Sunday, June 13, 2021

things I have learned, days one and two

 This is year five of me spending two weeks or so out of my summer grading exams for one of the major testing companies...this one specializing in college credit exams. I'm not going to tell any specific tales, as non-disclosure is a requirement of my contract (Hey! Now I know how a famous person's personal assistant feels!), but, at the beginning of day three, there are a lot of things I have learned:

  1. I still hate Keureg coffee. We have acquired a second-hand machine that we're keeping in the basement for emergency purposes. Now, I'm normally an Aeropress guy, but, if I can stay on the clock and work a bit longer, I thought I'd give it a shot. My wife bought some pods, and yesterday, I gave it a try. The coffee was decidedly mediocre. I went online and did searches for "best k-cup coffee" in hopes of something good, but no, the brand of k-cups my wife bought was in the top 3 of every list I found. So unless someone suggests an actually good brand of k-cup, I'm sticking to my old methods.
  2. When we did this grading in person, one of the available snacks for breaks were individual packs of trail mix. This is year two of grading from home, and now I have to have access to trail mix in order to grade. At no other time of the year do I even think of trail mix. Give me a few thousand essays to grade, and I'm an addict.
  3. Each year I do this, I like to keep a running tally of people who the students reference. So far, this year's number one, surpassing even Edison, Hitler, and Jesus, is Miley Cyrus (sometimes in her Hannah Montana guise). I don't really understand this.
  4. Read enough of these, and you can easily tell what books college credit high school students are reading. This year, the most often-cited novel is The Great Gatsby. Unlike me when I was that age, these students seem to realize the reader is supposed to hate most every character in the novel.
  5. Additionally, tons of them seem to have watched Black Swan, the most referenced film so far. Whiplash, incidentally, is next in line.
All of these, however, pale into the biggest lesson I've learned. These students carry mental illness with them. They are familiar with anxiety and depression. School is, to a significant portion of them, a major source of stress. Many of them feel overwhelmed, almost to the breaking point with the pressure to succeed. Some have had flirtations with suicide. A shocking amount of them have had eating disorders.

Being a teenager is hard. I mean brutally hard. This is something I've never forgotten, and I urge none of you to ever look at your past with the hazy lens of nostalgia. Don't forget just how rough it can be, particularly when dealing with teens.

I've been teaching 23 years now (gulp), and whenever I hear anyone launch into some version of, "These kids today," my stomach turns. The longer I teach, the more respect I have for teenagers. They are all dealing with pressures the rest of us have somehow forgotten, yet, in spite of this, they generally handle said pressures with more grace that ever did I. The longer I teach, the more kind, caring, and empathetic the students seem to spite of having to deal with Trumpers, conspiracy theory freaks, conservative gun nuts, and the like.

Respect the youth. They got it rough, and they need our encouragement if they're going to rescue us from this world which we've so kindly screwed up for them.