Returning to school after a long summer vacation has always been cause for anxiety. It’s the start of a new school year, but it’s also the start of a new, much longer routine system to resume. Over the summer, I develop new, more free habits and routines, related to sleeping, daily time spending, and clothing. I’m not always dressed in business casual at home, I get to spend time doing whatever I want, and I can wake up at a more reasonable hour. These differences are crucial, making the summer vacation truly memorable and worth celebrating.
Being someone whose whole life has been centered around the American school schedule, it’s hard to break the chains of tradition. I’m inexplicably tied to the school routines I had as a child. Wake up early in the morning, go to a high-stakes place of learning for some hours, then return home late in the afternoon and do it all again the next day, barring weekends. Octobers and Marches are long months without as many days off, and June is the fastest month by far. You learn to cherish December, for its long vacation in the middle of the year, as well as the holidays, of course. But you are forever tied to these feelings and traditions of how the year progresses. Normal adults, who don’t work in the school system, like Alex, work year-round and have vacation time on their own terms, and things like that. They don’t have the luxury of a summer break, but they’re also not still tied as adults to the summer’s joyful freedom as they were as kids. In some ways, I envy them. When I was unemployed in 2018, it felt like I was still reliving the school schedule, even through November and December. It was impossible to escape.
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.
You wake up. Not to an alarm, but to the natural calmness of morning. You yawn, open your eyes, and look at the alarm clock.
Something’s not right.
The calmness dissipates. You are reminded that it is a Monday, that you are to go to work today, and that it is currently 10am. You normally go in to work at 8:45am, and yet nothing woke you up at your usual time. You start to freak out; how did this happen? Will I be fired? Can I still call out? Is this the end? Nothing makes sense in your head. How did you sleep through your loud, terrible alarm clock at 7:15am? How did you sleep through the endless phone notifications Alex sent you when she realized you weren’t answering her morning texts like usual? How did you sleep through her phone calls and more? How did any of this happen?
You roll out of bed quickly, put your clothes on, text one of your coworkers, and rush to the door as fast as possible. It’s time to go to work, even if it’s a bit later than usual.
Self-reflection is helpful, but it also helps more to change patterns of behavior to prevent these instances from happening again. That’s what writing is all about; it helps me internalize my thoughts about this moment, while hopefully helping me find a way to do this better and differently.
One such change I can make is to turn my phone volume on all the time. I usually don’t have it on, because when I get texts, the last thing I want is a verbal reminder to answer it. I feel completely fine answering it at my own pace. But vibrations and sounds are the new norm, for now at least. It’s necessary to prevent me from getting in trouble again!
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.
A bit late to be discussing New Year’s Resolutions, isn’t it? But alas, here we go.
This year, I decided I wanted to go to the gym more frequently. Instead of doing my usual, sporadic gym appearances, I wanted to keep a consistent track record of exercising. I would write my times on the calendar and add up the minutes I’d worked out each month. I would work out for at least 30-35 minutes each time, and I would go to the gym at least 3-4 days a week. So far, since January, I’ve achieved my basic goal of at least 3 days a week, though hopefully throughout the year I’ll get better at reaching 4. It’s a work-in-progress, for sure.
Writing my times on the calendar has actually motivated me quite a lot. I like seeing the red ink mark each calendar day, and I like being able to visualize how well I’m doing each week. I also like seeing how past weeks went, as a way of motivating me to try harder or push myself more in the coming weeks. Though I’m by no means a gym fiend at this point, I’ve found myself liking my gym trips more and more since January started. I’ve made it four months without breaking the streak, so I should be able to keep things steady through December! Here’s hoping things work out.
It also helps that I’m really close to the gym. Being practically adjacent to the gym is one of the best parts about living in apartment 601, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I attribute my willingness to go to the gym partially to the fact that it’s so damn close to us, so I can’t make up as many excuses! If the gym was a drive or so away, I would be less motivated.
Driving around in the morning with Alex fills me with joy and energy to start the day, as I feel a sense of beginning and ending together whenever I wake up and Alex is still around. It’s not the same when she’s got an earlier shift! I love those late shifts for that reason alone, even though she gets more time home when she works earlier. But today, we’re going to talk about how Angus must feel after spending time with me for so long. The day I’m writing this is on a Monday, the Monday after April break, and I’m a bit worried about Angus’s streak, to be honest. He’s been a good boy and hasn’t broken anything in the apartment for 18 days so far, and I trust that he’ll continue this streak further. But what happens is, whenever there’s a time when he stays home with one of us for awhile, he gets used to having company in the apartment. And when that company goes away, as it is about to during this week considering I’m not on April break any more, he tends to lash out a bit. There’s an immediate reaction from him, and he pounces at the opportunity to find food of any kind. I still remember the day when we had a 20-day streak and, after going to the gym for 30 minutes, Angus still ate half of the potato we had resting on the counter. He never reached for them ever before, but during a 30-minute break from the action, he still thought it was appropriate to go off on that poor, defenseless potato. That’s why I’m worried about our dog today, and most days when we’re not around. Who knows what he’s getting up to right now? It could be anything! Anything at all!
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.
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.
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!
Let’s talk about physical fitness, everyone’s favorite subject!
When I first started exercising fully, I did so in my dorm room in London while studying abroad. I was motivated to get into better shape, and walking around the city by myself (or with a companion) allowed me the opportunity to do so. It was only cardio, nothing more than that, but it still fulfilled my desire to work out more regularly.
The smartphone app, My Fitness Pal, is what helped me take charge of my health and fitness, and I’ve used it off and on since then. I used it while I was in London, tracked the food I ate each day and weekend, and I made sure to put in all the foods I didn’t normally have on the app. Thankfully, the app has a great deal of options for foods and you don’t usually have to put foods in by yourself. It goes in all on its own!
When you log into the app, it puts you on a screen that marks Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Snack. You can enter your food and nutritional info anywhere in any of the categories, and it fills up the amount of calories you’ve had during the day when you enter food. You can also add exercise, and it counts the amount of calories you’ve burnt and calculates those into your daily total of calories, too. It’s a wonderful little app, and without it, I don’t think I would have been able to lose weight like I did back in 2014. To think that was five years ago at this point is crazy! I can barely believe it. I’ve changed so much since then and also because of that time period. I should write about it more often.