Word of the week: “Liability”
I launched today’s lecture with a discussion of the word “liability”. Students recognized it in terms of car insurance; liability insurance covers the guy I hit if I am responsible for an accident. Then I explained that with our state standardized tests coming up in two weeks, I am transferring the liability for their success or failure onto their shoulders. Some states connect teaching jobs to test scores, but while this does sometimes encourage more innovative teaching, it could also result in good teachers with bad students losing their jobs.
If my kiddos don’t bother to spend 15 minutes pre-writing an essay on the exam and fail as a result, that is not my fault. I taught them how to pre-write. I encouraged them to use it eight or nine thousand times. If they are absent during the year and during our review and never come to tutorials to make up the work and don’t know how to do stuff on the exam, I am not liable for that. I gave them a schedule of our review for the next three weeks and the state’s list of what is included on the exam. I am staying late for tutorials every day until they test. I emailed parents and shared all this information. This is all to cover my butt, lest some angry parent email my principal saying, “My student said Mrs. H didn’t tell her what was on the test” or “My son was absent the day of the test; he didn’t know it was that day.” I can now say, “Nope! I gave the students test blueprints and schedules. If they were absent, they knew what they had to do.”
I ended the lecture by saying, “If you fail this test because you were lazy or never came to tutorials, your failure is not my fault.” Some guy said, “Wow, harsh, Miss.” NO. I think my students needed to take responsibility for and accept consequences of their actions about the time they stopped wearing a diaper; by the time they are 16 or 17, it’s definitely time. While it’s tempting to blame parents, by the time they’re 16, they’re old enough to shoulder their own blame for failure…
We spent the rest of class going over key components of expository essays. Most of them looked supremely bored – excellent. My goal is that they are bored because they know all the test material already, and I am just beating a dead horse with repeated information. This is why the following discussion was so frustrating:
Boy: I’m smart. I don’t need to know this stuff. I don’t have to graduate. I already have a job. It pays $11.35 an hour starting out.
Me: Hm. You’re smart. You know this stuff.
Boy: Yeah. They only test to show that I know it.
Me: I don’t believe you do know it. You’ll have to prove it to me.
Boy: Fine. What are we doing?
Me: [point to board where instructions have been for the last five minutes]
Boy: Pre-write and write a thesis statement…what’s a thesis statement?
Girl Who Rarely Knows What’s Going On: Oh. My. Gosh. She totally just went over that in class. Learn to listen!
Ignoring the fact that we’ve been writing thesis statements ALL YEAR, I am always tempted to laugh, cry, despair, or mock students who ask such stupid things to which they should know the answer.
I designed a hypothetical t-shirt for them to theoretically wear for their test, to remember the things they always seem to forget. On the front it will say, “Use your dadgum dictionary!” because they never take 30 seconds to look up a word. On the back it will have the word “you” with a big red No Smoking Sign crossout over it, to remind them to never use second person in their writing. They said they would totally buy this shirt and wear it to the test. I’m pretty sure the state would frown on this…
If I can hang on tight for three more weeks until our English graduation exams are out of the way, we can start doing more hands-on, fun stuff. I’m brainstorming for a project that requires them to do research over potential colleges or career choices, with some sort of Dave Ramsey-style budgeting involved. I want them to understand that $11.35 an hour is great…when you’re 17.
And that refusing to participate and do what I assign totally kills my good mood…I need to stop letting the arrogance and stupidity of 16-year-olds ruin my day. On my way to get coffee before school this morning I heard one of my students drop the F-bomb twice and use the word “whore” in one sentence. The bell had rung so I didn’t act; I wasn’t sure what to do, but it definitely put a damper on my good mood. Throughout the day, the same kids who I predict will fail this upcoming test seemed to mutually decide that not participating, listening, or doing any of the work I gave them were good ideas. Thank goodness I verbally told them I had transferred liability…it’s so easy to think that their failure is somehow a result of my inadequate teaching. Obviously, they don’t listen because I’m not engaging enough, or because I don’t recognize their unique learning styles. While I am a new, inexperienced teacher, I can’t control everything. As my husband occasionally says about his wayward soldiers, “I can’t fix stupid. I can order my soldiers to run or not do drugs, but I can’t stop them from not following the orders.” He shakes his head at a kid getting chaptered from the military for doing ecstasy; I shake my head at kids who don’t bring pencils to school and think they don’t need a diploma. No one in any of my education classes warned me that I can’t fix stupid.