Monthly Archives: January 2012

Forced Accountability

 I work with emotionally disturbed teens in an inclusive public high school.  The students in my          program have a myriad of emotional and mental disorders that often cloud their judgement, blind   them to their own actions, and cause them to verbally spew whatever thoughts pop into their head without any regard as to the consequences.  Their filters are broken, their reasoning is flawed, their egocentric attitudes are rampant.  In short, they can be a real handful.

Every now and then, a student comes along with a challenge to make me lose my cool; totally flip out.  Well, I am never one to back down from a challenge and I very seldom lose my cool, so you can imagine how a button-pushing trouble maker might feel upon entering my world.

Discipline has to be creative and requires a great deal of patience on my part.  I spend several hours a day de-escalating situations, draining off anger, and walking kids through each step of their tantrum until they are able to see the error of their ways and make amends for their actions.  My job is not for the faint of heart; it requires patience and a certain serial-killer kind of calm in order to deal with the continual onslaught of insults and attitude.

Now imagine, if you can, a classroom full of 14 year olds; that in itself might scare the shit out of some of you. Lesson underway, there is always someone in the room that feels their agenda should take precedence over mine. Not going to happen.  I pride myself on being able to keep a calm, productive classroom environment.  Disrespect, offensive behavior, hateful attitudes; none of it has any place in my classroom and my students learn that on day one.  No exceptions. No excuses. You will act like a decent human being or you will be asked to leave; period.

I move through my lesson, all the while growing increasingly irritated by the behavior of one young man in the middle of the room.  “Please stop the nonsense and return to work.”  My words don’t seem to be having any impact on him on this particular day and I see a battle of wills developing; something I try to avoid at all costs because I already know he is going to lose, and a teen that loses a battle of wills with an adult can be a dangerous creature.

After countless returns to this young man’s desk, multiple redirections and an exhaustion of my patience I dropped the hammer on him and gave him an ultimatum.  “Stop talking. Stop disrupting my lesson. Get focused on your work; or leave immediately.”

The melodrama begins. “Why are you always on my case?  I’m not doing anything.  I hate this class. Stupid dyke!”   Uncomfortable silence and shocked faces in the classroom.  Big smile on my face. Deep breath. Begin.

“I can see that you aren’t ready to discuss this situation calmly, so I’m going to ask you to go and collect yourself before this escalates into a situation that ends badly for you.  I’m giving you an out and I suggest you take it.  Please leave the room.”

Raising arms, pounding on the desk.  “No. You can’t make me leave.  I have a right to be here. I have rights.”

“I understand your need to express your emotions right now, but I’m not asking you, I’m telling you.  Please pick up your things and leave the room.”

“I fucking hate this class!”  No one says a word.  The entire class is uncomfortably shifting in their chairs, shuffling papers and shoving their noses into their books lest they become the next target in this young man’s tirade.

“You’re allowed to hate this class, but you’re not allowed to create chaos in here.  Again, you need to pick up your things and leave the room.”   He is running out of steam. No one is in his corner right now and he is starting to realize he is on his own with this activity.  He looks around the classroom for an ally and finds no one willing to join him.  The build up is stressful because I never really know how my students are going to respond once they realize they have lost; they are an unpredictable lot.

Quiet as a church at midnight. No one will look at him.  No one will comment.  No one will help him.  He is totally on his own and when he realizes that, he doesn’t know what to do.  His only option is to pick up his things and walk to the office, continually playing the scene over in his head, trying to make sense of what just happened.  It’s never my intention to ‘crush’ a student, but the idea that their outbursts of should be ignored and tolerated simply because they are bipolar or manic or schizophrenic is simply not an idea that I can wrap my head around.  Forced accountability is the only way kids will ever learn how to navigate through society appropriately. I understand that the unpredictable nature of mental illness has a tendency to scare people, but you need to remember that you have  the ability to make your behavior a predictable, and that will make all the difference.

How do I manage to walk into school each day, knowing what is waiting there for me?  I love my job.  I love my students.  They are smart, funny, creative, and they are counting on me to be the predictable force in their lives.


Everyone is doing it…

The other day I posted a video on my friend’s Facebook page in an effort to give her a laugh.  The video was titled “Shit Straight Girls Say to Lesbians”, and it was simply intended to throw her a smile in the middle of a stressful day.  Sadly, the video was ill-received by one of her friends and a small battle ensued.  Her friend told me to “fuck off”, called me a “bitch” and then told me to “get that chip off my shoulder”.  Needless to say, I was a bit shocked at her response.  Her basic contention is that “everyone jokes about everyone and everyone needs to lighten up and quit being so…unwilling to give anyone the benefit of the doubt.”   I do not  agree.

In this day and age, the joking and mockery that occurs between different social groups is a huge problem.  People try to excuse hurtful and ugly speech by saying ‘it was a joke’, but that doesn’t make the speech any less hateful.  I understand that being a lesbian is not something all people will accept about me, but the truth is I don’t need anyone’s blessing to live my life the way I choose; open and honest.  The fact that my life is used as fodder for other people’s laughter is not something I appreciate or excuse, and I don’t give people the benefit of the doubt when they don’t even know me.

