Animal Farm, Apathy, and Anger

Yesterday was the last day of school for 2014.

And I’m probably more excited about that than any of my students.

I need a break. A big one.

But not because I’m exhausted. Constant exhaustion is just part of the gig. I need a break because I’m angry. At myself. At my students. At what outsiders expect me to accomplish in the classroom.

This semester, I’m dealing with one of the worst class compositions of my career. It’s so bad that I haven’t even blogged about it, unsure of whether I’d be accused of criticizing my employer, or violating student privacy rights. So, I’m not going to tell you about my class in general. I’m going to tell you about one specific unit that I just finished teaching: Animal Farm.

Yes, I taught Animal Farm. Even though it’s not the novel I normally study with this level of English. Even though I had to build an entirely new unit and all the teaching materials, assignments, and quizzes to go along with it. Even with the additional work that it made for me, I chose this book for my class.

Because I thought it would give my students a better chance at success. Because I could read the entire novella aloud during class, using vocal cues to aid in understanding, and explaining unfamiliar vocabulary and history as I went. Because I knew that some of my students who have previously failed the course read this book with their last teacher, and I thought that a second study would help pull them up to a passing grade this time around.

I promised my class no essay writing for this unit. Many of my students struggle with writing, so I swore that I wouldn’t ask them to write about the text, but that there would be opportunities to show understanding in other ways. I flat out told them that this unit could boost their grades.

And many of them desperately need to find their way above the 50% mark.

But eleven of my twenty-seven students didn’t even submit their first assignment – a propaganda poster. A task that I had given them over an hour of class time and a full weekend to complete.

Then, yesterday, nine of twenty-seven students didn’t bother showing up to class to present their final projects. A project where I’d developed eight distinctly different choices for how they could show their knowledge – choices crafted to appeal to different interests and abilities. It was a project that they could only truly fail by not even attempting it.

But a third of my students chose not to come to class.

Two of them looked me in the eye as they walked down the hall earlier in the day, but still chose to skip my class when they had projects due. When they know they’re failing this course. For the second time.

So, I’m angry.

I’m angry that I can’t stop caring when my students don’t give a shit. I’m angry that my students throw away opportunities meant to help them. And I’m angry that, somehow, I’m supposed to be able to reach these kids when they beat me down with their apathy and overt disrespect five days a week.

So, yeah, I need a break. I need time for this anger to dissolve – for it to become stubborn resolution. For it to somehow morph from debilitating to motivating.

I need this break so I can go back to work in January and do this all over again, acting as though none of this affected me at all.

Maybe even believing it.

3 thoughts on “Animal Farm, Apathy, and Anger

  1. Lizanne

    Dear Ms MacKenzie,

    I’m so sorry that you are feeling unappreciated. We really do love your class. You’re such a cool teacher with your tattoos and your Harry Potter look! You’re always making us laugh and think at the same time! And you do so many fun things in class! I’m always telling my friends about what we do in your class.

    I especially loved that you read the whole book to the class. I learned to pronounce so many new words when you read aloud to us. And it was good to have the book explained as we read along. It helped me to understand a lot. I don’t think I would have understood the book if you had not explained it.

    I’m sorry that I didn’t hand in the project. I was confused about which of the options I should choose. There were so many and I was scared I was going to get it wrong. I started working on one but then I had two other projects to complete in Socials and in Science and those were worth a bigger percentage of my mark and so I ran out of time to work on the project for your class.

    Also, I feel bad about missing your class on the last day. I was so hyper about the last day. I don’t like the holidays because that means I’ll be away from my friends for a long time and I like being with friends. It’s better than being at home.

    Some of my friends hate holidays because it means that they don’t get to eat breakfast and lunch like they get to do when school is open.

    I also want you to know that when I’m not paying attention in your class, it’s not because I don’t want to learn…. it’s that I’m often so stressed about science and socials tests and homework. And sometimes I’m worried about my mom or my baby sister who I have to help look after.

    I hope you have a good break. I really hope you don’t think that we don’t like you or appreciate what you do for us. We really do. We just have so many other things that we’re trying to make sense of and get through.

    Sincerely,
    A Student.

  2. Preet

    Ashley,
    I so feel for you! Hugs. You are a caring and hard-working teacher (I am dealing with the same thing in my classes). Please do not take it personally. It is indeed difficult to turn around over a decade of issues in one semester.

  3. Ashley D. MacKenzie Post author

    If only my actual students felt even half of these things, Lizanne.

    Not all of them, of course. I have so many great kids. That’s what I need to remember over the next couple of weeks.