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Slouching Towards Vacation

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Or, at least, break.

Classes are over.  Next week there are exams, and then…well, I don’t know about then.  Several weeks, at least, where I don’t have to set the alarm clock for myself, at any rate.

But to get to the point here:  on the principle that I’m incapable of doing anything  this term without causing myself damage, I managed to pull something and “bruise a tendon” a couple of weeks ago–or something like that–in my left leg.

This is actually not as much trouble as you would think it might be.  I’m fine when I’m sitting down.  I’m fine when I’m standing up.  It’s going from one state to the other that’s the problem.  

Although, I have no trouble getting  into or out of the car.  Go figure.

Anyway, for the sake of making my life less than miserable, my older son–who’s home this term; long story–has been coming with me everywhere to carry things for me.  This is not a small task, because at this point in the term I’m carrying a lot–handouts for final projects and final exams, boatloads of arriving-at-the-last-minute papers that I need to find some time to correct, you name it.

And the situation is complicated a bit by the fact that Matt doesn’t drive.  I think he may well be the only person he knows over the age of sixteen who doesn’t drive.  But although I’ve offered to pay for driving school, and I’ve hinted (and done more than that) more than once that it would be really convenient for him to get a license, he doesn’t seem to be interested. 

He lives in Philadelphia most of the time now, and there’s public transportation.  Maybe it’s that.

Of course, Bill never learned to drive in his life.  He just wasn’t interested, and then he moved to Manhattan.

At any rate–yes, I think I’m going somewhere with this–the situation in its entirety means that I only take the serious pain medication for this thing at night, when I’m not going to need to get behind the wheel. I get by the rest of the time on Ibuprofen.

And, let me tell you, it’s an interesting perspective. 

For one thing, I’ve come to truly hate handicapped spaces.  I’m not eligible for one, of course,  because I’m not disabled, and this thing isn’t likely to last more than a couple of weeks.

What I am, however, is somebody who gets unbelievably exhausted after walking only a few hundred feet.  As long as I keep my leg  just a little rigid, I can walk fine–but it drains the energy out of me like you wouldn’t believe. 

By the time I get from one of the regular spaces in the parking lot to the door of wherever it is I’m going, I want to sit down for half an hour.  And, of course, there’s no place to sit. 

And, of course, the handicapped spaces are empty when I get to the place and empty when I leave.

The other thing is this:  physical pain makes me a very annoying and unpleasant person. 

I’ve always known that physical “discomfort” could do this to people, but I’ve surprised myself by how much it is true of me.

It’s not that I yell or get irrational–I don’t. 

What I do find myself doing is being far less patient and understanding with the kind of bull my students are likely to pull, and far less patient with the machinery of institutions of any sort.

On Wednesday, in one of my heavily remedial classes, a student who had managed to miss better than fifty percent of her classes decided to spend the class period bitching–out loud, over and over and over again–about everything we were doing.

“I can’t be doing this now.  This is bullshit.  Can I leave?  I want to leave and go back to sleep.  I can’t do this now.  This is stupid.”


And I hate “etc.”

This sort of thing happens with a fair amount of frequency in these classes.  What I usually do is roll my eyes inwardly–so that nobody sees me–and just carry on.  On Wednesday, I just told her off–and she sort of settled down sullenly and got through the class.

It’s not that I don’t know that I feel this way about this kind of thing.  Of course I do.   It’s just that functioning in the environment in which I work in these classes requires a lot of self discipline.

And to do it well, it requires a belief–maybe a self delusion–that what you’re seeing in classroom behavior is only temporary, a result of years of absolutely terrible schooling and worse neighborhoods, destined to disappear as you bring them up to speed.

Part of me, I think, has reached a place where I no longer believe that this is true–where I no longer believe that what’s wrong is being caused largely outside the people who are exhibiting the behavior that is making them fail over and over and over again.

I already understood that about the small segment of this population that just wasn’t academically talented, that didn’t have the basic intellectual capacity to do the work.

We all pretend that there is no such thing as innate intelligence, but we also all know it’s a lie, and we keep on anyway. 

The problem for me, all of a sudden, is with the ones who are perfectly mentally capable, but who fight the process at every turn–who don’t turn in papers, don’t show up for make-ups, talk all through class to their friends, text through lectures, sit and stare at the floor when given in-class writing assignments and then say they couldn’t think of anything because that’s a stupid topic–

The sheer level of rude is truly remarkable some days.

