High School

When Students Provide Perspective

Sometimes, I feel like I need a little perspective. Some days, I come home from work exhausted. Especially this week, the week before Thanksgiving Break. This is not something that is unique to me.  All week, I have seen posts on social media from other teachers that are feeling the same way. With daylight savings time, the coming break, and the wintery weather, my students are squirrely. Very, very squirrely. It’s been a frustrating week; the kind of week leads to frustration and makes me fear teacher burnout.
All week, I felt like I needed the break just as much as my students did, and I needed a little perspective. Some bullying had recently happened in my school, something that is always hard to deal with. I was feeling like I wasn’t accomplishing anything like all my lessons were futile. I know that I love my job, I just needed a sign that it was all worth it. Was I accomplishing anything, or were my English lessons just going in one ear and out the other? What about critical thinking? Were my students actually learning?
I’m not the only one who worries about this, am I?
Students Can See the Answers
Then, one day, we were reading in my class and several awesome moments happened. In one of my classes, we’re reading Holes, written by Louis Sachar in 1998. In the novel, there are several plots, and one of them deals with racism during the late 1800s. This is the story of Sam the Onion Man and his true love. Sam is African-American, and his true love is a white woman. This story is tragic and awful, and, honestly, I have never seen so much outrage in a classroom while reading.
“What do you mean, he couldn’t go to school? That’s some racist crap right there,” were some of the many bits of outrage that my students shared with me. Then, they learned that Zero didn’t have a name other than Zero, and they were angered by the awful way that the adults and other kids treated him, just because he was different.
Then, to put it all into, perspective, we had a discussion on what life was like in the 1900s for minorities, and my students informed me how dumb it was that people are treated differently because of how they look. They were also looking at the story critically, examining the way that Louis Sachar was putting the pieces of the novel together.
In another class, we were reading Lord of the Flies. This is the story about a plane full of British schoolboys that are marooned on a tropical island with no adults. They form their own society, with mixed results. In this class, my students noticed that the main character, Ralph, tried to ditch Piggy several times, and then makes fun of him all the time. They are also furious that Piggy never gets a name. Several classes came up with a name for him, because they decided that Piggy deserved to have an actual name. One started a poll to choose the best one.
I was a little surprised at this level of anger on behalf of Piggy. He’s a great character, sure, but he’s not the main character. I always thought that he was supposed to be a little preachy, and a little unlikable, forming as a foil to Ralph. My students, however, saw past that. They were able to grasp the underlying meaning of the story, using critical thinking, and they, like the other class, were also not missing out on the important message. Bullying bothered them, no matter who was bullying or why they were not okay with it.
As I was reflecting on the past week and these discussions, I was reminded of something. My students are smart, bright, kind, and caring young people. The mistreatment of others, even in literature, angers my students. It’s easy to forget this sometimes. When you hear about bullying or have students ask why they must read and write in English, you can sometimes not see that your students are listening and learning. While this was something that I knew already, this reminder was exactly what I needed this week. My students are bright and driven. They are the future, a future that is full of promise. This is why I love my job, and it helped give me back that much-needed perspective.

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