26 October 2011

Teacher Pay-Day

The universe must know I'm about to go on vacation, because today was rough. Opposition in all things, right?

Today was rough. A particular parent who has been making my life a kind of hell for a while sent (yet another) personal attack email that left me shaking, angry, and thoroughly discouraged. A million angry retorts came into my mind in one boiling flood that I had to stem rather quickly to preserve the professionalism for the class I had to teach. (Side note: I, apparently, need to stop responding to emails in the middle of the day.)

So today it was time for the Teacher Pay-Day folder. Now that I teach mostly high school classes, this folder hasn't been added to quite as often, but I taught junior high English my first year of teaching and the folder got lots of use. This is a hanging file folder where I keep particularly nice notes or artwork or other (paper) trinkets students drop by my desk. I pulled it out today and rifled through a few years worth of letters and cards. The notes - some funny (the girl who wants to be an actress and was inspired by me? She used her acting skills to promote her hypochondria. I kept that note for a laugh), some sincere (the boy who told me that he never liked to read until he came to my class), to heartfelt (the few who told me that I made them feel important and loved.) It was exactly what I needed today. I love that folder.

So it's time to put the frustrations aside and start actively loving what I do, not just saying that I do in an attempt to convince myself. I'll let the school handle this abusive parent, and turn my attentions instead to the things that matter. Like relaxing. Taking some time in the day to enjoy what I do and not worry about the paperwork. To compliment students more often and have fun with them regularly. I'm a better teacher when I do, and they're better students. All the baggage and frustrations and accusations are what they are - but none of them should be allowed to take away from the satisfaction of a room full of teenagers who actually listen to you, trust you, and want to be better because of the time spent with you.

20 October 2011

How-To Guide

Sometimes I feel like all I do on this blog is gripe and complain about my career. I swear, I love what I do. 97.4% of the time, my job is wonderful. Part of that 2.6% of annoyance comes in the morning when my alarm goes off too early. Some of it comes in the form of students who are just draining in their pestering. The largest portion comes in the form of parents who seem to misunderstand their role in the relationship of teacher to parent and what the goal of that relationship actually is.

One day I'll write about how much I love what I do.

(Today isn't quite that day.)

What I have for you today is a "How-To" guide of sorts on Parent-Teacher relations:

1) Most important: parents and teachers are on the same team. Both want for the student to succeed. The problem comes when parents and teachers have different ideas of "success". These problems, if they do come up, should not be handled in front of the student.

2) If a parent feels as though the teacher is not a good one, they should either move the student to another class or, if that isn't possible, find ways to compensate for the teacher's deficiencies at home. One of the things that baffles me most about a parent is when they seem to find something I do inadequate or unfair (usually when their student doesn't get a good grade), but they still keep the student in my class. If you don't like the teacher, then find other options. We're not offended. We're actually relieved, usually, to get us off our backs so we can focus on students (and parents) who are doing well with us.

3) That in mind, just because a student doesn't respond to a teacher does not mean that the teacher himself/herself is incompetent. Teachers are human. Students are human. Neither of us are required to get along with everybody.

4) When dealing with a teacher, please remember that we are professionals. Whatever your beliefs about education or educational degrees, the majority of teachers I know do their job because they care about what they do. We have our different personalities and strengths and weaknesses, but we are not ignorant or naive about what our job entails. Please do not treat us like you know better. (If you believe you know better, then refer to rule number two.)

5) While we're talking about professionalism, please keep in mind that a teacher has the right to tell you "no" if your requests are unreasonable or being resolved in other ways. Most teachers are willing to help you, but telling teachers how that help will be given is rarely the best way to get the job done. We respect that you know your student at home, but we see them as students and know that side of them quite well. You may request something of a teacher that is already being done only in a different form. You may also request something of a teacher that doesn't really solve the problem or would make our lives much more difficult than they are already, which brings us to. . .

6) Most teachers are teaching at least two different classes (or preps) these days, often more, depending on the school. At a charter school, I am currently teaching six different classes, four of which involve creating curriculums that I have not taught before. I see around 100 different students a day. (In a public school, this number is likely to triple for your teacher.) Whether your teacher is working with a large number of students or a large number of different classes - we have a lot to remember. We have individual needs of students to keep in mind (particularly those with IEPs.) We have lessons to plan and prepare for and grading to do. I answer dozens of emails a day, and I answer them efficiently. But the strength of our organizational balance often comes from routine and a good deal of practice. This means that if you ask for a teacher to go out of their way to do something - it is no small request. The task itself (sending another email, printing an extra copy, etc.) may seem small to you - but adding it to a lengthy list of things to do is not as easy as it seems for us. Please be patient and reasonable in your requests. If possible, find out what the teacher is already doing, and see if you can come up with a solution that works within the system already in place.

