Sunday, December 18, 2016

Losing My Mind at a Third Grader

I had to halt after school improv class on Friday. My brain imploded, and I literally put out my hands like tiny stop signs to give an internally steaming (hopefully externally only rigid) lecturelet (mini lecture).

We were doing an ensemble monologue. Someone would stand in the middle of the circle and give a monologue. After a line of two I would pause the student and ask, "Okay, who has an idea about what might come next?" And then all the 9-year-old hands shoot up. Usually, honestly, they're already up--no matter how many times I explain, "When you raise your hand before the person has even finished their sentence, how can you possibly have an idea for what you will say next?"

People wax saccharine about the purity of children, the darling, the unconditional love. In improv, the most experienced teachers gospelize "Play like a child!"But every week I do see children improvise, and, man, they are selfish little pufferfish. Some things that are normal in the classroom: students who talk endlessly when others are on stage, students who refuse to play games they "don't like" despite never having heard of them before, students who refuse to have a three-line scene with the physically disabled student, students who refuse to stand near the hilarious and brave autistic kiddo, students who are disappointed literally every time I do not call on them, students who kick each other. I teach twelve children. Two are the exception to these behaviors. The others openly show disgust for even the suggestions of their peers. This is not all children. This is one class of third graders in Evanston. Still. We discuss respect every week, we have "positive" rules ("hands to yourself" vs. "no hitting"), I congratulate good behavior, I ask politely, I ask sternly. I try to proctor ensemble exercises. They won't.

I pump myself up before class hoping that despite the climate of the room, perhaps the lessons of teamwork, listening, and self-awareness are being internalized? Maybe specks? So, we're doing this monologue thing. B, one of the most challenging students I have ever had, is playing. He waffles between playing and not playing. He likes to sit behind the teacher's desk (not allowed), roll in her chair (not allowed), and make fun of other people's lines (not allowed) when he is not the star of a scene. The new rule is that anyone is allowed to sit, but then they're not allowed to participate until the current game is over. B usually starts sitting, then screams, "I wanna play!" and whines when he is not allowed to jump in a scene immediately. He was playing this monologue game. A girl volunteered to start. When I asked for a new volunteer, every single hand (as usual) went up. Then I chose another girl to continue. He screeched, interrupting the piece. "THAT'S TWO GIRLS IN A ROW." So I said, "STOP." I asked, "B, how many boys in the class are there?" He answered four. "Yes, and how many girls in the class are there?" Eight. I said, "Right, so in this class, girls will always be performing twice as much as boys. If boys performed the same amount as girls, that would be extremely unfair. Why should we go boy-girl anyway?" He shrugged.

I know the answer is probably that in his homeroom class his teacher calls on students boy-girl (which is disgusting and ridiculous). I don't think I snapped. I think I maintained cool, despite having to restart the activity. I know this child is merely a reflection of glass shards from the world we've given him. I'm just so tired of women being marked as to when they can and can't do things. My tolerance is waning.

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