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

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 Poetry, Teaching

Brain on Lockdown: Why Standardized Testing Is As Hard On Teachers As It Is On Students

A couple of weeks ago, I had a dream that I was monitoring a standardized test in my old classroom. The test was TAKS (because my subconscious had forgotten that we’ve moved on to STAAR) and I was being chastised for doing something wrong (I don’t remember what, probably opening a book or staring out the window for eight seconds rather than “actively monitoring” the students). Whatever it was, it was a big problem, and dealing with the person who was berating me was starting to be a giant pain in the butt.

That’s when I remembered that I quit teaching a couple of years ago. I wondered why I was back in my classroom. Did I decide to go back to my old job? Was I just subbing? I racked my brain, trying to find a loophole that would get me out of this situation, but so far nothing was working. Then it came to me.

“I can’t administer this test,” I said to the woman who was still badgering me about the mysterious crime I had committed. “I didn’t go through the training!” That did it. She stopped talking, my heart swelled with victory, and I woke up from my nightmare.

Cartoon Crazy
Image of crazy person tearing her hair out found here.

Because, as anybody who’s anybody knows, you can’t be trusted to administer a standardized test (no matter how many times over how many years you’ve done it) without going through at least one, usually two, sometimes (if you’re lucky and get chosen for a field test) THREE trainings a year on how to do it. The training consists of a power point presentation that tells you not do things such as give a student an answer, hint at an answer, or “act out” an answer. Yes, really.

(Note: If I had a blood pressure machine in my house right now, I could prove to you that, even twenty months after quitting teaching, the very thought of standardized testing still has a profound physical effect on me.)

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I found this cartoon here.

There’s a lot of truth to that nightmare I had. Testing is a stressful experience, and not just for the students. Teachers are under a lot of scrutiny during standardized tests, and we’re being scrutinized for really ridiculous things. One year an auditor from either the state or the district (I’m not sure which) came into my room during the test with her official clipboard. She looked around to make sure all educational materials and posters had been taken down or covered up, wiggled the mouse on my computer to make sure it was off, and perused the testing documents on the table at the front of the room. She peered at the state-mandated seating chart and then crooked her finger for me to come over there. I did. She then indicated, with gestures and whispers, that I had neglected to mark where the door to the classroom was on the seating chart. I picked up my pencil and wrote the word “door” in the proper location. She nodded and left.

(Note: The year of the first TAKS Writing test, I actually broke out in the only case of hives I’ve ever had in my life.)

Then there was the time, during my second-to-last year of teaching, when I was unlocking the cabinet after the lunch break to retrieve the tests to hand them back to the students (because they must be under lock and key during breaks), and I managed to break my key off in the lock. I stood there with my back to the students contemplating the paths my life had taken to lead me to this point when I heard a girl’s voice say, “Ms. Juettner, did you just break your key?” Um… And then a boy’s voice say, louder, “Oh my god, are our tests stuck in there?!” UM… Thankfully, a counselor was sent to the rescue (because he had a screwdriver, not because I needed to be counseled, though some therapy later probably would have been a good idea) and soon we were back to our silent and serious testing atmosphere. But it was touch and go for a few minutes there.

(Note: Our school’s system for teacher restroom breaks during testing involved clipping a little red sign to the outside of your door when you needed to be relieved (in order to relieve yourself) and then waiting for a relief person to show up. Sometimes the relief person was already relieving someone else. Sometimes they didn’t see the sign. Sometimes they were reading the newspaper and forgot that teachers’ bladders were about to explode. There is an art to determining when it is exactly fifteen minutes until you are going to have to pee, and I never mastered it.)

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Beyond the monotony of the trainings, beyond the stress of following all the rules, beyond the various physical ailments that it causes in otherwise healthy individuals, the absolute WORST thing about standardized testing is the mind-numbing boredom of “actively monitoring” students for five hours a day, up to four days in a row. No grading. No computing. No reading. No writing. No talking. No napping. No making any noise. No telling how long until your next bathroom break. MIND. NUMBING.

One year, a few minutes before testing began, we were all standing in the hallway outside our classrooms, soaking up our last precious moments of freedom, when my friend Julie walked up and said, “Anybody got any problems you need worked out? Any relationship issues? Financial woes? Decisions about what to do with your life?” We all stared at her. She said, “I need something for my brain to work on while I’m in there. Come on, give me a problem to solve!”

I couldn’t supply Julie with a good life problem that day because the biggest thing on my mind at the moment was the same thing. What the heck am I going to do with my brain for the next five hours?

A few days after my recent nightmare, I came across the Love, Teach blog, which I’m now following (and you should too). The first post I saw was “16 Things You Can Do While Actively Monitoring Standardized Testing (Or The Next Time You’re Crazy Bored)” and, let me tell you, she has some GREAT suggestions. You should check them out. Then I’ll round out the list with my four favorite things, making it an even twenty.

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I found this cool image here.

17. Gamble

Place bets with yourself about which row of students will finish the test first or turn the seating chart into a big bingo board and see how long it takes to get BINGO.

18. Play Matching Games

Since students aren’t allowed to keep anything at their desks during testing, they have to place all of their lunches and silent reading books at the front of the room. My favorite game was trying to match the students to their books and lunches. Since some of them brought multiple books, it was a real challenge.

19. Practice Your Math

If there are twenty-six students in the room, and nine of the students are wearing blue, what percentage of students is wearing blue? (Yes, monitoring standardized testing is so mind-numbing that my brain sometimes CHOSE to do math!)

20. Write Poetry

Technically speaking, you are not allowed to write while monitoring. But the rules do not specifically state that you are not allowed to carry a piece of paper and a pen in your pocket with which to scribble lines of poetry during restroom breaks. I wrote a few poems during my TAAS and TAKS and STAAR monitoring days. Unfortunately, most of them were about monitoring standardized tests. (The whole experience really saps your creativity.) See exhibit A below:

Brain on Lockdown Poem

As we head into yet another testing season, my heart goes out to all of my friends still in the classroom. I wish you interesting internal imaginings, great epiphanies, and absolutely NO highlighter marks on the answer documents. Good luck to you.

 

[To read more stories from my teaching career, check out my Teaching Stories page.]