Unintended Consequences.

Sometimes I really like teaching with the iPads, like when I have an 18 page article I want to read parts of but still make the whole document available to students, and I feel guilty for making copies. The iPads eliminate my guilt.

Or when I’m pretty sure students won’t do a particular assignment at home, but I can give a day in class to completing it in class.

And then sometimes…sometimes I am saying something I feel is important, and I look at my students and all their heads are bent, looking at whatever it is they are looking at on the iPads, and I sigh and say, “Okay, close your iPads.”

And they’re compliant and occasionally we share a laugh about how I was the one who brought the iPads into their class in the first place, so who’s really to blame here, Ms. Rowse?

And then tonight on Twitter, I caught this–a screenshot of myths from a forthcoming book by fellow Journalism adviser Starr Sackstein.

The myth that jumped out at me? Number 9: If kids don’t comply, they aren’t learning.

Just today in Pop Culture, we read part of Henry Giroux’s criticism of Disney films. As we talked about Ariel, I said something–a throwaway comment, really–about how the Disney version wasn’t anything like the Hans Christian Andersen original. And then we went back to the text and read more.

Or so I thought.

Not much later, a student raised his hand and said he found a synopsis of Andersen’s tale, and could he share what really happened to The Little Mermaid?

Was he “with me” or the class in our discussion and reading of Giroux? Kind of. Was he learning? Yep. In fact, his synopsis helped us flesh out part of Giroux’s criticisms of Disney films.

I forget too often that an unintended consequence of teaching with iPads is that students might hear something I say that piques their curiosity, and I’ve given them a device that lets them satisfy that curiosity.

I have to be okay with kids going down a rabbit hole. After all, if I led them to that rabbit hole in the first place, who am I to tell them they can’t find out what’s in it?

The Last Acceptable Prejudice.

I have many married-with-children friends on Facebook, and a recent post by a mommy blogger has gone a teensy bit viral. The blogger’s post is all about paying babysitters and lawn-mowers and bleeds into entitlement, but it’s this part that really upset me:

A recent article stated that only 28% of teenagers (16-18) have their drivers licenses, down from 46% of licensed teens in 1983.  Their unemployment rate is 24%–fully three times the national average.  Yes, it is getting more expensive to do things, but also many kids just don’t seem to be very motivated to chase after things.  Many of them are content to be carted around by their parents, have things paid for by their parents, and take their time reaching adulthood.  Maybe this is the same argument that has been made in every generation (starting with the words, “In my day. . .”), but from my perspective teenagers have never before been so impressive or so useless.  There are some really stellar kids out there making their way.  And there are some really pathetic ones.  Their potential spans a great chasm, and we should all be anxious to help them climb from mediocrity to impressiveness.

I’m going to take a page from Kelly Gallagher and look at what the numbers aren’t saying.

  1. Only 28% of teens have drivers licenses. Let’s see. 100% of teens entered the teen demographic during one of the biggest recessions of our time. Perhaps the decrease in drivers licenses has to do with parents opting to feed their children instead of paying for driver’s ed, car insurance, and a spare car for said child to drive. Or, could it even be related to the phenomenon of helicopter parenting? How many parents prefer to drive their children around because it ensures their safety? Or gives the parents a chance to talk to their children? A litany of factors must be considered in figuring out why fewer teens today drive, and I’m guessing “laziness” is not in the top five. (Which, conveniently, the article the blogger cites actually proposes that cost is the #1 factor, but the blogger chooses to assign blame to teen sloth.)
  2. Their unemployment rate is 24%. Again, 100% of teens entered the teen demographic during one of the biggest recessions of our time. Are employers perhaps favoring the single parent or mid-life breadwinner over the teen–who by law has to be in school from 8-3 every day? I don’t buy her assumption that the reason the teen unemployment rate is so high has anything to do with laziness. It has to do with a struggling economy and cutbacks.
  3. The assumption that teens are content to have their parents pay for everything. Moreso now than when I started teaching 13 years ago is that completely false. Parents who lost jobs, retirement funds, and in some cases even homes, are navigating a new world of financial instability. I can’t tell you how many times my heart has broken when a student has told me he can’t come in after school for help because if his hours are cut at work, his little brother will go hungry. Or the kid whose parents offer to pay $20 of the cell phone bill or car insurance, so she has to work to make up the rest. Sure, you can argue that the cell phone is an extravagance, and some of my students choose a basic phone that doesn’t have Internet so they can save money. Is there still wealth at the suburban high school where I teach? Yes. But not nearly as much as there used to be.

But where the blogger really gets me ragey is when she states that “teenagers have never before been so useless.” They aren’t useless.

I’ve taught high school for 13 years now, and I have to say, kids have not changed all that much. There’s always slackers and overachievers (just like she says), but there’s also a huge swath of middle-ground kids. Kids who worry about paying for college because they haven’t yet found what makes them extraordinary. Kids who make bad choices because they haven’t yet developed a self-worth that gives them the strength to stand up to their peers. Kids who DO want to work hard but because they are in a demographic that suffers blatant age discrimination often are denied work and respect.

