Saturday, August 13, 2011

New Year, New Blog

Now that I am no longer a first year teacher, I have a new blog.  Follow me on I Before Ennui.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My Final Post

The year ended rather unceremoniously.  It reminded me of the last days of college, when you rush around getting your work done, packing up your room and saying good bye to your friends who you know you will see again in a few months when you come back. 

Saying good bye to my seniors and to my coworkers who are moving on was difficult.  However, I leave with great confidence that I accomplished a lot this year and next year will be much better. 

My husband's father, who died many years ago, was a much-beloved teacher.  Apparently at his funeral, the church was packed with former students who told my husband what a great man his father was, and how much he had impacted their lives.  Several weeks ago, I asked my husband what advice he thought his dad would give me if he was around.  He paused for just a moment and said, "Love your kids." 

I do--every single one of them, including the one that tried to punch me in the face, the twins that drove me nuts, and the girl who chewed me out in front of her mother and an administrator.  I didn't always like them or their behavior, but I loved them enough to demand their best and nothing less.  If they have learned nothing else this year and remember me with disdain, at least I never compromised in my goal of teaching them how to be responsible, thoughtful, respectful, productive Citizens of the World. I am ready to do it all again next year, with a new group of kids who no doubt will test my patience, make me laugh, cry, and scream.

Until then, I am going to relax, read (and I am going to read trash!), go to the pool, enjoy my family who has been so patient with me this year, and most important, come up with a name for a new blog, now that I am no longer a first year teacher!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

I am just a few days away from the end of the year.  Classes are winding down and due to passing SOLs, all but five of my students are exempt from exams.  I am trying to keep my eye on the prize, but I am completely burned out and have little patience for the challenges I am facing the last few days, which include:

1.  My students are DONE in their minds.  It is  nearly impossible to get them to focus and do their work.  They don't come to class, they sleep, they play, they give me a hard time. The only exception is the ones who have just now realized they are failing and are bugging me for extra credit and make up work. 
2.  I am having to make "the call" which goes something like this "Hello, is this the parent of Carl Smith?  I am calling to let you know that your child is in danger of failing English."  This is always followed by "WHAT?!  Why wasn't I notified????" with the not so subtle implication that this is somehow my fault.  Here's the deal:  grades are on line for parents and students to view any time.  I do it for my own children, why don't you?  Two, your kid is not just now magically failing.  With 3 grading periods behind us, your kid failed at least two of them if they are failing now.  Why is this such a shock to you?  Three, I did call you.  I have it documented.
3.  Administrators seem to be done with school as well, with little being done in the way of discipline.  I think their thought is "There are only 2 weeks left, why bother with referrals?"

I have just two full periods left with each class.  Many moments I wonder if I will be able to do this for two more years (which is when I will be eligible for transfer), but I try to remind myself that next year will be easier because:

1.  I can get around the building!  I know where the copier, the bathrooms, the administrators' offices, and the computer labs are.
2.  I know the staff.  I know who I can trust and who I can't (I'm talking about you, busy-body social studies lady and soul crushing administrator!).  I'm not a new face and am not going to be labeled as "first year teacher" anymore!
3.  I know the kids.  This means I am better prepared to teach them and manage them.  It doesn't mean I am perfect at it, by any means.  It just means I have a leg up on them!
4.  I've got my lesson plans ready to go!  I am sure I will modify next year, but I know what works best and how best to teach it.  Example:  Raisin in the Sun, yes.  Ben Franklin, no.  Start writing practice way earlier in the year.  SSR (student selected reading) is a joke, so no more book reports.
5.  I'm only teaching one subject next year, which means only one SOL and one class to plan for.
6.  Hopefully I will have my own room, instead of traveling from classroom to classroom on a cart. The room can be set up the way I want it to be and everything will be at my fingertips. 
7.  I now have some credibility from the students who were successful in my class. 
8.  My mentor is going to be department head next year, so I will have another great advocate for the department in my corner.
9.  I am already a member of the National Education Association (NEA) and I know what a great support it provides its teachers.
10.  I have confidence!  I made it through one year with none of the previous 9 things going for me--this next year has got to be easier....right?  RIGHT??

