Miss, Is Civics Important?

I had an interesting experience today that helped remind me not to judge a book by its cover.

Earlier this week I got a call for a history assignment for today. I was reeeeeeally hoping it was actually history, and I lucked out. I walked into the office to grab my plans, and was thrilled with the schedule: Grade 10 History, Prep, then two back to back periods of civics (my fav).

My morning was positively dreamy. My first period class was wonderful. I got to teach a lesson about the Great Depression AND help the kids write summaries. It was like blending both English and History into one, and I’m all about that. I spent my prep curled up in their lovely staff room reading a book a friend recommended to me. This book has completely drawn me in and I can’t put it down. More on this soon.

I was really excited to get into my civics classes this afternoon, as it is seriously one of my favourite courses to teach. There is SO much you can do with it, and it’s one of those courses where if you can engage your students, you can really make a positive impact. So, I’m there, I’m pumped, and then the students come walking into the room.

I say walking, but I should say shoving, strutting, punching and horsing around. Within 7 seconds my serene classroom transformed into a total zoo and it felt like chaos before I could even take attendance. There was a group of really rowdy boys, and they came in and totally took control of the classroom. They wouldn’t sit down, were swearing and aggravating one another and even started getting physical. They kept making excuses to try and leave the room and I had to stand in front of the door to block it. I had to put on my mean teacher face and yell in my big voice within two minutes of the bell. I was seriously so stressed out and hadn’t even been able to take attendance yet.

I finally got them all semi settled and into seats. I took attendance and handed out the assignment, which prompted more rowdiness and attempts to escape the classroom.

…then the angels from Academic Resource came to save me.

They must have known this was a challenging class, and they took out several of the ringleaders to work with them in the resource room. As soon as they left the environment changed dramatically. Everyone started to focus and do their work, and this class I was dreading turned into a lovely period. As I was circulating through the room, one student who had been part of the rowdy boy group and hadn’t been particularly motivated to work all period called me over. He said,

“Miss, is civics important?”

I asked him to clarify what he meant, and he rephrased:

“Is civics important for what I want to do after high school?”

I could tell these were genuine questions, so I looked around to make sure I wasn’t needed, and decided to settle in for a chat. I explained a little about active citizenship, and how this course prepares students to engage in their communities after school. It teaches students about how our country is run, and the process through which we elect our leaders. On a much more practical level, it’s a required course to graduate. So yes, civics is important.

He mulled this over for a minute, then I asked him what he wanted to do after high school.

He hesitated, then checking to see if his buddies were listening, responded that he wanted to be an accountant. It was not the answer I expected from this kid after seeing his behaviour in class, then I had to check myself: I had totally made a snap judgement about someone’s abilities based on their behaviour for a few minutes. His buddies were equally shocked and started to mock him for making such a lame choice. I shut that down in a hurry, and asked him to expand a bit further about his goals. He very seriously told me that it was just something he had always been interested in, and was drawn to math. He said he struggled in other courses but he always did well in math.

It’s why he wanted to know whether or not civics was “important”. Beyond that, he wanted to know if it was a realistic goal for him, or whether or not he should just shut it down now.

Here was a fifteen year old kid, wondering if he should even try to open the door to his dream career. This kid, who had been clowning around earlier had shed his mask and was, for a few minutes, being completely genuine.

I told him to go for it. I explained that it was very difficult and he would have to work hard, but that at 15, he still had lots of time to make it happen. We talked about choices and accountability, and that ultimately the choice was his. The boys around him noticed that I had taken his inquiry seriously, and also tentatively began to ask me about career paths they were interested in. Before I knew it, this group of boys I was sure were going to be trouble as the class began was engaged in a thoughtful discussion about their futures. Seriously. They stopped joking, were totally interested in each other’s ideas, and were open to my discussion about the opportunities presented in the careers portion of the course.

Then another student needed my help, and as I walked away the spell was broken and the silliness came back.

But, it was a much needed reminder that behaviours don’t define a student. I was ready to make judgements about the kind of kids these must be based on a few minutes of horse play, but they reminded me that it was just one side of themselves… perhaps the one they feel they need to show to survive the day. Who knows.

I hope that maybe, I made an impact today. That I was able to provide a little bit of support for a kid who was questioning his abilities.

I really hope that he does become an accountant one day.

And despite the need to use my big voice today,  I really love my job.

 

 

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