Pity Potty

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben's Patreon at $10 or more
Already a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to access this content.



21 thoughts on “Pity Potty”

  1. Yay, Tina!
    I just posted on my blog about When Students Advocate for Better Teaching. The anecdote isn’t my experience, but it shows the power of storytelling. Co-creation of stories is even more powerful. Hm, I’m going to have to post some thoughts about that. JRR Tolkien talked about the process of “sub-creation” and what that means.
    Just in case you want to read my post:

  2. “If you wanted to create an environment to churn out really angsty people, we’ve done it,” says Janis Whitlock, director of the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery. Sure, parental micromanaging can be a factor, as can school stress, but Whitlock doesn’t think those things are the main drivers of this epidemic. “It’s that they’re in a cauldron of stimulus they can’t get away from, or don’t want to get away from, or don’t know how to get away from,” she says.”
    I think this passage captures the main point of the author. Reading this article was the best prep I could have done for administering final exams this week: being mentally ready to absorb the anxiety students carry with them. Thanks for sharing it, Ben!

  3. What an image Whitlock suggests, Sean! It’s as if our children are now in some sort of underground cavern lit by electronic impulses and they can’t find their way out and we can’t find our way in.
    The image casts our work in a new light, doesn’t it?. It gives more immediate if not more urgent purpose to our teaching, where a good story could be a pod launched into the cavern to make at least some degree of contact.

    1. Craig according to the Urban Dictionary both terms exist:
      sitting on a pity potty is a more solitary exercise than going to a pity party, but both describe feeling sorry for one-self.
      While sitting on the pity pot, the victim bemoans his or her own fate, usually only making comparisons with those more fortunate–those richer, smarter, funnier, sexier, and better looking. And in far less trouble!
      “Oh, woe be me!” is a common thought, as is “Oh shit, oh damn!”

  4. Yes! Students have burrowed themselves into a “cauldron of stimulus” with the threat of earthquakes (i.e., that pesky he said, she said stuff) causing the walls of the cavern to collapse in. So connected with everyone, yet so alone.
    Thinking back to my teacher training days in 2003 and how we often talked about a hook to begin a lesson; something flashy and eye opening. Now, 15 years later, we’re seeing how beginning a lesson is often best done not by some flashy presentation but by a centering, calming exercise.
    A lot of other subject matter teachers can learn from us in how we command students’ attention; how we center and calm them so they may listen fully.

    1. Sean your insights point to the future of education. When the external stimuli on our kids reach their maximum intensity (in the cauldron), we can expect the shift to mindfulness in class to finally happen. It may be some years away, but it will happen. There will be a shift in awareness, and concern for each other in the classroom will heighten.
      Meanwhile, the way we have chosen to teach even now in the fires of the cauldron (of ignorance, the price demanded by the screen gods) is paving the way for the big rescue operation – already underway – to get those kids back from the fires of, it often seems, hell. But God never forgets anyone. It’s almost shamanistic work, this. We work to reclaim our children under the guise of teaching them a language.
      How do shamans work? They go into the deep places where the person they are working with is hiding, where their authentic self cowers. They coax the true person out from the false person, for us the teenage mask. Do we not coax in our work? That is why this CI stuff is so important, bc it involves kids on the level of emotion and the heart and not just through the brains (grammar instruction). It’s all healing work – that is what it really is.
      How can one learn something unless one is happy when learning it?

  5. I think eventually school, at least in it’s current form will eventually not exist. I have students who are into engineering. Why should they not just go to an apprenticeship now and study that full fledge instead of being forced into going to two more years of high school and then two more years of gen eds?
    In Europe I know that FC Barcelona and Real Madrid actually have high schools. Students in those schools play soccer for most of the day. The ones that don’t make it pro end up being the coaches & sports medicine people.
    We force even kids who have a definite path to sit in school at a time in their life when they are ready to conquer the world.

  6. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    I am of two (or more) minds on this. I’ve heard Dr. Krashen talk about allowing kids to follow their passion from a tender age – and not be required to do all the gen-ed stuff. But if someone has a sleeping interest or propensity for a particular subject or vocation, and it gets no light or water…?
    My brother’s stepson had a horrible aversion to math in gradeschool. My bro sat patiently from prolly middle school onward and made it seem simple. Needless to say, the kid who never even imagined himself in college is now a happily employed CPA.
    I guess one of many issues is, does a generalist exposure like the required classes in HS beget well-rounded Ss who have the thinking skills and exposure to make more informed career and vocational choices later?
    To me it looks more complex than, “follow your passion…” though I could be talking from a dinosaur/Ivory Tower place – dunno.

  7. I think Greg has nailed the core thought, but the issue of wasted time comes into play. Over the past few decades my four boys were all scheduled to graduate from Columbine HS – only a few minutes walk from our house so they didn’t even have a commute, which as we all know is one big pain in the ass. Only one of the boys will have graduated from there and he hates it but wants the AP courses (the others went to other more alternative schools).
    Their big complaint? Teachers who were forced by the textbook and testing to make it boring. Any greatness that my boys’ teachers had in them when they started out was replaced by a need to control and inflict what we as teachers know well is a kind of mental suffering on their students. It had no small role in the shootings there. So my boys wonder what the hell “being educated” even means. And it didn’t help that I’m their dad, since my idea of eduction is not what they are doing in those high schools.

    1. It is not such a far-reaching statement to say that schools destroy teachers, not just students*. They only act involved in class. It’s not real. For some it is, but most go into role. What a way to spend tax dollars! So if a teacher now crawling to the winter break finish line wanting a much needed rest, just realize it’s not you – it’s a broken system and why, eventually, the great American experiment to educate everyone can’t work.
      How many high school kids have we taught who just wanted to be with their dads learning how to repair cars.
      *The reason I am still standing after 40 years of this insanity can only be attributed to divine Providence and unlimited Grace.

