Tuesday, May 2, 2017

To Quote My Grandmother: "Why Are Teenagers So Stupid?"

My 4th period juniors have been quite a challenge this year.  They are good kids, but their collective ego could use some humbling.  I have several varsity football players in that class, and our team does quite well. Put a bunch of successful athletes who are also buddies in the same class and it becomes an ego-off.  I make one statement and I have six boys trying to out smart-ass each other.

Of course, I've been through the steps of smart-ass management.  First, I seat them far away from one another, and when they should across the room, I send them outside and call parents.  When those consequences wear off, I go to siting quietly at my podium, looking disgusted and bored at their witty banter, reminding them to "Waste all the time that you want.  I'm not the one whose gonna end up with more homework because y'all need to be the center of attention." That usually gets their peers, just as "over" by their antics to apply some peer pressure.

Yes, there are moments when I consider seating them together in the back corner of the room and telling them to just bro-love themselves to death as long as they don't disrupt what I'm teaching (and their grades will tank because they won't know what's going on), but I refuse to give in.

With enough patience and consistency, I usually get them in line within a month or so.

Then Spring Break hits and everything goes to shit. All systems break down.  All adherence to the rules goes out the window. It becomes pure survival: juniors want to be seniors, seniors want to be graduated, and I want to be on an Italian Vineyard sipping wine.

To keep both me and the students from going nuts, I find a compromise between my teaching integrity and their unwillingness to do anything.  I ease up on the homework, slow down my pace within the classroom, and do my best to teach something the students will enjoy (or at least not whine every time I ask them to get out their books).

Currently, I am teaching my juniors the novel, The Great Gatsby.  Of course, most have seen the movie, but my approach is to have students determine whether F. Scott Fitzgerald would approve of Bax Lurhmann's interpretation: does he represent the spirit of the novel or would Lurhmann's adjustments to plot and character representation give Fitzgerald reason to rise from the grave and sober up long enough to tell Lurhmann Gatsby never loses his cool.

But I digress.

As expected, my 4th period egos are interested in Gatsby.  He is a baller; the novel is full of drinking and drama. It's all about flash and display of greatness (I wait until the end of the novel to explain that Fitzgerald is criticizing these ideas).

Today, the class analyzed how the party guests who attend his parties and wreck his house and Gatsby himself are represented in the novel.  I told them to list adjectives to describe the characters' behavior. With the party guests, I specifically said to not use the adjective "drunk."

Immediately, the students start shouting out, "how about lit? Buzzed? Wasted? Wrecked? Trashed?'

"Nor any synonyms for drunk," I emphasized.  "What can you say about people who get that drunk all the time?"  Then I waved off any answer to that question, realizing that at that age being falling down drunk is cool.

I knew I was taking a risk giving this task to my 4th period full of the "in crowd" and ADHD, but I'm edgy.  Or stupid--the verdict is still out.

After a few minutes of vigorous scribbling, I have the students share their adjectives with their neighbors.  I specifically say, "With those sitting next to you."

Immediately, one of my rambunctious athletes, Caleb, who sits two feet from my podium, shouts to his friend across the room, "Hey, Freddy. I put lit, wasted, and fucked-up for party guests.  What did you put?"

The class goes silent.  Students look at me and then look at Caleb. My forehead hits the podium.

"What?" Caleb asked.  "What did I do?  Ms. Vance, are you okay?"

Wine, whether on an Italian Villa or no, here I come.

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