Category Archives: Personal

my responsibility? my duty?

She looks up at me and smiles (smirks?).

“Come on, Ms. Kim. This is boring. You know that, right?”

As I’m trying to work on staying calm and never raising my voice, I’ve realize that with that comes my old tendency to stutter.

“Is it difficult for you to read?  Maybe that’s why you don’t get it,” I suggest lamely.  Inside though, I am full of comebacks and right now, that conversation still niggles at me.  I don’t feel furious, but I do feel indignant.  How dare she?  This story is amazing and how dare she pass off this text as “boring” when it’s  more along the lines of the fact that she can’t read 7 pages straight.

Okay, okay. In this mentality, I see all the areas where I fail. I get it.  Is it her fault she’s so low? Nooeewwwp… Should I take it personally?  Newwwp.  blergh.

I think one of the comments I hate the most is the flippant, “That was fun today,” or “You should do this more.”  Because in them saying that, it assumes that other lessons aren’t fun, or that lessons are *supposed* to be fun.

I feel like getting to her eye level and saying, “This is boring for me too.”  Teaching ELA to kids who are constantly behind and feel complacent or defensive or insecure or whatever about it is boring. It makes me long for the days when I taught math.  When it was easier to just group, differentiate, and figure out what kids mastered and what they hadn’t.

ELA is the worst.  You have to teach vocabulary, grammar, writing, writing, reading, comprehension, fluency, speaking, listening.  It’s not Robin Williams and his classroom of rich prep boys.  It’s not even Hilary Swank and her underprivileged yet eager to succeed group of urban kids.  It’s this weird middle where my kids are behind – victims (?) of the system – yet they .. act like it’s my fault.

Thinking though.  Maybe I need to have less rigor on Mondays.  Maybe I need to slow down.  I now understand why/how kids end up as they are in college.  This slow slow progress somehow starts before high school… and middle.  I don’t know. It’s discouraging.  Back to the drawing table.  What are the minimal things I want my kids to get down before they move on?  I’m almost 2/3rds done with first semester.  It’s still just trial and error.

I miss reading To Kill a Mockingbird with my old students.  I cried when I read the verdict of Tom Robinson in that class, and I still cry now when I read it.  Although now, I think of mockingbirds and I think of my students.  And I hear stories of how all of them are scattered and falling through cracks and making the wrong friends.  And I feel like everything is hopeless.  And when we do high school suggestions during parent-teacher conferences, and kids are planning to go to the crapcrack schools around this area, I just think, what’s the point?  Why do I bother trying to do the hard things?

I think I’m extra sad because today I found out that my Ren Man is hanging with the wrong crowd and just going the wrong way.  I found out same case for Diva.  I found that Emo is most likely not going to have a chance to go to the ivys because her high school doesn’t support her in that way even though she’s freaking brilliant.  She taught herself geometry.  WHO can SELF-TEACH themselves GEOMETRY in 8th grade?  And the system is so messed up, that even if you prepare them super well, or even if you don’t prepare them well at all, they’re all going to end up wherever depending on the luck of the draw.

And then. with kids who are unappreciative, or just mean, or hurtful, why bother trying?

Folks, welcome to Oakland public schools.

Glum, ho hum

It’s tough.  I’m nearing the two-month mark at my new school, and I need to realize that teaching is not for the glory or the praise.

It’s tough because as I’m doing what I think is good for my students, my students at the same time are mouthing off to me telling me that I am too strict, that I don’t know them enough, that I think I have power, etc etc.

It’s also tough because there is an element of truth to all they say, and yet they are so unfair about it because they fail to take in the context.

Lastly, it’s tough because on Friday, I caught a glimpse of how some kids are currently definitely set up to fail.  At my past school, failure was natural, but in a sense, we offered alternatives (by not offering electives, having PE tutoring, and having 3-hour after school homework time).  At this school, these alternatives are (thankfully) not in place.  What this means is that academic growth is slower and and I need to take into account that some kids will just fall down a drain if I don’t slow down, differentiate, and reflect.

I’m just dreading it because I’m also having a hard time liking my students right now.  One girl told me that they “test new teachers” (she meant it just honestly, not testily), and I’m to have meetings with a few students this week.  Their issues with me, however, are things that I think comes with this overentitled perspective.. that I’m the newcomer and I don’t know “how things are done.”  And that’s just unfair.

Finally, if I worked in Palo Alto, their starting pay is still more than my current salary.  I know it’s not about that, but sometimes, it feels like it is.

Epilogue

Today was my last day of teaching my students.  The last day of school is already an emotional affair, especially for 8th graders who are now embarking on a journey into high school, but remember, I’ve been with my students the past two years and a majority of them have been with each other for the past three.

