#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.

#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.

#140: The Speech

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Speechwriting is difficult. As I sit here, looking at the “Obama’s speech” handout next to me, I wonder what I can write about that’s connected in some way to speechwriting or giving a speech. Then, a lightbulb flickers in my head, and suddenly it all makes sense: I can write about the times I had to give speeches in school.

Being a public speaker as a part of my main profession was something that high school-aged Anthony would never imagine, let alone being an English teacher to begin with. I always thought of myself as a pretty miserable public speaker, all things considered, and I think back to my English class presentations back in 10th grade when I was too nervous to get in front of the class with my poster and talk about Nectar in a Sieve. Craziness that I ended up becoming a teacher after that.

I had to give speeches when I was a classroom teacher, pretty much constantly. Whenever I had a particularly unruly or disrespectful class, I made it my goal to admonish those who were disobedient and make sure they realized their misbehaviors. It wasn’t easy, though, and I definitely let some students slide more than I should have, looking back on things. Yelling at a bunch of teenagers about respect and obedience was not something I imagined myself doing when I was 14 years old, sitting in my counselor’s office as a freshman in high school.

One time, during period 6, I was so fed up by my Lit of the 60s class that I had them spend the next 30 minutes before lunch writing about what respect means to them and why it’s important to show respect to teachers. I made sure it was completely silent, and I used my loud voice. After lunch, I made connections back to the book we were reading, and only a few students got what I was trying to do there. I was in reality trying to draw comparisons between my outlandish, authoritative behavior and the behavior of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. At least they learned their lesson before the end of the year!

#84: The Old Student

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It goes without saying that the memories you share with old students can last a lifetime. I don’t think I’ll ever forget some of the great memories I had in my first year of full-time teaching, and I also doubt I’ll forget the bad ones, too. That’s just how our brains work; we hold onto the extremes, not the middle ground. We attach ourselves to extreme emotions, the ones that are most memorable to us. Unless we learn to forget them, which takes time, they are bound to us like leeches, siphoning energy, metabolism, and life. Old students can be thoughtful reminders of simpler and more complicated times, simultaneously. Old students restore my teaching spirit and remind me why I entered the profession in the first place, to learn, to teach, to inspire a deep passion in others to read, write, and explore literature and creative writing. In fact, if I were to simplify it down to just one goal, it’s to inspire creative writers to write, just like I do. I hope, by the end of my one year of teaching in Milford, at least one student took on the habit of journaling or writing poetry on their own. It would make me happy to know that that’s taken place.

I recently received a message from a student, not too long ago, asking how things were going. I haven’t responded yet, but I’ve thought about what to say for awhile, leading mostly nowhere. That’s what inspired this post, and I know that this student learned and enjoyed my class. That fact alone, and the reminder of it that the message confirmed, brings me great joy. I hope that this feeling lasts for longer than other times. Fingers crossed. Nothing is confirmed.