December 4, 2010 by Danielle Harris
My friend Robin reminded me what “inspired” means: God-breathed.
I had a few run-ins with various students today. Talked with their parents. Wrote a referral.
About the last few referrals I wrote, the students came and apologized to me. That means a lot. Feeling sorry for your actions is the first step toward anything good. Apologies are not easy to say.
I’m trying to find out more about students by asking them about what goes on in their lives outside of Spanish. It’s not always pretty. Students carry a lot on their shoulders sometimes. Hearing about their struggles helped to make a pathway between us. Students need to be cared about first, then they’re more receptive to learning.
I guess what inspired me the most is hearing my little daughter cry her heart out about her teacher telling her she was bad because she didn’t bring her homework in.
I felt the heat rise in my chest and thought of a few ways to throttle her teacher, but I held it all in and asked for the full, accurate story. It sounded like the teacher expressed disapproval of her not bringing in homework. Problem is, Ingrid didn’t even know she had homework. Picture big, blue eyes brimming with tears, saying through hiccups, “I did every paper she gave me, Mom. I promise. I don’t know what worksheets she’s talking about.”
I shove the throttling pictures out of my mind. Remember, Danielle, you’re a teacher too. There’s two sides to a story. Find out the whole story. She believes that homework in third grade means she’s doing something good– that she’s challenging them. She thinks she’s doing the right thing.
I analyze my feelings. I am angry at a system that pressures third graders to do stupid homework. I am angry at the fact that I am working instead of at home with my own children, where we can achieve better results in half the time and twice the loving. I am angry because a careless comment like that can lodge in my child’s brain, overshadowing what I say to her because I’m”just her mom”. The brilliance of my “big-picture” Ingrid (who could probably run the school if she were allowed to) could be squelched. (I know I sound like an over-proud mom but I’m letting you have my feelings as-is). I’m angry at the culture that has produced this heaving, belching beast called The Public School System where results are the focus and not children.
Then, I take a deep breath and remember I’m a teacher in it and my girls are students in it.
Best not to bother the beast too much.
I hug her little body and kiss her tears away and tell her she’s so smart and not to let anyone tell her otherwise. I tell her that homework isn’t so important as learning. I remind her that life requires you to be organized and sometimes you have to solve problems that are difficult. Have you asked your teacher for the papers your missing? Wide-eyed, she shakes her head is if that never occurred to her — like a teacher was too unapproachable to be bothered with such trivial matters.
I assure Ingrid that she can solve this by asking for the correct papers. And I remind her that the homework is for Ingrid and not for the teacher. Ingrid’s learning is more important than the teacher’s teaching.
I had the same talk with Elsa, the perfectionist. She plays volleyball for two hours and then starts in on the homework — I can tell these are 10-point assignments that won’t affect anything. She needs help on math. We work out the problems together — I’m exhausted. It’s 9:30. I’ve been teaching all day. I don’t assign homework. I think the day is long enough. But here I am, still teaching. I get impatient. I accidentally get short with her. She’s in tears.
I apologize and wrap my arms around her and remind her to conserve her energy. Be “a reluctant enthusiast…a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic” to borrow from Edward Abbey. Save the other half of herself for things that matter. And to continue with Abbey, I assure Elsa that if she follows my advice, she’ll have victory over those “deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators.”
Of course, I don’t mean teachers when I say that. They’re just unsuspecting minions, pawns in the machinery. Doing their best.
I mean the machine we’ve created that’s gotten out of hand. That’s turned our children into bricks — always seeking to make them the same, the same, the same. To produce not free-thinking adults, but consumers of products, cogs in the wheels, bricks in the walls, workers for the corporations.
I tell Elsa that she has to choose to put her effort into things that count big, and not sweat the small stuff. Find out how things are graded. Ask how many points its worth. If you must play the game, then play it well, and outsmart the system. Get what you want out of it and get out.
So all this parental feeling of fierce love and protection — of absolute fiery passion for who my children are — helped me to feel God-breathed as a teacher. Whether the students have parents that feel passionately about them or not isn’t the point. They should have. I will see my students as persons — not cogs in the wheel or bricks in the wall. I will love them.
I just hope I don’t feed the beast in the process — keep it living longer than it should.
But, people are more important than systems. Individuals are worth all. I have these students for a short time. I’ll give them all I got.