Tag Archives: teacher problems

It Begins (Again)


Teaching is one of those jobs that carries all kinds of asterisks and disclaimers. And it’s not a job for the faint of heart.

But one thing it has going for it — that not many jobs do — is an enforced sense of renewal and rebirth.

You spend a year going through the mud with your students. You get embroiled in their lives. Sure, you find out all about their grades and their academic progress. Definitely you discover all their little behavior … quirks. (Let’s call them quirks.) Sometimes you find out about their parents and their lives outside of school. (Often, this answers many questions you may have had previously.) And depending on what kind of teacher you are, you find out a lot more. You learn how they talk to each other. (Frightening.) You learn about their relationships with each other. (Ew.) You learn what they think of other teachers in the building. (Yikes.)

But it doesn’t stop there. By the end of the year, you know what makes them laugh. What makes them upset. You know what they’re going to do before they even do it. (Tyler, in the fourth row, is gonna ask me what a metaphor is when I talk about this story, even though I’ve explained it a dozen times this year, and when he does, Tevin, next to him, is gonna sigh and roll his eyes — and probably swat him — because he’s tired of hearing my spiel.)

You come away from the school year, in other words, covered with their gunk. And not just the students’ gunk. Gunk from other teachers and their frustrations that you have to listen to in the workroom, the mailroom, before the faculty meeting. Gunk from the seemingly endless meetings, by the way, that could have been e-mails. Gunk from the unpleasant encounters you had with parents, from the stress about the extra time you had to spend in the building at the expense of your family time, from the piles and piles and piles and piles of paperwork.

And in most other jobs, you’re stuck with all that gunk — because as soon as one job is done, it’s right on to the next. No downtime, outside from the occasional vacation (which only puts the gunk aside for a little while, to be picked up and re-applied upon your return.)

But teachers get that summer break. And what I’ve learned in my eight years (help!) of teaching is that it’s a rare educator that comes back in the fall still gunked-up. The summer lets you really clear your head, lets you drop all the baggage of the previous year — the gunk, bit by bit, just falls away.

We get to start the new year, every year, clean and fresh. Maybe not smiling and bright-eyed (we’re out of the habit of waking up early after all, but this is why coffee exists), but at least optimistic that the year ahead could be a good one.

Maybe we make some changes to the way we run things; maybe we don’t. Maybe we’ll have a magic combination of minds in our classes that makes every day teaching a joy; maybe we won’t.

But whatever the new year brings, we get a chance to start it un-gunked. Clear-headed. Renewed, reborn. Maybe even a little bit hopeful.

My first students will breach the doors in a little under an hour.

To those about to teach, I salute you.

See you on the other side.

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Lots of Time, Not Enough Time


Summer is weird for my writing process.

I do my project writing at work — arriving early and carving time out of my lunch break to get my daily word count in. Which is great. It’s regular, it’s very rarely disrupted, and it’s (for the most part) uninterrupted. The big problem with it is: I’m a teacher. Which means that, for two months out of every year, and on the odd week here and there, my writing routine hits a speed bump. Except it’s less speed bump and more an entire clutch of trees fallen across the road.

trees see GIF

Because when we’re on vacation — and man, I’m not complaining about vacation! — so many of the elements I like to have in place are out of place. I don’t have my usual space. I don’t have the relative quiet. I definitely don’t have the lack of interruption.

Instead, I’m trying to work on the sofa in the living room, or the desk downstairs, with the kids running laps through the house and asking me endless questions. There’s no such thing as quiet. There’s no such a thing as even an interrupted five minutes.

I have all the time I could want, but I can’t buy the moments.

Like having reservations to a fancy restaurant on the night of my kid’s graduation.

Or having a membership to a swanky gym on the opposite side of town.

The thing is there, but it might as well be behind bulletproof plexiglass. I just can’t get to it. It’s frustrating as hell. I have so much time in the day, but I can’t — or at least, haven’t figured out how to — use that time.

Which means that, yet again, the project is stalled, until I can find a more reliable way to work on it. Which may well be going back to school in the fall.

Ugh.

This post is part of Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday.


