It was only a few days before some of my old students started finding me and following me on Twitter. I have to admit that it was pretty nice to see their names show up and get to reconnect (in a small way) with them during their senior years of high school. Being that I was pretty entrenched in high school culture last year, I wasn't oblivious to the fact that young Twitter users can really get themselves into some less-than-favorable situations using their accounts. Even without an account myself, I saw some pretty appalling things on the site--things that were just out in the open for any old person to see. Things about other students, things about teachers, parents--things about me. When these things are said in conversation, they go away. They aren't seen by 600 people who follow one user's live stream of tweets. But Twitter enables people to have some of their low moments publicly. It gives people, teens specifically, a seemingly harmless way to air their grievances in a manner that is, well, teenagerish. Back when that was just done in conversation, over the phone, or in pencil lead on a piece of paper, it felt like there was less danger in being emotional and angry. Kids were just being kids. And they still are--just....in a place where everyone can see what they're saying.
Before I really dive in here, take a look at the following video. It's created to imitate a bit that Jimmy Kimmel does on his show called "Celebrities Read Mean Tweets." If you haven't seen any of those, do yourself a favor and Youtube them. They're hilarious. They're also a sad kind of commentary on the world in which we all live. Anyway, the video I'm embedding here is a group of teachers who have been shown the tweets their students post about them for all to see on Twitter. They respond Jimmy Kimmel-style.
Teachers have to have thick skin. That is true. But when is enough, enough? Bullying isn't just something that students suffer from.
In my first few days of joining Twitter, I seriously debated about shutting down my account again and never opening another. Ultimately, I kept the account because I ended up kind of awed at the fact that I could interact with some of the authors I really admire--and they'd favorite the tweets I made about their work. And I'm able to follow agents I'm trying to submit to and other people whose lives and work were kind of out of reach before I really started using Twitter. (Admittedly, I'm still a pretty quiet presence there. Follow me! @EmAeEmEn )
I'd had my account for about three days, so I didn't even really understand what I was doing yet. I was clicking on the tabs exploring--and I had tapped the activity tab (which, as far as I can tell, shows you what the people you follow are looking at or whatever) and imagine my surprise when I found....myself. In a tweet. Again.
I haven't even been teaching since MAY of 2013. I'd like to sit here and tell you I let stuff roll off my back really easily, but that isn't the truth. I'm kind of a sensitive person who fakes being tough. I know you are surprised. Anyway. had my teaching been hated on publicly once again, it would have stung, yes, but I would have been able to shrug it off. I worked my butt off and did the best job I could given the large load under which I was just barely breathing at the time. Had the tweets just been criticizing my efforts, I would have let it all go a bit more by now. Unfortunately, though, the conversation didn't go that direction. What I saw was mockery of something I'm already self-conscious of by students who I was really fond of. And yeah, it did a little more than make me shrug and have to reassure myself that I did a good job. It took, in fact, pretty much every single ounce of restraint I had in me not to make a comment. I fought with myself for quite a while about whether or not I should say something. It was ME who was the topic of conversation, after all. Shouldn't I get to stand up for myself?
I realize I haven't even divulged what was said--though you can probably guess a little by my title. The tweets were about how my class was good for nothing but learning how to bullshit and "how not to talk to someone who's cross-eyed." There was actually more, but I'm not even going to talk about it here. Suffice it to say, I was--and am--disappointed. And hurt.
I was lucky not to get made fun of to my face as a kid for my eyes very often. But I know I did when people thought I wasn't listening. To make a long story short on the eyes, I have a condition where the muscles in my eyes are very weak. I've had multiple surgeries to correct them so that they don't turn in. My last surgery was seven years ago. The condition is called esotropia, if you're wondering. I have almost no depth perception. Poor peripheral vision. I have astigmatism. I am extremely light-sensitive. I am near-sighted. I am far-sighted. I have bifocal contact lenses and glasses, and the eye doctor told me that I have the eyes of someone who is about 50 years old. All in all, thanks to medical technology and an incredible specialist and surgeon, I do well for what's going on. I have to learn things differently than most people when it comes to anything requiring physical and spatial awareness, but I do learn--it just takes more time and patience. Despite all this, however, I forget I have vision issues. I forget every single day.
I've operated with what I have my entire life--and when I lost depth perception and peripheral vision and things, I was young enough that now I can't remember seeing any other way. I do remember it getting worse, as the experience leading up to the last surgery was rather scary. But I am lucky that I can forget the severity of my eye issues. And when I ventured into teaching, I tried not to let it bother me when my students would notice my eyes. I can feel people notice them. Most of the time, they let it go. Or they'll ask about my eyes after a while. And I happily explain. And then it is usually over.
I can't tell when my eyes cross. I never have been able to unless I am really paying attention. Because they've always done it, my brain adjusts my vision so that I pretty much never see double. The crossing only happens a little bit usually, but when I am tired or sick, it increases significantly, so the kids I taught last year probably did see it happen often. It just kind of shocked me when I saw it out there on Twitter after having been in a room with them every single day for an entire year and building what I thought was a pretty good teacher-student relationship. At any rate, this has been bugging me for weeks on end--because when people point it out to me, then I start to pay attention to my eyes more and notice they're unbalanced or shifting when I'm talking to other people. And then it happens even more. And then I stop making eye contact and do the head-turns and head-hangs of avoidance. My cheeks heat, and I find myself feeling like a weirdo--when, half the time, I don't even remember I have a problem.
When I interviewed for jobs, I always wondered if I should just start off by mentioning my eye issues to get it out of the way. I get really self-conscious in interviews because of all the eye contact an interviewee is supposed to make. I wondered if it was something I should mention on the first day of school to my students. But I just didn't do either. I don't know why. I guess it's because when I am thinking about my eyes a lot, I can feel them get crooked and do things I can't control and don't want people to see. And I don't want to think about that--because even though it is a big part of me, it's not something I have to think about all the time. It also isn't something that I feel like is significant enough to warrant it as a conversation topic upon first meeting. I assume that people will notice, and I also assume they'll get over it. So to see my stuff, my insecurities bared right out there on the internet without me present in the conversation, well, it's kind of painful.
Anyway, I just thought I'd supply an answer to the question that wasn't quite asked in those tweets I saw. How do you talk to a person with crossed eyes? (*Note: I did not say a cross-eyed person. I am not my eyes. I am not my condition. A person is not his or her handicap.) You talk to them like any other person. Oh, you don't know where to look? I'm not really sure how that is confusing. Look at their face. Look at their eyes. If the person is me, I'm not going to know you're looking at my eyes because they are crossed, since, you know, I can't tell it's happening unless you're bad at dealing with it. I could have sympathy for you, but, as the kids say now, #sorrynotsorry. Talk to me as a human being, because that is what I am. And please, don't tell me about what's going on with my eyes. I know already. I may not feel it, but I am aware of the problem. Ask me questions if you have them, but don't do it to be a jerk. And if you're going to mock me, do it to my face so I at least have a chance to cross my eyes on purpose at you in disdain.
Will all this business matter when I am dead? Yes.