#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.

#226: Wake Up

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You wake up. Not to an alarm, but to the natural calmness of morning. You yawn, open your eyes, and look at the alarm clock.

Something’s not right.

The calmness dissipates. You are reminded that it is a Monday, that you are to go to work today, and that it is currently 10am. You normally go in to work at 8:45am, and yet nothing woke you up at your usual time. You start to freak out; how did this happen? Will I be fired? Can I still call out? Is this the end? Nothing makes sense in your head. How did you sleep through your loud, terrible alarm clock at 7:15am? How did you sleep through the endless phone notifications Alex sent you when she realized you weren’t answering her morning texts like usual? How did you sleep through her phone calls and more? How did any of this happen?

You roll out of bed quickly, put your clothes on, text one of your coworkers, and rush to the door as fast as possible. It’s time to go to work, even if it’s a bit later than usual.

Self-reflection is helpful, but it also helps more to change patterns of behavior to prevent these instances from happening again. That’s what writing is all about; it helps me internalize my thoughts about this moment, while hopefully helping me find a way to do this better and differently.

One such change I can make is to turn my phone volume on all the time. I usually don’t have it on, because when I get texts, the last thing I want is a verbal reminder to answer it. I feel completely fine answering it at my own pace. But vibrations and sounds are the new norm, for now at least. It’s necessary to prevent me from getting in trouble again!

#223: The Repair Job

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Repairs are costly. Isn’t that the truth? Nothing in life is cheap, but when it comes to car troubles, you can feel the pain coming as soon as the car starts to struggle through its chugs. You know a big bill is on the horizon, and there’s nothing you can do about it except take it and get it done as soon as possible. There’s the stress from getting it repaired, but also the added financial stress, the mystery of it all, because who knows what it’s going to cost? The labor costs could end up amounting to anything, and the parts are insufferably expensive on their own, too. Buying a new alternator is about $400 on its own.

So when it comes time to get repairs done, there’s a lot going on in your head. The last blog post talked about the mental stress of getting work done on your car, and this post will talk more about the financial stress, while discussing the specific instance that happened in my case.

When we brought the car to the repair place, there was some stress caused by the questions asked by the guy at the desk, who needed to know everything and anything about the part that we brought in advance. Apparently we weren’t supposed to buy a part in advance, because of warranty purposes, but when Alex called the place the day before, they said it was fine and not to worry about it. The guy said he would call me after they diagnosed the problems with the car, but then the call never came, and Alex had to call them herself to get an update a few hours later while I was in the shower. It was a back-and-forth struggle to figure this whole issue out.

I ended up taking an Uber, for the first time, from the apartment back to the the mechanic, only to find out that they needed me to wait another 40 minutes for them to replace the battery. So I took up some space in the Popeye’s across the street and that was that.

#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.

#166: The Schedule

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I’m not the kind of person to ever use a planner or a scheduler, at least for longer than a week or two, without throwing it away or losing it in the depths of my backpack. I’m the kind of person who wings it, organizing as I go, and figuring things out intuitively. Sometimes it’s easier that way; when it comes to making important decisions, I don’t stress as much about them because I usually just go with my gut instinct. But other times, it’s difficult; when I recognize that a decision takes time, when I know that I ought to have organized and deliberated on a topic for awhile, but I don’t, that’s when it stings.

Scheduling helps with my mental preparedness, also. It relieves anxiety. When I have plans set for my reading group, and my documents are printed and prepared in advance, I feel completely less nervous about it. I am prepared for what’s to come, whatever that may be.

Having a flexible schedule, such as the one I have at work, allows me to write blogs while also observing classes, helping students, and preparing for my reading group. It’s one of the aspects I love the most about my job right now; I can do what I want, when I want, without worrying so much about the time or place. It’s a huge change over the usual teaching fare, with a fixed schedule and classes and students. I spoke with my older sister yesterday about work, what it’s like and all that, and it made me realize how lucky I have things, based on my work schedule. It’s spectacular, looking back at everything altogether like that. I am lucky to have the opportunities I have, and the schedule I’ve been given. It makes work so much less stressful than it needs to be.

#147: The Pep Rally

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Pep rallies can be fun, especially when you’re not directly involved in them and you’re able to sit on the sidelines and watch it all unfold. Participating in pep rallies is a different story; not because pep rallies are bad or that I don’t have school spirit, but because there’s a lot of anxiety associated with the brave unknown of standing in front of a gym with lots of kids running around or sitting in bleachers.

When I used to work at a different school, I made sure to participate in pep rallies as much as I could. I was a judge during the first one I went to, and I was given the responsibility of judging the school spirit of each class. The classes were separated into different bleacher sections, and they wore different colors depending on their class. Red, black, grey, blue. It reminded me of what the homecoming pep rallies were like when I went to high school, except not as many people cared about those and we didn’t have as many fun side events for teachers and students. A bit of a shame, but not the end of the world. I remember voting for the junior class because they brought a special needs student out to compete during the basketball mini-game, while the sophomore class shoved one out of the way and made sure to send their best players only. Sometimes you have to make the right choice for the right people.

At my new school, we still have pep rallies, but they’re under a different name and for a different purpose. Instead of building general school spirit, they’re meant to celebrate what students are learning and reward positive behavior. They’re so much more effective in creating interest in students than the previous pep rallies I’ve seen, because the kids do care about them.

#142: The Duty

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My job has loads of duties. Whether it’s reading group duty, or aide duty, or Lexia oversight duty, I’m usually fulfilling one duty or another during any given day. I want to talk pretty briefly about one duty in particular though, as it’s coming up (on the day that I’m writing this) and it might be worth writing about. That duty is lunch and recess duty.

Though I only have lunch and recess duty on Thursdays, it’s still something that lingers in my head. I don’t dread it, like I do certain duties, but it’s a nice little interruption during the day to make sure that I have something to do. When it comes to duties, it definitely ranks somewhere near the top of the list of duties I don’t mind very much. That’s because a lot of it involves walking around and talking with students randomly during the afternoon, and interacting with kids is a very easy, natural thing for me. I don’t put myself out there very much, because of my anxiety when it comes to social situations, but as a teacher, I tend to be a battery for attention pretty naturally. I’ve always said that being a teacher is like being a local celebrity; you’re on people’s minds, and they remember you regardless of what you’ve done.

When I was an intern in North Haven, I had hall duty every once in a while, and my job was to sit at a desk and wait for students to pass by. I asked each one for hall passes and, occasionally, I knocked on the bathroom door to make sure students weren’t wasting their class time in the bathroom doing nothing productive. You’d be surprised how frequently that happened.

Being a teacher means accepting the duties that are given to you, and fulfilling them without complaint. And I’m completely fine with that.