I hate clichés and try to avoid them whenever possible, but I suppose sayings become clichés because they have universal appeal. For example, every tired saying about parenthood doesn’t feel overused when it applies to you; instead, it feels simultaneously new and familiar.
I’ve taught many of the same kids for over two years now; teaching them should feel familiar, but lately it doesn’t. In reality, the expression about “familiarity breeding contempt” is applicable here, on both sides. I’m really getting tired of many of them, and they are tired of me. After all the years I’ve taught, I’m fairly immune to garden-variety snottiness, but it stings a little when it comes from the same kids who were my babies just two years ago, the same kids who used to come to me crying on a regular basis. They aren’t my babies anymore; some of them are beginning to tower over me.
One girl, Prissy, has been especially difficult all of a sudden. She gave me a recommendation form the other day for a private boarding school, and seemed annoyed that I hadn’t been chasing after her to give me the form. A couple days later she was assigned lunch detention by Mr. Science Teacher. We teachers have our scheduled days to cover detention, so even though I wasn’t the one who assigned the detention, I had to cover it that day. During the detention, she drilled me about why she’d been given detention and continued to talk even though I reminded her repeatedly that detention was not a social event.
I rearranged the desks the other day while the kids were in gym, and while doing so I found a note Prissy had written to one of her friends. In it, she complained about me giving her detention (in spite of my repeated reminders that I was not the one who assigned it), and how she was going to “fight” me after I returned the recommendation. She then stated that she was kidding, and I knew she was. And though I was more amused than annoyed, I also decided that I wasn’t going to let it go. So I took some masking tape and taped the note to her desk, and wrote “What recommendation?” on top. I had my other class the next period, and I wasn’t surprised to see her at the door the next period, very contrite.
I thought that would be the end of Prissy’s attitude issues, but they’ve continued. She’s not the only one, but I find it surprising that she’s behaving the way she is since she wants more recommendations from me. And I told all the kids at the start that I would be happy to write recommendations for them (several kids are applying for scholarships to private schools and for admission to some special public high school programs) but I also said that I was going to be honest in what I said.
After all this time, I've realized that I've gotten tired of saying the same things over and over. I can say that I've actually been after certain kids for years to come to school on time, to come prepared, to wear their uniform. And some of the kids I could always rely on to do what they were supposed to are beginning to slack off. My best student has becoming ridiculously boy crazy and the ones who have always been boy crazy are behaving in ways that are increasingly questionable.
The sudden spurts of snark from them could be attributed to fears about high school, about leaving their friends, about new pressures. So I’m trying to understand, but at the same time, it wasn’t how I envisioned their last year. This is the second time I have stayed with a group of kids from sixth to eighth grade, and with the last group the eighth grade year was pretty difficult too. But I’d attributed that to changes that were made to the class that weren’t for the better. I wasn’t really upset over seeing those kids go. So if the current trend continues, I don’t think I’ll be sorry to see most of these kids go either. I think that may be sadder, though, than my original visions of graduation.