Monday, July 21, 2014

Fed Up

Me: You're thirty minutes late for your appointment.

Student: Oh...sorry. But you're here for the whole afternoon anyway, right?

Me: For this paper, I want you to develop an argument about violence in video games and other media and how they affect young people.

Student #1: What do you want us to write about?

Me: As I just said, you have to write about violence in the media and how it affects young people. I want you to do research for this essay.

Student #2: So do we have to do research for this essay?

Me: (Don't start screaming. Don't start screaming. Don't start screaming.) That's what I said.

Me: What do you need help with?

Student: I don't know. Can you just revise the essay for me?

Me: NO.

Student's mother: You have no right to lower my son's grade just because he missed class a couple times.

Me: Yes I do, especially because he missed seven classes in a row.

Student's mother: It was my fault, because I didn't remind him to go to class. (I swear I'm not making that one up.)

Me: (Do you still cut up his meat for him too?) I still have to lower his grade.

Student's mother: Do not punish my son just because of your policies. I pay the tuition, so I have a say in how this class should be taught.


Student: I have to miss the next four classes to go to a family reunion in another state. But if you think school is more important than family, I'll sacrifice time with my family to come to class.

Me: Don't try to give me a guilt trip or make me be the bad guy just for requiring you to do the bare minimum, which is to show up. And disregard the smoke coming out of my ears right now.

I really do love teaching. I've learned more from my students than I have from anyone else. I love that every class is different, because of how they respond to the material. I love it when their faces light up and they have that "aha" moment, when they finally understand what I've been teaching them. I love picking out books for them to study.

I DON'T love when students keep asking questions about things seconds after I just talked about them, so that I have to keep repeating myself. That tells me that they weren't paying attention.

I DON'T love the nasty e-mails I get from undergraduates' parents, who try to bully me into changing their kids' grades. (I never back down to any of them.)

I DON'T love the fact that my students claim that they can't afford to buy the textbooks for the class, but they have enough money for iPads, laptops, and iPhones.

I DON'T love the fact that no matter how many times I tell students to stop texting and updating their Facebook pages during class, they pull out their phones again during the very next class.

I DON'T love it when undergrads e-mail me to complain about their grades, pressure me to change them, and threaten to get me fired if I don't give them A's. (I never back down to any of them.)

I DON'T love it when students blame me for their bad grades, even if they're the ones who kept missing class, turning in work late (or not at all), or turning in first drafts instead of final ones.

Some days I think that I want to be a teacher for the rest of my working years. Other days I think of spending the next thirty years teaching, and I suddenly feel very tired, frustrated, and wistful for the kind of career that wouldn't have made my hair start turning white when I was still in my twenties.

I stay patient with these kids (even the ones who scream at me for giving them grades they actually earned), but sometimes it's tough to hold my temper. Sometimes I want to scream, too. But if I did, I'd be the one in trouble. I really don't think it's fair how students often get away with bad behavior in class, such as treating their teachers with disrespect, and teachers have little power to stop them.

What about you? Do you ever get fed up with your work or the people you work with? How do you deal with it?

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Best (and Worst) Things about Summer in Chicago

1. I don't have to put on four layers of clothes before I go outside.

2. I just wish that I hadn't eaten all that chocolate last winter so that I would feel more comfortable about walking around without four layers of clothes on.

3. I can go for a bike ride by the lake.

4. When I go bike riding, I have to deal with all the aggressive, nasty, and territorial cyclists on the bike path who yell, "On your left," "Incoming," and "GET OUTTA THE WAY, DAMMIT!"

5. The good-looking, muscular guys in tank tops.

6. The fact that most of the good-looking, muscular guys only have eyes for the skinny girls in short shorts.

7. Neighborhood festivals, like Halsted Market Days, Chinatown Summer Festival, and the Taste of Chicago.

8. People at the festivals who spill beer on you, which leaves you with no choice but to sneeze on their food.

9. Old movies that are shown on huge screens in the park, where people can set up beach towels, bring snacks, and watch the movies for free.

