Posted in Teaching

Mid-Year Crisis

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Thanks, Pixabay, for illustrating my internal stress and providing all images for this post.

Teachers, listen to me. No, seriously, pick your head up off that desk or out of that bucket of wine, and LISTEN. I get it. I really, really do.

It’s the end of February, which means…

  • You have six weeks until the STAAR test and eight weeks of lessons that you need to teach before the STAAR test.
  • Your TELPAS samples, NJHS applications, progress reports, and 504 data are all due at the exact same minute, but all of your conference periods are taken up with team meetings, parent meetings, and intervention meetings, so you barely have enough time to eat twelve Girl Scout Cookies (I’m pretty that’s the recommended dosage) much less get your paperwork done.
  • A quarter of your students have been absent for four days in a row (but not the same four days in a row because that would be too convenient), and you can’t figure out which ones have the flu and which ones are on a mid-month non-spring-break family ski trip, so you’re just Cloroxing everything and giving everyone the stink eye when they return to cover all your bases.
  • You have 47 more book projects to grade, which you should have handed back last week, and two days from now you’ll have 139 journals to grade, which are a lot more difficult to carry on field trips. (Not actual field trips. You know when you take papers back and forth from school to home and back again without ever actually grading them? I call those field trips.)
  • Oh yeah, and it’s about time for someone to bring up the fact that no one’s planned the field trip yet and for someone else to point at you say, “So-and-so is good at organizing things. Remember when she planned that potluck?” and then you will have to close your eyes and take three deep breaths before pointing out that asking ten people to all bring food on a certain day is not the same thing as organizing transportation, activities, insurance, and volunteers for 450 kids, but by the time you open your eyes to say that, everyone will already be voting for you to do it.
  • You are being observed by four different people from four different colleges, universities, internships, and countries, all of whom you are supposed to mentor into being a teacher, but what you really want to do is yell, “Run, run, run! Go get your engineering degree!” Meanwhile, all you can think about is whether or not you should use a personal day to catch up on grading. (Anyone else ever done that? *raises hand*)

I. GET. IT.

To prove that I get it, here’s the truth. That note about the 47 projects left to grade with 139 journals on the way? Those are my current stats. So what did I do tonight? I… ate cheese and Girl Scout Cookies for dinner, watched some old Star Trek episodes, googled lavish vacations to faraway places and then less lavish vacations to not-so-faraway places, then took a bubble bath where I tried to use speech-to-text on my phone for the first time in order to draft this blog post. But instead of actually drafting this blog post, I ended up trying out jokes for the stand-up comedy routine that I like to pretend would make it big if I ever got drunk and wandered in front of a microphone like on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Then, when I read what I recorded, I realized there wasn’t a single period in the whole thing because I didn’t know you had to say the punctuation, which is ironic because all week I’ve been making my students read their commas out loud during warm-ups to prove they’re in the right place. So, now I’m actually typing my blog post, still quite effectively avoiding all my grading.

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“That woman is CRAZZZZZZZY!”

THAT, my friends, is classic end-of-February behavior.

But have no fear. We’ve gotten through this before, and we’ll get through it again.

Those papers will get graded, or they won’t.

That field trip will get planned, or it won’t.

Those TELPAS samples will be turned in, or… well, in the fine print, I think it says you could lose your license or something, but IT’S FINE because those TELPAS samples WILL GET TURNED IN. (Do it tomorrow. During lunch.)

The point is YOU CAN DO THIS. WE can do this. Spring break (the real one) is just around the corner, and vacation or no vacation, you’re finally going to carve out some time for yourself.

Everything will be okay.

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[Insert calming music here.]
Now, take that half-empty box of Girl Scout Cookies to bed with you, and get some sleep. You’ve got kids to teach and papers to grade tomorrow. Maybe.

