Listen, Pollyanna.

A few weeks ago, I watched a teacher walk into a high school classroom and write several literary terms on the board–protagonist, antagonist, setting, conflict, &c., probably ten terms in all. He turned to the class, instructed them to take out their notebooks and textbooks, turn to the glossary, and copy down the definitions to the terms.

A student raised his hand.

“Are you serious?” he asked.

“It’s important that you know these terms,” the teacher said.

For twenty minutes, the students copied down definitions, and when everyone was finished, the teacher came to the front of the classroom, and said, “okay, now put that away.”

Those few students who had gone along with him in good faith were now lost for the day, the week, the semester. This was summer school, where every moment counted.

I sat in the back, taking notes, feeling sorry for these kids, and wondered to myself, man, when did this guy lose his passion?

Talking to him during a break between periods, I found out that he had graduated from the same program I’m in, just over a year ago. I was blown away. If it was this bad, and the guy was just starting out, he had a long and ugly career in front of him.

When I was younger, I assumed there was really only one reason that people got into teaching: a deep-seated and abiding hatred of young people and all that they stand for. Now, a bit older and more wise, I see that that really only accounts for 50% or so of people in the position. The rest come at it for a variety of reasons: a true love of their subject matter and desire to pass it on, care for the future, inability to deal with adults, or a vague desire to be inspiring.

These are the problem teachers, the ones who walk into the classroom expecting to turn things around with their pluck and enthusiasm. You know the ones. Those wide-eyed naifs that get laughed out of the classroom and come back bitter and jaded.

Listen Pollyanna, you may love grammar, and that’s your right. It’s cool with me that you think adjective clauses are better that sex, but if you honestly think your students are going to give one eighth of a flying fuck about them just because you’re passionate, you’re deluding yourself. Have a fucking purpose in mind, share it with the kids, and quit being such a weirdo, because if you don’t, you’ll be burned out in a year, having kids copy glossaries to while away the time before lunch when you can sneak off to your car and wash your sadness down with peppermint schnapps, then come back to the classroom and tell the kids that’s mouthwash on your breath.

About Mark

It is the business of the future to be dangerous; and it is among the merits of science that it equips the future for its duties. -A.N. Whitehead
This entry was posted in Dispatches From Academia, Home of the Bizarre Rant. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Listen, Pollyanna.

  1. Andrew says:

    Wow…I can think of a number of ways to teach those types of definitions in a more memorable and engaging way, and I started reading this post 2 minutes ago.

    • Mark says:

      Asking students to copy from the glossary sends one of, or all of, these messages.

      1. I don’t know this.
      2. I don’t really care if you know.
      3. You are being punished.

      Even so, a discussion at the end, asking students if they had any questions, circulating while they were copying– any of that could’ve possibly salvaged some of the lesson.
      He did none of that.

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