My Karma Ran Over My Dogma (A Confessional)

Teacher TiredI always swore I’d never be one of those teachers. You know the type – frustrated and hostile, blaming their kids, and longing for the “good ol’ days.” To be honest, I’ve often kinda looked down on that flavor of educator – wondering why they’re still in the classroom, and hoping they find somewhere else to work out their issues. Besides, they give the rest of us – with our superior ideals and natural love of children – a bad name. It’s shameful!

But I hereby confess to you, my eleven faithful followers, that I am paying for that vanity. Dearly. Pride had a few laughs, and now… well, it’s been a long fall.

I rarely said it out loud, of course. I reject teacher-shaming in general, whatever its source. But I thought it. I felt a tiny bit superior. I may have rolled my eyes on occasion. I know I sighed a few times.

And I’m sorry.

It’s not like I’m blindly idealistic. We have to be realistic about the children in front of us. I’ve never bought into the suggestion that they’re “natural learners,” hungry for knowledge and ready to tackle any challenge if only we’d get out of the way and let them project-base, flip, and collaborate towards all those future jobs that supposedly don’t exist yet.


I love my kids, but they’re almost… people – and people tend to do what’s easy and feels good unless we fight it. Constantly. Without external limits or learned self-control, we are shallow, savage creatures. To paraphrase the prophet Jeremiah, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

None of which actually bothers me most of the time. They’re kids. They’re not supposed to be ready to run everything. That’s why we make them come to school.

What is currently harshing my shiny is their stubborn conflation of two very different reactions towards academic expectations in this class – this optional class, this college-level coursework class, up for which they chose to sign.  

What many of them are experiencing – what they’re feeling – is something along the lines of “I really don’t want to do this” or “this is hard and I’m not used to that… I do not like this feeling!”

But they don’t know that’s what they’re feeling, or at least they don’t want to admit it. Instead, they’ve substituted some interesting variations. “I can’t do this” is by far the most popular, followed closely by “I don’t like this and it is therefore invalid,” or my personal favorite, “this is stupid and horrible and wrong on every level; I must direct all of my energies towards denial and/or escape!”

You see the difficulty.

They’re not stupid. If they were, I’d be nicer to them. And while I’m far from the perfect teacher, neither am I  insane or pedagogically naïve. I have some idea what I’m doing, even when I’m not clear exactly what they think is happening, or why.

So my lofty words and nurturing convictions have run up against the cruel karma of vanity and presumption. Well, that and their emotions. And backgrounds. And the twisted culture surrounding them.  

They may intend, for example, to finally read the assigned material tonight. They’ll stall a bit, but eventually open the text, skimming a line or two before their internal dialogue takes over:

“The 15th century was defined by revolutions – the scientific revolution, the Renaissance, European adaptation of—"
     “This doesn’t make any sense.”
            “This is too much work.”
                      “Why do we even have to know this?”

“As western Europe expanded their role as the center of world commerce—"
       “I hate this book.”
                “Mr. Blue is insane if he thinks this somehow teaches me anything.”

“Maybe I’m just stupid. Except Monica doesn’t get it either, so that proves this is all just POINTLESS! Why doesn’t my counselor let me OUT of this CLASS?! I’M DOING EVERYTHING I CAN!?”
      “My phone is buzzing. I’ll just check it real quick…”
       {73 minutes later, the phone is put down because the battery is low.}
    “That’s it – no more. I just spent an hour and a half on this and hardly remember ANY of it! I quit!”

I’m not even mocking them. (Well, maybe a little.) The experience is real, even if the reality is absurd. And that “can’t-shouldn’t-won’t” mentality tries to take over in class as well:

“You expect us to read all of this stuff ourselves? How can we know what’s important unless you give us some sort of guide?”

(I give them a guide.)

“I spent the whole time trying to do the stupid guide instead of actually learning!”

(I make the guides optional.)

“I hate this textbook. It’s so confusing.”

(They have a point on that one. I compile articles from a variety of sources, formatting and copying them as more engaging alternatives.)

“We’re just supposed to… read these? That doesn’t make any sense. Why are we reading in a history class?”

(Not sure how to respond to that one without sounding outright spiteful.) 

