Jerks, Brats, Nincompoops

I write and speak often about how much I love my students and teaching mathematics.

Mathematics and problem solving were love at first sight for me; I’ve loved these things as a kid growing up. But students and teaching were acquired love; I had to get a teaching credential and meet the students before I could grow to love both.

But this post isn’t about love at all really because in all honesty I don’t love all my students all the time.

It’s spring time, almost progress report time for the last quarter, and the 8th graders at our K-8 school are itching to leave the campus where they’d spent the last 9 years. Our 7th graders are uniquely a rough bunch — something is amiss in their group dynamics. And our 6th graders behave like “squirrels on crack.”

Friends remark that I must have a lot of patience to be a teacher. I claim that because I need to reserve my patience for students, there’s not much I have left for adults. Grownups can piss off with their nonsense, I’m here for the kids.

But the kids can be jerks, brats, nincompoops. They can be manipulators, liars, bullies.

I believe there are actually good reasons why kids can act in any of the aforementioned capacities.

But I also don’t believe in making excuses for them. We must know at least one or two or a dozen adult assholes. Well, I don’t believe these folks became narcissistic a-holes overnight; instead they have been self grooming and unrepentant because the folks around them have made all sorts of excuses for them.

It might all be a timing issue. If we could just nail down the right time to say the right thing. Think about the times when we held our tongue to discipline a kid because we think he/she is too young. (Unfortunately the word “discipline” has gained an erroneous negative connotation when its original meaning from the Latin disciplina is teaching and learning.) Think about the times when we thought quietly or said aloud, “Oh, she didn’t mean it.”

I was in a store not long ago when a young child — he was still slightly unsteady on both feet — was allowed to hold a ceramic vase. I say “allowed” because his mom said to him, “Be careful with that, honey.” What do you think happened two minutes later? Yup, he dropped the fucking vase and shards of ceramic went fucking flying everywhere. The manager had to show up with a broom and a dustpan. Meanwhile the mom held her son tightly to her fake boobs to soothe him, “Oh, sweetheart, you didn’t mean to break it. That’s okay. This lady here will clean it up. You’re okay, baby. Everything is okay. I know you didn’t mean to…”

Jesus Christ. I wanted to smack the mother with the dustpan. If children cannot stand steadily on two feet, then they are probably not old enough to hold a fragile piece of anything. (And maybe I made up the bit about her boobs being fake.)

This post took a weird angry turn. Anyway, we need to love our kids — or get out of teaching if they are not our type — but let’s stop making excuses for them. Spring fever is not an excuse. Most of us are probably wrapping up or done with testing. If the students are truly “acting up” more at this time, then I wonder if they’ve picked up from us that we’re not really into “teaching” any more.

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