School is almost out for the year in most of the U.S. Who is more relieved -- the students or the teachers?
One teacher I know is a friend of one of my sons, a nice young man, solidly built and serious. My son and he went to college together, and were in the same fraternity. He was on his way to an M.S. and probably a Ph.D. After that he was planning on a big executive job in a chemical or mining company. Then he had a change of heart. About ten years ago he decided he wanted to teach. Now he is a ninth-grade science teacher in a middle-class high school in a middle-class town in New Jersey.
He comes to visit when my son is in town, usually on a spring or summer weekend. After a big lunch we sit around and talk. He's had a stressful year, he says, very stressful. Besides teaching he headed up a couple of after-school clubs and acted as the senior-class adviser as well. He helped plan and chaperone the prom.
He says he loves to teach but that the kids are becoming less mature and more apathetic. Yes, the other kids laugh at the couple of students who do not know the name of the president. But they don't laugh when someone doesn't know who the vice president or the secretary of state is because too many of them just don't know.
What are they interested in? Not much, he says, and that's the trouble. Oh, there are a couple of smart ones and a couple who are bit way-out: the girl whose only goal is to be mistaken for Ashlee Simpson; the boy who is determined to win a scholarship to a top school. But most, he says, just seem to drift. "I don't think we were like that," he said to my son. Funny to me that people in their early 30s already feel so bewildered by kids today.
But as trying as he sometimes finds the students, he says, the parents are a lot worse. "I've been told by a mother that I was out to get her daughter because I gave her a failing grade. She deserved a failing grade. But the mother only thought I was being personally vindictive.
"I have had parents tell me I am ruining their children's lives because they won't get into the college of their choice if I don't give them an A or B. I have other parents who say I am hurting their children's self-esteem if I don't give them a good mark because building up their self-esteem is so important."
And if kids don't do their homework, it isn't their fault; it's the teacher's, he says. "They say that all the teachers should get together and make sure we don't give too much homework as a group. 'Don't you talk to each other?' they ask. 'You teachers ought to coordinate your assignments,' I've been told."