10. The jerks who set up huge lawn chairs right in front of the people sitting on beach towels, which leaves the latter with no choice but to throw popcorn at them.

11. The blue sky, sunlight, and a cool breeze that make you want to spend the whole day outside.

12. Sunburn, sweat, and bug bites from spending the whole day outside.

13. The view of the Chicago River and the skyscrapers in the Loop, which makes you realize how beautiful the city is.

14. The tourists who crowd the sidewalk, walk very slowly, and make you look forward to winter, when it'll be too cold for anyone to be on the sidewalk.

What about you? What are some of your favorite things (or pet peeves) about summer in your hometown?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Romantic Comedies vs. Real Life

Recently I read an article on titled "14 Lies That Rom-Coms Tell You", and it included "lies" like "every eligible bachelor in the world is a well-paid architect" and "your best friend exists for the sole purpose of listening to you complain about your problems". Although I love romantic comedies, I agreed with a lot of what that article said. In fact, it made me come up with a list of my own.

1. Skinny girls do not eat entire pints of ice cream while listening to sad music and still stay skinny. The skinny girls I know drink Diet Coke and complain about being fat, while I resist the urge to throw a mirror at them.

2. It's NOT cool to steal your best friend's boyfriend. I've never had a crush on any of my friends' boyfriends, but even if I did, I wouldn't try to steal any of them. I am currently plotting revenge (so far I'm trying to figure out how I can get a skunk to spray my neighbors or how to make them move to Antarctica) against my neighbors for stealing my magazines. When I find something that doesn't belong to me, like a wallet or a cell phone, I give it back. So I wouldn't go several steps further and steal someone's boyfriend.

3. It's also NOT cool to break up someone's wedding. I've lost count of how many scenes I've watched where the romantic lead crashed someone's wedding, declared his or her love for the bride or groom in front of everyone, and then sprinted off with the object of his or her affection. In the movies it's romantic. In real life it's selfish, cruel, and humiliating. I think that if the person I loved was going to marry someone else, I'd accept it rather than destroy his relationship and ruin his wedding. If someone tried to do that to ME, I'd send a skunk after her or possibly all the paparazzi who think "morals" are for cowards. In the movies, being "in love" supposedly justifies these kinds of actions, but I don't think that being in love gives anyone a free pass to hurt someone else.

4. 99% of the time, your cute male friends are not secretly in love with you. In my situation, my cute male friends were either taken, gay, or secretly in love with the skinny girls who drank Diet Coke and complained about being fat.

5. It's actually necessary to spend more than 5% of your time working. In several of the movies I watched, young women either spent most of their time at work flirting with cute coworkers or obsessing over cute coworkers. Other women didn't think it was necessary to go to work every day (or at all). When I'm at work, I don't obsess over cute guys; I obsess over grammatical errors, students who don't look up from their iPads during class, and the fact that basketball players earn more money playing one game than I earn in a year.

6. People don't usually kiss in the rain, at least not here in Chicago, because they'll a) get wet; b) get knocked down by impatient Chicago commuters (one of whom may or may not be me); c) get heckled by drunk Cubs fans who will also record them on their cell phones.

7. In romantic comedies guys make grand gestures like fill girls' apartments with flowers, take them for moonlit canoe rides, or serenade them outside their window. In real life, most of the guys I've dated think that "grand gestures" usually involve texting.

I still love romantic comedies. For me, they're an "escape" and a modern-day version of fairy tales. But I know that fairy tales aren't real, and it's not okay to imitate all the behavior in the movies. The problem with movies and fairy tales is that they often create unrealistic expectations of romance and people in general. These types of stories are still told because people still want to "escape", and some of them still hope that what happens in those stories will happen for them.

What about you? What are some "lies" that you've seen in romantic comedies or other types of movies?

Monday, June 30, 2014

New York, Here I Come!

In less than two months I'm going to do what, to me, used to be the unthinkable: take a vacation. I used to think that I'd rather be trapped in an elevator with Justin Bieber and Honey Boo Boo's entire family than go on a vacation. Even when I watch TV, I can't relax; I just keep thinking about all the work that I still have to do. I didn't think I'd be able to deal with several days off, because I rarely take even just one day off.