Parents Who Hate Their Kids, Ch. 1


My son has a classmate named Taylor.

But not “Taylor.” It’s pronounced “Taylor,” but it’s spelled “Taeler.” Nothing against the name — I have a new niece named Taylor (and I hope I spelled it right, as I haven’t seen it in print yet, and HOO BOY am I about to make things awkward at Thanksgiving if I guessed wrong) — but this strikes me as a problem. Not because I don’t know whether Taylor is a boy or a girl; there are plenty of those names these days and that’s cool and trendy and whatever. But because poor Taeler’s parents have doomed her (or him) to a lifetime of interactions that begin with “actually, it’s spelled T-A-E-…”

Isn’t life hard enough?

Then there are C’Niyah and Zaniya. Pronounced the same, just starting with an “s” sound or a “z” sound. So is the apostrophe required? Or the “A”? How about the “H” on the end? Or are all of these things just flopping around like vestigial tails? And when it’s time to learn about capitalization, I pity poor C’Niyah — she (or he?) has to do it twice in her own name! How confusing is that?

In my own classes — this year alone! — I’ve got Michaela, Mikayla, Mikayela, McKayla, and Macayla. And maybe Mikaela. All pronounced the same. I’m pretty sure one of them has an “H” on the end as well, but does it even matter at this point? C’s, K’s, Y’s, E’s, H’s … they’re all flying around like cows in a tornado (RIP Bill Paxton), and there’s no telling where they’ll end up, or why. These poor girls (because there are plenty of other Michaelas, Mikaylas, etc enrolled) must ever clarify their identity by adding their last name, and have given up hope of ever having a teacher spell their name correctly — I personally couldn’t properly tell you which spelling goes with which girl with the first degree of confidence. These, too, might as well have the middle name “actually, it’s spelled …”

To say nothing of Caila, Kayla, and Kaela, whom I taught last year. Guess which one was pronounced “Ky-la”. You can’t, because there are no rules when it comes to names.

Here’s a fun one. How do you spell the name that’s pronounced “Jay-len”?

Trick question. I’ve seen it dozens of ways. Jalen, Jaelan, Jaylen, Jaelen, Ja-len, Ja’lin, Jalynn … I could go on. The possibilities are almost endless, because you can apparently capitalize whatever letters you like and throw around punctuation like you’re mixing salad with the SlapChop.

Image result for slap chop

Point is, none of these spellings for any of these names is “correct”, because there is no “correct” spelling when it comes to names. Which means — wait for it — ALL these spellings are INCORRECT! That’s just logic.

As a teacher, I dread meeting these kids for the first time, because inevitably, my first question will not be something insightful like “how was your summer” or something easygoing like that. No, the first thing I’ll have to say to them is “…spell that, please.”

And I know, I know. We want our kids to be unique, and we want them to stand out from the crowd because they are our delicate little snowflakes. But having been a teacher now for seven years (if that doesn’t make me the grizzled elder waving a yardstick around and get-off-my-lawn-ing), I can tell you that these names don’t uniquely identify a student to us, and certainly not in a positive way. Rather, these students are more likely than others to be frustrated with school, and people in general, because nobody can pronounce or spell their name! (Take it from a guy with a last name that’s vaguely eastern-European. I’ve heard so many different pronunciations I could start my own alphabet.)

If you want your kid to stand out, the way to do it is to bring them up to be a decent human being. One that seeks out learning and opportunities for their own sake. One that treats people with respect as a baseline. One who greets the world with positivity and optimism and effort.

You don’t do that by telling a child that they’re special all the time (and make no mistake, spelling your kid’s name “Taeler” when it’s pronounced “Taylor” only sets her — or him! — up to think that she’s special, that she’s different). That only confuses them when the world doesn’t back up that belief, and then they get mad at the world.

No, you make your child stand out by teaching them humility. Yes, to me you are special, but to the world, you are just another person like everybody else, and you have to earn what you want. In our new, technologic, me-centric world, it’s the person who actually lives in the real world, who pays attention to the people around them, who acts with compassion and good will instead of out of attention-seeking, who really stands out.

This post brought to you by M’ahtT, because apparently I can spell it any way I like.


