Thursday, June 2, 2016

School's OUT for Summer. . . . . (almost)

I've been trying to put together a post for a couple of weeks now.  However--much to my shame and chagrin--I just haven't been "feelin' it." There are probably a number of reasons for my pervasive malaise but I suspect it to be be directly attributable to the yearly "end of school funk" that the vast majority of teachers feel.  Oh, sure, we're happy that the summer is close at hand and we are happy to get a respite from the intellectual rigors of the classroom but there's more to it than those things alone. 

You see. . . the end of the year is fraught with stressors that are amplified by the end being within our (collective) grasps. 

* Knowing that you might be seeing the last student for a few months is a bummer--especially for the students you have forged a positive working relationship with.  They really are neat people (mostly). 
* Seeing that student--it's always the one on the cusp--lose every bit of stamina they have and simply give up (two weeks before the end of the year)  ACK!!!  How are you going to re-start THAT engine? Will a parent call work? How about a heart to heart? Does the student respond to nurturing or a more "tough-love" approach. . . . and you ONLY HAVE 8 DAYS TO GET IT SORTED OUT!!!!!
* Colleagues retiring or finding different employment: it's hard to see people go.  It's especially hard when they have become close friends and--knowing that school-year "free time" is the silliest concept on the planet--you will see very little of them in the future.
* The POLITICS!!!  UGH!!! They get worse at the end of the year as everyone has reached critical mass in patience for everything. The polite (ish) niceties become strained when working relationships are more a matter of chance than any sympathy among comrades. 
* The mad dash to get all your ducks in a row for summer time work.  Oh yes. . . . it's true. . . . most teachers work a good chunk of the summer.  Many of us do so without pay--we are working to make sure next-year's students have everything they need to be successful.  The catalyst for anxiety is making sure you have everything YOU need to do the actual work.  So, before the custodial staff comes and strips your room bare, everything needs to be where it is easily accessible--be it at home or some other place.  (And let's not forget the pervasive sense of DOOM upon knowing--with utmost certainty--that something has been forgotten.)
*The "end-of-year-I'm-going-to-act-completely-bonkers-and-start-behaving-like-radioactive-popcorn" syndrome that infects 99.732% of the student body.  Seriously. It's a thing and it's terrifying. 

This is but a small sampling.  The truth--and I always try to tell the truth even if it's not entirely objective--is that the end of a school year is such a convoluted jumble that it's hard to do anything other than muddle through and keep ticking off all the things on the "to do" list. 

There is this sort of cultural stereotype that teachers run out the doors after the last bell--throwing papers in the air, margaritas (or whatever you drink) in hand, plane tickets and suitcases at the ready, and smiling from ear to ear.  While that would make an interesting picture, it simply isn't the case.  The end of the school year is a complex as the rest of it. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Testing! Ugh! Good God, Y'all!

What is is good for? Absolutely NOTHING!

My children do not take the state "mandated" standardized tests their school administers. There are a number of reasons for this:

1. They don't need to sit through hours of clicking (or filling in) bubbles when they could be doing something that is actually good for their brains.

2. I trust their teachers to know what they are learning a LOT more than I trust some random test put together by Jimbo Jones down in Test 'O' Rama Town.
3. I don't want their results to be used against the (fan-freaking-tastic) school they attend or the (a-bloody-mazing) teachers they are assigned to.
4. I don't think Penny-Plundering-Pearson, or any other testing corporation for that matter, needs any more money when my children's teachers haven't been given a cost of living raise in YEARS!
5. Testing of this nature is NOT about student learning.  It's about data mining and "gotcha" politics. There's no place for that in my children's educations.

Okay--I could go on and on and on and on and on (you see what I'm getting at here?). . . . . .

The thing is this: My children are one of a handful of families who opt out of the testing in our district.  The "opt out movement" hasn't really gained any traction in my part of the country.  I wonder about this.  I especially wonder about this when teachers themselves say they, "like the test so I can see where (fill in the blank with snowflake's name) is at."


Have you tried. . . oh, I don't know. . . .TALKING TO THEIR TEACHER ABOUT WHERE THEY ARE "AT"?!?!?!?!?  How intelligent people can fail to grasp that a standardized test is no substitute for the trained professional, who works with their child every day, is utterly beyond me.  I can (sort of) see how that might be the case for someone who doesn't know about standardized testing in a general sense but. . . other teachers? I don't get it.  Unless those folks like the ego-stroke that a high score gives them.  A sort of self-congratulatory, "You have this parenting thing DIALED IN" which they can point to and feel good about themselves. I honestly don't know.  I'm not sure I want to.

