A Letter to Future Teachers: Words of Encouragement

I was talking to my brother the other day about teaching, where things have been and where they might be going. He brought up the fact that my niece wanted to be a teacher, but was worried about doing so. She’s active on social media and has witnessed the struggles that I have gone through trying to decide if I wanted to continue teaching.

People are so hard on teachers and teaching right now. We are in the middle of a war between what is best for our children and what makes the most money for businesses. Our elected officials use education as platforms to further their careers, often to the detriment of those who education is supposed to help. I am not even going to get started on the devaluing of education itself. It’s important to realize that the current environment is doing nothing to create new teachers. If anything, it’s driving them away.

I haven’t been helping. At all.

I’m changing that right now. This is my letter to future teachers. There is hope. Believe in yourself and your love of your students.

__________

Dear future teacher,

I know that times are hard now in the world of education. I know that you may think that it isn’t worth it to enter into the politics of the educational system. And the kids… oh, the kids. You read about how horrible they are, how disrespectful, how disruptive they are. There is even video evidence of their horribleness. It’s no wonder that you’re doubting.

I am writing this to tell you that these things are just a tiny drop in the ocean of education. Yes, it is stressful right now as the government plays tug-of-war using the education system as a rope. Yes, there are some kiddos that are… well… jerk-faces. Some adults are too. It comes with living in society. Unless you want to be a hermit, you’re going to have to deal with it. It’s so much easier to forgive a 15-year old for being an asshole than it is to forgive a 35-year old for acting 15.

Teaching is so much more. It is being there for a young man whose parents are in the midst of an angry divorce, putting him in the middle of it. It is working with a colleague who cares about the kids as much as (maybe even more so than) you do. It is hearing your name screamed across the aisles of the grocery store because you’ve affected that child’s life so much that they are excited to see you outside of school.

Teaching is encouraging the parents of a child who is struggling. Every parent wants what is best for their child, but many don’t know what to do when their child is lost. I have had so many wonderful meetings with parents that started out with tears and frustration and ended with smiles and hope. Teachers have the tools to guide parents and students when they struggle.

Teaching is standing up and fighting for the needs of your students. You are the buffer, their line of defense, holding back well-meaning but misinformed next-best-thing strategies that are supposed to fix education. You translate their “failures” into jumping off points. You protect the children and help them to succeed in spite of the obstacles that the government and administration tosses in front of them.

Teaching is knowing that you are making a difference every day. Every single day. You may not know it at the time, but what you do sticks in your students’ minds. They remember you. They grow because of you.

Teaching is a service. It is often thankless, especially on a day-to-day basis. If you feel that you are called to be a teacher, don’t decide not to because of what you read online or see on television. Those stories always ignore the most important part of education, the essential element that makes it all possible:

the individual

My life has been enriched by my years as an educator. I’ve grown to understand so much about myself and about life because of it. I will never, ever, ever regret my thirteen years as an educator. EVER.

Be a teacher. The world needs you.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth

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Job Search, Part Two

If you’re just joining me, read Job Search, Part 1 to get caught up. =)

The day I found out about not getting the first job, our car died (there’s a post coming on this one– someday). I was sitting there, lacking confidence, a little depressed, and alone. Hubs was sitting on the side of the road, waiting for a tow truck, so I couldn’t talk to him about it. I reached out to my Faceb0ok friends. They were very sympathetic and supportive, as usual, and I felt better. My friend Danielle, who writes ProfMomEsq, commented:

Words of Encouragement

She validated my need to feel the feels that I was feeling. Someday, I hope I’ll be able to validate myself. Until then, I have the best friends EVAH! Instead of faking strength, I let myself be a badass and cried. Even though the job wasn’t right for me, the rejection hurt.

At least I had another interview on the upcoming Monday. It was with a school district that is about a 30 minute drive for me. I just want to point out that, for the last seven years, my commute has been around ten minutes each way. Adding 40 minutes to my drive time each day would mean taking 40 minutes away from all of the other things I have to do. I would have to wriggle my world even more than I do already. Still. It was an interview, and I needed a job.

I was not feeling as confident for this interview as I was for the first one. In fact, I was mopey as hell. My brain was on a slide, whimpering its way to the bottom. Stupid brain.

