A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

"The world is made for people who aren't cursed with self-awareness."*

Let me now recount to you, beloved readers, one of my favorite anecdotes from recent parent-pedagogue parleys. Apparently, I, alsoomse, and sciguy, who posted much briefer versions of this conversation in the comments to my post about chasing my own tail, have the same students.

The scene: The eleventh hour of a day that I have spent in a moldering classroom in clothes that are wilted versions of pressed business attire. Bloodshot eyed, our intrepid heroine clutches a mug of tea and proffers a bowl of mints toward a parent and student with a small smile.

Parent: We just don't understand why Popsie has a D-.
Ms. Cornelius: Popsie doesn't always demonstrate understanding of the material. First, Popsie has told me he doesn't read the material in the textbook. He just hunts around for the answers.
Popsie: I don't like to read. I read slow.
Parent: I read slow too. Popsie comes by it naturally.
MC: Popsie, you will always read slowly if you don't practice by actually reading. And it certainly takes longer to hunt for the answers than to actually sit down and read the 5-6 pages all the way through. (Thereupon MC suggests several small tricks for increasing reading speed-- and MC had earlier broached the question of whether Popsie had ever been tested for a reading disablility, and the answer was yes to the testing and no to the disability.) I could help you more if you could stay after school for some coaching.
Parent: Can't you just tell students what is in the book?
MC: (In her head: "No, because that would just make the textbook a great expensive place to rest one's head whilst napping.) No. That would just encourage the kids who are reading their book not to read their book, and it would actually increase the amount of homework everyone has. Do you ever see Popsie study?
Parent: No... But still, why does Popsie have a D-?
MC: (Repressing sigh) Popsie, when I ask you if you understand everything we've covered today, what do you say?
Popsie: (silence)
MC: Do you let me know when you don't understand?
Popsie: No....
MC: Popsie, how many other kids are in the class?
Popsie: Almost thirty.
MC: Right, so I can't ask Popsie fifteen times (without embarassing him) if he needs help if he won't tell me the truth. Now Popsie's average on quizzes and tests is 54%. And when the bell rings at the end of class, Popsie is the first out the door. Did you study for the last quiz, upon which you earned a 42%?
Popsie: No, I didn't understand it....
MC: Did you stay after school with me so that I could help you? I am here every day for thirty minutes to one hour.
Popsie: No....
MC: Did you stay with the Homework Club?
Popsie: No....
MC: Did you try using the internet?
Popsie: I don't like the internet.
MC: (Trying to keep from looking heavenward in mute appeal, I try another tack.) Popsie's response questions grade average is a 72%.
Popsie: Yeah, when you grade my questions you always mark some of them wrong.
MC: Sometimes they ARE wrong. And sometimes they're not finished. But what else do I do?
Popsie: You write suggestions for where to find the correct answer next to the wrong answers.
MC: Do you ever attempt to look up the correct answers?
Popsie: No.... But I like it when you talk in class. But then I don't remember.
Parent: So why does Popsie have a D-?
MC: Because Popsie hasn't done any of the many things that would change that D- to something else.
Popsie: I don't like having a D-.
MC: Do you not like it enough to actually do something to change it?

And that's the way it is. Apparently, just because Popsie is here every day, he should get at least a C. I give this conversation a three out of four possible extra-strength tylenol rating. Because that's how many it took to make the throbbing go away. Can you chase three tylenol with a glass of wine? Darn.

Extra points to the reader who can tell me the source of the title of this post.

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At 3/5/07, 10:46 PM, Blogger Ms. Q said...

Bull Durham
And I feel your pain. Mine will be headed this way next week. Ah, love the smell of grades in the air!

At 3/5/07, 10:56 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Bingo! But which character says it?

And the sad part is that there are more sad tales to tell.

At 3/5/07, 11:03 PM, Anonymous jangari said...

Annie... whatever her last name was.

At 3/5/07, 11:23 PM, Anonymous Alsoomse said...

Oh come on, as teachers, we should know that it's NOT the student's fault if they don't "get it". It might be our fault, but it's more likely to be a great universal conspiracy against them.
I mean, as a student told me yesterday : "I can't do this. If I don't get it, I don't get it. It's not MY fault, and there' nothing I can do about it."
Now isn't he going to have a nice run through this little adventure called life ???

