Walking a mile in a teacher’s shoes

schoolroomThe school year is in full swing with teachers back in their classrooms. Some folks might mistakenly believe that teaching is an easy job. Not me. Fifteen years ago, on my first morning as a substitute teacher, I vividly remember standing in front of a class of about 25 high school students at multi-academic levels waiting for my instruction. Over and over the school bell rang that stressful day signaling the next period and at least 20 new faces would fill a vacated desk. Some of the students looked bored, some seemed intent on learning, while others were openly rebellious.

Thus began my year as a substitute middle/high school teacher. It’s necessary to qualify that I am not a teacher by training. Rather I was an unemployed journalist who had a rose-tinted vision of imparting knowledge to young people. My idealism about changing the world was quickly diminished when after a few weeks of subbing my goal turned to that of survival.

The truth is many substitutes never really get the chance to teach, since thankfully an absent teacher’s lesson plans include; a relevant movie, worksheet, or directions for a project already in progress. Seasoned educators know that subs are babysitters, just like veteran reporters know that recently graduated journalists are cubs. It’s a new substitute’s job to prove oneself, but that can be very difficult moving from school to school and classroom to classroom. For example, that first fall a particularly boisterous group of high school boys threatened to end my budding teaching career. While trying to take attendance, they proudly revealed that they had gotten rid of their last sub, “an elderly gentleman with purple hair” by flying handmade paper airplanes at him.school-desks

The mischievous teens laughed in mocking delight as they encircled me, while I frantically maintained that they were to “take their seats.” Their loud taunting voices were suddenly silenced when their principal mysteriously appeared in the back of the room offering them two for one Saturday School if they continued to be disrespectful.  Order immediately returned, because most high school students want to avoid punishment at all costs. Sadly, some parents enable their children to disregard school rules. This can become a teacher’s worst nightmare, when a student is empowered by the fact that they will have no consequences at home for acting up.

In my short tenure, I observed innocent teachers threatened for something as simple as denying a disruptive student a hall pass or even occasionally being pelted with undeserved obscenities by an unruly youth. I withstood my own daily teaching tests pretty well, choosing to focus on the majority of obedient, compassionate and helpful students who could be found in every classroom.

Although by early spring, it was the middle-school students who convinced me that I would have to end my career as a nomadic sub. Most of them didn’t seem to understand consequences like the high-school students did. Therefore, pandemonium broke out once when I was placed in a classroom with 15 middle-schoolers, 15 sewing machines, and a missing bobbin.

sewing-stuffMy young charges began to angrily blame each other for the missing bobbin, while imploring me to mediate the situation. In exasperation, I said, “What is a bobbin?” My admission of ignorance drew a look of disdain from the teens and tweens who showed me the small sewing machine part wrapped with colored thread. After settling the dispute, I leaned against the blackboard and gazed heavenward, silently asking, “God, what have I done to deserve this?” My answer came in the lessons gleaned during that memorable year.

Even though my brief teaching career ended shortly after the “sewing machine” incident, I learned that the life of a caring teacher is anything but easy or carefree. Their evenings are filled with grading papers, creating lessons, and doing all the things they can’t get done in a classroom filled with boisterous kids. This experience also prepared me for life as a school administrator’s wife, since I married one the following summer.

Headlines occasionally report the story of an unscrupulous mentor who lacks integrity and takes advantage of an unsuspecting youth, but these isolated incidents are the exceptions to the rule. Most educators invest countless unseen hours striving diligently to make the world better, one student at a time. My deepest respect goes out to teachers, knowing firsthand how difficult their path can be, because I was once honored to “walk a mile in their shoes.”

Christina aloneChristina Ryan Claypool is an Amy award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

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The Etiquette of Personal Technology 101

Technology warning small fileIf you are young person today, there are probably a lot of things that annoy you. If you are not young, then you have to understand that over the last decade the word, “annoy” has taken on a whole new meaning. At first, I was intrigued by the way a teenager angry at their parents, teacher, or a peer could say, “They are so annoying,” and make it sound like a degrading profanity. If you listen closely, you will find that some teens find most of life’s frustrating circumstances “annoying” like having to do homework, clean their room, or even a bad hair day.

That’s why I thought the word, “annoy” so aptly describes how I felt some years ago when attending a meeting with hundreds of college students, and one very renowned speaker. This man had traveled countless miles to address the group hoping to impart some of the wisdom that he had learned on his life’s journey. Unfortunately, many undergraduates in attendance that day probably didn’t hear a word he said. After all, they were really busy. Earbuds were everywhere, with most students either engaged with an electronic device, or else frantically texting on their cell phones.

It was like a technology zoo in the auditorium that morning and all the battery powered caged animals were running amuck. The seventy-something speaker initially looked confused as he tried without success to gain the attention of his audience. Then I sensed his frustration and irritation realizing that he was being, “dissed.”

“Dissed,” might have just caused your internal spell check to turn code red, but it’s now accepted in mainstream usage. According to the Urban Dictionary “being dissed is the act of being disconnected, by voice or by modem from another party.” Another definition from the same source, says that “dissing someone is showing disrespect to them.”

Bottom-line, an alarming percentage of the learners gathered had opted to listen to another source of technological input, cutting off the speaker’s ability to be heard. The presenter finally seemed “annoyed” himself, and finished his talk rather abruptly and somewhat disheartened. I wondered what happened to the age-old principle to “listen when someone is speaking.” Or what about the etiquette rule of turning off technology when a meeting begins?

6353664 - CopyI was more than annoyed; I was truly heartbroken, concerned that these bright students were a precursor of the future. This topic is personal for me, because I’ve had to battle ongoing distractions as a public speaker for the past two decades. I’ve talked through screaming babies, women filing their nails, teenagers looking bored to death, and ringing cell phones. It’s difficult to explain away distracting phones, yet I have always comforted myself with the knowledge that the mom of the screaming baby or the woman manicuring her nails might need to hear what I’m saying. Same way, with a seemingly uninterested teen, since many times, hurting adolescents are listening intently but have to act bored for fear of being labeled uncool.

My school administrator husband whom I affectionately refer to as “Mr. Rules,” was visibly disappointed when I reported the technology frenzy of that morning’s event. He mumbled the word, “confiscate,” which I have since learned is what most K-12 public school policy dictates when students are using cell phones or technology inappropriately. Sadly, this policy was obviously not in place in the post-secondary gathering which I attended. Since the most distressing part is that the elderly speaker was African American, and his audience was comprised of about 95 percent Caucasian college kids. This eloquent orator had a culturally diverse message that those young people needed to hear. He might think he was disrespected due to his age or race.

But the truth is that many students were just too obsessed with their electronic devices to pay much attention.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Famous civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.”

The problem is that the development of technological devices has rapidly exceeded the rules for their use. Maybe universities could create a course entitled, “The Etiquette of Personal Technology 101,” which we all could benefit from.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaaryanclaypool.com

 

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