Today I became overwhelmingly frustrated with my students. Not with them, per se, but with their behavior. There’s a difference. We’re reading Act 2 of “Romeo & Juliet” and I’d split them up into groups. Because of several absences over the past week or so several kids lagged behind and had to play catch up, which, when dealing with Shakespeare, is never an easy task.
Thinking on my feet has always been what I do well, though when I have to do it every second of every minute of every seven hours a day five days a week it becomes absolutely draining. Realizing that I now (as in 8:50 in the morning) had a bunch of groups with varying levels of comprehension, completion, and cooperation (read: behavior) issues, I became flustered and snapped. I snapped on the outside and snapped on the inside. It wasn’t pretty and I wasn’t proud. In fact, I couldn’t tell, in the thick of it, what I was mad about: my students’ behavior or my inability to plan for the unknown (which, as a teacher, is basically what we have to do all. the. damn. time.)
After that first class, I stormed out of school. I walked with so much force I was afraid I’d trample holes in the tiled sidewalks. How could I have been so stupid not to take into account the absences? How could I not have predicted that surely I would have students who needed to catch up? What was I thinking placing them back in their groups and what the hell was I doing in a classroom anyway? Wouldn’t it be lovely to stay behind a computer all day and not have to talk to anyone because then I wouldn’t be screwing up anyone’s lives as I led them through literature from the Renaissance.
“Get a grip.” I said that to one of my kids who was fighting with another student over who got to answer a question on a worksheet, and I said it to myself. “Just get a grip.” Except, when I said it to myself, I didn’t answer with “What’s ‘grip’?” like my student did.
I’d left school to walk. Just walk and get the energy out of my system, the energy I felt coursing through my veins all the way down to my fingernails and threatening to scratch anyone who stood too close. I walked stomped to the padaria where I plopped my school books down on the table and forgot my portuguese long enough so that the woman who asked what I wanted to order looked away nervously as if she wasn’t supposed to be standing there in front of me taking my order. Why was I so furious? Why was I so troubled?
Later I would write to Dennis in an e-mail that maybe I shouldn’t be a teacher anymore. I wrote it in a moment of weakness, in a moment of self-pity, knowing that he wouldn’t respond to it and that my cries for attention and empathy would go unheeded for at least a full business day. It was like a hiccup of negativity. And then I got down to work.
I have to tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard in my life to get something done. I had a mission, and my mission was: don’t ever do that shit again. Don’t freak out anymore, don’t freak out anymore, and don’t freak out anymore. And P.S: don’t freak out anymore. And here’s how I accomplished my mission: I made worksheets and study guides and response questions for each of the scenes in Act 3 of Romeo & Juliet. I created packets for each of my students and settled the due dates for each upcoming scene in the play. I put all these due dates online and printed off the copies of each packet. I stapled the packets. And then I did the same thing for Act 4 and the same thing for Act 5. It was as if I’d sinned terribly this morning and spent the afternoon paying penance until blood spilled forth from my fingers onto the keyboard, and in the end I had earned God’s forgiveness. Except it wasn’t God I was worried about. It was my students. At the end of the day I showed them what I’d done for them. Maybe I sensed them grow calm knowing there were guidelines and clear expectations. Maybe I sensed them take the thing I was giving them, a simple packet of questions, and breathe a sigh of relief. For once I didn’t hear the panic or anxiety in their voices that usually signals I’m going to have a headache on my hands because they don’t know what to do or expect. Maybe I heard all that from them. Then again, maybe it was just me. I guess in situations like these we have two choices: resort to the easier “woe is me” attitude, or do something about it. I allowed myself a meaningless “woe is me” e-mail moment and then knew I needed to do something about it. We’ll see if it pays off; we’ll see if the work I put into this packet will actually help my students. The packet is a strategy and god knows there’s any number of strategies to help kids learn. For the moment, though, I’ve quieted the thugs that hang out in the back of my mind who seek to beat me in an arm-wrestle of sorts. A mind-wrestle, if you will. I think as long as they’re quiet I can do my job, and even sometimes do it really well. Tomorrow’s a new day and I’ll give it another go. I think that’s my lesson today.