Are you local?

Up until I was around fourteen or fifteen, I had my heart set on being a vet. I was good at science (although not great) and I would have maybe pursued that dream had it not been for prize-giving at the end of my fourth year of secondary school. I won first prize in English, French and German, and this made it obvious that my talents were more literary in nature. Eventually I went off to university and got a degree in languages and then a Master’s in Comparative Literature.

After just over two months teaching in an American public high school, the main question that comes to my mind is: “Why the fuck did I pursue that path in life???!” I can’t say that I really like teaching. In fact, I fucking hate it. Sometimes it’s bearable, but that’s the best adjective I can come up with to describe it. I’m hoping that this will change at some point, but it just seems like such a worthless, thankless and poorly paid job. I went into teaching because I wanted to help people less privileged than myself but, quite frankly, I now think that they can all go fuck themselves. I would much rather work with animals who are far more appreciative and pleasant to be around than most teenagers.

Perhaps I would enjoy my life more if I just had to work in the school during the week, and could retreat to civilization at the weekend, but the town we live in is in the middle of nowhere. The nearest city is an hour’s drive away…and even it’s a complete shit-hole. Perhaps even that would be OK if the locals were welcoming but, no, that would be expecting too much. A parent complained to the school about how a foreigner was teaching her child, and she was removed from my class! The kids in my Period 5 class spent weeks complaining about how the American flag was displayed in my classroom (i.e. balanced side-ways on the whiteboard, and not “properly” in a wall bracket) and how that this meant I was disrespecting their country. Curiously, some of the American teachers (even the fucking Social Studies teachers!) don’t even have a flag, but this doesn’t seem to bother the kids. On top of that, they make fun of my accent.

It’s impossible to teach them anything because they’ve been used to getting away with doing no work for their entire time in school – and getting A’s! The principal hired me because he knew I had high expectations for the kids, but he has also told me that I can’t fail anymore than 5% of my student body. This is rather difficult given that 95% deserve to fail. I have never met such lazy, entitled, ignorant, disrespectful kids in my entire life. And, oh yeah, they’re racist, too – towards white people. Well, maybe racism is the wrong term. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they are deeply suspicious of and hateful towards anything different, and anybody who is not “local”. They hate gay people, blacks and, oh yeah, vegetarians. It absolutely blows their mind that I don’t eat meat. At first I thought this was funny but after two months of being mocked for not stuffing my face with barbecue and being fat slobs like them, it does get a tad tiresome.

I try telling myself that the kids can’t help their ignorance because they’ve grown up in such an isolated place, surrounded by bigoted, ill-educated people, but it’s hard to keep that in mind when the wee shits are out to get you. The mother who had her kid pulled from my class actually had “spies” in all of my classes who were noting down “inappropriate” or “racist” remarks I had made!

I honestly don’t think I’m cut out for this job. I take all the kids’ insults far too personally. Also, much to my surprise, I’ve reached the stage where I really don’t care anymore about most of the kids’ abusive backgrounds. Does that give them the right to be verbally abusive and disrespectful?

I’m honestly not sure I even like people.

Welcome to small town American, eh?!


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7 thoughts on “Are you local?

  1. Scott O'Neil November 5, 2010 at 10:11 pm Reply

    Kids and animals aren’t all that dissimilar. You need to earn their trust, not vice versa. If a wounded dog was brought to your vet clinic, would you approach it the way you would your own dog? No. It would growl and bare its teeth out of fear. That’s what these kids are doing to you. They are overflowing with fear–Fear that they aren’t cool, fear that they will get beat on (or worse) by their parents, fear that they don’t look good, fear that you will judge them, etc. Your average teenager is terrified of something most of the time. As a result, they growl and they bare their teeth. Only with teens, that comes through as wiseass remarks and poor decisions.

    What you needed to do was approach them the way you would a wounded animal in the vet clinic. Not too quickly, but steady, calm and predictable. They (and their parents) spent the first few weeks of the school year sizing you up. They were trying to decide if you would be someone they could trust–someone they could comfortably drop the act around. Based on the tone of your post, you did the worst thing possible–you judged them, which is their biggest fear.

    To be perfectly honest, this year is likely a wasted year at this point. They know by now that you don’t like them, and they will grab every opportunity to be deserving of that animosity. You just need to keep your cool and realize that many of these kids have led hellish lives that you or I just cannot comprehend. They don’t need to be judged. They need you to be calm, firm, fair and patient. Set high standards, but be prepared for the reality that they won’t meet them at first. When that happens, don’t disparage them–encourage them. They need to know that you think they can really meet your expectations. They need to know that you believe in them, because their biggest fear, the one hidden behind the loudest bragging and the most obscene comments, is that they don’t really believe in themselves.

  2. yogurt November 6, 2010 at 10:54 am Reply

    “What you needed to do was approach them the way you would a wounded animal in the vet clinic.”

