I Wish You Were Dead
You’re dumb and you’re lazy
You’re driving me crazy
You walk in here late
And expect us to wait
Where is your notebook?
Your whole life’s a joke book
You think that I’m joking?
You made me start smoking
Now I’ve got the Black Lung
‘Cause you can’t hold your tongue
This first paragraph is a comment from a reader named LG.
“Hey Mr. Teachbad – Stopping in for the first time. I’m in my 2nd year of teaching, starting later than most, and I have incredibly mixed feelings about the job. Friday I had one kid tell me to my face that he hates me, hates the class, hates everyone in the class, etc. Is this what I signed up for? To have kids hate me because I’m trying to help them write better? He was ticked off because he did a lousy job (and I mean LOUSY) on a project, and somehow I was at fault for not giving him a better grade. And he’s a huge talker and was angry I wouldn’t let him sit with his friends – gee, how unreasonable of me. There are so many kids who *are* learning and getting better and who tell me this is their favorite class, etc., but I have to say, this one’s a kick in the gut. I’m feeling very disheartened. I can’t see myself doing this much longer. Help! Or if not help, then thanks for providing a whining place, lol.”
This brings up a lot of interesting issues. The kid LG is talking about is clearly annoying and disruptive. But if I can read between the lines a little and put my perspective on it, annoying and disruptive aren’t really the problem. I think what is frustrating LG and has been a big issue for me in the past is something more like emotional trauma and abuse. Some kids can be seriously hostile, rude and, yes, abusive. You have to have a thick skin and learn to not take a lot of what they say seriously or personally. They don’t teach you that in teacher school, but it is essential.
As a teacher you are always vulnerable and weak. It still hurts my feelings and makes me feel defensive and angry if a kid says, “Mr. Teachbad your class is sooooo boring.” But I can’t say, “Maybe it’s because you are soooooo stupid and you are using the pretense of boredom as an excuse to sit on your fat, illiterate ass and not do work. Oh, sorry. You probably don’t know what ‘pretense’ or ‘illiterate’ means. Nevermind. Good luck in jail you moron.” Nope. Can’t say that.
My wife and I have kids. Sometimes they will say the most horrible things to us. You can imagine. They hate us. They wish we were dead and so on. For our part, we might sometimes be overheard reminiscing about the time when we didn’t have kids. Wouldn’t it be nice to go back and do this again, only without kids? In the end, I know my kids love me and don’t want me dead. I love my kids and wouldn’t want to live without them. But giving expression to these negative feelings helps us both to cope with stress, disappointment and anger.
As a teacher, I am often frustrated with my students. Many times I’ve fantasized about beating up certain children. I taught a prticularly difficult group my first two years with no teaching experience and no teacher training. It’s a wonder any of us survived. Should anybody be surprised when teachers have negative, hostile thoughts and feelings about their students?
As the adults in the student-teacher relationship, we have the responsibility to act like the adult and to manage and mask our thoughts and feelings for the sake of the students. This is appropriate. No teacher should ever tell a student that they are stupid or fat or obnoxious. Just like I wouldn’t tell my children I wish I never had kids. Teaching, like parenting or being a spouse, is about relationships. It can be mentally and emotionally exhausting.
In a marriage, ideally you would be able to have a conversation with your spouse every now and again to explain how some things they do bug the shit out of you. Assuming the spouse has your best interest in mind, he or she may adjust and moderate the offending behaviors. With one’s own children, out of love and affection, they are given a bit of emotional slack and/or the parent’s response can be incorporated into a long-term development plan.
But who the fuck are these kids in my room insulting me? Why are they such dicks and why should I have to listen to it? There is no sanctioned place for teachers to honestly vent these thoughts and feelings. So many teachers wander around feeling increasingly spent, abused, unappreciated, disillusioned and finally just walk away. They walk away from teh potential of the magical relationship they had sought in the first place.
LG said he was disheartened. That’s common. I’m guessing that it is particularly common in my demographic…that is to say a white guy teaching a low-income minority population. We want to save everybody. We believe that what these kids need is respect, patience, and kindness. We will give these things to them. We will be the hero. We will change lives and the world for the good. When we find out that some kids are just lazy jack asses and will work against us no matter what, our world starts to crumble. And we realize that these are the kids that suck a disproportionate amount of time and emotional energy. They can really make teaching suck. And sometimes we wish they were dead.
I think if more thought went into helping teachers manage these difficult relationships, more might stay. My first principal once told me that I couldn’t save everybody, but I could kill myself trying.