I started wondering why people do that. I thought about myself and the questions I answer with lies. Questions like:
Being a teacher means you are partially responsible for what 200+ other human beings do while they're under your jurisdiction. The measurement of your work is hardly ever based on something you worked on by yourself and then presented to someone else. You are measured by how well other human beings can do what you've taught them to do. Which means your success and satisfaction in your job is based on what these 200+ other human beings do on a daily basis. I say this because if all I did all day was plan glorious lessons and then hand them to someone else to teach and then went home, I think I would feel pretty satisfied with my work about 88% of the time. However, that is not what I do. Therefore, my self-satisfaction rate is at about 19% on the daily.
I struggle each day to cope with the fact that I don't have total control of what my students choose to do, yet I, as well as others, still base my job performance and my satisfaction with my career on what those students choose to do. Which I shouldn't, right? I should know that I put in my best effort for the day and that's all I can really control. To that I say: ah ha ha ha...ha...HA! It's harder than you think. When they don't turn things in on time. When they don't do their in-class work. When they choose to SnapChat instead of study. When they don't care for their grade for 8 weeks and then beg for mercy 3 days before the end of the term.
I understand that students have circumstances that don't allow them to do things on time or that schoolwork really isn't what they should be worried about. I have those students, I know them and I sympathize that. And a majority of my students are not the ones I'll talk about next. I'm talking about the ones who just "don't." There are no other words that would describe those students better. They don't. They don't care, they don't want to, they don't work, they don't try, they simply don't. Regardless of the reason why they don't, they still don't. Now, how can I be okay with what I do when they just plain don't? Should I say don't again? Don't.
Well, let me tell you how. I had a vision a few days ago. Okay not really a vision it was more like a discernment. Maybe manifestation sounds better? Let's call it all three. In my viscernifestation I learned something.
I teach, and I do my best (most of the time). There are days when we read for twenty minutes because I'm afraid if I try to teach it will come out in a raging yell like Hades in the Disney version of Hercules. And on those days my intentions are to protect the children from my rage, not to slack off.
|Instead of holding Pain and Panic, I would be holding students...scary, I know.|
And you may walk into my room and we may be watching a clip from The Office. Because when The Office has several examples of the literary devices you are learning, you have to watch it. I feel as though I give my best to my students, most of the time. But there are days when I know I could have done some things differently. More on this tangent another time.
So when I give my best and my students still "don't," the frustration sets in. Frustration with them for not doing the things I ask them to. Frustration because I feel I have exhausted myself trying to find a way to get them to care.
I realized that teachers must feel a tiny bit of what God, or whatever you equate to a god, feels sometimes.
You just want them to try it. You want them to feel or know or care about what's there. You want them to see that what we're doing is relevant to them and that this is about their human experience. You want them to take in everything you are giving and do something with it.
He just wants you to try. He wants you to feel something and to do something about what you feel. He wants you to see your relevance in the world and experience the things around you, rather than watching them pass by. He wants you to take what you have and do something with it.
And how frustrating that must be, to feel as though you have given everything and yet your student meanders in and out of your classroom each day unaware that what's in front of them could help them, or change them. Better yet, that they could take what you've handed them and turn it into something more.
It must be pretty damn frustrating.
Obviously I'm a literature connoisseur because I'm an English teacher, right? Wrong. There are millions of texts, nay, trillions of texts, that I don't even know exist. This is so you understand that I didn't know The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was originally a short story because I don't know everything.
Now you'll understand my pleasant surprise when I found out about the short story.
The original, in only it's skin and bones, is not thrilling or particularly entertaining. To quote some of my sophomore students after reading the story, "What the (insert teenage expletive)?" "Where's the ending?" "That was dumb." If you don't understand the context of being a high schooler, allow me to give you a glimpse. Almost everything you experience can be followed by "What the (insert teenage expletive)?" Most things in English class are especially "dumb." And with many things going on in your life you often wonder, "Where's the ending?" So, in the context of being 15, these statements are not that unusual.
However, those reactions aren't often associated with short stories. Short stories are supposed to be a snippet of thrill, and a moment of being transported to another world and another mind. But Walter Mitty just doesn't seem to evoke the same reactions that a normal short story does. That's how I coined the phrase "being Walter Mitty-ed." I decided that's what happened to me when I saw the movie and again when I read the short story.
Walter Mitty's life is boring. The only thing that brings him any thrill is daydreaming about thrilling things. My question to my students, after reading the story, was "Why?" Why tell the story of this man and his painfully boring life and his overactive imagination?
When I first asked them that question I wasn't sure that I even knew the answer. But while I watched parts of the movie with my students and we talked it over, I think we may have discovered the answer. Or at least one of the answers.
There is a scene in the movie where it seems like Walter is daydreaming again, but something is different this time. This time he isn't glazed like a Krispy Kreme doughnut while the daydream happens. This time he jumps onto a lifting helicopter that's about to fly into a storm. His daydreams begin to mix with his reality. From then on he never has another daydream for the rest of the movie. But sometimes, as the audience, you question the reality of his reality, and wonder if he's slipped back into a daydream. But he hasn't. He goes on to fight a shark and run from an erupting volcano. He climbs the Himalayas and gets to see a rare snow leopard. He began living what would definitely have been daydreams only a few days before.
Asking my students what they thought of this, they became very angry. Probably because I provoked them to anger. Sometimes analyzing literature is best when you're feeling a powerful emotion. Or at least that's how I rationalize provoking them. I asked them how they could possibly know if he was dreaming or not. Their response was that he actually did something while he was daydreaming.
Mrs. L:But how do you know?
Class: Because he jumped on the helicopter.
Mrs. L: Well maybe the helicopter is part of the dream.
Frustrated class: It's not.
Mrs. L: Well then what is part of the dream?
Irritated class: Cheryl is part of the dream.
Mrs. L: Okay then how do you know the helicopter isn't?
Angry class: Because it's real.
Mrs. L: Well how can that be? When he daydreams he doesn't move, so either Cheryl is actually there or the whole rest of the movie is a dream. Which one is it?
Infuriated, leaping out of their desks with pitchforks class: BECAUSE SOME OF IT IS A DREAM AND SOME OF IT IS REAL! AAAAGGGHHHHH!
Mrs. L: Why?
I'm the best teacher.
In almost incoherent yells of frustration, draped with drool and framed by steam coming out of their ears, they tried to tell me why the filmmakers made this choice: to mix dreams and reality. We talked about what this represents to us as an audience and what it means for Walter Mitty as a character.
You see, Walter made a choice in that moment to stop daydreaming and instead DO what his daydreaming self would do. Jump on the freakin' helicopter. Notice how I didn't say "live his daydream."
My students and I came up with a theory: telling someone or telling yourself to "live your dreams" is stupid. We decided that Walter Mitty didn't choose to live his dreams--he chose to do what his dream self would do in real life. His dream self took risks. Dream Walter acted in whatever moment he was given. That's exactly what Walter started to do. So don't live your dreams. Instead, live like your daydreaming self. Be where you are, but be bold. Take risks. Do things out loud that you would normally only do in your head.
Go get Walter Mitty-ed. It's a thing.