Friday, December 31, 2010

Interview with Ms_Teacher

Ms. Teacher's interview from her blog ( brings a perspective not only from the classroom but also from the teacher's association.

My background information is that I am in my tenth year of teaching, but am working as a full-time release president of my local association. When in the classroom, I taught 6th grade, mostly language arts & history.


How was actually teaching different than what you expected it to be when you went into teaching?
I remember being in awe of most of my teachers growing up. When I had kids of my own and they started school, I admired and deeply respected most of their teachers. I guess I expected that most everybody respected and liked teachers, so it's been a shock to find out how many people in the general public do not hold this same point of view. The routine disparagement & scapegoating of teachers that takes place in public discourse is very disappointing. I went into teaching to help kids. When people complain that teachers & their unions should not be in politics, the retort is, "then keep politics out of education." That's not gonna happen anytime soon.

What do people not know about schools or teaching that you wish they did?
I wish that people would understand that good teachers take their work very seriously & never stop to examine ways to make their craft better. During the 8 weeks off during the summer & over the holiday break, many teachers spend time planning for the upcoming months. Over the summer, I would often examine how I could make the next year better based on the previous year. Holiday break was often spent recalibrating my plans based on the needs of my students. Teachers work many hours beyond what they are contractually paid to do. Contractually, it may say that I work a 6.5 hour day, but for many teachers (myself included), I work way beyond that.

What do you think is the biggest problem facing educators today?
The deprofessionalization of teaching done by those who have never taught or have very little classroom experience. People listen to them because they have money or because they have backers who have money. Case in point, Michelle Rhee has a questionable background in teaching & in fact, has been recorded at public forum stating that they taped the mouths of her students shut. No one in the audience gasped when she told this story, instead they applauded her! She went on in her story that when the tape was peeled off, kids were bleeding as the tape peeled off their skin. Where is the outrage? Yet, she is held up as a STAR in the Education Reform movement because of her "take no prisoners" approach to education.

What is the best thing about teaching?
By far, the connection to students. It's the one thing I truly, truly miss about being in the classroom.

Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
I'm really wrestling with this question right now. I've enjoyed my year and a half in my current position, but do miss working with kids. I plan on running for president again when my term is up in May, however, I'm contemplating what my next step should be.

Interview with Cupcake

Cupcake over at A Truth Universally Acknowledged answered my interview ( I had never been introduced to her blog before, but I was intrigued by the name being a big Jane Austin fan. It looks like an interesting read.

My background information is that I am in my fourth year of teaching high school English to (this year) sophomores, with some experience with juniors, and am in my third year of teaching the damn yearbook class in the South, which may or may not rise again, depending on to whom you speak.


How was actually teaching different from what you expected it to be when you went into teaching?
I did not come to teaching until I was past 40, so by that point, my expectations had taken on a rather jaded perspective. What I dreamt of was a room where freshly scrubbed faces would stare at me with adoring anticipation of all the brilliant things I have to say, and we would discuss literature and writing and analyze everything to within an inch of its life. What I got were four classes of Geniuses, and the time I spent teaching, compared to the time I spent on classroom management, was negligible. Those poor kids. I don't think they learned a thing. As far as the actual act of teaching, what shocks me most is how surly, disrespectful and entitled the kids today appear to be. They have no accountability, either at school or at home. The schools just want to pass them and graduate them, because to not do so means we leave a kid behind, and that costs us money. So the game is pass 'em and get 'em out. Consequently, the craftier kids know that they can do virtually nothing and we'll still let them graduate. Their parents refuse to believe that their little angels are anything but little angels. Case in point. One Genius from my first year works at a local market. I popped in before Christmas to do some shopping and ran into him, which immediately killed my Christmas spirit. He announced that he's at the local community college, getting As and Bs, and then said, "So somebody didn't do her job at Ye Olde High School because you gave me Ds." It took all - and I mean ALL - of my strength of will not to leap over the cheese counter and drag that little shit through the slicer. Instead, I said, "If that's how you wish to interpret it, knock yourself out." The fact that he did NOTHING in my class except sleep or tell us how well endowed he was meant I did not do my job.

Now, this year is different for me, because I have mostly Honors kids. We really talk about what we're reading, and we analyze it. They are fascinated by symbolism and allusions. They want to understand why authors wrote their works, and they are not satisfied with cursory answers. They dig into the material. Are some of them held blameless by their parents? Yes. But are they fun to teach? Yes.

This isn't to say that I don't enjoy Geniuses. Those kids have personalities that defy description, and they are the ones who keep coming back to say hi. I guess that's one thing I didn't anticipate - that kids who registered little or no acknowledgement of my existence would pop in my room the following year to ask how I'm doing or tell me a little story about themselves. That's a bonus to the job.

What do people not know about schools or teaching that you wish they did?
They don't know that it is HARD WORK. They don't know that we don't just teach; in many cases, we also parent those kids. We help them get clothing and we help get them fed. We give them hygiene products and advice about boyfriends and girlfriends. We tell them what it's like to pledge a sorority and to graduate from college. We also are aware of when they disappear - when their little lights start to dim, due to personal stresses. People also don't understand that teachers want every kid to do well. We really do. Even the ones we don't like. But there is only so much we can do. We are haunted by Big State Testing, federal mandates, paperwork, ever changing district priorities (project-based learning today, inquiry-based tomorrow, collaborative - the list goes on and on) and parents (yes, them again) who expect us to bend to the abilities of their children rather than demand their children stretch to our expectations. And the three months off for summer? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I counted. Last summer I had a grand total of 23 days in which I did no teaching-related work, including weekends. We work our asses off.

What do you think is the biggest problem facing educators today?
Misplaced priorities, for a start. Right now, it's all about passing tests, as opposed to showing growth. There are some kids who just will never pass those Big State Tests, but from the moment they step in my room until the moment they are tested, they learn something. They have academic growth. But it doesn't matter, because the only thing that is emphasized is how they do on those tests.

Another problem is that we seem to spend money on a lot of crap as opposed to actual materials that help us design those engaging lesson plans or projects or whatever. All of the useless committees and meetings with the Consultant Du Jour cost money. How about instead of revamping mission statements or making us spend two hours watching clips from School of Rock and analyzing learning styles (I kid you not), you buy books for my classroom, paper, markers, Dry-Erase markers? There is all of this fantastic hue and cry for education, but in the end, it seems people want whatever is easiest or whatever looks the most impressive.

What is the best thing about teaching?
Oh, my gosh. There are so many things. Despite all of the pissy negativity found above, I love this job. LOVE IT. I love when a kid starts the semester by telling me how much she hates English, hates reading, hates writing, but at the end says, "I think I want to be an English teacher." Or voluntarily checks out books from the class library because she "has to read something." Or asks for advice about a story she's decided to write. I love the moments when it clicks for kids who just did not get it; that look of accomplishment on their faces is like a deposit in my spiritual ATM. I love the ego rush that comes with a student who says, "You made a difference." Or when they cheered for me after I earned my Master's degree. I love that a kid with whom I thought I made no connection came to me this semester, asking if he could be my TA because he missed being in my class. Most of all, I love watching my "I hate reading" kids learn to love a book. That is the nectar of the gods.

What do you see yourself doing ten years from now?
Well, in ten years, I suspect I will be teaching high school kids, because I can't imagine any other job that I'd like - and I've had other jobs. I also think I'll be teaching some online classes, and I plan to have earned National Board certification. I've threatened to still be teaching even when I'm using a walker, my teeth won't stay in, and my wig is on crooked. It really is the best job in the world.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Interview with Clix

Clix at Epic Adventures Are Often Uncomfortable ( answered my interview post-op. She brings up a new point about misconceptions about tenure which I completely agree with, but hadn't initially thought of for that question.


How was actually teaching different than what you expected it to be when you went into teaching?
Well, I've got the yearbook, for one thing. And it's not too bad. Frustrating and stressful, definitely, but also liberating.