The last time I did any real traveling was when I participated in a study abroad program in Spain; that was thirteen years ago, when I was twenty. Most of my classmates slept or sunbathed all day and then went barhopping at night with American tourists. I walked up and down the streets of the city I lived in, ate tapas at Spanish bars, visited Barcelona and Bilbao, went to museums, talked to Spaniards (who were amused by my clumsy attempts at Spanish), almost converted to a new religion before I finally realized what they were talking about (I'm not making that up), and wrote down everything I saw and experienced in my journal. I resolved that when I got older, I'd continue traveling and see the world.

I didn't. Instead I got my master's degree and started teaching high school students, half of whom cursed me out or started fights in class; the other half showed me poems and rap lyrics they wrote and confided in me about their problems with other students and their families.

I went on to teach college students during the day, where I had to deal with students who acted like Kim Kardashian had just been elected president when I gave them B's. I worked in a bookstore and a clothing store at night. I had the money to travel, but I didn't have the time.

I traveled to Kentucky to review AP literature exams. I traveled to New Orleans and St. Louis for weddings. I went to my parents' home in another state twice a year; lately I've had to go there more often to help them with personal issues, and I even had to give up my spring break one year for them. But I haven't gone anywhere that was just for me. 

Now I'm in my thirties and I think back to that twenty-year-old girl I used to be, the one who didn't work all the time and was eager to soak up as much of life as she could. I stopped being that person several years and several jobs ago. I think that working two or three jobs, seven days a week, for so long drained me and turned me into a neurotic workaholic.

Last year when I was going to my parents' house to take care of their dogs so that they could go on a vacation, I thought about how unfair it was that I never got to go on my own vacations. And then I thought, what's stopping me now? I have the money and I have the time. So why not go?

I chose New York because I've read so many books and seen so many TV shows and movies that are set in New York. I also heard that you don't need a car to get around the city, which is good because I usually don't stop shrieking until I take my hands off the steering wheel.

So I finally booked a trip to New York for the end of August. I reserved a room for four nights in Chinatown, partly because it's on my list of places I want to see. I also want to see Times Square, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and that Serendipity cafe from that John Cusack movie. I want to eat New York style pizza (though I still think Chicago-style pizza is the best), buy an "I Heart New York" T-shirt and be the stereotypical New York tourist. I also kind of want to dance on that giant keyboard in Fao Schwartz like Tom Hanks did in Big. I'm not bringing any work with me, and yet somehow I think I'll be able to relax. I can't wait.

What about you? What's your dream vacation?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Prom Night

I didn't go to prom in high school. I was significantly overweight (which is why I go to the gym so often now), and most of the guys didn't talk to me that much unless they needed help with their homework or they were making fun of me.

I could have gone to prom with one of my guy friends, which is what I did for a few of the other school dances. But I always thought that if I did go to prom, it should be with someone I really liked and who felt the same way about me. There was something romantic about prom (maybe it was because of all the cheesy prom scenes from high school movies that I'd watched), and it didn't feel right to me to go with someone that I didn't have romantic feelings for. I'm not criticizing anyone who did attend prom with a friend, though, because I'm sure that can be fun too.

On prom night, I went to Dairy Queen and watched movies at home. I didn't tell my friends how much it bothered me to have to look at all their prom pictures when we were back in school; they were oblivious to how much it hurt me.

I've been thinking about it lately because even though the school year is now over, I still remember all the articles I've read about high school students who invited celebrities to their proms.

I don't know if anyone else has heard of it, but I guarantee you that the next time there's a homecoming dance or a prom, there will be more news articles about even more teenagers who want movie stars, musicians, and athletes to escort them. It reminds me of when I was in high school and I had a crush on Lance Bass, who was in the boy band N'Sync; he later turned out to be gay. I also had a crush on Ricky Martin, who also turned out to be gay. (My gaydar wasn't very good back then.)

