#304: The Interviewer

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Who’s giving the interview during an interview? Is it the company looking to fill a spot on their hiring list, or is it the prospective employee looking for the perfect job?

The reality is both sides are interviewing each other, but in most contexts, when you say you’re going to an interview, you expect to be asked a bunch of questions and to have to answer them in order to potentially earn a paycheck from that company. It should be a mixture of the two, and I’ve come to realize over time how important it is for the prospective employee to come prepared with questions that are, actually, important to them.

When I first applied for teaching jobs, I was lucky to hear back from anywhere. When I got my first returned phone call from a school district, I was overjoyed, and my day was made. I remember sharing the news with my mentor teacher and the English department as a whole, and I remember them cheering me on as I went to my first interview. I prepared so much for it, and I remember running the questions through my head over and over again until I felt comfortable with my answers. I remember going to Buffalo Wild Wings with Alex and sitting in the bar section together as she read me questions I had written down. I cared so much about being the perfect teacher during the interview process, but I didn’t put nearly as much thought into my questions for them.

In this stage of my career, I feel comfortable being selective, and I know what it’s like to ask questions that affect how the company looks to an outsider. The interviewers will want to answer truthfully. One question I’m fond of is, “How does your school have a unique teaching culture, and how have you helped foster it?”

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#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.

#294: The Schedule

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Whenever I return to work for a new year, there’s always stress and pain and suffering related to what my new schedule is going to look like. Who knows what it’ll be? What’s going to be on it? What students will I have this year? What problems will show up because of the unruly combination of students and subject matter?

Even if the ideas are brought up to me in advance, there’s still the underlying fear throughout the summer that something will go wrong, that the plans I have in mind will fall through and my new schedule will pose the same problems as it did last year. I guess the only difference is me, and whether or not I’ve changed enough to make the new stuff worth it.

Teachers are known for saying that it gets better year after year, that, as a teacher, you are bound to feel some sort of improvement over time. I chalk that one up to the teachers themselves. Teachers are inherently optimistic; however, as time goes on, I feel like that inevitably erodes a bit. Not everyone is going to maintain their cheery disposition over the years. But as someone who’s taught for two years now, I still feel an impending sense of dread every time I step into a classroom. I think that’s native to being a teacher, though; if you’re not doubting yourself, it’s hard for you to learn from your mistakes and accurately reflect on what needs to be done differently in the future. With that being said, some people, like me, dwell on their mistakes quite a lot, and that makes for sad situations. All I want is to be comfortable at my job, to not have to worry every year about something new popping up and ruining my year-long groove.

#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.

#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.

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.