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Lost Innocence

My first week of student teaching just finished, and already the kids are testing my authority. One quite publicly announced my fly was open—I think I handled that one with aplomb, stage-whispering that none of the students should let Mr. LeBlanc, sitting at the back of the room, know, lest he consider me unprofessional. I’m having a lot more difficulty with the don’t-know-don’t-care-fuck-you-sir attitude I’m getting from too many of the kids, especially in second-year algebra.

Already troubled by the discovery that the classroom is not always a sea of bright faces eager to learn—a truth every teacher-to-be learns but can’t really understand without experiencing it for himself—I sought Martin’s advice. His advice, couched in more euphemistic terms, was for a close relative of triage: help the students you can, and recognize that you simply can’t help every kid, especially not the ones determined not to be helped.

Probably good advice. Barringer is a “troubled school,” officially failing to meet No Child Left Behind requirements, and targeted by a hostile governor indulging the Republican attitude that destroying public education will be good for it. You can’t teach someone unwilling to learn, and a lot of Newark kids are already lost to the system—lost to frustration and despair. Triage makes sense in the brutal reality of the trenches, literal or metaphorical. There isn’t time to reach everyone. A teacher only has so much attention to spread among his students. Like a doctor, a teacher in a tough school will burn himself out quickly unless he learns not to torture himself over statistically inevitable failures, and a new teacher has trouble distinguishing those who are failing but can be rescued from those who are failing and can’t, much less remembering to nurture along the way the students eager to learn.

Yep. Probably good advice. It still felt like staring the devil in the face. Small wonder so many teachers burn out so young.

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