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Updates....The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

It has been awhile since I have posted and not because I haven't had quite a bit that is blog worthy.  However, I have been tapped out lately and to come home and type it, after living it each day has been too much to even consider. 

I'm going to just give  a few highlights of the last few weeks--the good, the bad and the ugly that is the rule rather than the exception for most teachers.

I am very sad to report that my dear friend Mr. I has had enough and is leaving to teach middle school next year.  I can not blame him, but its a huge loss for me, as well as the school.  Never mind the fact that we can spend an entire planning period arguing over who would win in a fight of honey badger versus wolverine--Mr. I has been a great, grounding force in times of stress.  My much-adored department chair is leaving as well.  Many of our fantastic teachers are joining in the mass exodus and it makes me nervous for next year.  A challenging population like our school has, requires the highest quality teachers.  How sad that they do not feel appreciated--it is symptomatic of so many, larger issues that it makes my head spin. 

An example of this lack of support and appreciation slapped me in the face this week.  I have a student who has been nothing but trouble this semester.  She has skipped my class, walked out of my class, cheated, been disrespectful, refused to do her work, been defiant, and two weeks ago, told me to shut up, before walking out of my class and slamming the door.  What made this situation even more fun was that her mother clearly has no perspective on how out of control her daughter is and held me responsible.  This blows my mind.  If my daughter did any one of those things, no matter if she "liked" the teacher or not, I would make it clear that her behavior was inexcusable.  Anyway, she returned from suspension in no better frame of mind and there was basically an incident daily, culminating in a meeting with the child, her mother and an administrator.  It did not go well and I ended up excusing myself after the student let loose on me during the meeting. 

I returned to school the next day, feeling very anxious as not only had nothing been resolved, but it had been escalated.  I realized that there was no way I could teach this child successfully and to attempt to do so would not only be unbelievably stressful, it would compromise the education of the other students in the class.  Once again, let me toot the horn of the NEA (National Education Association).  In a moment where I felt that I had no control, my school reps stepped up, let me know that I was not alone and that this would be resolved.  Within an hour, I had that student removed from my class.  If you are a teacher and have waffled about being a member because of the cost, I assure you it is worth every penny especially in a climate where teachers are increasingly marginalized.

That said, I do have great news about my 10th graders.  They did fantastic on their SOLs and it really made the whole year worth it.  They didn't just pass, but their scores were really good, with many passing advanced.  I was so proud and happy that I went home and called every single parent of the nearly 90% of my students that passed. This was a true team effort and is an example of collaborative teaching at its finest.  Overall, our school improved its testing scores by 10%, after dropping 3% last year. 

Finally, I have a beautiful update about about David, my student from Honduras who I wrote about previously in my post "The American Dream".  Prom is next week and my upper classmen are talking about little else.  David has been very excited to participate in this American right of passage.  He came to me yesterday, saddened that his date had backed out.  Who knows what I was thinking but I said "Well, do you want me to ask my daughter if she is available?"  Amazingly, he said yes and even more amazing, my daughter, who is beautiful inside and out, was more than happy to be a part of making this happen for David.  When I told David today that she was on board, he was so happy that he hugged me, saying saying that this was his first and last opportunity for prom and he was looking forward to it.  My husband and I are going as well to keep an eye on things and I am certain it will be an evening to remember!

There are just four weeks left, friends....then I am going to have to come up with a new name for this blog as I will have officially finished my first year of teaching.  Any suggestions?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

BBQ Chicken and R. Kelly

My students are funny.  They don't necessarily mean to be.  Let's just say many times I am laughing at them, not with them, and today was a prime example.