I do know this though. . . my kids (both my children and my students) get that these tests have nothing to do with them. . . .not really.  As one student said today, "If this is supposed to be so important, why don't you get to write the test? Why is it this stuff that I don't care about?"

I don't know, kid.  I don't know.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Hard Part

Every job has aspects which are difficult. . . maybe even onerous and horrid if we are being completely honest. The problem with teaching is that when you talk about the "hard" parts of the job, you will--inevitably--have to talk about the students at some juncture.  Other people's babies!!  How does one express this without sounding like a heartless devil?

And therein lies the crux of the situation for teachers and other people-centric professions.

The hard part of the job isn't the endless--and largely uneducated--meddling that legislators do (Although it's a royal PITA and I'm NOT on board with some bozo with no education experience telling me how to go about my business.). It isn't the ridiculous amount of $$ I've shelled out to improve myself professionally and to maintain licensure. It isn't the "politics" of working in a building--and in a department--with a host of, sometimes conflicting, personalities.  Nope.  Those things are small potatoes.

The hard part--my dears--is when you look out onto the group of students in front of you--knowing full well that you are not reaching the students and there's nothing you've done that will break down the wall. It's hard because you WILL continue to give your best effort to reach them.  You have to. It's both your professional and your moral obligation.  But. . . . it's exhausting.

Point in case: We are reading Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried in one of my sections.  The kids are Not. Into. It. Nope. No Way. You. Cannot. Make. Me. (In the interest of full disclosure, they--as a group--haven't been into much this year.) And. . . . it's exhausting. It's exhausting to put everything I possibly can into providing learning opportunities: ways for the students to look beyond themselves, ways for the students to think deeply about the text, ways for the students to connect the text to what they know, ways for them to create a unique experience with a really powerful piece of writing. . . . et cetera and so forth.

What is additionally frustrating is how we talk about this lack of engagement within the realm of education. Because. . . again if we are being completely honest. . . there is some culpability on the instructor, the student, and outside forces in cases like these.  The current trend in education, however, is to say that if students are engaged (or not) it is entirely due to the teacher.

That's just silly.

When we teach, we try to be all things to all students but I believe most rational people would say this is an unreachable, if admirable, goal. So the hard part is seeing their eyes glaze over and then trying to figure out what to do next and where to go from here.  The thing is. . . the thing that separates the "good" teachers from everyone else. . . is that we don't give up.  We cannot. We will not. We dare not.  Too much is riding on maybe the next approach being the one that works.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Once Upon a Time. . . .

In a land far, far away there was a woman who wanted nothing more than to teach children about the truths of the human experience via literature.  

Well, that's the beginning and the end of that little  fairy tale. 

If I were inclined to do so, I could wax rhapsodic about my teaching experience, my education, my areas of expertise, my certifications, etc and so forth. . . . but, I am NOT inclined to do so at this juncture.  Since I'll cover all of that, in some manner, as the posts progress, it hardly seems necessary now. Instead, allow me to share a little anecdote from my classroom.  I think it's illustrative of the "type" of person who teaches and who is able to stay in the profession without going completely bonkers.

A few weeks back, my students were working on their final paper for the quarter/semester. As this paper was in a "new to them" style, I spent a fair amount of time in instruction and modeling--so as to minimize confusion and angst (teenagers are well-versed in angst).  As I'm talking about some aspect of the paper, I spy--out of the corner of my eye--one of my students holding up a note card and another student giggling.  Now, my experience has taught me that no one, and I mean NO ONE, giggles while taking notes about the stylistic requirements for argument writing.  It. Just. Isn't. Done. So, I stop what I'm doing, walk over to the student, and pick up the note card.  On it is written, "pen15."  That's right, my students are giggling over an incognito "penis" note card.  As a new teacher, I probably would have flipped out over this.  However--being me at this point in my life--I simply said, "you do know you've misspelled 'penis?"  And, that, my dears is what I LOVE about my job.  The students are funny, crazy, silly, maddening, challenging, goofy, and almost always the best part of my job.