Monday, July 23, 2012
Facebook--The Classroom I No Longer Have
I retired from English teaching in June 2011--for the third and final time (no kidding)--and it probably was a good time to do so. I felt I'd had a pretty good year in 2010-2011, and I think it's better to leave something when you're doing pretty well instead of when you're not. I've known colleagues who have lingered a bit too long--have gotten a bit too weird (a little weird is good for a teacher)--have come to school with clothes that didn't match and a diminishing notion of what they were even doing there.
I'd had some "senior moments" my last year, too. I once began and ended a class with the same anecdote. When I found out why the students were laughing, I told them: "Next time that happens, take me out in the woods and get me lost." It was a joke, but I did notice that some of them were watching me with a feral intensity for the next few weeks ... looking for a chance to take me at my word?
I'd always loved teaching, right from the first day back in the fall of 1966 when I faced my first classroom of seventh graders and tried to convince them that I knew what I was doing. I figured if I could convince them, well, I might begin to convince myself.
Of course, I hated it, too. There were those days when nothing went right (projector bulbs blew out; fire drills in the middle of a class; I wasn't as prepared as I should have been), days when kids just got to me, did things I just could not handle, so I erupted into some kind of Daffy-Duck-spaz mode while the kids looked at me with a mixture of wonder, fear, and great pleasure. Perhaps a little pride, too--Look what we did!
And then there were all those grim and cheerless duties--bus duty, lunchroom supervision, getting kids lined up for school pictures, collecting permission slips for field trips, lunch room supervision, lunch room supervision, lunch room ...
I didn't like lunch duty.
And the drudgeries: paper-grading (don't even ask me what my Sundays were like), lesson-planning, filling out report cards, keeping up with paperwork and correspondence with parents ... and on and on and on and ...
But always--always--there were those moments. That kid who never gave a damn suddenly does. The kid who never turned in anything starts turning in everything. The kid who discovers a talent she didn't even know she had. The kid who shows up at the play tryout. (My favorite of these: a very quiet girl--hated to talk in class--told me near the end of her eighth grade year as we were holding auditions for the final play: "Mr. Dyer, I want to be in your play, but don't make me say anything." And so it was.) The kid I see carrying around a book I just told him about the other day.
When my own public school teachers retired, I pretty much never saw or heard from them again. Off they went to ... wherever it was they went (that great study hall in the sky?). They just seemed to vanish.
When I retired the first time (January 1997), I kept in touch with a number of former students via email, that new-fangled thingy. Same thing the second time I retired (June 2007).
And this time ... Facebook! I registered for it sort of on a whim--just to see. Next thing I knew, people were "friending" me--people I'd not seen in decades--people whose names I didn't recognize (especially, of course, the women, many of whom had different surnames from the ones I knew)--people whose pictures didn't look like anyone I'd ever known. Soon, I was back in touch with students from every era of my career--from first year to last--nearly 500 of them.
Since I didn't know how I was supposed to behave on Facebook, I just did what I'd always done as a teacher. And so I talked about books I was reading, movies I'd seen, poems I'd memorized. Soon I was posting news about writers' birthdays, copies of newspaper comics that had a literary connection of some sort, vocabulary words I'd stumbled across--in other words, I was doing what I'd always done in class. But with no papers to grade. Lessons to plan. Lunchroom to supervise. (No salary either--oh well.)
I decided early on to avoid politics and religion--and have done a pretty good job of sticking to that. Most of my students have probably figured me out anyway, and I saw no reason to provoke old friends with arguments and memes and rants that won't change anyone's mind anyway. Every now and then I can't resist ... but I try to.
Next thing you know, I was blogging too ... and posting on Facebook silly poems of the sort I used to write back in the classroom. And I was having a ball ...
And so Facebook has become the classroom I no longer have. A chance for me to--as one eighth grader once told me--"flap my jaws" about whatever and have no papers to grade, no lunchroom to ...
And, sure, I realize that lots of my FB "friends" are probably ignoring some (most?) of my posts. Just like the Good Old Days in class when they could tune me out whenever they damn well felt like it..