I am the kind of person that can easily dissect other people’s practice, but it’s hard to dissect mine.  On one hand, I had students do an informal evaluation form for me (Keep, Change, Stop, Start), and honestly, it was pretty sad.  I felt so sad because their suggestions were valid.  Yes, to a certain point, there were certain policies that I would change if I could – only that the school wouldn’t allow it – but other points were really on me.  (Many students felt that I should stop yelling and clarify homework more).  It’s sad.  How crappy must it be to be confused in class and have a teacher who blows her fuse regularly by the end of the day? I am hoping that this was due in part to the environment, and that a new environment could help me change.

On the other hand, I honestly had kids from other classes (and from mine) declaring that I was one of the greatest or their favorite or their favorite with a disclaimer (ie: Favorite teacher who brought lots of suffering; I think you’re now my favorite teacher, barely; You’re my second favorite teacher – after my 1st grade teacher).  So, I know I’m doing something right.  Yet is it just because they have nothing better to compare with?

I feel like this year, I got better about yelling.  Hopefully every year, this will get better.

did ask for forgiveness on the last day of school to my class, for my tongue, for my angry outbursts, and … oh darn it!  I forgot to tell them that I TRIED!  Man! I had this epic speech planned, but as usual, there were lots of random things to do, so the school day ended in a sweep.

 

Today we finished Glory and I don’t think the kids liked it.  In general, I’m realizing that maybe the reason why there are remakes of movies are because people don’t watch them in the same way that we do!  And their attention needs to be caught a different way. Whatever, I digress.

Then we had an epic raffle/auction, we had an awards ceremony, we had silly awards, I gave out books that I got for each one of them, and we cleaned the room.  Then right before my slideshow, this inspirational speaker came early.  Honestly, I liked the speaker a lot.  BUT… REALLY? ON THE LAST DAY OF SCHOOL?

We had 2 minutes left and kids stayed late to watch the slideshow.  But, as technology would have it, it was pretty laggy.  Different kids left bit by bit and I made sure to give each of them a hug.  Then, one of my enigmas (a large, stoic, semi-stern boy) came to say goodbye and I saw that his face was awash in tears, and I had to cry too.  Then another of my girls (she is the only one being retained this year because she stopped doing work after 1st quarter, pretty much), began to cry when I told her she could contact me for anything, and I just cried too because I wish I could’ve been there more for her.

It was truly bittersweet, and nothing kicked in until I saw four boys a block away, walking away, and I realized, they are walking away for good.

In the car I cried, because I was just awash with regret.  I wish I could have done more because I could have. I could have been more patient, taken care of myself better, been more on top of things so as not to snap when I’m disorganized, and I could have really tried and not allowed my kids to step down . I think especially of the aforementioned boy and girl.  This year, I sent the boy to a 7th grade math class because he had been low last year and this year he was low, didn’t turn in work, and agreed that going down would be best.  The girl was retained and I was just sick of how slow she worked (when she’s actually very smart.. just every week, she’d get slower and slower).  Yet, I could have been there more.

I think I prioritized the kids who were behavioral and academic issues, so I would always try to talk to them and figure them out and work with them, and because the boy and girl were relatively well-behaved, I did not step out and be with them and guide them and lead them as much as I could have.  And I just cried because I could have done more.

And no, this is not your cue to say, “Aww, you’re such a great teacher, you did your best.”  I understand I did my best, and I understand that I am above average.  Just, it’s, in this neighborhood, they need more, and at the end of the day, I wasn’t selfless, I wasn’t an aroma of Christ.  I know that there were many occasions where my selfishness oozed from my actions yet it was coated by the artificial mask of teach-y charity.

I honestly do feel a lot of loss right now.  In a sense, I think I feel a tiny fraction of what parents go through when they send their child to college- except this is with 24 of them.

 

Rage and Response

The time in the blog where I rage my feelings and then respond rationally.

Fuzz is so rude to me.  He talks backs, mutters under his breath, and acts all incredulous when I say things such as, “Stop talking” or “excuse you.”  I hate how he holds up his hands in mock innocence and how he gives me his smile as he says, “Oh Ms. Kim, you don’t know how terrible I could really be.”  I hate how he assumes my letting him off the hook is a sign of weakness or how when I sternly reprimand him, he thinks I’m overreacting. I hate his condescending attitude and his know-it-all commentary.  Yet then I feel bad because I’m the teacher, and I’m supposed to be the one that goes the extra mile, swallows his sarcasm, and gives him second, third, and fourth chances.  But, really.  Why do I have to be the person who’s polite, kind, and doesn’t give low blows?  Why?  

