State Tests and Strip Clubs

So I’m a teacher. I teach 8th grade Language Arts – at least for the next 65 school days. I’m quitting this year. After 7 years I’m totally burned out. On our system, on the administration, on my colleagues, on the parents, to some extent on the kids. It’s just too toxic. Now, I don’t want to spend my blog-time ranting and raving and whining on the reasons why. That’s boring to everyone, even me. I don’t want sympathy either, I knew what I was signing up for.

Hell, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be accomplishing here with this space. Maybe it’s more important not to think too much about what the goal is. As long as I feel something is important enough to put down, I’ll just put it down without another thought.

So last week was our big state writing test. Our esteemed leader has declared that no child be left behind, and so I spend most of my 180 days busting my ass, doing cartwheels in front of a bunch of kids to cajole them into creating original masterpieces of writing for this test. It’s very tough, but at times gratifying. I like to compare it to serving meatloaf every night for dinner. It’s the same old stuff, but you decorate it in a different way so the kids don’t know what they’re eating.

We go through countless hours learning the writing process, practicing freewrites, creating and revising drafts, discussing graphic organizers, all so that during one three-day marathon of writing, which really only includes two questions, they can dazzle the “judges” with their technique.

By the end of last week I was exhausted. I felt like a teacher, cheerleader, dictator, mentor, coach, guru, and incompetent asshole all at the same time. I knew by the end of it that probably a few would really create something good, most would just squeak by, and a few would be totally lost, because frankly, they are always totally lost.

This still grates on me though, and keeps me up nights. I just have never been able to accept in my gut that I can’t “get through” to everyone. It bugs me to no end. Which, I know, led to this burnout.

Anyway, the one persuasive question they had was pretty simple. An anonymous donor has given your community $100,000 to improve the area. Convince community leaders what you would do with the money. Most suggested things like a rec center, repairing potholes in the road, bringing back our language program (which they canceled last year due to lack of funding).

However, two students wrote, at length, they thought the money should be used to open a strip club. And they were dead serious. On a state test. In 8 to 10 paragraphs.

Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m not going to get through to everyone. But I read these and felt like I had been shot in the gut. Now the one kid despises me, for whatever reason, so I know his was a personal jab at my own “technique” in the classroom or whatever. He feels the need, as he says, “to keep people on their toes” which I could respect if his actions had any substance behind them. Imagine an unfunny Tom Greene and you’ll get a better picture of what I’m talking about.

But the other kid is a writer, he writes all the time. We’ve discussed his writing at length. When I asked him about his motives for writing this, he very plainly said that he thought the idea was a good one.

How do you compete with that? When I found out he was serious, I was speechless. I had no idea how to respond. I made some half-hearted comments about “knowing your audience” but inside I was thinking…….hell, I wasn’t thinking anything, my mind was totally blank. Inside, I was throwing up my hands. It’s not that I wanted to quit per se, I just felt like David up against Goliath, without even a slingshot to protect me. Is it his home life? The culture we live in? What?

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