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I confiscated my first vape today. I took it as a win since I've been teaching at this particular school for one month and two weeks. That's a long time to go without a vape spotting in an inner city high school. Most students are smart enough to only vape in the bathrooms, in their cars, or outside. Only the boldest of the bold whip the vape out in the classroom. Or maybe just the students who lack common sense.
The student I caught with it assured me he didn't deserve to be punished. It wasn't his vape and he had given in to peer pressure. There were other people vaping in the class too! He was just the one that got caught. He really promised he did not deserve to be the one to get in trouble.
I use an analogy with my students to explain to them why they are receiving consequences to their actions, even when others are having seemingly no consequences for the same behavior.
"When people are speeding on the highway," I say to them, "the only ones to get a ticket are the ones who get caught." They don't always understand and are quick to point out their friends and peers who haven't gotten caught, but have been participating in the same or similar behavior. "I am just trying to be fair." I try to explain. They respond with a cacophony of protest. Nothing ever seems fair. The injustice of it all surrounds everything they encounter.
In my fourth period, there are three girls who mimic me. They love to repeat the, "All right guys, let's focus!" I used to bring my students back to attention. They do it so often, they’ve started to mimic me unconsciously. Their giggles seem to be the soundtrack to most of my nightmares.
The boys in that class aren't much better. There is a lack of respect in that class that I have never experienced in my life, and I've been working with students since I was in high school myself. If I ask one to put their phone away, there is an instant backlash. They point out that their work is done, or that they were texting their mama, as if this absolves them from not following the school-wide rule of keeping their phones out of sight during class. If I ask them to stop talking, they insist on telling me why they were talking or what they were talking about. There's never just, “Yes Ms. Hall.” I feel like what I imagine a parent feels like sometimes: Discouraged, disrespected, run down. 90 children is just too many to take care of during a day. It can be disheartening to see the state of the world all wrapped up in a pretty bow and hurled at your feet with a label: “Standard English 1.”
But teaching is so much more than that. So much more than the mimicking, the vapes, and the dirty words and phallic images scrawled on the desks. It's the small moments, the in-betweens. It's the student who gives you some attitude when he's in class, but comes to you when he has a problem. It's the 20 minutes you spend helping a student who has never really been given the right to choose and pick what classes to take next semester. It's the blood, sweat, and tears you pour over the papers at night, the early mornings of broken copiers, and endless grading. It's the student who you've never actually taught who comes to eat lunch with you every day. Teaching isn't just about downloading information into students' heads, preparing them for some arbitrary test. It isn't about drowning them in papers, in busy work, in nonsense. It's about being human. It's about empathy, sympathy, and emotion. Teaching is a joy. Every day is exhausting, yet still a joy. The tiny victories make it all worth it, every day. The one child who hears that one thing you have to say, that one random Tuesday, and is forever changed by it. That is why we teach.