I stayed up late Sunday night processing the Breaking Bad finale. I had to watch the pilot episode again to remind myself that the characters I grew to love are still right where I left them.
Monday I passionately performed my reading/think aloud of a beloved essay. Some of my students, bless their hearts, struggled mightily against The Sandman, but far too many lost the battle.
Teachers always hear, “If you make learning fun, then the students will learn more! I always learned the most when my teachers were entertaining.” Of course this is true, but it isn’t always practical. Besides, everyone is different. When I was in high school, if the teacher announced, “We’re going to play a game!” I would groan inwardly while my peers cheered. Flip that script when our teacher announced a writing assignment.
Ultimately, whether it’s fun or not, my job description requires I show them how to write in different rhetorical modes for a variety of purposes and audiences. They have to become better readers to be writers. So far, I have not heard of another way to improve reading than to read. Have you? Because if you know one, my students are desperate for it. I just gave a homework assignment: read 10 pages of a play. That’s like 15-20 minutes of reading. 90% of them failed the reading quiz the next day. In one class period, literally not one student did the reading assignment.
We had been reading Act I in class, and I thought it was going very well. When the bell rang, I pointed to the board and told them to finish the rest of the Act for homework. They didn’t.
When confronted with dismal quiz scores they giggled about it. Very few seemed to mind. Sometimes I think our school system gives them too many safety nets. There’s summer school, computer-based learning, “continuation” school. Next year, they can take the class again if it fits in their schedules. Any option out there where they can rationalize doing nothing right now? They pick that.
As much as I try to convince them that there’s no time like the present and they need to put in the work now, I don’t get buy-in. The other teachers of the same subject and students report similar experiences.
A few years ago, it hit me why my students seem to take my advice with a grain of salt. To them, I am a failure. What could be a more pathetic career than a teacher? Some of them believe that they go off and have lives while I and my ilk stay in high school forever.
How did Walter White of Breaking Bad become a bad ass? Being a chemistry teacher? Oh, hell no!
Millions of people and I watched the series finale of Breaking Bad. The end of the series will no doubt inspire viewers to go back to the pilot episode as I did to remind ourselves where it all started.
“Chemistry is about… transformation,” Walter White announces to a high school chemistry class. Noticing a boy out of his seat macking on a girl, he calls the kid out. Reminds him of the seating chart. The student drags his chair noisily across the room with an attitude of utter disdain. Later, when Mr. White is working at his second job washing cars, he has to endure the snide cruelty of the same bully as he is transformed into that teenager’s servant. Undoubtedly, that young man did not work for the money to pay for that car (channeling John Bender), but he still lords his privilege over the teacher who earlier exercised power over him. Chad photographed him with the likely intent of extending the man’s degradation arena to include Facebook and Instagram.
And what was it that Mr. White did to enrage this boy? What horrible sin did he commit? Mr. White tried to teach him something. Tried to come between him and ignorance. Refused to tolerate Chad’s rude disruption of his lesson. The teacher enforced his class policy, which exists so that every student can have a learning experience. Did Chad appreciate it? Did he try his hardest? Did he thank his teacher? No. He mocked his teacher. He broke his teacher’s spirit.
So, (spoilers coming) did you shed tears when Hank died? When Jesse was tortured and enslaved? When Walt killed Mike? Was your heart broken by the estrangement of Walt and Jessie?
Blame Chad. Blame fucking Chad.