Category Archives: Personal

Thick Skin

Yesterday someone asked me, “Other than the time and the grading and all the usual teacher stuff, what is the toughest part about teaching?”  I didn’t have to think about it: it’s the gravity.  Just that weight of knowing that my actions have direct repercussions, or that pressure of realizing that this classroom of kids depends on you – that’s the toughest part about teaching.  Especially when it comes in line with… just the attitude oozing from the pores of these 8th graders.  At least in 7th grade, the kids were anxious and onboard.  Now in 8th grade, they have just enough of the street smarts to be independent, but not enough to realize that they aren’t invincible.

I’ve had a tumultuous few weeks, all very emotional, and right now, I’m just sitting back to think, what are my goals as a teacher?  What do I want to impart to my kids?  Where have I failed?

It’s only the start of November, but I feel that already my tongue has lashed out unnecessarily.  I feel that there are times that I sacrificed my students for the sake of filling a quota or an expectation.  I know that at times, I’ve pushed them mainly for my own ego, rather than directly for their good.  

Then I have to step back and ask myself, is it me or my school that make my kids miserable?  Sure, I can blame a lot of my actions on school restrictions and requirements, but I remember how last year, I was just, so much more cheerful and forgiving and understanding.  Perhaps, I was also naive.  But even with that, so WHAT?  Maybe it’s better to focus on teaching, loving, and nurturing, and let the kids think they have one up on the teacher.  I am so much sharper when it comes to catching students doing things they shouldn’t, and much less lenient with the warnings… but… why?  Why am I so intent on catching wrongs?  It’s a normal stage of life.

It’s middle school.  I remember when I was in middle school, I wasn’t a bad kid, but I definitely didn’t respect my teachers outside of class.  I’d love a teacher but still find ways to make fun of her or quickly grow angry and indignant if something didn’t go my way.  I think I see that in a lot of my kids… and I have to remind myself it’s normal.  

  • It’s normal that they exchange glances when I reprimand them. 
  • It’s normal that they roll their eyes at me.
  • It’s normal that they’ll directly deny something that I saw (and then roll their eyes or exchange glances when I point out exactly what I saw/heard).
  • It’s normal that they’ll tell me that they hate coming to school.
  • It’s normal that they’ll compare me to other teachers to my face.
  • It’s normal that they’ll try to sneak out of things.
  • It’s normal that they’ll blatantly ignore me when they get bored.
  • It’s normal that they’ll wheedle and flatter to get something they want.
  • It’s normal that they’ll get cold and miffed when I don’t do what they want.
  • It’s normal that I need to remind them everyday that I am human too, that I deserve normal respect, and that I have feelings.  

It’s normal because they’re middle schoolers.  They feel so adult and they ARE growing up, but they still aren’t fully developed.  And you know, I don’t mind the 8th grade boys so much, because they bounce back and they’re just honest.  But with the girls.. man.. constant eye-rolling, constant too-cool-for-school, constant backstabbing and gossiping.  I just .. really hate it.  And I sound so dowdy when I talk about womanhood, college, and career.  

Then I also have to remind myself that I am not here to impress them.  I am here to teach them and to try to be an adequate adult example.  One day, they’ll look back, I guess.  But for now, 8th grade is pretty thankless. There are rewarding days, and I do my best to plaster on a smile and try to talk with them and be warm towards them… but I’m not gonna lie.  It does suck showing up everyday to be treated like another “enemy adult.”  I mean, what did I do?!  

So I suppose it’s not just the gravity of the situation – where there is that sinkhole feeling when you see an amazing kid give up or give way – I suppose it’s also the fact that I get treated like a dishrag just because they can’t totally disguise how they feel about my decisions.

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38 Days Until This Year is Over.

Wow. What a ride. It’s not like it’s over but I’m over the CST hump and now just trying to cram in as many projects, field trips, differentiated instruction, small literary circles, and group learning as I possibly can.  This is what it means to teach.

Despite the craziness at my school, I’m planning to come back next year.  The main reason is the kids (of course).  Because we loop every year, the culture is that classrooms whose teachers don’t return are usually way more demoralized and socially, academically, and emotionally, they’re just more behind.

