#269: The Return

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Returning to school after a long summer vacation has always been cause for anxiety. It’s the start of a new school year, but it’s also the start of a new, much longer routine system to resume. Over the summer, I develop new, more free habits and routines, related to sleeping, daily time spending, and clothing. I’m not always dressed in business casual at home, I get to spend time doing whatever I want, and I can wake up at a more reasonable hour. These differences are crucial, making the summer vacation truly memorable and worth celebrating.

Being someone whose whole life has been centered around the American school schedule, it’s hard to break the chains of tradition. I’m inexplicably tied to the school routines I had as a child. Wake up early in the morning, go to a high-stakes place of learning for some hours, then return home late in the afternoon and do it all again the next day, barring weekends. Octobers and Marches are long months without as many days off, and June is the fastest month by far. You learn to cherish December, for its long vacation in the middle of the year, as well as the holidays, of course. But you are forever tied to these feelings and traditions of how the year progresses. Normal adults, who don’t work in the school system, like Alex, work year-round and have vacation time on their own terms, and things like that. They don’t have the luxury of a summer break, but they’re also not still tied as adults to the summer’s joyful freedom as they were as kids. In some ways, I envy them. When I was unemployed in 2018, it felt like I was still reliving the school schedule, even through November and December. It was impossible to escape.

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#234: The Website

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Building a website isn’t easy. No matter what service you end up using, be it WordPress, Squarespace, or what have you, it’s never a simple process, no matter what the websites tell you in their advertisements. I’ve heard from countless podcasts how Squarespace is the future of personal website designing, for example, and part of that is probably because of the deliberate wording of the advertisement itself, but it’s not what it claims to be, at least from my experience. Making a website that looks the same as countless other carbon copied websites is not enough, in my opinion, to sell me on the service.

When I was unemployed for awhile, my therapist recommended I consider making my own website, that way I can advertise my services there while still pursuing the job hunt elsewhere. I knew about Squarespace because of the podcasts I listen to, and I decided to try it out while I had nothing to lose. Why not, honestly? Maybe I’d get some emails from interested people. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen much, probably as a result of me not advertising the website very well. There’s the other thing: Squarespace doesn’t advertise for you, you have to do that on your own. You just pay for the domain and the services.

If I were pursuing a different professional career path, I could definitely see the potential of making my own website, as a sort of updated resume that keeps track of what I’ve done over time and shows to the world what I can do. I know of a few writers and graphic designers who keep professional websites for themselves, and that feels like a great use of resources. However, not all of us are in those specific career fields, so I’m not sure I’d recommend making a website for yourself unless you really needed one.

#228: The Teacher

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Nothing like a retirement party to get the staff feeling nostalgic and reminiscing about better, simpler times. Before students had cell phones and attitudes and their parents held them accountable with higher standards for behavior at home. They taught them manners, respect, and discipline. Those days, according to the teachers, have long passed, and have been replaced with an era of entitlement. How dare students have the gall to talk back, to be so blatantly and egregiously disrespectful? Everything is connected, in their eyes; the millennial generation, the so-called free speech crisis on college campuses, avocado toast and the betrayal of traditional American values.

When I say that this is according to the teachers, I don’t mean the teachers I work with personally. I mean teachers as a general population. I’ve known enough teachers over the years to know what their general moods and attitudes are towards social change. Just as an electrician or a construction worker feels a sense of kinship with the spirit of their profession, so too do teachers.

It just so happens that the conversation came up, as it tends to come up, while at a retirement party for a veteran teacher. Are kids these days just worse than usual? Is it their parents to blame? What’s it going to be like when they’ve matured into adults? What if they don’t mature at all? Is this the generation we want running our country in a decade or two? It’s inevitable, you know. Sometime down the line, this generation will be in charge of things, just like how the other generations had their turn at the steering wheel. Are you afraid of that? I wouldn’t be. My generation is known for so many negative reasons, but in reality, they’re one of the only generations still trying to fix things, it seems. Hopefully.

#212: The End of the Year

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By the end of the school year, things start to wind down. Students feel less motivated, senioritis kicks in, and teachers await the allure of the long, restful summer break to come. Students and teachers alike begin to count down the days until vacation arrives. I used to have a countdown in my classroom, that the students would help me keep track of as the days went by. It was helpful and I appreciated it.

The end of the year is always the same, but the signals are different depending on what school you work at. At this school, after SBAC testing finishes, people start to wait until summer break comes. At the school I worked at previously, April break was the signal that got people thinking about summer break. For teachers, their last professional observation perhaps takes precedence over the other factors, knowing that they no longer have to worry about an administrator stopping in to evaluate their work. For that reason, I always liked getting my evaluations taken care of and finished early, without having to worry about anything else on the horizon.

