#170: The Essay

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This blog post is inspired in part by the comments made by a student during one of my study halls a couple days ago. We were discussing the importance of all of his classes — science, math, and humanities — and after discussing some of his special electives, he proclaimed proudly that he “already knows everything there is to know about writing an essay” because he “wrote essays every day in third grade.” If only it were that simple dude! You’re gonna have a long next eight years of English classes in the future, if you think that already.

But after thinking over his comments some more, it reminded me of when I was in school around his age, and I thought pretty much the same thing about myself and my studies. I was convinced that I could get by with my intuition alone, without putting effort into my studies or classes. I was, for lack of a better word, a lazy bum, unable to motivate myself to try more because I was satisfied enough with a B+, even though I could’ve scored higher if I tried. The woes of being a lazy eighth grader with a video game addiction and enough friends on Xbox Live to keep me occupied!

I remember teaching students how to write essays in 10th grade, and just from seeing some of their works-in-progress, you have to know that someone in 3rd grade wouldn’t have a chance at getting to their rough drafts in terms of quality. It’s difficult to overstate the difference. One of my failings as a teacher, and something I wish I could change if I went back in time, is that I never explicitly told students what I expect from an essay, the five-paragraph format or whatever. I kept my expectations to myself, I guess because I didn’t have very many expectations in the first place beyond “you should get this done, because I said so.” Times have changed since then, though.

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#167: The Easter Holiday

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What a weekend, am I right? This past weekend was one for the history books, with a combination of Dungeons & Dragons, Monster of the Week, Telestrations, Heroes of the Storm, Magic: the Gathering, and much more played between groups of friends and family during the past couple days. It brings me so much joy to see people come together and enjoy the small things together.

Easter is that time of the year when I start to feel like the year is fully in swing. The stride hits around June or July, but right about now, as I enter the last leg of the school year, I definitely feel that 2019 has arrived. In a sense, I’m relieved because we’re one step closer to the next presidential election, and everyone knows how important that’s going to be. But on the other hand, I’m not so relieved because I feel old, like my early 20s weren’t very much.

We used to have larger family gatherings involving Easter, and all the other Christian holidays, but nowadays our Easters are just at home with a small group of close family around the table. We eat, drink, and feel merry with each other. There aren’t any more Easter baskets from the bunny to expect when we arrive home; instead, there are dishes we love and people we don’t get to see often. A different kind of present, offered only during the holidays.

This Easter, I sat around the dinner table with Alex and family and we talked about my (relatively) new job, my nieces, and Alex’s job. We tend to talk about Alex’s job and commute a lot whenever we’re together. Also, getting engaged was brought up by both sets of parents, which Alex and I both know is something we’ve heard a lot about.

#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.

#161: The Break

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By the time this post goes up, I’ll be on break. One of the absolute best parts about working at a school as a teacher assistant is the days off afforded by school breaks or snow days. We’re past the point of snow days being feasible, but breaks still occur. April Break, taking place during that time of the year when everyone needs a short reprieve from school, fills that snow-day-shaped hole in my heart perfectly. Having a break allows me to recharge and refresh when I need it the most, and being able to relax like that gives my anxiety the chance to restart. Sometimes you just need a break from seeing the same faces every day, five days a week. Not that you are tired of them, but rather you need some time away from them. It’s the way of the world.

It also gives us all something to look forward to, through the weeks of toiling at work. Being given a break from work is a blessing that is only really offered regularly to people who work at schools, considering the way the school schedule is outlined and works. You won’t get days off at the same rate if you work at, say, a Gamestop. You might have vacation days, and more sick days, and great benefits, and all those other wonderful things, but wouldn’t you rather have a week off in April when you really need it? I’ll leave that question up for debate.

Alex doesn’t get breaks the same way I do, but she’s going to take some time off over the summer so we can hang out together. I’m looking forward to that, as I won’t be working once June comes around. Now that’s what a real long break looks like. It’s funny how, during the longest breaks, you end up waiting for it to be over, after spending so much time waiting for it to begin. Ironic, but funny.

#157: The Yearbook

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Remember being in school and having a yearbook? Remember passing it around to all your friends and fellow students, asking for signatures or messages to remember them by over the summer? Remember looking through to see your class picture, your pearly whites gleaming in the perfectly symmetrical lighting of every one’s pictures at once? Maybe you remember looking back at your yearbooks in the years and years that have passed since school was relevant to you. I certainly do; just a year ago, before we moved to Stamford, Alex and I spent some time looking at my old yearbooks before packing them away to be brought to our new apartment together. It was a nostalgia trip, just poring over those pages and viewing the signatures I had from friends I haven’t spoken to in years. It’s really been years, believe it or not, and it feels like it’s been years, too. Nothing compares to the nostalgia of looking at your picture from 8th grade, the year you hated the most, and seeing positive messages there that you forgot about. The phone number your first real crush left there, the HAGS and more and more, repeated forever.

I mention the yearbook because, as someone who’s currently working at a K-8 school, I was enlisted to help program the yearbook online. I’m a member of the faculty in charge of the yearbook, and we’re working together to complete this thing in time. We have about a month left (at the time of me writing this) to finish it. We’re waiting for pictures to be sent in from parents and students, but there aren’t many yet. It’s a work-in-progress, but it illuminates for me how much work must have gone into all the yearbooks people have made for me throughout the years. They weren’t just imagined out of thin air.