I’m not feeling emotional yet, but just the other day, I was looking through old diary entries.  I realized how enchanted I used to be by my students.  I realized how much hope I had for them.  Case in point: I forgot that I used to love Lefty for asking questions and being so inquisitive.  Lefty isn’t different.  He’s still the inquisitive, humorous kid who hates to do homework, hates math, and loves to read anything that isn’t assigned for homework.  I used to celebrate his independence and now all I do is feel exasperated and irritated.  I’m not saying I should excuse his behavior; I’m saying that I need to change my heart towards him (and every other kid).

And so, I’m encouraged to return to that sort of mindset.  To return to believing that they can achieve if they work hard.  To celebrate their quirks rather than get frustrated at their seeming indifference.  To be their champion instead of lamenting the fact that I feel like I’m pulling and pushing unwilling butts across the finish line.

Basically.  To recap.  The kids aren’t different. I’m just tired.  What used to be endearing is now a thorn in my side.  And I guess it’s up to me to pluck it out and start over!  I can!

[Wow. the fact that I repeated myself 3 times at the end shows me I need my summer vacation to get out of this constant clarification mode].

How to Break a Teacher’s Heart

Dear Class 7a,

Today was a good day.  This week has been a good week.  You don’t know how proud I am of you guys, seeing you guys walk into class everyday (rain or shine) with your homework (done or incomplete) in a line that is (more or less) straight.  I’m constantly amazed at your perseverance and how you guys never fail to keep trying (in the face of mountains of homework, thick break packets, failed math quizzes, and borderline grades).  It’s wonderful to feel confident when an observer walks into my class, knowing that you guys won’t fail me – you’ll consistently be alert, attentive, and –best of all– eager in answering my questions and contributing to discussions.  (Well, except for math).

Yesterday, while talking about Sir Gawain and King Arthur and about chivalry, we happened upon the topic of modern-day respect and how to treat women now.  Steubenville happened to come up.  It was amazing to be able to talk about this with you guys in a more or less mature manner (although some of you did giggle, I just assumed it was out of discomfort).

Today after school, a coworker brought me a notecard that had apparently been circulating through the 7th graders.  I automatically assumed it was the other class, because honestly, you guys are so great compared to them.  We always get better grades, we have less behavioral issues, and you guys are so polite in public.  But according to all students involved, the story originated from my class.  I was skeptical, and as I read the story, my heart sank.  One of you (and I’m pretty certain I know which one because the handwriting corroborates with the person that each student named) wrote a story about a girl who would do anything for a piece of gum and a boy who would take advantage of that.  The demeaning resolution of this horrifying story that you apparently made up (I googled words, plots, and key phrases, and I’m pretty sure it’s original) and just the fact that you could make this up astonished me.  Furthermore, I was sickened at the fact that it was circulated amongst you guys first and that both girls and boys found humor in the situation.

I know that right now, you probably don’t understand the implications of this story.  Right now, it’s cool to laugh a girl who’s “dumb enough” to do anything for a piece of gum.  It’s funny that a boy is clever enough to exploit it.  It’s downright hilarious that the finale of the story has a clever pun on the boy’s name and includes his mom as a witness.

If anything, this story would have been easier to swallow if this happened with the “bad” kids, but no, it was the model kids.  Thank you for the reminder to not be so naive.

Part of me wants to get incredibly sarcastic.  How dare you use your amazing brain to create something like this.

Part of me wants to shun you forever.  How can I look any of you in the eye when you guys can betray my trust so casually?

Part of me wants to show you a scarring documentary that is so real that you guys would never laugh at this again.

But the largest part of me wanted to just cry.  I wanted to cry because I realized that no matter what I do, you are your own people.  I wanted to cry because I know that you guys are not innocent and that there is no excuse.  I wanted to cry because you do have one excuse, and that is ignorance.  I felt powerless in that my teaching and example is nothing compared to everything in society, the media, and the playground.

I’m glad that I have other teachers around me.  Teachers who remind me that you guys are in middle school and you don’t realize everything you’re doing.

