‘Til I’m like almost dead

Student 1: You’re 33? You look like you’re in your 20s.

Me: Nope, I’m 33.

Student 2: Do you have any kids?

Me: Nope.

Student 2 (shocked): What? What if you don’t have kids until you’re 40? You’ll be old when they’re my age!

Student 3: You’ll be 54

Me (impressed by their mental math skills, but can’t get a word in edge-wise)

Student 1: My mom’s 54 now with kids and that’s nasty.

Me: I’m sure she really appreciates you saying that…

Student 2: (kinda sheepish) Yeah…

Student 4: Old people should not have kids. They shouldn’t even have sex.

Me: (Laughing) Well, I think you might think differently when you’re older…

Student 4: (thinks a moment) Yeah, I wanna have sex til I’m like almost dead.

That one white lady in that one office

Student: Do you know that one white lady in that one office?

Me: You’re going to have to be more specific…

Student: You know, that one white lady in that one office.

Me: Seriously, I need details, kiddo…

Student (exasperated): YOU know, Miss, that ONE white lady in that ONE office!

Me: What does she look like?

Student: I told you, she’s white.

Me: You’re not about to tell me that all white people look alike, are you?

Student: (laughing) No…

Me: So, is she blond? young? short?

Student: Yeah! You’re really good at this, Miss!

Irrational Fears

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Remember these?  We used to be terrified of these as children.

All kinds of monsters, demons, and other terrifying creatures lived there, or so we were convinced.  I wasn’t like some of my friends, though, my family didn’t watch horror movies–but I had plenty of Dickens’ references (didn’t know what a real guttersnipe was until years later) and Holocaust documentaries (the drain led straight to Hell that looked just like one of Hitler’s fiery furnace) under my belt to be so frightened on our family walks that a bony arm with jagged, bloody fingernails would creep out of this crevice and drag me to some horrific torture chamber.

I won’t tell you how old I was when I stopped believing in these storm drain beasties; but I always knew this fear was irrational.  This knowledge made the fear that much more frustrating (and sometimes, paralyzing).

As I was walking this morning, I saw this particular storm drain and remembered my childhood fears.  It got me thinking about my students–4 seniors in particular–who are suffering from the irrational fear of success.

Each senior spent last year recovering a ton of credits in order to be legit seniors this year… only to give up completely on school within the first quarter this year.  One by one as they turned 18, they started skipping and failing multiple classes.  One dropped out right before Christmas; despite multiple requests to re-enroll, he’s never followed through.  One has been toying with the idea of dropping out all year and has convinced himself that he doesn’t care so he acts out in increasing intensity.  One is in complete denial about his multiple F’s and is convinced that he will graduate in a few weeks with his peers.  The last one is also in denial, but he believes that though he is currently failing everything an illusive “something” will intercede for him and things will just work out.

All four are terrified of what the future holds for them.  Irrationally terrified.  So far, school has been the only real constant in their lives — a crappy, unenjoyable constant, but a constant nonetheless. I think they’re subconsciously trying to prolong high school; they know they’re not really ready for the “real” world, for adulthood… and even though it’s already a reality for two of them, they’re not ready for parenthood without the school supports, either.

I think my seniors know that their fear of success and graduation is irrational, but that just makes it that much more paralyzing.  They don’t know how to ask for help because they don’t think they deserve help.  No one’s really helped them before: not parents, not teachers, not neighbors, not church, not government, not anybody.

One tragic flaw of public education is that some students do not experience success until high school. Often these four years cannot outweigh the previous eight years of poverty and rejection experienced at home and at school.  This creates a sometimes insurmountable achievement gap and leads some students who “should have” graduated down a different path. This path is more painful, but they feel like they deserve it–sometimes only for a short time (hopefully for only a short time!), but more often than not, it is permanent and feeds into their families and communities causing a culture that rejects education as a way to improve life.

My burning question is… but what causes some of their peers–with almost identical disadvantages–to face their irrational fears with perseverance and ultimately overcome them?  It’s easy to be confrontational and make the Shinedown lyric, “Sound of Madness” a mantra–seriously, who hasn’t been an outcast, paranoid, suffered through sadness, madness etc.? It’s easy to point fingers and make comparisons, but these behaviors are a result of self-fulfilling prophecies due to mental illness (even if it is “just” depression).  It’s easy to tell them to take their medicine… but just like everything else, they can’t be helped until they want help and ask for it!  It’s not easy to patiently wait for them to wake up and truly fight for themselves in a productive way, but the knowledge that there is someone there for them after the nightmare is over might be the deciding factor for them.

I didn’t mean for this to turn into a piece about mental illness, but Mental Health Awareness Month is right around the corner. It is no mistake that it falls in the same month as graduation and that mental illness is probably one of the leading causes of dropouts.

 

Man-Eaters of Kumaon

If you’ve never heard of this gem, you are not alone.  Originally published in 1944, this is a collection of true hunting stories by Jim Corbett based on his travels across India.  Hired to track and kill “man-eaters” (lions, leopards, panthers, and tigers who preyed on humans), Mr. Corbett wrote about his adventures and close encounters decades later.

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Click on the image for the GoodReads review.

I originally read this book when I was in high school.  I borrowed the old, worn out copy from my grandfather’s library.  When I brought it home, my dad told me that he, too, had read it when he was in high school.  He thought I’d be bored with it soon, but I could not put it down!  I was fascinated by the exotic locations, names, as well as all the close-calls Mr. Corbett had with vicious man-eaters.

Last semester, as I was looking for a book to read with my English class to finish off the weeks before Christmas break, I remembered this book.  I was a little apprehensive since some of the language used is quite archaic and many of the places and peoples mentioned are completely foreign to my students.  But I was pleasantly surprised!  They loved the book!  They became even more interested when I told them about a movie about man-eating lions (though not based on this book) called “The Ghost and the Darkness” (which we watched as part of our Christmas party).

The Ghost and the Darkness

“The Ghost and the Darkness” is a 1996 movie loosely based on the two man-eating lions that repeatedly attacked and killed railway workers in Tsavo, Kenya in 1898.  It is an interesting period piece starring Val Kilmer, whose character is based on the military engineer, J. H. Patterson.  It also stars Michael Douglas, whose character is a famous big game hunter, though not based on an historical figure.

This is an interesting movie to show or recommend to high school students, as it deals with generalizations of both the time period and today concerning Africa, British imperialism, race relations within and outside of Africa, how humans and animals interact and coexist (or don’t, as the case may be), and a little bit about how Americans are viewed out of their natural habitat.

A  viewer can thoroughly enjoy is at as an adventure story, a thriller, and even a romance.  But a viewer can also see this movie as a commentary on the harsh realities of life.  I have not read J. H. Patterson’s book The Man-Eaters of Tsavo, but I have read Jim Corbett’s Man-Eaters of Kumaon and highly recommend it in conjunction with this movie.

4/20

A few years ago, 4/20 landed on a Friday that we had off from school.  The kids were so excited… my colleagues and I were a little baffled.  We’ve all had stoner students and 4/20 has come and gone for many years without such a fuss.  But for whatever reason, that year was intense, so I thought I’d share my responses to some of their “excellent” questions.  To be honest, I fielded a few of those questions last week, even though we actually had Good Friday off and 4/20 is Easter this year (I feel a little sacrilegious posting this!)

So here you have it, a teacher’s response to 4/20:

Yes, I know what 4/20 is.

Yes, I know we don’t have school that day.

No, I do not believe it was scheduled intentionally.

No, they are not encouraging you to celebrate.

No, I will not be celebrating.

Yes, I think the canine unit will be visiting soon.