Posted in Teaching

A Small, Terrifying Glimpse Into the Subconscious Mind of a Teacher

I’ve had three school-related stress dreams since Christmas. Against my better judgment, I’m going to share them with you.

Dream #1:

This one was a doozy. It went from normal bad to wow-that’s-a-creative-form-of-torture bad to AAAAAAAAA! bad. Here goes.

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It was the first day of the new semester. My first period class (who is sweet, smart, and funny in real life) was being unruly and refused to listen to me or follow my directions. I ended up having to yell at them, and that still didn’t have the desired effect. We got nothing done, and the period ended with me feeling frustrated that they wouldn’t do what I asked and embarrassed that I couldn’t control them and depressed that I’d yelled at them. (This “no one will listen to me, what do I do?” dream is very common among teachers. But things are about to get interesting. And by interesting, I mean infuriating.)

I’m off second period, and I planned to use that time to figure out what went wrong in first period and make a plan for my future classes. But there was a girl in the hallway who was lost. She was new or something. I don’t remember the exact issue, but I helped her find where she needed to be. When I got back to my classroom about five minutes into second period, it should have been empty. Instead, there was a classroom full of kids there. Kids I didn’t know. I was confused.

I gave them something to do (here’s a note card– write your name and tell me who used to be your ELA teacher) while I called around trying to figure out what was going on. I was told that, yes, this was my class now, and I needed to teach them. As it turned out, over the holiday break, the administration had made some pretty massive changes to the schedule without telling any of us about them. We all went from having two conference periods to only one, and we had been given a variety of preps. My schedule (which used to include five seventh grade ELA classes and one Advisory) now had me teaching three seventh grade ELA classes (but not the same ones I was teaching before), two history classes (I don’t teach history), one sixth grade “how to read word problems” math/reading class, and Advisory. Suffice to say, I was not happy about this.

THEN (sorry, we’re not done yet) we were all outside for some reason, probably a fire drill, and were coming back in the building. The science teacher on my team was holding the door for people. He looked into the sky above me and started shouting, “Everyone inside NOW!” I turned around and saw a pink streak in the sky. At first I thought it was just a pretty cloud, then maybe a jet contrail. But I quickly realized we were under attack. We all ran inside and tucked and ducked as missiles started landing nearby. I was crouched in a hallway filled with windows that led to classrooms with more windows. It didn’t feel like the safest place, but I didn’t have time to move, so I just grabbed a composition book and held it over the back of my neck for more protection.

THAT, my friends, is an A+ stress dream.

Dream #2

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This one was, luckily, a lot shorter. I was back at work lesson planning with one of my ELA teammates. I told her some of my ideas for the upcoming semester and she didn’t like any of them. She actually wrinkled up her nose and made an “I-smell-something-gross” face when I shared them. It hurt my feelings.

Dear Real Life ELA Teammates,
          I had this dream BEFORE we met for planning this week. It was JUST a dream and has no bearing on reality. None of you did anything or said anything or wore any facial expressions to cause this craziness to appear in my brain, I promise. If you don’t believe that my subconscious could possibly make up something like that, then move on to dream #3, and you’ll see what my brain is capable of.
Love,
Carie

Dream #3

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It was the first day of the semester (again), and I was trying to teach my first period class (again). This time, the students were not the problem. The problem (and I’m sure this has happened to every educator at one time or another) was that there was a magic spell on the doorway to my classroom, and when a person entered or left the room, a giant pile of vegetables would spontaneously appear. (By giant pile, I mean several feet long and higher than my waist. I know the height because I was standing inside the pile once when it appeared.) The vegetables would then have to be cleaned up and carted away, and I’d try to teach again until someone else opened the door, and it happened all over again. It all took up a lot of time and made keeping my students’ attention quite difficult. The school knew about the problem (the poor custodians had already been to my room with the BIG trash cans about four times that morning) but they didn’t know how to fix it yet.

The vegetables were all the same kind, but the pile was different each time. Once it was a giant pile of sugar snap peas. I popped a couple in my mouth before they swept them up. The next time it was a giant pile of purple peppers, but that time there were also a couple of yellow and red bell peppers mixed in and one pineapple. I pulled those out and had a student put them behind my desk for later. At one point, I left my students alone (it’s cool– they’re good kids) while I went down the hall to ask my coworker for something I thought might help the situation, but, of course, when I left the room to go do that, another pile of vegetables spontaneously appeared, so it was somewhat counter-productive. When I got back, a student from the classroom next door, who had been working in the hallway, was complaining that the custodians had accidentally swept up his binder, which had been covered with the latest pile of vegetables.

Just before I woke up, a guy finally came to fix the problem, but he was the same guy they send to repair our computers, and I didn’t have high hopes that this particular “incident ticket” was in his wheelhouse.

The end.

***

There you have it, folks. This is what my brain does while I’m sleeping. Please tell me I’m not the only teacher who has crazy dreams like this, and make me feel better by sharing some of your own.

