Not Everyone’s Gonna Like You

I go back and forth on giving out class evaluations. Some kids phone it in and offer no valuable feedback; others use it as an opportunity to magnify every flaw I already know I have. But I did it anyway. Handed out a class evaluation to my media studies class–a group I thought for sure would yield slam-dunk rave reviews.

And the majority of the evaluations of both my teaching and the class content were positive. 

But. There were some…

And I know that I’m not going to connect with EVERY student, and that I should focus on the kids who said my semester-long media studies class should be a year-long class, or the kids who took the class just because I teach it, or even the kid who said, “Ms. Rowse is a great teacher who has nice makeup. That is irrelevant to this class, but needed to be said.”

But I can’t get the negative comments out of my head–and I’m not sure I should. That’s part of reflection and feedback. I’m not perfect, despite the praise I receive from administrators, colleagues, and students. I can improve in a variety of areas. 

Now, could the negative comments have been framed a little more nicely? Sure. But was the content valid? Absolutely. 

It’s hard to admit that I’m not going to connect with every student who walks into my classroom. I really want to–I really, really do. For the students who felt alienated or disrespected or whatever, I sincerely hope that another teacher in the building made up for what I lacked. 

I’m Not A Mom, But…

I left my house Friday at 6:35 AM, and returned at 10:15 PM. But I didn’t feel worn out. Quite the opposite.

My students worked hard on their resumés. I had that first twinge of sadness in my class of mostly seniors–I only have two days left with them. I helped supervise a yearbook launch party and caught up with some colleagues I hadn’t seen in a while. Went to dinner with friends. Worked in my classroom for a while, played piano at the Pops concert, and then, the best part.

A former student–a member of my speech team who graduated 5 years ago–was at the Pops concert to see her brother perform. We arranged to say a quick hello after the concert. She looked grown, and I wasn’t prepared for that. I’ve stayed in contact with kids from my speech team through lunches and movies here and there, but this student and I never had compatible schedules. Until Friday night.

We didn’t have a lot of time, but we caught up as much as we could. She now teaches English and coaches Speech, and she talked about her students with the same passion I talk about mine. 

It was hard to not get a little choked up as I listened to her talk. I was just so proud of her. It’s one of those moments that I tried to commit to memory so I can recall it on days I wonder why I even show up to work. 

I don’t have kids of my own, so I don’t exactly relate to a mother-child relationship. But throughout my career, I’ve been privileged to teach a handful of students who, once graduated, still let me know what they are doing, invite me to weddings, ask if I have time to meet them for lunch. And I’m so proud of every single one of them. It makes the rough days so worth it. 

Go Back to the Kids

Last year, after I wrote a blog on the EC Ning expressing some frustration, a kind commenter offered this advice to deal with my frustration: go back to the kids. So today, that’s what I tried to do.

I took advantage of the open 5th hour (thanks to my student teacher) and spent that time subbing as the rehearsal accompanist for the choir. Occasionally, I’d look at the choir and see the faces of students from my English classes. They were part of something absolutely beautiful, and it was good to be reminded that while my students might not be able to tell me what a simile is (seriously–don’t they learn this in the 5th grade?!?!), they can do some pretty wonderful things.

When my 5:15 piano lesson canceled, I decided to head to the baseball game. Almost half of the team is either a current or former student of mine, and as I sat in the sunshine remembering all the reasons I love baseball, I just focused on my students. The catcher, the centerfielder, a pitcher, kids who hit singles, kids who scored runs.

Watching all these students do what they love, I felt a little of my classroom frustration dissipate. Sure, poetry is important and so is film genre and hegemony. But it’s not all there is in my students’ lives. They are so much more than what I see for 47 minutes. If I’m going to make it through the next five weeks, I’m going to need to remember to go back to the kids.

Teacher Appreciation

Today was Teacher Appreciation Day in our district.

