#339: The Prop

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Have you ever used props for any reason or context? Sometimes I feel like props are essential to telling the story you’re trying to tell, as they assist in relaying your overall message and theme. But their overall effectiveness can be a bit difficult to gauge and apply. I’m not the kind of person to use props while teaching, mostly because it can feel a bit unnatural and forced to just pull out a white board in front of you and start writing on it, but it’s nice to know that other people use them for their own reasons. Not everyone needs to be the same type of teacher.

The reason I mention props is because, as someone currently applying to be a teacher with VIPKID, one of their requirements in the interview process is using props to relay your message and lesson. I brought home some whiteboards and index cards from school to help me get across my general ideas. I’m hoping that this actually works and I’m accepted, because more than anything, a little bit of supplemental income every once in awhile could go a long way! Alex and I’s car insurance recently went up, and we’re hoping that we can cover that with some of the extra money afforded by this side job.

In the meantime, I’m also contemplating where my future leads. On the one hand, I’ve been in the field of education for a long time and have the most experience there. But on the other hand, I know that education might not be the best choice for me. It might be better to focus instead on other career paths so that I can broaden my experience while I’m still young and have time to do that. I know this is off-topic on the idea of props, but it’s still relevant to my overall psyche.

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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.

#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.

#303: The First Year

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No, this won’t be about pets.

Today, I observed a class during a first-year teacher’s third day of teaching. The class went mostly well, and the teacher handled some behavior disruptions in a clear, consistent way to demonstrate their authority over the classroom. But the experience almost gave me a sense of deja vu, and I felt uneasy afterwards. I saw the same faces behind the same students, the same intentions behind the same words, the same excuses and mistakes and enthusiasm and energy.

It reminded me of my own failings, and afterwards, while talking with the teacher about our shared frustrations, I felt real empathy for one of my coworkers. I wanted this teacher to feel respected and heard while also feeling like they are allowed to vent around me. One of my biggest frustrations with teaching during my first year was the lack of coworkers I felt comfortable talking with. I constantly felt on edge and like I was being watched for every thing I did, while also not feeling like my decisions were respected. I want this teacher to not have the same experience I had, essentially. I feel overly protective of other teachers, especially those who are still learning and need maybe a little guidance along the way, because I don’t want history to repeat itself in their shoes. It would make me feel miserable to have to watch that unfold again.

No one ever said this job was easy, but no one ever told me I’d sometimes lose my sanity and sleep over it, and that it would consume my mental health.

The first year is the hardest of years, and it’s so much harder when your coworkers aren’t supporting you along the way. It’s even harder when you feel like you need to support them more than they are supporting you.

#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.

#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.

#228: The Teacher

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Nothing like a retirement party to get the staff feeling nostalgic and reminiscing about better, simpler times. Before students had cell phones and attitudes and their parents held them accountable with higher standards for behavior at home. They taught them manners, respect, and discipline. Those days, according to the teachers, have long passed, and have been replaced with an era of entitlement. How dare students have the gall to talk back, to be so blatantly and egregiously disrespectful? Everything is connected, in their eyes; the millennial generation, the so-called free speech crisis on college campuses, avocado toast and the betrayal of traditional American values.

When I say that this is according to the teachers, I don’t mean the teachers I work with personally. I mean teachers as a general population. I’ve known enough teachers over the years to know what their general moods and attitudes are towards social change. Just as an electrician or a construction worker feels a sense of kinship with the spirit of their profession, so too do teachers.

It just so happens that the conversation came up, as it tends to come up, while at a retirement party for a veteran teacher. Are kids these days just worse than usual? Is it their parents to blame? What’s it going to be like when they’ve matured into adults? What if they don’t mature at all? Is this the generation we want running our country in a decade or two? It’s inevitable, you know. Sometime down the line, this generation will be in charge of things, just like how the other generations had their turn at the steering wheel. Are you afraid of that? I wouldn’t be. My generation is known for so many negative reasons, but in reality, they’re one of the only generations still trying to fix things, it seems. Hopefully.

#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.

 

#197: The Paper

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In continuing my trend of talking about grading papers, today I’ll be discussing the process of looking at and editing these particular Research & Portfolio papers. I’m currently doing some grading, and it’s not great, but I’ve looked at these papers already so they shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. I’ve worked with these students during class and after class, helping while I can and sharing my thoughts and words with them. None of it is easy, though. I always have to grapple with helping too much, versus helping just the right amount. I also want to make sure that students appreciate the work I put in for them. It’s a constant struggle between competing needs and desires, to please or to help. If only both were possible at once.

When I first started working at this new job, I once worked with a student on his essay, only to discover that my work wasn’t what the teacher wanted. I helped him pen his thoughts onto the computer, because he wasn’t the type of student who really enjoyed typing and asked for my help. To find out that I didn’t do a good job was kind of a dagger in the heart, for a few reasons: one, because I’m really trying my best here and want to succeed as much as possible, and two, because I felt that the student I helped actually benefited from my help quite a lot. It’s one of those cases where you just have to shut up and take whatever someone else says inside you, and then put it away. You can’t expect everyone to like the work that you produce, even when it’s something you care about. Eventually someone will tear it down, and you have to persevere despite their criticisms. Everyone’s a critic these days. Everyone, it seems.

#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.