#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?

#385: The Dice, Part 2

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This blog post is a continuation of the previous one, so if you’d like to understand where I’m coming from a bit better, you might want to read that one first.

Without further ado, let’s begin.

I’d like to continue talking about the Dungeons & Dragons after-school club, as I think it’s important enough right now to warrant a few extra blog posts. And also, this is something I’ve really always dreamed of. Being a teacher is nice, but being a D&D coach for middle schoolers is perfect. We get to do so much and have so much fun.

The fact that they asked to use the dice over the weekend shows me that I’m doing a good job of teaching them how to play the game. Even though they may not know the rules too well, even though our sessions are short and end up a little crazy from time to time, and even though the party members argue with each other throughout the entire session pretty much exclusively, there’s a lot to love about this group and their imaginations. I feel like their interest in the game is highly dependent on how it’s taught to them; if Ashlynn and I were ineffective teachers, it would be obvious and the students wouldn’t be having as good of a time playing with us. However, things are going well, and I can’t complain. The only thing that’s difficult is making sure the students hold onto their dice, that they aren’t getting at each other’s throats while playing, and that they’re enjoying themselves overall. I also don’t like keeping track of their characters and making new character sheets every time we have to do something new, like level up or so on. It’ll be difficult to keep track of everything all at once while finding the time to do it.

#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.

#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.