My Students, If Mutants

February 4, 2010 at 3:42 pm 4 comments

I was nominated for the local Invitational Seminar of the National Writing Project and need to fill out an application and do an interview before being selected as a participant. If I’m selected, I’ll go to a summer workshop that includes a mountain getaway and earn six graduate credits – credits that actually apply to my degree! – free of charge.

It’s a pretty exciting opportunity. 🙂

One of the questions on the application is, “Please describe the students you presently work with and teach.” I had just finished grading a quiz on which the last question was, “If you were a mutant, what ability would you want?” While walking from my classroom to the restroom after school yesterday, I wrote the following response for my application:

When asked what mutant superpower they would like to have, nearly 20% of my sophomores responded that they would prefer the ability to become invisible. A closer look at the respondents shows that they are subdivided into two camps: those (mostly male) who would use their newfound powers for mischief, and those (mostly female, and a larger group) who would use them to vanish forever into the wallpaper. That’s a fact about many of my students that bugs me in contemplative moments. What makes a fifteen-year-old kid want to withdraw from life so badly? What will become of them?

(One girl, to be fair, wants invisibility so that she can hear if people say rude things about them and “kick there booty’s!!”)

The invisible kids are in contrast to the 13% who would choose flight – many for the sheer joy of it, or for convenience (“I wouldn’t have to get a driver’s license”) but some, they admit, so that they could fly far away. From what, I don’t know, but I can guess: poverty, frustrated parents, tedium of seemingly irrelevant schooling, fears about uncertain futures. They’re harder to spot in the classroom than the ones who want to vanish, but it shows up in the inbox when their assignments don’t.

Twice as many girls as boys would like to be able to read minds; more boys would choose mind control, and two of them want it expressly so they can convince teachers to cancel quizzes and tests. The gender split is equal among the 9% who want superhuman strength; most of them are student athletes, but two are meek girls from migrant families, and I wonder what they would do with their powers. Five times as many boys as girls would choose superhuman speed; since they’ve mastered working and moving in slow motion, I’m in favor of this particular mutation.

More interesting is the boy who picked enhanced flexibility so that he would be a better break-dancer. He’s a taciturn young man with relatively little English, handsome with chiseled, aquiline features that lead me to suspect he has Cherokee ancestry. I have a hard time picturing him doing the worm, and I wonder what else is going on inside his head as he struggles to understand the reading.

One girl wants the ability to control others’ emotions. Another wishes she could speak all languages. Another girl, whose eyes are sad even when she smiles, wants to read minds so that she’ll always know the truth of what people are thinking.

One of their male counterparts thinks smaller, and would like to be able to snap his fingers and have all his homework completed instantly. I’m perplexed by a serious young man’s choice of the power to draw himself. Another boy chooses “the ability of absolute feminine attraction”; I suspect he meant “female,” but who am I to judge? 

Sixty percent of the students in my school qualify for free or reduced lunch, and we provide complementary breakfast to everyone; I know many of them attend school simply to get two square meals a day. None chose the ability to manifest food or to never feel hunger. Six, however, wish they could control fire or the weather. It is 28 degrees at night, and many of them have two unemployed parents. 
 
My students make me crazy with frustration when they earn single-digit grades by “forgetting” to turn in any work. They baffle me when they profess, as sophomores and juniors, to have never learned what a verb is or how many feet are in a mile. They gray my hair when they proffer bald-faced lies when I catch them cheating or texting. But my students make me smile when they walk into the room, when they act like hyperactive fifth graders at a school dance, when they come up with some startling insight far beyond their perceived cognitive ability. I’m rarely impressed with their writing ability or work ethic, but I’m often overwhelmed by their heart and by the responsibility I, or some other adult who touches their lives, have in guiding them to become adults.

One of my juniors just told me that he’s going to be a father. I’d bet a shiny nickel that he’s gay. He’s mad at me because I took his cell phone – how was I supposed to know, before he told me, that he was texting the mother as she sat in the doctor’s office? He’s a tender, angry young man whose life, as he’s known it, has just ended. And he is my student.

(And, because I’m a geek – and no, I didn’t include this with my application – here’s a pie chart. Click to embiggen.)

Chart showing breakdown of students' desired mutant abilities

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Entry filed under: BEING A STUDENT, STUDENTS, TALES FROM SCHOOL.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Stixen  |  February 4, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    me? I want the ability to tinker with time.

    Super slow mo can be like flying, jes?

    Reply
  • 2. Mrs. Bees  |  February 5, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    I used to be one of the kids who would choose invisibility and use it for the power of naughty, but these days I’d prefer telekinesis. Heaven preserve me from mind-reading abilities – I, for one, do NOT want to know what people are thinking! 🙂

    There have definitely been times in my life when I wanted the ability to control time, though – they were called “high school” and “college” and I primarily wanted a pause button so that I could take a nap and catch up on my work.

    Reply
  • 3. Molly  |  February 12, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    That was an inspired and heartfelt piece of writing from a teacher who clearly cares about her students. I hope you get into the National Writing Project, I too am applying for our local summer session. Good luck!

    Reply
  • 4. Kit  |  March 5, 2010 at 11:11 am

    I second the good luck wish. You deserve it and would benefit from the break in your beloved mountains. Let me know.

    Reply

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The Bee’s Knees

This is the teaching journal of a student first-year second-year THIRD-YEAR (!!!) English teacher. I am writing this blog as a reflection for myself, a way to keep friends and family updated, and a sharing-ground between other educators online. I love comments!

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