7) Remember that the goal of school is, on its most practical level, to prepare your student for independence, whether in college or in a job. Individual subject matters are secondary to this goal. (We know that not every student will love our subject. We don't love every student - it's only fair.) But this means that every time you turn in an assignment for your student, and every time you request notes from class, and every time you argue a grade on behalf of your student - you are enabling that child to be weak. Teachers know that students need to be led to responsibility occasionally. For some students it does not come naturally. But as a parent, please find ways to make your student accountable for the work that they do and encourage them to take care of problems themselves. If you have to walk them into the room, that's fine, but they should turn in the assignment. If you need to bring them to my room to talk with me about needing more time on something, that's fine - but let them do the talking. Unless you want your student living with you forever - you need to get them used to functioning in the adult world. Doing all this work for them is crippling. (And usually results in requests to me to describe everything we do in class already - I'm not going to re-teach the class to you.)

8) Finally - and this last one may be a bit selfish - but if you appreciate what your teacher is doing for your student, tell them. Silly gifts at Christmas that we can't possibly eat all of are nice and we appreciate them, but not nearly so much as an email during the week that lets us know specifically what we have done that was well received. It helps us to be better teachers, and it encourages us to do more when we know that our efforts are working.

12 October 2011

The Perfect Storm

Once upon a time the perfect storm came and tried to ruin everything.

It involved about forty hours of grading essays in a week, doing everything possible to have them done before a trip home.

It involved putting off projects and readings that needed to be done in favor of pushing forward with every last inch of sanity to finish those essays and get them back to students before their next essay test.

It involved death bed repenters and desperate parents wanting to put bandaids on gaping wounds.

It involved a frantic Friday after school rushing to get things done and make it to the airport without falling asleep at the wheel. Boarding a plane and feeling like - finally - I'd have an excuse to relax.

It involved a delayed - and then cancelled flight. Followed by a missed airport shuttle. Followed by a sleepless night in a cold and kitschy hotel room. Followed by a way too early morning. Followed by a flight in the world's smallest airplane. Followed by a two hour ride home instead of a fifteen minute home.

It involved a not nearly as relaxing and enjoyable trip for me or for others in my family as it should have been. Long week + long weekend = an unfortunate conglomeration of out of control events (translation: I was not in the world's most enthusiastic mood. Further translation: I think the weekend was a disappointment for those, including myself, who like me slightly better rested and fed.)

It then involved returning home to an individual blaming me for purposefully grading hard to prove a point and more or less claiming that I am not intelligent enough to do the job I have.

It involved me wanting very much to throw up the proverbial white BANNER of surrender. To yell to the world that I cannot possibly be everything for everyone, or do all the right things, or please anyone, and that I may as well not try any more, because what was the point? My imperfections felt so very close to the surface and frustrating for me and inconvenient for other people, and it was beyond my mental and physical stamina to handle it any more.

But then. . .

I drove home and saw a sight that looked almost identical to this.

I took a little time to visit . . .

(She's been missing me lately. It's been mutual.)

And suddenly life doesn't seem so unconquerable any more.

I'm still imperfect. I'm still overworked. And stubborn. And maybe a little delusional sometimes. But mostly, I think, I'm like the majority of people in the world trying to get by the best they can - sometimes meeting success and sometimes not. Rough weeks happen. Sometimes weeks are more overwhelming than others. But they end. And we move onward and upward and, with any luck, gain more than just some sore muscles by the time we reach the top of the peak.

05 October 2011

Dear Students. . .

You may not believe this when you get your first set of essays back, but I believe in you.

I mean it. I see your potential. I see the good that you are doing and the good you have within you to do. I'm not making things up when I tell you you're great. I'm not making things up when I tell you that you should care about your life and do something about it. I wouldn't lie to you about that. It would be cruel.

The world is content with you being substandard, lazy, and self-obsessed. They'll encourage it, actually. It'll be on every magazine and in every teenage drama that focuses only on cheap jokes and "self discovery" that doesn't end up leading to a place of value at all. In fact, the world expects you to be rebellious, lecherous lumps of flesh that only ever look for ways out. Now. . . some of you are. Some of you seem to spend most of your time working to get out of work. You do it magnificently. But most of you - and you know who you are - actually care about who you are and who you are becoming. You have dreams and ambitions and goals that are more important to you than any party you might go to, for example. You have direction and purpose.

