I have a pretty good facade as an English teacher– sometimes too good. It makes people act, or feel like they have to act, on their best behavior. To compound this issue, I am hard of hearing, so I watch everyone, too. Everyone, I think, can feel my eyes on them as I seemingly wait for them to slip: to not say please or thank you, to swear (Oh, my virgin ears!), or to say something uncouth. No group has been more obedient to me as my second period class; they have been so obedient that they haven’t even talked. My goal since January has been to get them to develop some kind of personality and to have the girl in the back stop rolling her eyes at me. They have been recently coming out of their shell by whispering during the school announcements. However, last week we had an incident that burst the dam and let out a flood of talking. What happened? I read them the first chapter of To Kill A Mockingbird.
If you’re not familiar with the first chapter (well, then, shame on you!), it includes such incendiary words such as “jackass” and “son-of-a-bitch”, both of which I said out loud. No one made a sound when I said jackass, but then they erupted into giggles when I said son-of-a-bitch. I paused the reading, perplexed, “Now why did you laugh at that, but not at jackass?” Apparently, s.o.b. is worse, and it’s funny when I say it. I leveled my gaze at them, “Don’t you think I know these words and say them everyday?”. They gasped and exclaimed, “You do?!” I then told them about teaching English AP and using Anne Lamott’s chapter from her excellent book Bird by Bird titled “Sh*ttty First Drafts” to explain the writing process. They were speechless. “And guess what we all said that day in class? Yep, you’re right, sh*t.” They laughed appreciatively and I could feel my ranking on the “cool”-o-meter raise from the basement to the first floor (but not quite to the mezzanine).
Since then three things have happened: one, I continued my policy of not swearing in class (and they know I won’t stand for it if they do it). Second, they have opened up, talked more, joked around with me– once I revealed that I, too, am human, they became more human. Third, the girl in the back has stopped rolling her eyes at me and smiles instead.