Friday, January 04, 2008


E is for Entitlement

Lately I’ve come to realize that one of the big problems my students and I must constantly face is our own ingrained sense of entitlement. It’s safe to say, I think, that all of us – the teenagers in my English classes and their senior citizen teacher – have somehow come to believe that we are deserving of certain privileges. Certainly we don’t expect to have total success at school, but we seem to think we deserve to get mostly good grades or evaluations, be praised most of the time, succeed way more often than fail, and generally have things pretty much go our way. It’s how the world is supposed to work, we think. We are supposed to succeed. We are not supposed to flounder and fail, not us. This may seem like an implausible analysis, but it’s the only explanation I can come up with for why my students and I get upset when things don’t go our way. When the kids receive a low grade on an essay, they invariably get distressed, worried, frustrated, and sometimes discouraged. Likewise, when my lesson plan totally bombs, I’m shocked, disappointed, and often full of either self-pity or self-loathing. It’s as if my students and I are crying out, “This is not supposed to happen to me! The world is not supposed to work this way!” Truthfully, this kind of aggressive, defiant reaction to failure suggests a totally self-centered outlook on life. It’s like we are proclaiming that we are the center of the universe, and all things are supposed to revolve around us, and if they don’t, we will get angry, defensive, and belligerent. We believe we are entitled to have things go our way, and when they refuse to, we’re ready to either cry or fight, or both. I hope I can bring, in this second semester, a different spirit to my classroom. I hope to convince my students (and me) that we are no more entitled to endless successes than we are entitled to endless sunny days. The weather changes haphazardly, and so do our fortunes. Rain eventually comes after sunshine, and failure eventually comes after success. Always. There’s no avoiding occasional lousy weather, and there’s no avoiding occasional low grades and disastrous lessons. The universe is an almighty and immeasurable place, filled with limitless numbers of variables, each of them trying to be at the exact center of things, and for my young students and I to pretend that we are the only centers, the only ones who deserve to be treated well, is utter foolishness. We need to listen to physicists, who tell us that everything is at the exact center of the universe. We need -- and I will be trying to help us do this from now until June -- to maintain a view of reality that is not centered around our little, individual, worried selves. We need to keep the "big picture" -- the infinite picture -- in mind. We must continue working hard, and when the bad weather of poor grades or dreadful teaching comes, we should simply smile, put up the umbrella, keep doing our best, and patiently wait out the storm. The sunshine will return. It always does. We are entitled to that.

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