Thursday, May 16, 2013

Theory 2: Anyone can learn from anyone.

My mother, who taught senior English for almost 40 years, says the number one learning disability in America is heredity. She also says that teenagers get a bad “rap” and are actually loving, lively, tolerant, and compassionate.  I agree. Plus, they are FUNNY.  We are not all created with equal ability, but enlightened, positive educators like my mother know that every student can learn. We also believe that every student has something to teach others! Even though the Internet is blocked, the doors are bolted, and teachers are vetted through drug and background checks, schools are the most REAL places on Earth. The shielded environment actually creates a bubble where teachers and students share a unique bond of trust, open communication, and good times. Parents, be careful what you say and do at home; students tell us everything!

The Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse in The Great Smoky Mountains
To become a certified educator, I had to perform an 18-week student-teaching stint in a rural, yet culturally diverse high school. My mentors were solid but, hands down, I learned significantly more from my students. I changed students’ names to protect their privacy and help them avoid the inevitable teenage tendencies of embarassment and self-loathing. Here are a few things those high schoolers taught me:

  • High school boys are not attracted to girls who smoke. Wilson explained, “Man, soon as I see a hot girl cough up tar, I’m done wit’ her.”

  • The future of the medical industry is sketchy. Shelley, who plans to be a nurse, announced, “I had strep throat but I’m not airborne anymore.”  Jonie said, “I will be in college 15 years to be an ob/gyn, but the last four years are residential.”

  • American teenagers have unique interpretations of race. Charles questioned, “I don’t know why my last name is Rodriguez. I’m American Indian.”  Wilson declared, “Mrs. Dyer, we can all be ghetto sometimes, even white people.”

  • Teenagers are romantic and see the real beauty in others. “Mama C”— the regular sub at the school—growls instructions like she starts every day with black coffee, a sausage biscuit, and a pack of unfiltered cigarettes. She’s pretty hairy, too. Derron, a junior, flirted with her, “Mama C, you know I make you want to be young again!”

  • Teenagers are spiritual. Felina told me, “My grandma is in Heaven. My grandpa is in Louisiana.”

  • Teenagers interpret their parents’ behavior in a literal sense. After discussing his ADHD diagnosis, John disclosed, “My mom has a screaming disorder.” Hmmm. That sounds familiar.

My student-teaching experience confirmed that I am meant to be a teacher.  Not because I love to teach, but because I love to laugh! I absorbed valuable information from my time at PHS. Before I left, I surveyed students to gain feedback on my teaching skills. I begged them to be honest. They were. Here are a few of their suggestions for me:

Give lots of praise.
Don’t be a pushover.
Get to know all your students.
Don’t talk the entire class.
Don’t talk about the band so much. I don’t like the band. I don’t care about the band.

Those are all good points, but the best advice came once again from Wilson as I prepared for the principal's final observation in my 9th grade typing class. I confessed to the students,“I hope nothing goes wrong during Mr. D’s visit to our class. I will freak out if I mess up or the computers don't work!” Wilson offered crucial insight and tried to comfort me. He said, "You know Mrs. Dyer, he’ll understand if something goes wrong. I mean, shift happens.”

See you next post. Until then, think outside the barn!

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Also, visit or my website to read about my book, The Eye of Adoption, my short story, Field Day, and my collection of essays for parents and teachers, Parents, Stop and Think.

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Just thinking outside the barn...

Just thinking outside the barn...