#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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#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.

#329: The Club

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One of my coworkers and I are great fans of Dungeons & Dragons, and if you’ve read this blog before, you probably already knew that. I’ve played the game for a long time, still don’t totally get it, but I try my best with what I have and I improvise a lot of the time to make sure things make sense. It’s not easy to just pick up the game and become familiar with it without having a really talented DM in your group who’s willing to show you the ropes. I’m joining another group soon that’s going to have a very experienced DM, and I’m super looking forward to having a better grasp on the rules.

But besides the point, we are starting a Dungeons & Dragons club after school for the next eight or seven weeks on Wednesdays. It’s something we’ve both been looking forward to, as a result of other mutual interest in the game, but also because we know it has a lot of educational benefit to students. Imagination, creativity, role-playing, mathematical thinking, creative problem-solving and ingenious maneuvers. This game is full of ways to keep players on their toes and force them to think differently before moving into a task. There’s really nothing like a game of Dungeons & Dragons. The educational benefit is clearly there, and I know that the students get excited thinking and talking about it. After our first meeting, I gained some people’s favor by discussing it with them afterwards. I think being relaxed and open about it is the way to go, and you can’t stress them out too much with the details. It makes sense to get them excited and everything but as a teacher you have to keep a calm demeanor no matter what. I’m looking forward to this week and whatever next week entails.

#319: The Drill

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No, not that kind of drill. Here’s what I really mean.

Shortly after I finish writing this blog post, there will be a fire drill at school. It’s scheduled for 9:45am, no later and no earlier, and despite knowing it’s going to happen in advance, I still feel anxious about it, naturally. I always feel this way before a big drill or something like that, because who knows what’s going to happen to my students during that time period? I make sure to prepare as much as I can, and I follow all the necessary and required protocol to ensure everyone is safe and secure, but I still feel anxious. I mean, who doesn’t? Fire drills are tough to manage students during, and they tend to want to move around and get restless when they shouldn’t be. During a lockdown drill especially, how can anyone not immediately feel overcome with emotion and worry while waiting for the administrators to walk down the hallway and knock on your door over and over until they finally decide to leave?

Drills are stressful and tiresome. I don’t look forward to them, even when I know they’re coming, and I hate them more when they’re unexpected. When I was a high school teacher, I remember during a lockdown drill a group of my students pushed their backs into the dividing wall between the neighboring classrooms and dislodged it from its place. They were messing around when they weren’t supposed to, and they unintentionally caused damage to the wall in the process. It’s one of my big regrets from my teaching days. I hope that they were able to fix the wall, as it never got fixed while I was still at the school. It would be nice to know that that mistake was rectified in some way.

#304: The Interviewer

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Who’s giving the interview during an interview? Is it the company looking to fill a spot on their hiring list, or is it the prospective employee looking for the perfect job?

The reality is both sides are interviewing each other, but in most contexts, when you say you’re going to an interview, you expect to be asked a bunch of questions and to have to answer them in order to potentially earn a paycheck from that company. It should be a mixture of the two, and I’ve come to realize over time how important it is for the prospective employee to come prepared with questions that are, actually, important to them.

When I first applied for teaching jobs, I was lucky to hear back from anywhere. When I got my first returned phone call from a school district, I was overjoyed, and my day was made. I remember sharing the news with my mentor teacher and the English department as a whole, and I remember them cheering me on as I went to my first interview. I prepared so much for it, and I remember running the questions through my head over and over again until I felt comfortable with my answers. I remember going to Buffalo Wild Wings with Alex and sitting in the bar section together as she read me questions I had written down. I cared so much about being the perfect teacher during the interview process, but I didn’t put nearly as much thought into my questions for them.

In this stage of my career, I feel comfortable being selective, and I know what it’s like to ask questions that affect how the company looks to an outsider. The interviewers will want to answer truthfully. One question I’m fond of is, “How does your school have a unique teaching culture, and how have you helped foster it?”

