As I reflect on my third year of teaching, some particularly proud moments come to mind. I can also think of a lot of things I did mediocre-ly. And of course, there are things I've figuratively set on fire and watched burn.
Today, I would like to talk about one of my greatest failures this year. To use my own metaphor from five seconds ago, it's a freaking bonfire.
My students don't have it.
My students are truly awesome people and I love them, but when I consider their inability to solve problems on their own, it honestly amazes me that they are even alive.
To show you what I mean, I have been writing down things my students tell me or conversations we have that demonstrate their lack of self-reliance for the past week.
“So if I don’t type it, do I get a score of 3?”
--After reading the words “Paper is not typed” under the “Score” column next to “3”
“For number 7, how do you spell ‘antagonist’?”
--with his pointer finger on the question which contains the word “antagonist”?
"When I want to go to the next page, do I press 'Next'?"
"What does it mean when it says 'Works well with all ages and types of people'?"
"Miss, I can’t find my binder."
“Have you looked for it?”
"I don't have a pencil."
“I’m just letting you know.”
“What time do we leave this class?”
“There’s a schedule on the bulletin board.”
“Can you just tell me?”
And this next conversation that almost murdered me. At this point in the week, I'd already been keeping track of the number of times my students demonstrated their inability to solve problems, and was the lethal combination of depressed and extremely aggravated. The student you’re about to meet, Gabriel, is neither an attention-seeker nor a “bad” student, and approached my desk one day last week with a few minutes left in class.
Gabriel: Um, Miss.
Gabriel: There's a Cheeto on the floor, and it has ants on it.
Me: Ah. Interesting.
Me: Do you have a question about the Cheeto on the floor?
Gabriel: (after a while) Can you get it?
Me: I can. But all day I’ve been solving other people’s problems that I’m pretty sure they can solve themselves if they try to figure it out. Do you think you can help me out and figure out a solution?
Me: What do you think should be done about the ant-covered Cheeto?
Gabriel: (long, long stare until eventually looks away)
Me: Gabriel. Are you seriously telling me you don't know how to fix this problem yourself?
Gabriel: (another long stare)
Me: Oh, my gosh. (covers face with hands) Ok. Let's think about how we could solve this problem. I want you to think out loud about how you could solve this problem without me.
Gabriel: (long stare #3)
Me: Should you pick up that Cheeto with your bare hands?
Gabriel: (shakes his head)
Me: Well? What are your other options?
Gabriel: (shrugs shoulders)
Me: (trying not to show that I’m losing it) You are not going to your next class until you figure out a solution. And I'm not writing you a pass.
Gabriel: (about fifty seconds later) I could pick it up with a piece of paper?
Me: Lord. Yes. Congratulations.
I'm not proud of being ugly to a twelve year-old, but I am proud of not running full-speed through a glass window after that conversation.
How did this happen? I am most definitely NOT one of the teachers I’ve observed who babies her students. When my students raise their hand with a question, I don’t sprint over to their desk, crouch down beside them, and give them the answer while patting their back soothingly. My responses to their question are most often things like, “Well, what do you think?”, “Where could you go to find the answer to your question?”, or I encourage them to talk to ask their group members for help. I only answer questions for things I know they can’t figure out themselves, like when I screw up directions or include weird typos or something.
Maybe I have a huge poster in my classroom on a UV-level that only the eyes of people born after the year 2000 can see that says “Keep asking Ms. Teach questions that you can totally figure out yourself; she loves that!” Maybe my students just make up questions because they want me to come over near them because I smell like a field of wildflowers downwind from a Cinnabon. Maybe it’s all a government plot for the complete destruction of my sanity.
But I’m pretty sure it’s because I go to great lengths to eliminate the possibility of them even HAVING problems that when they actually encounter them they don’t know how to react.
Crap. I have a lot of work to do next year.
At least I solved my own problem.