Suicidal Snowflakes

Just because I have a short attention span doesn\’t mean I…

If ya wanna learn, go to the library

Yeah, that kind of encompasses my primary education experience.  My teachers were just shy of useless most of the time.  Either they were speaking some language I didn't understand like the math teachers (they understand math, and so they explain math the way they understand it, but have no idea how to teach math to people who don't speak numbers) or they were being so banal I'd have rather stabbed myself  in the eyeball with my #2 pencil than go to school and sit there for 80 minutes.  

…seperate diatribe… my school district thought it'd be fun to do 4 80 minute classes a day and do the classes in two seperate terms because it's "more like college." 1) not everyone's going to college 2) in college classes are only 2 or 3 days a week for that long, and 3) those teachers actually gave BREAKS if the class was over an hr long. They suck. Anyways…

If I ever had a teacher that made something understandable and interesting and challenging all at the same time, I figured that I was doing it all wrong, or I was committing some kind of mortal sin or had some character flaw for enjoying said class, and hating a class that I didn't understand. My teachers would always tell us that even if we hated a subject we still had to do our "best," because we won't like everything in life.  Which really messed with my head. I never actually thought going into a field that I LIKED and excelled at, because that felt like cheating to me.  No one told me it was OK to be good at some things and not good at others, and to have an interest in things you like outside of school, and to actually persue said interests.

I felt like I should be using that time to pick up the slack in the courses I wasn't good in.  Even though I'd try to teach myself, but just couldn't figure it out.  Despite all that crap teachers tell you about "being in charge of your own education," and "taking initiative," and "trying harder" which is another rant for another time.  I was SO tired of being told to work harder  in subjects I just didn't get, like math and German. I used to wonder why, if we were suposed to "be in charge of our own education" and "take initiative," they even bothered sending us to school.  Why not just teach us how to read, and lock us in a library until we were 18?? Because they acted as if a failure to learn was ALWAYS a failure on the part of the student.  

It took me YEARS to come to terms with a few things.   First of all… Failure isn't always the student's fault.  Students may have an actual reason, beyond laziness (thanks mom, for pounding the "you're so damned lazy," thing into my head for years and years). My ADD and lysdexia (hehe) were written off as laziness by my parents AND my teachers for YEARS. I can't believe I got through undergrad with as bad as my ADD and depression were.  There were times when I was practically incapacitated with it, but I'd chastize myself for my own failings as a human being, for not wanting to do homework, or having trouble concentrating on/forcing myself to do/remembering to do it, etc etc.
I'm not really bitter about being one of those kids that slipped through the cracks.  I've had a long time to get over it and come to terms with it.  Sometimes it annoys me, though.  And it annoys me that it's happening to other kids.  

Sometimes a student's inability to learn the material is associated with the teacher's inability to teach.  Whenever I expressed that I wasn't understanding it, or that I didn't like the teacher's methods, I was told the whole line about being in charge of my own learning and spending more time with the material, doing extra exercises, etc.  Great. I'm going to work harder and do things I dont understand, and do them probably wrong, because I can't figure them out, because I didn't get it.  

Then there's the whole stupid bit that your teachers tell you, ask questions if you don't understand.  Sometimes, you don't understand what you dont understand enough to formulate a quesiton. All you know is that all the numbers on the board look like a foriegn language that you have NO translation key for.  Then they ask you what you don't understand when you're like… "i don't get it," and they get mad that you can't pinpoint one thing you don't understand.  You say "all of it," and then they explain it again, slowly, using the same exact words they used before.  And you say you still don't get it, so they explain it five or six more times in the same way, getting angrier and angrier that you dont get it.  So finally, you say yeah, I get it now, and go back to feeling like a retard because you don't understand what the hell you're supposed to be doing with the Sine and Cosine and all that crap.Because it's all YOUR FAULT. For not TRYING HARD ENOUGH. 

(Not sure why I'm having painful Junior high flashbacks today, sorry)

Oh and my favorite… when you askthe teacher to explain it to you, and they explain it, you say you don't understand still, and she says "I don't understand what you don't understand." Yeah. I know.  Because it's incomprehensable that someone not understand math exactly the way you do… that there are people in the world who's brains are wired differently and need a different approach.  

Mostly i suffered from about… 8 to 10 years worth of teachers incapable of taking another approach.  I did have one teacher (who's now an administrator, surprise surprise) who wasn't that great of a teacher, truth be told.  I never quite "got" the whole German thing.  Giving people a list of vocabulary words to memorize and teaching them isolated basic sentences in a foriegn language, then test you on this feat of memorization without meaning is a method that really isn't effective, but we keep doing it.   So anyways, I wasn't doing well in the class, but hey, if it's just one or two kids, they're just the "dumb" kids, or the kids that don't try hard enough… but one time EVERYBODY failed the test.  So he actually retaught the unit.  He said if one or two of us failed, then it was just on us to study harder.  But if everyone failed, then he'd failed to teach us properly.  Of course, I'd never really had a teacher who'd TAUGHT anything before, other than just vomiting what was in the book at us, and trying to get us to repeat it ad nauseum, even in English class, so I wasn't sure what "teaching" was actually involved, and how some teacher had actually failed… but ok, that's nice of him to take the blame. 

