I made someone cry in my class. I felt a little like a heel, but I kept pushing, gently, but pushing harder and harder until she snapped.
The hardest part of my profession is not planning, or grading, or even feeling like I have to “perform” in order to compete with iPhones and laptops and YouTube. It’s getting people to think for themselves. I am pretty critical of the educational system that has diluted the intellectual responsibility of an education and replaced it with a fact-based, checking-off system that creates drones instead of creative thinkers capable of problem solving.
Where has adaptability and improvisation gone?
I can’t tell you how many times I face young people and adults (and I’m not talking about school now) that stand around and stare with an empty look on their faces when things don’t turn out as expected and just stand around and don’t act! What the heck are they waiting for? Deus ex machina to swoop down, like in some animated movie, to set things right? Oh my, are they actually waiting on God to set things right?
God gave us a brain, and among all the other amazing and wonderful gifts that we received, on purpose, just because he loves us, he gave us free will and the brains to go with it. How about that? Let’s use it, people!
My usual rant on the topic has everything to do with complaining about being spoon fed and its cousin, the culture of entitlement. When I was a kid, if I wanted to play on the basketball team I had to practice and be in shape and then compete for the position. If I was good, I made the team; if I wasn’t, I went back outside and practiced some more to get better and try again. It builds character. It makes for good teams. It teaches people to value winning and learn lessons from losing so they don’t lose again.
Today, everybody makes the team, and at the end of the losingest season with sorriest stats everybody gets a trophy in the name of self-esteem. Meh. But this is not that rant, although it’s certainly one of my favorites.
This is a reflection on the difficulty of my job when faced with people who are not used to being accountable. Accountability is a big buzz word in education today. It is measured in ways that make teachers a little sensitive and resentful. I mean, for me, accountability means my students have to learn the material I teach and demonstrate competence through all kinds of external markers, like standardized tests or outside audits (in my case, from accrediting groups).
It means that if the students fail, I fail. But on most days, I don’t think I have failed my students, but they fail themselves by not applying themselves — by waiting for the benevolent red pen of death to pass them for showing up and claiming that they tried but didn’t get it.
Here’s the thing: in life, there is no credit for trying.
We confuse the notion of being charitable, which in today’s vernacular somehow just means nice, with the headier notions of mercy and justice. I can listen charitably to a student’s reasons for missing 2 weeks of school and a midterm that counts 40% of the course grade because of a death in the family and offer him my sincerest and most heartfelt condolences. I can then be merciful and suggest that he drop the course because he has missed too much material to recover, especially under the duress of mourning, and I can even offer him the resources to submit paperwork for a special withdrawal due to extenuating circumstances so that it does not affect his academic standing.
When he chooses to reject those options because it is not fair that he can’t finish his course, I must then be just and give him the “F” that he deserves, and that makes me a not-nice person, and thus uncharitable. Whatever, I can take the heat.
I made my student cry because it was easier for her to give up than to apply herself. It was easier to say “I don’t know” than to figure out how to use the information in front of her and produce what I wanted. And it would have been infinitely easier for me to let her do it. Instead, I sat in front of her and refused to show her what to do, but let the full force of my presence (I know, I can be intimidating in a blue suit, lol!) loom over her and make her accountable.
The silent tears (of anger? resentment? humiliation?) poured down her face, but she produced the document. And passed. And, I hope, learned that she is capable of using her intellect. I’m not very nice, but then again, that’s not my job.
After the gnashing of teeth, she came up to me while everyone else was filing out and thanked me. Hm. And it was payday, too.