#150: The Program

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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.

#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!

#134: The Fitness Pal

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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.

#115: Stress

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Stress. We all experience it, one way or another. Stress over work, stress over school, stress over relationships. It’s normal to be stressed, unfortunately, despite it being so toxic and corrosive to our mental health. There’s always been talk about how stress and challenges are essential to learning, that in order to be truly engaged or challenged in a task, there has to be some degree of urgency associated with it.

In some ways, I agree completely. How can I ever expect to learn how to handle stress, for example, without having experienced it in a more constructive, educational way in school? School is and has always been a reflection of life after school, but with handlebars and the bumpers up. Teachers are dictators, at least according to kids, and counselors are helpful, guiding friends. School has the makings of a microcosm of life itself, and the lessons learned in school help students in that they can apply those lessons when they reach adulthood. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to be. I don’t claim that this is what everyone’s school experience was like, or even mine for that matter, but I hope I can convey a sense of idealism, not realism, in this.

So, looping back to stress and the factors that go into it. I am somehow who gets stressed easily, and the second a student says one thing that’s slightly disrespectful, I am taken aback and reeling all the way home. My mind absorbs all the emotions and energy of the room around me, internalizing it all. That’s the life of an anxious mind. But in order to overcome stress, I like to think some advil and World of Warcraft does the trick. (That’s partially a joke; I do play WoW to unwind, though.)

#109: Heavyweight

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(Sorry to break the naming convention of having a definite article before a general word as my blog title; it had to be done!)

On the way to work, I’ll sometimes put on a podcast instead of music. I prefer music nowadays because my commute is shorter than it used to be (17 minutes versus 40 minutes is a noticeable difference) and music tends to get me more consistently in the mood I’m looking for within that short amount of time. But when I do think about listening to a podcast, it’s usually MBMBaM or TAZ, or a third option, which I’m going to discuss in this blog.

The podcast is called Heavyweight, and while it’s not syndicated weekly or biweekly like the other podcasts are, it still provides consistently thought-provoking and intriguing media. It’s one of those pieces of art where, after listening to it, you can’t help but think about it constantly afterwards; it consumes you, just as you consume it. It envelops your mind and forces you to reckon with the ideas its creator is positing throughout the episode. In one episode, the creator and his friend try to get an old record back from multi-platinum recording artist Moby, and fail in the process. But they still meet with him, talk with him, and discuss life together in one of the most beautiful episodes of a podcast I’ve ever listened to. They discuss the futility of holding onto the past so intensely, like holding onto a lost record. The creator’s friend, however, attaches a lot of sentiment and symbolism to this record, as it represents the friendship they no longer have. It’s a miraculous story, and I would highly recommend checking it out. I believe it’s episode two.

It also introduced me to a song, “Sun in an Empty Room” by The Weakerthans, which I was listening to in the car before writing this post. It’s amazing sometimes how art helps you discover more art.

#86: The Coffee Spot

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Coffee. Coffee coffee coffee. Let’s talk about coffee, the caffeinated greatness. I’m drinking coffee right now, enjoying the frothy aroma and its heat in the early morning. Fulfilling the early morning duty of keeping me awake, coffee adds so much to my normal daily routine. Alex wakes up before me and prepares some coffee for me to take to work, which fuels me for the first few hours of the working day. Coffee motivates me to get up out of bed and into a new day.

When we first moved to Stamford, there was a nice place nearby called Coffee Spot, which I visited frequently during the summer for an iced chai latte or a macchiato. I’m pretty basic when it comes to my coffee choices, but I can’t deny flavor when I taste it. I love the gingerbread latte at Starbucks, and I love the caramel macchiato at Dunkin. Like I said, pretty basic overall. Some time in the past two months or so, Coffee Spot shut down and without much fanfare or notice. It just slowly disappeared, like the result of a Thanos snap. One day, Alex said that she walked by the coffee shop and saw the seats and books gone. I thought it was nothing at first, but it turns out it was actually signalling the end of one of my favorite neighborhood spots. I wish I spent more time actually sitting and reading there, instead of just going for a coffee and then dipping quickly. There’s more to the place than meets the eye. Unfortunately, nothing has risen up to replace the spot yet, even though it’s in a prime position for commerce and activity!

It won’t ever come back, but it exists in our memories. Nothing will replace Coffee Break from Quincy, when Alex spent two and a half months living there. It was the perfect place to read and relax inside. Maybe they’ll swoop by and replace it! A man can hope.

#36: Gift Giving

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Welcome to the twelve, or ten, days of Christmas, according to Alex and Anthony. We don’t discriminate based on the number of days you decide to start counting, and we don’t judge in case you start counting by threes instead of ones. Sometimes the gifts just need to be given!

The spirit of Christmas, after all, is to give, not receive. There’s magic in seeing someone’s face as they unwrap and untangle the gift they received from you, as you wait for them to finally lay eyes onto what you thought they would enjoy. There’s a little bit of tension, as to whether or not the receiver will truthfully like your gift, or perhaps they will just pretend to like it (it happens sometimes). But mostly, this is the positive, joyous season of giving.

For me, I have planned ten gifts for ten days of Christmas to give to Alex, and they are all fairly small except for a few larger ones, and then finally one special gift. Alex also planned ten gifts, and hers tend to have more utilitarian means to them, which is exciting for me. New MeUndies tee and a new pair of underwear? I could jump for joy at the sight of that (and I did). I love receiving new comfortable clothing and new books by Haruki Murakami. Nothing makes me happier.

