Words Matter, or Why I Teach.
When I archived my Facebook some years ago (two?), it was because I didn’t feel it added the same value to my life that it had in prior years. My long-distance connections waned; my frustrations at the lack of validity in content waxed; I increasingly made rules for myself governing my online behavior. One status update per day. Avoid vanity and vapidity. I now apply the same rules (mostly) to my Instagram account, and have a no-selfie rule that I break (that falls under category “vanity.”) I have tried, in this past year, to avoid being involved in political diatribe on my one social media platform, with the exception of a post about apologizing to Mike Judge for not having heeded his warnings in his prophetic 2006 film Idiocracy.
This year has been a tough one for me, professionally. A job I once adored has weighed me down in negativity. I find myself dwelling on the bad parts of my day and forgetting the good (2nd period, full of brilliant, kind, hilarious teenagers.) I question whether I can sustain twenty some-odd years of this. Of politicians making decisions for me. Of “the man” finding more and more ways not to pay me. Of President Trump insulting what I do every day. What I do exhausts me, but I chose to do it knowing that I would never get paid enough. I chose to teach knowing that I was doing something I loved, and that should be enough. Should be.
According to my new president, I am “depriving [students] of all knowledge.” I cannot stop thinking about this, days after his inauguration. My students asked to watch the event; I responded with a “no.” Not because Trump, really. I was slightly worried I would cry at the exit of my beloved Obama. But I denied them because I thought there was little value in watching a ceremony they could stream later; because I am not a history teacher and cannot find educational value in a ceremony I can only tie to our text Macbeth in terms of ambition and hamartia; because I felt it was more important to concentrate on our current lesson.
I have wanted to “teach Trump” as an English teacher so. many. times. The man’s rhetoric is astonishing, and often without craft. I did use him to teach my kids the difference between pathos and ethos, as Trump heavily favors the use of the former and Mrs. Clinton the latter. I so longed to use the debates during my unit on rhetoric - the cold logic of Clinton compared to the fiery emotion of Trump would provide such fertile text to analyze - I will admit, it is impossible for me to be impartial and so I let go this educational gem.
I think about my job all the time. I stress about a stray word here or there. Did I go to far with a student, telling her what she wrote was “nonsense” because I saw her scribbling it as I made my rounds to check their work, and it was clearly nonsensical in terms of the question? Have I stepped too far with a student that makes me lose my cool, every time he finds a grey area to wiggle through and make me question my own words? Have I been too lax, too sarcastic, too lazy? Am I doing right by my students? Can I be doing more, every day?
I am “depriving [students] of all knowledge.”
I would beg to differ. As I said, I chose to do this. Most teachers do. I know no teachers at my school who have chosen education as a “last resort.” It is thankless, so often. And then there are those moments - a moment when a student sees further into Macbeth than I ever have. A moment every day when my angelic student in 7th period gives me a smile that could light the world and says, “Hi, Ms. Wetzel” as he walks into my room. A moment when I see that the majority of my students scored at or above 7/10 on their state writing and I know it is because of me. Because of the others like me who have dedicated their days and their sanity to helping our students prepare to be citizens. Is that not our job as public educators?
We do fail some kids. We do. But do we “deprive [them] of all knowledge?” Absolutely not. And I am insulted to my core. I cannot stop thinking about it. Because words matter.
Through this election cycle, I’ve come to understand why some people voted for President Trump. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it. He represents hope for them the way that Obama did and does represent hope for me. I want to give President Trump the benefit of the doubt, especially in terms of the economy. It will be increasingly difficult, I’m sure, if this inaugural address foreshadows the next four to eight years. Words matter. His supporters often say “he’s all talk,” but words matter and he’s told the world that I and my colleagues are failing our kids.
I always think that the value of the English Language Arts is that I teach my kids to read the text, so they can read the world. I know the ones like me do that after they leave high school. I try to get to the ones unlike me, and show them there are two sides to every story, hidden undercurrents, connotation and denotation. Because words matter.
If you have been so kind as to read this, I am thankful. This was supposed to be a post on reducing waste in the kitchen. It turned into something else.