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First Person: Narratives from the Classroom

Lessons Learned at the Saturday Matinee


By Amy Issadore Bloom

I looked at my phone again. They were now 15 minutes late.

After months of trying to coordinate weekend schedules, we were finally getting together for our Saturday field trip. A couple of the students came from very strict families, and couldn’t socialize outside of school without adult supervision. Some were here on an international exchange program, and were having a hard time fitting in. The group had voted unanimously to go to a movie, despite my attempts to suggest a more educational and cultural outing, such as the National Portrait Gallery.

I was flattered they had asked me to chaperone the outing, but standing and waiting outside the theater, I felt foolish and a little angry. I started to mentally prepare a lecture about respect, responsibility, and all the other things that teenagers can be so blasé about.

Just when I was certain I’d been “dissed,” they came running up the escalator, breathlessly apologizing—and restoring my faith in teenagers.

That faith will be tested again and again as I teach. In Educating Esme, by Esmé Raji Codell, the author tells a fellow first-year teacher, “It's not our job to be liked. It’s our job to help them be smart."

I’ve tried to follow that viewpoint. It helps keep my skin a little thicker, and my classes a little better managed. It was especially useful when I transitioned to teaching middle school, where the attitude towards teachers is vastly different from that of elementary students.

Yet, deep down, who doesn’t want teenagers to like them? They’re a difficult species to understand, and for all of their judgmental ways and mood swings, it sure feels nice to be both respected and liked by one.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you have students who don’t turn in assignments, talk through your lessons, sleep in class, leave a mess, and don’t thank you for bringing in treats.
 
Blame it on poor parenting, blame it on the media, blame it on society. It doesn’t really matter. We have to find a way through it, a way to create a balance between teaching academic lessons and teaching respect and responsibility. We can do this, in part, by ensuring that our interactions with each other are worthy of emulation.

Heading to the movie, I felt pretty good about myself. How nice of me to give up my free time to take these kids to a movie. In the end, it was the students who did me a favor.

We took our seats for The Lorax, and sitting there, sharing candy, we were all very content. I’m sure the students just wanted to go to a movie because it was fun, but it’s also an escape from reality. Teens need that. They need a break from family responsibilities, from studying, from peer pressure, and from the steady stream of social media at their fingertips. So do teachers.
 
As I expected, the movie did not do the book justice. But it was cute and entertaining (and clean). Best of all, it was full of little lessons. I tried to remember all the things I wanted to share after the movie, the connections to our recent literature lesson:

The Hero’s Journey! And look, you see, that little seed is the elixir! Oh, and the foreshadowing - look how the weather is changing. All the animals are being forced out of their homes—you know, that’s really happening in the rainforests.

It had been a while since I’d had the opportunity to be inspired by something as common as an animated movie. Finding new ways to teach old lessons is always refreshing. 

Today, there’s a lot of talk about teacher burnout. Generally, it’s used to describe our exhaustion from the politics of a school, the pressure to teach to the test, the long days with little financial compensation. But burnout also frequently happens when we become detached from our students. We lose faith in their ability to learn, to show respect, to be human. We start expecting less and less from them, not only in terms of academic performance, but also in demonstrating responsibility or empathy for others.

I realized that these students had also gone out of their way on a Saturday, in a number of ways: The confident ones speaking up for the others who were afraid to ask me to chaperone, the one who commuted on a bus and the metro for almost an hour to join us, the one who got out of working in the family restaurant.
 
When the movie was over, Ngoc said, in her heavy accented English, “It was very meaningful.”

We all agreed.

Issadore Bloom (@bloomindc), a former member of the Fairfax Education Association, is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. Read more of her writing at www.bloomindc.com.

 

 

 


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