As soon as students get their yearbooks, the year is officially over for them (although, for seniors, apparently, winter break is the end of the year for them). They’ll start bringing them to class and requesting elaborate notes and signatures from students and teachers across the hall. It’s one of my favorite parts of the year, writing signatures for students who request one from me. I love feeling appreciated, even in such a small way.

The end of the year is the perfect time to start reflecting on the year that passed. Many of my peers have officially finished their second full year teaching, whereas I’m in the middle of something else for myself. I’m just glad to have my head above water.

 

#197: The Paper

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In continuing my trend of talking about grading papers, today I’ll be discussing the process of looking at and editing these particular Research & Portfolio papers. I’m currently doing some grading, and it’s not great, but I’ve looked at these papers already so they shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. I’ve worked with these students during class and after class, helping while I can and sharing my thoughts and words with them. None of it is easy, though. I always have to grapple with helping too much, versus helping just the right amount. I also want to make sure that students appreciate the work I put in for them. It’s a constant struggle between competing needs and desires, to please or to help. If only both were possible at once.

When I first started working at this new job, I once worked with a student on his essay, only to discover that my work wasn’t what the teacher wanted. I helped him pen his thoughts onto the computer, because he wasn’t the type of student who really enjoyed typing and asked for my help. To find out that I didn’t do a good job was kind of a dagger in the heart, for a few reasons: one, because I’m really trying my best here and want to succeed as much as possible, and two, because I felt that the student I helped actually benefited from my help quite a lot. It’s one of those cases where you just have to shut up and take whatever someone else says inside you, and then put it away. You can’t expect everyone to like the work that you produce, even when it’s something you care about. Eventually someone will tear it down, and you have to persevere despite their criticisms. Everyone’s a critic these days. Everyone, it seems.

#196: The Grade

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Grading papers is fun. I like examining students’ writing, I like assigning grades to them, and I like feeling like my comments will lead to some kind of educational breakthrough for students. You have to feel like your comments are useful in order to feel motivated to write them, right? Otherwise there’s no inspiration.

One habit of mine is writing lots and lots of comments. I’m very meticulous with my commenting, making sure to fill in everywhere and every thing with ink. I like to make sure that students know exactly why they got the grade they got, and I like to know that I fully read over and understood their writing. Sometimes, though, I can’t read everything; I can try and try to pore over the pages, but my eyes get all blank and foggy. Grading marathons are tedious even though they’re fun at times. They drown out every thing else from view, and you are lost with a vision of words upon words and numbers upon numbers only.

I like to grade while working on other things, like playing a round of limited in Magic: Arena or playing some ranked ladder on Hearthstone. Using games as a crutch is probably what allows grading to be enjoyable.

The advice I’ve always gotten from other teachers is to set every thing else aside, devote some time to grading, and not to fill up the essays with comments, because the kids will usually never read all of them and you’ll feel like they’re a waste. I completely understand where they’re coming from, because I distinctly remember picking up graded papers from the ground in my classroom last year, distraught at thinking of how much time I devoted to each paper only for the kids to disregard them like they were nothing. That’s just teaching for you.

#64: The Question

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I do not claim to be someone who asks questions well, but I am a good listener. Listening to others’ thoughts and words is the first step to asking good questions, I’ve heard. When you are paying attention to another person, you are showing them you care about what they have to say, what thoughts they are thinking. You demonstrate patience, inquisitiveness, and focus. But asking questions? That’s where it gets more finicky. A good question can inspire a conversation, a bad question can either derail a conversation entirely, leaving you forgetful about what you were just talking, or cause the other person to disengage entirely. A question can describe your personality in an instant, if the other person is astute enough. A question can also help you discover what another person wants to hear from you, allowing you to answer in accordance with their wishes.

If you can imagine what situation I am about to face, you are probably imagining a job interview, in which case you are correct. As I write this, I am preparing for an interview, as always. If you were to hazard a guess as to what I am doing almost any time, it’s thinking about an interview on the horizon. My mind does a bad job of disengaging from stressful future events, as they always hang over my head, regardless of how harmless and normal they are, even interviews. An interview, to me, feels like a fresh start with a new person, and even though I might tell myself that interviews are shared communications, that they depend on the happiness of both parties in order to succeed, I still feel indebted to the other party, sitting at the end of the table. It is ultimately their decision that makes or breaks this whole thing, and though my questions might lead them to choose me, I am not the final decision-maker.

But still, it is important to keep a clear head about things. Nothing here nor there will be the end of the world. It is just a matter of time. It always is.

#62: The Phone

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Let’s talk about talking. Specifically, the act of talking on the phone. Today, as I write this, I am scheduled for a phone interview sometime within the next hour or so; it is unusual for a place to not give me a definite time, but this is the hand I’ve been dealt. When I think about talking on the phone, I think of walking around, aimlessly, waiting for the conversation to be over, speaking platitudes and sharing gratitudes. I think of the many phone conversations I’ve had since leaving my teaching job, and I think of all the lost voicemail messages, translated automatically into text and sent to my phone because I do not feel comfortable picking up the phone on its own. I think of the faces I’ve never seen, the voices I’ve heard, the connections between the two.

