#405: The Observation

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Have I ever written about what it’s like to be observed as a teacher? It’s horrifying. You never know what’s going to happen in a classroom on a given day, and to have people come in specifically designed to assess you and how you instruct, it’s the worst. Nothing gets me more stressed out these days than being observed during a class where I might not have the best rapport or support from.

When I was first observed, the assistant principal came during my fifth period Lit of the 60s class. My students were great, and they rose to the occasion. Not all of my observations were as smooth as this first one, but to have such a boost of confidence at the beginning did help me get through the year a bit more. It made dealing with all the stress of teaching a bit more bearable.

I gave my students pizza for the occasion, and I collected money from them but I ended up shelling out a decent amount of my own money to get it. You don’t have to tell them that, though. I remember the day it happened really well: the people in the office were so confused, and all the other kids from my other classes were jealous when it happened. Unfortunately for them, they weren’t that great when they could’ve been during their observations later on.

The assistant principal who observed me was nice and friendly, and she always had constructive feedback to give me. I was thankful to have her as my supervisor, rather than one of the more strict and obnoxious supervisors. I got lucky during my first year as a teacher, believe it or not. It could’ve been much worse, even though I endured quite a lot during those crazy 365 days. Oh well.

#400: The Dismissal

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Early dismissals are great. I love the feeling of not having to worry about
doing my last period class for the day, and I love being able to just relax throughout the day, not worrying about whatever’s coming at the end of the day. It’s all fine and dandy and no one has to worry.

Early dismissals are especially good when they happen on parent-teacher conference days, when I’m able to leave with the rest of the people in the school and I don’t have to concern myself with the fact that the actual teachers in the building do have to stay until the regular time slot. Parent-teacher conferences also take place during the morning, and today, as I write this, there was an incident this morning during one of the conferences where the parents stayed in the teacher’s room for over 40 minutes, and the kids outside weren’t allowed to come in until it was over. I have no idea what happened during the conference but I can only imagine what it was like, based on the time length and all the other factors involved with it.

Having an early dismissal means you can go home, take the dog out, maybe even go to the gym if you want to. It means being able to relax at home at an unusual time, at a time when you would usually be doing something else instead at work. Unusual is pretty much how I would describe the feeling of having an early dismissal, in general. It’s not a bad thing, of course, and if I had a regular job, I wouldn’t have these sorts of changes to look forward to. It’s one of the things I often think about when I consider applying to new work; would it be the same without delays and early dismissals?

#383: The Tutor

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Essentially, my job is about tutoring. I feel like, as a tutor, my work entails teaching small groups of kids basic, fundamental facts that they need to know about literacy, while hoping to improve their literacy skills. It’s not easy to just jump into tutoring someone without knowing them first, but I have experience tutoring kids of all types and ages. I worked with high school students who were freshman and seniors, and I worked with third and fourth graders. These experiences came before I even started teaching officially, which is why, after I decided to leave teaching, I went back into tutoring as a potential career option. This gives me the opportunity to work in a school schedule, with school hours and days and what not, without having to worry about being a full-time teacher. I do wish, at times, that I was working full-time, that way I could receive the same benefits as other people, but to me, there are worse things I could be dealing with, I guess. My job works for me as is.

But back to being a tutor. Later today, I’ll be visiting fourth grade to tutor some students. We’ll be working on vocabulary as well as developing their reading comprehension. On the one hand, I’m happy to help kids make noticeable improvements, but on the other hand, I’m not sure how much I’m actually helping, when standardized tests are what we are using to judge their improvement. It feels like standardization has taken over the world of education, leaving it impossible for students to develop naturally. I wish things were a bit less standardized and a bit more individualized, where students are given opportunities to develop themselves outside of rigid formats and outlines. But that’s just me. I know I’m not alone on that, however.

#380: The Assessment

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Being assessed on things is never fun. I don’t like it when I have to give assessments to students, as I know the stress can be unbearable and difficult to manage. I don’t like how students are forced to feel like every assessment is a matter of life and death, that they need to take every test seriously or else their entire high school or college career is at stake. It feels like we over-test people, that when we try to collect comprehensive data on students, we end up having residual effects on all their psyches. How can I effectively manage students when they’re endlessly tested on one thing or another? How can I take care of them when the system in place doesn’t take care of them or account for their own wants and desires? That’s what bugs me about the whole system of assessments we have; there’s no rationale to it, and it runs completely counter to everything else we’re trying to do with them.

I guess that’s just the way it works these days. I was inspired to write about this topic because when I got back to work on Monday, I was greeted with a reminder of the assessment in front of them. It was on the computer screen, right there, as clear as day, no mistaking it. It’s impossible to ignore when it’s right in front of you like that. Assessments are endless these days, so they all kind of blend together in my mind, but this one stood out despite that fact. I think it’s because it’s the most recent one to me, but even then, they don’t usually stand out like that. They’re all the same, ultimately, only the names have changed. The kids know that clear as day, and so do I.

