#215: The Phone Call

black hanging bridge surrounded by green forest trees

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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.

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#213: The Field Day

house beside river

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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

dead end road sign

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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

close up photography of macbook near mobile phone and headset

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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

black binocular on brown wooden surface

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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

back bus education school

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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.

Test

Testing,
one… two… three…

Silence,
Everyone silent

This is a test,
remember

Take your test ticket,
sign in,
wait quietly;
don’t forget
to be quiet,
quiet as a bug,
motionless and easily
squished beneath
pressure

“How do Victor’s actions
develop the story’s theme?”

“Which detail from the text
best supports your answer?”

“How does this phrase contribute
to the text in paragraph 45?”

“Which of the following
best describes-”

“-best supports your answer to-”

“-contribute to the meaning of the-”

“-evidence provided most clearly in-”

“-Select THREE answers of-”

“-the central idea-”

“-the central idea-”

“-the central idea-”

#171: The Baby Picture

adorable baby beautiful child

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While looking over students’ baby pictures to bring down for yearbook, I was reminded of my own baby pictures, and what it’s like to look back on the past this way. (The picture included above is not me, just for your information.)

Some students’ baby pictures were fun to look at, mostly because I don’t know these students super well yet and it’s great to see their pasts. A bunch of other teachers are more familiar with the students, some of whom have worked for years and years and have known them since they were in Pre-K, when their baby pictures were probably taken in the first place. As a teacher, I’ve always loved looking at yearbooks, just to see what students write in them and what students come up with. I also love looking at the baby pictures, mostly as a way of guessing who is who. Last year, I didn’t know everyone in the senior class, so it was difficult to play the guessing game with their pictures.

I posted a few baby pictures on my Instagram a year or two ago, and the one that stands out to me the most is of me in my overalls and red shirt (looking like Mario) while sitting on the floor of my grandma Carrie’s house. I can picture exactly where I was when that happened, and I remember how I felt going back to that place. Sometimes I felt dread, other times I felt a mixture of happiness and complacency. It depended on the occasion, what holiday we were celebrating, and who was expected to be there from the family. Sometimes being a baby is frustrating because you’re forced to interact with people you don’t want to interact with, such as surly family members. That’s one of the perks of growing up.