    2. So Alisa as far as school providing a generalist exposure leading to well-rounded students, I don’t think it does. The kids are not well-rounded because most don’t have loving and balanced step-dads like your brother to guide them along. Many parents these days think like Betsy Devos. Think about that.
      When there is meanness in the instruction that is related to a need for the teacher to control the instruction to prepare for the only thing that counts – the test, then students don’t emerge well-rounded. They end up fearing the test and going into role. God bless their innocent, victimized hearts. Such is the result of the testing fetish in our society. The price has been high; we are not educated because we don’t know how to talk to each other.
      When students take a language class with one of us hippy freaks doing NTCI and trying to reach them in that way when the culture of the building is based on testing, then they naturally rebel. Who wouldn’t? This is critical, because a lot of the people reading this tend to blame themselves for not being able to reach the kids with NTCI, but it’s not their fault. They should carry on and keep the faith, and not give up. It’s not our fault – we are doing important and intensely patriotic work.

  8. Yes, some teachers can’t/aren’t allowed to prioritize relationship and community first. They think they have to teach the textbook curriculum, which is bogus but we won’t go into that here. But don’t forget that some teachers won’t allow themselves to prioritize relationship and community.
    Isn’t this work about internal change first, about the courage to go into our classrooms and try something new? If that is true, than our minds might be our greatest enemy in this change, even greater enemies than those colleagues and administrators who want to keep our feet mired in the methods of the last century.

  9. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    I agree that sometimes people use “the admin,’ ‘the system,’ or ‘the parents’ demands’ or even ‘the kids attitudes’ as cover for not really delving into the research and the re-tool work that aligns w/it….

  10. I see you guys circling back to building community and relationships — as your original post suggests with the article about teenage anxiety — after talking about Columbine HS, and testing, and punitive teaching practices. We had a first year middle school science teacher commit suicide last week (well, his family won’t share any info on how he died, but all the signs point to suicide).
    His name is Gavin Brinks. Nobody really knew him except for the other first year middle school math teacher. They both were hired in September after the previous teachers left. They leaned on each other these past few months. I only got to know Gavin after starting our week long strike earlier this month. We walked the picket line together. I knew he was struggling. His classes were big and he had no experience with middle schoolers. I gave him advice on how to solve his grading problems with ELL kids. He had a strong interest in reflecting on his teaching and figuring out how to make it work. I drove him down to the Chicago Teachers Union headquarters and to downtown Chicago for the afternoon rallies. Very humble guy. I kept telling him that things will get easier. I don’t know if he saw that light at the end of the tunnel.
    We would be remissive to not attribute Gavin’s stress to this culture of testing and emphasis on test scores that many people in our school buildings embrace. I’m sure that’s what admin always based their conversations on with him, as they do with everyone. (We have an extra stressor in Chicago Public Schools: competition for students. Parents can view schools’ ratings online and choose to send their kid to whatever school they want to in the city. Some schools end up getting highly successful students while others get the challenging, colorful — outwardly and inwardly — ones.) Well, and then there’s the enormous amount of student loan debt that I know Gavin had to carry on his shoulders. I mean, I can’t think of, nor does anyone here know of any other reason why Gavin would feel such burden to take his own life.
    Gavin is ever present in my thoughts these days.
    That said, one of my admin (it’s a k-12 school) is asking me to help her lead a series of PDs on implementation of WIDA standards. She sees me as far more knowledgeable about WIDA and, ultimately, second language acquisition, than anyone else in the building. Funny, because it’s all so very simple, this comprehensible input stuff. So, I’m inspired to think about how to roll these PD sessions out for our k-12 staff. They know they’ll have to incorporate WIDA standards in their lesson plans. I think I can help them do so in a way that makes sense to them, because, if you know anything about WIDA, the more you look at and try to understand those standards the more your eyes cross, teeth itch, and socks roll up and down (tip of the hat to you, Ben, for those images). We’ll see if my CI perspective will help shed light for them. I think every teacher in my building agrees that we test too much and we teach to the test too much. I mean, we even went on strike for such things. But, I imagine many teachers have difficulty envisioning an approach that can take them to the promised land where the standardized test has no name and the rule of law is joy.
    This will be my subversive tactic: to ride the WIDA standards in all its massive, smelly, horny, hairy beastliness, showing how this beast can be calmed and tamed and put to work to plow the fertile fields of CI and stories. Or they’ll think I’m cuckoo. But I don’t think so. Not with all the stresses we all face. Not after Gavin Brinks.

  11. You mention Gavin and WIDA in the same breath because they are inextricably linked. It’s the culture of making teachers feel incompetent that we must address. When you make WIDA comprehensible to the people you work with, you take a little step toward helping all the other Gavins out there negotiate what is really a vcry cold and corporate model of education. ACTFL, certainly, is not a community. It is a Snot Club.

  12. I went on another hike with my 16 year old today and the level of enmity that he harbors towards Columbine’s HS faculty is even greater than I thought. It’s the preoccupation with memorizing that gets him, the testing. Luca has only one teacher who excites his interest. That one teacher for Luca might have been Gavin some day for someone else. Keep on trucking Sean. You are and have been on the front lines for a long time. We appreciate that you are there. Let’s keep working with the Gavins who are still here. I hope Gavin doesn’t have to spend too much time in ghost form.

Leave a Comment

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

The Problem with CI

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

CI and the Research (cont.)

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

Research Question

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

We Have the Research

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben