I may or may not have called some of you annoying yesterday in class, and I’m sorry. I should not have done that even if you were being annoying; I am 43, and you are chronologically 15 or 16, but really ranging anywhere between 5 and 25. I let you get the better of me, and I should not have taken your words so personally, but I did. But please know that I am sorry for calling you annoying. Part of your behavior is certainly your fault, and I hope that I’m modeling for you how to take responsibility for your actions. When one screws up or makes a mistake, one must offer a sincere apology. But part of your behavior is not entirely your fault based on what I know and understand about hormones and adolescent brain development. Part of my behavior is also not entirely my fault either; even though teachers are expected to have it all together ALL the time, we are also, many of us, sons and daughters and moms and dads, and friends and neighbors juggling our own complexities of the frontal lobe.
Sophomores are a tricky bunch. For those of you who are not sophomores any more or even yet, we discuss the frontal lobe a LOT in English class. Here lives the control panel for your personality, decision making process, judgement, along with our ability to communicate. Some of you have figured out that social filter in our brain which allows us to keep some thoughts or feelings in our heads, while others continue to blurt absolutely every emotion or word on high speed all day long. Believe me, there are adults in this world, myself included, who struggle with this life skill, so do not feel alone. But as your teacher, one with whom you generally have a strong rapport, I feel justified in helping you to reflect on what responsibility falls to you.
Today, the issue was that your filter did not allow you to notice that I was not the only one irritated by your incessant babble, the need to hear yourself speak. If I could have frozen time and magically plucked you out like the Ghost of Christmas Present from Dicken’s Christmas Carol, I would have gently shown you the faces of your peers who were equally as perplexed and irritated as me with your inability to stop speaking; your inability to focus at your own writing; your inability to stop shaking your hair over the side of your desk for no reason; your inability to recognize your own role in having to excuse myself to the hallway for some deep breathing. As a teacher, I maybe give myself a time out once or twice a year. Normally, enough other students notice when I actively stop trying to teach and say, “Excuse, me, I need to take a minute,” and I leave my OWN classroom; they explain to the rest of you who won’t stop talking that I’ve actually left the room. So that when I return to the classroom, peace has been restored. A light bulb moment occurs in your frontal lobe that sends alarms to the rest of your body, “OK, listen, body, we need to pull it together. Krill is usually calm, but her face is red, and she is in the hallway, so we must have pushed too far today. She might send us to the office, and then my parents might find out I’ve been acting like a 7 year old, and they might take my phone away for the weekend because 7 year olds are too young for phones!”
Once a long, long time ago, a group of students had turned in a collection of essays which were terribly written, not because they were terrible writers, but because they had been lazy. So, after grading them, I stood in front of the class and told these sophomores that their essays were crap. I returned the essays and asked them to revise and try again. Unbeknownst to me, there was a parent in the hallway dropping something off for a student at his locker and my use of the word “crap” in regard to her son’s effort was upsetting. It should have been upsetting. She should have been upset with her son, not with me. She reported to Mr. Nelson, our principal, that Ms. Ehrman called her students’ work crap. He asked to speak with me later in the day to discuss the incident. “Did you really call their work crap? ”
“Of course I did,” I replied. “There were other words I could have used, but those would have gotten me in trouble.”
Those kids knew their work was crap the moment they wrote it. This did not shock them; nor did it demean their confidence. They would have been insulted if I had said, “This is great work,” when it clearly wasn’t. You, too, will understand that one day even if I’m in the nursing home.
Here’s the other thing about sophomores that I love– your ability to ask THE BEST questions even if in the moment completely unrelated to whatever learning focus we are discussing. For example, also yesterday, one of you asked me, “Krill, I have a life question.” I LOVE LIFE questions, but it doesn’t mean I always have the best or only answer. This life question dealt with who pays for a ticket to the semi formal if you are a girl asking a guy from another school. Some argued that best manners suggest that the gentlemen always pays and others agreed splitting was acceptable. Still others believed that if the young woman does the asking then it should be assumed that she would pay. And what if there isn’t a young man in the equation? So many good questions if only we sometimes let each other speak and listen to the voices beyond our own.
So, I’m sorry if you were one of the students I may or may not have called annoying. We all make mistakes, and I’ll try my best not to make that one again. Maybe you could do the same. Believe me, your frontal lobe can handle it even if you can’t.
PS. Two sophomores killed it this morning at our annual Rotary Speech Competition and Lauren Peck won $100 with her first place victory.