I didn’t know where the school was, so I went to the trusty Internet and printed out a map. I decided to leave an hour before the interview, just to be safe. I figured I would find the place and then stop and get some lunch. The interview was at noon, and I was too anxious to eat before I left. Thank goodness for that extra time.

My handy-dandy google map was not so handy-dandy. It took me ten miles out of my way and landed me in the middle of nowhere on a dead end street with nothing but fields on either side. I had no idea where I was and 30 minutes to get to my interview.

PANIC MODE!

The panic was made even worse by the fact that I no longer had a smart phone (there’s a post if you want to know why). I couldn’t just type the address into my navigator and have the merry voice direct me to my destination. I had to call my husband for help. For those of you who don’t know me personally, this is a hard thing for me to do. I’m independent and get frustrated when I can’t solve problems like this on my own. Thankfully, my husband never brings this up when I ask for his help; he just helps me.

I love that man.

So there I was, hungry, down, anxious, and needy. I told my husband that I was just going to call them and cancel, that I wouldn’t get the job, that I probably wouldn’t take it if they offered it to me, blah blah blah. Because he has been through this before, he calmed me down and talked me out of the corner that I was moping in.

Did I mention that I love that man??

Armed with the correct directions and a pep-talk, I sallied forth. Well, more like I limped forth. I arrived at my destination with ten minutes to spare.

I was interviewed by three people– the principal and the English department co-chairs. They each had a packet with questions and were each recording my answers. It was scripted, and they were very formal in their approach. They would look at me when they asked me questions and when I answered them. Their faces betrayed no emotions. It was strange. I know why they did it– protocols need to be followed in order to be effective– but I am used to getting SOME sort of reaction.

I seemed to be the only one reacting. I felt my hands getting flappier and flappier. At one point, I couldn’t tell if I was trying to take flight or if I was performing the biggest jazz hands ever. Thing is, I couldn’t tell if they liked my answers or not. I had no feedback. I was used to feedback. 30 freshmen in a classroom give you constant feedback whether you want it or not.

Caution: Jazz Hands

Their formality was a good thing in retrospect. Even though it made me uncomfortable, it made me focus on what I was saying instead of how they were reacting to what I said. They asked me questions that I’d never been asked before. The one that sticks out most in my head was about my late work policy.

We interrupt this post for ramblings about education. We’ll return to the regularly scheduled post after this message.

I believe that all work should be turned in on time. There are deadlines for a reason. However, there has to be flexibility, especially when working with children. Even though I teach teenagers, they are still learning and make mistakes. They don’t manage time wisely because they haven’t had practice. Hell, I know grown people who still can’t manage their time wisely. I give them leeway when they need it.

That’s not to say that I let them turn assignments in any time they want. Instead, I teach them to advocate for themselves. If they know they aren’t going to turn something in on time, it’s their responsibility to meet with me and work out a plan. I try to give them skills that will help them when they enter the work world.

It also depends on other factors. If a student abuses this system, late work won’t be accepted. If it is a long term assignment and they ask for a last minute extension, I generally say no. My main goal is to help them understand the process of learning, not to see how well they plan their time. They will get enough of that when they get into the big, scary world and have to buy their own toilet paper.

Now back to the regularly scheduled post.

The whole time I was giving my answer, I was cringing inwardly. What if it wasn’t what they wanted to hear? Then, I decided I didn’t care. I was going to do it anyway, and they might as know in advance. That way there weren’t any surprises if I did get the job.

At the end of the interview, they thanked me for my time and sent me on my way. I walked out to my car, turned it on, and, like the aforementioned badass that I am, I cried a bit. I was emotionally drained and had no idea how the interview went. None. I was pretty sure that I hadn’t tanked it, but, beyond that, I knew nothing. I went home and tried not to analyze it.

The next day, they called. I almost didn’t answer it. My anxiety spiked, a mixture of excitement and fear. At the interview, they said the position was probably ninth grade English and yearbook. I really didn’t want to teach freshmen again– that alone made me want to ignore my jaunty ringtone. I answered.

“We were hoping that you would take the job we’re offering. Someone with your experience and expertise would be a tremendous benefit to our school. We think you’d fit in perfectly here,” the principal said. When I accepted the job, he stated that they were excited to start working with me.

Wow. Do you have any idea how long it’s been since I’ve heard those words? Some people who are still working in my old district have taken this opportunity in the story to tell me that I can’t believe everything that I hear and that he was probably saying it so that I would take the job and that I’d learn how he REALLY was when I started working for him. At first I was upset. Then I was sad. How sad is it that people feel like they can’t trust anyone in power?