Okay. Really?  You are the teacher.  You are the one there who is supposed to care.  You are loved. So you can love.  YES. Who cares if he thinks you’re stupid or easy?  Who cares if he thinks you’re strict and overly demanding?  Either way, you need to love.  And remember, there’s a fine line between revoking privileges and punitively lashing back from a position of power.  Be gracious.

Okay, fine.  I hear what you’re saying but it’s still not really registering.  Moving on. In general, I’m just really disappointed.  I feel like at the end of the year, there’s been no impact.  I read a study recently talking about how in middle school, students respond better from watching than from being preached at, but it feels like none of that works.  These kids are still super whiney and grumpy when it comes to things like my forbidding soda!  I told them today not to purchase soda, and then I left.  Then they snuck soda anyway.  Then today, I’m grading poems and one poem is totally plagiarized.  It’s just.  What do I do? It’s the end of the year.  If they haven’t learned it by now, then when will they learn it?  Do I even bring it up?  I bet they’re tired of hearing it. I’m tired of saying it.

They will look back and remember.  You never know.  And girl, you’re fighting against a system.  The large sugar companies target youths and it’s not your fault if health is not reinforced at home.  At the same time, do you think you’re just pushing your yuppie ideals onto your kids?  Soda and attitude aside, they’re 8th graders.  They’re learning how to function in society, and at least, you stuck by your guns even though it made you unpopular. Good for you.

In terms of plagiarism, yes you need to talk to that student.  I’m not sure what you should “do” though.  You’ve talked with him before about his “minimal is best” mentality, and you know that his parents actually don’t see school as that important. I know it’s killing you that this super bright child is literally wasting his brains, but at the end of the day, are you his parent?  Do what you’re supposed to do – and no more.  Don’t try to add consequences or get him to feel it.  You have plenty more of these kids in the future, and there’s no point in working yourself up about this.  This has happened before with this kid.  You’ve had him for two years.  You have 6 more days with him.  No miracles will happen.  Sorry.

Okay. Um rage and response is not working.  All it’s doing is making me feel more worked up.  At the end of the day, I just wonder.. am I too hard on them?  I know a lot of times plagiarism happens because students feel helpless.  Am I just setting them up for failure?  Yet how do I gauge scaffolding versus student responsibility?  

At the end of the day, be honest.  With the research projects, did you give them enough time?  Were you available?  With the poetry project, were you there, and were you walking through it with them?  I know there’s always more you can do.  I know that if they were listening the first time, you wouldn’t have to explain it again.  And yet, isn’t it also your responsibility to keep them engaged?  Don’t worry- next year, you can have time to figure out how to connect what you’re teaching to who they are as people.  You can continue to edit and fix.  You like that.  You can do it.

It’s the end of the year, and this year, it was sad.  Every time I went on break, I wasn’t refreshed when I came back to school, I was irritated. I didn’t want to be here.  I hope next year will be better, because at the end of the day, if this is how I feel inside, well, I need feedback from others, but maybe I need to move on.

You know what? Maybe you do.  Or maybe, you at your worst is still better than some at their best.  Let’s keep working at it, and let’s not be depressed.  It’s almost 11pm and you’re tired.  Take a nap and prepare some more.  We’ll try this once more.  Just remember: tomorrow: be cheerful.  So what if they didn’t do their homework? It’s not the end of the world.  What are your objectives?  Let’s stick to that.

Fine.

 

Parents

I guess I’m lucky because at my school, we don’t have very much parent-teacher interaction.  Most of it is mediated through the front desk and the principal.  Yet, sometimes it would save me much time if I could just explain to the parent right away.  And, I think it would be good practice.  

Today, I saw a lady sitting in the office and I smiled at her.  She then beamed at me and nodded so I looked at her quizzically trying to place her.  She greeted me by name, and I responded with a smile and a hello.  She then introduced herself as Tutor’s mom (Tutor is a boy from the other class who comes into my class twice a week to help his best friend out in math.  He’s a sweet, sweet boy, and I wrote him a rec for some after school programs).  She shook my hand warmly and said that Tutor is really happy that I’m at our school – that I’m calm and gentle, and she thanked me for writing his rec and for being such a good teacher for him.  I was super confused.  “Did you mean Mr. —?” I queried.  “No, no, you, Ms. Kim, you!” 

I think I felt super warm fuzzies.  Apart from a really sweet card from a rather introverted girl, and a hug from a teary mother who was leaving our school to move, I have never had a parent or a student ever thank me of their own accord (I don’t count the “thank yous” after the awkward parent meetings where I have to be present to present my case on why their child is failing or how their child has crazy discipline problems).  

