Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I have never had that happen before.

So, one of my students broke one of my rules, today.  I let them use their smartphones in class to do quick research...and most of them do.  They're actually really good about doing research instead of texting friends or getting on whatever social media site they're addicted to.  What I don't permit is listening to music while in class.  I often get questions from one student that they all need the answer to, whether they know it or not, especially on free write days (like today). 

So, today was a freewrite day.  I tend to make abouut three or four circuits around the class, checking up on my students as they write.  This morning, I helped a Saudi foreign exchange student with their American English phrasing, made suggestions about what kind of evidence would work for another student's main claims, and helped a third find the best way to find evidence--the library databases. 

Between helping the second and third student, I rounded the end of a table...and stopped.  One of my students, rather a smartass, has an earbud attached to his iPhone, tucked in his ear. 

So, I plant my hands on the table, lean into them, and stare at the kid.  He screamed, clapped both hands over his face, and starts whining at me: "Oh, my God, you scared the shit out of me.  Why do you do these things to me?  Stop starin' at me!"

I asked him "What did you do wrong?"

"Ma'am, I was born black!"

"So...being born black forced you to choose to break my rules?"

"No, no.  That was...uh, that was all her fault," he says pointing at the girl sitting next to him.  "She told me to listen to music.  She was going to shoot me if I didn't."

My other student goes "Shut up!  My guns are all at home!"

"You got guns?" he squealed.  "See?  See?  She's gonna kill me." 

Then, he looks up, sees me still staring at him, and squawks.  "Oh, please, stop staring at me.  I can feel it boring a hole in my head."

"What did you do wrong?" 

"I let you catch me."  He bows his head. 

"No, you chose to break a rule.  That was a choice, and your responsibility."

"Yeah, okay.  It was all on me."  And at this point, he's real subdued.  So I pat his shoulder, tell him not to do it again, and ask if there was anything he needed help with. 

I have had students texting in class, answering a phone in class, checking facebook in class.  I have never before had a student listen to music after that rule having been announced.  I have never had a student try to bluff his way out of having broken a rule by claiming that I was picking on him because he was black. 

And I have never, ever had a student wilt, then take the lesson of making his own choice, either way, so well.


  1. I admire your ability to be around young people. I find most of them annoying .What is your amateur assessment of the mental health of our nation's youth? Are they all as stressed as they appear to be?

    1. No, they're really not. This is their zen state--the state in which they've existed since they were six weeks old and their mothers dropped them off in day care to pursue that career. Their normal is constantly doing six things at once (and rarely doing well in any of them because they've never learned how to focus on just one task), and skidding right up to the deadline. They're convinced that too much pressure and stress is just what life is, and if that isn't there, they create it.

    2. how sad. Really, really sad.

    3. My kids are already learning focus. I'm requiring it of them. Their television time is limited, and they don't get computer time, yet. They're still very small, so they don't have a lot to do, and none of it takes a very long attention span (but imp's required focus on a task time is longer than pixie's, since he's older).

  2. That situation ("She told me she'd shoot me") got a giant "WTF?" from me. Obviously your students are rather different from mine. (A good percentage of my students are hunters or marksmen, and they would NEVER joke about shooting someone.)

    Also, crap - the "you chose to break a rule" exchange sounds like it should be happening in fifth grade. And these kids are (I presume) old enough to vote?!?!

    1. The two are best friends, he's from a larger city in a different part of the state, and he didn't know she had guns in the home. He was teasing her--she never threatened to shoot him.

      He's a good kid, overall; he's just one of those loud smartasses, and he thought he was being sneaky and wouldn't be caught. And when he was, he tried to deflect responsibility, because that's what school has taught him up to this point.

    2. You're right. It's the accepted response by many, which leads to unemployment in the real world.

      Ask one of my former employees. He can back up my statement.

    3. That's why I did things the way I did. I see it as my responsibility, while they're in my class, to try to train that response out of them.

    4. You did him a favor; maybe he'll use the experience to adapt his attitude.

      With the tons of regulations, safety mandates, environmental mandates and the fast pace of technology, minor transgressions can turn into life altering experience. The results can haunt a person for their entire career.

    5. I certainly hope so--he's already beaten some of the odds (his parents are still married).

  3. And now I remember why I decided that being a teacher probably wasn't for me. At least as an instructor in the Army I could have a negative impact on someone's life when they broke the rules.

    And good on him for eventually backing down and taking responsibility for what he'd done.

    1. They're really good kids. And I have been told by my students that I give off a "don't fuck with me" vibe that scares the shit out of them when it comes out.

      I've also been told that, at those times, I seem much taller than I am.


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