I think the thing that amazes me the most as your teacher is the way that, every so often, I see more of your potential than your parents do. I don't mean to suggest that I know you better. Your parents, after all, have lived with you for upwards of thirteen years. They've cleaned up your vomit and taught you how to spell your name and instructed you on how to be a good, functioning human being. But sometimes I think they might love you so much that they're afraid to let you fail. It's why I tell you not to take your writing to them for advice. Most of the time they tell you it's wonderful and you don't learn anything from it.

That's where I come in. See, I love you too. In my own way. Not in the "please add me on Facebook" way, because I won't let you. But in the "I want you to succeed in life, but if you fail you aren't my financial responsibility" way. It's the separation between us that allows me to critique you honestly. That allows me to fight for you to have the opportunity to learn what it is to make a mistake and pay for it. That wants to tear you down a little every now and then because there's no other way you can learn.

Your parents are wonderful people. They care about you and want you to succeed. But they will, every so often, want you to find success in excuses. Excuses don't solve the problem. Knowing you're not good at something doesn't make you good at that something. Relying on weakness to get by will never make you stronger.

(To be honest, I wonder sometimes if this is why God set up the universe the way He did. Giving us parents here that love us and care for us to a fault at times where He - in His wisdom - is able to teach us more honestly because of a slight separation.)

So please - tell your parents that we're all on the same "cheering for you" section. But remind them I'm not in the stands like they are. I'm on the front lines. I'm your coach. And it's my job to fight for you to have the chance to be wrong every now and then, or being right won't mean anything to you.

Love -


04 October 2011

Some of Someday

The last few days have been mentally and physically taxing ones for me. I'm drowning in approximately 175 essays to read (in addition to the rest of the homework I need to grade.) I have an online class I need to film for and grade. I have friends who want to spend time with me. I have a bed who dearly misses me. I have a handful of very needy parents to deal with. I have a somewhat neglected spiritual life that I have been making strides to enhance again. I have personal insecurities and outside pressures to somehow conquer or, at least, learn to put up with. My life, at least right now, feels a bit like the trash compactor in Star Wars and I'm doing everything I can to try and stop it, or at least get the trash out, but I've been fighting to stay on top while I do all this and it. is. hard.

Then I read this.

It's written by a good family friend that I knew growing up. I've been a long-time reader of hers because she has such a way with words that I can't help myself. Today she said exactly what I needed to.

Because - the thing is - in the middle of all this cultural pressure, I find myself looking at my own "someday" and feeling, on the whole, quite satisfied with what I have.

It used to be that someday I would graduate and have a job and teach and be financially independent and be married and have a family and do everything well. Now a good portion of that is here. I did graduate. I have a fantastic job. I teach. I am completely financially independent. I'm not married and I don't have a family and I certainly don't do everything well, but I am happy.

And, if I were being perfectly honest, I think I would be absolutely suffocated if I were home right now with children who couldn't speak yet. I'm not ready for that. I'm content with my room full of noisy teenagers who can mostly take care of their own body fluids. (Though, to be fair, this is likely the partial result of a stomach flu going around school that resulted in a hallway mishap recently. I don't hate small children. I'm just glad I don't have any right this second.)

So much of what I've written about in the last several years of having this blog has been about my convictions on love or dating or social lives in general that, for all my trying to escape the pressure, I've only ever been stuck in a world where I have felt inadequate and unappreciated as a single woman. As though my marital status has been a deterrent in my value or worth, or, if not a deterrent, then not as important. It has left me feeling torn and pressured into doing things for the entirely wrong reasons, just to attempt to relieve that pressure. It's no wonder I can't have fun when I go out on dates: I'm not dating to please myself, I'm dating to please others or to meet some cultural standard.

It sounds selfish, but I don't mean it to. I only mean that my mind has always been in the wrong place. It hasn't ever been: "someday I'll find someone that helps me be happy" - it's always been, "someday I'll find someone and that will make _____ happier with me." Or, "someday I will find someone and then I can have a life like ______."

What I'm trying to say is. . . I can wait. I'm ready to shed the pressure and just be for a while. I like where I am. I'm happy where I am. I don't want to live someone else's life. And I think, for a little while, before I dive back into the fray, I need to take a bit of time to appreciate the life that I have. I do look forward to my "someday" when I am not single and have all it entails in my life, but I am, for now, content with the "some" of "someday" I have.