To anyone who thinks there’s more at the moment,
A certain level of irony will go into the sarcasm of trying to be relevant while staying on topic, so try to keep up. This topic is so broad it’s truly confusing to discern where it starts, or should, in order to impress any impact beyond the fact that this is a brick of words so it inherently must be boring. Maybe if I separate the entire thing into two line chunks like a twitter feed, with picture examples included, it will be easier to not close the window. I also do figurative language, but don’t take my word for it…
There is a weird and undefinable disconnect between the expectations of teenagers and the expectations for those teenagers which stems from adults who were once teenagers. I’d like to premise my points by saying no one is to blame for this, no person, because that kind of thinking might get a complaint filed against me, and I think six is enough for now. For now, let’s say it’s the result of technology—which is a very tired subject, and class has just started.
My realization for how technology has created a negative influence came as an accident. I was discussing ‘sexting’ as a way to address anonymity as it pertains to guilt in the way we treat other human beings because we are encouraged to refuse to get to know them, which is a hidden theme of ‘Tuesday’s With Morrie’ in the way that Mitch, the narrator, is unconcerned with how he lives his life until he revisits someone who knew him very dearly. This was and is a wide concept for teenagers to get, looking at how they treat other people because they don’t consider how they should treat other people—you know, the golden rule? But I was discussing sexting with my students in as a professional way as I could possibly think of because it is a cultural example they can relate to and it does happen. I would be glad to apologize to any parent who finds this offensive, but I spoke about it because it exists and I believed that every single child in that room had the capacity to be mature enough to understand the connection to the literature we were analyzing and to take away the right message of why I would need to introduce the topic. As a concept, it’s an unfortunate existence because of its accessibility, and no generation before this current batch of 20somethings has been able to show off their bodies, or be asked to, so immediately or cheaply.
Halfway through my explanation I realized how awkward it would be for any of my students, as well as myself, to have to explain what sexting is, and how it can hurt, to their parents. There simply wasn’t the technology at that time of pubescent confusion, so the pressure or temptation or curiosity of anything that deals with digital flirting did not exist for anyone older than their parents. Ten years from now this will be digested more easily, similar to the onset of mass marketed birth control in the 70s, but for right now, this nugget is indicative of a much larger problem teenagers face in this decade. Many problems students face today would be like trying to start teaching an adult a new language, and it is much easier in many categories to simply not have those conversations because it’s not hard to imagine why an adult wouldn’t ‘get it.’ I have an interesting perspective of being halfway between generations so I’m aware of my students’ issues, but not so far removed from traditional schooling and raising and expectations—I know when to quote Bon Jovi and how to be polite at dinner parties without my phone.
I apologize if the previous paragraphs took on a serious, uncomfortable tone, but that discomfort is what convinces most kids to make decisions regarding their education. They either know the expectations of their parents and wish to gain acceptance from following the rules, or they fear seeming homogenous so they choose to not follow certain rules. There are so many that it’s hard to keep track of who stands by which ones, so children pick and choose like rules come from a fundraiser catalog. There’s a running joke in teaching how often students will ask for extra credit when they have missing assignments for regular credit. More often than not I’ll assign late work with a different name on the top and no one has caught me yet.
A student came by this week to complain about their attendance. Like an incredulous amount of my other students, she is missing so many more concepts than days from school, and it doesn’t matter which days or which concepts; she has never come to tutoring during my planning or after school every day of the week. But it’s a good idea to miss another class to come find me and ask about being tardy for my class, and none of this affects her overall performance, just a number in the computer system that disappears every semester. I want to move away from this example because I feel as bored as you do reading it—it’s an infinitesimal example of the decisions students come across on a daily basis and most of them are stupid. Of course they’re allowed to be stupid—they’re kids—but they should slowly become less stupid and less frequent. Something is causing kids to simply not think through their own decisions and go for the least common denominator of red light/green light.
Most adults are as guilty as smartphones in this instance. As purely digital natives, this generation of kids learns so immediately the conditioning of doing something right will cause a response. When they tap a screen, if they do it right, a new screen will appear; if they don’t, nothing happens. Imagine a child or even a baby holding its mom’s phone—tap correctly and the colors change. These seems like an egregious parallel between babies and teenagers, but the immediate recall of tap and response fosters that level of communication for less technological devices and even people. Tap someone on the shoulder and get a ‘hi,’ smile at someone and get a smile in return. Decisions are a continual system of correct and incorrect, but the instant stimuli of phones and digital content change the entire process of decision making. To put the allegory to sleep, a baby crying to get attention still has to wait for someone to get out of their seat, and someone getting ice has to wait for the fridge to crush it.
