Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Wise Fool

You know what "sophomore" means, right? I don't think anyone makes it through tenth grade without hearing it from someone much older (by at least ten months) and much wiser (doubtful, really). Wise fool. That's what it means. And after almost seven years now of spending 180 days with 150 (give or take) of them, I have to concede that "sophomore" is the perfect word for this age group.
I was certainly both wise and foolish when I was a sophomore. Heck, I still am. Maybe that's why I get along with my students so well. And something that happened the other day in class got me thinking about why I teach, why other great teachers teach, and why kids like those great teachers. (Hmm, did I just insinuate that I am one of such greats? I don't mean to toot my own horn. But I do believe my students like me. That counts for something. Greatness? Maybe. Time will tell.) (Moving on.)
By the end of the day, especially a nice sunny day, especially a nice sunny Friday, I am just as slap-happy and just as easily distracted as my students. Last Friday was just one such kaleidoscope of chaos. I had wrapped up my lecture on the Industrial Revolution a few minutes early and the students were chatting quietly. Well, to be brutally honest, they were not quiet at all. But that's really not an important item. They were in their seats, not throwing spit wads or balls of paper or textbooks or each other across the room (which they never do, mind you--just making a connection to movies you've probably seen about out of control classrooms. Which mine isn't). You know, just a lazy Friday afternoon breeze-shooting.
I think it all really got started when somebody said something about TGIF and I overheard it. I do love my Fridays and here is why: we get to wear jeans to work. And if there's one thing I love more than Fridays, it's jeans. Jeans me lovey very much. But not so much as 1) Jesus, 2) Clint, 3) my kids and chocolate--two way tie, 3 again) which is tied also with books. Or actually, books may be higher up there. I think I need to stop this ranking. (And sorry to anyone not on this list. You're there. You're all there. It's really like a 437 way tie for 3rd place. I love you all.) (4th is cilantro.) (And sports are dead last, well--right before Satan.) (Okay, I'm really stopping now.)
So I was happy about getting to wear jeans, and to demonstrate this moment of pure unadulterated bliss, I leaned back in my comfy new desk chair (thanks, dad) and flung my leg (jeans-clad, of course) into the air. That was when it happened: the moment, the quintessential moment of pure sophomoric-ness. One of my students (let's call him Bob for privacy's sake) said--and I quote: "Mrs. Genthner, you are the oldest dork I've ever seen."
The room got so quiet after that period you would not have believed you were stepping into a classroom full of teenagers. Heads swiveled. Girls gasped. Bob began to backpedal.
"Well, look: I'm not saying you're old. Cause you're not. You look like you're really young. I just meant that all the other dorks I know are, like, my age. And you're a lot older than them."
"Did he just call the teacher a dork?" someone whispered.
"Yeah, and he said she's old too," someone replied.
Bob blushed. In the interest of his sanity, I graciously accepted his apology.
"I meant it as a compliment," Bob said, but by then the class had gone back to its (ahem) not-too-loud chatter.

For almost a week now, I've been thinking about what he said. And you know what? Maybe it was a compliment, like Bob insisted. After all, I prided myself on my dork-ness in high school. If someone said I was weird, I felt gratified. After all, isn't weirdness actually uniqueness, maybe with a hint of self-confidence thrown in? Weird people aren't afraid to show who they really are. They revel in their difference. Emerson said, "Imitation is suicide," and the dork (if I'm understanding Bob correctly) is far from suicidal--because the dork doesn't imitate anyone. The dork is comfortable in his or her skin.
And that got me thinking about teachers and why students seem to like the weird ones. After all, what sort of person eagerly signs up to hang out with teens all day and try to teach them stuff? The one who loves his or her content area and gets all giggly just thinking about ways to spread that love to young people who (really) (for the most part) don't care a whole lot. That person is a dork. When I walk past classrooms in my building and see kids leaning forward eagerly in their chairs, they're leaning to soak up the strangeness of their teachers. They see their teachers (the good ones) being themselves, unafraid to stand in front of a room teeming with probable apathy and say, "You know what? You might think books and writing (or insert another less-important topic) are boring, but I'm going to show you today why they're not." And then, through a secret alchemical formula composed of...well, I wish I could tell you...sprinkled liberally with passion for the subject and unvarnished strangeness, that dorky person can get kids to listen.
They might start listening because of the strangeness of the person standing in front of them; hopefully, they keep listening because something he or she says has begun to awaken an interest. And that, my friends, is why I am proud to admit that I may well be the oldest dork you've ever met. Words of wisdom from a foolish genius. Thanks, Bob.


my2fish said...

is a dork better or worse than a nerd?

you might get a kick out of this guy's post about pencils...
he and I verbally jousted in the comments a bit...

you might beat me in aged-ness, but I definitely trump you in dork/nerd-ness.

but, I'm sure your teaching skills are great. I would've enjoyed having you as a high school teacher.

Ilona said...

Cool realization! Congrats, Dorky Sis!

Anonymous said...

HAHAHA im glad u took it that way and what i didnt say ur the awsomeest person i know thats not a kid phycially but mently i think ur right here with us^____^-bob