This has not been a good week (. . . and it's only Wednesday . . . ).
Things really started to go downhill yesterday, when a student from my 7th-grade afternoon class sat down in the teacher's lounge and proceeded to tell me about his problems with one of his classmates. Apparently, she has been insulting his father and he wants to “beat her.” (“I will beat her. I will beat her on the campus. I will beat her in the streets.”) When I told him that this was probably not a great idea, he proceeded to inform me that nobody has any respect for me and that the students don't listen to anything I say. He said that I don't punish the students enough, that sending them out of the classroom isn't really a punishment at all because they don't care about school anyway. When I suggested that he could bring the girl in and we could talk about whatever problems they might have, he said that it would be pointless since she wouldn't listen to anything I have to say anyway. Irritated, I told him that if that's what he thought then he shouldn't even have bothered talking to me in the first place, but should go talk to someone who he thinks is capable of dealing with the problem.
So he went to find another teacher, and I sat in the teacher's lounge and thought about what he said. Up until now, I've pretty much been ignoring a lot of the little petty fights that go on in the classroom. The students are always fighting over school supplies (“He took my pen!”) and other stupid shit, and it's usually impossible for me to figure out who is in the wrong. So most of the time I tell them to sit down and shut up and do their work and work it out later. I'm here to teach, I keep thinking, not to babysit a bunch of 14-year-olds, even if it sometimes seems like most of them have the emotional maturity of toddlers.
And I think this whole approach has been completely wrong. I guess I was hoping that the students would shape up somewhat once they saw their report cards. I naively thought they might realize that I was going to give them the grade that they earned (be it passing or failing), and that they would not be able to beg or bribe or whine their way out of a failing grade, and that this would motivate them to pay more attention in class. But as my student pointed out, it doesn't work that way, because a lot of them really don't give a shit about school at all. The students believe that I need to be keeping them in line, and the fact that I let them get away with their petty bickering means that I'm weak and irrelevant and undeserving of their respect or attention.
So as I thought this (and realized that I probably should have made more of an effort to understand the students' viewpoint 8 months ago when I first came instead of waiting until it was too late and I was about to go home), the student came back into the room and started repeating all the reasons that his classmates think I'm a laughingstock. And as he went on and on and on about my incompetence, I started getting really pissed, and (it makes me cringe just to think about this) I cut him off and told him I was sorry he had a problem but I just couldn't talk to him about it anymore right then, and that he needed to leave, and when he stood there and looked at me like I was crazy I said he needed to get out get out GET OUT OF THE ROOM!!
Not my proudest moment. Even less admirable was what I did next, which was to be really, really irritable, mean, and impatient with the 7th grade class as they were taking their marking period exam (“READ THE DIRECTIONS! MAKE A LIST! A LIST!! DO YOU KNOW WHAT A LIST IS?” I kept shouting as 30 kids repeatedly asked me the same question about a very simple, clearly explained test item, which I had just explained aloud to the class. Strangely enough, screaming at them neither improved their literacy skills nor made it easier for them to understand my accent).
In addition to the incident with that student, this week has been particularly rotten because we are giving exams, which are always hellish. I know I've complained many times about the cheating before, but it still just blows my mind that it's not just a few – or a bunch – of bad apples; IT'S ALL OF THEM. The second I walk over to address one cheater, twenty people start exchanging answers behind my back. I've torn up probably 10 test papers in the last few days and taken points away for talking from maybe two dozen more, and it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever. The 10th-grade kids actually laugh at me now when I go over the no-cheating policy, because they know that they are just going to go ahead and cheat anyway and that, for the most part, there's nothing I can do about it.
So yeah. I'm frustrated with work in general, and I'm angry with myself for being impatient and immature and taking my student's comments so personally. I'm especially upset because I know he's right: the students' behavioral issues are exacerbated by my inability or unwillingness to deal with them appropriately.
Having said all that, I can't help but make the connection again between the “catch me if you can” attitude I see in the students and some of the issues with society here as a whole. The idea that “someone needs to keep me in line” explains a lot, in my eyes. The stealing, corruption, all of that – a lot of people seem to think that it is the responsibility of those in power and not the individuals in the society to maintain order. There is very little sense of personal responsibility. I can only guess as to why this mentality exists and is so widespread, but I think that, to an extent, it probably developed during the civil war. Sometimes – I think because it's just so hard for me to imagine it – I forget just how recent and how brutal the war really was (very and very). If I think about it, I can see how people who have just come through a violent period of anarchy might be more inclined to believe that the ends justify the means, that they should do whatever they need to do to get by, even if it involves law- or rule-breaking.
Anyway. Thankfully, I have only one more exam to give, and then I don't have to face the students again until next Monday. And after that, there are just a few weeks left until I go home. I just hope that I can make it to the end of the year before I discover any more unpleasant realities about how poorly I deal with stressful situations.