I’m most thankful though that I can find comfort in the Truth – that we are fallen.  We are all depraved (which is something I sometimes don’t believe is the case for you – you guys are all so bright, smart, and charming).  But times like this remind me that what we all need is not education, not morality, but we need mercy to save us from ourselves.

Quote

When He Didn’t Show

We get to the crux of my lesson, sans a-ha moments and quasi-discovery. A week’s worth of lessons compressed into ten minutes. You’re trying hard to retain it, but you’re farther removed by the minute, a palpable agita festers in the room, elements seemingly out of my control.

While I refuse to share what happens only a few seconds after, I knew what would occur. What people outside of schools sometimes forget is that teachers can only control the 45-90 minutes a day we have with our students. The first activities, routines, and seating arrangements of the class accompanied by our lesson plans and conclusions serve as the bookends to what a class session might look like. Students carry luggage much heavier than their book bags, a set of issues that my pleas and advises can’t solve so readily.

Sitting down with students, we as teachers can even suspend time for them, create a hub that lets them detach themselves from their other worries. Such a hub only exists in the mind, though, a fragile force field interrupted spontaneously.

When I was done, I realized just how much potential you had for excellence. For a minute there, during that suspension, I had the student I thought I would inherit. Now, we all have to suspend these hopes and let disappointment sit where you just did.

Today Dimaggio* was absent.  It was noticeable how much easier getting through all my lessons was.  I even got to take the class outside to read The Martian Chronicles (they agreed to use their “PAT” time for that!).  We started a new math unit optimistically.  We finished talking about poetry.  Science wasn’t too bad.

Tomorrow, Dimaggio is going to have to take his Social Studies test and a lit quiz unprepared.  He’s going to have to make up his math test, science quiz, social studies quiz, and a lit quiz.  He’s going to “not care” even more.

And reading JLV’s blog echoes exactly how I feel about Dimaggio.  It feels like I have so much invested, but in the end, am I just prolonging the inevitable?

*kid loves baseball.

I love reading creative writing.

I’ve been at my school now for a few months now.  I feel like I have “hang” on how to balance grammar and lit, social studies, follow a system for math, and science… well, science is always a fight.  But yeah, I feel like the I have a rhythm with the quizzes and tests and I feel confident / I know how to review with my kids so that they do decently on tests (standard, benchmark, or otherwise).  I’m also glad because even though now things are getting tough with social stuff, academic stuff, and you know, just middle school stuff are getting in the way, I think my kids and I click pretty well.  I FEEL (and obviously, I’m biased) like even with the punishments I deal out (our school is so merit- / consequence-based.. welcome to Charterland), my kids understand why I do it (because I tell them).  and they seem like they get it.  One thing I try to consciously do is after something hard, I talk to them individually or as a class and try to end with an encouragement.  [/introspection on classroom discipline]

Anyway, I’ve  been having students SSR for about 15 minutes after lunch.  Yeah yeah, I know there’s no research supporting it.  BUT, it honestly gives me a break because lunch time is so short (20 minutes, but realistically about 15 min). BUT, today I decided to switch it up a bit and  bring in some creative writing.  It’s honestly quite frightening to see how difficult it is for my kids to write since that’s really the essence of college.  As I said before, the main school focus is tests since that’s California’s focus.  HOWEVER, I’m finding time where I can bring writing and different genres of reading into the mix.

I really wish I could up my vocabulary … ack. So much.  But, anyway, right now, just working on writing.

 

Here’s a cute excerpt.

(Prompt = write about a special place in your room)

On my cozy bed my sister was playing And when I heard something crack it bed to mine.  I launched her so hard that it had broken the bottom of my bed.  Then I got in an argumend with her.  but I did not maked her cry.

This kid has some sophisticated vocabulary (launch, cozy) and can use some more complicated sentence patterns.  Capitalization, spelling, grammar.  Issues.  But a pretty decent narrative for an 8-minute writing piece.

This is my student who is slightly awkward, can do really well, and then also goes weeks without completing homework.  Has a sister in special-ed that he has to help… and his parents don’t let him come to tutoring because they can’t pick him up.  Although right now, he gets so many detentions (from not doing homework), that he might as well just be in tutoring.