#294: The Schedule

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Whenever I return to work for a new year, there’s always stress and pain and suffering related to what my new schedule is going to look like. Who knows what it’ll be? What’s going to be on it? What students will I have this year? What problems will show up because of the unruly combination of students and subject matter?

Even if the ideas are brought up to me in advance, there’s still the underlying fear throughout the summer that something will go wrong, that the plans I have in mind will fall through and my new schedule will pose the same problems as it did last year. I guess the only difference is me, and whether or not I’ve changed enough to make the new stuff worth it.

Teachers are known for saying that it gets better year after year, that, as a teacher, you are bound to feel some sort of improvement over time. I chalk that one up to the teachers themselves. Teachers are inherently optimistic; however, as time goes on, I feel like that inevitably erodes a bit. Not everyone is going to maintain their cheery disposition over the years. But as someone who’s taught for two years now, I still feel an impending sense of dread every time I step into a classroom. I think that’s native to being a teacher, though; if you’re not doubting yourself, it’s hard for you to learn from your mistakes and accurately reflect on what needs to be done differently in the future. With that being said, some people, like me, dwell on their mistakes quite a lot, and that makes for sad situations. All I want is to be comfortable at my job, to not have to worry every year about something new popping up and ruining my year-long groove.

#280: The Year

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It’s been a long time since I’ve spent a full school year teaching. The last time I did so was from 2017-2018, and it’s now long since that time. My seniors are now college sophomores, my sophomores are now high school seniors. All of that feels weird to type, knowing how mature (and immature) some of them were, and the requirements and responsibilities expected of their new stations. But on the other hand, life moves on, and I was an in immature, selfish brat as a teenager, so I don’t have much of a leg to stand on.

When I think about what a full year amounts to, I get a bit intimidated. The last time I spent a full year teaching, I had a bit of a breakdown on the first day of school, and then again the next first day of school. It’s been a recurring theme for me, one that I hope to break this year. Among other factors to do with my professional self-esteem and more, I think it’s partially to do with the existential realization that, for the next 10 months, I won’t be able to relax as easily as I was over the summer. But it’s not like this is the end of the world; work is necessary, and money is important. I have to supply for myself, and the world won’t keep moving if I don’t keep working in some capacity.

When I look at a calendar, it’s hard not to think of how long each day takes. 24 full hours, with very little room in those hours for enjoyment. But when it comes down to it, I’m doing something that I love doing, and that’s all that matters. Doing what you love is what will propel you and give you the motivation to not worry about whatever comes next.

#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.

#240: The Cool Teacher

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Being the “cool” teacher isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. On the one hand, kids like you and potentially admire you, and you don’t have to worry about being given tough treatment by anyone, at least the ones that like you. But on the other hand, you’re left without meaningful connections. You are forced to always be in nice mode, even when someone makes a mistake. It’s difficult to call someone out after they’ve gained your trust and believe in you as an adult. I know that’s a normal and expected understanding for teachers to have, but it’s a downside of being the “cool” teacher, for sure.

It is important to remember that your job isn’t to get them to like you, contrary to what people may say. Even though getting them to like you is a big bonus, and goes a long way to having a constructive, collaborative classroom environment, it’s not everything. It’s never everything. Their education comes first, and so too does your teaching. They won’t receive a quality education if you focus so much of your efforts on being “liked.” You need to separate that distinction in your head in order to be a good teacher, as it’s something I’ve heard from a lot of my colleagues as well. “Being liked is nice, but seeing their test scores go up is a bit nicer,” one of them said to be once. I know it’s a cynical perspective to have on things, especially the test scores comment, but there’s a grain of truth to it also.

Effective teaching does involve a degree of likability, though. You can’t be an omnipotent tyrant standing at the lectern, endlessly insulting students. Even if you have an unruly class, even if you’re still “teaching” them, that’s not effective teaching. There’s a balance between being liked and being likable.