Thursday, February 19, 2009

Nasty Wind

And Cold To Boot And How a Horse Kept My Job

The morning was lovely. Dry and fairly warm. I dressed the Boys in sheets. By afternoon, I was sorry I had not left their winter blankets on. The wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped because of it.

They were fine when I got home, sheltering in the barn or, Chance, eating hay in the paddock. I put the lighter weight winter blankets back on Tuck and Toby even though they were still a bit damp from the rain yesterday. I figured the wind and body heat would finish drying them I will check shortly at late feed to make sure everyone is warm enough as it has gotten colder still now that it's dark.

Back to the school saga. I do appreciate all your comments. The insubordinate student who lost his temper and called me foul names--terms not at all suitable for publication--was suspended from school today. Unfortunately, having taught in our school for so long--38 years--I was not all that surprised to find him in class yesterday. While I certainly deserve an apology from him, I doubt I will ever get one. The best I can hope for is that he will hold his tongue next time and try to learn a little in my class. I am not sure what his father will do to him in the meantime.

I do not have discipline problems in my classes and haven't had for years, even with the most difficult classes. The first year I taught, the principal, who had no use for women teachers, gave me the two worst classes in the building. I was all of 22 years old, and some of the kids were 19. Welders, Claire, who had established a reputation for driving teachers out of the profession. The last English teacher--a woman--had been driven from the building and the job in tears. I am sure the principal figured he'd get rid of me the same way.

But I had a secret weapon. Russell R., my first horse, a big Thoroughbred with a mind of his own and a heart as big as the world. I had bought him with money I had saved from the time I was ten years old and I had been forced to wait until I had graduated from college (university) and gotten a job so I could support a horse.

So, weapon one was a powerful motivation to keep my job no matter what. The job meant a horse, and that was all I wanted in my life.

Weapon two was Russell himself. He was intelligent, beautiful (proven by the more than 150 championship/reserver championships he won in the show arena) and one of those horses you bond with, heart, soul and mind. When the dreadful welders drove me to distraction, I would go to the barn, bury my head in Russell's neck and let the tears and frustration drain away. And he, like a good medicine horse, would heal me for the next effort.

Weapon three was Russell's 16.1 hands of muscle and size. Handling him and having handled horses for some 10 years before I got him, made me completely immune to being intimidated by 19 year old, six foot tall, two hundred pound teenage boys who liked to think of themselves as tough. They were like mini-ponies to me. I am just about 5'7" and rather slight of build, but I don't think the student were quite sure about me. I don't think I ever gave them even a hint that I saw them as bigger and stronger than I was. I think working with horses gives a woman an air of strength and self-confidence people can find hard to handle.

In the job interview, the same principal, tested me by stepping up to me and adopting a challenging posture as he asked, "And just what would you do if a big student came up to you like this and said he wasn't going to do what you told him to?"

Well, the principal was about 1000 pounds smaller than most of the horses I'd been working with, so I simply stood my ground, shrugged my shoulders and said, "I guess I'd just have to decide what to do when it happened."

My casual, totally unfazed reaction caught him off guard and he had to admit that just maybe I could handle the job.

Well, I did. By the end of the year, the worst kids in the building were actually doing some work in my class and some of them had actually learned how to write a decent paper. We'd made a lot of compromises along the way, but the key was that my job was to teach them and their job was to try to learn. I can still remember one of them coming up to me near the end of the year. Putting his arm around my shoulder he said, "Well, Ms. Dvorak, you made it through us, you're going to do just fine here."

I had a few other notorious classes after than--none quite so--uhm--creative at driving teachers crazy, but difficult nonetheless. I've developed quite a skill at handling a class since.

The frustration at the kids today is their total lack of understanding about the basics of school. They have no skills at participating in a class discussion without interrupting each other or simply not paying attention. They have no idea how to take notes. They don't listen to directions. They do not do their homework. They are not bad kids, they just have no self-discipline or study habits. It's sad, actually. They do not know how to learn.

I know by the end of the year, I will have managed to help most of them, but the effort is wearing me out. Very few of these students are rude, (like the young man who called me names) but they simply do not know how to behave and seem endlessly surprised and apologetic when I tell them for the 100th time to stop talking and pay attention, or suggest perhaps it might be a good idea to take out a notebook and pen to jot down a few ideas. Or maybe when I am showing them a film it might be a good idea to watch it instead of making origami boxes. Or that perhaps class time is not a good moment to text message on a cell phone or listen to music on an Ipod. (Using either in class is against school rules, but today a girl in my last period class asked to go to the vice principal's office to get her phone back after it had been taken away--again. She said if it happened again her Dad was going to take the phone away. I asked her why she kept using in in class. The reply, "Well there are these people I need to talk to.")

OK. I guess I'm old fashioned. I think when my class is in session, it's the most important thing in the world for my students and me. There should be no interruptions and all of us should be involved and concentrating on whatever I'm teaching.

Bit of a dinosaur, don't you think?


  1. Anonymous6:18 AM

    I've just discovered your blog, and I'm really enjoying it. I have several horses, including a pony that could give any teenage boy a run for his money! I admire your work as a teacher - I think that the fact that you do think your class is the most important thing in the world when you're teaching it is exactly the thing that will really teach them something important. Keep up the good work!

  2. It's cold and windy here too, with a little rain and snow thrown in.
    I'm impressed at how you handled the principal and the tougher students. Unfortunately, nowadays, I think part of the problem with children as they are growing up is they are not taught manners. I find it is okay for them to interrupt adult conversation because everything they say is just so relevant, the parents couldn't bear not to have their input in a conversation. It's a shame that these kids don't know how to learn, by the time they get to your grade they should have better habits. Other teachers need to try harder with the rules. As for cell phones, blackberry's, i-pods etc...I think they have their place but also think they are some of the worst inventions, no body needs to talk to someone 24 hrs. a day,that's ridiculous. I'm afraid this is all part of the 'dumbing down' of America. These kids don't have a shot unless more teachers like you take an interest in their education.
    By the way Rusty sounds like a perfect guy.