Monday, March 1, 2010


I was reminded today that apathy is contagious. I say reminded because I know that I've known this before, but I guess I forgot.

Students and teachers are huge carriers of the apathy bug. Classic symptoms include:

1) making something out to be harder than it is
2) uncontrollable whining
3) completing intermediate steps at an incredibly slow pace with the hopes that you won't have to actually complete the entire task if it takes you forever to do just one part
4) pretending not to be smart to avoid work
5) uncontrollable whining

You see, today we began the research process in my English class, and you would think I had asked students to tie down a rabid monkey and pull its teeth one by one using only their bare hands and floss. It's just research, for goodness sakes, and you know that you can do some research when you can't quite figure out the second word in the fourth line of the newest Lil' Wayne song, but when it's assigned, when it's for school, then it's rabid-monkey-tooth-pulling.

Each year I go into the research paper knowing full well that all you have to do is say the words "research paper" and students all over the world roll their eyes and let out a whimpering sigh, but this year I decided to do something about it. I totally reinvented the research project to make it something students can enjoy and invest in. This year we're finding information about careers - education needed, salary schedules, entry-level positions and what you can be promoted to -- all really good stuff for seventeen year olds to think about.

I worked all day last Sunday putting it together. I pictured one of my students ten years from now opening her own child care center or being promoted to senior partner and remembering that if it weren't for the research done in Mrs. Hickman's English III class she never would have thought to become an accountant/lawyer/policeman in the first place. I was excited.

The kids, however, were not excited. They were mostly just plain apathetic. Probably the most passionate comment I heard all day was when student #1 said, "This is stupid," and student #2 responded, "Don't call Mrs. Hickman's assignment stupid." I"m not convinced that student #2 thought the assignment was the most fun she'd had in years, but I still wanted to run across the room and hug her. Bonus points for student #2.

By third period (I don't have a first, so this only after one class), I had caught the disease of apathy. When I was giving directions at the beginning of class, I actually heard myself saying "Bueller. Bueller. Bueller." in my head. Then, when a group of students just sat there instead of working, I walked up to their table and told them that I was in a bad mood, and that I had no patience for their sitting around. Then I told them they had two minutes to get busy or they were all getting zeros for the day, and I actually looked at my watch for effect. Seriously.

Now folks, I don't know what kind of experiences you have with school, but that's just not good teaching. In fact, it's borderline horrible teaching and I should be punished with 50 lashes or something like that except we don't allow corporal punishment in school. I spent most of the day being mad at my whining/lazy/grumpy students when I should have been mad at their whining/lazy/grumpy teacher.

  • I should have been more excited to introduce the project to them. Excitement is contagious, too.
  • I should have worn more sensible shoes to spend the day running around the library while keeping a smile on my face.
  • I should have encouraged those students who were slow to get started with a pat on the back and a smile -- I know they respond better to that.
  • I should have said "good job" and "you're doing great" many, many more times, even for small things.
But I didn't. I scowled and complained and finally just sat down, too tired to continue begging students to do work they obviously didn't want to do.

Tonight I wonder how they ever could have figured out that I actually wanted them to do it.

I suppose tomorrow is another day. I just need to make sure it's a day with the right shoes and the right attitude.

1 comment:

Erin Stutts said...

I've been waiting for an update! Thanks!

Too bad you can't go barefoot in the library, huh?