan on all of us crossing that finish line in June, and you can either stand up alongside me, or I can drag your lazy butt across it, but you will finish it. The truth hurts, but I'm not going to stop telling it. So, suck. it. up."

And they did. And it was exhausting and exhilarating all at once. But after class, one kid did ask me, "Is there really a marathon in June?"

*Sigh* Note to self. Tomorrow's lesson -- metaphors.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Suck It, Yankees

It is well-documented that I love a good underdog story. I bawl my eyes out when Rudy finally takes the field. I get choked up when Jimmy Chitwood steps up at the town meeting in "Hoosiers". The Miracle on Ice. David vs. Goliath. The Spartan stand. Rocky. The Bad News Bears.

My undying loyalty for the Duke Blue Devils is my only real trek into the world of the perennial powerhouse lifestyle, but my lifelong love of the Chicago Cubs surely balances that out 10 times over.

Lately, my attention's been caught by a local underdog story... the Texas Rangers. Over the last eleven years, I have worked just across the freeway from the Ballpark. I've gone to (and thoroughly enjoyed) a few games. I've cheered when they won, and I paid little attention when they fell apart. I heard tell that this was the norm. Continually overshadowed by Mark Cuban's antics, the Stars, and the House that Jerry Built (literally overshadowed now), the Rangers are rarely ever the top story in a sports broadcast. Until now.

With a blue-collar work ethic and drive, team effort, and some additional spark in the pitching rotation, the Rangers have done the previously unthinkable -- won a division series and have now won a post-season home game. Although I am excited for the team and for our city, it is my friends I am most excited for. Every spring, I am subjected to endless conversations about trades and lineups and schedules. I am in the midst of the purest form of anticipation -- like Christmas morning -- but inevitably, by the beginning of the next school year, sadness has set in and made its home in the hearts of people I adore. I have to admit, it was nice to see them finally smile in September.

I, by no means, consider myself a true Rangers fan because if there's anything I detest, it's a Johnny-come-lately who jumps on just as the ride gets good. Yet I've found myself pulling for this hometown team not for myself but rather for my hometown friends. So it is for them that I have cheered and cussed and cried and shouted. For all those who loved something or someone, even through the darkest of days, I cheer for you.

So, come Monday, when the Rangers step up to the plate in the House the Babe Built, I will throw on my Rangers Red, stand up for the national anthem, and flip the bird at the t.v. screen.

Because if there's anyone that any true Underdog hates, it's the mother effin' Yankees.