And I'm better at it than I thought I would be. I'm not being arrogant, here; it's just that I didn't think I'd be much good at all. I really sucked as a student teacher. Management - classroom order, at least - isn't a problem for me any more. Now getting ALL the students to do their work? Still a struggle. But I don't feel too bad about that, because I think there are very, VERY few teachers who can accomplish that. And I haven't given up. :)

What do people not know about schools or teaching that you wish they did?
That tenure does not mean a teacher cannot be fired; it means a teacher cannot be fired because the principal needs to create a position for a friend of his, or because the teacher has lots of experience which, while useful in the classroom, costs more money than a fresh-from-college n00b.

What do you think is the biggest problem facing educators today?
(1) We are being othered. I hear ALL THE TIME that "everyone knows who the bad teachers are." I call BS. And it's not because I teach at a school where everything is rainbows and butterflies and sparkly stickers thereof. At our school, the teachers that students complain about, who use "best practices" only when commanded to by the administration - they're the ones whose students outscore others on state exams. What people mean by this is that somewhere else, in some OTHER area, there are bad teachers who need to be fired. And everyone knows who THEY are.

(2) The public is being LIED TO. Another 'fact' I hear all the time is that teacher quality is the most significant predictor of student achievement. It isn't. The most significant predictor of achievement is POVERTY. The most significant CLASSROOM factor is the quality of the teacher. (You'd think that would be obvious - that the quality of the teacher matters more than the quality of, say, the classroom technology.)

What is the best thing about teaching?
Again, I've gotta do twos: (1) Exploring ideas. I love it, particularly when they're ideas I'm familiar with but I'm re-exploring them with people for whom they're new. My students help me see the material with fresh eyes.

(2) Freedom. I love having summers "off." Since we're not compensated for anything we do over the summer, I can pursue professional development according to my own interests and schedule. The only thing that would make it cooler would be the opportunity to get paid for sharing what I've learned.

Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
Possibly right where I am, although if the teaching environment in Florida cleans up a bit, it'd be VERY tempting to see if I could get a job near Disney World. Then, if I was still spry enough, I could work weekends and holidays at the Magic Kingdom. That would be pretty awesome. I don't love Disney enough to give up teaching, but being able to do both? Yeah. Definitely awesome.

I hope I explained all of that in a way that made sense. I had surgery yesterday (nothing major; they took out my chemo port) and when I took my pain pill this morning it made me loopy - jittery and confused. So if I said something dumb, please forgive. :)

Interview with Mrs. Chili

Mrs. Chili over at A Teacher's Education ( posted her answers to the interview. Interestingly, it followed very similar trends.
My background information is that I am in my 5th year of teaching in a high school (though I have taught at the junior college and university level, as well) in the Northeast. I teach English, writing, literature, poetry, public speaking, critical thinking, and film as literature.


How was actually teaching different from what you expected it to be when you went into teaching?
Teaching is both better and worse than I expected it to be in college. Truly, nothing that happens in a college classroom can prepare one for the experience of being a teacher; despite their best efforts to get us prepared for classroom management and curriculum design and all the day-to-day stuff that happens, there’s really no substitute for being in it. Honestly, I don’t think that someone who hasn’t taught in the field in the last few years has any business teaching a class that prepares teachers for their jobs; I have no problem with someone who’s never (or not recently) taught giving classes in the respective disciplines, but the classes specifically designed to teach people how to function in an honest-to-Goddess classroom should only be taught by people who actually do it (or have recently done it). Maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, I realized that I’m not answering the question. I guess my answer would have to be that I didn’t expect to do as much on-the-fly teaching as I do. I mean, I knew that I wouldn’t be following a plan word-for-word, but I find that I can go off on any of a million different fruitful tangents depending on what interests the students. A kid will pick up on some little detail or ask a question that I didn’t expect, and we’ll spend a whole class period exploring where that takes us. Personally (and professionally), I have no problem with that – in fact, I think it’s really wonderful – but it sometimes leads me to have to recalculate my trajectory for the semester.

What do people not know about schools or teaching that you wish they did?
I wish that people understood how emotionally invested in our work, and our students, we teachers are. Of course, there are the exceptions – I know for sure that I had teachers who were just going through the motions – but I would have to say that the greater percentage of people who go into teaching do it because they love their disciplines and they love their kids. I CARE about how well my students do; I know I have something to give them that will help them get along in the world, something that will ease their way and make their lives richer and more productive. It matters to me that my kids are safe and well cared for. It matters to me that they be given the space they need to grow and change and to sometimes fall flat on their faces. I know I didn’t go into this work for the money (she says with a sharp edge of bitterness in her voice), and I resent the fuck out of people who discount the work that we do because of their perception of the hours that we (supposedly) work. These people take no heed of the fact that teachers are building human beings – the future citizens of our world – and that is no small thing.

What do you think is the biggest problem facing educators today?
The single biggest problem that faces education is that we SAY we value it, but we don’t BEHAVE as though we do. I won’t even tell you how much money I spent out of my own pocket because there are simply no funds for things like paper and pens and books. I hold book fairs and bake sales and I beg my friends and family and the members of my community to give our school the things we need because we don’t have the money to buy them. We talk a good game about how America needs to be on the cutting edge of science and technology, yet we do practically nothing to serve the kids who are in our schools right now.

There’s a bumper sticker that says something like “it will be a great day when schools have all the money they need and the military has to hold a bake sale to buy another bomber.” Our priorities are NOT what we claim them to be, and until we start behaving as though education matters, it will all be just so much lip service.

What is the best thing about teaching?
The kids, without question. I ADORE my students, and I bear each and every one of them a particular variety of maternal love (though I will admit to loving some more than others). I have formed great relationships with most of my students since I began doing this work, and it is the exchanges and interactions I have with my students that I find most rewarding about this job. There is little that equals the high of seeing a kid finally GET something that she’s been struggling with for however long we’ve been working on it; the look of “Oh, my GOD, I GET IT!!” that crosses their faces is just fantastic, and the fact that they’ll never think the same way again is something that I treasure. I’ve been fortunate to witness a lot of those moments (I call them “Helen Keller moments” in honor of the famous scene at the water pump), and the potential for more is what keeps me hooked on this work.

I’m also in love with my discipline, and getting to share that with a new group of kids every year is more fun than I expected it to be. I get to read and talk about books for a living! Really; how can that be bad?!

Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
My intention is to keep doing what I’m doing, though I can’t say for sure that I’ll be doing it WHERE I am now. I teach at a tiny charter high school whose long-term future is somewhat murky (between funding and the disposition of the Department of Ed toward charter schools, we’re not sure whether we’ll see ten years though, in a fit of optimism, the board signed a 20 year lease with our current landlords, so….). Mr. Chili jokes that I’m his retirement plan, so it’s a good thing I like what I do, because he plans on my doing it for a while. I’m okay with that; I’m still excited to get up and go to work every morning. Someone once said that if you find something you love to do, you’ll never work a day in your life. I think that someone was exactly right.

Interview with Ricochet

I just read Ricochet's answers to my interview. She has a great blog and you should check it out if you haven't ( Anyway, I found it interesting that so many of the same ideas came out and she hadn't even read the answers that I wrote. So, here is her answers.

My background information is that I am in my sixth year of teaching in an suburban/rural school in the South. I teach math. I have 2 years in middle school, 2 years of freshmen in high school and am in my second year of teaching seniors.


How was actually teaching different than what you expected it to be when you went into teaching?
I was surprised about how little responsibility any of the groups of kids that I teach will take in their own education. Bringing a pencil to class (or not) is just symptomatic of the larger picture. They won't stop talking when you are reviewing for a test. They won't participate in state tests that determine their future, sometime to the point of not even coming to class. And then they want do-overs.

What do people not know about schools or teaching that you wish they did?
1) That when budgets are cut, SOMEONE still has to pay for supplies (paper and pencil at minimum). I am seeing more and more teachers declaring that the someone is no longer ME.
2) The emotional toll it takes on the teacher, trying to do the right thing by everybody: the student, the administration, the colleagues, the parents, the state, the teacher.
3) How difficult it is sometimes to teach the content dictated by people who do not adequately convey their intent.