“I’m not going to remember any of this by just reading it. We need to DO something with it.”

(We learn annotation, practice level questions, and apply other tried’n’true reading strategies. They turn in half-ass efforts and thus receive half-ass scores.)

“Why did I get a bad grade? I can read and understood this stuff without all that marking on it and everything!”

(I begin drinking more in the evening.)

“You should lecture more. I like your lectures.”

(Huh. That’s practically a positive. Alrighty, then – I put together some brief, interactive lectures… heavy on visuals and connections. Embed some media. A few small group moments. Takes me forever.)

“What are we—” {they see the screen}

“Oh.” {as if it’s toenail-swallowing day} “Lecture.”

(I wonder if they can sense my growing resentment. Probably not – that would require their attention. OK… there are some engaging, briskly-paced videos over this unit they can watch at home. I make a playlist and eliminate other homework.)

“No one watches those, you know. Aren’t you supposed to be the teacher?”


(More drinking. Well… they want to talk all the time. Let’s do something collaborative.)

{They choose their groups} “So then I was like, ‘I’m not sending you anything, loser!” *laughter and cackling and limited productivity*

{I choose the groups} “Why did you stick me with these people? I’d rather work alone.”

(OK. Partners are optional. And we’ll try something creative. Artsy-fartsy, even.)

“We have to COLOR?! How is that related to HISTORY?! Can I just write a paper or something?”

(OK, write a paper.)

“I hate writing. Everyone else got to color! How is that fair?!”

You get the idea.

There’s nothing wrong with a little variety. We’re always talking about that teacher “toolbox” and all those supposed “learning styles.” And generally, once you’ve won most of them over, they’ll try pretty much anything you ask because they trust you, or like you, or have otherwise decided to play school with you.

But if you haven’t… if they won’t…

It’s just…


Seriously. Just $&%#@*! and a baby goat.

You could go sell boats with your brother-in-law. He’s a windbag and a tool, but his house is twice the size of yours and he took his family to Hamilton last month; all you’ve got is the soundtrack you copied (is that even legal?) from the CD in your school library.

It’s just maddening sometimes.

Look, you feel what you feel. Own it, baby. If you’re hurt, you’re hurt. If you’re resentful, confess that resentment. And my darlings, if you feel stupid and beaten, just throw those arms open and soak in it for a moment. All those hours, all that potential, all of your genuine love for those freakin’ little ingrates – and they just… it doesn’t…


But you can’t stay there. Don’t become that caricature you’ve been trying to avoid since you were young and idealistic. Own that tenebrosity, and feel those uglies, but don’t marinate too long or you’ll lose your texture and the rice will burn.

Because the underlying reality remains. They’re teenagers, you’re the adult, and you’ve taken on a professional responsibility to learn them up good and hard whether they want it or not. The rest of the world thinks this is just a matter of “making them,” but you know better – no one can make anyone do anything.

If that weren’t obvious before this year, it certainly is now.

You’ll figure something out, or you won’t. They’ll get it, or they won’t. But you’ll keep trying, because you love them, and because you believe what you’re trying to teach them matters. Period. You’ll keep going because you decided long ago that this is what you do. Sometimes it’s glorious, and sometimes you lie in bed at night praying for snow. LOTS of snow. Or cholera. Maybe nuclear holocaust. You’d push the big red button yourself if it meant you didn’t have to see third hour again this week.

So what if it seems increasingly unlikely that Denzel Washington or Nathan Fillion will be playing me in one of those martyr-teacher movies – at least not one based on this year? I still sometimes manage DC’s Legends of Tomorrow territory – well-intentioned clusterfoolery that works itself out over time. And that’s OK. Progress is sporadic and incremental.

But I will not be so quick to judge those teachers next time, or to inwardly smirk at the superiority of my ideals and natural rapport over theirs. That was wrong even before the universe struck back.

Now that it has…

Well, dammit.

Batman Meets the Riddler

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Brilliant!! Bravo!! Bravo!!

After missing a week and a half due to illness (ER, hospital, follow-ups, etc.), I am back to this and my threshold for stupidity and egotism is at an all-time low. But it is great to hear that my current frustrations are common and felt by people I respect.


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