#373: The Nature

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Living in nature is great, isn’t it? I mean, when you abandon all responsibilities and push yourself into the outside world, like you’re a renegade college student born to run. Like you’re Henry David Thoreau, except your mom isn’t doing your laundry for you, and you have to pay your taxes still. Nature is where we all came from, in nature is where we ultimately belong. Nature is where life started, and no technology exists in nature except for whatever you can create and work with your own two hands. It’s marvelous to imagine.

Recently, at work, students in the 6th and 7th grades left to go to Nature’s Classroom, a four-day field trip adventure where they interact with the outside world in ways they likely haven’t before. They go on nature walks, hikes, and museum visits, and it’s all inclusive. Students pay to be there, but they get room and board, as well as breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. I believe the food is all you can eat, too, which is perfect for these kids’ stomachs. They are hungry kids and they don’t like the lunches normally served at school, so this should suffice them for awhile.

The best part is that school is mostly quiet these days, and no one has to worry about kids showing up and roughing around the school. The eighth grade is around, but they handle themselves and they’re generally well-behaved and self-regulatory. They know when to stop, usually, when things get out of hand. The other grades usually work differently and at different paces. Not having them around the school at all makes these days fly by like they’re nothing, which I highly appreciate considering I don’t have much to do. I appreciate the change of pace and scenery this week, leading into Animecon.

#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.

#341: The Failure

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It’s difficult to fail. (Have I started all my blog posts recently with the sentence structure of “it’s difficult to do X”? It seems like it.)

But true to the word, failing is difficult. I don’t like doing something and feeling like it’s too difficult for me. But sometimes, I have to give up and there’s nothing else I can do about it. When I recently applied to teach remotely with an English-teaching company based in China, I realized that it would be a fantastic opportunity for me to explore. I love the idea of teaching remotely rather than having to leave the comfort of my home, but I also love the idea of having a supplemental income on top of my current part-time job. It would give us an added boost to our monthly income and would help us pay off our car insurance, which has been going up recently because of some unfortunate accidents that weren’t our fault. It’s really annoying how things that aren’t our fault end up causing more trouble for us than they’re worth. I get extra nervous now when on the road, and I’m extra careful around other people because of it.

But all that’s beside the point, which is that I didn’t end up wanting to go through with this English-teaching company. They’re nice and all, but their style doesn’t really match mine as much as I wish it would. I would do whatever it takes for some extra money and the leisure to work from home, but sometime I can’t just do whatever it takes. It’s just not in me to do that. Does that make sense? I don’t actually know if it does, but it does to me. I should’ve known from the beginning that this wouldn’t jive well with me, but I tried it anyway because I was feeling a bit desperate.

#339: The Prop

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Have you ever used props for any reason or context? Sometimes I feel like props are essential to telling the story you’re trying to tell, as they assist in relaying your overall message and theme. But their overall effectiveness can be a bit difficult to gauge and apply. I’m not the kind of person to use props while teaching, mostly because it can feel a bit unnatural and forced to just pull out a white board in front of you and start writing on it, but it’s nice to know that other people use them for their own reasons. Not everyone needs to be the same type of teacher.

The reason I mention props is because, as someone currently applying to be a teacher with VIPKID, one of their requirements in the interview process is using props to relay your message and lesson. I brought home some whiteboards and index cards from school to help me get across my general ideas. I’m hoping that this actually works and I’m accepted, because more than anything, a little bit of supplemental income every once in awhile could go a long way! Alex and I’s car insurance recently went up, and we’re hoping that we can cover that with some of the extra money afforded by this side job.

In the meantime, I’m also contemplating where my future leads. On the one hand, I’ve been in the field of education for a long time and have the most experience there. But on the other hand, I know that education might not be the best choice for me. It might be better to focus instead on other career paths so that I can broaden my experience while I’m still young and have time to do that. I know this is off-topic on the idea of props, but it’s still relevant to my overall psyche.

#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.

#332: The Independence

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Instead of talking about American independence, today I’ll be discussing a bit of my own personal experience with independence. Usually independence is connected with ideas like liberty and personal success. Living on your own shows that you’re an independent person, someone capable of being a mature adult. At some point we all have to branch out on our own, take care of ourselves on our own, and make decisions on our own. Living independently is owning up to those responsibilities and embracing them. It’s not shying away from your obligations to yourself and your personal health and well-being. Independence is difficult, don’t get me wrong, but it’s achievable and it feels great. Nothing compares to having a place to call your own, where you get to make the rules, pretty much. I don’t know if I was ever expecting this to happen at so young a time in my life, to be completely honest.

There’s also another aspect of independence that I’d like to discuss, and that’s being an independent teacher. When I was teaching at the high school level, I had a classroom all to myself and it felt great. I was able to direct students and teach them all about English. I gave it my best, but sometimes your best isn’t enough to make yourself feel happy about how you did. Sometimes you need to try things differently. Being independent means figuring out when to make the right decisions for you and your health, even when those decisions might seem crazy or unpredictable or even rude at the time. You have to eventually make the choice between yourself and other people, and if you don’t choose yourself at least once or twice when it really counts, you run the risk of losing your identity and personal feelings. I don’t want that to happen.