    Which is to say, with a syringe filled with ketamine. Or at the very least, with a muzzle. (I’ve worked in a vet clinic). But you usually have to sedate them in order to get the muzzle on.

    But the more correct analogy here is that you are in a class filled with thirty hurting, growling animals whose angry, judgmental, ignorant parents are standing behind them, baiting them.

    Much of what Scott says is ideal. Hoping by the end of the school year you can follow through with a piece of his advice here and there, maybe win over (save) a student or two. Knowing you, you’ve been pouring your heart out to these kids only to have them stomp on it.

    You’re in under-educated, rural, liberal-hating America, unfortunately. The heartland. I wouldn’t want to be there either, which is why I choose to live in one of the most educated cities in the country. You’re also in a part of America known to underfund it’s education. There ARE way better, way more satisfying school districts. Please don’t give up on teaching.

  3. yogurt November 6, 2010 at 10:55 am Reply

    And it’s great to see you back!

  4. Vicariousrising November 13, 2010 at 3:45 pm Reply

    Oh darlin’, I sooo not surprised you are hating your job and I’m even more sorry that people are treating you so poorly.

    I could never be s teacher. In lack the patience and I can’t tolerate disrespectful, entitled kids or their parents. Hell you should see me at my kid’s soccer games when the parents get rude & unruly. And my husband had to call me off ripping the head off a middle school soccer coach for how he bullied his team and especially his own son. My head would explode if I had to desk with what you have to deal with.

    My sister is a public school teacher and hates it. She tried the regular teaching job & had one parent berate her for having a secret Santa gift exchange among her 4th grade students. The patent’s beef? That his daughter ought to “be receiving and not giving.” WTF? I still want a piece of that guy.

    My sister also tried being a teacher specifically focused on improving overall reading skills for the students. Her hope was that not having a classroom and being the head of a special department would allow her more creativity & less stress. She got sick of that too.

    She’s currently the assistant principal at her elementary, her thinking that being in administration would help improve things. Nope. She is miserable.

    I should note that my sister is generally miserable, buy I do remember her former enthusiasm about teaching. It is gone.

    It’s too bad that you are stranded in Hicksville in addition to everything else. I’m surprised you did that given what you’ve written in the past about wanting to be in a more cosmopolitan city. If I were you, I’d try to get out of there. Why stay where you aren’t appreciated and where people are making your life worse to boot?

    Hugs hugs hugs. I don’t suppose I could convince you to come teach my high schooler? His current English teacher is an arrogant ass who thinks he’s never wrong and doesn’t have the teaching skills to back up his airs. I could tolerate his style if he were teaching my son how to read more critically or write an interesting paper, but the dude has no interest in anyone else’s ideas and cares more about the number of adverbs a student uses in an essay than the analysis.

    No wonder most teachers here are crap. Only the ones who don’t give a shot can survive teaching.

    PS: have you been watching “Teach: Tony Danza”? I think he feels your pain.

    • petrichoric November 14, 2010 at 2:59 pm Reply

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, Judith. When you said “only the ones who don’t give a shit can survive teaching” you were sooooo right. The standard of education in the high school where I “teach” (if you can call it that – I can barely get through five minutes of a lesson without someone insulting me) is mediocre. The kids don’t learn anything, and if you try to raise the bar, the kids rebel because they are not used to doing any kind of work, and the parents hate you because you won’t pass their kids. The students have never been encouraged to develop critical thinking skills at all. Ugh.

      I really don’t know how some of the teachers at that school have managed to stay there for twenty years and more…but I’ve now realized it’s because they let the kids stay in their comfort zone. They don’t challenge them because it would be too much of a headache for themselves if they did.

      As for why I ended up in Hicksville…Well, teaching jobs are scarce right now, and I honestly don’t think that I would have found something where I was living before. Let’s just hope that I can somehow get through the year without killing myself, or some of the students.

  5. arekino November 18, 2010 at 7:15 am Reply

    Hi Petrichor, good to see you again.

    Are the locals giving you trouble? Seems they haven’t reached the pitchforks and torches stage, so everything’s still alright then. 😛

    What are the locals like anyway? Have you had any interesting conversations?

    “It absolutely blows their mind that I don’t eat meat.” Ha, that’s what it was like over here in the early 1980’s when I was 12. Stupid teenagers just didn’t understand a weird vegetarian kid like me.

    Re: teenagers. Yeah, you’ve got a hell of a job there. Maybe you can talk to the other teachers, ask them how they do it. Also, our class teacher from when I was about thirteen held this speech during class that really made us think twice about being belligerent towards teachers. You have to respect yourself so that others will respect you, I guess.

    Anyway, good luck. (how’s the hubby doing BTW ?)

    • petrichoric November 21, 2010 at 4:18 pm Reply

      Hi, Arekino. It’s good to hear from you again. Oh, I’ve already tried the speech about not being belligerent to teachers. These kids don’t give a flying fuck. As regards the husband, just read my latest depressing post. Sigh.

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