I remember, before getting my first teaching job, being in the shower. I was washing my hair when, upon hearing my phone ring from outside of the chamber, I immediately lurched for it and looked at the number. I recognized the line in an instant, but I was stuck taking a shower, and had no way of picking up the phone in time for what seemed to be a phone call about the fate of my employment. Instead, I let it go to voicemail, and I read my fate via the translated text message I received a minute later. My heart dashed, but then the news came: the man on the other line wanted to speak to me about my interview, and wanted to offer employment. I was stunned, shocked, and immediately ended my shower, rushed into the living room, and called the number back. A part of me was afraid that I had jeopardized my opportunity by not picking up, but I knew that was an unnecessary anxiety.

 

#22: Stage

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All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.

While looking for a new career to sink my teeth into, I’ve spent time researching whether or not the career will involve a primarily public face as part of the role. I cannot imagine myself returning to a career where I was as exposed as I was teaching. Exposed on the stage, looking off into the audience for approval, affirmation, or validation. Seeking a way forward through the crowd, the mob, without stepping too closely on their toes or leaving them dry. Putting my own self-care first for once in a while. Placing myself in front of the rest in my own life. There is endless potential, and yet it can look so narrow and limited.

Realistically, there is employment out there for me, but I have not found it yet. It is difficult to change careers with a resume that beckons for a previous career with previous career experience all over it. No amount of changing careers will make it feel any worse while rejecting job offers for paid work doing what I did before. Knowing that getting paid is the exclusive need right now, and yet being picky, seems so challenging, and yet it is necessary for me to evolve what I’m looking for.

Sharing a stage with the rest of the career-changers out there, I wonder what it must look like. All of us bustling around, deciding whether to pursue school again, what type of school, what type of work in the meantime, what to limit myself to and what to embrace while I can. How much money can I spend without going over my absolute limit? How much money can I use to push through this apocalyptic death march and into a time of light and optimism? Why is it always about money in the end?

#9: An Attention Deficit

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I’ve lived with attention deficit disorder since as long as I can remember, and the best way I can describe it is as a persistent mental fog. A sentient haze that floats overhead and infrequently drops into my mind to torment me. But that almost sounds too cliche, as if every other writer with ADD has written the same description of their disorder: a fog or haze over the brain. It’s the metaphor that makes the most sense to me, so please pardon the lack of originality.

When I write, the fog dissipates briefly, allowing me to step in, structure my thoughts, and produce a somewhat-cohesive written piece. When finished, it becomes an achievement or accolade that I can herald to myself, as proof that my disorder is conquerable. It gives a temporary happiness.

Writing helps me stay focused on my life while writing about my life. When I write, the guard rails and guidelines appear around my thoughts, helping me focus on my objective. I was never very good at structuring my essays, but I am much better structuring my cognition on the page than I am in the lawless Wild West that is my head.

But living with ADD is difficult. I wish I could say that I’ve conquered it, in some small way, since I was young. Conquering it once is praiseworthy but ultimately easy; it is when the haze descends unexpectedly, catching you off guard, that it strikes hardest and leaves the most lasting impact.

Living with ADD is teaching an English class of teenagers when, suddenly, your focus drifts from the students you are managing to your break twenty minutes from now, while leading a conversation about Of Mice & Men. It’s reflecting on your ungratefulness in your head while asking questions about George’s characterization. It’s having to ask a student for clarification after embarrassingly losing track of time during your own lesson. It’s having to contend with laughter and mockery while recognizing that you can never take it all too personally, and yet it feels so personal to you. It’s having to contend with flashbacks to fourth, fifth, and eighth grade, when you felt your ADD most abused, during your so-called professional dream career. It’s having to watch as the classroom’s attention drifts to other anxieties or preoccupations, just like your attention has. It’s having to listen to professional development meetings where, after hearing about wellness and honesty and community-building among the faculty, you walk silently and quickly away from everyone to the safety of your classroom because someone pointed out your unusual habit of taking persistent notes during meetings; it helps you pay attention just a little bit better, but that doesn’t stop others from laughing about it. It’s having to say no to social outings with colleagues because of your medication schedule. It’s having to sit through new teacher seminars, hearing once again the information you learned in graduate school, but this time, it feels more precise and directed at you and your failings as a teacher. It’s having to contend with all these regrets months later, a decision eternally shaping your future. Your anxiety is what keeps your ears perked and your mind sharp, but it, too, betrays you from time to time.

In my previous blog post, I wrote about forcing myself to read as a kid to expand my creative horizons. I made the choice despite my ADD, just as I do when I write like this. I write despite my struggles and weaknesses. My initials are ADD, and just as my name was given to me without a choice, so also was this curse thrust upon me, without regard for how it would mold my life in the future.