#366: The Math Day

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Math days aren’t fun. I don’t know math as well as I used to; I don’t remember the formulas for completing long division and advanced multiplication on paper. I just complete them in my head, and I do it the long way. If I’m multiplying 60 * 510, I’ll multiply 60 * 500 first and add 60 * 10 to the end of it. It’s just easier for me to do things that way, even if it’s more complicated in the long run. Being able to complete that level of complicated math just isn’t part of my day to day life, and if I need to figure something like that out, I just google it instead. It’s tough to justify teaching quantitative literacy in our current world environment, although it is important regardless.

Math days aren’t fun because I have to pretend to know more math than I actually know. I have to walk around and help people who need help, when in reality I’m the person who needs help on this stuff the most. It’s a bit complicated, having to learn and relearn and remember what I was taught in middle and high school, then teaching that back to other people. It all happens pretty much on the spot, regardless of what else I’m doing. I have to think on my feet, adapt to whatever situation is presented in front of me, and move quickly, especially because I’m in mostly unfamiliar territory. I don’t normally work in the math room; more often than not, I’m either in the computer lab, the humanities room, or between 4th and 5th grade. My schedule doesn’t allow me to spend much time in either math or science, so thankfully I’m not usually expected to know those subjects as much as I have to know and follow along with humanities. That’s just one of the perks of my job.

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#357: The Week Ahead, Part 1

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This blog post will go up on Wednesday I think, but I’m writing it on Sunday from the perspective of someone who’s reflecting on a crazy, ridiculous week into the future. A week that’s going to test me and make me stressed out, undoubtedly, but will hopefully give me the chance to reflect on my current job and my happiness there. For that, I’m grateful for the opportunity and hopeful that the future will benefit things further. I just need to push through this week and then hopefully things will be better on the other side!

So, here’s the deal. On Monday, also known as tomorrow for me but two days in the past when this goes up, I’ll be substituting for math the whole day because both the math teacher and math title 1 assistant have personal days planned for that day. What that means is that they needed to pull another assistant from the same building into math to help the regular math assistant teach the class as normal. I just hope he knows everything and understands the rules and all that so I can help him out, rather than having to lead everything myself. Usually when this sort of pairing up happens, one assistant takes the lead and the other naturally takes the assistant role again. When I’m working in Research & Portfolio for example, I tend to submit into the assistant role until Sean is out, and then I tend to take over the teacher role because I’m in all the R&P classes and know it a bit better than the others. That’s one of the natures of this job. It can be frustrating and weird sometimes, but it is what it is and I’m grateful in some ways that I’m being paid at all these days.

#352: The Cover Letter

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Writing cover letters is an intricate process. I mention this because, be that as it may, I have been applying to new jobs recently and have had to write some cover letters as part of the job application process. They’re never easy, but here I’ll be discussing a few of the ways that I’ve gone about writing cover letters in the past. I hope that this proves useful or helpful to someone.

    1. First and foremost, I like to keep in mind that I should be telling a story through the cover letter. Not a narrative with conflict and plot, but a cohesive, consistent story of my career path, without any gaping holes or red flags present, and without covering anything up. To some, that might be hard, but in the end it’s necessary.
    2. I also like to organize my story around valuable traits and responsibilities that the hiring manager included on the job application sheet. If it says that the ideal candidate has to have so and so traits, I like to make sure I mention why I believe I possess those traits in my cover letter, with examples to support them.
    3. Finally, I like to demonstrate total politeness, maturity, respect, and understanding for the place I am applying to. If you haven’t gone on their website and looked at their mission yet, you’re missing out on some valuable diction to put into your cover letter. If they’re insistent about taking personal responsibility for your actions, use your cover letter as a platform to discuss a time when you took personal responsibility in a meaningful way.

That’s about it from me. I hope you learned a thing or two about writing cover letters here. If not, I’ll try better on the next go around. Overall, though, cover letters are about telling stories about your life.

 

#337: The Job

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Finding a new job can be difficult. First of all, you need to start assessing what you expect from a new job, the kind of atmosphere you want to have there. You have to think of what questions to ask during an interview, and how to handle yourself throughout that process. In terms of long-term jobs, the longest I’ve worked in one place was when I was a high school teacher, because that lasted over a year. But I didn’t enjoy myself there, for many reasons discussed previously in this blog. I’ve also talked about how to ask pertinent questions during the interview process to make sure you get what you want afterwards. It’s a difficult, complicated process, but nothing comes easy in the job hunt.

It might come as a surprise to some people that I’m looking for a new job, but to me, it’s about that time. I feel exhausted doing the same thing every day, and even though my job is mostly fine, I’m starting to realize the hypocrisies and oxymorons that govern what we do. I also feel bad about not having a union, insurance, or a contract of my own, but still being manipulated and exploited regardless of that status. I feel bad about being treated like someone less than a teacher by teachers, because they have agendas to fulfill and aren’t willing to lower themselves down from their pedestals even a little bit. Imagine having a full-time (well, technically part-time) assistant with you 24/7 to make copies and enforce discipline in your class with you? Imagine not having to come up with plans because everything’s already been planned for you? Imagine being that kind of a teacher, and then still thinking you have the right to look down on other assistants. It’s maddening and, more than anything, it makes me want to leave. I don’t need to be here.

#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.

#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.