Saturday, February 12, 2011

First Impression Rose

I've never been great at making a good first impression. I'm either dull and boring and forgettable or I'm terribly awkward and weird and unforgettable in a terrible way. I'm guessing this is why blind dates have not worked out for me. I would most certainly NOT get the first impression rose on The Bachelor if anyone ever decides to pay me $ 10,000 dollars to go on the show. I'll accept nothing less. Just thinking about getting out of the limo and trying to make a good first impression on a guy in front of millions of viewers makes me cringe. I think I'd rather be in Christina's shoes. No, I take that back. That was worse. But you get the idea; I am awful at first impressions.

So the start of the second semester is always an interesting time because I'm forced to make first impressions all over again on the new students, while half the class already knows how truly odd and oddly competitive I am. I feel their scrutinizing eyes sizing me up, judging me by my shoes and my penmanship and my tone of voice. And I fear that I am making similar judgments about them based on hairstyles and hoodies and handwriting. It seems so natural, so easy to go around internally making judgments and assumptions, but in my seven years of teaching, I've learned that though some impressions are accurate, students will ALWAYS surprise you. The sweet ones sometimes have a devilish side. The mean ones often have a brilliant side, though they may try to hide it.

So I've spent these first few weeks mentally labeling kids and then quickly tearing off those labels and discarding of them, only to do the same thing the next day. I've also spent these weeks giving kids a glimpse of who I am as a teacher and a person. I've only had them a few days in class and they already know quite a bit about me. Unfortunately, these impressions I've made, these glimpses they've received, can be categorized as confessions.

Classroom Confessions Part 4

* I forgot how to read. I needed to establish myself as a professional on Day One, as a "no-nonsense" kinda gal who knows her stuff. I wanted them to shake in their boots just a tiny bit. But then I went and forgot how to read. Yes, the irony is glaring. While taking role on the first day I said, "Kim?"

No response.

"Kim? Where is Kim?"

"Ummmm...there isn't a Kim in this class."

I looked down at the role sheet again, confused. And then I saw my mistake. When I read "Kim", I actually had been seeing, "King, Erin" and jumbled the letters.

I wish I had had a smooth recovery. I kinda wish I had lied. But I didn't. I laughed awkwardly at myself and said, "I mean Erin. Where is Erin?" and explained why I thought it said Kim. She raised her eyebrows questioningly and I'm sure was thinking, "Great. This is my new English teacher?"

* My first day introduction was very brief but quite telling. I said something along the lines of, "I love Africa and God and my nephews are the best. I love writing and basketball and my lucky number is 47. Also, I wear invisalign so I have a bit of a lisp on occasion and I tend to inadvertently spit when I speak every so often. So if I spit on you, I'm sorry. I might not acknowledge that it happened because it happens so regularly, but please know that I know that I spit on you and am slightly embarrassed about it."

My returning students just shook their heads at me while the newbies looked slightly appalled. But they learned that I wasn't lying when spit landed all over their desks and I said nothing about it.

* I made a kid cry. Wanting to set the tone that you just don't mess with Hardeman, you do your homework in this class or else, I apparently went a bit overboard and made a boy break down into tears. I called together all the students who hadn't turned in the first assignment and gave them a stern lecture about the importance of doing their work and starting the semester out strong. Maybe my "stern" is sterner than others, and when I noticed the quivering lip of one poor freshman boy, I lightened up.

* My study hall class learned that I can be quite competitive. On the first day, I made them play the country game on my giant world map. You know, the game where one person says a country and the first person to find it on the map wins and gets to pick the next country? I'll be honest. I dominated. And I may have gloated a tiny bit. Sure, I'm technically qualified to teach Geography but my college roommates know that geography has always been my Achilles' heel. But apparently I know more than high schoolers, so I was feeling pretty proud of myself. Oh the things I do to build my self-esteem...

* I accidentally wore farting shoes- the kind that on occasion make a fart sound but only do it once so when people look at you accusingly and you say, "it was my shoe", you can never repeat the sound and just look guilty and gassy. It was silent in class when it happened so I kept repeatedly making the same motion with my foot to make the same sound. When the class looked up, I explained, "I just wanted you all to see that I wasn't farting. It's my shoe." This was met by stifled giggles. They still haven't quite figured me out.