What do you think is the biggest problem facing educators today?
Testing. There is too much of it and (at least in my state) the testing is not necessarily related to the material taught. My state says that the tests come from the standards as do the classroom instruction. Then why have they had to throw out several test scores statewide? (middle grades social studies, 9th grade math to name 2 over the past five years) If everyting were meaningful, there would be no reason to throw anything out.

What is the best thing about teaching?
That lightbulb moment - that moment when the student GETS IT - whether it is a concept in math or his/her worthiness as a human being.

Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
Same show, different day. I see myself teaching some sort of math.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Interview with Myself and a Challenge to Anyone Who Reads This

Okay, I know I already posted once tonight, but it is writing weather. It has been raining all evening, and that never happens here. All I can here is the sound of the rain on my skylight and the click of my keys on my keyboard.

Okay, I know I just resolved to write less about education and more on other topics, but I've been provoked. I have been watching this show called Teach. Have you seen it? It is a show where Tony Danza becomes a teacher in a high school in Philadelphia. I liked it, and not just because I used to watch reruns of Whose the Boss on Nick at Night. There were some aspects of it that were unrealistic, but watching it, I could see him living the experience of an American public school teacher. It was actually very moving because usually when teachers are portrayed in the media at all they get the experience of being a teacher all wrong. At one point Tony was talking to his mentor, and his mentor asks him, "Have you cried today?" Well, it's enough to completely set him off. I just have never seen a portrayal so accurate of the emotional toll the job can take on you.

All of this show got me to thinking about why what it is really like to be a teacher is such a secret to most of the world. Why? Because we have to be professionals (which is a good thing, but maybe part of the reason crazy politicians do not take our opinions seriously about how to run the field we are experts in). I think I mentioned before that my roommate's boyfriend works for a local news station. Last year, during all of the crisis with the budget and the teacher layoffs out here, he asked me about interviewing with the news channel. I couldn't even think about doing something like that (and actually speaking frankly) because of the increased jeopardy that would put my job in. Every time a parent has pointed out to me a problem, I have to handle it without hinting at how bad the system really is. I've glossed over issues of budgetary shortcomings, special education, crazy legislation, overcrowded classrooms, and politics, politics, politics. So, I thought I would interview myself on my blog and be frank and I would also interview anyone who is listening. So, below you will find my interview with myself. If you are an educator, I encourage you to comment and answer one or more of my questions. If you have a blog, I encourage you to steal the whole interview and answer frankly on your own blog. Tell me that you answered on your blog and I'll post your interview here.

My background information is that I am in my fourth year of teaching in an urban/suburban school in the southwest. I taught fifth grade for two years and this is my second year in third grade.


How was actually teaching different than what you expected it to be when you went into teaching?
I've been most surprised by the guilt that comes with the territory. I never expected to feel like I wasn't enough. I really expected that hard work and a caring spirit would help me reach every student. My first two years of teaching taught me that spirit doesn't compensate for lack of skill. My second two years of teaching have taught me that no amount of skills, hard work, and caring spirit have a 100% success rate. So, I've had to come to terms with the fact that sometimes I am not enough. Sometimes someone else would have been, but I was who was there. Sometimes no one would have been enough, but the thing that will really get to you is when a student fails at something and no one is there to pick up the pieces. You will be left with the feeling that you were not enough to reach that student. It is rare, but in certain cases that is a reality I have had to face. Movies are going to come out like "waiting for Superman" and you realize that these kids sometimes need Superman. When you can't be Superman, you are a disappointment. I had no idea that I would have to deal with anything like that before I started teaching.

What do people not know about schools or teaching that you wish they did?
I wish that people knew that teaching isn't just presenting. I have had people see the giant curriculum binder that I have for third grade, and say, "Well, you have a whole year." I wish that they understood I don't have to just present a binder full of standards, I've got to coach a room full of kids who bring every issue you can think of to the table into mastery of those standards.

What do you think is the biggest problem facing educators today?
I think the biggest problem facing American educators is that as a whole this culture views education as a right without any accompanying responsibility. People want their children to be given a good education. You can't be given a good education. The only thing that you can be given is an opportunity for a good education. If parents don't teach the value of hard work and students don't put effort in, I can't give you a good education. Do I think that every child in this country has an opportunity for a good education? No, I know there are situations where that is not true, but I do think that when we give students an opportunity for a good education we've done our jobs. Education is a two way street and that is oft forgotten.

What is the best thing about teaching?
That is a hard question because there are a lot of great things about teaching, but I think the best is working with the dedicated professionals I work with. The who of teaching is a great crowd. Almost everyone I know who is attracted to this profession did it because they care about others--specifically children. I do this job for the kids, but the greatest perk is the people I work side by side with.

Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
I don't see myself in the classroom, honestly. There's an expiration date on how long I can work like this. I see myself working in the field of education, but hopefully doing something a little less demanding. Maybe writing curriculum or working at a university...
Honestly, I love staying home alone. I have big plans for going out New Year's Eve because my friends want to. Tonight, I ordered Chinese food to my house, and I am going to watch a movie using the on demand programming I have through my cable company. I am sitting here thinking about how I infinitely prefer staying in to going out.

Monday, December 27, 2010

New Years Time!

Boys and girls, my blog is really growing up. It turns three this year, and I couldn't be more proud. I am proud of my blog because it has always been honest and from my heart. My biggest inspiration as a writer are people who write because they have to. I used to think that everyone was a secret writer, but teaching really knocked that naive notion out of me. Now, I think writing is more like a language that some of us are more comfortable in than others. In fact, sometimes I think writing is like my first language and speaking is only a cheap substitute. Sometimes I need to write like other people need a cigarette. I write to make a decision. I write to understand. I write to laugh. I write to cry.

I remember one time in undergraduate school I had to write a paper about teaching writing. I said in the course of the paper that teaching writing was like teaching breathing. I didn't know how to do it because I don't know how not to be a writer.

Yet, when I look back at this blog (my primary writing outlet over the past two and a half years), I wrote almost exclusively on the theme of education and being an educator. Reading it, I would almost believe that I am a teacher the way I am a writer. I know that is not true, but over the past three years I lost myself a little in teaching. Yet, I found myself in my writing.

I wrote so much about teaching because that is what I needed to write about, but I am ready to explore different topics in my writing again.

All of this started to dawn on me on Christmas day. I picked up George "W"s autobiography (a gift to someone else not me), and read the first couple of chapters. He talked about how he spent his early twenties living without a lot of responsibilities and finding himself. I thought about how good for him that must have been later on because when he was president there is no room to be anything but president. Then, I thought about how I've spent my early twenties. The answer is that I've spent them lost in teaching. The truth is that I have given it too much--too much to sustain anyway. I have to find a way to be more balanced. Because of who I am, a big part of that is going to be writing about other themes. So, this blog is going to change in 2011. I'm still going to write about education sometimes because that is a big part of my life and what I do most days, but I am going to write more about theology and family and life and love. That is my New Year's Resolution this year.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Shocking Christmas Confessions

Well, I've been needing to get these two Christmas confessions off my chest for a while. So, here we go.

1.) I loathe the song "Christmas Shoes" because it is deliberately manipulative. I can't hit the radio switch fast enough when it comes on. I have a second reason for switching the station, though. The song works on me every time. I don't want to be manipulated by the song, but the shoes and the little boy. I cry during the "Christmas Shoes" song. That is my first Christmas confession.

2.)Every year in third grade we read "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" with the kids. In the final chapter when Imagine Herdman cries while being Mary, I cry a little bit every time I read it. I try to hide it because I have to read it to the kids, but I don't hide it very well. That is my second confession.

Also, I love the song found below. I am totally going to watch it on my computer like twenty times in a row because I love it.

Yeah, I am sometimes a Christmas Sap.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Eve

I've been a little down on Christmas this year. I think I am having some sort of mid mid life crisis, but that is another story. Anyway, it was nice to have my annual Christmas Eve festivities at my Grandparents church and our annual Chicken-N-Dumplins meal. I did feel, though, that our party could use some livening up, so I invented some new family games for tonight and tomorrow. My family refused to play most of them, so maybe someone out there can put these to good use.

