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.