At 3/6/07, 6:26 AM, Blogger Mrs. Walker said...

There appear to be way too many of us out there leading parallel teaching lives. If I had a blog, you could read the story of the almost-same conversation that I had last week.

At 3/6/07, 10:59 AM, Blogger Mrs.K said...

Ms. C,







I think parents are going to make me quit teaching after less than a year.

I don't teach. I cover my own A^& and hope that the principal or parent doesn't get mad.

Is there anything you can do with an English Education degree besides teach?

At 3/6/07, 12:13 PM, Blogger graycie said...

When I start calling some of my seniors "Popsie," it will all be your fault.

Definitely not my fault; it's never my fault.

At 3/6/07, 5:54 PM, Anonymous MsWhite said...

Mrs. K - repeat after me:

"Would you like fries with that?"


At 3/6/07, 7:07 PM, Blogger Peter A. Stinson said...

The problem with the Internet is that all trivia is only a click away...


At 3/6/07, 7:57 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Mrs. K-- not that I want you to quit, but since you asked:
You can be a copyeditor at a newspaper, or a proofreader at a publishing house, and make even less than you do now, as I learned much to my chagrin, while getting two weeks of vacation per annum;

You can go to law school.

These are the only two options I found, and I DO have an English degree.

So don't do it. Just learn to make fun of it-- that's my strategy.

And it's "Annie Savoy." Good job, guys!

At 3/6/07, 10:29 PM, Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Ms. C--you peeked into my classroom unnoticed. Isn't spring wonderful!

At 3/6/07, 11:21 PM, Blogger Darren said...

I thought I was the only blogger who ever used "whilst" in posts. In my book, you get extra credit for that, if for nothing else!

Great story-telling, by the way.

At 3/7/07, 7:01 AM, Blogger Mrs.K said...

Thanks for the (ahem) kind but necessary words. I am sure you remember how hard your first year was and how many times you said "I quit" silently in your mind. I'm just tired and frustrated with the normal highs and lows of teaching.

Hopefully, Ms. White, I won't have to say "Would you like fries with that?" Hopefully...

At 3/7/07, 8:45 PM, Blogger OKP said...

Refraining from spontaneously combusting was truly your greatest feat.

At 3/7/07, 8:49 PM, Anonymous Mr. O said...

All teachers have had that parent conference. The one line from the internal monologue that you omitted was the answer to mom when she asks, "Why does Poopsie have a D-"? (I was feeling generous)

I think that any intelligent person seeing a D- on a transcript realizes that is the kid most likely failed, but because of parental and/or administrative pressure, the teacher merely succumbed and passed the kid.

At 3/7/07, 11:49 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

It would be because I cannot count test greades as high as I would like, and you can bet that assignments are copied from buddies. so probably, yes.

Every now and again, Popsie knows what's going on. But he balances that out with days where hishead is in the sand. And his mom buys the "I didn't understand..." excuse instead of understanding that it means "I couldn't be bothered..."

At 8/8/08, 2:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hated homework in school.

The teachers in highschool had no form of communication between each other it seemed, and some weeks they would by coincidence all decide to pile on the homework at the same time. Smart...

Speaking of homework, in some ways it's almost worse than many job's later on in life because at least with most jobs, once you are done with them you can get on with your life. With school, (I'm speaking highschool specificially), and at such an age filled with many more types of learning than just our mathmatics, english, etc one must take thier work HOME with them after having already spent over eight hours of thier day learning (which is much harder than routine work).

There are plenty of problems with our educational system in my opinion, just as there are problems in anything... and what works for one student may not be right for another.

Perhaps there isn't much you CAN do in some cases, but one thing you should do is learn to not be so quick to place the blame on anyone one thing or person, i.e the student or his/her parents.

In essence I feel there are too many problems with the system already in place in most public school systems to warrent any ill will towards even the worst of your students. If your job is to better the student - and you can not do it through helping the student, then direct your efforts towards helping the student by bettering the systems used to teach him/her. Until the teacher has completly exhausted every possibility there is to help educate the students, part of the fault will always be shared by that teacher. What does it matter who is most at fault if everyone is at fault in one way or another and the only goal is the improve the student by even the smallest degree. Perhaps he has a D- because someone didn't do something that would have helped him have a D. :)


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