1.) Family History Balderdash
My mom has been doing research on She has found many many stories about our ancestors. I thought she could use those stories to make a new version of the game Balderdash. She would give us three elements of a story from our family history. For example, she might say, "Revolutionary War, Baker, George Blithly." All of the players would invent a story about our family history using these three elements and write the story on cards. My mom would write the actual story. Then, she would shuffle the cards and read them in no particular order. We would all vote on what we thought the real family story was and get points accordingly.

As an appendage, I think another version of this game could be Family Secrets Balderdash. In that game we would give three clues to an embarrassing family secret. For example, "Aunt Mae, tattoo, 1995." We all would make up stories and mix them in with the actual family secret. I really think siblings would enjoy playing this game.

2.) What Time Will People Arrive Bingo
This is a game we could play because our family all lives in town (at least the family coming to Christmas this year). Across the top of our bingo cards, we would write times we thought people would arrive. In the actual squares we would write the names of our family members. We would mark a space if a family member actually arrived at the time they were on our card. This game is challenging in my family because you would lose if you wrote down the actual times people said they would arrive.

3.) Family Survivor
In this game, we would vote our family members out of the main Christmas room.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

It's Christmas eve eve. I am afraid I haven't been much in the Christmas spirit. Actually I am worried that ghosts will visit me by night--I'll probably call them a bit of undigested beef.

I would like to say that I baked the pies I am supposed to bring to the family festivities, but I bought them at the store and put them in more homely containers. I would like to say that it is snowing outside, but I have been wearing shorts all day. I would like to say I spent the day decking the halls, but I actually spent the day scrubbing them.

I feel good about getting a lot done over this break, but I just can't shake the idea that life is passing me by right now.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Indecent Proposals

I am sorry for misleading you with my title because the proposals aren't actually indecent at all, but I feel obligated to throw some spice into my writing and sensationalize slightly--at least in title. I've been writing a lot lately about how I feel kind of trapped. When my job was so hard that I could barely make it through, I couldn't really quit. Oh, I talked a good bit about it, but when it was really hard I had to conquer it. You could call it stubbornness or perseverance or masochism--it doesn't really matter--I just had to keep trying. When I had graduate school to finish, I couldn't quit that either. If that meant eating macaroni and cheese and draining my bank account, I was going to do it.

Now, my job is still hard work, but it's not over my head. I've finished graduate school. I feel a little stir crazy. It's like I need the universe to play chicken with me and dare me to do something I can't do.

So, that leads me to yesterday. It was like a game show asking me to look behind doors.

Door Number 1.)
I was cleaning and scrubbing the house because I can't resist that when I have time off, when my phone started buzzing. It was PreLawGuy checking in again. I know that he still wants to see where things might go, and while I had closed the door--even slammed it shut--I could almost hear the universe daring me to make it work.

Door Number 2.)
One of my two best friends has a birthday on Christmas and every year for ten years the three of us have been celebrating together. We went out and my friend was telling us about her job offer in San Francisco. "You should come with me," she said, "I'll need a roommate." Because I have my Master's Degree and four years experience transferring my license isn't too hard and even if I couldn't find a teaching job, I would be half tempted to do something else--just because. It would be crazy and San Francisco might be the one place the economy is worse than here, but it was intriguing just the same.

Door Number 3.)
After dinner, we were hanging out at my friend's house. I was trying to explain my restlessness related to my job. Suprisingly, my friends both said, "You should be writing." I say, suprisingly, because they have no idea about my secret writing addiction on my blog. I just don't tell anyone about it who has any proximity to my workplace. I do have a secret ambition to travel far away and write about it. Perhaps this is fueled by my addiction to National Geographic. This does seem like the craziest door of all.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


I can't find the words tonight. They're in my head all jumbled up, and I can't untangle them. The writer in me rebels. I commanded myself to be practical through and through. So, I have much to say but can't say it until I resolve my practical and creative natures.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Rooftop

Something you might not know about me is that my undergraduate degree is a dual major. It is elementary education and Bible. I have thorough background in protestant theology and literal interpretation of the Bible.

I was thinking about David and how he was so close to God, the God, who created everything. He lived in a palace and he was king, but he screwed up everything. I don't actually know how old he was at this point, but I imagine that he was about twenty-five. There has been a lot of theological discussion on why he fell away from God and why he did it. I think he did it because he got so wrapped up in life that God's influence grew dimmer. He lost his focus.

That's why I think he was twenty-five. I feel like I might lose focus too.

I talk to God all the time. I always have. I used pray just in case there was a God who was listening. Then, I prayed because I always got answers. Now, I pray because I know God is listening anyway and I figure I might as well talk to him directly.

I know God is listening to me. I know in some sense what He wants of me, but lately his voice is dimmer.

My heart says go to church and I try, but it's like all I ever hear about is how to raise kids and build godly marriage. They are always saying that those of us who are not married should pray for our future families. I never talk to God about that, though, unless someone tells me to. I talk to God about the real and the tangible and I ask him questions. I just don't want to talk to him about a fictional marriage and children.

I feel like church wants me to fit into this box for women that I don't fit into. I ask God if that is really what He wants from me then why none of those things seem to fall into place. I don't believe that God is like a mettlesome parent pressuring me to meet a nice boy and settle down. Church is like that, though.

That is why I feel a little lost at church and a little more at home out on the town. Yet, I am trying to be faithful to what God wants from me. I stay anchored to the good, right, and true; but I feel like I am already out on the roof questioning the life I have and wondering what might be out there.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Look in Your Eyes

Teaching is a team sport. My team is my school staff, and it is a great team. We share all successes and all struggles.

Let's face it, though. Struggles are like the problem child in a large class. You might have far less struggles than successes, but somehow struggles seem to zap all your time and energy.

There is a situation going on at my school. I am not directly involved, but it is bothering me just as if I were. The situation is just one of those stupid things that educators have to deal with and watching it unfold is like getting punched in the gut.

I just hate watching good educators and administrators take abuse. I really wonder what it was like to teach in a time when parents and students were held accountable. People are always saying that education is in an age of accountability, but from the inside, the only people I see being held accountable are educators--and we're held accountable for things we have no control over.

Even though I had a good day with the kids and got some wonderful thank you notes, even though it's break, this whole situation leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I just get to work with some really talented people who do amazing things. I want to believe that they don't face the same doubts and discouragements that I do about this work. Today, though, I saw it in their eyes: they are tired of it all.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Leaves in the Desert

When I got home from work today, I walked across my yard to the mailbox to get the mail. My yard is full of yellow and orange leaves to the point that you can't even see the grass. It was raining lightly and leaves got stuck all over my boots. Anywhere else in the country, I think the leaves and the rain would be a nuisance. Here, though, in the desert, it's like a garden in bloom. It is a rare and beautiful sight. I stopped in the center of my yard and stood there for a bit because it just felt right.

Every morning, at 5:30, when it is still dark outside, I can barely drag myself out of bed. I know that I have an entire day of hard work ahead of me, and I wonder when it will ever let up. The answer is that the hard work never lets up. The thing is that in teaching there are these moments with the particular kids in your class for the year that you miss if you don't ever stop and look around. I spend a lot of time this year looking at the clock and looking at the calendar and wondering how much longer my "sentence" with this group of kids will last.

The first thing that happened to me at school was that I received a gift. It was a bar of soap. Yeah. I was amused by this, but the soap looked really familiar. It looked familiar because the classes in our school each put together a basket of food and basic supplies for needy families. The baskets actually all went to families within our school, but the kids didn't know. I knew that this family received a food basket and I remembered the soap on top of our box. This kid really didn't have anything else to give me, so she brought me the soap. At first I thought it was the funniest gift I'd gotten, but in the end it was one of the most meaningful.

Later that day, I received a card from the little non-reader I've had in my class this year. I actually did get him placed in resource services and he is making a ton of progress in his reading and writing. He wrote me a note.

Dear Miss Understood,

Mary Chishmas. You make me feel Happy. You make me feel Smart. you are smart. you are wonderful Because you are Smart.

From, -J

I promised myself that I would not let him leave my room without learning to read, but I also knew in my heart that he was smart but didn't believe it. I haven't got him reading fluently yet, but making him feel smart is almost a better compliment.