This wild supposition has to have a conclusion, so if you’re still reading while waiting for shards of ice, think about it. There is no waiting with phones, even the content shown as posts and previews and updates that pop up as a banner if a message needs to be condensed and then screened. If that’s how information is transferred on an hourly basis, why would anyone want to slow down and parcel through the pre-reader’s digest version? That type of information shouldn’t even make sense to teenagers. Why wait a week for the conclusion to a cliffhanger show when the next episode is already buffering? Why sit through a meaningful minute-long David Gilmour intro when lyrics can start four seconds after Pharrell has established the beat with his unnecessary repeating letters? Why read when spark notes exists?
Why think when there’s a teacher in the room? They have the answers to the test anyway. And don’t get me started on ‘Trivia Crack’ where the answer is revealed seconds after not thinking ‘final answer.’ There is no system of recall because of the timer for the next question, so any consideration about the correct answer or who should care why that is the correct answer goes out the window. As long as the answer choice turns green you can feel good about the question that was asked until the round ends and you start another one. Teenagers have become conditioned to look for the answer to things instead of thinking through, around, or even about the problem. Some teachers even go so far as to say look at the answer choices, then the question before reading the passage to save time looking for the answer. Matching word B with box choice A doesn’t ‘show how to do something’ which is the word for word definition of teach. Hopefully we’ll get to standardized tests, which differ greatly from summative assessments, but the current issue involves the way people care about getting the right answer. Without the explanation of an answer, less brain synapses fire and less basic caring goes towards something and genuine teaching doesn’t occur. Too often students will demand the answer on a test during correction, but won’t stop themselves to consider why it’s correct, or why they need to know this in the first place.
Another personal diatribe that fits well is that of the struggling senior. They’re well beyond caring because no one older has shown them why they should care, and now they’re older so they’ve got it figured out. Every adult should be able to remember this phase of growing up, when you really think you have what you need to know. (My students would laugh at how many ‘you’s I just used.) They have a terrible average and the conversations they can’t uphold show why, but they still, somehow, has the opportunity to pass. Teachers are asked to regrade, amend, and even dumb down assignments so that the grades can superficially get the student to a D minus minus.
At a meeting, I almost asked a woman, “Do we want him to pass, or to learn?”
Neither scenario gets him to care, but one looks good on paper. And that’s heartbreaking. Children are so misguided because they should be, and as former teenagers we should show them, or at least explain, either how not to do what we did, or to do it better so that they learn their own lessons differently. I genuinely enjoy making a teenager feel small for a few moments when I show them that they can’t guess their way to my answer and they really don’t have it without reading my book. It’s a real punch in the ego, and while I don’t want any child to feel any pain for any length of time, they need to in order to grow. I don’t touch things that are on fire for a very good reason.
This has gotten me into a ton of trouble, often, and recently, but I am a teacher. I show people how to not look like a complete fool by making them feel. To check my ego, it is quite often that I feel foolish when a lesson doesn’t go well or offends someone into sending an email to my superiors, but those are learning experiences as long as no one in the situation gives up. Whether people feel empowered, correct, or foolish in order to learn is up to them, but that’s the one part of my teaching that I am cussword consistent about, and the right kids get when I’m being sarcastic or downright mean because I love them and I don’t want them to look stupid in front of anyone else again.
It’s unfortunate how many kids simply do not look up from their phones long enough to see this in me, or look defiantly as I try to take their phones like every other authority figure they’ve had. Technically that’s a child’s prerogative to decide they will purposefully ignore learning, and I believe that some kids should be left behind because they want to be—they will learn their lesson at some point in their lives, so it’s hard to just sit back and ask when, when I can prevent those lessons from happening. I’ll be cussworded if I don’t give an honest try to reach a child in the most embarrassing way (to myself) I can think of before resigning myself to understanding that that person about to become an adult is allowed to make their own choices about ‘not needing’ social skills like talking in front of people, explaining their reasoning, or dancing. Yes, I force dance upon my students and I don’t want them to feel embarrassed during the many times they will be asked to because they already did that in my classroom. A few of my kids run from their fear of dancing.
And the dissonance is amazing: I have to make the decision to hurt someone so that I can stop them from hurting. Otherwise they don’t hurt and enjoy my jokes, but fill up with pride that has to go somewhere when they do eventually get hurt. And the world hurts in more ways than they can possibly imagine at this point. When people say that ‘you don’t think like a parent until you are one,’ they’re trying to explain this hurt, that I know my students have to hurt before they can become the amazing people I see them becoming. That hurts. I guess I’m old enough to know the hurt and would rather take on that hurt of watching a child start to hate me, than know that one day they will be hurt and I could’ve done something. I want the people I encounter to experience life as full as they can, which is why I won’t be showing movies during the last week of school.
