Instead of Learning to Teach Teenagers, I Become One of Them

If you’re the sort of person who loves weird anecdotes about presidential assassinations and snarky literary criticism, you might be skeptical when someone hands you a paper heart and tells you we’re going to do a “fun” activity.

I’ve been sitting in a lot of meetings on professional development to be a teacher.  Here’s the thing I’m learning about teacher trainings: they tend to skew young.  By which I mean that if a program is meant to be appropriate for teachers from kindergarten to 12th grade, they tend to favor activities that might be fun for little kids.  Sometimes this involves us doing the activity ourselves, which makes me feel like they think I’m six years old.  My reaction to that is to act like a really pissed off sixteen year old.  I sulk.  I slouch.  I daydream about getting a tattoo when I blow out of there that afternoon and feel a weird urge to take up smoking on the fringes of campus when I’m supposed to be at the pep rally.  Mostly, I want to turn on the people in charge and demand: “Talk to me like I am an intelligent, thoughtful person!”

So, I was given a paper heart and my peers and I were told to shout out hurtful things.  There was a long pause, and I wonder if people were worried that things were about to get ugly or if that was just me.  I grew uncomfortable as I imagined a roomful of teachers hurling obscenities and racial slurs at each other.  Finally, someone yelled out: “Stupid!”and we were given the second instruction which was to fold a small part of the heart down.

Right then, I knew what they were getting at, and while I was relieved that it wasn’t going to be a hate speech free for all, I wished we could just skip to the end where they give us the thoughtful message and have done with it.  But we continued saying kind of mean things and paper-folding until it was time to go in reverse.  Say nice things and unfold.  The lesson: Even though we undid some of the damage with kind words, there were still signs of where the heart had been hurt from the negative comment Oragami.

It’s not that the lesson isn’t valid, but I’m not going to do this with 16 year olds.  I have a different lesson planned called, “Don’t be jerks to one another!  Gah!”  My way is less hands on, to be sure, but I think it’s age appropriate.

I’ve also been asked to make lots of nameplates and other things and then decorate them with symbols that represent me.  I resisted at first, but eventually gave in and drew a sarcastic star once (it’s hard to convey sarcasm in a basic symbol drawn in marker, but if you know me at all, the ironic ‘Cause I’m a Star! subtext is conveyed pretty clearly in the super excited energy rays shooting off of it) and once I sketched a cup of coffee.  It did not escape my notice that several women drew hearts and some explained it was because “I love my students!”  When asked to list our heroes, I saw a lot of people citing their parents or past teachers, while I cited Dorothy Parker and thought about the lines: “I do not like my state of mind;/I’m bitter, querulous, unkind’ and the couplet that follows a few lines later: “I’m disillusioned, empty-breasted./For what I think, I’d be arrested.”

At home, I tried reading a book I’d been given about the first day of school, and I read ten pages before throwing it across the room.  The beginning of each chapter had a quote about teaching, then that quote was summarized below, and if you glanced to the margin, it might be stated again in a cute symbol like a circle, star, or stop sign.  No.  Just…no.

It’s not that I don’t care about teaching or that I don’t want to be good at it, but most of this stuff isn’t going to help me.  In fact, I had to spend an entire day learning about a model for evaluating teachers that my school doesn’t even use.  It’s infuriating because I have a lot of work to do to get ready for the first day of school and…are you kidding me?  I’m getting an in-depth lesson on something we don’t use?  Because I’m teaching for a high school, but also some of the students are also getting college credit through a community college, I have to sit through TWO sexual harassment seminars, not to mention that I’ve had these before.  Frankly, at Florida State we had a sexual harassment seminar taught by a guy who claims his name is Ransom McClure (and I’m inclined to believe him because…would you really make that up?) and Ransom was pretty interesting if I recall correctly.  (It may just be that I amused myself by thinking about his name for the first 20 minutes.)  If you can’t top that with a representative named Misdemeanor Jones or Perjury Pappas can’t we let my old training transfer?

Our principal kindly got us out of more trainings today so that we could get some work done.  My team teacher and I knocked out quite a bit of stuff, so I am marginally calmer.  School starts on Tuesday, and while I’m going to have a ton of work to do, I’m happy that we’ll be talking about Kurt Vonnegut and the First Amendment and there won’t be a paper heart in sight.

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