Finally, there was the special card from Bob. Bob is my student who has some more pronounced issues. He came in from his resource class with a huge smile today and he was hiding something behind his back.

"Bob, did you make me something?" I asked him.

He pulled out his card in an envelope with a perfect replica of Sonic the Hedgehog. "Here!" he said proudly. His note said "you make me Happy."

Bob, is one of my biggest challenges to teach academically this year, but Bob makes me happy too. I have so many kids with difficult temperaments, but Bob is the happiest, nicest student I've ever taught. He has been such a bright spot and a blessing for me on those days when I am looking at the clock and looking at the calendar.

My job doesn't have a lot of perks. I get really sick of it sometimes, but sometimes when good things do happen looking at it is a bit spectacular--like leaves in the desert.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Major Award

Today, blog friends, I won a major award. I won the award for Best Employee of All Time. It was an ultraHD FLip video camera. Awesome, right?

How did they decide who was the best employee of all time, you ask. Was it a vote? No, it wasn't a vote. Was it based on test scores? Goodness no, it wasn't based on test scores. Was it based on hours put into the job? Not so much.

It was decided by a sorting hat. The hat said I belonged in Slitherin, but the camera was my consolation prize. Just kidding, it was decided by casting lots, and God chose me. Okay, it was kind of decided by a sorting hat which cast our lots. We put the names of all the employees into a hat, and out popped mine. Some have called it random or a raffle, but I won't let them rain on my parade.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Desert Hike

The rocky, desert mountain looked down on me unforgivingly. Dust hung thick in the dry, desert air. Not even sunshine could reach the leeward ground I stood on. It felt almost hallowed. The landscape was desolate. The bristled, brown plants clung to jagged edges. There was no path. Something beckoned me to the top.

In the beginning, the climb was a stroll. Soon it grew steep. I used my hands to pull myself up. Rocks pulled loose under my fingers and fell sharply and endlessly down below. I didn't look how far down because I had to keep climbing.

Finally, the summit appeared. It was like a sandstone wall, standing as a fortress guarding the other side. There was no foothold. I jumped until my hand found the peaks. Hanging there, I had to pull myself up--not know what was on the other side. I wasn't exhausted, but I was very afraid. I swung over and and landed almost on my back. I looked at my scraped hands and knees. I wondered how I would go on, but when I looked up there was a gentler slope.

The pink dusk fell over the whole land. It was beautiful, but I knew that meant darkness was coming. I couldn't see much, but I followed my feet. I stumbled down the mountain.

Then, it was finished. As surely as I heard the call to the top, I felt the end at the bottom.

I dreamed this all two nights ago, but it is my subconscious reminding me that we are at the halfway point in this year. Why do people climb mountains like that?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Friendly Dinner

So, guess who I heard from again? PreLawGuy... He wants to have a friendly dinner over my break. I kind of thought he was not wanting to see me anymore after I told him I didn't have feelings for him.

I was really happy to hear from him because I love hanging out with him. I get talked down to by men--a lot. Maybe it is just what men do, but I don't like it. Growing up, I heard all the time that men want to feel respected and women want to feel adored. I tried to believe that. You know what, both things would be nice, but if I had to pick, I want to feel respected.

Case in point: my roommate's boyfriend has been e-mailing all week about Christmas presents for my roommate. He is asking for my opinion, but he keeps giving me idiot proof directions about how to find out what she wants and even how to open a url. I get it that he's older than us too, but I get really annoyed by that stuff.

Here's another example: my sister-in-law. She and my brother have one of those relationships where gender roles are rigid. She told me she votes for whomever my brother tells her to because she doesn't know about politics. Once, they both told me that "Women have their own language. They say the opposite of what they mean, and men are supposed to figure it out." I protested this, of course, because if there is one thing I do it is saying exactly what I mean. I have no wish for anyone to interpret hidden meaning in what I am saying. They told me that I would learn how things are when I was in a serious relationship. Whatever.

This post has gotten really off track, but my point is this: I don't think PreLawGuy is for me, but whoever ends up with him is a lucky girl. I feel like he will meet someone before I do because I have a terrible track record, but even if we can't be friends after that I'll be happy for him.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

One Other Thing

I graduated!

Sort of.

I finished my Master's Program.

I am waiting for my diploma in the mail--as I am not walking.

It is nice to be done, though. Whatever will I do with Monday and Sunday nights back?

DIBELs Blues

It's the most wonderful time of the year. That's right everyone, winter DIBELs testing! What? Did you think I was talking about something else?

I actually love data from outside sources--and our DIBELs testing is not done by classroom teachers (progress monitoring is, but not the actual testing). Because, even though I am religious in the collection of my own data, I always wonder, on some level, if it is skewed by my being too close to the project.

Yet, I want my numbers to be what I want them to be, and they never are! This is partially because I was always disappointed if I didn't get 100% or better on exams. Sometimes I want my students to be the student I was, and not every student is good at testing. I am learning to focus on progress instead of flat test scores. It is a healthier perspective all around. But as I focus on progress, I get totally obsessed with the few students who didn't make progress. I can barely notice the students who made a lot of progress because I am obsessed with the ones who didn't.

What I am forgetting in my fruitless quest for perfectionism in an imperfect world, is that my love for data is totally practical. I love concrete data as a director of future instruction far more than I love it as an evaluator of success. In fact, I cower at the thought of the recent law passed stating that 33% to 50% of my evaluation must be directly based on test scores.

What I have to do is look at the numbers I am not happy with as a challenge and not as a failure. I am tempted to just throw my hands up and think that I did enough, and it is crazy that I still have so many strategics and intensives. I know, though, because of these numbers, how to help them better.

I have to teach every single kid well this year or they will not make it through third grade objectives. That is the challenge I have.

So, Crystal Ball of Data, you are reminding me that the hard work is just beginning. You are reminding me that we have a long ways to go. Yet, you remind me also, we've come a long way.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Peace on Earth

It is the second Sunday of Advent. The candle of peace is lit today.

We sang in church today, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." I learned the story of this song for the first time.

It was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow was a true academic and a poet. As such, he felt things very deeply. He courted his wife, Fanny, for seven years. Although he eventually won her heart, he suffered a fate worse than rejection when he lost her at a young age. Left alone, the poet and the academic in him brooded for years. The Christmas bells were a song of mourning to him, until they weren't anymore.

Peace found him.

On Christmas day, in the midst of the Civil War years he heard the bells again.

Christmas Bells

I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Confessions of an Elementary School Grinch

I have a confession to make. Working in an elementary school makes me into a grinch. I start liking Christmas again on the first day of Christmas Break. Before that, though, I start to get grouchy. I turn into a mean little green animal. Last week I actually stole the Christmas tree out of the school library and dragged it back to my lair.

Okay, it's not that bad. I don't enjoy holiday projects or holiday parties at school, though. I wish I could keep teaching through the curriculum as if nothing special was going on. I really do.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Things You Don't Learn in College

Two more classes... Two more classes and I will be finished with graduate school. It feels very unimportant.

When I graduated from college, it felt like a big deal. The paper meant something to me, and I thought it would make me good at my job.

One thing that you might not know about me from reading this blog, is that I am really good at tests and school. I remember when I took the PRAXIS in undergraduate school that my professor told me my score was off the charts. When I took the state exam to teach Language Arts, I scored in the highest bracket in every category. I can still rattle off all the educational theories I learned. When I took Developmental Psychology in graduate school, I never cracked a book because I remembered everything I learned in undergraduate school.

I used to think that all of that would make me an exceptional teacher, but the thing about actually teaching is that the answer isn't found in a textbook. So, despite my 3.95 undergraduate GPA and 4.0 graduate gpa, I have found the final exam of actually teaching to be the hardest exam of my life.

I created a study guide for anyone who might actually be going in to teaching, but please be aware that 99% of the exam is a surprise--meaning you can't find it on my study guide.

1.) Know your stuff. Be prepared to answer tough questions not found in the curriculum, and to NOT answer the questions you shouldn't answer. Below are examples of questions that have dumbfounded me over the past three and a half years.