Then I laughed because honestly, the other 8th grade teacher is the calmest, most zen man I have ever met.  I admire him so much, and yet I know, I will *never* be him.  He told me he used to lose his temper a lot when he began teaching, but I don’t believe him!  So to be described as “gentle” and “calm”…  Well, I’m thankful that he said positive things about me when he didn’t have to, and that his mother said those things when she didn’t have to either. 

 

I had to teach on MLK Jr. Day

[PROLOGUE/WARM-UP]

…because it is my school’s belief that Martin Luther King Jr. would be more honored by our  work at school than by our sleeping in and relaxing. The cynical side of me says, “Bullocks!” and thinks that this is yet another demonstration of asserting power for the sake of asserting power.  But I’m glad I went to school today. (I sometimes wish that during breaks, I could take my students on trips.  Or just do little things.  Like garden.  or paint the walls.  Or set up a dodgeball tournament.  We could do homework together during breaks, and they wouldn’t feel bored and at home.)

Today at school, I got to talk to a student.  I was making copies, and I saw him in the room across mine.  Head buried in his arms.

Now, I’m at a charter, so I’m not sure what the rules are, but I patted his back with my left arm as he cried into his arms.

A tough weekend. Family fought. Sister left.  This goofy kid who strutted in at the bottom rung of middle school and told all the 8th grade girls that his name was that of a high-profile rapper.  Tall for his age, his mom chose to hold him back because she wanted him to be ready-ready for middle school.  She felt he still had some growing up to do.  I got to know him because he never does his homework, but he holds his head high and greets me anyway.  I can’t help but laugh at the little mischievous curve of his mouth, his full cheeks, and beautiful bovine eyes.  Girls would kill for lashes like his.

Today they trembled under the watery weight of his pain.  He looks so big, but his heart is still so tender.  In a few years, he’ll learn to be like his older siblings and mask that hurt.  But today, we were able to acknowledge that crying is okay because it shows us that we’re hurting.  And pain is good because it’s a signal that something is wrong.  And God forbid the day when we witness and experience wrong but do not have the physical wherewithal to acknowledge it.

I had him write his feelings, which seems so cliche but it also works.  Kid might hate writing for school, but he’s willing to put his thoughts on paper.  His thoughts are simple, yet I forget the truths he pens.  Families are not supposed to be broken or hurting.  And he wishes he could make it all better.  I asked him what he could do to help the situation, and he said he could do better at school.  And that simple answer tore at my heart a little because for these kids, they truly believe that doing better at school is their ticket.  It’s because that’s what we say all the time.  (But is that even true?  It’s not the golden ticket.)  We discussed what his good qualities were, and I was glad that he knows his strengths.  I also suggested  that we don’t need to suppress our sorrow, but at the same time, sometimes doing something else helps to ease the burden.  It was a gentle hint for him to return to class.  When I came back, he was gone.

At the end of the day, he casually knocked on my doorframe.  “I’m better now, Ms. Kim.”  His friends were nearby and he was on his way home.  “Good,” I responded shortly.  He smiled and turned lazily away, backpack slung over one arm.  Then I went back to tutoring chemistry. Today I hope he remembers that someone cares.

 

2014 Resolutions

This past month was hard.  I had a “friendship breakup” and some other relational difficulties.  I’ve always read about how we should avoid toxic people, but I also felt that God teaches us to love the ones who are most difficult to love.

Lately, however, I’ve realized that I’ve gotten more and more outraged and things that I witness or hear.  To a point where no longer do I trust God with the final outcome, but I have to run my mouth myself.

Also this year, I just see it as a continuance of alienating myself and building hedges.  I’m warm and outgoing enough so that people just assume that I am an open book.  But, I don’t think the path I’m following is healthy.

I’m wondering if I’m just the toxic person.

So in thinking about this, I have three resolutions:  (Using the SMART Goals system I use with my students: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Bound).

1) Prioritize truth in my life by returning to the study of God’s Word – 20 minutes in the morning daily by doing a simple workbook on the characteristics of Jesus Christ.

2) Guard by heart by guarding the words in my head and in my mouth, especially when no one is around me.  This year, I’ve started to use profanity in my mind and when I’m alone.  I need to nip this now – and I’ll do so by replacing garbage with truth (Eph 4:29).

3) Practice forgiveness.  I confess, I don’t really know how to do this specifically, measurably, attainably within a time limit. 

 

I think in taking care of my whole person, by starting with my core, my soul, I can truly be an instrument of grace for those around me.  As of now, I realized that I’ve just been working out of my own strength.