It’s June, beautiful June, and I despair that I am losing the battle.
This is not the despair of the unexperienced, not the despair of the uninitiated. I’ve been teaching for ten years. I’ve raised four children. I have survived everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to the advent of facebook. I have been sworn at, cursed at, blasphemed at, spat at… I once had a kid tell me I was a pain in the ass. I have stopped fights, dried tears, wiped up blood, settled relationship disputes… all in my classroom, never mind what my own kids have put me through.
But this semester… this semester I have taught grade ten English. To thirty-two darling fifteen year olds. Thirty-two fifteen year old Millenials, if I may use the word with the kindest of sentiments.
First of all, let me say how much I enjoy them. Don’t get me wrong, they exhaust me. They frustrate me. They leave the room at the end of a 75 minute class and I have to lie on the floor for ten minutes to recover. But they’re funny. They smile, they say hilarious things, they laugh at my jokes and my ridiculous accents that pop up when whenever I talk about literature or Singapore noodles. They seem to genuinely like each other, for the most part, and they seem… oddly enough… to like me, especially when that vein in my forehead starts pulsing. But…
They do not read. They have incredibly short attention spans. They have limited control of grammatical elements. And everything is boring.
I have a curriculum to follow, of course. We have to read, we have to write, we have to view and talk and share and consider and persuade and infer and visualize and text the guy two seats over and take a photo of the teacher when she’s not looking and go on facebook because WTF? Did you see that picture she put up of herself?
Thirty-two bodies is not to be underestimated. When they are all in attendance I can barely make my way through the room to distribute papers. Papers? Oh yeah, didn’t those die out with the dinosaurs?
This group of students are, for the first time in my experience, truly addicted to technology. Cell phones and facebook have been present for several years in the schools, and the issues around them have gradually been increasing, but this is the first year that I find myself losing the battle. I’m not just meaning the battle of “put away your cell phone”. That part of it is easy. I take them. I put them on my desk… the ones who are brazen enough to hold them in front of their faces while I’m instructing. Five cell phones buzzing, clicking and flashing on my desk. Twenty-seven cell phones vibrating in pockets. These are children who can text blindfolded in a howling snow storm on a mountain peak surrounded by slavering wolves. With a sense of entitlement. They dare that wolf to chew off their arm before they’ve finished their text message. I am not winning.
The texting takes an even more subversive role when it comes to classroom management. If a kid leaves the room and I either go into the hall to find him, or reach for the phone to get the office to search for the wayward child, his friends are texting him before I even cross the threshold. “She’s coming to get you.” They text each other from across the room as I am mingling while they use the laptops, alerting each other seconds before I see them on facebook, or kijiji.
Full points for Surveillance Techniques and Evasive Maneuvers, neither of which are curriculum outcomes for English 10.
But it’s not the physical addiction to the cell phone that is the problem here… it’s the evolution of these kids that is making it hard for me to adapt to their ways. They want immediate gratification. They want the answer NOW, they don’t want to problem solve, they don’t want to actively ponder and sort and find their own individual creative solution… they want to google. Google knows. “Why don’t you just google it?”
These children have no filter. The social barriers that would not be crossed when I was a kid, and when my children were kids, are melting. It seems that if you can post anything on-line, you can also talk about anything in-class. If there is no restriction on what you can read, and see, and share, and like in the digital world, why should there be restrictions in the real world? I hear graphic discussions about sex, drugs, family situations, crime, inappropriate slang and teasing, and of course the ever-present F-bomb… things that I did not hear ten years ago when I started teaching, things I did not hear even five years ago. When I shut them down… with the twitching forehead vein in full hyper-pulsating mode… they look at me and say: “What? What’s wrong?” They honestly don’t see a problem with their conversations, in a classroom, right in front of a teacher’s desk, with a teacher sitting in it.
They apologize… and continue talking, because they “aren’t finished yet.”
But I love them. They are so, SO funny. These kids have wit and charm and sarcasm at their fingertips. Without a filter, they often amaze me with their eloquence. And at times, they are so foul.
“This is fuckin’ stupid.”
“I hate this fuckin’ shit.”
“Who the fuck cares?” : This, in response to Shakespeare.
“Whaddafuckyadodatfer?” : This, in response to one student drawing a penis on another student’s binder. (We didn’t draw phallic symbols when I was a child. Pot leaves, yes. Peace signs, yes. Penises? No.)
“Giiiiiiiiiit.”: This, in response to almost everything.
Translation: “Giiiiit”, is a monosyllabic exaggeration of “Please remove yourself from my personal space, field of vision, general vicinity, and life”. It is accompanied by a hand gesture reminiscent of an Italian Pizza Chef giving the backhand to an annoying delivery boy who has made a bad smell in the vicinity of the pizza oven.
For maximum auditory impact and accuracy of delivery, the “iiiiiit” sound must be somewhat guttural, as if one is attempting to expel a small rodent from one’s esophagus. It takes a while to get it right, but once one has mastered the intonation and appropriate physicality of both the gesture and the enunciation, it is surprisingly effective. Try it. Raise your left hand to ear level, palm facing you, fingers erect, thumb clenched strongly against the side of your palm. Wave your hand toward the offending Bad-Smell-Producer as though calling upon the Gods of Frustrated Teachers and Parents the World Over and articulate your displeasure with a good-old-fashioned, gutteral “Giiiiiiiiiiit”. One small wave of the hand for each i of the “Giiiiiit” is quite dramatic. I tried it with my weiner after a particularly offensive exhalation and found it most effective. (Weiner dogs are very sensitive.)
This has been the running joke all semester, as it is a phrase that encompasses a world of meaning in one syllable. That’s what these Millenials seem to want from the world. A gesture, a word, something quick and easy that gets to the point so they can move on to more important things, like twitter. I’mlinking a video here by Sulibreaks which is brilliant piece of spoken word poetry that speaks to exactly what young people are looking for in education today. I get it. I sympathize. But what does this mean:
“So this one is for my generation, the ones who found what they were looking for on google, the ones who followed their dreams on twitter, pictured their future on instagram, accepted destiny on facebook.” (Breaks, Suli. “I will not let exam results decide my fate” 2012)
Um. Destiny on facebook? I think this is a whole other blog post. For when I feel stronger.
It’s the end of the school year. I’m exhausted. The little darlings wrote their final exam today and I am through with them until next September when many of them will come back to me for Grade 11 English. Until then, I will bask in the good memories… or try to erase them from my soul.
But for now? Giiiiiiit!
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