A. Why can't we ______________ (you fill in the blank and I assure you I've been asked it)?
B. What should I do if ________________ (here's a tight rope a teacher must walk between the hypothetical and the actual--kids usually ask this question because they want to tell you something, but sometimes it is something you shouldn't know)?
C. Where's ___________ (this is a question you might get asked when a student is not where he is supposed to be--beware this question on a fieldtrip)?
D. Have you ever _______________? (Don't answer these questions even if you live a squeaky clean existence like me).

2.) Expect the unexpected. I never know what a day will be like when it starts. No textbook could teach me that the copier is often broken just when you need it, someone is probably going to hurl during your great Reading lesson, the smartboard is going to go the exact opposite of the way you use the pen--just to mess with you, and the pet rat from next door is going to escape and terrorize you.

3.) Play the game. They don't write this in textbooks but it is true. Teaching is so political and you need colleagues and administrators as allies and not enemies. Just be nice and hold your tongue when necessary is all I am saying.

4.) Keep it real. At the end of the day, a classroom is just a room full of people. When the thermostat isn't working and it is unseasonably hot, you might as well realize that you can't get them to write a four page paper at this point. When someone leans back and falls out of his chair, you might as well make sure he is okay and laugh along with everyone else.

5.) Talk crazy to crazy people. My roommate is a nurse and she really taught me this one. She says that in nursing school they tell you to correct your patient's delusions, but in real life when a patient says a pink elephant is in the room you ask what corner he's in. Teaching is like that too, some parents and students are crazy. When they tell you their child who is eating paste in the corner is gifted, you just volunteer to test them. When they tell you that at home when their child misbehaves he has to shed his imaginary skin--just go with it. Tell him to shed his skin next time he acts up.

There is a lot more than I could ever write that they can't prepare you for in college. My point is that it's nice to finish my second degree, but I now know it doesn't mean too much...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Ringing in My Ears

I remember distinctly a party at a resort on the eve of my high school graduation. My two best friends who are still my two best friends were there along with a few others and we were talking about the future. For some reason, all the girls there were trying to guess the order we would get married in, so one of my friends who happened to be a teenage mother devised a game for us. We all had to write down the order we thought the five of us would get married in. You know something, I guessed myself last. A lot of people guessed me last too.

I don't know why I thought I would be last or why others thought I would be last too, but when it was a vague thought about a distant future it didn't bother me at all. It seems though that our little game was an eerie foreshadowing of what was to come.

For years, I've been impervious to being one in a world of twos. Really, I have watched a lot of friends get married. I've been in a lot of weddings (if someone somewhere is thinking "Always a bridesmaid..." --stop, stop right now). A lot of people have been very worried for me, but I have been just fine on my own. Honestly, I had fun going to weddings and parties stag. I enjoyed working late guilt free. I never missed the romance.

Wednesday night, I got a text message, like a lot of other text messages I've received, with a good friend's engagement ring flashing on my phone face. I felt really happy for her because she is a great friend and I like her fiance a lot, but it stung. It's never stung before.

I just suddenly wonder if it will ever happen for me. I mean, did I choose this? I have done my fair share of walking away and saying "no". I have also been the one left standing alone.

Maybe I just want something that doesn't exist. Let's face it, I am kind of a walking contradiction myself. I hold to Christian sexual ethics, yet I know that I will never be a submissive wife.

Honestly, I don't know what is going on with me. I was never the girl with a giant wedding book. My barbie dolls had more careers than babies. I feel comfortable by myself in a room full of couples. Maybe this is some kind of side effect of getting older. I don't really want to confront this feeling because I would like to maintain my ability to be satisfied with the single life.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Loss for Words

There is a whole lot on my mind recently, but I am having trouble articulating it. This is not normal for me. That is the reason my posting has been a little sparse. I could say it is an affliction of writer's block, but it is not like I can't think of anything to write about. The problem is that there is something that I really want to write about but I don't actually know what it is. It just feels like all the other ideas that I might express pale in comparison to some thought that I can't quite access. Maybe that sounds crazy, but for right now it is the closest I can get to expressing what I want to express. I've deleted about four drafts of posts recently because none of them are what I am trying to write...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Oh Life

If you had been in my classroom Thursday morning you would have heard the following.

Ms. Understood: Good morning boys and girls! You may have noticed our schedule is a little bit different today because of the guest author I told you about. Math will begin at 11:30 and we will do one half hour of math in our classroom. Then, we will take a break and go to the library where the guest author has come to present to us. We will come back to our class at 12:30 and do another half hour of Math before we go to PE.

About five hands go up in the air.

Ms. Understood: Yes, Quinton.

Quinton:I don't get it.

Ms. Understood: What do you mean you don't get it? We are going to begin Math after lunch--just like we do everyday--after half an hour we will go to the library to hear the guest author's presentation. Then, we will go back to our classroom to finish our Math lesson. Yes, Aniya?

Aniya: So, when are we going to Math?

Ms. Understood: We will do Math after lunch--exactly like we do every day. Exactly as the schedule on the board says. We will complete our Math lesson after the presentation by the guest author. Yes, Parker?

Parker: How can we have two Maths?

Eight hands are up in the air.

Ms. Understood: Everyone, put your hands down. Listen carefully. We will start Math at the usual time: 11:30. At 12:00, we will all go to the library for one half hour. Then, we're going to come back here and finish our Math lesson. Seana, what is your question?

Seana: This doesn't make any sense.

Ms. Understood: Okay, you guys will have to be surprised by the schedule. Everyone will see what happens when Math time comes. Alexis do you have a question?

Alexis: Does this mean we need to go to the library to hear the guest author right now?

My job this year is kind of like being Alex Trebek on celebrity jeopardy...

Thursday, November 18, 2010


This guy that I went to high school with is subbing at my school this year. Everyone is very concerned about my single status and men are in short supply around an elementary school, so naturally I have a lot of matchmakers. I've been told recently that I should hit on the UPS worker, flirt with the workers at the after school day care, and most recently that I need to date the substitute teacher I went to high school with.

Now, this guy was my friend in high school, and I certainly have nothing against him, BUT he is very odd. Also, I think he might be gay--BUT I can't prove my point about that because I'm not sure. If someone asked him and I was wrong that would be bad.

Anyway, my point is that lots and lots of people at my school were talking about this. I wasn't really paying too much attention, nor was I really bothered about it. I ran into Mr. Substitute about four times since he started subbing at my school. Each time he was friendly, but very casual. Until I saw him yesterday. He actually sought me out to walk me to my classroom and was just acting very differently.

It didn't bother me, and it actually wasn't forward at all, but as I walked into my room I thought, "That's weird because he has never been so friendly in the four times I've seen him recently." That is when it occurred to me that someone is telling him either that I want to be set up with him or that I like him. No one would confess, but everyone I accused had great stories about how it was someone else at school who has been talking about this. "Oh well," I thought.

Then, tonight at the third grade Musical, all the little girls in my class were crowded around me before we entered the auditorium because they are always fascinated that teachers still exist past 3:00. "Ms. Understood, you're so pretty. You really don't have a boyfriend? Why don't you have a boyfriend?"

"Girls, I already hear this from my mother. We are certainly not talking about this at school," I told them.

"You do have a boyfriend," one of them said to me. "That substitute..."

"What substitute?" I asked. "Why would you say that?"

"The substitute from Mrs. T's class who wears Converse shoes. Isn't he your boyfriend? He seems like your boyfriend."

I wracked my brain and there is no way these kids have ever seen me talking to Mr. Substitute. Honestly, I've barely talked to him even after school. How can rumors in a school fly so fast?

Side Note: There is no real reason for the song excepting that I like that song and if I were to be my own matchmaker I would want a guy to embody that song. Does that make me high maintenance?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mama Said, Think Before You Speak

I have a weakness. I say what I think without a filter. It is not that I say everything in my head, but when I am asked a direct question I usually give an immediate direct answer. You might think that this doesn't sound too serious, but in reality this is sometimes a very bad thing. See my examples below.

"Ms. Understood, I love you."
"I know."

"Why didn't you turn in that paper?"
"I thought I could still get an "A" anyway."

"Do you want to go to my five year old's birthday?"
"I don't really like bowling or little kids, but I'll go if you want me to."