I remember the first time I saw the film “Rebel Without a Cause,” released in 1955, and how James Dean’s breakdown to his parents reminded me of one of my own students. It was 46 years after the film’s release. What has changed? From my perspective, what’s changed has been technology that puts them under a very public microscope (and many parents and teachers have totally dropped the ball in teaching responsible use) and a testing culture that expects them all to be straight-A, high-achieving, concert pianist, star athlete kind of kids.

And most of them–I would argue in my experience of having taught thousands of kids in the past 13 years–are great, hard-working kids and not the pathetic lazy sloths described in her post.

Are some teens entitled and privileged? Of course. Just like some adults are entitled and privileged. And if we’re going to go after the kids and bemoan how “awful” and “lazy” they are, then with equal fervor we should be going after the adults who–let’s be honest–model that privileged behavior in the first place.

Are some kids overpaid for babysitting or mowing lawns? Perhaps. And if you want to talk about wage inflation then go for it. But don’t vilify teens and make them out to be worse than they are. Better yet, go to your local high school and ask an administrator or a teacher about the good things the kids are doing. Chances are, that administrator or teacher won’t shut up about how awesome–and hard-working–their kids are.

Don’t reduce an entire demographic to the characteristics of a minority of that demographic. We don’t stand for such blatant stereotyping on basis of race or gender; it’s time to end it with age as well.

Tempting Fate.

Two days in, and I’m still feeling unsettled, especially in the mornings.  I’ve been updating iPads (each one takes 30 minutes, and I have 30, so you do the math…), I’m in new spaces, and I have yet to find a new routine that doesn’t make me feel like I’m rushing around. Even the announcements being read at a different time of day have me all discombobulated.

And I miss my upstairs friends.

(Not that my downstairs friends are inferior at all–they totally aren’t. I just miss seeing my upstairs friends every day.)

It feels like my first year of teaching all over again.

But.

I’m really enjoying my students.

Today in Pop Culture, both classes had good discussion points about what products like iPhones and Starbucks say about consumers. My Desktop Publishing students are adapting to using the Mac OS just fine, and my Journalistic Writing students are setting up the iPads to work for them.

And of course, my Newspaper staff is back at it, getting story assignments and starting to plan interviews.

I know I’m only two days in and this is tempting eight different kinds of fate, but as nervous as I was to start this year, it’s off to a really great start. 

Lucky.

Right now, the West-East basketball games are happening in the South Gym. I’m in the journalism room catching up on work and cleaning. How do journalism rooms get so trashed?

Our video yearbook videographers pop in occasionally to grab new batteries and memory cards. One of the newspaper photographers took the fancy lenses and is taking photos of the madness that is the rivalry game.

My sports editor is crammed into the press section of the gym, tweeting game updates. He’s using basketball jargon and spelling everyone’s name right. I’m not sitting next to him, proofreading every word or suggesting different ways to word the updates. He’s rocking it.

And I’m taking a break from the grading and the cleaning to document how proud and happy I feel right now. These students who step up when needed and prove they can be trusted with expensive equipment and Twitter accounts. These students who really do comprise the majority of who I teach each day–kids who just want to be trusted (but with an adult safety net) and who really do want to learn.

I’m lucky to do what I do. Lucky to advise publications that aren’t stuck in the 20th Century. Lucky to have a principal who believes in what we do. So even though I’m still at school at 7:46, I’m lucky.

Students, In Case You Were Wondering…

Friday’s events have served as a catalyst for educators all over the country to reflect and write, and while at this point I feel like anything I have to say is just white noise, if there is one thing I try to teach my students, it’s that writing can help us process.

So I write to them tonight.

Students, in case you were wondering what class will be like tomorrow, it will probably be as normal as possible. If you have specific questions or concerns, of course we will talk about them, but like with other tragedies I’ve encountered in my teaching career, I’ve learned that moving forward can actually be healthy.

Students, in case you were wondering how someone could do this, the answer is I don’t know. Sometimes in life, that’s the only possible answer before us, even if it’s not an option on a standardized test (and it won’t be an option on your finals this week…sorry about that…)

Students, in case you were wondering what I might do in a situation like Sandy Hook, or Virginia Tech, or Columbine, you should know that I’d do whatever it took to protect you. Just like teachers have in all of these unthinkable situations–we want you to be safe, to live long lives, to be happy. I would do everything in my power to make sure that happened.

Students, in case you were wondering why I come to school every day, it’s because of you. I’m certainly not there for the money or prestige, but I am in room 116 every day for you. And I know that English or Pop Culture or even Newspaper at times seems like the least relevant part of your day, but I try to make it relevant, and I hope you learned at least one thing this semester.

Students, I do love my job. I might not love the remaining research papers I have to grade, but I love our discussions. I love seeing you grow as writers. I love writing letters of recommendations for college admissions and scholarships, and I love even more when you burst into my room to tell me you won what you applied for. I love watching your sporting events, your concerts, your plays, or just running into you at your place of work.

Balancing the events of the weekend with those of the coming week might, to some of you, seem trivial. And I get that. But I hope you let yourself enjoy Spirit Week, and the West-East basketball game, and that you study for finals and look forward happily to 16 days of no school.

Students, take care of yourselves this week, and in January, we get to embark on an adventure…