#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.

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#227: The Last Day

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Do you remember where you were on the last day of school? I have an image of sitting in the back of Ms. Sieviac’s math classroom, in homeroom, with my friend Jimmy. We were grouped in alphabetical order by last name, and we had close last names. Imagine if life were as simple as that; you could make friends with people in adulthood easily thanks to being grouped together by how close your last names were to each other. If only life were so easy now! I wonder where Ms. Sieviac is now, probably enjoying life in Florida or wherever she decided to retire to.

There’s nothing like being together with all your classmates and peers throughout the years, sitting together in one or separate rooms, and signing each other’s yearbooks back and forth, exchanging phone numbers with people who care to keep in touch over the next few tumultuous years of college or whatever else lies beyond. I still look at my old yearbook from time to time, and I have precious memories thinking back on where I was when certain signatures and notes were left in there. I remember exactly what it was like to walk around the school looking for my friends, even though I knew I’d be seeing them again plenty of times over the summer.

The real separation of friends takes place later in life, after you’ve all moved to different areas of the world and no longer return home to North Branford as frequently as you used to. It’s a shame, but it’s to be expected, considering North Branford isn’t exactly a tourist town, and not everyone has fond memories of being at that school.

The last day of school is always like this. I always think back to my own last day, and what it was like to be alive as a teenager rather than an adult like now. What would it be like to be a teenager nowadays?

#215: The Phone Call

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I hate talking over the phone. Absolutely hate it. Whenever possible, I avoid talking on the phone, unless it’s necessary, in which case I suck it up and call with my nose plugged. Not literally, but imagine me jumping into a swimming pool while afraid of swimming; my nose is probably plugged, my eyes are closed, and my fears are taking over me. That’s what I mean.

This is, of course, a symptom of my social anxiety. Not being able to read a person’s face and body language over the phone adds a layer of stress to the conversation, and it puts extra weight on auditory signals, like tone, volume, diction, and more, so that I have to pay more attention to them than I am used to. I prefer in-person conversation for that reason; there are more signals to pay attention to, but each one has its own layer of meaning to it, so it’s difficult to say one way or another what a person is feeling at a given time. There’s more complexity to an in-person conversation. It feels more natural, more free-form, looser and less restrictive. When talking in-person, I feel we are both laid bare and there’s no room for someone to make things up or hide their true intentions. You get the whole scoop from their candid reactions, rather than waiting for a jumbled answer three minutes later, if we were texting each other instead.

There are times when I have an in-person conversation, though, and I wish afterwards that it went differently, that I didn’t think through my words enough. I mumbled about something instead of addressing it directly, or I didn’t approach the conversation with the right attitude or respect for the other person’s feelings. That’s one of the reasons I prefer texting as a mode of communication, even though there are some obvious drawbacks to texting.

#213: The Field Day

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When I was in school, years and years ago, I hated field day. It was always a time for misery and disappointment, sadness and embarrassment.

As some of you probably know, I’m not renowned for my athleticism or physical fitness. This means that, when it comes time for exercise and sports-based competition, I’m usually the last person you want on your team. And for that reason I was picked less frequently than other people when it came time to choose teams in gym class. I didn’t mind, though; it meant that people understood me well enough to know I don’t want to have a weight on my shoulders as the first or second pick. That anxiety would be too much for me to handle.

I used to play little league baseball and participate in karate with my friends. During those years, you could maybe count me as someone whose athleticism matched the average of my peers. Nowadays, though, most certainly not. I sweat sometimes while going up the stairs at work, and that’s enough to tell me that I probably need some work. Field day, a time spent predominantly outside and in the blazing sun, will only make matters worse for me.

Here’s an embarrassing story to tide you over for a bit, from when I was in seventh grade. One time, while rearing up my leg in kickball, I slid on top of the ball and fell backwards on my butt in front of the whole seventh grade class. On the one hand, I deserved it for being kind of a butt to my friends beforehand, but on the other hand, I remember discussing World of Warcraft with my friends afterwards and learning from them what the game is about. So, it was a positive and a negative experience. Field day can bring about good things, I guess.

#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.