The second semester starts tomorrow. If I had to choose one stress dream to come true, it would have to be #3. At least my students were nice in that one, and no one was bombing me. Plus, I do need to eat more veggies…

 

 

Posted in Teaching

The First Week of School, In Review *

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Tonight when I got home from work, I pulled into my driveway and was sitting in my car trying to summon the energy to get up and walk into the house, when a dog walked through my front yard. Not my dog, just a random dog I didn’t know. So I got out of the car (barefoot, because I usually take off my shoes on the drive home) to help this poor lost creature. That’s when he turned around and started barking at me. Really loudly.

I wasn’t scared. I have pretty good dog intuition, and I could tell he was probably friendly, just wary or protective, but I couldn’t approach him like that, and he wasn’t wearing a collar, so there was no tag to read anyway. I said, “It’s okay, boy. Hang on a second.” He hung on, still barking, while I reached back into my car and dug around for the tennis ball I knew I had in there. I was just about to offer him the ball and see if we could come to a compromise when a car pulled up and a neighbor got out.

“Bowser!” she yelled. “What are you doing?” (Note: Bowser is not the dog’s actual name.) She got out of her car and came to grab him, saying, “I’m so sorry! He just ran out the door!”

I said it was fine.

When Bowser saw his mom, he stopped barking and started running around me and my car, happily evading capture. I stood still while the following things happened, simultaneously and repeatedly.

  • Bowser ran around me.
  • Bowser’s mom ran around me.
  • Bowser ran around my car.
  • Bowser’s mom said, “You’re a teacher, right? How’s the first week of school going?”
  • Bowser jumped up and put his paws on my butt.
  • Bowser’s mom yelled, “Bowser no!!!”
  • Bowser laughed with his eyes.
  • Bowser’s mom said, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Finally, on one of his trips around my car (which was still open), Bowser decided to to jump into the driver’s seat, at which point his mom yelled, “Bowser! Why are you getting into her car and not mine?!” and apologized about twelve times. Then she grabbed this forty-pound dog, yanked him out of my car, flipped him around so that she was cradling him like a baby with all his legs up in the air, and apologized one more time. I said it was fine. And it was. Truly.

Then I said, “You asked about the first week of school. Well…” I gestured to the big, doofy, furry, bundle in her arms. “It’s gone pretty much like this.”

As the woman carried Bowser to her car, scolding him all the way, I reflected on my little joke and realized how accurate it was.

Exhaustion + The Unexpected + Conflict + Problem-Solving + Remaining Calm During Chaos + Tackling an Obstacle and Subduing It Through Sheer Will + Laughter = The First Week of School

The truth is I’ve had a great first three days, I promise, even though I’m exhausted and overwhelmed and my ears are ringing. The other truth is Bowser didn’t bother me one bit, I promise, even though I had to clean a little dog pee out of my front seat.

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* I don’t want to hear any of your complaints about how it’s not even Friday yet, and I can’t actually review the first week until it’s complete. Let me tell you this: The first week of school takes approximately A YEAR of your life. If I want to say it’s been a week on Wednesday night, I can. Deal with it.

 

 

Posted in Teaching

Year 15: What I’ve Learned, Where I Am, What I Hope

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Year 1

Tomorrow I begin my fifteenth year of teaching 7th grade English, so naturally some reflection is in order. Last weekend I reminisced about my previous years of teaching on Twitter. (You can see the thread by searching #teacherlife #year15.) But now that the first day with students is almost here, I’m trying to compress all those memories into what really matters. To do that, I’m asking myself three questions:

* What have I learned from my years in the classroom?
* Where am I in my career?
* What do I hope for this school year?

Here’s what I’ve figured out so far:

Some Things I’ve Learned

* Note: I did not learn these lessons the easy way.