And I know the places these kids come from.  I’ve seen them.  I’ve seen some of their parents, too, if you can call people who behave like that “parents.”

But there’s a place in my head that’s started going, “it doesn’t matter.  In the end, you have to do it anyway.”

And that’s not a good place for me to be if I want to go on teaching the sub-remedials.

If that’s even a word.

Ack. I told you I always get miserable around Christmas.

Written by janeh

December 11th, 2010 at 9:18 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'Slouching Towards Vacation'

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  1. I’m always astonished about what minor pains reveal about myself – each time it happens. I mean, I’m under no illusion that I’ve got the courage to cheerfully and happily undergo some really major form of suffering, but I like to think that I’m mostly pleasant and polite and not at all the kind of person to simply lose it with some usually innoffensive clerk or co-worker – but then, maybe, my knee acts up or I slip and sprain an ankle. Suddenly, it takes every bit of self-control I can gather to avoid taking a bite out of everyone I encounter! Can’t they SEE I hurt? Why can’t they do what they should, out of consideration for me, if not for any other reason?!?!?!?!

    The experience provides some insight, but not, alas, enough to stop the same process from happening the next time I’m limping along feeling sorry for myself and wondering how many of those 222s (illegal in the US, I believe. Stronger than aspirin, don’t require a trip to the doctor) I can take in one go.

    I’ve never been a big fan of ‘it’s not really your fault’ even in cases where ‘it’ was obviously largely caused by someone else – eg a teenager who has had an appalling childhood which is quite clearly had an enormous impact on them. I think that sort of thinking closes off the most obvious exit from the problem for the person having it. I prefer ‘Well, yeah, maybe did cause but that’s done with, I can’t change the past and now I’m fixing the present’. I can’t convince myself of that if I’m fixated on the past causes, and sometimes convincing yourself something is true and living as if it is makes it become true – or, at least, gives you the strength to get through the day.

    That being said, when I was a teacher, nothing made me long to be able to say ‘then leave and don’t come back’ than an unwilling student. You can’t do anything with someone who’s unwilling to try. I used to think that once you got into the post-secondary sector, the unwilling students actually did leave, or never entered, but apparently that is not the case.


    11 Dec 10 at 10:09 am

  2. What, cranky when you’re in pain, and inclined to take it out on the nearest annoyance? Welcome to the human race! If it irks you when you do it–and it certainly irks me when I do it–the best recommendation short of pain relief is habit. If you NEVER, EVER do X, you’re not likely to do it in pain, either, and if you ALWAYS do Y, chances are you still will–you just won’t do it cheerfully.

    The whole pretending “that there is no such thing as innate intelligence” business must be an academic thing. Do they also believe there is such no such thing as swiftness or strength? How about reach? I will concede that the mental toolkit is a little more complicated than an IQ test, though. Plenty of generally bright people are dull-normal on certain skills, and you do sometimes see the reverse. Still, early IQ tests remain a better income predictor than academic achievement.

    But the students. I think many of them were shaped in bad ways from an early age. But if it isn’t their fault, it is their problem. They have to unlearn some early lessons, or lead bitter and limited lives, and there is only so much any teacher can do to help. Meantime, every year you’ll have students who can’t do the work, students who can but won’t and students who can and do. Is it worth it? You have to decide what your obligations are, and whether this is the best way of meeting them. Time and reflection help, but it’s not one of those problems you can feed into the pocket calculator.

    Matt and driving. Welcome to the limits of parenting, and good luck pushing that string. It might be worth pointing out to him that the lack of a license limits him. You can get by–sort of–without a license in pretty well any city. There might be six cities in the United states in which you can live a full life–live, work and play as you please–without a driver’s license and without being a moocher, but there certainly aren’t twelve.

    Don’t worry too much. He’s a bright hard-working kid, and when he gets to where he can’t do what he wants without driving, he’ll learn without further prodding. If he settles in Manhattan, it won’t matter. If he settles in Chicago, your major problem will be not saying “I told you so.”

    Pompous today. Sorry.


    11 Dec 10 at 11:56 am

  3. Temporary pain makes us all cranky, I think. When you’re able-bodied, and you have that accident or strain, there’s a tendency to be angry at oneself (for whatever stupid thing you did that injured your body) and that often gets translated into anger at others. There’s also a feeling of, almost, betrayal by the body. That pissed me off bigtime in the past.

