After a full period of correcting the behavior of one girl, only to encounter, again and again, her big eyes, widened with confusion and sure of their innocence, I ask her to stay after. Of course, I should have known better. I should have known that she would be too busy chasing a boy in the class out the door to stay after and listen to what I had to say to her. By the time she returned, knowing that she had made a huge mistake in walking out on me, I was seething.
“How dare you? How dare you defy me, and talk back to me and disrespect me? How dare you hit another student in my classroom, or throw things at people, or run around like a crazy person? That is not appropriate behavior for my, or any classroom!” The rant goes along those lines, recounting the many instances in the day when her behavior was not acceptable and explaining to her again and again that I am angry. There’s a cartoon that I have in my wallet that sums up how I frequently feel towards my students, in which a father stands over his daughter who is dwarfed by his stature and the size of the big arm chair she sits in. “I’m not disappointed, I’m just very very mad!” he tells her. I love it. http://www.cartoonbank.com/product_details.asp?mscssid=B940342K64GQ9G6VH474W84UG3K83JUA&sitetype=1&did=4&sid=125608&pid=&keyword=disappointed§ion=cartoons&title=undefined&whichpage=14&sortBy=popular
“I’m so angry with your behavior this week that I don’t even know what to say to you, Kasandra!”
“Miss, That’s who I act! That’s who I am! I can’t change that! You want me to be fake in your class?!” Kasandra defended herself against my reprimand. And suddenly it clicked that this is really a logical line of thought for my students.
“Kasandra!” I say, my voice shaking with frustration and anger, “it is not being ‘fake’ it is being a student! You are in school! We have different rules an expectations for your behavior in school – you don’t raise your hand to participate at the dinner table, but in school you do. It’s not being fake – it’s being a student!” she is defending her behavior of running around the room to chase some boy who called her a fat bitch, swiping at him. Even as I explain this, I realize that I have stumbled into something much bigger, and I don’t know how to begin to go down the path of this life lesson with her. Yes, little girl, being fake is what life is all about.
Life IS about roles – it IS about taking on different behaviors in different settings. To succeed in more arenas, you do have to be able to understand the expectations that are in place for yoru behavior, and find a way to live up to them. Maybe when you get right down to it – ‘fake’ is the word for it. And it seems so sad to explain that there are different molds you must conform to – that being yourself isn’t necessarily okay all of the time. In my mind, the mind of someone who learned all of these things long ago, it doesn’t feel negative. It doesn’t feel like you have to let yourself go in order to abide by societal standards. But maybe the ‘real’ me just isn’t that far from what societal standards mandate.
Be Fake. It’s the best advice that I can give to my students really. If you want to be successful in the traditional sense, you will have to learn to be fake. Don’t give yourself up, but yes, you must also learn to be fake. We all have to. When I put on my business casual clothing and walk into school and don’t swear at people who are rude to me or flaunt my political affiliations – aren’t I in some ways being fake? In a perfect world, your political or religious affiliations wouldn’t need to be taken off of your resume, as they are a part of who you are – but in this world we cover some things up in order to move forward.
How do I tell them to be fake, to speak and write and behave in the way that I think is acceptable, without it at some point feelings like I am asking them to change who they are? How do you teach them to conform without feelings like you are asking them to compromise their identity?