A student approached me one day during lunch and said, “Mr. Miranda, I’m wondering if you can do me a favor.”
“Maybe. What is it?”
“My friend just called and said some of our friends are skipping afternoon classes to go skiing. Can you not mark me absent today during 6th period?”
It’s difficult to describe the feeling I had in that moment.
On the one hand, the student felt secure enough in our relationship that he could be honest with me. However, I couldn’t escape the humiliation of being asked such a profoundly disrespectful question. In addition, I also sensed that what I had experienced encapsulated just about everything that is wrong with traditional schooling.
* * *
I learned a new vocabulary word when I became a classroom teacher: “Queejuss.” (Alternative spelling: Kweejuss.) As in, “Mr. Miranda, queejuss watch a movie today?” Or, “Mr. Miranda, queejuss go outside today.” Or, my personal favorite, “Miranda, queejuss do nothing?”
* * *
I was never quite sure what to do in situations like this. Of course, when a student asks me to lie on his behalf so he can skip class to go skiing, I would say no. But what do you say to the student when he then shows up for class? We’re going to be in class together for 55 minutes, and he’s already made a clear declaration that his mind is going to be elsewhere.
When a student calls out a request that we “do nothing” in class today, it’s excruciatingly painful to then go through the ritual of teaching—really, it’s just a pantomime of teaching—knowing that the student is merely marking time until the bell rings and he can move on to something in which he’s interested.
This is where the calls for increasing teacher salaries as a way to solve our education problems completely miss the mark. The talented, creative, geniuses we think we’ll attract with higher salaries simply have better things to do with their time than endure the indignity of teaching required classes to students who are interested in other things.
If we want to attract better teachers, we can start by creating educational environments that have dignity.
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