#462: The Taboo

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No, this post won’t be about the same subject I’ve been hammering home for the past few posts. I don’t yet know if I’m ready to move on, but I’d like to discuss something different for once, with hopes that it’ll rejuvenate some of my original writing spirit. Hopefully that’s what happens from this, and I won’t be writing about the same things over and over again.

A taboo thing is something that’s outlawed, something that you are unable to say or do. There are taboo words, taboo phrases, taboo actions. We learned about taboos, I remember, in sociology class in high school, where my teacher discussed how societies create norms. Certain habits are normalized over time, whereas others are relegated to taboo status. Those habits are supposed to be discarded or done away with, if possible.

In the world of teaching that I currently live in, I get to play Taboo with a bunch of my students, which has proven to be a blast. It’s one of my favorite activities to do with them because I know they’ll enjoy it and want to play, even though they’re getting up there in age and maybe aren’t as interested in kid games. Is Taboo a kid game these days? I don’t even know if it necessarily qualifies, but it might work just based on the box art.

Essentially, how it works is there are words you are supposed to not say, hint words, and a code word you need to have the other people in your group guess. You can’t use the hint words in your description of the word. It forces kids to think on their toes, to think deeply and really flesh out their understandings of the words that they have. Let’s hope they continue to like it going into the future.

#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.

#383: The Tutor

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Essentially, my job is about tutoring. I feel like, as a tutor, my work entails teaching small groups of kids basic, fundamental facts that they need to know about literacy, while hoping to improve their literacy skills. It’s not easy to just jump into tutoring someone without knowing them first, but I have experience tutoring kids of all types and ages. I worked with high school students who were freshman and seniors, and I worked with third and fourth graders. These experiences came before I even started teaching officially, which is why, after I decided to leave teaching, I went back into tutoring as a potential career option. This gives me the opportunity to work in a school schedule, with school hours and days and what not, without having to worry about being a full-time teacher. I do wish, at times, that I was working full-time, that way I could receive the same benefits as other people, but to me, there are worse things I could be dealing with, I guess. My job works for me as is.

But back to being a tutor. Later today, I’ll be visiting fourth grade to tutor some students. We’ll be working on vocabulary as well as developing their reading comprehension. On the one hand, I’m happy to help kids make noticeable improvements, but on the other hand, I’m not sure how much I’m actually helping, when standardized tests are what we are using to judge their improvement. It feels like standardization has taken over the world of education, leaving it impossible for students to develop naturally. I wish things were a bit less standardized and a bit more individualized, where students are given opportunities to develop themselves outside of rigid formats and outlines. But that’s just me. I know I’m not alone on that, however.

#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.

#341: The Failure

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It’s difficult to fail. (Have I started all my blog posts recently with the sentence structure of “it’s difficult to do X”? It seems like it.)

But true to the word, failing is difficult. I don’t like doing something and feeling like it’s too difficult for me. But sometimes, I have to give up and there’s nothing else I can do about it. When I recently applied to teach remotely with an English-teaching company based in China, I realized that it would be a fantastic opportunity for me to explore. I love the idea of teaching remotely rather than having to leave the comfort of my home, but I also love the idea of having a supplemental income on top of my current part-time job. It would give us an added boost to our monthly income and would help us pay off our car insurance, which has been going up recently because of some unfortunate accidents that weren’t our fault. It’s really annoying how things that aren’t our fault end up causing more trouble for us than they’re worth. I get extra nervous now when on the road, and I’m extra careful around other people because of it.

But all that’s beside the point, which is that I didn’t end up wanting to go through with this English-teaching company. They’re nice and all, but their style doesn’t really match mine as much as I wish it would. I would do whatever it takes for some extra money and the leisure to work from home, but sometime I can’t just do whatever it takes. It’s just not in me to do that. Does that make sense? I don’t actually know if it does, but it does to me. I should’ve known from the beginning that this wouldn’t jive well with me, but I tried it anyway because I was feeling a bit desperate.

#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.

#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.

#312: The Camera, Part 2

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Being observed as a teacher can be one of the more stressful experiences you could have. There’s a rubric they’re using to watch you and grade you, as if you’re a student, but the rubric determines how good you are at the job they’re paying you to do. If you’re not doing a good job, who’s to say you deserve to stay there? It can be terrible to think about the implications of a struggling grade on an observation. Thankfully, my observations were all fairly positive and I didn’t have much to complain about there from my teaching experience. But I’m thankful again that I don’t have to worry about that in my current job. Evaluations are different, though I might actually appreciate having regular, planned observations rather than the current system. Having a structured system at all would be great.

Evaluations are stressful, no doubt, but evaluations can also be validating, just as cameras can be validating in some ways. I like being told that I’m doing a good job, as I think everyone does. It restores a bit of my confidence, which can be sorely lacking and vulnerable during times like these.

Do you ever wonder what it would be like to have a job where everything is absolutely perfect? You’re not constantly being watched, you have supportive coworkers you feel comfortable talking with, and you don’t have the pressure of being punished unreasonably. Sometimes I wonder if that’s all just fantasy, if I’ll never actually find that type of job when I have the chance. Will it come my way, or do I need to be tireless in my pursuit of it? I know that nothing in life is easy or simple, but I wish this part was. I’d work forever if it meant working in the perfect environment.

#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?”