I am choosing to believe that his words were genuine, and that he is truly excited to work with me. I am not going to let past experiences taint my current opportunities.

Guess what I’m teaching?? If you guessed freshmen, you’d be wrong. I get to teach eleventh grade English and Academic Decathlon. Juniors are one of the nicest groups to teach. First, most of them have passes the state testing that allows them to graduate. They are still trying to keep their GPAs up and (generally) haven’t checked out. AcDec is a group of students who WANT to participate in academic contests. To top it off, the school where I am going to teach has a 90% graduation rate AND a 95% attendance rate. My last school didn’t have those numbers. Things are looking up. I might fall back in love with my calling. I might want to be a teacher again.

Thank you, Universe, for catching and guiding me.

Reason 12 That I Teach

I received this email today from one of my former students. I think it speaks for itself.

———————————————————-

Mrs.F,

I miss having your glorious class everyday. I miss seeing your smiling face. I miss the vikings birthday song. I miss doing all the homework. I miss reading books. I miss your laugh, you always made my day. I miss everything that contained to your first hour class last year; but most of all I miss you. I miss you being my teacher and I want you to teach Juniors next year!

I was wondering how you have been, since the last time I saw you.? Do you think that next year you will switch over to Juniors possibly?

Sincerely Your Most Favorite Student and Your Biggest Fan,

X

———————————————————-
’nuff said.

Haters Gon’ Hate… (but it still hurts when they do)

The Nobel Prize winners have been announced (Yay, smart people who are changing our world!)

One recipient, John Gurdon, is receiving extra attention not because of what he did but because of what was done to him. Someone dredged up an old report card of his from high school in which the teacher lambastes him for being a rebel, an outside-the-box thinker. The words that the teacher uses are horribly unkind and, if they were written today, the teacher would lose his job before he could say lawsuit.

One of my favorite FB sites, “I f*cking love science” posted a graphic with the remarks paraphrased– check it out here. I have no issue with the comments being brought to light. I do have a problem with the comments that follow the post.

There were some positive posts:

And then there were some not-so-positive posts:

And my all-time favorite:

Don’t forget the one that caused a WTF, YOU IDIOT! moment:

Huh? This doesn’t even make sense at all. Respect has to be earned. I work hard to ensure that my students respect me by being truthful, straight-forward, and fair. I expect the same from my students and won’t tolerate any less. I’ll be damned if I will “respect” <— WTF does that mean anyway??— > my students just because they might be a Nobel prize winner or president or a tyrannical dictator someday. If they are not at the level they should be, I let them know as kindly as possible.  But they still need to know. How can you improve if you don’t know the truth about your abilities?? I’m so tired of  being expected to coddle little (insert student name here) when they really need the truth and encouragement to get themselves out of the hole they’ve been allowed to dig for themselves.

Okay. Rant over. Wait… maybe not.

I know that I shouldn’t let it bother me, but it does. Every day people get bombarded by how horrible teachers are. Every day. You rarely turn on the news and see something positive about them. Every day I see the media/parents/students/my favorite authors talk about how horrible educators are.

Nobody asks us. Nobody tells our story.

Do you know how many principals I’ve had in the last 6 years (just in one district, mind you)? Four. Four changes in command. Four people with very different management styles and different focuses for the school vision. Four adults who my students feel have abandoned them. I don’t think everyone realizes how much kids yearn for stability. Sometimes school is the only stability that they have.

Did you know that, every year, teachers are told that their methods (that were successful the year before, btw) are now COMPLETELY wrong and have to be changed immediately? Not just a few aspects of their methods– oh no– everything that they do. Never mind the fact that they are master teachers and can show it because their students are LEARNING beyond the test. The new strategy du jour is more effective than anything else (even if it is largely untested).

Did you know that most teachers provide the basics for their students in the classroom? If I want to do anything with my students beyond pen and paper learning, I have to purchase all of the supplies. According to the district, there is not a budget for those things. Asking my students to bring their own doesn’t usually work– very few do. One teacher I know actually got reprimanded for asking students to bring supplies (not with my current administration– they’re lovely).