I had seriously started to worry that I wouldn’t be able to transition to my next talking point, but those who can’t teach irony. So much information exists in the world, most of it barely having anything to do with literature, and I’m cocky enough to imagine that I can explain, well yeah, I can explain anything better than most as long as I know what I’m talking about. A piece of paper says I went to college for literature, but I went for researching and I’m great at it because my English professors made me great at it.
I went over allegories recently, so imagine your brain is a book. Once the words are there they are in there, and researching finds the words again and again. If the book is only ever about one or two subjects, it can never find the right answers to explain. I could give a cussword if people remember the plots of classic, canon-based literature as long as they remember how they felt at certain parts and what experiences they related those feeling to. That’s what themes are, but just saying that isn’t teaching. Seeing an example of personification in ‘Big Fish’ is technically showing, but making that image happen without visuals is a deeper form of teaching, and that might cause you to remember me, or trees, or feelings, when you don’t need anyone and realize that’s when you want to need people the most. I want people to be able to research their own brains for the answers because other people worked so hard to put all of that information on phones, and that sounds like work. I can give so many tools to children, people, but I can’t teach work. That sucks, but the reason for it is that there is no single substitute to the pride felt after truly working; it’s a human theme. I don’t care what kind of work it is, even the screenplay for Twilight movies, as long as it’s something that time has no effect on. In regards to movies, time messes with memories constantly.
My district lays halfway between two schools of thought. One side is the ‘civilized’ ‘new-farm country’ of America that has small businesses and constant electricity, but has no idea about class or propriety. It’s trash culture. There’s a pride in what you do but a lack of shame from how you look. I grew up in it. I’ve been to school in overalls and no shirt. I’ve hitchhiked to school, and I loved it. I had couches in my yard until we set them on fire and immediately proceeded to grab the hose for the backyard. But it is trash and some people love that lifestyle and there’s nothing wrong with that. The issue is the other society pushed up against that one where everyone puts on a tie and commutes to a major metropolitan city where their offices look down on other offices. There’s a feeling of moving into high society in the morning, and lethargy of using your soul to keep the furnaces burning in the evening. Seeing people getting off the 5 o’clock train reminds me of zombie shows. They all believe that this is it and it’s what they have to get up in the morning for and what justifies what they did to get there. They’ve worked their lives away, and expect their children, who are so much geographically closer to so many job opportunities, to do the same. There’s the expectation to reach high society, when they live in the low country.
But it doesn’t feel that way. We have a Buffalo Wild Wings- a cornerstone of fancy living communities. (I digress—some of their sauces are amazing but you don’t need a chemistry degree to work there.) We have car dealerships and bus routes and a straight shot to any type of job you can think of, so why would anyone ‘regress’ toward menial labor or a service industry job? Over 80% of my students know they’re going to college, but don’t know their GPA, what classes they’ll take senior year, what they want to study, that they should have extra circulars, that they need to take the SATs, or that they need to know what commas do so their college essays don’t look embarrassing. They know phones. They’re already ‘high society’ without every knowing alternative perspectives where work is the only thing that moves people closer to their actual, or supposed goals. They don’t know work.
So I stand in the way. I don’t have the years of practice or experience to organize half of what I’d like my students to experience the same way I did: ‘South of the Slot’ changed my life. I try the best I can to give them obscure lessons where they use their phones for good, or think for themselves with no hope of every hearing the right answer because they don’t need my approval—they need to approve of the answer they come up with. I take phones randomly because I can tell they’ve been on it for days and this conversational point might actually make them keep their head up in time to see something they literally haven’t, so that they can run.
Tests and tests aren’t the goal. Living is the goal and there’s too much of it for this to be a timed exam. Nobody knows what’s on the next page or how long I’ll extend this metaphor, but writing is running. Answering, or making choices which lead to all sorts of outcomes, requires the moving of feet. How many times and how frequently is up to anyone, but I can’t imagine any of my kids not seeing everything they’d like to at an amusement park because they didn’t move fast enough, and they’re not aware of what rides just opened up. Sorry for jumping from one device to another, but it makes sense in my head. I certainly want them to run from this place so that they can see other places and see what those places are like so that they can compare like characters in novels. I want them to run, and sometimes I have to make sure they can’t see around me so that they start moving.
Some teenagers I move past see me as mean because they have to. I’m okay with being something they have to get past on the way to becoming them.