  • Kids will see through you, so don’t try to be something you’re not or sell something you don’t believe in. There’s no point pretending you’re a scary teacher to be feared if you’re really a softie who’s not going to follow through on discipline, and there’s no point pretending you care about the students if you’re not going to back it up with genuine compassion. They know. There’s also no point trying to pretend a lesson or assignment is important if it’s not. Seventh graders can spot a fake. So what do you do? Be yourself. (A professional, positive, best-version of yourself.) Show them your rules are meant to be followed by giving consistent, fair consequences for misbehavior, but also be kind. In other words, ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT THE STUDENTS. If you don’t, find another job. And call a spade a spade. Once in a while, teachers have to make students do an assignment or activity that just isn’t a good use of their time. Own up to it and explain that this is how life works sometimes, and promise them that when it’s your choice, you will always give them work that matters. Then follow through on that promise. If a student doesn’t understand why something is important, explain it to them. If you can’t explain it to them, reevaluate it.
  • Sometimes the students who drive you the most bonkers on the first day of school are not the ones who are going to drive you bonkers on a regular basis. They’re just so excited about school that they can’t contain themselves on the first day. And that’s really adorable.
  • When light projector bulbs burn out, they sometimes sound like a gunshot.
  • Never underestimate the power of silence. Especially YOURS. Teachers shouldn’t fill every empty space with words. Let your questions sit for a moment before calling on someone to answer. Rather than repeating instructions five times, pause after saying them the first time and let them sink in. To get a chatty class’s attention, don’t talk louder. Whisper. And if finally (FINALLY!) that chatty class calms down and gets quiet and everyone is on task, don’t interrupt to tell them how great they’re doing. Show them with your smile. The school day is often fast-paced, crowded, and noisy. Sadly, teachers are sometimes our own worst behavior problems. Whenever possible, don’t add to all that noise. Lead by example, take breaths between speeches, and respect the power of silence.
  • When a student asks you, “Are you cool?” NEVER SAY YES. You’re not. Get over it.
  • My job is impossible. That’s not a hyperbole. Or a metaphor. I’m not whining. I’m not exaggerating. Literally, the number of things that we are asked to do with the number of students we are in charge of in the time that we are in charge of them is impossible. It is as if someone has given us a 1,000-piece puzzle, except there are actually 1,227 pieces in the box, and they still expect us to complete the puzzle. We can complete it (it’s difficult, but we can do it) but there are going to be pieces leftover. That’s just how it is. Deciding which ones to include and which to leave out can cause friction between the teachers and the administration or between the teachers and the district or between the teachers and their loved ones who haven’t seen them in a month because they’ve been spending all their time trying to put together an impossible puzzle. I’ve learned that, in the end, you have to do what’s best for kids. Keep the pieces that matter most. Keep the books and the journals and the lessons that really reach them. Keep the piece with that group project that students still remember years later and the one that makes even struggling readers smile. Some of the pieces you leave out might have important sounding acronyms on them. They might be assessment pieces. One might say, “We know this isn’t part of your curriculum, but could you just find a half hour to…” Leave it out. It’s okay. Yes, you might get questions about those pieces. There might be meetings. There will most certainly be emails. But as long as you’re doing what’s best for kids, you’ll be able to defend your choices and therefore sleep at night. After you finish grading papers.
  • As important as it is to take care of our students, we also have to take care of ourselves. Tucked inside my many spirals and binders and planners this year are notes reminding me to SIT DOWN (what a novel idea) and BREATHE (it’s actually quite useful) and GO HOME EARLY (meaning on time). My goals this year are not about how quickly I will grade papers. They are about how many times I will go to yoga and how many days a week I will leave work at work. This is hard work, this self care stuff. But it’s important work, and the sooner teachers learn that, the better off they will be both in and out of the classroom.
  • Some twelve -year-olds believe if you lose a toe in an accident it will grow back.
  • Lockdown drills are commonplace to today’s kids. They came about during my teaching career. I don’t remember what year they started or what the first one was like, but I do remember speaking calmly to my frightened students and telling them why we needed to practice this (to keep you safe, just in case) while also explaining that there are many reasons to go into a lockdown, and many of them don’t involve a person with a gun. They listened, wide eyed, and asked many questions. My students today have been doing lockdown drills since kindergarten. They have grown up with the term “active shooter.” They are quicker and more efficient at closing the blinds and huddling in the corner of the room than I am. Most are unfazed by the drills. I am not.
  • You shouldn’t yell “Holy crap!” during the first fire drill (or any fire drill really) no matter how loud it is or how badly it scares you. And if you do, you should always be extra kind to the student who says to you, “Don’t worry. ‘Crap’ isn’t a bad word.” (Thanks, kid.)

Where I Am

I am in a very happy place. Teaching is a hard job anywhere, but I am so fortunate to be in a good school with great students and an amazing faculty. My teammates are the best you could ask for– hard working, caring, supportive, and (most importantly) hilarious. I’ve become so close to them, it’s hard to believe I still haven’t known them a full year. I came back to teaching in mid-September last year and spent the next few months playing catch-up. I’m so excited to be able to meet my students on day 1 this year. I know I sound like a giant nerd, but honestly, Monday can’t come soon enough. I’m ready. 🙂

What I Hope

This year, like every year, I have high hopes for my students and myself. I know I can’t do it all. I know plans will go awry, and lessons will flop, and a poster will unstick from the wall and crash down onto a student’s head during a test, but right now none of that has happened yet. Right now, my planner is still neat and tidy, my big ideas still seem possible, and all my glue sticks still have the caps on. Right now, it’s still all going to work out.

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Here are a few things I hope for this coming school year:

  • I hope my students are funny.
  • I hope my students think I’m funny.
  • I hope my posters stay stuck to the wall.
  • I hope my books leave my shelves and come back with crumpled covers and soft corners from how much they’ve been read and loved.
  • I hope I earn my students’ trust.
  • I hope I can run an effective reader/writer workshop in a 46-minute period.
  • I hope a desk does not collapse underneath me while I’m sitting on it (like last year).
  • I hope I never mispronounce a student’s name more than once.
  • I hope my classroom will be a safe space for every single person who enters it. I hope its walls keep out the negativity of the whole world.
  • I hope at least once, free breakfast tacos arrive unannounced in the faculty lounge on a day when I have forgotten my breakfast.
  • I hope we get one snow day.
  • I hope my computer does not crash, my projector does not die, and my overhead screen does not fall off (like last year).
  • I hope I don’t get carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • I hope, at the end of the school year, every student leaves my class with at least one inspiring lesson or positive memory to carry with them for a long, long time.
  • I hope I leave with a hundred.