To ease them (and let's be honest, myself) back into thinking and working, I thought we'd do a fairly easy lesson of Shakespearean sonnets. My hook for this was a journal prompt about romance.  Shakespeare knew how to talk to a woman.  The oft quoted line "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun..." is about how he loves his woman for other reasons than her beauty.  He spends three quatrains saying "Yeah, she's not particularly beautiful, her hair's not that great, lips aren't particularly red, cheeks aren't rosey so much, kinda has bad breath....", but then he moves in with the good stuff in the ending couplet!  He says that he is certain he loves his woman much more than all the posers out there who go on and on about how gorgeous their women are.  Good stuff!

With this in mind, I asked my students to write a paragraph about romance.  Real, as I put it, "above the waist romance".  Ladies, how does a man show he cares about you?  Gentlemen, how do you show a woman that you truly love her, not just want to get something from her?  Instantly, the girls started writing.  The guys took a little longer, looking perplexed about the very nature of the question. The girls, for the most part, had it right and to be honest, I was impressed by their self-respect.  They talked about wanting someone who cared about them, was respectful, listened to them,  and took the time to make them feel special.

"Let's hear from one of the boys!"  I said.  Remember DeWayne and DeShaun the twins?  The "Good Christian Boys"?  Well, DeWayne was removed from my class and put into remediation after he so miserably failed the SOLs, it was determined he needed to be in a special class that addressed an 11th grader who apparently can barely read.  He was actually the lesser thorn in my side, but it is somewhat better without him there to feed off his brother.  Anyway, DeShaun raises his hand and says, with total seriousness and confidence,

"First I would walk in the room with my head high and a lean in my step <think the pimp walk> and I would put on some smooth jams, like R. Kelly."  Okay, I'm going to stop right there for a second.  I heard R. Kelly mentioned several times today.  Is he not the disgusting individual who enjoyed urinating on under-age girls???  Anyhoo...DeShaun went on, "Then I would tell her I was a love machine and I only worked for her,"  I'm sure The Miracles are somewhere filing a lawsuit, "and I would tell her that her eyes are so bright they are like a flashlight, lightin' up the room," nice cheesy simile, but I was still trying not to judge until he ended with, "and then I would say, 'Now let's go get some BBQ chicken and then get busy!'"

The girls were horrified.  They made all kinds of disgusted comments.  Even the guys were shaking their heads.  Meanwhile, poor clueless DeShaun had a look of total bewilderment on his face.  There isn't enough R. Kelly in the world to make up for that kind of cluelessness!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Wish I Knew Then, What I Know Now!

Friday was the last day of the third nine weeks, which means I have just nine weeks left of the school year.  I can not believe it.  It truly has gone so fast.  I do not exaggerate when I say that I have learned this year far more than I have taught (or at least more than my students have learned, based on the grades I submitted on Friday!).  Here are a few things that I wish someone had told me before I started teaching:

1.  Its not enough to review the rules and expectations only the first day of school.  I thought I had done a really great job by reviewing the rules and having the parents and students sign it.  I did it again at the start of the new semester.  Not enough.  I am going to post them, give a quiz on them and then review them DAILY for the first month of school.  Then there will be regular reviews of them throughout the first semester until it is drilled in their little heads!

2.  Start with incentives from Day One.  I only started this about a month into the school year.  Incentives have been my savior this year.

3.  Recognize that once a confrontation has started, I've already lost.  Do not engage.  Period.  I am learning not to explain, justify, or God forbid, get defensive about anything.  What I say goes in the classroom.  Argue if you want, but I'm not listening. This rule also applies to speaking with parents and administrators.

4.  Kids love attention, positive or negative--give them tons of positive attention and they won't work so hard to get negative attention.  This is difficult, especially when the kids do everything they can to be completely unlikable. I meet them at the door every day, greet them by name, compliment them, say I am glad to seem them, ask how their weekend was, etc.  I mother them constantly.  Believe it or not, they want this and the more I do it, the less trouble I get out of them.