* One boy gave me a courtesy laugh so I called him out on it. If you don't know what the courtesy laugh is, you're probably receiving them often. I confess that I am often the recipient of the courtesy laugh because I tell corny jokes. I think they're hilarious and will typically laugh at my own jokes. I'm one of them. And people who don't appreciate "corny" will give either the scoff and "you're lame" look, or a polite chuckle with a slight grin, to be courteous. I'm well acquainted with this laugh so when I heard it in response to a joke that of course I found quite funny, I said, "Hey you, I don't need your courtesy laughs. If you don't think it's funny, you don't have to laugh in here." He tried to deny it. He tried to say it was a sincere laugh. But his buddies sold him out and he learned a valuable lesson that day in class.

* I have become one of the Orchestra's greatest supporters. I haven't actually been to one of their concerts. Ever. But the members are presently selling chocolate bars to fund their Spring Break trip and they have found in me a very reliable customer. My eyes light up when they walk in carrying those magic cardboard boxes filled with magic, chocolatey goodness. "Do you have the crispy ones today?" If the answer is yes, they typically hear some sort of cheer. But if the answer is, "No, I only have almond", I may have boo-ed them and walked into the hall to flag down another flute-playing lad who can feed my chocolate need. I say that I'm supporting them, that I'm stockpiling for later. But really I've eaten somewhere in the double-digits already and have none leftover.

* I'm making judgments based on their first impressions. I know it isn't right but just as my new students are figuring me out based on initial impressions, I'm internally labeling them based on our first few encounters.

"He'll do well in here."

"She'll be a handful."

"He'll probably make inappropriate comments."

"She'll be one of my favorites."

"He's probably received a swirly or two in his day."

"She will struggle to problem-solve."


"Wow. He's a total weird-o!"

I'm trying not to make these assumptions but it's like fighting against human nature. Instinctively, I want to label these kids. Slap a name tag on them quickly like "A + student" or "ADD kid" and have them figured out. But I know I shouldn't. I know I can't. As a teacher and follower of Christ, I have to believe in these kids. I want to believe in these kids. I have to see their potential which means I actually have to search for their potential, have to see past the first impressions, past the annoying tendencies, and past the walls they so neatly construct, the masks they so faithfully wear.

I will often have to pray, "Lord, help me to see this snotty-nosed brat as You do" and I am confident that He will answer. He has already answered that prayer in numerous cases. And the more I pray for my kids, the more I love them. The more I pray this prayer, the easier it is to see past all their pretenses and see their lonely, hurting, hopeful selves. And one of the best parts about this job is that I get to affirm them. I get to let them know that I see more in them than they show to the world. I get to say things like, "Hey, this was really good. Keep it up."

I said that yesterday as I passed back graded work and heard the girl laugh and mockingly say to a friend, "That's a first- a teacher telling me to keep it up." I knew she was saying it to look cool, to appear as if she didn't care and was reminding them that she's actually not a diligent student. When she handed in the very first assignment she said, "Just so you know, this is not typical for me."

I was a bit taken aback and told her, "I don't know that yet. Let me assume you do all your work."

And so far, she has done every assignment. I don't know why. Maybe they've been too easy. Maybe it's too early and she's still planning on failing eventually. Or maybe she's planning on trying, planning on caring this semester. I really don't know. She could fail like she did last semester, but maybe not. The joy of second semester is that she gets a clean slate with me. No pre-judgments or assumptions. She could be an A+ student for all I know.

And all I know is that I get to play a tiny role in this girl's life for the next 4 months. I get to see her every day and pray for her and encourage her and point her on the way her Maker would have her go. I can't make her go. I can't make her try. But I can look for greatness in her. I can try to see her as God does and let her know what I see.

And although she wanted me to have the impression that she is a lazy, "too-cool-for-school" kind of kid, she's sent me a very different message. She's given the impression that she doesn't always want to fail; that she loves hearing "good work" and wants to succeed but is terrified that she can't.

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