Those articles bother me. I can understand the appeal of going with a celebrity to prom. Everyone has had a crush on a celebrity at some point. They often seem larger than life, and many of us (myself included) tend to create this imaginary image of them that often contrasts with who they really are.

But I think that many of those teenagers invite celebrities not just because they have crushes on them but because they want to be the center of attention. They want news articles to be written about them; they want to be on TV; they want all eyes to be on them on prom night.

I think it is nice when famous people accept those students' invitations. Contrary to many of those students' hopes, none of those invitations resulted in romantic relationships. But it is nice of those celebrities to take the time for their fans. I don't think it's nice when teenagers promote their invitations on Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube and go "viral", which makes the celebrities feel pressured to say yes.

I think it'd be even nicer if those teenagers invited "the shy kid" or "the class nerd" to prom instead. I remember what it was like to be a nerd in high school, and I know how much it would have meant to me if I had been invited to go to prom.

But instead these teenagers make it clear that their expectations are set very high, as if they feel entitled to go out with Grammy winners or Olympic medalists. And I don't think that's right. I'm not saying that celebrities are better than regular people; they're not. But I don't think they should be pressured to go out with these kids, especially since it seems like those kids want celebrity dates not necessarily because of the celebrities themselves but because of what they get out of them.

What do you think of this new trend? If you could have gone out with a celebrity, who would it be? If you did go to prom, what was it like?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

When It's Hard to Be Polite

Today I went to a cafe to write. I like writing in cafes, partly because of the good food and coffee, and partly because I like the atmosphere. It's also because if I have to listen to my wannabe musician neighbor play the same chord for hours at a time, I just might plaster his door with One Direction posters for all our other neighbors to see.

While I was writing, I noticed an old man with a cane hovering over my table. It made me uncomfortable, but I kept writing. Then a barista loudly asked if anyone would be willing to share or give up their table for the old man. Two men sitting nearby offered to share their table; they were very friendly and nice about it. But the old man just stood there; he was adamant about getting his own table. The barista kept loudly asking for someone to give up their table again and again. Finally I reluctantly said that he could have my table.

I told the barista and the manager that I had a right to sit there and I didn't appreciate being pressured to give up my table. Don't get me wrong; I know he couldn't sit at one of the high stools near the window. When I'm on the bus or train, I always give up my seat to elderly passengers. I try to help older people in other ways. Once I helped an old woman carry her groceries in the pouring rain. There's another elderly homeless woman who hangs out at a cafe near my apartment, so sometimes I put a few bucks on a gift card and give it to her so that she can buy food and coffee.

So it's not like I'm completely indifferent to the elderly. But I think if I buy something at a cafe, I have the right to sit down. I would never do what that old man did; that is, I would never stand over someone's table and insist that someone else give up their seat. In fact, I went to that cafe because the first one I went to was too crowded.

The manager and barista defended the customer, saying he was a regular. I'm a cafe regular too; I drink so much coffee that sometimes I start running around like Speedy Gonzalez. I don't think that regulars have the right to demand their own tables; I never do that at the other cafes I frequent. The whole situation made me angry.

I try to be nice to people, whether it's opening a door for someone with their hands full or helping someone in a wheelchair cross the street. I don't expect people to go out of their way for me, but it bothers me when people are rude, like the driver who screamed at me when I crossed the street (the sign said walk, so I thought it was okay) and then drove up beside me and kept screaming. It bothered me when some kid was running down the sidewalk so fast that he knocked me into the street, in the face of oncoming traffic. Instead of apologizing or helping me get back up, he and his friends pointed and laughed at me lying there in the street.

It bothers me when jerks shove me out of the way to get on the bus first, or when my neighbor refuses to be quiet at 3 A.M. (I asked) and then acts like I'm the one with the problem because apparently he's a vampire who doesn't sleep at night.

I try not to let it bother me, but it's hard to be polite when I encounter rudeness almost every day. I know that I should be mature and grownup, even when others are not. But sometimes I want to respond to their rudeness by giving them a taste of their own medicine. I don't, though.

What about you? How do you deal with it when people are rude to you?