Did you know that, because of legislative budget cuts, most teachers in my district are getting paid much less for doing more work? Yet we still do it. Teachers are on campus at 6:00 in the morning working hard to give their students a head start. They stay until late grading papers and making parent phone calls. (I don’t even want to get started on parent phone calls. It is apparently the teachers responsibility to let the parents know if their students aren’t passing classes. If they aren’t passing classes, it is because teachers haven’t made the lessons entertaining or engaging enough. Because, you know, jobs are ALWAYS going to be entertaining and engaging… bah.)

____________________

I guess I’ll close with this. Teachers are PEOPLE. Yes, they are imperfect, but who isn’t?  So many forget this, I think, and are vitriolic in their criticism. If someone did tell the teachers’ story, would anyone listen? Or is it so much easier to have a scapegoat for society’s ills?

Reason 23 Why I Love Teaching

I have a student who carries a towel every day and whose favorite answer is 42. Enough said…


words to live by

“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels. A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have. Partly it has great practical value — you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble‐sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand‐to‐hand‐combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindbogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.”

It all Started at 2:30 in the Morning

This will probably be a brief post (yeah, right). I woke up this morning at 2:30. 2:30! This is the second night in a row that I’ve done this. I wake up, thoughts racing, planning my day, figuring out what I need to do in order to get ready for the next school year. It is typical and happens every year around this time. I don’t know why my brain does this. Perhaps it feels the need to torture me more than usual. 2:30 is too early.

In the past, I’ve used this time to replay events of the day before, hyper-analyzing them for things I did “wrong.” Believe me, I perceived so much wrong. Once I’d determined where I had erred as a human being, I experienced those moments of imperfection over and over again in my mind. I couldn’t stop. Every thought fed into my feelings of self-loathing. I would start the next day overwhelmed, defeated, and exhausted. This year is turning out to be different. It is weird. Instead of focusing on the bad, my brain is focusing on the good.

A little bit of back story is necessary. I have a new principal. Change is scary, as you well know. I wrote a post about it a while back. While this principal had a reputation for being fair, I wasn’t sure if I believed it. It has been so long since I had a principal who wasn’t … how do I put it delicately… a jerk-face completely centered on his or her own agenda, forsaking all thoughts about treating teachers like people, individuals who give up so much of their OWN time for the kids. Too harsh? It always felt to me that only certain people would get “props” for what they did. Usually these people did the least amount of work but were really, really loud about the few things they did do. I’m sure it is the same in every business.

This principal doesn’t seem to be like that. For example, I did some training today with my colleagues. My friend, S., and I worked really hard on a plan to not waste any of the faculty’s time and to meet everyone at their individual level of expertise. Our principal saw our plans and approved them. Then we met with the three other members of our “team.” We were outvoted and the training didn’t go the way we had planned it. Enough said about that; I don’t want to disparage anyone. It happens. Here is where it gets interesting. Our principal sent S. and I an email thanking us for our hard work. Thanking us! This is the third time in two weeks that I’ve gotten recognition for the work that I do. It wasn’t a grandiose statement in front of my colleagues (thank goodness). I don’t think that I’ve ever gotten more than one thank you in a whole year!

Back story done, moving on. So, this morning (at 2:30!!) I woke up feeling proud. Proud. Not down on myself. Not frustrated or scared about what the day would bring. I don’t remember feeling that way, so I thought I would list the things that I felt good about. Here goes:

  1. I was able to help many people feel successful with the technology that was the focus of the training. Yes, I had to stay after the training and help them individually, but it was worth it.
  2. I reconnected with people that I hadn’t spoken with all summer.
  3. I was told that I was missed at the differentiation conference this summer. I dropped out of Collaboration Coaching because of many reasons, personal and professional. I figured that nobody would care. I was wrong. A person who I completely respect because she is an amazing teacher (and person) told me that it wasn’t the same without me. The insight that I bring is special. Wow, right? Here I thought I would just fade into oblivion, but I was missed! (I wrote about my feelings of not being missed in this post, if you are interested. Geez, I sure am referring to previous posts a lot! You’d think this was my blog or something.)
  4. I avoided the people who bring me down. You know, the people who complain all of the time and act like they hate their jobs. Quit, then.
  5. One of the teachers I mentored put down that my new teacher mentoring was one of the best things about last year.
  6. One of my colleagues actually requested that her child be placed in my classroom because she felt I would be a good fit. Inorite? Go me!
  7. I stood up in front of ~100 people, said “Excuse me” once and waited. They all stopped talking. For those of you who are not in education, teachers don’t usually do this. Many of them are the worst students.
  8. After they went quiet, I was able to actually talk mostly coherently in front of them. I didn’t get the typical upset tummy or shakes. I didn’t love it, but it didn’t make me want to vomit.
  9. I am respected. People look to me for guidance.
  10. One of our PE teachers actually came in after the training for tutoring (?). He wanted help organizing his website and learn more about his computer. On his own. Because he wanted to. And he asked me. Not anyone else. I impacted him enough that he trusted me to help him with something he was uncomfortable with.
  11. I was told repeatedly that people enjoy when I do training because I make it easier to learn. I “do” things and not just stand up in front of everyone and talk.
  12. I left at 2. This was a proud moment for me because I actually left work. This time of year I usually work so much, never taking time to relax. I relaxed!
  13. My principal noticed and THANKED me for what I do.
  14. I finally finished decorating my house in Whiterun. I wish making money was as easy as it is in Skyrim!