    Living with chronic pain is somewhat different, if you prefer not to live your life being an asshole to all around you. When my knees went bad, about 9 or 10 years ago, I went through all the stages of grief, and then some, at the lost of my independence, mobility and sense of self. (no, knee replacements aren’t an option, for various reasons)

    For a couple of years, I went nowhere. Then, I used a wheelchair outside the home, but that required a companion to push me. Just about 6 months ago, I got a power chair and a vehicle lift, and finally, I can go places on my own again. What an amazing thing. Well, as long as those places are handicap accessible.

    But I am in pain, always. No medication my doctor is willing to give me will let me walk more than the length of my house, and even that hurts plenty. Every decision, including getting up and going to the bathroom, is predicated on “is it worth the pain?” It’s surprising the number of things that aren’t worth it.

    But I can’t be constantly grumpy about it, either to my family, those I meet outside, or to myself. Anger on that scale is corrosive to anything it touches. I have bad days when I’m just sick of it. Other days I can approach the pain as just another condition of life, like gray hair, accept it and be cheerful. Or at least not crabby. Nobody around me deserves that.

    I do get pissed off when people who aren’t handicapped use those spots, though. (not you, and not those with temporary tags. Did you know your doctor can issue one for a sufficiently severe injury, such as broken foot or leg? Just for the healing and recovery period. In CA, they’re red instead of blue) Around here, instead of remaining empty, the spots are often all in use, some of them by the young and selfish who are clearly using Aunt Edna’s placard to get the “good spots.” I’d trade everything I have, except my husband and son, if I could walk without pain again, and not have to use those spots.

    As for the rudeness of students, have you considered going into private tutoring? Select your own students, and teach them properly how to treat you by not tolerating poor behavior. I know that you’re bureaucratically hobbled in how nasty you can get in response to those who disrespect you, but there has to be another way to reach the students who *can* benefit from what you teach.


    11 Dec 10 at 7:44 pm

  4. Matt should learn to drive, and he should learn to drive a stick shift. He should learn while he’s still young enough to do it easily. It could save his or someone else’s life some day and that someone could be a person he loves very dearly. It’s a skill everyone needs whether they like it or not.



    11 Dec 10 at 10:12 pm

  5. You can get a temporary HP tag with a note from your doctor.

    I didn’t learn to drive until I was 25 and my doctoral advisory committee made me. By then I was completely phobic about it, panic attacks whenever I sat on the left, etc. So we forced Derek to learn as soon as he was eligible, although he hasn’t learned stick and needs to. Tell Matt he has to, pay for the instructor. It’s like reading and math–you just have to learn to do it.



    12 Dec 10 at 12:46 am

  6. So I read my first Jane Haddam book about 15 or 17 years ago I think. I kept reading. I didn’t know about the website until recently so have been reading the back issues of the blog. I’ve responded to a number of your posts in my head but this one finally made me register.

    On the surface it would seem we have very different lives. East Coast vs. Midwest. Mother vs. not. Professional writer vs. occasional, very amateur blogger. Tea vs. coffee. All those differences and yet, I swear to God that you are living my life – at least as far as the classroom goes.

    When I first began teaching I believed that all they needed was the right incentive, that gifted teacher (me, of course) who would help them ‘see’ what their potential was and it would then be something that they would be able (and thrilled) to go on to achieve. Of course, reality intruded into my fantasy.

    I then spent years pretending that I didn’t believe in differences in innate intelligence – that some kids just plain aren’t college material — because it sounded so darned judgmental and saying it out loud was enough to make you a pariah among your colleagues.

    Of course, as you say, the majority are perfectly capable. It’s simply that they choose not – not to make it a priority, not to put in the effort, not to believe that they actually might have to break a sweat and that the ‘gems’ of their thoughts might actually need some polish.

    Ultimately, I keep coming back to free will — which I believe in, in much the same way that I believe both in evolution and in God. It simply is – no matter how much any of my students or I, for that matter, might wish to deny it and spend my days blaming anyone else but me for my own shortcomings or poor choices. We all have free will. Unfortunately, this is the student I am seeing more and more of – the one you describe in this post.

    I don’t know that I have a point beyond that, other than to say that it helps to know that I’m not alone.


    28 Mar 11 at 11:05 pm

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