5.  Never, ever give out grades during class time.  I just made this rule for myself last week.  First off, if you do it once, you will forever be interrupted in the middle of teaching with "Miz Nilknarf, can I see my grade?"  Second, if they don't like the grade, it gives them an opportunity to pontificate for the class's benefit.  From now on, the rule is "You can find out your grade any time by logging onto your student account or by getting a pass to see me during study hall."

6.  Don't take work home if you can help it and don't work beyond contract hours.    Make the most of your time at school.  Work through lunch if you need to.  Grade papers during tests.  Use your planning time wisely.  Check out the Internet for awesome lesson plans before you waste time making your own.  Ask other teachers to share theirs (my coworkers are awesome about this). Walk out that door when your contract hours are over and forget about school until the next morning.  Don't bring work home, don't call parents from home if you can help it (this only puts you in a crappy mood if the conversation doesn't go well), and by all means don't check your email.

7.  Don't take anything personally.    This has been difficult for me.  I work hard to create good lesson plans.  Unlike many teachers I have seen, I am a dynamic teacher.  I work the classroom--I put on a show!  It can be disheartening, to say the least, when someone sleeps through my class or completely bombs a test on something I have worked hard to teach.  That said, I can only do so much.  If they don't learn, its not because I haven't given 100%, its because they haven't.

8.  I have the best job in the world.  Even at  this school, with these kids, and questionable administrators, this job can not be beat.  I get to be creative, meet all kinds of people, teach a subject that I love and work an amazing schedule.  I am home with my kids every afternoon, every snow day, and most days when they are off from school.  While the rest of the world is at work this summer, I'll be sleeping in, going to the pool, and getting a paycheck for it!  I also have great benefits, retirement, and I can work anywhere in the country.

This year has kicked my ass, but I am coming back better and wiser next year!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

At long, last, acceptance.....

Ever heard of the "Five Stages of Grief"?  Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote in her book On Death and Dying about the five stages of grief people go through when faced with a catastrophic loss.  I told my fellow teachers that I have to come to realize, with some humor,  that coping with working at my school is like going through the five stages of grief.

Denial  This was me in September-- "Its not so bad...I can do this right?  These kids want to do well!  I can teach them if I figure out the right way to do it, right?  RIGHT?!?!"

Anger  Then came October and the student who threatened to punch me in the face and the Soul Crushing Administrator who didn't back me up.  I was furious! "How is it possible that I get no support from Administration?  This is ridiculous!  How am I supposed to teach effectively in this environment?"

Bargaining  January.  This was when I started saying "Okay, I'll just get through this year and then make a decision about what to do next year.  Maybe I'll apply in another county or at private schools."  It was also when I started bargaining with my students by starting Raffle Day, i.e., "You attempt to behave like human beings and I'll give you candy."

Depression  This set in late January/early February when I was recovering from pneumonia, facing a pretty major family crisis, my students did poorly on the SOLs and I found out I wasn't eligible for a transfer to another school for three years.  Pretty much that was the lowest point in the year and its when I decided that if I didn't go on a tropical vacation, I might have a nervous breakdown.

Acceptance  This is where I am now with just 10 weeks to go in the school year.  Kubler-Ross says this is the point where one says "Its going to be ok.  I can't fight it, so I might as well do my best to deal with it."  Its a relief to be here, although somewhat sad that I have accepted that generally my students are going to do the bare minimum and expect maximum results, the parents either don't care, blame me or have no control, and worst of all that Administration has the same attitude as the parents.  But....accept it, I have.  I'm okay with it all.  I've figured out how to cope with it--I have good friends at work, I joke about it, try desperately not to take it all to heart, try to have fun, get as much sleep as I can, and try to focus on the handful of students I have who actually want my help.  Most important, I have come to have some confidence in myself as a teacher. I really am doing the best I can and I accept that it is all I can do.