Friday, October 2, 2009

Scariest thing one can face...

... a room full of 13 year-olds! Most of them completely out of control and their hysteria escalating as they feed off one another's unbalanced adolescent energy.

But is there any other kind of 13 year-old? I know that was the worst year of my life and of my brother's. For an entire year we drove our parents and teachers to madness. This year I've watched two friends with 13 year-olds contemplating duct-taping their young teens somewhere far away from a phone but very near their homework. "Aye, there's the rub," as the Bard of Avon wrote. Unfortunately, in 2009 homework is done on computers which means they can and will communicate with friends near and far, an activity exceeding homework in priority and placing it somewhere between scrubbing the bathroom and learning to like all foods that are green.

Some of you know I used to tutor for 8th grade and up, including standardized test prepping. Most of my clients were parents with 8th graders--13 year-olds--who they wanted to give a jumpstart to before they moved on to high school. I loved this! The parents cared and asked for updates from me and from school teachers and the kids were terrific. I found if you isolate one from the herd you can actually teach it. To say that the work was rewarding is cliché, but it is true. Watching a kid's eyes light up as he or she "gets it" creates a natural high not unlike a caffeine jolt.

In this economy even the most concerned parents cannot afford private tutors for their kids, not even here in relatively inexpensive Indianapolis. So I decided to apply for a substitute teacher's license this year. Yep, you read that right. Gasp, shake your head, say I'm crazy. I've had the same reaction from nearby family and friends and, at first, I also had doubts as to my sanity.

At first I thought they were right to be afraid for me--be very afraid. When in the company of their own kind a pleasant 13 year-old student turns into a mouthy monster with a butt that has an adverse reaction to being placed on a chair behind a desk. The said student likes to throw things at other students, swipe notebooks, and make so many trips to the restroom that I wonder if the kid needs a catheter and bag.

In spite of the hair-yanking moments the kids provide, to my surprise, I don't hate being there with them. None of us likes "work" but I discovered I am learning a lot from this job myself. As a Witch I should not be surprised by this because most of us believe we are always students and always teachers who keep knowledge growing and circulating.

As I watch the antics in the classroom, see the glee in the eyes of students who think they've slipped something past me, I find it difficult (sometimes impossible) to chide them for things I did at 13. They have unlocked a safe of forgotten memories of what life was like for me at their age--the good and the bad--and I feel a bond of kinship growing inside me rather than a them versus me mindset. I have been made to wonder just how much I really got away with at 13 and how much a teacher saw but ignored. It's humbling to think you weren't the super-sneak you believed yourself to be.

I've always gotten along well with teens, maybe because I worked my way through college managing the sort of restaurants where lots of teens work. I enjoy the company of most of them. But in the classroom I pick my battles with care. Perhaps I am too easy on them or perhaps this is just the reality of the modern classroom. In either case I know only one thing for certain. Karma is a bitch!

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