Those are the things that were going through my head this morning. I still hate the waking up at 2:30 part, but I am excited that I was able to look at the good instead of the bad. Even though I am exhausted, I’m excited to see what happens today. It is a nice feeling.

I know that posts are more aesthetically pleasing with pictures included but I’ve not got the energy to find some. I’ve already been up for 2.5 hours, people! Use your imaginations and choose the pictures that you want to put in. =)

Year 13 Begins

The next few weeks are going to be very hectic for me. I return to work on August 1 and students arrive on August 8. I will be working on getting my classroom set up and planning my first quarter. One of the challenges that I am (very) excited to face is the implementation of 1:1 technology. For those of you who aren’t knowledgeable in educationese, it means that all of my students will have netbooks and the use of textbooks will be limited. The transition will be fairly easy for me because I don’t generally use the textbook anyway and I had a classroom set of netbooks in my classroom next year. I still have to plan and plan and plan (it makes my brain happy). I’ve decided to take my teaching a step further and make my class inquiry based. It is a big step for me because I give up some of the control that I am used to. Thing is, the kids are fully engaged when you give them a choice.

Another challenge that I face is the fact that I will have to work with new people this school year. Because of teacher movement, half of freshman level teachers are brand new to the school. Some are even brand new to teaching. I love that we have fresh ideas, but I am also sad because our group last year worked well together. They knew me and my quirks. They didn’t get upset when I would hide in my room because I needed alone time. Plus, I get terribly shy and anxious when working with new people. I’m either silent or have diarrhea of the mouth and say the stupidest things! Time to retrain everyone (myself included).

One of the aspects of teaching that I love is mentoring new teachers. I like offering them support and helping them make it through the first few years. Teaching is hard and if you don’t have support, you’ll never make it. True words, those. I’ve already met one of our brand new baby teachers (term of endearment, btw). My first impression of him was that he was T.A.L.L. I have no idea how tall he is, but I had to twist my neck to talk to him. He’s an Algebra teacher, but I won’t hold it against him. (J/K. I love my mathmagician friends. They astound me.) It was exciting to hear his ideas for next year. He is so fresh and so hopeful. I want to help him keep some of that as the year progresses.

I went into work yesterday to get the keys to my classroom. Usually I don’t go into work this far in advance. However, I have a new classroom.

I know! First a new principal then new teachers and now a new classroom. Doesn’t anyone understand my brain?!?!

I have 12 years of teacher stuff. At the end of May, I had to sort through scads and scads of resources to determine whether or not I needed them anymore. I ended up getting rid of/recycling 8 big black garbage bags of things I hadn’t used in a long time. I didn’t realize how cathartic it would be to get rid of so much. Even though I pared down my resources, I still had to pack them up to be moved to my new room.

Here it is, in its natural state:

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Before I can even think about planning or the other hundreds of things teachers do at the beginning of the new year, I have to unpack. Things just don’t work unless I’ve got my little nest set up. The room is so much bigger than my previous one AND it has more storage. You know what the best feeling is, though?

I don’t have enough stuff to fill up the storage space! I don’t feel completely overwhelmed with things. Maybe this will help me in the next school year. I’ll have space to breathe.

This year is looking up already!

Oh, don’t worry, I’ll post my classroom when it is finished. I know ya’ll were skeered that I’d forget to show you the beauty of it. =)