Player or Gamer? Lofty aspirations.

I have a few things I want to say.  But, as a teacher, I’m not sure if it’s the best thing to voice things onto a “public blog” (which is partly why my blog has been so quiet lately).  However, I just want to get some ideas out there.

1.  It’s humbling teaching after graduate school.  I realized a lot of my peers used grad school as the launching point for an education-related sector jump or to take that next career step.  Although I’m sure that with the name and the network (and by not being picky and moving to any random state) I could have gotten a “prestigious” position, if I learned anything at grad school, it was that I wanted to have more hands-on experience before I began to make decisions or give advice to others.  Also, during graduate school, I realized I’m happiest when I’m with little people teaching.

So. I went back.  But now that I’m back, it’s hard to balance what I “know” with what’s happening.  I suppose that’s just the reality of the public education system.  In a sense, I’m glad that I am mainly positive about my school, and I do get to see that it’s true – not all charters are alike.  But I do feel that charters reflect the tenor of our nation and this really “assessment-based” curriculum kills my soul a little.  Although if anyone is teaching in that environment, I’m glad that it’s me and not someone else who heart-and-soul buys into it.

Another area where it’s difficult to balance the knowledge with reality is in the area of leadership.  I took classes and read books.  I’d also venture to say that I have a streak of leadership and a desire to hone that.  SO it’s always fascinating to learn how to engage people and lead and collectively effect change.  It’s also really easy to feel entitled.  Perhaps entitlement isn’t the right word since it seems to imply a sense of deserving something huge when really what I feel that I deserve is occasional positive reinforcement, some warning, clear communication, and psychological safety.  I see myself shutting down and getting nervous every time my site director comes in because I’m not sure if she’s leaving me a note or if she’s going to observe my class (and eventually give me a write up or a recommendation to “tighten up my class.”).  I always assume the worst and when I see her, I always try to assert my best attitude.  Frankly, I’m just a wuss.  But then again, what can you do?  It’s your first year, you don’t want to make waves.

From their point of view, I can understand that it’s important to be really tight and tough because of the constant influx of weaker teachers who don’t deliver. But also, if the delivery is packaged in the form of standardized tests…  …

But THEN… it’s not the charters’ faults for being so score-heavy.  It’s their only way of assuring renewal and assuring that students come.  If CA demands it, how can you ignore it?

and AMIDST all this, there are DEFINITE issues of race politics that gets brushed under the carpet.  I’m glad that I can still stand behind my leaders and that I have some great coworkers.  I’m glad that we can commiserate together.  I’m glad that I respect the people I work with.  I’m glad that I have my kids (but even THEY get so tough… this week was so tough..).

Anyway, I guess I got carried away.

Here are some points:

1 – psychological safety is important in the workplace

2 – encouraging teachers to SHARE resources / lesson plans / pacing guides just makes sense. I don’t know why nobody gives me their stuff from last year.  I always try to give out an extra copy of the tests and quizzes I create. Why not? (On another note: ed resources should be SHARED; ie FREE).

3 – I don’t see the benefit of write-ups.  Even rhetorically change the name.  Call them reminders.  OR if there are write-ups (ie negative feedback) then have positive feedback systems in place too.  And no, giving me a few hundred dollars for value-added score improvements or perfect attendance (impossible) is not what I mean.  Just a kind word or two.  Or an acknowledgement that what I’m doing is good.   I start to feel insecure.  And then it makes me become a less effective teacher.  You can’t really put all that blame on me (I’m not trying to write my way out of my mistakes/issues, I’m just saying there’s lot of factors involved).

4 – Happy hours are crucial.

5 – Positive encouragement is honestly the BEST for kids.  Even “inner-city kids who don’t need sympathy but people willing to expect much from them.”  I think only a select few (namely the few that have ACTUALLY EXPERIENCED everything negative that they bring up) can inspire kids with their horror stories of what will happen if they drop out of school.  I would say that the founder of my school is one of them.  Probably because he came from their very neighborhood and has been local for a long time.  For the rest of the cases, it’s pretty condescending AND many of these students don’t need added fear stress.