A younger Anthony would have despised receiving clothing for Christmas, but nowadays, I get excited about it. I think partly one of the reasons I didn’t like it so much as a kid is that the people buying me clothes, often my aunts and uncles, didn’t know what type of clothes I wanted to wear. They would grab me Aeropostale and American Eagle tees, and I would wear them to school where people would look quizzically at the differences between my outer self (my personality, my hobbies, my habits) and the clothing I decided to wear (preppy, put-together, and douchey). There was a total mismatch in appearance versus personality, and I don’t doubt that it looked pretty funny.

#35: The SAT

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The SAT. Remember this? I sure do. Nowadays, I remember it as clear as anything else. In 2018, the SAT has returned.

As part of the job interview process, I will be taking a sample SAT, and will attempt to score in the 90th percentile on the test. If I do, and if I interview well, I can land another position, but if I don’t, I’m screwed. Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t that grand?

I recently bought a guidebook for taking the SAT, called “SAT Prep Plus 2019.” It’s wonderful that I can even afford large textbooks like this, but it wasn’t too expensive. The real expense is going to be mental; can I bear this test without my anxiety causing me to fail it? Basically, can I accomplish this task and still keep my sanity intact? I hope so. I’ve taken plenty of practice tests, scored well on each one, and feel fairly confident about this, and yet there’s a lingering part of me that rejects this whole notion of standardized test-taking as a measure of anything. Maybe it’s just my youth, and perhaps I’ll change my tune on this subject after more experience with the test, but right now I’m a bit bitter about this.

I have a lot of memories with the SAT. Whether it’s taking my first PSAT in high school and (falsely) judging my intellect based on how I scored compared to my peers, or whether it’s proctoring the SAT at North Haven High for the first time and almost botching the delivery of some of the rules in front of a lot of judgmental faces, there’s a decent chunk of my memory devoted to this elusive standardized exam. As someone whose expertise is in education and teaching, I encounter the SAT almost everywhere I go. It never seems to disappear, even when I want it to.

I still remember the room I took my first SAT in, and I remember being taken to the computer lab so the students could look at their PSAT scores. As a teacher, I now know that that was the first time my teacher had seen our scores, too, even though she pretended otherwise. As a teacher, I know that sometimes “pretending otherwise” is an important trait to master, to save face in front of students who don’t believe you. I never quite mastered that one in my time teaching.

One time, when I was in high school, I sought to take the SAT subject test for AP Lit and US History. I scored fairly well on the history test, but not so well on the literature one. I remember asking my parents to let me take these tests because I wanted to get into Williams College, which required subject test scores from two tests at the time. It was a long, long reach, and I was ultimately rejected. But it was worth a shot, as is this SAT re-do I am about to take.

#34: Easygoing

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Careful, you’re up pretty high; the sky is looking down on you, the world is above you, the ground is below you, everything is as it needs to be. Be still, be like water. Wait your turn, walk in, introduce yourself, sit down, and talk briefly about yourself. Nothing to be afraid of. Nothing to fear here.

Living an easygoing lifestyle is difficult. A bit ironic that a word with “easy” in it happens to be the exact opposite. Achieving “easy” living is about as easy as racing up Mount Everest, something I’ll likely never ever be able to do in my life. It’s easier to write about living an easygoing life than it is to actually achieve it, which is partially why I haven’t made as much progress in doing so since becoming a regular blogger and writer on here. The progress I have made, which has been wonderful, hasn’t exactly lifted my body from the depths of depression, if you catch my drift; it’s helped in some small ways, while leaving me bereft of help in others. It cannot be overstated how difficult it is for an anxious mind to let go of their anxieties, even when faced with the consequences of them head-on.

Easygoing. Going easy. Life is most worth living when it’s easy, when it’s care-free, when it’s free. Liberate your life by making it easier on yourself. Break free from self-imposed anxious chains. Make something meaningful of what’s within you, what’s so powerful about you.

There’s a lot to appreciate about everyone, regardless of who they are (except fascists). I’d like to take more time appreciating those small things, and then maybe more people will learn to live life more easily in the future. It is within our reach, if we let it come to us.

#33: The Interview

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Interviewing isn’t easy. It’s difficult and makes me anxious just thinking about. To some people, it comes as naturally as getting dressed in the morning; they exude confidence, charisma, and likability in their body language. They are charming and outgoing, yet enigmatic. They speak of their previous experience like it’s their job to. And once they get the job, inevitably, they perform above expectations and exceed every bound or standard in their way.

I don’t know why, but this person I am describing is definitely not me. On the surface, I might seem confident and prepared, but that’s usually a facade. This isn’t to say that I don’t come prepared; it’s just that, once I’m in the heat of the moment, my confidence withers and my preparedness deteriorates with it. Everything I had worked so hard on prior to the interview is gone in a moment of overthinking about how I’m dressed or that one word I said wrong. Whenever people talk about keeping cool under pressure, I like to imagine they must be good at interviews, as they would find it normal to speak of their experience.

Another reason for this is, interviewing generally has you speaking about your previous experience in a way that’s glowing and positive. Sometimes your experiences aren’t glowing and positive, like in one recent case, and that should be normal. Not every work placement is going to be a slam dunk. Not every experience is destined to be positive and full of rainbows.

I guess the main reason I get anxious about interviews is, I secretly dislike my own experience and feel artificial and fake speaking about it with a positive spin. I wish it were easier to speak truthfully while still maintaining expertise over your experience. It’s never been easy, has it?