The Secret life of Slugs


January 16, 2011 by readlisaread

I have a few grade 9 classes.  They are the senior students in the school, and as is usually the case, they have an attitude.  They aren’t bullies or overly mouthy or particularly badly behaved.  Their attitude is one of sluggishness.  Severe sluggishness.  They are Slugs.

Now, you might be thinking “Wait, Lisa, it’s your job to motivate them, yes? If you create interesting and engaging projects, they will be interested, no?”  Well, to a certain extent, you would be correct, and it is always my fervent hope that my amazing ideas and stellar-mad teaching skills will inspire my charges to great things.

However, if you know grade 9’s (AKA ‘surlies’), and if you add in a SES at the lower end of the low end of lower, and throw in some racial tensions, some low self esteem, poor diets, lack of respect for education and just in general leading a life of “Meh”, you can picture my slugs.

I have one student in particular who really, basically, never does anything. He is in two of my classes this year, and puts about the same amount of effort into both of them. I know he is a smart boy, and I don’t actually think he has any kind of learning disability.  I hope he isn’t abused or maltreated at home, but I don’t know. I assign work, I remind him he needs to be doing it, I ask him for it when it’s due, but that is the extent of it.  I am not the “I will punish you until you give me your work” kind of teacher.  I think detentions and letters home and harassment and torment are all very productive in terms of getting work handed in, but in equal measure instill a real loathing for actual learning.

So, I have a real hands-off approach, and just hope that they absorb something along the way.

The other day, I was frustrated because Slug-boy had, once again, spent the class doing nothing.  The assignment in question was a simple mapping assignment, not difficult, somewhat meaningful, and easy enough without being mind-rotting. I have software for my Teacher computer that allows me to remote-view the student screens.  I don’t use it often for “surveillance” more so I can remote-control their screen and help them with something. On this particular day, though, I thought I would peek in on his computer screen and see what was going on with the student who seemed to have nothing going on.  His map was sitting beside him, blank, untouched–nay, completely unsullied with work of any kind. Expecting to see “Vampires vs Zombies Shopping Cart Hero Rampage” or something equally mind-rotting playing, instead I saw something I never expected a grade nine boy to even know about, let alone care about.  On his screen was a document recently released during the Wikileaks extravaganza.  This document in particular related to the US Military.  Why was he interested in this?  I’ve no idea.  Was it acceptable that he being doing something other than his assignment, regardless of what his off-task behaviour was?  Well, no, I suppose not. But while I need my students to have some basic grasp of the curriculum, more importantly, I want them to find meaning in the world, to challenge their own learning, and for Gods’ sakes be INTERESTED in something meaningful. Care about the world around them.  Know that there is something beyond our walls, beyond our small town, beyond.

I didn’t interfere with his reading.  I’ll have to steer him again, in the future, I’m sure.  I don’t anticipate getting much in the way of “work” from him, but I aim to get examples of his learning, one way or another.

Earlier this year there were a few tense weeks that turned into a couple of joyous days as the whole world watched the Chilean miners brought to the surface after 69 days in the dark.  Another student in this same class, when trying to clarify what, exactly, a Current Event was, was not even vaguely familiar with the story, days after the rescue. She gets her work done, more or less, prettily colours her projects, and writes What the Teacher Wants to Hear in her assignments, and basically is successful in our 1950’s model. She’ll probably get a higher mark for the course than Slug-Boy.

But who is the better learner?  Who knows more about what is important in the world?  Well, the jury’s still out on that one.  He may have been looking through Wikileaks in the hopes of finding cheat codes for Call of Duty Black Ops for all I know. He might have thought Miners trapped in Chili referred to some grotesque industrial accident at the Wendy’s plant. But I plan to remain ignorant and hopeful.

That class is going to be given a Blogging assignment.  I wonder if they will bother to read mine, and if they do, will they recognize themselves?  Hmm….. perhaps I’ll call it Bloggyleaks.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by LisaRead, LisaRead. LisaRead said: A day in my life of my grade 9's: […]

  2. Thank you for sharing this post. I enjoyed it. I agree with you 100%! Who is the “better learner”? The one that knows how to lie, or the one that is looking for current events and seeing what is going on around the world? Let me know when the jury comes back. . . . .if they ever do.

  3. I love this view of the students in your class and I can definitely relate. Wonder if we will have the chance to know.

  4. readlisaread says:

    Thank you both SO much for your comments. It is so odd to think of teaching as an isolated/isolating profession, but it really can be. It’s not my ego that needs affirming, it’s my compass. In other words, I think it’s so easy to become jaded and askew, it’s good to hear I’m making sense. Thanks again!!

  5. I see the same behaviors from some of my kids. Honestly, I worry the most about the “teacher-pleasers” my room. They are only out to get the right answers on the tests, and I wonder, with sincere concern, what will become of them when there are no more tests with right or wrong answers. The real world isn’t about having the correct answer, its about being able to adapt to a situation and knowing how to find an answer that isn’t in front of you in black and white.

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