6.  Our PD was a little laughable.  It consisted of directors swearing and telling us how hard our school would be.  Maybe to scare the new folks in being too soft?  I was directly told that if a student ever said, “F*ck you” to me, to “Say ‘F*ck you right back’.”  (That was a bit hard to swallow since I don’t like that word at all).  Last week, I snapped at a student for his “crappy answer” and my whole class became deathly quiet.  I felt so remorseful and I saw my student’s face drop.  Basically, my students, even if they come from pretty harsh areas (from what the other teachers tell me and from stories I hear randomly from my kids about their lives), they’re still really soft.

7.  The whole reason I even came to my blog was because I wanted to capture this really funny thing that happened in class yesterday.  I tried to remember it yesterday, but I forgot.  Today, I remembered!

[While trying to get students to use a linking verb with a noun.]

Me:  Bob, what will you be when you grow up?

*Bob: I will be a player.

Me:  Um, what do you mean by “player”? (Surprisingly nobody laughed except for one older boy who definitely knew what a player was).

Bob:  I want to play video games.

Me: Oh!  You mean a “gamer”!

Bob:  Oh! Yes.  A gamer.  I will be a gamer.

The end.

Doh

“Bob, no homework yesterday and no homework today!  You know what that means.  Detention!  What’s happening?”

“It’s my dad.”

“What, he’s not letting you do homework?”

“No, he’s sick.”

“Oh.  … I see.  Well, so you want to spend time with him, huh.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, okay.  You can spend time here, and do your homework, and then you can spend time at home with your dad. …  Feel better.”  (awkward pat pat).

 

-__-

Teacher’s Appreciation Week: Favorite teachers remembered

I can’t say I’m where I am because of me.  I can’t say that at all.

At first, I was going to post a quick response to this facebook post:

In honor of National Teachers Appreciation Week, the HGSE community reflects on their favorite teachers. We encourage you to leave comments below for any HGSE faculty, college or K-12 teachers that you would like to thank on this special week: http://youtu.be/F3p3szwo46U

www.youtube.com

During ‘National Teacher Week’, members of the HGSE community reflect on their favorite teachers over the years.

But then, it got too long.

Kindergarten, I had Mrs. Gerard. She was amazing and super intense.  I knew no English but somehow I still remember Presidents James Monroe, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln.  I remember random letters.  I remember money.  I remember a treehouse inside the classroom where we had an astronomy unit.  HOW DO I REMEMBER ALL THIS? My mom says this was also her most intense year of school. :P  (I moved in the end of Kindergarten, and went on to some other teacher, who was a boo.)

First Grade:  Mrs. Pamela Hayworth. The strictest, scariest, tiniest teacher I ever had.  She stayed after school with me and another group of kids and practiced reading.  She taught me how to pronounce Eugene.  She was a scuba diver and was really scary.  I have very positive feelings though :)

Third Grade:  New school (again). Mrs. Beck. Magical. Taught me to love fairytales, Roald Dahl, and multiplication.  She modeled awesome teaching.  I love her. One bad thing: I had to sit next to Ian Jennings often, a crazy boy with behavioral problems who wiped boogers on me and tried to cut my skirt with safety scissors.  ***FAVORITE TEACHER ***

Sixth Grade:  Independent study. I met with Althea once a week.  She taught me how to learn by myself.  She stopped me from saying “like.”  She helped me to become an independent thinker.  Seriously set the foundation for the rest of my life. And that is huge.

Eighth grade:  Algebra.  My second year at a new school, in junior high, was miserable.  Mr. Tsuruda taught a traditionally difficult, leveled, high-stakes class in an interdisciplinary, engaging way that acknowledged different learning styles.  He was great, caring, and “cool” (for an old man. :P).  Most thankful though for the fact that he took me from the dead-end math track to the one that ended in Calculus.  I think that also changed my academic trajectory.

Junior Year Lit:  Mrs. Klein. She taught me how to read and write. Like, really read and write.  This set me up for college. I swear, most useful class ever. Also, introduced me to my favorite author: Toni Morrison.  Inspires and finds time for me even today.

