Thursday, September 29, 2016

Why I Cried After Class:

As a teacher, I am often pressed with endless questions. “When is this due?” “Why did the poet write it like that?” “Can you explain that again?” “How can you tell what that means?” These questions I can handle. I became a teacher after all to help educate the minds of the future. I want them to ask questions—hard questions. I want them to look at words and furrow their brows with critical thinking working through their brains. I want questions. I feed off of questions.


Today, I designed a high interest lesson. We had class debates on issues from the play Julius Caesar. We debated questions like: Is it ever okay to overthrow a political leader? Is there such thing as fate? Students participated and fought and delved into some interesting issues. After the debate, I used my best storytelling skills and proffered all the most interesting details of Julius’s life.  I told of pirates, war, conspiracy, lovers trysts, politics, speech making, and assassination. I was at my best (and for the 5th time, I might add).

When I finished, I asked my students to write in their notes a bit about what they learned from the class debates we had or from the info I delivered on Julius. The prompt was “What did you learn today? Any interesting thoughts?”

But they couldn’t handle this simple question. “What if I didn’t learn anything?” “Wait, what do we write about?” “How much do we have to write?” “Wait, what do we write about?” “What are we doing?” “What if nothing was interesting?” . . . I answered, I explained, I repeated. And then, I said, “Yeah write a short paragraph, 5-6 sentences about what you learned or even just a thought you had that was interesting in the debates.” I was greeted with shock and horror. “Are you serious?” “Why so much?” “Why do we have to write anything at all?” “5-6 sentences? (eye roll).” I defended the assignment. “It’s not that much. -- I just want to know your interesting thoughts from today. – This is English, you need to use words!” And then the statement that pushed me over the edge. “I’m only writing one sentence.”

Sigh. We’re doomed.

The questions that make me want to give up the most are the questions students ask that show they are their own biggest obstacles in education. To me the question sounds like this: “How little can I do and still get points for doing it?” I hate that, and I don’t use the word hate much. What happened to curiosity and learning for the sake of gaining knowledge? Why are students so opposed to effort of any kind?

At the last barrage of questions and whiny statements, I grabbed my laptop and left the room. I couldn’t take it anymore. I stood outside the closed door and counted to 10. The bell eventually rang a minute later and my students (some) literally ran out the door. Some saw me standing there and graciously offered me a thank you, full on sympathy in their observant eyes.

When all were gone, I shut the door, sat in a desk, and cried. I cried for my lack of understanding. I cried for the energy and emotion I put into educating these kids everyday, only to be greeted with sheer resistance. I cried because I’m the enemy and they’re the victims. I cried because I don’t know how much longer I can do this job.  I cried because I don’t know how to break through.

I want to be a good teacher. I want to have one of those classes where everyone is raising their hands to speak, or better yet, understanding the rules of society and can moderate their own conversations with civility.

I don’t know how to do that, and that’s why I cried.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Dress Codes

I haven't posted in years, but I'm coming out of hiding because I need a creative outlet:

How Not to Respond When a Boy Admits He Has Impure Thoughts
By Arti Teemant
At Timpview High the last two weeks, a situation about cheerleading uniforms is going viral. Reportedly a parent called administration at the high school, saying her son had impure thoughts about the cheerleaders in uniform at school. Somebody alerted the media and started throwing around words like “rape culture” and “body shaming” --two very socially prevalent phrases. Now that People Mag has picked up the story, others from the outside are happily looking in on a Mormon-heavy community, mocking us for our absurd obsession with modesty.

I, for one, think this is an unfortunate situation. We live in a society that is justifiably enflamed when women are wrongly objectified or threatened or lessened by a patriarchal society. However, we have to stop crucifying people for making mistakes that are fairly harmless and blowing them to rape proportions. Can we be a bit more strategic in our approach to these situations? There is a spectrum of severity when it comes to objectification of women. Rape is way on one end and making a comment without thinking first is on the other. This latter end of the spectrum needs education, not philippic rants making them out to be horrible human beings.
The boy who complained at Timpview about having impure thoughts about the cheerleaders in their uniforms is in a prime position to be educated about controlling his thoughts and looking beyond a woman’s body and seeing her as a person, not an object. Now, however, you better believe that this young man will never say anything out loud again when he thinks inappropriately about a woman again. Neither will any of the other young men having impure thoughts. They’ll be too afraid that People Magazine will breathe down their necks to get a statement and be epitomized as the worst male to ever think a thought about a woman in a short skirt. As we should know as a culture by now, creating change by fear is not as effective as good leadership, support, and education. Shaming men for having impure thoughts about women is not the way to respond. Straight forward discussions about mindset and old-timey beliefs about women and their bodies is a much better way to cultivate change in our young men.
Isn’t this blown up response part of the problem? I am a particular fan of the movement to allow women to love their bodies as they are and show them off if they want. I think it is liberating and akin to the bra burning of the past. But can we just imagine this situation as it probably actually happened?
Theoretically, Timpview gets a call from a concerned mom. “My son said he had impure thoughts about the cheerleaders today. Can we do something about that?” Administrators scramble to think about what should happen. “Should we not let them wear the uniforms? Well we don’t enforce our dress code here anyway, so why should we start now? No, let’s let them wear them, but talk to the cheer coach about it.” The administration talks to the cheer coach, and they say something like, “Hey, we’re concerned about the shortness of the cheer skirts. Is there something else the cheerleaders can wear to school on game days?” Instead of the sincere question, the cheer coach, as the protective woman she might be, heard instead: “Your cheerleaders are immodest, so they can’t wear their uniforms.” She circles the wagons and tells the girls they can’t wear their uniforms to school anymore. The girls freak out. News outlets are informed, and you know the rest.
I work at Timpview and that is how I see this story going. Principal Montero is not the type of principal who rules from his administrator seat on high, making decrees and banning girls from wearing their cheerleading uniforms. He’s a pretty informed, liberated member of the patriarchal system that generally runs schools in Utah. I doubt forbidding the uniforms was ever a real consideration, and if it was, I don’t really care. It’s just another opportunity to educate the men who run things. These girls have not been body shamed; they’re cheerleaders. If anyone could parade around in underwear-length skirts and pull it off, it’s these girls. The real issue here is that this boy who took his concerns to trusted adults seeking help (probably), will now internalize his thoughts and think he is an evil man for thinking them. That sounds to me like a dangerous complex for a man to be carrying around.

We have problems in our country with how we present and perceive women and their bodies. We need to protect the rights women have to love their bodies and wear what they like, absolutely. But we should definitely not be doing it at the expense of vilifying our men who are struggling to change their mindsets when it comes to women and their bodies. There are true villains in this world, but a boy admitting his impure thoughts is not one of them, yet. I have a feeling that if we don’t turn to educating the masses as opposed to vilifying them, we will only exacerbate the problem.