Usually after I say something awkward like the above it just sort of hangs in the air as I realize that I shouldn't have said it and the other person tries to respond. Sometimes people laugh--I laugh too because it is funny to say something that is really true, but the consequences are not always so funny.

Recently, my rush to respond seems to be getting so much worse. I think it is partially because Principal Sadie helped me dial it down for a while. She definitely understood my weakness and was always firing questions at me in rapid succession. I answered them all--way too honestly--because I can't help myself. It always got me in trouble and I think I was starting to be more cognizant of the effect of blurting out the truest answer I could think of, but I kind of lost ground lately. I think the other thing that is making me worse is actually this blog. On the one hand it is a great outlet for me to hash out my thoughts, but on the other hand it builds many articulate scripts in my head about exactly what I think on a wide variety of subjects.

Last night in Graduate class we were discussing the newest laws in education. "Why would a young person ever have the notion to go into education now?" Someone asked generally to the class.

"Well, you know, I am twenty-five. Lately, I find myself thinking about that all of the time. It's like no matter what I do the rug is continually being pulled out from under me. Every year it's a new curriculum or a new idea. You know, now we're RTI and we're going to be inclusive classrooms. It makes me feel like there is no amount of experience that will make this job less draining, and I hate it. I heard a statistic that my generation can expect to retire above 60. So, 35 more years would be a conservative estimate of my time left in this field. I can't imagine it--I just can't. I keep thinking to myself that if I was going to jump ship, then I should do it now while it's easier."

During my little speech, the room went from buzzing with side conversations to a concentrated silence as all attention zeroed in on my monologue. My delivery was flawless because even I was surprised at all the passion in my own voice as I spoke. That was the first time that I spoke those words out loud.

Maybe I shouldn't be so direct in a public context, but it felt a little better just to say it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

It has been three and a half years since I began full time teaching. I find that it is still exhausting. I am truly past a lot of the issues I had as a rookie teacher and I am mostly past the issues I developed because of how I was treated as a rookie teacher. It is like I passed the test of learning how to be a teacher, but I am left thinking, "so this is it." I am twenty-five and I am starting to think that no amount of experience will make this job less draining. I have a good thirty-five more working years and within my career there is no where to grow--yes, I will get better at the job I am doing, but the job won't grow with me.

There is a big part of me thinking that if I ever want to change fields I should do it now while I am young. Even now, that thought is daunting because I have six years of education past high school and four years full time experience. If I go a different way, I would have to start from scratch.

But I keep thinking of a story the other teachers on my team told me. There was this girl who used to work in the teaching position I have a few years back and she was really really good. We still use a lot of her ideas and practices and the teachers who worked with her talk all the time about how much they learned from her. Her husband was assigned a job over seas and she is now working for the embassy in a foreign country--I don't recall the country. She says that she is now the happiest she has been in her adult life because she can leave work at work. She has a low stress job, and her quality of life feels better. Would I have a similar experience if I pulled a big switch-a-roo? I don't think I will ever regret the time that I have spent teaching, but I don't know if I can keep doing it indefinitely.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Retail Therapy

It is so nice to have some time off--we got Veterans day and Friday! Plus, Career Ladder is finally paying me, I am done paying for graduate school, and I got to buy new clothes for the first time in a very long time. During my little shopping hiatus, the economy has spiraled downward, but some great deals have appeared to lure in customers. I got a cute Ann Taylor dress for 8$ and a quality trench coat (light material) for 30$. I won't bore you with a list of what I got, but it is so fun having some new clothes!!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I Am Feeling Frustrated

I have this student and he can't deal with basic frustration. He will throw a binder on the floor, shove a kid, yell, scream, whatever have you. He can be a really nice, sweet kid; but he is like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.

His parents are giving me a really hard time. I suggested that he see the Social Worker for help with anger management, but they felt we could handle it in the classroom and at home. So, I wrote a behavior log he could bring home each day to improve communication, but they felt this singled him out. So, now I have to have another meeting with them to develop a plan "we can all agree on." Frankly, I am a little sick of making plans for them.

I can tell based on the responses of his parents that he has been very protected from experiencing frustration. I suspect that if he were to be required to deal with frustration in an appropriate manner then his problems would disappear.

However, what can I do when his parents are extremely concerned whenever he experiences a frustration? Frustration is a natural part of life and learning.

I think that last year he was exposed to as little frustration as possible in order to minimize angry outbursts. It is tempting to follow this course with him again because I won't deal with as much from him. It really is giving up on him to do that, though.

I don't know, I want to say that I won't do that, but it does depend on how difficult his parents are. If they refuse to have him held accountable, there is not much I can do.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Why I Love Liberals, But Can't Count Myself As One of Them

One of my best friends from college got married yesterday. Her wedding was across the country, and I really wanted to go. In the end, though, it wasn't in my budget.

Yesterday, I woke up so hungry. Unfortunately, the cupboard was bare except for macaroni and cheese. It did not sound good at all, but as my bank account was quite low I ate the macaroni and cheese anyway.

Part of the reason I have struggled financially is because my paycheck hasn't even seen a cost of living increase in four years, but unfortunately the cost of living has increased without my paycheck's company. The other reason it has been tough for me is because I paid for graduate school out-of-pocket instead of taking out a loan. I work really hard to make financial decisions that are smart in the long run and to live within my means. I don't have a lot of money, but I try to be wise about what I do have.

Fiscally, I am conservative and I wish my government would be the same. It does pain me to see that I only bring home 2/3rds of my small paycheck. My paycheck is slightly higher than it was my first year teaching, but I am bringing home less than I used to because of tax increases, and I think I would be okay with it if the government spent as wisely as I do personally. If only...

However, I also know that I am privileged and that there are people in this country that haven't been given such a fair deal. I choose to work in public education instead of private education even though it means additional challenges because I believe in every child getting a quality education regardless of language, learning ability, or financial situation. As a person, I know that I have a lot and I have a moral responsibility to give a lot. The thing that I appreciate about a lot of people who would describe themselves as more politically progressive or liberal is that they have the attitude that we are all responsible to help people in our society who can't help themselves.

What I wish for people that are fiscally conservative, is that as a whole, we would put our money where our mouth is. There are some who give generously from their personal funds to help others. It's just that there are so many people who have financial common sense and want financial common sense for our country that seem to have no heart for the people suffering from injustice. We should all care about kids that can't afford the medicine they need--even if we have different ideas about how to help them. We should all care about families that can't feed themselves. We should care about senior citizens in tough situations.

That is why at the ballot box I had a hard time. I don't have the heart to vote for someone who believes the human concerns are a non-issue, but I have the common sense to not vote for someone who refuses to live within our means.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ward C

Someone should quarantine my school, but that won't happen. All the teachers are getting sick one by one, and it is kind of like our own little version of "And Then There Were None." I feel okay, I think, but if I was getting sick it would take me a while to figure it out BECAUSE my school is literally working me to the bone. I am so tired I can barely keep my eyes open. The only time I am distracted from how tired I am is when I get an adrenaline kick from having way more tasks than I could ever accomplish at one time.

The problem is that no one who is sick wants to call in because they would have to write sub plans and reschedule all of their parent teacher conferences. So, there are a bunch of zombie like teacher creatures roaming the halls and infecting the rest of us. We're easy targets too because we are working so many hours. We have to teach a full school week and hold 24-30 parent conferences.

On the bright side, I only have to survive one more day without catching the bug. On the not-so-bright side, I still have six parent teacher conferences left due to people not showing up and cancelling. I have heard the excuse that people are tired and work a lot so many times this week. I really want to answer verbatim in these words: "I am so sorry that you have to work! I totally understand that you have more important things to do than show up for our appointment about your child or even call to tell me that your not going to show up. It's my pleasure to teach your child from 7:45am to 2:45pm and then stay at school until 7pm to meet with someone who doesn't bother to call me and say that they're not coming."

I am grouchy because this week feels unending and my workload feels unending. It is profoundly discouraging to work the number of hours I worked this week and still feel under prepared for the teaching work itself. I will say that most of my parents were wonderful and showed up. It is not their fault anymore than it is my fault that the district makes this terrible schedule.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Life Goes On

Parent conferences were last week and this week.

