Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bad Teacher

We all have that person in our life... An acquaintance, or friend of a friend's friend, or perhaps a virtual stranger who keeps popping up at the most random of times in the most random of places. It's a person who appears as a blip on your life radar every few years seemingly by happenstance.

That person for me first came on my radar my senior year of high school when a lunch buddy of mine become engaged to that person, who was six years her senior. The relationship dissolved quickly, but I continued to see that person randomly every couple of years around the local gym.
Then, fast forward to my fortuitous interview opportunity at my current school of employment. I'll never forget the shock I received when I logged onto the website and found that person occupying the position I was vying for. I reserve no right to pass judgment on that person's character or mistakes or shortcomings while employed at the school, but all I know is that for the first several months in that person's previous position, I had co-workers approaching me regularly to remark how surprised they were to hear actual teaching going on in my classroom.

Fast forward to a text message I received this week from friend and fellow teacher informing me that that person was observing her classroom, likely because he wasn't cutting it in his own position and needed good models. Also, through friendly conversation with my friend, that person revealed that he never even made it through the teacher program at his college the first time round due to its level of difficulty. Teacher programs...difficult...ahem.

Add to this rap sheet the knowledge that that person has been in some trouble with the police as well, and I find myself even now having to slap myself over the wrist at my propensity to judge someone's mistakes (however many and frequent they be) without ever reserving the right.

BUT beyond my sinful desires to belittle someone, I think there is an ounce of rightful anger at the injustice being done, here. From a sort of bird's eye view, I've seen that person make mistake after mistake: hurting others and neglecting responsibilities and making life difficult for others. I have to wonder, at what point does "BAD TEACHER" get stamped on his forehead to prevent any more people and districts to be fooled by a charming facade, thus allowing children's lives to be mismanaged and co-workers to shoulder the weight of someone's ineptness.

STILL, I have to wonder if that's any concern of mine. People grow and, with God's grace, sometimes they do a complete 180 in life. Should that person run out of chances and be kicked to the curb, never to step foot in a school again? Or should he be allowed the opportunity to be mentored and refined time and time again until he gets it right?

I guess either way, it's not my call to make. Lord knows I've been offered a second chance, and sometimes a third, fourth, and fifth one before I finally got it together. It takes a lot of wisdom and strength to acknowledge someone like that person deserves it just as much.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Got My Goat

Most people are familiar with the old expression, "got my goat". It is used to express how someone has caused annoyance to one's self on such an extreme level that reasonableness and logic begin to go out the window. If I were to share with one of my co-workers right now that one of my students, Alejandro, has really got my goat, they would probably flash me a sympathetically exasperated look and await tales of relentlessly repulsive behavior that is steering my class towards disaster.

But, I've found a new definition for this timeless saying. While I'm experiencing the same loss in reason, and my classroom is not running as smoothly as a result, I guess you could say I'm dealing with a different kind of goat...

A Hilarious Goat

There was a time that Alejandro didn't have me constantly in stitches--in fact, quite the opposite. The most impulsive case of ADHD I've ever seen with a nice dose of Aspergers to dull his social awareness, it was quite the challenge to transmit any knowledge of English with the spontaneous pacing of the classroom and endless string of jungle sounds emitting from his mouth. I suppose the saving grace that prevented me from secretly begrudging his very presence in my classroom was that, despite his never-rending disruptions, he truly wanted to succeed and much of his impulsiveness was just plain out of his control.

I think the day the day Alejandro started to get my hilarious goat was when he was working in my room, but I was on plan period and, free from supervision duty, I was free to sit back and just watch the show. One of his most winning qualities is his insanely infectious laugh. A perfect cross between Beavis and Butthead in pitch and cadence, it is just as easy to get one out of him as the famous MTV teenagers. As he worked on his laptop, Annie and I--feeling a bit squirrelly--attempted to replicate his laugh. Without missing a beat, he responded with his own laugh as if it were a triggered reflex. I have found other triggers to be the mention of any food or animal, and the conjuring of random, bizarre mental images--particularly mental images involving animals and food. (Example: A cat eating a hotdog. That would have him in hysterics instantly.) With time, I find the tables are turning to where Alejandro's laughter automatically triggers my own, and I'm powerless to stop it.

As I began to appreciate Alejandro a bit more for his quirks, I one day stopped my normal frantic bustle preparing for English class to soak in his trademark entrance to the classroom. I promise there has not been one day this year Alejandro has simply opened the door, walked through the threshold and headed straight for his desk in the normal fashion. Some of his many variations on the expected behavior include jiggling the door handle wildly before opening the door, thrusting the door open and then disappearing from the doorway to feign the appearance of a ghost, bursting through the door screaming indecipherable absurdities, and/or walking in and throwing himself across his desk or chair that requires a greeting of: "Alejandro, get down." The most "normal" arrival in recent memory was sitting down at his desk after several requests to do so, folding his hands in front of him and saying in a perfectly neutral tone, "Shall we proceed?"

That leads me to Alejandro's notorious utterances. As previously mentioned, much that escapes his lips is pure nonsense. He is highly adept at combining random syllables into gibberish, then neatly inserting the gibberish into a grammatically correct sentence. His default gibberish is "Wombo Fish" and it may make an appearance at any time.

"A verb is a Wombo Fish."

"6 to the Wombo Fish equals 36."

"Miss T, I can't do my work, I don't have my Wombo Fish."

His impressively extensive vocabulary often aids in the hilarity of the nonsense. Just this past week, frantically in search of his pencil, Alejandro exclaimed: "Where is my babushka?!?"

I could go on for ages with little anecdotes like these, but the core issue here is that Alejandro has accomplished something that only one in about every 20 students is capable of. He has cracked my stoically professional facade and ruined my objective treatment of the students as far as classroom rules goes.

Lucky for me, Alejandro is marching to the beat of a drummer that bangs so loud he doesn't realize his opportunity to take advantage of his power over me. Even luckier for me, the others in my class have the maturity and intuition to understand the exception I have made for their classmate. The other day, after responding to Alejandro's disruptive exclamations with a helpless giggle, I sobered up and reminded everyone this was not a precedent for allowing silly antics from the rest of them. One of the others, Nick, reassured me, "We know, we know, Miss T. We probably couldn't pull it off the way Alejandro does if we tried."

Wise words from a student with major emotional difficulties. Perhaps we all have something to learn from Alejandro and his Wombo fish.