Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Teacher Troubles (Put Your Hand Down)

As a whole, I get on with teachers - to the point where I have a reputation as a teacher's pet - because we usually have similar goals. But in thirteen years of school, there have been some, eh, run-ins. Now for the fun task of remembering primary school! 

In French a while ago, we had to write a journal intime about our memories of primary school. Everyone seems to have good memories of it except the nerds, and oh boy am I a nerd. Primary school for me was a lovely mélange of bullying, boredom and frustration, so no, I don't have fond memories of it. Everyone acts like it was less stressful, but I can tell you it's a hell of a lot more stressful when you're friendless and trying not to attract attention.


Have you ever noticed that teachers in primary school always put the smart/quiet/nerdy kids (girls usually) next to the boldest kids in the class (boys, always)? To the teacher, it makes sense: if the boy is put beside another rowdy kid, they'll make noise and disrupt the class. But if you put him beside the quiet girl, they won't talk because they don't get on, and you hope maybe she'll have a calming influence on him. 

To which I say: bullshit.

Maybe that would work if the kids were 15 and in an American teen movie, where the girl brings out his sweeter side. But we were four-to-twelve year olds. That level of maturity is not bloody likely. The problem is that here the teacher isn't taking the quiet girl into account. The teacher reasons that the girl is getting on fine in school because she's smart, ignoring the fact that she's a target for bullying because of it (particularly from catty girls, but rowdy boys aren't going to get on with her either).

The reason I'm going on so much about this is that it happened to me probably dozens of times during my primary school career. New seating plan? Surprise, surprise, I'm beside the most annoying boy possible, forced to try make him change his ways. 

I remember one time, possibly in fourth or fifth class, when the situation was compounded. Not only was I beside this ridiculously loud and unfocused boy, but the teacher put me sitting behind a cupboard so she couldn't see my hand. It was ridiculous how intentional this was; the cupboard was tilted so that I was behind it, hidden from view of the teacher, but the boy directly beside me wasn't. 

Now, you could try to spin that into a good thing saying hey, at least the teacher trusted me. But I wasn't in that classroom all day to be ignored. 

That wasn't the only problem coming from me putting my hand up. 

I remember, again in my later years at primary school, being told things like "Elle, how about you don't put your hand up on Fridays?". We used to have to recite poetry or Irish sentences or whatever, and we'd stand up in our tables (blocks of four/six seats facing each other) and say it together. Everything would be fine - and then, humiliatingly, the teacher would tell me and only me to sit down and everyone else to say the poem again. Aaaand no one else knew it, so they just mumbled their way through. It turned out they'd all been relying on me. 

I can sense another objection coming up, so I'm just going to address that now. Their relying on me is not my fault. "Put your hand down and give the other students a chance to answer."


But aren't you intimidating the other students?

I deserve the same rights as everyone else in a classroom. We are told to put our hands up to engage in classroom discussion, and when we know the answers. And now you're silencing me for knowing the damn answers. I used to think I was getting in trouble for being a good student, and while I certainly was attentive and hardworking, a student isn't supposed to know things. 

Look, it's not like I was shouting out the answers. Me putting my hand up absolutely did not stop other people from doing the same. I was following classroom etiquette perfectly, and certainly not jumping up and down shouting "Me! Me! Me! Me!" (in fact, I sometimes get so tired of it that I just rest my elbow on the desk and keep my hand up lazily the whole time, knowing they won't call on me anyway). 

Believe me, I know that a lot of the other students just didn't bother to try once they saw I had my hand up. But that is their problem, it's entirely up to them. I really don't make a very intimidating figure, and while I feel comfortable and confident in a classroom (well, apart from thinking about classmates' opinions of me), so can they. There's not a quota for how many students' hands can be up at one time - surely the more the merrier. 

I get a teacher's frustration when they asked a question hoping no one would know the answer so they could introduce a new concept and I was the only one who knew it (from learning it outside school, through reading). But again, I was only putting my hand up. They didn't have to call on me, and it's very insulting that I was literally forbidden or hidden from putting my hand up. They acted as if they had nightmares about the mousy-haired girl in the back's hand up again.

I don't mind quite as much when they explain that it's not my fault but people aren't answering and I need to not put my hand up. But I worry that if I don't have my hand up they'll think I don't know the answer, and something about that drives me crazy. Can't they find some other way to motivate the other students than telling me my opinion isn't valued? I've always loved school as an outlet, but it can't be that if they want me to shut up.

So those are my views on teachers telling me to put my hand down. But never fear, I have more teacher stories!

I think I've mentioned before the times when I got in trouble for reading ahead. Those just make me ridiculously angry - oh, sorry I did too much homework, sorry you haven't prepared for this eventuality when all it would take is a slightly harder worksheet, or even better, just let me read my own damn books! Really not that hard. Look, I get that it's easier to teach to the middle of the class. But surely you can take on a little bit of extra work. 

It's just so awful that they expect me to stay in this weird limbo where I can't engage in class by asking and answering questions, but I also can't completely disengage by reading whatever I want. I'm supposed to just sit there and passively pay attention, letting the teacher use the classroom as their stage. I can't learn like that, I really can't. Teachers go on about how great classroom engagement is but the some of those in primary school certainly didn't practise what they preached.

Of course, not all my teachers in primary school were bad, and most only had some irritating slip-ups (as I'm sure I did too). The ones in secondary school aren't perfect either. 

In third year, my Geography teacher gave out about me to my mother because I was reading a more advanced version of the same course. She literally wasn't teaching us anything - we got next to no homework for three years - and I wasn't going to let her ruin my education. I've described that whole incident in a really long post on a blog which I've since deleted, but argh. I couldn't completely get rid of her influence; she was one of the only two Bs I got in the Junior Cert, and the other was from a class I only joined halfway through 2nd Year. 

It's different in secondary school, because (a) the material is harder (b) the teachers aren't quite as clueless (c) I have other stuff to focus on. For (b), the teachers generally don't actively tell me to put my hand down. But my French teacher embarrasses me by saying "Okay we know one girl in the class knows it, Elle, the ones with the hands up are the ones who have it", immediately drawing attention on me when that's really not what I want. She asked a question and I'm literally just obediently putting my hand up to answer it. I wish other people would put their hands up more often, but they don't and that's not my problem.

(c) is probably detrimental to my education. After a while, I get so sick of my hand being ignored that I just completely zone out and stop listening in class. This is particularly problematic because, while I've started studying a little more now, I used to just pay stellar attention in class and learn everything immediately. But if I don't listen that obviously doesn't work. Young Scientist is the main culprit here; I remember I never paid attention in TY French classes because I was always reading scientific journal articles under the table. It isn't always that high-falutin' either; often I just make To Do lists during class or work on whatever novel is going at the time. 

I know I shouldn't, but can't you understand the frustration? Teachers (notably History and French) make their disdain for me and my questions crystal clear, and of course that's going to frustrate and discourage me. There's only so much I can take before I stop trusting them as teachers, because if you're going to straight-up ignore students ... Actually, they can ignore me from time to time if they want, that suits me. It's the humiliation, and the times when they show how annoyed they are that I have the audacity to ask a question. 

I don't ask questions just to seem smart, because that's dumb. I ask questions I genuinely want to know the answers to, and it's really not that disruptive to the class.

And no, I don't think I'm some genius that teachers just can't handle. I am only passionately curious. 

Tell me about your own run-ins with teachers in the comments below. 

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