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High Schoolers

WriterLady's picture
on October 29, 2007 - 11:34am

I should start by saying that I love teaching high schoolers. Most people, when I tell them what I do, kind of wrinkle their noses. Honestly, though, it's just as foreign to me how anyone could not like these little bundles of hormones and angst. They're so much fun!

Most of the time.

Right now I'm struggling with a sophomore class of 22 students. They are not behaving badly; I almost wish that was the problem, because I've never had an issue getting a class to behave. There are several tried and true methods, and they've not let me down before. No, the problem I'm having with this class is an overwhelming sense of entitlement and apathy. I can't seem to get them engaged or interested, and I can't seem to get them to care about anything. I've tried every trick in my fairly extensive book, but this class just remains the hardest class I've ever taught to engage.

I've always worked with students who are on the extreme bottom of the socio-economic scale. I'm talking about students who wear shorts in the middle of winter, and you ask them why only to find out that they don't have a pair of pants. These kinds of students have academic problems of their own (just try getting them to do homework - most of them have to work, or take care of families, etc, and some are just flat too discouraged to even bother with it), but maybe because I'm so used to them I've never had a problem engaging and keeping them engaged. If a student like these knows that you care, you can get them to do almost anything in their power for you. And I do care for my students, so deeply that sometimes I lie awake at night, trying to figure out what I can do to give them what they need despite the obstacles that are in their and my way. I was often told that if I could work with these kinds of students, (poor, with uneducated parents, many illegal immigrants), then I could do anything.

I'm beginning to think that's not true.

At the beginning of this year, I was moved to a new school. The school at which I now teach is considered an infinitely "better" school, and the position I was offered was a promotion. I did a little heart searching, and accepted the move.

I'm not sure what I expected, but what I've walked into is a classroom full of students who don't give a damn how much I care, or about the problems anyone else in the world experiences, or about questions of human nature, or about being able to express themselves. I've painstakingly introduced them to every facet of literature in the curriculum, and they've thrown everything right back in my face. They don't care. They don't want to write well, they don't want to read, they don't want to discuss things in class. They don't want to work individually, they don't want to work in groups, they don't want to do real-life studies, they don't want to lose themselves in fiction. They don't want to check out music as a form of literary and poetic expression. No matter what I've tried, it's failed. They sit there like stones, and give me work that is, at best, mediocre but usually even less than that.

I've never in my entire career had students like these. I've tried the hard-line approach, not accepting anything less than what I believe to be their best work. I've tried the "candid talk" approach with them. I always try to make our curricular activities as relevant as I can to their lives. Nothing I've done works.

I'm at the end of my rope, and it's only the second grading term. I've taught the kids that are supposedly impossible to teach, and earned acclaim for it among my colleagues. Now what am I supposed to do with the ones who are supposed to be the good kids?

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