#156: The Dress Up

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Today, I’ll be discussing what it’s like to dress up. Being someone who has a job that requires a certain dress code, business casual, I’m used to dressing up for work. I’m used to getting out of my morning shower and rushing into some clothes that I’m not sure will fit me. I can’t just walk into my job on a random day wearing a t-shirt and jeans, even though that’d be pretty comfortable and fun. That being said, on Fridays, I can wear jeans and whatever top I want.

This brings up one of my major fears of dressy clothes, though, that they’ll no longer fit me or I won’t be able to wear them any more. I love the variety of clothes that I have, but I would hate to wake up one morning and find my pants tighter than they were before. It’s a perpetual fear, returning whenever I feel especially guilty for eating something I shouldn’t have.

But overall, I’d rather wear dressy clothes than casual clothes when going to work. When people say that it’s important for us to distinguish ourselves from the kids, I get that completely. I don’t want to be confused for a student while walking around school, you know? It used to happen sometimes during my initial middle-school internship, back in graduate school when I had to observe classes a few times a week.

Dressing up feels good, though. I feel professional, like the master of my domain. I feel motivated to take on the day when I slip on somewhat tighter clothes than I would usually wear. When I get home, I usually get into sweatpants and a sweatshirt, so anything will feel tighter than those. I never had a strict dress code until I started work, but I don’t mind it.

#150: The Program

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Get with the program!

No, but really. This is about the reading program that kids use at school, and how interesting it’s been for me to observe it so far. I may have written about this before, but hopefully not! I sometimes forget what I’ve written about already.

Essentially, a select number of title 1 students are given access to Lexia, a reading and literacy-improvement computer program, and then on certain days during the week, I take them out of their classes and they complete their Lexia assignments. It’s a fairly complicated program, in that it’s similar to the SBAC test; it assigns work for students based on their strengths and weaknesses, and then feeds that data to my end, where I can adjust my instruction based on their performance. In layman’s terms, they work on phonics or literacy questions and growth on their own, and then I use their work in the reading group I run on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. The kids love and request to use it, which makes me think that it’s probably a good thing for them. If kids are asking to learn, that’s always a positive sign in my book.

Lexia also tracks the amount of time people spend on the program, and it looks for “active minutes” to ensure that students are using their time appropriately. Sometimes, you catch a student who’s just staring at the screen, accruing minutes and minutes of time but not actually making progress in their learning. That’s a bit of a shame.

I don’t use Lexia all the time, though; sometimes, it’s more useful for us to take our instruction outside of Lexia and into a different context. For example, I’ve been using CommonLit a lot more recently, as it was a huge helper during my teaching the year before. The resources are entirely free and accessible to teachers so long as they have a school email account.

#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.

#130: The Test

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Someone is always testing or being tested nowadays. It seems like a universal truth in the world of education, that somewhere, someone is being tested for something. SBAC, CMT, NWEA, ETS, SAT, ACT, PSAT, AP, the acronyms go on and on. Working in education is an eternal commitment to testing others, to a certain degree. Months are known by the tests that are taken during them: April is SBAC month, October is PSAT month, for example. The decision to test students constantly was made fairly recently, and the testing industry feeds off of necessity, so there’s no end in sight unless those making the tests decide they are no longer accomplishing their intended purpose. Don’t hold your breath on that one.

Alex and I were talking recently about how frequently students are tested nowadays, how they are forced into months upon months of standardized assessments that they are told will determine their future to some degree. The pressure is always, always on. I talked to one of my coworkers recently who said that they were amazed by the fact that Kindergartners are being tested and have to know how to use computers in order to be tested. Essentially, young kids are forced onto these devices by virtue of the fact that they will be tested on them, and so they must be somewhat familiar with how to use the technology. Again, the necessity of taking a test, determined by higher-ups and not the students themselves, demands that they know how to use devices I wasn’t even allowed to touch until I was 8.

But that’s just what testing is like in the realm of education. Nothing else needs to be said. I don’t hate the fact that students are being tested, but I do see a potential conflict in the necessity of testing and those who are being tested. I think it’s right for us to at least examine the effects themselves before determining whether a test is necessary or not.

#121: The Morning

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I’m not and have never been much of a morning person. Getting up early puts me in a state of confusion and restlessness almost immediately, regardless of how much sleep I’ve gotten overnight, and I wrestle around in bed waiting for the next opportunity to relax again under the covers. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, that opportunity is soon; as I write this blog, I recently had a snow day that made me very happy, and nothing compares to waking up in the morning to a text from the school you work at with an announcement about its status. If you remember what it was like as a kid, it’s the same feeling as an adult. Being a night person myself, I loved hearing that school was cancelled, as it gave me the chance to stay up a bit later at night.

The morning isn’t so bad, though, when I can relax with Alex a bit. When Alex works 10-6, we both wake up at around the same time, eat breakfast together, and enjoy the morning with Angus until it’s time to leave. I drive her to the train station, drop her off, and head to work on my own. It’s something perfect, unique, and memorable about the morning that I love so much, and it’s almost made me a morning person. Alex and I don’t usually get to spend mornings together; when she works 8-4, she leaves before I wake up, and so she walks to the train by herself and I drive to work by myself. It makes up for her getting home much later at night during the 10-6 shift, because we get the chance to have each other’s company a bit earlier, to make sure the day starts off on the right foot and with the right kind of attitude. I appreciate it so much.