It is the end of the day, and I plop down at my desk after all the students have left. My classroom is a mess, and my computer is still on with the PowerPoint of notes from the last class I taught. I tap the bobblehead Batman that sits to the left of my computer and ponder the effectiveness of my approach to sentence clauses. As far as PowerPoints, I love to lecture and give notes, and I try to make that part of teaching as interactive as possible, in contrast to standing in front of the class talking and dictating. This is a concept the many educational classes instilled into my robotic brain — Keep them involved.
However, it’s not a perfect world and I am not a perfect teacher. But we are still held accountable, as we should be!
I remember one class, I believe it was an ACT preparation course, when I was lecturing and giving notes, and felt pleasantly confident about the process. It came to the part in the lesson where the students applied what they hopefully gained from my winning dissertation and worked on their own. I walked around briefly, then made my way to my podium, where I stood and watched them. Honestly, I was looking right at the class when the vice principal walked in. I felt no dread, no worry, because I was on task. He walked over to me, and I smiled a greeting. He looked at me, his mustache twitching in the non-existent breeze, and said, “Why is that student asleep?”
He didn’t point at the student, so I followed the gaze of his steel-blue eyes and was aghast to see, there in the middle of the room, behind one of the football players, a boy with his head down on his desk completely and undoubtedly asleep. My face flushed at my incompetence, and I turned back to my superior and said, “I don’t know. He didn’t tell me.” Then I quickly called for the student to sit up.
This really happened, and I was truly embarrassed. I still remember the surprise I felt when it occurred. Now I smile. However, it’s just one of those things in life, I believe there is a saying for it: “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” In teaching, that is gospel.
To resume, we are held accountable. It is my job to keep the students on task, just as it is the student’s job to stay on task. I think the time in the classroom is valuable, precious, and wonderful. I find I learn sometimes from them as they are learning from me. When provided with the opportunity for creativity, I am sometimes taken back by the passion of youth. And that passion is a real thing. Poets have written about it, exemplified it, and lamented over its loss. However, there is sometimes that sleeping student. He is sneaky, but not necessarily mean. Honestly, he is mostly tired.
I am a different man than when I first started teaching. Beyond the accumulation of gray hair, I have attempted to develop a better understanding of my “clientele.” Students will always attempt to get away with misbehavior in class. And even as I write this editorial and the sun fades from the window in my classroom, I can recall two individuals attempting to sleep in class today — or rather discount my life-changing lecture on sentence structure by laying their heads down into their folded arms and closing their eyes.
I always wake them, but not with anger, more like a work-with-me-buddy inclination. That doesn’t always work. Regardless, where I used to be offended, now I try to look upon those bent heads with curiosity and understanding. Sure, I have the intolerant student (actually, I have 10), but the rest are dealing with life. I can’t forget that.
Many of these students, these children that are living in the real world, have jobs, and others are being raised in broken homes, or as I have witnessed, homes that are breaking up. Many walk to school, and I have seen some cold mornings come to pass that do not prevent them from sitting in the lunch room sometimes before even I get to school, and I get there early.
Relatedly, my wife and I have eaten in a restaurant so busy that we had to wait quite a while to get a seat, and when seated were waited on by a student that I would see in class the next day. She did not lay her head down in class, but after what I observed the night before, I might have thrown her a pillow if she did. This same student went on to receive scholarships and other awards.
Even now, as I sit here wondering how to close this letter, I look upon my bobblehead Batman and smile. It was a gift from a student. This student was sometimes obnoxious, many times rude and several times attempted to sleep in class. When I look at that figurine, that toy, I feel a sense of pride. He and I travelled the tumultuous road of teenage angst and rebellion together and prevailed. At this moment, as I write these words, I do not know where that student is, but I know who he is. The last time I saw him, he was several inches taller than me and a Marine. He was about to enter in to an assignment he couldn’t tell me about.
The last time I saw him, he looked like he felt accountable. And I felt thankful.
Brian Theodore is a language arts teacher at Corbin High School and lives in Corbin with his wife, who is also a teacher at CHS. He can be contacted at Theteachersdesk.email@example.com.