Junior and Senior year Math:  Ms. Chute.  I was in the depths of math despair, and this lady can teach.  And by teach, I mean that she can teach calculus so that I understood it, loved it, and owned my standardized tests…. she did all this without teaching to the exam. Awesome.  Also, she knew how to be a mentor even if she wasn’t in the “official” position as one.

Sophomore, Junior, Senior Years: Mr. Camner.  I think I took like, 7-8 classes with this man.  Ceramics, Advanced Sculpture, Independent AP Art Studio, and Yearbook.  He created our art lab and pushed me artistically and as a person.  So grateful for the opportunity to learn how to make glazes, put on an exhibit, cast bronze, and of course, blow glass.

Spanish: Sr. Vericat.Honestly, not the best spanish language teacher.  GREAT literature teacher.  Amazing, caring, kooky, crazy man.  Artist.

Professor Celeste Langan: Taught me to hate and then to love Romantic literature.  How is that possible?  Also, taught me how to write better.  Her person also just inspires me.

Professor Julio Ramos: Understanding, compassionate professor who cared for me as an individual, and not just as an academic pupil.

Professor Tim Hampton: So smart, so humble, so down to earth, so supportive.  Love how he conducts seminars and love his brains! haha.

At HGSE, there is an abundance of amazing, supportive professors.  I have a hard time though.  Some professors, I’ve been less than pleased about their instructional style (especially, since I like smaller classes where we delve… which is not the nature of education), but then I love how they care.  I think I’ve loved or found a reason to respect all my professors here.  However, thankful for Dr. Pamela Mason, my program coordinator… because she’s a woman who’s been there, and done that. Really thankful that I’m in close quarters with someone who has not just studied education, but who has been IN the schools.  Thankful also for Jenny Thomson, Lauren Capotosto, and Christina Dobbs in being so gentle in walking me through increasing my scope of understanding literacy.  Loved Kay Merseth and Vicki Jacobs’s helping me understand just education and pedagogy.  Mad respect and thankfulness for Fernando Reimers and Monica Higgins in inspiring me just about… entrepreneurship and leadership.

Thyme Ms. Stick King | Three Random Vignettes

Do any of you guys play Mad Gab?  I love Mad Gab.

TIME IS TICKING!

The Charles, right before it starts to bloom.

Anyway, this semester, I spent a good four hours consolidating all my syllabi into one master syllabus.  It took a loooong time since only one prof gave me a MS Word documents and the rest used PDFs.  But it was so worth it.  I’ve been relatively on top of my projects and readings!  It’s come to a point though, where all I’m realizing is that it is week 10, I have projects and papers due in the last week of April and the first week of May, and then it’s o v e .

Second semester was so much better in figuring out how to end, but it could always be better.  I sort of gave up some areas of my life to prioritize for others and of course, leaving a lot of time for play.  I’m a sentimental type of person, and sometimes, I see people in the library or walking down the street and I feel this urgency to meet up for “one last time,” study together for “one last time,” and then I feel very very weepy.

One of my hopes for this blog was to explain the name and the title.  I thought it was a clever way of incorporating this “search for the elusive  snark” and little witticisms.  Recently, as I’m trying to figure out where to go after graduate school, how to plan my ideas for The Mind Garden or whether to jump head first into different nonprofit start-ups, this chunk of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark resonates more deeply.

” ‘But oh, beamish nephew, beware of the day,
If your Snark be a Boojum! For then
You will softly and suddenly vanish away,
And never be met with again!’

I have goals and I have dreams that I am hunting.  But if it’s the wrong Snark, if it’s a Boojum, “you will softly and suddenly vanish away, / And never be met with again!”  I feel that although I’m surrounded by much passion, sometimes, I feel sad at the meaninglessness of being only full of passion, even if it is properly guided or stems from well-meaning thoughts.  I wonder a lot for myself, what does it matter if I gain my whole world, but then lose that which put meaning into it in the first place?  (Mt. 16:26, Mk. 8:36, Lk 9:25).