When I was in my 20s and studying acting, I felt something missing. I decided that I needed to challenge my intellect in a different manner than through theatre. I took some graduate academic classes as well. I did not know at the time that I would return to school to get my Ph.D.
I enjoyed and hated working on my doctorate. But, I discovered that I loved doing historical research. I liked putting together the pieces of a time period to fill out the picture. I am always excited when I have to learn something new. The thought of working on a masters in this field or that holds its fascination for me and I often contemplate going back to school.
That is my background. I began substitute teaching this week. I admit that I have always taught on a college level and so the spheres of high school and college are light years apart. I will admit that on my first day I was terrified. In one short week, I have had several opportunities to understand the environment. Sadly, I am not optimistic about my experiences nor about the fate of the children I shared class rooms with.
My most horrifying time came yesterday – last period. I was to cover for a 12th grade english class. OMG!!!!!!! Chaos. Noise. Cursing. The start of a fight. I managed to keep mayhem from breaking out but little else. There was a test to be administered. The teacher had told me watch for kids who hand in test B with test A scored. I didn’t think I could do that when charged with the turn ins. I began to collect the tests. From the start, kids did exactly what he said they would do and I tried to call them on it. I was shocked. The teacher had left and a woman who works with some of the kids came in for a few minutes. She said, “they are all going to cheat.” I think almost all of them did. Right in front of me as well. The exam was a school wide test. Some kids do not even try. I asked one or two “why don’t you try it,” but they shrugged.
The thing that struck me most about this week’s experiences was the lack of interest about learning. I sat in on two different government classes. I am willing to talk to anyone about politics and what better way to make “government” come alive than to talk about current politics. No, No, no. Don’t have a conversation. I was told.
It was the weirdest feeling to be in a class room and not teach. To sit and try to keep kids quiet for two hours at a time. I thought it was me, but when I saw how hard the english teacher worked to get his group organized and seated I knew I didn’t stand a chance.
I left feeling disgusted at the kids for not being the least bit interested in anything. I left being disgusted that I had waisted my time, as I do enjoy teaching. And, I left wondering what would happen to these kids who didn’t know how to act, to speak, to be courteous to each other. I left sad these were the kids who were entering to larger community. Maybe they would end up being productive individuals but for the most part they didn’t give out that kind of awareness.
I know the world is different but still. I don’t think the answer lies in standardized test or memorizing times tables. But rather, it lies in creating not squashing a lust for learning, a desire to be inquisitive and the perspective that is larger than the immediate moment.