 

Paint

Distant humming, mechanical whirring,
a slight rumble and shake to the room;
The air is on, and I can feel it graze through
the hairs sticking up from my skin;
Computer screens, half awake, half asleep,
a beachside oasis wallpaper repeated
on every other monitor,
jutting rocks, a cavern of sand,
and it’s 1:46pm, to be exact;
Two more hours to go, until I am free to leave
and let my mind roam mindlessly elsewhere
and at another time;

Remember school?
Remember what it was like when they finally
turned on the AC, and the entire building
shifted
in place?
Remember how it felt when walking into a room,
a room you knew before, but now with
added comfort and luxury?
A room that once made you sweat until your
pits could drain enough water to fill a bucket?
A room that once made you cry tears of
complete exhaustion, from bullying or
heat or whatever else existed outside the mind?

Yeah, that’s it.

Paint a picture without photos

#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.

#195: The Rubric

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I’ve never been a big fan of rubrics, and when I was in high school, I hardly ever looked at the rubric when figuring out what grade I got on a project. I always assumed it was just up to the teacher, and then they would fill in the bubbles on the rubric to match whatever grade they thought matched the quality of my project. I know that they’re useful, and I know that their uses are important and worthwhile, it’s just that when I was a student, nothing about rubrics really ever resonated with me. They just sit there, and they have purpose, but their purpose is incongruent with what I’m really looking for from a grade.

Here’s why they’re helpful, though. They are necessary for making sure that students have clarity as to where their grade originated from. Teachers who use rubrics correctly and appropriately are ideal models for students. As a teacher myself, I like the flexibility that’s offered by not using a rubric. I like giving students checklists with my expectations clearly marked on them, and then letting the grade come from the quality of the paper, not if it made enough checks in the boxes I wrote for them. I recommended, to one of my coworkers recently, that he use a checklist in his class in the future, and I think it was well-received. Maybe it’ll end up being implemented.

The reason I’m writing this blog today is, first of all, because I’m on a computer with a “Research Paper Rubric” sitting right next to me, watching me. It’s like it’s staring at me, telling me to write about it and pour out as many words as possible onto the page about this topic. I hope it worked out and I gave something worth reading!

Shame

Teacher of the year,
teacher of the year
who deserves to be
teacher of the year?

Is it the newbie, struggling in
solitude, toiling on
lesson plans
on a Monday midnight,
pushed into submission
by fellow teachers and students alike,
ready to burst into flames
on a moment’s notice?

Or
the one who remains

I remember
students complaining about you,
I remember the stories they told me,
about your nitpicking on their handwriting
and grammar and diction and syntax,
I remember your advice,
“Just use teacherspayteachers,
it has everything you need,”
I remember designing whole units
for you to get credit for,
I remember you visiting my room
for advice on how to teach a certain passage,
I remember sitting in the bathroom
when you complained
with your chummy friends
about my bathroom habits,
I remember quitting,
and I remember your fake concern,
just so you could have another
juicy piece of gossip
to spread around the school

I remember it all,
teacher of the year

#180: The Buses

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School is back in session, and here I am on bus duty this week. Let’s talk about this. (I know I’ve talked about my duties in the past, but today I’ll be talking more specifically and fully about one particular duty.)

Bus duty is pretty fun. I get to open the door for people as the walk in, and I get to tap my little ID on the door to make sure they get in alright. I say hello, good morning, how are you, or something to that effect to everyone who passes through the door.

Sometimes, when it’s the morning and I don’t have bus duty, I just sort of sit around and wait for the bell to ring so school can officially begin. I feel a bit listless and purposeless without something to do, so it feels good to have bus duty sometimes. It gives me something to look forward to in the morning, regardless of what morning it is. I look forward to seeing all the students in the morning, and I think it helps build rapport and a sense of friendliness between us all. That’s one of the few positive aspects of bus duty.

Essentially, on bus duty, I stand outside and wait for the buses to arrive. When they get to school, I mark down on my clipboard exactly what time they arrive, so that there’s a record of each bus for the future. This way, when students say that they came in late because of buses, there’s again a record to prove whether or not they are telling the truth. It also helps us because apparently the bus company needs those records too. The sheet is turned into the bus company at the end of the week, I guess to make sure the bus drivers are on time and aren’t just slacking off.