For those friends of mine who aren’t teachers, I envy you. I love my career and only question choosing it about three times a day – a drop from 6 times a day a few years ago. This year I have almost exclusively freshmen. I think I may be being punished for sins in a past life. It’s a change from when I had freshmen at the junior high school where they were top dogs. Now they are little tiny fish in the huge pond that is high school, but they still mistakenly think they are big fish. Freshmen are “magical” creatures as we call them. They are combinations of six-month old lab puppies, cactus, strange odors, and hormone therapy patients and about as much fun as that combination sounds.
We hang out in the hallway during passing periods, mindlessly repeating the same phrases. “Language!” “Hands to yourself!” “Let’s not kick, shall we?” “There’s a whole walking thing going on for other people – move along.” “Please put him/her down.” “Probably not the best choice for a place to try to suck that young lady’s face off.” You know, the usual drivel we have to spout at kids who aren’t the best at controlling their impulses or bodies.
This past quarter, the freshman teachers had them write memoirs. We studied the book Night and had them write their own memoirs about a moment of time in their lives. Perhaps personal narratives become a pretty bad idea once they get to this age.
Most of the memoirs from girls are depressing as fug. I am serious here. It is almost like they felt the memoir assignment was a challenge to be more depressing than Elie Wiesel’s horrifying concentration camp memoir we read. I don’t think they understand it would be nigh impossible to top that man’s experiences, but they gave it their all. There’s dead grandmas (6 of them) and other family members, bullying, lost dogs, how music makes them forget their problems, cutting, mothers who abandoned them, etc. I am not diminishing their pain at all, but it was all so overwhelming to read. I know life isn’t necessarily pretty or happy or satisfying, but my Hell! Find a bright spot. Somewhere.
The breakdown of the boys’ memoirs is something completely different. Three were about panicking about having the memoir done, several were about broken bones or various types of injuries, many were about sports and/or hobbies, and one was about how much he loves the name “Tony Danza”. Another teacher had a boy write one about peeing in another boy’s face in kindergarten. Freshman boys are an altogether different breed of weird.
I layered them so I would have two girl memoirs and then a boy one, so I could be buoyed by some sort of levity.
Since we are now a quarter into the school year, I asked the students what they thought of the first part of the year, and what, if anything, they liked/didn’t like about what we did in class. English is historically a universally hated class, so I was nervous but asked anyway. In general the responses were interesting and obviously thought out. The kids gave some surprisingly mature feedback. Others…not so much.
“Let’s stop reading. Reading is stupid.”
“I don’t like how we are forced to write about meaningless things.” (memoir about a meaningful time in life)
“You get too excited about the parts of speech. They aren’t that exciting.”
What?! What do you mean “they aren’t that exciting”?! What rock were you born under? So much to do with these darlings. They have so very much to learn.