Posted in Teaching

Highlights, Lowlights, and A (Possible) Glimpse into the Future

I’m home sick today. I was home sick yesterday too. I’ve had a cold since last Wednesday and am also dealing with some crazy home repair issues, which I’ll probably write about in a later post. (They say comedy = tragedy + time, so I need a little more time before this whole house issue is funny.) Yesterday, I was sick-sick. Like, “pajamas all day, 4-hour naps, multiples doses of Robitussin” sick. Today I’m “I feel better! I’ll accomplish something! Oh wow, that took a lot of energy, I think I’ll lay on the couch for a while” sick.

Photo of teddy bear, tissues, orange juice, medicine, and a book
If anything will cure my cold, these things will.

Tomorrow it’s back to work, regardless of how I feel because…

A) Taking two days off in a row when you’re a teacher is kind of unheard of and definitely unsettling. You can’t help but wonder what sort of shenanigans are happening  in your classroom without you there. Also, one year, every single time I was absent, I got a new student. Every time. That’ll teach you to take a “me day”. *
B) Being absent is a lot of work when you’re a teacher. Last night (whilst sick) I spent an hour making sub plans, and this morning (whilst still kinda sick) I spent half an hour redoing the sub plans that I did wrong last night because I was sick. (I don’t recommend trying to operate Google Forms under the influence of cold medicine.)
C) I miss my students. I have GOOD kids this year. Kids that smile at me when they walk in my room and say “Have a nice day” when they leave and sometimes laugh at my bad jokes. I have kids that listen (mostly) and do their work (mostly) and politely point out that I wrote the year as 2011 instead of 2018 and offer to fix my mistake. They’re not just good kids, they’re GREAT kids. I love teaching them and, despite getting the year wrong once in a while, I think I’m doing a good job of it.

However…

Today during one of my short bursts of energy, I decided to clean up a random pile of papers on my desk. In it, I found a scribbled sheet of notebook paper from last November titled: Highlights From the Week Before Thanksgiving. I thought, Oh, neat! Then I read it and realized that “Highlights” was sarcastic, and I thought, Oh, no.

Here’s what it included:

Handwritten note that reads, "Highlights of the Week Before Thanksgiving"

  • Yesterday I wrote on a student’s paper, “This is not a simile! You are not comparing two unlike things. Liver is liver.”
  • Today a student misspelled his own last name on his paper. His last name is three letters long. He has no academic disabilities.
  • There are currently SEVEN project books in my lost & found box. Four of them have the owners’ name written prominently on the cover. We are working on the projects in class today. The students need their books. No one is approaching the lost & found box. ???
  • Conversations I’ve had in the past three days:
    • Conversation #1
      Student: “Where should I turn this in?”
      Me: “The same place we’ve turned things in since the first day of school.”
      Student: *stares at me blankly*
    • Conversation #2
      Student: “I have a question.”
      Me: “Yes?”
      Student: “I finished my assignment.”
      Me: “That’s not a question.”
      Student: *stares at me blankly*
    • Conversation #3
      Me: “Every day you ask to go to your locker to get your book.”
      Student: “I know. I just forget to bring it.”
      Me: “Okay, we need to come up with a solution for this problem. Why don’t you put a big colorful sticky note on the inside of your locker door that says, ‘Don’t forget your book.'”
      Student: “But I don’t go to my locker before this class.”
      Me: *stares at student blankly*
    • Conversation #4
      Me: “Please read the next item on today’s Workshop Rules.” [Note: The sentence says, “I will use my resources if I need help.”]
      Student: “I will not use my resources if I need help.”
      Me: “Let’s try that one more time.”

 

You’re probably thinking, “Wow, her students last year were definitely not cut from the same construction paper as the ones this year,” but you’re WRONG! My students last year were AWESOME! They, too, said please and thank you and laughed at my jokes. They, too, worked hard (mostly) and followed directions (mostly). But during the fourth month of school, they all– collectively and simultaneously– lost their minds. I remember it now clearly. It was a dark time.

So, here I sit, itching to get back to my classroom tomorrow, hoping against hope that my two-day absence has not made my beloved little seventh graders regress into name-misspelling, book-losing, non-question-asking shadows of themselves, because that really shouldn’t happen for at least another two months.

Wish me luck.

* Update: Since the writing of this post, I have received an email telling me I will have a new student tomorrow.

 

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.