I know how other districts and buildings handle Teacher Appreciation Day, and sometimes I get a bit jealous. I see the work my sisters put into their PTSA projects for this day, and sometimes wish our building showed appreciation for us with bigger gestures than a lunch. Which was delicious–I don’t mean to sound ungrateful.

At the end of 6th hour today, my student aide said to me as he walked out, “You know, Ms. Rowse, I think I want to be an English teacher.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, thinking of the endless stacks of papers, the tests, the politics, and the salary.

“Well, why not? It looks like fun. I’ve just been really lucky to have great English teachers all through high school.”

It looks like fun.

Clearly, I am doing my job well (as are my colleagues in the other grade levels) if a teenage boy, quite gifted with computer programming, has teaching English even on his radar of career choices. If I’m making it look fun enough for a student to want to do what I do, then the papers, the tests, the politics, and the salary suddenly don’t seem to matter as much.

I ended my Teacher Appreciation Day talking with an AP student about how she might get back her writing mojo. She admitted to being distracted as of late, and I told her I wasn’t worried. Her swing will come back. She just has to keep trying.

Sometimes amid all the media hullabaloo, I forget about the power of the intangible benefits of my profession. I forget because those fickle teenagers aren’t always adept at showing appreciation. But today, I felt appreciated, and not because one or two kids said, “I appreciate you!” But I felt appreciated because one student thinks my job is cool enough to do himself, and another student trusts me enough to help her.

Those are some pretty big gestures, don’t ya think?

Student Accountability

Alternate title for this post: How I Can Link NCLB to Pretty Much Anything.

It’s been a little over 24 hours since I learned of Brandon Davies’ dismissal from BYU Men’s Basketball team for an Honor Code violation. And in the past 24 hours, I’ve read and listened to several pundits weigh in on the situation. While some of the punditry praises BYU for not worshipping winning, an equal–if not larger–amount criticizes BYU for its Puritan ideal that can’t be realistic in a 21st century, media-saturated society.

But none of the pundits so far have criticized Brandon Davies.

I don’t intend for this post to turn into a complete blame-fest on Davies, but a couple of key details seem to be regularly omitted from the reporting of this situation.

1. Davies grew up in Provo. It is impossible to grow up in Provo, be recruited by BYU, play there for a year, and not know the importance of the Honor Code–or the consequences of violating it.

2. Davies made a choice. Choices have consequences. I tell my students this all the time, when they ask if they HAVE to do an assignment.

“No,” I tell them. “You can choose not to do the assignment, but you cannot choose your consequences.”

3. Davies knew about his violation long before it was reported. I’m willing to bet Davies has played at least the past three or four weeks, this choice possibly gnawing on his conscience (or not, true). He let his team down the second he made whatever choice he made (I’m not going to speculate, despite the scant details that continue to emerge).

We seem to be in a habit of blaming the school when our students make mistakes or fail outright. It’s BYU’s fault for having such a strict honor code. It’s the teacher’s fault that the kids didn’t pass the state test. Where is the student accountability?

Without looking at my attendance reports, I know 10% of my students have 10 or more absences (some just passed 20 this week). I have students who sit in my room every day and refuse to do any work. I provide pen, pencil, paper, books, articles, time in the lab, heck, I do everything short of placing my hand on top of theirs and moving the writing utensil for them. But whose fault is it, according to politicians and pundits? It’s the school’s. It’s mine.

For 48 short hours, BYU sat at #3 in both polls. They were a projected #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. And then Davies was dismissed. Last night’s game against New Mexico should have been an auto-pilot kind of game. At home, unranked team, only down one guy. I’m positive if Davies had torn his ACL, BYU would have won. Instead, every player seemed zombie-like, unable to shoot, unable to defend, and the crash of BYU’s dream season was spectacular.

Standards are not bad. But when students don’t meet the standard, it’s not always the standard’s fault. The student shoulders part of the blame as well.

So what’s next? Well, just like in my classroom, provide extra support. Help the student turn around; show him how growth can occur in adversity. All choices have consequences, including the choice to change.