Day 283: The Man and the Power of Your Lie; ‘Jolt’

I hope everyone had a great Easter, or just an overall generally great Sunday. Another blog has me thinking about lies, ‘what is your lie’, and it reminded me of another greatly narrated and animated poem about the destructive power of a single unchecked lie.

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For the uninitiated into the world of public education, this could very well just be a A veteran of hundreds o parent-teacher conferences, fifth grade teacher Sheila Wurtz was prepared for anything.'cautionary tale about letting oneself get carried away with rumor and hearsay, or how one seemingly harmless yet very manipulative lie could create a ripple of disastrous consequences. And if it were only just that, it would still be very powerful, very twisted, and very sinister. I mean, ‘don’t tell dumb, potentially dangerous lies’ seems like a pretty universal and safe to bet on lesson for decent human beings. ‘Don’t be a jerk kid’ or ‘don’t be terrible parents’ could definitely also be derived from even just a cursory reading of the poem. But coming from that field, and having spent time on that side of the desk, the fact that the subject matter revolves around a well-meaning teacher and a student with no sense of consequences, there is a very specific extra jolt that sends a chill down my spine.

I know what it’s like to feel as though everything you’ve worked so hard and so long for can hang so delicately in the balance between the reckless words of one child and the all-too naive and gullible ears of the parents and the eager to please subservience of a timid Blame the Teachersand fearful school administration. I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the line the public stopped trusting teachers as much as they used to. Suddenly there are now a thousand other voices in the classroom, trying to tell teachers how to do their jobs. Parents, businessmen, politicians, everyone seems to know better than the person who actually trained to educate and spends the most time in the classroom with the students. That this character’s entire career and life has been drastically changed because of the pressure of parents choosing to blindly follow their ‘perfect little angels’ really strikes a personal chord with me. It’s often times these ‘angel children’ who are the most uncontrollable and overall, the least mature. It’s easier for their parents to look at the faults and inactions of their teachers than to reflect on perhaps their own shortcomings as parents or to address any real actual needs or problems their child might have. In my school we had to be extra careful of what we said or did, especially because by high school that kind of school culture is so ingrained into the students, we were constantly being warned that they knew they could cling to any sort of perceived slight and get away with it. ‘F’s became ‘E’s because the ‘F’ had too much of a negative connotation, and if they did receive an ‘E’ for whatever reason (including their own inability or irresponsibility to respect deadlines or requirements), we were required to give them a chance to redo the assignment for full credit, no questions asked.

There’s a Man in the Woods

-poem by Jacob Streilein

There’s a man in the woods.
What a spectacle.
Before the stories started, this school was still respectable.

My students used to skip down the hill to the honeysuckle,
pluck a couple,
and collect their nectar till they picked their fill.

Except one obnoxious kid, Sid.

Who just watched them eat the flowers
while he seethed and scowled
’cause he couldn’t bear to share his sweet treats throughout our recess hour.

I remember Sid saying:
“There’s a man in the woods!”

That’s how the rumors began.
Of course, Sid had spotted him first.

The poor kids. He got ‘em immersed in his spiel
about a serial killer whose gun barrel glint hint said peril.

A visit to the nurse, or worse, a hearse,
waiting just beyond the dale.

The children saw him everywhere.
“Look! Over there!”
“That man had Batman ears! We – we swear!”
“And crazy yellow eyes!”
“We saw something rusty! His shotgun? It must be!”
“I saw a lady’s severed thigh!”

Trust me,
every word I heard was absurd.

Yet each day, Sid would stray down
way past the playground.

Who else was brave enough to save us from the killer’s next plot?

The rest of the lot would stop back at the black top,
sure that any closer they were bound to be found
deep in the woods, left to rot.

I pleaded for the kids to think,
and learn to be mature.
But after a few more rumors doomed my attempts to prove
the school was secure
their fear was undeterred.
And when the buses drove them all home,
the parents finally heard.

Everything just blew up.
I received a wall
of emails and calls
full of shrieks, wails, and all.
From terrified families
who’d heard word of the murderer,
and didn’t like my lack of action at all.

What was I supposed to do? Comb the whole forest?
Yeah, right. Would you?
That means I didn’t care? That’s not fair!
The stories that worried you weren’t true.

Of course I would feel regret,
had there been a real threat
and I ignored it,
and some poor kid got kidnapped
while the kids were napping.

But you couldn’t admit that your
good little kid
would formulate a fib
so you ignored what I said.

Your little angels could never cook up such incredible creations?
“An overactive imagination, maybe, but my kid could never lie!”
How dare I.
Accuse a child of being dishonest?
Just monstrous!

The parents were displeased,
and when the PTA took action,
they dismissed me from the classroom.
Like THEY knew what was best for their kids!

Do you know how difficult it is to get a job
when a bitter mom
slanders your rep
with child neglect
from the outset?

NOW who’s in control of your classes?!

Single file lines!
Single file lines.
Little vile swine,
a killer by the pines.

Really? Are you blind?
Will you find your spines?
Sid. A child decides
to fill our minds with lies
and the next you see
is people treating me
like I’ve committed crimes.

I WAS IN MY PRIME!

Those kids were lucky to have me.

Do you see what you did?!

But I can play along.
I can be good.

Do you hear that, Sid?

