Saturday, March 28, 2009
On Being Furniture
Most people have seen some version of the cartoon where a man is talking to his dog. One panel says "What humans say" followed by actual phrases like "Bad dog." The second panel says, "What dogs hear: blah, blah, blah, etc."
Yesterday after school I was sitting at my desk talking to a student, F, who was there serving detention for coming to school late - again - even though he lives maybe three blocks from the campus and commutes by skateboard. Just as I was beginning to answer a question he had asked me, another student, B, came rushing into the room and began rapidly talking to F, while I sat there, stunned, mouth open, words dribbling down my chin. It was like I was part of the furniture, invisible, or not worth noticing. To his credit, F actually pointed out that B had interrupted me, eliciting a "my bad," but the incident set me to thinking.
What do teenagers hear when we talk to them? Even when I sit with students individually, I wonder how much of what I say actually enters their heads, without exiting the other side or slithering back out while they sleep.
For a while I became the queen of checklists, checking off who got what handouts, so that no one could come back in a day or two and say, "YOU never gave me that paper" in that accusatory tone teenagers use to indicate their disdain for our age-addled brains. It gave me a one-up, "The checklist says you got that paper, so I'm not totally senile yet, but if you need another one sweetie I do have some extras," (yeah, like around 20 at least).
I remember one student I had at a previous school who had an effective retention level of around zero for anything related to school. Students had to carry time cards to class, and every period of every day for the whole school year I stood near the classroom door with my hand out to collect their time cards as they entered. Every day, even in June, this student would enter the room, observe me with my hand extended and in genuine bewilderment whine, "Whaaat?!?!?"
Once teens grow out of being teens and into the amnesia of adulthood and parenting, they look at the young people around them and proclaim "I was never like that!" Maybe, but you might want to go back and visit some of your teachers and ask them.