We Do Not Joke About This

18 Dec

Here’s what I wish I could say more concisely, but in reality would need a bus sized white board to best connect Thought A to Epiphany 33 while crossing through Concern 930, subsection B.

This is a sad little attempt to put this all together:

I’ve been preoccupied with a lot of thoughts this week, but most surround either –

– Peace Corps progress and updates (Think: planning, packing, purchasing, providing, filling out, mailing, emailing, questioning, reviewing…)

– Work-related events (Think: verifying sub jobs, planning travel time, setting lesson plans, emailing questions, filling out various timecards…)

– Attempts to comprehend the all-consuming horrors of Friday (Think:   …  )

Today seriously tried my soul/thoughts/head on so many levels.  Two things happened; I’ll try not to heatedly ramble.


Today, I had two students waltz into class 10 seconds before the bell rang.  Just as everyone was getting settled and preparing to at least give me half-assed attention, one of the two students threw her laptop bag loudly on the desk. “Oh god, we have a sub,” she yelled, rolling her eyes at me and hating me with a passion of a thousand suns.  “Just so you know, I’m not working today.  Also, I’m getting a drink.”  She grabbed the other student by the arm and started pulling her out of the room, which I quickly – and I know rather coarsely – shut down.

She might have been having a bad day.

They all might be having bad days.  I know this, but in this new district I work in – they can’t all be having rotten days every single day of the year.

These girls – and countless, countless other students I meet in this district are filled with such entitlement. It seems to me they feel ordained, as if it is their right to back talk administration, flaunt school rules (in place to keep them safe) ignore teacher’s instructions, and overall act so embarrassingly childish I’m afraid to even begin redirecting their behavior.

I don’t mean to judge them.  I don’t know about their lives or their troubles or their battles.  But I do believe that even if you are in the deepest depths of struggle, this does not give you the right to hate or disrespect others.  Ever.  Even if it is a class of peers you don’t appreciate and with a sub you don’t know.

Today, this attitude of ultimate superiority just happened frequently. Really, a lot.  Like, in every. single. hour.


Then, during the last hour of the school day, I passed out letters from the board of education with information about the tragedy and its implications on the school district.  Here, we have had some rumors about potential threats on Friday – this information was extremely important to pass along to families.

I asked my my ninth graders (most of whom were folding up or tossing out the letter) to make sure their family received the information and encouraged them to talk to family or school staff about any questions or concerns about the policy changes this week.

At this point two students began joking about “how crazy it would be to get their heads blown to bits like those dumb little kids in Connecticut.”

Maybe, at some point in life, you have also felt this searing anger and pain and frustration that instantly overcame any rational sense of myself, but I can hardly begin to put it into words.

I wanted to simultaneously mourn for these students and punish them so severely they would never smile again.  I snapped.  I can’t even recall exactly the words that came out of my mouth I was so disgusted and saddened.  I think I spewed something along the lines of, “That was by far the most insensitive and horrifying words you could have uttered.  We are talking about the brutal murder of beautiful, innocent little babies. We do not ever make jokes about this.”

Nobody said another word for the last three minutes until the bell rang for the end of the day.

I firmly believe in creating confident, assertive young adults.  Our students work smoothly in a more globally connected, personalized world than any other generation of students.

Yet it seems to me that many of these students – not all, but many – completely disregard the responsibility and respect that comes with it.  It took every ounce of self-control I possess to not look at that girl and criticize her every motion. How are you not on you knees eternally grateful to be alive this morning? Why are you not bursting into uncontrolled sobs at the thought of those tiny children dead while you are here hating your teacher for giving you an hour to free write? Why so much hatred?

I’m not quite sure how or if there is a conclusion to make about all this.  This is my sad ramblings. Like I mentioned, it would take far more planning than the five minutes I have stuck into this post to even begin to realize all these implications and realities.

But I have come to this:  more than anything, as a teacher, I hope to teach my students to appreciate every moment they have in this big, scary, beautiful world.  We are given this amazing ability to think and write and respect others, and the world has no place for those who do not strive to make it a safer, stronger, peaceful – better – place.

Now the real question: how do we do this?

Passing stranger! you do not know how longingly I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking, (it comes to me as of a dream,)
I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall’d as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured,
You grew up with me, were a boy with me or a girl with me,
I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become not yours only nor left my body mine only,
You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we pass, you take of my beard, breast, hands, in return,
I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you when I sit alone or wake at night alone,
I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.
– Walt Whitman

5 Responses to “We Do Not Joke About This”

  1. Tricia Cole December 18, 2012 at 7:21 pm #

    My heart not only goes out to the victim’s families in Connecticut, but to the sad state of mind of some of our youth. You are right not to judge, we don’t know their lives. Perhaps it is a fearful and immature reaction on their part. I am glad that you spoke up…it must have been difficult to hold back. God bless you, Olivia. You are a model teacher.

  2. Holly Arndt December 18, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

    I think every child should get a copy of this post and the teachers should lead a discussion on it. Your writing amazes me every time and really gets me thinking!

    • livjnelson January 7, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

      holly, you are the best cheerleader ever, and i can’t tell you how much i appreciate your awesome dedication. it just is the best.

  3. Ruth December 18, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

    As always…….love!

  4. Allyson Loomis December 18, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

    Ohhhhhhhhhhh Olivia. Sounds like the worst day ever. So sorry. You are a beautiful, gorgeous, wonderful teacher. You did exactly right today. (You didn’t “snap”; you taught.) And those entitled little muppets—they will someday learn that they are not the most important people on earth. The world show them that, good and proper. Love you so. Sleep well. XOXO Allyson

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