The video I posted from YouTube did make me laugh, because I have heard those statements from straight girls for years.  The friend I shared the video with is also a lesbian and I knew she could relate to the clear and present idiocy of the post, thereby evoking a laugh.  Everyday gays and lesbians are confronted with the same kind of behavior seen on the video, and while it does make me laugh, it doesn’t change the fact that I still cringe after years of hearing comments about how I should try penis and dress more like a girl.

The girl’s comment about “everyone makes fun of everyone” reminds me of what my mother used to say to me when I would use that excuse as a child; just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you have to do it too.  Here is a news flash for those of you who think “everyone is doing it”; everyone is NOT making fun of everyone.  Most people are just trying to live their lives the best they can, despite the daily onslaught of criticism and negativity they receive from others.  Do everyone a favor and think before you speak; take a minute and put yourself in place of the group you are commenting about and then decide if you still want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt; I doubt you will.

Job Security

I just wanted to take a moment to thank the parents of all the teens in my English classes. Seriously; your lack of concern regarding your child’s academic success, your unwillingness to return a phone call or email, the clear and present moral compass of entitlement you have created with your child, and your inability to install any type of work ethic in your children has really made my job so interesting this year. I mean it; such a pleasure battling the forces of unaccountability and laziness, found so prevalent in your children, on a daily basis. You have outdone yourself this year. Perhaps next year you could send me another batch of emotionally immature, socially inept, over-indulged cry babies so I can continue to feel the job security you so graciously provide me through your own neglect and apathy.

Undivided Attention

Attention.  Class, listen please.  I’m ready to start, please take your seats.  We have lots to learn today, so let’s get focused.  Class?  Class?

I have to admit, it is sometimes difficult to get everyone on the same page.  Imagine putting yourself in the position of obtaining, and keeping, the attention of  30 fidgety teens; all at the same time…6 times a day.  It isn’t impossible, but sometimes it takes more than the magic I possess and I start to pray for some intervening event; an event that will pull them all in the same direction and put them all in the same mental space; something that will give me their undivided attention.

You see, the attention of teens is sporadic, sometimes nonexistent, and always susceptible to interruption. Perhaps the greatest skill a teacher can possess in the classroom is her ability to gain attention and hold it, releasing her captives only when her mission is complete.  This is something I must do every day.  Some days it’s easy; they fall into line like highly trained cadets and follow my lead without fail.  Some days it feels like an exercise in futility; snow, fire drills, student assemblies, potty breaks, and the one kid in the back of the room that just won’t get on board and decides to make it his mission to ruin my plans by pulling attention off of me and onto him.  I have come to realize over the years that I can’t give up, I can’t quit, because they are counting on me to pull them into my world for the next 45 minutes.  

I want my students to eagerly waltz into class, full of anticipation and excitement about what I am going to share with them that day.  I want to be able to hold their focus and amp-up their curiosity  with just one word.  In short, “I want to teach like the new falling snow.”



Full Metal English

I am your  English teacher. From now on, you will speak only when spoken to, and the first and last words out of you will be “Ma’am!”  Do you Freshmen understand that?   If you leave my classroom, if you survive Freshman English… you will be a weapon, you will be a minister of learning, praying for knowledge, but until that day you are just overindulged teenagers!  I am hard, but I am fair!  Because I am hard, you will not like me, but the more you hate me, the more you will learn. There is no  bigotry here!  Here you are all equally  obnoxious, and my orders are to weed out all slackers who do not deserve the privilege of being a part of my beloved class! Do you freshmen understand that?

Somehow my translation doesn’t seem quite as intimidating.

Shhhh….This isn’t really a secret

I am not a hot, twenty-something, butch lesbian with a long list of sexual conquests and a twat in every port.  Nope.  I am a middle-aged, slightly out of shape, soft butch just trying to keep my head above the proverbial rip tides of my life. I am a one woman kind of woman.  I am not trendy and hip. I will not regale you with stories of hot nights at the club and mornings of confusion about whose bed I am in.  I am a teacher, a homebody, a do-it-yourselfer, a hopeful romantic who still writes love letters the old-fashioned way; with pen and paper.    I don’t take shit from people who haven’t earned the right to dish it to me.  I drink beer from the bottle and smoke cigars with my scotch.   I can’t concentrate if my kitchen is messy.  I am not afraid of change, but I struggle with the speed at which it occurs.  I always root for the underdog, and yes it’s true; I DO sleep with a nightlight.   In short, I am a  woman on her own mission to make her own path in her own time and on her own terms.

So put the whole chunk of  lesbian information and misinformation you have in your brain on a shelf for a while and just relax, take a deep breath and read; you will know me soon enough.

My not-so-secret secret is out.  Spread the word.