Today, in a class I was taking over for another tutor, we looked at Sherman Alexie's wonderful short story, 'What You Pawn I Will Redeem'. Or, at least, most of us looked at the story. One particular student began the session with his mini notebook open. When told he wouldn't need it and to please put it away (and he had to be asked twice) he sighed before finally closing the lid, then he proceeded to read something completely different while I read the short story out loud.
I'm pretty certain the same student would be quite upset if I blatantly read the newspaper, say, or a novel, while they read their own short story aloud. This is at TAFE, by the way, not secondary school - although I agree it's more the kind of behaviour I'd expect at secondary school - if only because mostly those students haven't actually had a choice as to whether to attend the session or not. TAFE students actively enrol themselves. They want to be doing the course. They've chosen to do professional writing and editing. They are, you'd think, interested in writing, editing and reading.
It's the behaviour of students like Mr I-Have-No-Manners that makes teaching so difficult and teachers so disenchanted.
I used to say my children when they complained about a particular attitude of mine or punishment meted out to them, 'You get the parent you deserve'. Most students deserve an engaged, interested teacher, prepared to put in a little extra time because their students share a passion for whatever is being taught. Others clearly don't. Personally, I'm a little fed up with being sabotaged by the minority. It's disheartening. Consider me disheartened.
On the upside, the Sherman Alexie story is a wonderful vehicle for discussing both myth and symbols and I'm as in awe of the story as I was the first time I read it two months ago. I love the quest of the anti-hero, the disappering people, the mysterious pawnshop and the compassion of the story. I love the structure, which should lend the story some imperative but, in fact, increases the sense of dislocation from time and reality suffered by addicts. I particularly love the end, that ephemeral moment of redemption - like the I Ching hexagram, Grace - a temporary state to be relished and remembered but not relied on.