Sick Day


The kids are sick. So I’m home sick with them.

And, almost as if on cue, the monstrous cough I’d been fighting for weeks — and thought I had the better of — has resurfaced. I’m sure it’s unrelated. Couldn’t be my stress over the state of the country or anything like that.

Eh, we’re not going there.

It’s weird. Teaching is one of the few professions where it’s almost more stressful to take a sick day than it is to just suck it up and go to work: upon your return, you’re almost certain to have behavioral issues to sort out, extra work to grade, a day to make up in your lesson pacing. Not to mention the sense — foolish as you know it is — that things are surely going to sharknado without you there.

Add to that I’m in my first year in my new job. I’m definitely in the not wanting to screw anything up boat. So taking a last-minute day off makes me feel a bit like I’m letting people down.

So around 10 last night, when my kid woke up with some pretty horrific, uh, bodily functions, and it became clear I was gonna have to take the day, I started stressing out. Got him sorted out, stopped him crying, and got him back into bed. Ran downstairs to chuck his clothes in the laundry (for the second time in four hours). Then I went to work. Fired up the laptop to e-mail supervisors. Whacked together some activities to e-mail to the sub. Started worrying about what was going to happen while I wasn’t at work. Struggled going to sleep.

Then I realized my priorities were all fargo’d. My kid is sick — in discomfort and upset in addition to oozing from his orifices (orifici?) — and I’m getting my knickers in a twist over my job, over my students — many of whom will be only too happy for me to miss a day!

And with that, I let it go, and I slept like a baby.

Frankly, the day off couldn’t come at a better time. I got to hang around the heezy, watch some movies with the kids (both of them somehow really dig the new Ghostbusters, which is fine by me), read ’em some books, snuggle them on the couch. All of which is a very welcome respite from where my mind has been for the past week.

Didn’t actually get much done that was productive or helpful around the house. Only managed to type this up while the kids were napping. (Here, the savvy reader might interject: couldn’t you have done some housework instead? Some dishes, a little vacuuming, a much-needed dusting? To which I respond: this was a sick day, dammit. That would be missing the point.)

But that’s fine. All of that is just fine. Despite the gummy gunk collecting in my lungs, I am breathing easier than I have in a while.

All the same, let’s hope sprout #2 doesn’t come down with the same thing sprout #1 had. You can only do so much laundry in a day.

 


This Shouldn’t Happen


Just a short addendum, and then I’m going to shut down the part of my brain that thinks about these things (or try to, at any rate).

I had students in my class today in tears over the results of yesterday’s elections. Young people (girls, with some major identity issues to begin with) who are terrified about the future of the country. Petrified that they’ll lose their rights, or that friends will lose their rights. Sickened that the nation has essentially endorsed a man who … well. Who represents some of the worst that American males have on offer.

Now, these are teenage girls, I’ll grant. It isn’t like hyperbole and overemotionality aren’t the standard operating procedure. I wouldn’t have anticipated a reaction like that, but it’s not hard to understand it, either. Most of them can’t even vote, but that’s hardly insulation against the all-consuming house fire that this campaign season has been. But it’s exceedingly difficult to picture the same reaction swinging in the other direction; that is, young boys (or, okay, girls) crying over a Trump defeat.

And I can peddle platitudes, and I can share my optimism (such as it is) and I can acknowledge their fears (many of which I share). But words kind of feel empty when the future generation is looking at you with tears in their eyes, asking in despair how this could happen.

And the fact is, this shouldn’t happen. A disagreement in ideology is one thing. A healthy thing. Uncertainty about the future is normal in a time like this. But fear — real, visceral fear for the future, or even for their safety — that shouldn’t happen.

Then I come home, and I see protests springing up in major cities across the nation (and it turns out, one is scheduled for my neck of the woods tomorrow). And I think, holy shark. This shouldn’t happen.

Trump came out with a pretty positive message in his acceptance. Clinton came out with a similar message, as did Obama. Move forward. Work together. Heal. Unite. This is all good, but for a lot of people out there, the message clearly rings hollow.

This shouldn’t happen.

…I don’t have any answers tonight. I just know this shouldn’t happen.


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