I am ALWAYS amazed to learn more about my students. Every student comes with a story. Some stories are sad and some are funny, but each one is unique.

I am reminded this week that every teacher comes with a story as well. We don't come to the classroom as flat characters or parts of an education machine. We bring our story to the classroom with us and whether we tell it directly or indirectly it informs the work we do. My story has been catching up with me all week.

I think when people have a near death experience they become forever more sensitive to life. Seeing what they almost lost causes them to live differently. I have always been a person who was almost someone else with a different life.

I was born into an extremely unfortunate situation. My mother told me that she had to collect change along the side of the road to pay for baby food when I was an infant. My family was sick with the sickness of addiction. Anxiety ruled my home in my early years. I remember being strong during this time. I always tried to help my mom.

Later, when my Dad left his family entirely, my life changed drastically. I was about eight. My Grandparents supported our family. We had nicer things than I had ever had. We lived in one house without moving all of the time. My Grandparents became a huge part of my life, and my future no longer seemed dark and uncertain.

I excelled in school--particularly in verbal tasks. Everyone in my family felt certain I would go to Law School. In some ways, I forgot about my old life and early troubles. Yet, there are and always have been reminders. Every time I hear a West Texan drawl, every time I smell cigarettes, every time I tasted pecans or saw army fatigues; I saw a ghost--the ghost of a life I once had and almost continued.

In the end, as I looked toward my own future at the age of eighteen, who I was and the ghost of who I might have been guided me to forget about ambition. I chose teaching because I wanted to help. I watched someone help me and my family. I knew at that point that there is nothing better to do in this life than to help others.

I don't really talk about my story. In a tangible sense, it doesn't make me a better teacher. I have struggled as much as anyone in learning this trade. If there was a Hippocratic oath for education, "Cause no harm," I would have broken it many times. I struggle with confidence and competence. What my story does mean is that I know how important this work is. I take it seriously.

This week with the passing of my Dad's mother the past has been with me a lot. Life goes on, but I am reminded that I didn't wind up here by accident and I am driven to keep trying harder.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Silence in Me

I am usually the kind of person who people tell things to, but I keep a lot to myself. A lot.

I have had a long week. I've been waking up at night, having anxious dreams, crying in the car; I've been in over my head a little. The thing is that I haven't breathed a word to anyone. I worked. I worked more hours than I care to calculate with graduate school, parent teacher conferences, and Fall Festival.

It's not that I haven't had opportunity to tell anyone. It's just that I haven't wanted to.

My mom came into my school on Wednesday afternoon to tell me that my Grandmother on my Dad's side passed away. We didn't talk about it and I haven't seen her since. I still went to our school Fall Festival dressed as a ballerina and I didn't tell anyone what was going on with me. I got home at about 7:30.

Then I realized that I had missed a bunch of text messages from friends about drama with the divorce situation. My house is still looking like a bunker. I called my friend and listened to her for a while.

I still arrived at work by 6:30am the next morning to prep for a twelve hour day between teaching and the first day of parent teacher conferences. Then, I had to check my bank account because it was pay day. My budget for gas and food is approximately 40$ for the next two weeks. I got home at about 7:15.

Today was just a blur. The last day before Halloween... I came home today and fell asleep on my couch by about 7.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Day 3

Today, I really cut back on the blurting out by using my sign with the ear. Transitions were better, but still not where I want them to be. The biggest problem I have is when these kids are entering the room. We rotate the classes a lot among the five third grade teachers--thank goodness because none of the other classes are as difficult as this group and I get a break from these kids when we rotate. Every time that my kids come back in they get off task. Maybe tomorrow we will practice entering the room until they get it right. We have done it before, so I hate to waste the time, but I also know it will improve things.

As far as keeping a balanced perspective, I did a much better job today. I tried to notice when things were going well. Most of the day did go really well.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Confidence 102

I tried to root out my confidence problems today by paying attention to what preceded occurances of feeling anxious. I don't feel anxious all day long. My problem is very episodic.

I found that I felt anxious during whole group direct instruction and transitions. The reason I felt anxious at these times is that this has been the most difficult times for me with this class. I felt like I was spending too much time redirecting student behavior at these two times. Students are blurting out comments during my direct instruction. My students are taking too long during transition.

I think to remove the stimulus that is making me anxious I need to work more with my students on listening. The resource teacher gave me this sign with an ear that I am supposed to hold up for Bob to remind him not to blurt out when it is listening time. The other side of the sign shows a student sitting still and raising her hand--that sign means students can raise their hands to ask questions. It actually was working pretty well, but I just quit doing it because it was a hastle. I need to go back to it I think. As for transitions, I need to work harder on one step directions. "Stand up. Push in your chair. Face the wall. Put your book in your cubby. Sit back down." I just cannot say to this particular group of children, "Put your books away and return to your seats." They will take FOREVER. I know this, but I tend to get lazy and ask them to do something to give me a minute to process what we are transitioning. I just have to stay on top of this group of children because of how they are.

I guess the other thing I can do to address this is to examine the question about why I am feeling so anxious over this problem. I know, rationally, that everyone struggles with teaching in some areas, and that as a relatively new teacher, I will struggle more than veterans. There are problems that I want to address and areas that I want to improve, but I am always looking for evidence that I am a bad teacher. I know that if that is the attitude I have then that is what I will find and I will continue to struggle with confidence.

I think I have to look for what I am doing well too. Generally, my classroom runs very well. My students are able to work independently and in groups or partners. I have them trained to respond to the quiet signal. They follow classroom procedures like turning in papers, finding their spots on the carpet, and performing classroom jobs.

Instructionally, I know a lot about how to reach a variety of learners in a variety of subjects. I am teaching gifted children, a developmentally delayed child, resource students, and everyone in the middle in one room. I know how to use formative assessments to direct and guide my instruction. My content knowledge is probably my biggest strength.

So, I guess starting tomorrow, I will work on the two problems increasing my anxiety. I will also try to focus on successes instead of getting hung up on bumps in the road. If I do have a student having a bad day, blurting out comments, or whatever--I can address it and forget about it when the moment has passed. I think I have been dwelling on things like that...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Confidence 101

Well, I was reading some internet tips on how to feel confident. That made me feel actually like a huge dork, but I did find one tip that was helpful: visualize yourself being successful. I am really analytical. I think about what could go wrong. So, this week, I am going to visualize myself being successful.

It's going to be a hard week for me because we have parent conferences and Fall Festival and I have graduate school. That makes three nights this week that I will be working past seven. I could visualize myself falling asleep on the floor of my classroom, but that would be counterproductive. So, let's see how would this week look if it went exactly as I wanted it to?

Fall Festival will be fun. I love my costume for the Fall Festival. I wish I could wear it every day, BUT I don't think I would be taken too seriously. I love seeing the kids' costumes too. I actually really like the Fall Festival. It is the only after school event I feel that way about.

My conferences would take a positive tone and be empowering to parents as partners in education. I am excited to share all the data I have. I think the parents will benefit from and appreciate the suggestions for helping their children at home. I really want to focus on how they can effectively help with the Writing homework.

Reading would leave the kids engaged in the story. In Reading, there are some things that I think will go particularly well. I expect that my lesson on comparing the Fantasy Selection to the Expository Non-Fiction Lesson will be powerful. The kids have to read and raise their hands between subtitles. This works well with my active class. I also think the four-square writing activity to summarize the main text will be a nice compliment to the summaries we wrote last week in Writing.

Math would leave the kids with an in depth understanding of what multiplication is. I think using math tiles to make arrays and singing the three's song will help my students still lacking an understanding of the concept of multiplication. I also really like the brainpop on arrays and the kids usually respond well to that. In today's number this week I am using virtual manipulatives and I think it will be a positive change.

Writing would be productive and result in high quality How-To Essays. I am looking forward to sharing "Puppy Chow" with the class and I think they will be very very excited to write how to make it. I am also looking forward to reinforcing the 4square framework with the lessons.

I don't have to play this stupid game with graduate school because I already feel confident about that.