You Can’t Push a Wet Noodle

NOTE: Cleaning up files, I tripped across this post from my days in teacher-land. Since I’m closing in on a deadline, I thought I’d share this, and save brain space for my manuscript. Enjoy!

Today, a series of events converged into the perfect storm that, without the support of my colleagues, would have left me drowning in a sea of frustration.

The first strike of thunder started with a student complaining about having to watch the Veterans’ Day special program on the morning announcements. In one of my rare “call your kids from the neighbor’s house” voices, I informed him that men and women died so he could whine about sitting in a classroom watching a flat screen television, and I was certain the soldiers’ families would so appreciate knowing how much he honored their contributions.

Announcements over, I returned graded papers.

Strike two. A student who submitted an assignment that did not follow the guidelines, was incomplete, and looked as if he’d written it in the back of a pickup truck traveling over a gravel road, had the audacity to “bow up” and yammer about the unfairness of it all.

So, I launched into my “come to Jesus” speech (I don’t refer to it as that to my students; after all, I teach in a public high school). Inevitably, every class, every year requires one of these. Twelve weeks into the school year, the bar’s higher than it was in August, and they’re feeling the pain of chin bruises. Some of them react by stretching, working smarter, and asking for help. Others, usually the members of the “exert minimal effort for maximum gain” club, start fashioning voodoo dolls that are sporting glasses and sensible shoes and look very much like I do.

Eight out of twenty-one students in the class submitted the assignment. The others “forgot” (note: each student was given a planner at the beginning of the school year) because “you didn’t tell us it was due.” One student told me she’s too busy to do homework and, after all, she has six other classes. I reminded her I had 143 other students, and we all have the same twenty-four hours in a day.

Another informed me that I grade too hard. Not a surprise. In fact, just a few days ago, another teacher overheard a student say, “Mrs. Allan grades like a Nazi.” I didn’t know the Nazis had time to grade papers…but, anyway…I’ll own that I have high expectations. I don’t apologize for expecting more of them than they do of themselves because even if they fall short of what I expect, they’re often miles ahead of where they would have been.

If they can’t meet some of my expectations–rigorous ones like writing in blue or black ink only, using a heading that includes writing a last name, not Joe T.,  and writing on the front of the paper–how’s that mindset going to work for them in the real world, with real jobs?

A student remarked, “I’m not going to need a job. I’m gonna be rich.”  To which one of her classmates responded, “You can’t even pass English, how you gonna get rich?” (I love when kids “get it”!)

Sure, they’re freshmen, and they’re young and silly and hormonal. I get that. But I’m not buying into the, “they’re ONLY freshmen” excuse for why they shouldn’t be held accountable or why they shouldn’t learn to self-advocate.

Nothing disappoints  me more than spending my time reading work that’s obviously completed at the last minute or blatantly disregards guidelines. And, honestly, I feel a wee bit resentful taking time away from my family, my friends, whatever…to spend with half-hearted attempts.

When I do sit down to grade, I don’t do it after a fight with my husband, or after opening that month’s bills, or after being awake for twenty-three hours. I give them my best effort. It’s what I believe I should do. But, as I pointed out to them this morning, they expect my best effort, but don’t submit theirs.

The bell rings and Mr. Bowed-Up walks straight to the principal to complain. No problem because the principal then walks straight to me  to tell me his suggestion to the student was to schedule a conference. (Two years ago at my former school, a parent left messages on an administrator’s phone that she was calling the school board to ask that I be fired.  That apparently didn’t work out for her.)

Second period happens to be my planning period, so I sit to check my school email. Thunderbolt three. I’m not going into too much detail here because this is a yet unresolved issue. I open an email from a parent with whom I already had a conference, and find a l-o-n-g diatribe consisting of biting sarcasm sprinkled with bits of character assassination. In terms of emails I’ve received since that became an accepted form of communication, I’d say this one ranks in the top five of the most vituperative.  I refuse to even dignify it with a response.

Sometimes it’s difficult for parents to accept that they want academic success more than the kid wants it. And it’s more difficult yet when the parents are working harder than their student because sometimes that leads to smug kids who think parental units will fight their battles.

At an Advanced Placement reading two years ago, a college professor told me more and more parents are calling their offices asking for their student’s grades, demanding extra credit be given, wanting grade changes…Of course, the college teachers find all this quite amusing, and refer to them as “helicopter parents” because they’re constantly hovering over their kids.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: my wise father always told me, “Christa, you can’t push a wet noodle.”

Storm over.

2 replies
  1. Jo-Anne Clough
    Jo-Anne Clough says:

    Amen to this whole post. Students who expect to be rewarded for not trying and parents who agree with them. smh!!! It is really awesome when one of “these”students, grows up, comes back to see you and says, “you were right”!!

    Reply

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