There’s a man in the woods.

I hope that was dark enough for y’all. Keep your kids in check. Hahah.

Day 283

Man: 250 Loneliness: 33

Day 52 Supplemental: The Man and the Daily Prompt; ‘Learning’

Learning.jpg

I don’t know if I mentioned it before, but before I was a corporate trainer for travel agents, and before I was a travel agent, I was a high school English teacher. I graduated from university in 2012 and right after I was hired at the school where I did my student teaching. Which became a problem. Because before I was a high school teacher, and before I graduated from university, I was a high school student myself. And I was very, very good.

My high school has regularly ranked among the top in the nation in terms of academics from publications such as The Washington Post and Newsweek. I had to take a test, do an interview, and get letters of recommendation from my middle school teachers in order to attend. I enjoyed the rigor and the intense academic focus. I was always a very gifted student and regularly excelled in my classes. Because of this I don’t really have many memories in high school of having to study much, worrying about grades, or really struggling in class. I don’t say this to brag. I say it as a precursor to my experience as a teacher.

See I was hired at a school that regularly had academic and disciplinary issues. The school’s SAT and ACT scores, college acceptance rate, and graduation rate was one of the lowest in the county. I taught three classes of sophomores and two classes of juniors. Four of these were inclusive classrooms, which meant that with the assistance of a paraprofessional I had to teach, and modify lessons for, students with learning and behavioral problems. As a young teacher, fresh out of school and with a very unassuming demeanor, my students regularly and mistakenly tried to test their boundaries in class. I’ve had students threaten to fight me, some who straight got up and left in the middle of the day, and others who had…more inappropriate….intentions towards me. And during all of that I was still trying to explain to them the values and lessons of Shakespeare, Salinger, Hemingway, and Beckett.

Needless to say, the transition was rocky, if I could even say I ever did make the transition at all.

I left after my first year of teaching. I thought, given my academic background, I would be Far Sidea suitable candidate for a teacher. I still do love literature and writing. I have not lost my passion for teaching and sharing knowledge with others. I have simply had to find another venue to channel my desire to teach outside of the classroom. I was a pretty sub-par travel agent but in my current role I am very proud to say I have become quite accomplished within the company as I tour the country and train my peers.

What I learned from my experience is that being a good student does not necessarily make you a good teacher. In fact, I would venture to say it may actually be an obstacle for a good educator to overcome.

See I came from a personal background of pressure for academic excellence. It was expected of me by my family and culture so wanting to excel was ingrained into me. It was then paired with a natural inclination towards accelerated learning and a voracious appetite for knowledge. Being placed in a magnet school that attracted only the top students of each local high school in the region also did not give me any sort of realistic expectation and image of the regular high school experience and student body.

I could not relate to the students I had. Perhaps if I was miraculously immediately hired by my own high school I would have fit in perfectly and still been in education. But not all schools are like mine. In fact most aren’t. Most have schools with students who have to balance personal and academic life. Most schools have to contend with issues like lack of funding (my high school had its own electron microscope) and a student body that lacks an internal drive for academic success. Therefore these schools need teachers who know how to reach beyond the subject matter. Relate to students on a personal level. Identify with family problems, social pressure, cultural identity. I was an Asian-American teacher in a primarily African-American and Hispanic school. These schools need teachers who know not just the material but how to get the students interested, excited, and invested in it as well. I never had to worry about that as a student because I personally already loved the material and I never really saw how a teacher could do that effectively because my teachers took advantage of and were very comfortable with the situation and the fact that they were teaching the top students in the area.

I had very little prior experience that could apply to the situation my students were in. Don’t get me wrong, I loved teaching. And despite it all there were those brief shining moments where I truly loved what I was doing and felt a genuine connection with my students. But these are the very broad universal truths we all share. When you do a Holocaust literature unit you know you can relate to feelings of loss, isolation, paranoia, fear, hate, anger, etc. When you do Frederick Douglas or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in a primarily black school that’s just dialing it in but you know you’ll be able to elicit personal response and interest. Beyond that I could not do what some of my colleagues were doing, and in a school that desperately needed it, these were some of the best teachers I have ever met who possessed that skill. Ultimately I knew that to stay any longer in this school I may end up hating either the profession or the students, and it would be a disservice to both if that would happen. Being a teacher is not like many other professions. You cannot quit in the middle of the year. You cannot allow yourself to be comfortable with mediocrity. A bad chef makes a bad dish. A bad teacher can make a bad person.

Hobbit

I don’t think I’m saying, or would say, I was a bad teacher. I believe I still do have very important messages and lessons to share with others. I believe I have the ability and the skill to portray my teachings in relatable ways. I just don’t think I had that then, nor did I understand why it was so important. Even now I do not think I can relate to what students are going through anymore. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a student in this world. But I can understand what it is like to be alone, so I write about loneliness. I can relate to love and being loved and wanting to love another, so I write about relationships. I feel for the pressures of dealing with the public and the difficulty of managing expectations of clients and the company so I can teach in an accessibly way to travel agents. I can speak to what I know, and though I may not know much what I do know, I know deeply and personally and wholly.

People should never lose their propensity and their desire for learning and education. And though we may not be the best teachers in all aspects, I do also believe we all have some lessons we can share with the world.