Monday, May 7, 2012

Truth and Consequences

School will end for me on June 1st.  Camp will officially begin on June 2nd.

Camp, for me, will end on July 27th.  School will begin on August 1st.

Within that time span of summer vacation, I will spend 42 days and 35 nights away from the comfort of my own bed.  My days will begin at 7:00 AM and end anywhere between 12:00 - 3:00 AM.  I will be hot, sweaty, and filthy.  I will plunge toilets and make schedules and start unstartable fires.  I will possibly fill out CPS reports and call parents and send at least one kid home and maybe even a staff member.  I will endure both homesick tears and at least one vomiting episode.  I will cry and question my choices at least weekly if not daily.  I will work harder than I feel capable of, and I will still not be the hardest working staff member on the property.  Not by a long shot.

Most people think that I must be crazy to leave one world of teaching for another with only hours to spare in the transition.  But here's what they don't realize: I will also laugh harder than I have ever laughed.  I will sing silly songs.  I will watch someone grow up in "just a week" or "just a summer".  I will go to free swim, hang out with the camp dog, and maybe hit a bullseye at archery.  I will have a s'more (or ten).  I will sit on the rooftop and find the meaning of my world with my friends and then whisper it on to anyone who will hear me.  I will work harder than I feel capable of, and I will witness so many others doing the same.  And hundreds of kids will stay for every one that doesn't.  But here's the real secret why I trade one world for the other:

Because, in the other, the kids are happy to be there.

The hardest part of being a teacher is to realize that sometimes -- many times -- my students don't want to be at school.  And after a day like today, I get it.  I didn't want to be there either. 

That's hard for me to say out loud.  Really hard.  For me, school was never a difficult place; it was a second home.  Yes.  I am a school nerd.  I like to read.  I love to write.  I want to learn.  I love it, and I always have.  Even as a teacher, I feel comfortable at school, and I feel as though I have been called to work at my school.  Called.  Like by a Higher Power.  And I don't always know how I feel about that Higher Power, but I know that I didn't wind up here by accident. 

But I have to tell you a little secret.  I am a shitty disciplinarian.  This is probably because I never really had to be disciplined as a child.  Purely motivated by guilt or shame or fear of failure, I obeyed the rules pretty well, and I typically spent my time with other kids who did the same.  Here's another secret.  I don't think I'm alone in this. 

Sure, teenagers are mentally wired to push boundaries and piss adults off.  It releases endorphins or something probably.  Yet, most kids -- most, not all -- generally want to do the right thing.  I truly believe this.  No matter who they are or how they were raised or what friends they have, they want to do well.  It feels, however, as if the majority of conversations with my peers are all about discipline.  And I'm guilty of it too.  Lately, here are the things out of my mouth.

"What are the consequences?"

"What are we gonna do?"

"When are they going to learn?"

"How will they/you/I be held accountable?"

"ISS.  Tardies.  Shirttails.  ID's."

"That group is a cancer."  I'm quite ashamed of that one.  That one disturbs me.

On and on and on and on.  I'm not proud.  I'm just being real.  And I'm not the only one which bothers me.

I work with some pretty amazing people.  I really and truly do.  If anyone ever asks you who it is doing God's work, you tell them this, "Junior High teachers, that's who." 

But I feel like I've lost my purpose.  Maybe we've lost our purpose.  Do we spend so much of our time wondering how to deter bad behavior that we forget to encourage the good?  I mean, look at society.  I don't think that any meth addict thought, "You know what?  Today, I'm going to smoke some starter fluid/battery acid/Sudafed combo so that my teeth rot out of my head, I lose all my money, emaciate myself, and possibly wind up in jail."  Show a picture of a meth head to anyone and ask them if this is what they want.  They will all, invariably give you a big HELL no.  Yet they do it.  Not because they're unafraid of what will happen as a consequence but because they are so unhappy where they are, they'll do anything -- risk everything -- to be somewhere else.  Jail?  They have shower rape in jail.  And if shower rape isn't a deterrent, I don't know what is.  Yet think of how many of them will go back. 

I know it seems like a drastic jump... untucked shirts and ID badges to meth and jail, but I guess I'm trying to prove a point or scratchy an itchy thought inside my brain.  I spent an hour and a half  today with people I love trying to decide what would best deter kids from breaking rules and only about 15 minutes solving the logistics of how to encourage great behavior.  I hate the imbalance of that statement, but I really don't know how to solve it.  I don't think ignoring bad behavior is acceptable, and I also don't believe that the whole world should be or can be full of fun and games with me at the head of the classroom doing a soft shoe to entertain otherwise bored students.  Don't get me wrong.  Every day, however, I feel as though I see more and more negativity creeping into this world, into our schools, into our hearts and the hearts of my kids.  And I don't know how to beat it back.  I don't know how to get a little camp excitement into the drudgery of school.  If you do... I really want to know.  Seriously.  Leave a comment, shoot me an email, send a carrier pigeon.  Anything.  Something.  I want to know what makes/made/could make school a place kids want to be.  Or at least a place they're more willing to be.

All wasn't lost though.  Don't fear.  Here's what I did decide today.  I am a shitty disciplinarian.  It's true, and sometimes the truth is an ugly thing to face.  Everything others count as "good", I am not.  But I'm okay with being a shitty disciplinarian because, tomorrow, I have a chance to be a better teacher.  To face the truth about what's good so I can keep doing it and what's not so I can change it.  And I'd rather be a good teacher because I just don't believe those two things are the same.

In the meantime, I have 18 days to end this year on a good note, and 18.5 to ready myself to start again.

1 comment:

  1. Here's my truthfulness. I wasn't a good teacher this year. I was unmotivated and undisciplined. There are no excuses because an excuse is just a way of saying that the fault is somewhere other than myself. Starting a new "career" somewhere else next year is my chance to be the teacher I know I am called to be. We can all use a new beginning whether it's in a new place or the same place with a new attitude. I thought of you tonight when I asked Makaylee why she takes so many books with her in the car and her response was "because I love to read." You are the teacher I hope and pray that my daughter has every year of her academic career. You are the encourager and motivator that I pray, to the God that I see working in my life and yours, she has. You are a great teacher and I am a better teacher because of your honesty and loyalty.