I spent a lot of time in libraries as a kid, usually not doing the homework that was due.  I'd be hiding from the kids that tormented me relentlessly back in the furthest stack I could find, reading whatever had a shiny cover and caught my interest.  One day after school, I was supposed to stay for some activity, but was being picked on, so I up and left, and stayed in the library until my dad finally got around to picking me up,  reading a book on archeological method. Sounds REALLY boring, but it must have been interesting at the time, I got half way through it.  I found out way more about grants and the whole funding process than any 16 yr old would ever care to know.  It was like 9pm before my dad came, and I even got to the part about digging up pompeii and other cool stuff this guy worked on.  Sometimes I tried to read other stuff, like this *really* boring Jane Austin-esque reigency era romance novel written by some stuffy dude with two middle names, under the auspice that it was "good for me," and I'd eventually "fail," as I saw it, and be all upset with myself for not being "scholarly" enough… or something.  I don't know what type of thing I expected from myself in high school or college, but I seldom lived up to my own expectations. 
And God forbid I have fun outside of school. I can thank my mother for that one. That is possiby another diatribe for another day.. But basically, feel guilty if you're at home and not cleaning or "doing something for mom," children get no relaxation.  If mom asks you to do something if and when you finally decide to start your homework on your own, stop what you're doing and help her make dinner, etc.  Then clean up afterwords.  It doesn't matter if you're tired.  Then, at like 9 or 10 pm, go do your homework.  Not a lot of homework has ever gotten done in my mom's house.  Part of it is because she never directed us to.  Mostly it was just screaming at us the next day, or when she saw our grades that we were stupid lazy sons of bitches that couldn't even write their spelling words ten times each.  ALWAYS have to be doing something, especially something for someone else.  Experience extreme guilt if you do something "necessary" for yourself like homework, just kill yourself from guilt if you do something "gratuitous" like have fun, relax or take a nap.  Structured, balanced family life, not my mom's strong suit.  I STILL have trouble unlaxing to this day. Thanks mom.

It wasn't like my teachers were great teachers, and it wasn't like mom instilled a love of learning into us–mostly a fear of failure, which translates into a fear of trying and the intrinsic knowledge of our own laziness and stupidity. Mostly I'm just a fortunate soul that was able to overcompensate with good reading skills (been practicing since I was 4) and an affinity for hiding in the library and reading random things.  I can completely understand why some other folks haven't been able to at least trudge along like that in life.  

I'll never know how I've gotten along until my one or two good teachers in college and grad school (which has been at least pretty full of good teachers), especially with no support, no self-esteem, no formal knowledge base (basically I passed time in school. any learning that actually transpired was purely coincidental) and bucket loads of depression and ADD. Thank God for libraries, then, I guess.  Of course, libraries can tell you what to think, and what to think about, but teachers teach you HOW to think.  I guess when it comes down to it, it's a fluke I've survived this far in life/academia. 

So, what's gotten me on THIS little diatribe? Totally random chain of events.  I was reading a blog entry by Mimi Smartypants, about her fear of the hippy moms and homeschoolers (funny stuff, really).  I've been thinking to myself that I'm smarter than most of the teachers I had in high school, and I'm USED to teaching people things in different ways in my job (if they dont understand what I'm saying one way, I have to think up a new way to explain it, until they DO get it). I could help any potential kids I had get through their school work without all that tedious lining up and the teacher telling the kids to be quiet for 20 minutes at the start of class.  They wouldn't get beat up like I did, and if they got picked on, it would only be a few hours a day during activities, instead of the endless constant harassment by nearly ALL my classmates for my entire experience in 1-12.  I could expose them to other points of view and other cultures in an actual learning context, which might actual provide some perspective, versus the usual white guilt thing. Sure they'd have to learn about that too, in order to be well-rounded, but I'd argue kids are so bombarded with it, that no other perspectives get through (public schools can be just as close-minded as the homeschooling parents that don't want to expose their kids to other points of view).  I'm intellegent.  I'm working on my third piece of sheep skin, I actually have some educational background, why the hell COULDN'T I do a better job than the teachers like mine, who never noticed me other than to tell me I wasn't trying enough, and never even got to know me enough to notice that there were problems at home and that I had learning difficulties.

Sure I could be a horrible teacher and give my kid(s) a billion neuroses that they'll haveta see a therapist for as soon as they turn 18, but that's just parenthood in general. And at least I wouldn't make those 42 billion mistakes with my kid that the educational system made with me. I'd pay attention, and I'd give a damn. 

So then we come back to me dwellling upon just how much that whole 13 year period of k-12 sucked and how college sucked for its own unique reasons, which are two things I haven't thought of in quite a while.  So then we end up with this really long, bitchy, self indulgent manifesto of how the world was mean to me.

Oh well, whatever.  I'm graduating in a year and it's on to bigger and better things.  

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May 12, 2006 - Posted by | School

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