I was a teenage dirtbag and people have often suggested that I must be a brilliant teacher because there’s nothing the students can do that I haven’t seen or done before. If you add to that the fact that EVERY teacher I ever had said that I had the brains to be so much more then what you have is a recipe for… something.
If I knew cookery better then I’d offer a more precise metaphor but picture something that is potentially perfect but easy to mess up, prone to disastrous results. I want to say soufflé but I’m not sure if that’s right.
Anyway… what I’m really trying to get at is that I’ve walked the walk of a disengaged, disruptive teenager before and I can still talk the talk quite fluently. I match their criticism with witticism, their talk down with talk back. They bring the sass? Myeh, I’m a Sasquatch.
I don’t know what it is but students seem to respond to that as though they respect a bit of attitude. Maybe it’s just that they like teachers who show a bit of personality and humour.
There are 2 problems here.
- These retorts need to be immediate to be effective, thinking time decreases their effect and, so, you’re not always censoring yourself as much as you normally would. When shooting your mouth in this manner it’s possible that you’re firing live bullets.
- Mental health issues, depression and teen suicide are too real to ignore in today’s day and age.
I know I’ve overstepped the line before. I am truly apologetic for the words that have come out of my mouth in times where I haven’t considered their impact and I wish I could take some of those hurtful things back. But I can’t. So, I’m doing the next best thing – I’m trying to create a more supportive, positive vibe in my classrooms.
It’s not easy. This sort of thing doesn’t come naturally to me. But I’m trying. One of the things I’ve tried to encourage is the students complimenting each other. That way, when my feedback or comments are negativity geared they can pump each other up.
That’s why, when I read this poem recently, it was everything I felt but never expressed. It was as though someone was telling my life through verse and had gotten my gender wrong.
That’s why I asked them if I could share it here. It wasn’t titled where I read it so I’m going to call it “Miss Roast”. It’s by fellow WA based teacher/poet, Elise Kelly.
They call me Miss Roast at school
It is a title of respect that crowns my head, put there by adolescent fingers
Shouted in open school halls like a student catcall or a grudging fanfare
Every day in class I read my students a Shakespearean insult
Though they can not sift through the Bard’s English, the cloaked insult is a language they understand
And breathe it like oxygen
There is no higher art form to them than invectives injected like venom into another’s tender skin
They roast their friends and foes over the same fire and feast on the spitting crackle, hoping they will not be burned in turn
Their favourite sport is the back-and-forth banter, the tennis-match rally of roasting and boasting
And although there is room for wit, they have no time for it
Their words are crude and cruel and so naive in their poison
But they call me Miss Roast because I can speak with their forked tongue
Relief teachers get a lot of shit, and I have learned to clapback and smackdown their jibes
I have clothed myself with comebacks and stood armed with retorts like they were a shield
But I fear they have become bullets that plant guns in their half-grown hands
They call me Miss Roast, because I can leave a student who gives me lip lying in the dust after the lick of my whip-like tongue
Hold my own against the sass of asshole dropkicks
But I wonder if I should be proud of the title
Rap for them comes only in battle form
Poetry to them is uncool until it is in a slam
My words are most worth their respect when I make them weapons, and I did not mean for this to happen
Why do I teach them an insult a day when I could teach them to be kind
Fill their ears with the music of Shakespeare’s sonnets of love
Teach them the ancient art of compliments where no one is the opponent, and victory comes from raising each other up instead of breaking each other down
They call me Miss Roast
A stamp of youthful approval for the fire in my breath, leaving the ground scorched
But I would rather be the warm sun helping these little buds to bloom