Category Archives: Personal

This is why I teach

letter

“Ms. Kim, you probably feel pissed off when I called the guest teacher sexist because you believe I was rude and shouldn’t have said that.  to be honest, I agree with you, I was out of line.  However, I felt that way, I just felt that word.  I chose to do this because it was just another way of expression.  That word, sexist, was a word I used because I felt like when an instruction was given, I was called out, as well as keven, not because we’re dudes, but also because I just needed to say that word.  I could’ve just perservered and held it in till the end so that no one will get the wrong idea about who I was calling sexist.  Ms. kim, you probably want me to apologize for what I said.  If you really want me to, I can.  but, what I feel whats best is just respect her throughout the time we still have with Cal Shakes because I owe that to her.”

So, context.  We’re having this amazing visiting teacher from Cal Shakes – a Bay Area Shakespeare group.  They’re awesome and this teacher is great at managing. Unfortunately, I saw the same things from the students that they gave me when I came in at the beginning of the year.  A lot of testing, a lot of rudeness… just a lot of sh…enanigans.   Plus, I’ve been dealing with this issue of kids throwing out the word “racist” and “sexist” especially at adults… and I’m sort of like, these are loaded words, and in the sphere of adults, they’re overused.  These issues –sexism and racism– are real, but they lose their clout when people misuse them! Anyway, kids know that I’m sensitive about those words.

Anyway, she’s really great at management and has been calling kids out on it, and so of course, they’re responding with derogatory speech and attitude.  I’ve been having different students reflect, but at this point, it sometimes feels fake.

I read this letter today after school, and I smiled big in my head.  This boy had left my room angry saying, “Why do we always have to check in? I’m never checking in.”  He missed school the next day, but today, he gave me this letter, happier.  I read it, and honestly, to spell it out for all you readers, this is why I teach.  I get to witness the awesomeness that’s inside each kid that I come across.  Sure, there are parts that our school has instilled in them… and maybe even a teensy piece has to do with me.  But really, I didn’t teach him to write THIS.  I didn’t teach him to put these pieces together and follow up with me like this.

Tomorrow, I’m going to tell him I read the letter. I’m going to suggest that apologies still go a really long way, and that he should apologize because as an adult, I know how much it means to me.  And I’m going to leave it at that.  He doesn’t need a standing ovation.  I just hope he continues to grow.

Update 4/3 —

Had a talk with him in the morning.  I was rambly (per usual).  Midspeak, I stopped myself.

“Do you get what I mean?”

“I hear you.”

“Can you speak back what you heard?”

“Hold on, I’m processing.”

“Okay, okay. Well..”

“I’ll do what needs to be done.”

“Okay.”

“kay.”

Is it important to be earnest?

I was pretty disappointed today.  The day started with an extreme high.  I woke up early, went to Starbucks, stood up for myself to a dirty-mouthed panhandler, made two new acquaintances, and it wasn’t even 7:30am!  Then, I got the speakers I ordered through a small grant I received, our NGLC grant team had our interview today, which I felt went super well (and I was gratified to work with colleagues who are passionate, well-spoken, intelligent, different, and are teachers), and then I spent the rest of the day working with a small group to pull all the parts of our grant application together.  It truly felt like an accomplishment to … see our handiwork.  Then to top it all off, the iPads I had gotten through DonorsChoose finally came in!

I was getting ish done for my kids and my school.

And then, I talk with the sub.  I see the quality of the work the kids did while I was gone.  And that was all ish too.  Just.  wipe the floor with it. kind of stuff. and behavior. ugh.

It sucks.  I wonder how I’m going to address the lack of respect and the lack of learning that happened.  I wonder if I will bring up trust.

Because to me, it’s really just this simple:  if I can’t trust them to “take charge of their learning” (a school value), I can’t leave them.  Even if it means I need to pass up opportunities to enhance their learning.

But then, the selfish part of me protests because such a decision sucks for me too!  I love doing these kinds of things (applying for grants, brainstorming pilots, etc) in addition to teaching.  In fact, I’m almost at a point, though, where I’d rather be writing grant proposals and researching best practices and talking about data coaching, than actually teaching in this specific classroom.  (Though one silver-lining: I think these will be the hardest kids I’ll have in a while…)

No matter.  The facts of the here and now is that I’m here.  I’m teaching.  And tomorrow, I need to face the kids.  I need them to know this isn’t okay and that they haven’t “gotten away with it.”  At the same time though, simply meting out a punishment doesn’t seem to be right either.  If I just give a class-wide detention, I’ll be the enemy and they’ll be the victim.  If I run a class conversation though, what might come of it?  I think I’m just afraid.

That is to say..

When I talk about trust, learning, respect.. should I be earnest and truthful?  It’s different with middle schoolers.  They don’t know which lines are taboo and they don’t necessarily listen to reason.  I think part of the reason why I’m brusque, joke a lot, or fake sensitivity around them is because I fear being too honest or earnest with them – because if they reject it or tear it to pieces, that’s my heart on the floor.

2015 Resolutions

I’ve never been one for resolutions, much less, New Year’s Resolutions… but last year, I tried.

To be honest, I forgot #s 1 and 3 and focused mainly on #2.

I think, I’d want to keep last year’s resolutions and roll them over onto this year’s.

I remember the darkness of 2013.  Most years, I write a quick year-end update to email my friends.  I remember at the end of 2013, I just couldn’t.

2014 was much better. I think that summer in Taiwan, where God reminded me that His plans are so much higher than my own sort of kickstarted the recollections of what it means to be a child of God (These things I call to mind and THEREFORE I have hope).

This year, I spent my winter break hiking in the mountains of Peru.  Everyday, God’s blaring glory challenged, overwhelmed, and swept me.  Everyday, to be faced with the intricacies below my feet, above my head, at a part of the earth where I am gasping for breath and am reminded of my finiteness, was.. healing.

Resolutions?

1) Seek God and His will – not by looking inwards, but looking to scripture. (A tweak of last year’s #1).  This is how one attains wisdom.

2) Again, guard my heart, so that I can guard my mind and words.

3) Practice forgiveness.  *sigh* .  And this part is the hardest.

And maybe adding 4)  Forget the memories that need to be forgotten.

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.