Saturday, October 29, 2011

Well, now what?

 I really hate "what ifs".....

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My students made me crazy, and I miss that.

            Last year at this time I was a disaster. It was the beginning of the school year and I should have been just falling into a routine with my students, diving into the chaos of teaching Shakespeare and enjoying my day to day responsibilities as a high school English teacher. Instead I was teetering on the brink of a serious depression.
            That spring I had been laid off from my full time teaching position. I spent the majority of my summer applying for jobs and eating my weight in chocolate ice cream. I felt like I was a failure; I couldn’t come to terms with the idea that I wasn’t following my well thought out “life-plan” and I spent a good portion of every day crying. I tried to play it cool, hiding my feelings under sarcasm, scathing remarks about my bosses and funny jokes about unemployment. My friends from work tried really hard not to complain about their jobs or their students in front of me, and I tried really hard not to take my bitterness out on them despite the fact that I was regularly monopolizing conversation with tales of self pity. My relationships with loved ones suffered, my romantic life started a serious downward spiral, I ate a copious amount of chocolate, always had plenty of beer on hand and suddenly my dryer started shrinking all my pants. I slept a lot, I cried a lot, and I didn’t spend any time counting my blessings, but rather cursing life, God and anyone else I could blame for my dreams being dashed.
            I signed up for the Susan G. Komen 3-day, which is a 60 mile charitable walk for breast cancer research. I started training, and had something to look forward to. This helped my mental outlook immensely, but I still felt like I was missing something. I cried less, and ate less, (good thing because buying a new wardrobe when one is unemployed is incredibly difficult) but I wasn’t feeling fulfilled or happy or productive. I found myself becoming increasingly antisocial. I preferred laying in bed most of the day, rather than risking having to explain to random people and neighbors that “No, I didn’t take a sick day today, I was laid off in June”. 
            Shrinks and doctors and other smart people align being laid off to the same emotions one suffers when coping with the death of a loved one. I don’t think that’s true, but I did feel pretty crummy for an incredibly long while.
            In late December last year, I took over the position of a colleague while she went out for maternity leave.  I wasn’t overly thrilled about the position, I didn’t agree with the classroom management in place, I didn’t think I liked many of her students, and I wasn’t thrilled about getting up before 5am to make it to a zero-period class. Before I started I was convinced that I wouldn’t like it, but would suffer through for the paycheck and how nice it would look added to my resume. I was cranky that it wasn’t “my” classroom, bitter that I didn’t have a “real job” and not excited to be spending days away from my couch. I did not intend to like this temporary position; I was not prepared for the whirlwind that was the next 6 months.
            I am 100% convinced that the Writing Studio where I began working was one of the circles of hell. That first week or so I continually felt like I was in the middle of a tornado, or a high speed police chase. I had small groups of kids, no more than 15 or so to a class, and six classes. But there was nothing small about these kids. They lived with the intensity of running with the bulls. To make matters worse, I couldn’t really tell them apart at first, they were a swirling mass of matching hoodies and unwelcoming faces. To be honest, I planned to make it through the year and then pretend they didn’t exist. Even looking over the class rosters made me shudder, so many kids I didn’t know, or didn’t like.
            The classroom was a free-for-all when I arrived. Students would come and go as they pleased, never asking for permission. There were no real rules, no set curriculum, and no lesson plans. There were no consequences for bad behavior, bad language or late homework assignments. Students freely ignored me, lay on the floor and slept, or came to class 20 minutes late. They would text during class, leave early and skip other classes to sit in the studio at a computer. It was bedlam. It was their norm, many of them had been taking studio classes for years, and their expectations were to “work at their own pace” and “make their own decisions for success”….which loosely translated to “do jack-shit-nothing”. Students who had previously gotten A’s in class couldn’t tell me on what their grade was based, they could show me no previously graded work to which I could compare their current work, and they couldn’t explain what criteria in their day to day classes accounted for their good grades. Students who had been failing for their previous teacher were doing quite well for me, and yet they weren’t doing anything differently than they hade before. And just when I had decided not to care, and to let things just continue to fall apart something happened, something happened to me.  
            I had gone home one night in early January to discover that everything at home had literally and figuratively fallen apart. There was a hole in the ceiling below the shower which had been leaking water all day to the laundry room below. My dog had eaten my incredibly expensive, Nine West, knee high, stiletto boots. I had a melt down. My life was not at all what I wanted it to be. I was not where I wanted to be in my relationship, in my home or in my career. I was not being fulfilled professionally or personally. I think I dug through the stacks of books on my book shelves until I found my Bible that day. But I didn’t read it. I have no idea why I even looked for it. I just held it, in my lap, like a cat. I certainly hadn’t been relying on God lately, only blaming him for life’s shortcomings. I hadn’t been praying, or faithful, or interested in what God’s plan might be for me. Somehow though, I knew I needed to change that. I wasn’t ready to accept that I might need his help, or feeling like I could **gasp** have faith that things would be ok, but it was that acclaimed turning point, that moment that everyone looks for in which you realize that something’s gotta give.  I went to my mom’s that night, tucked myself into the bed in my childhood bedroom with a number of well worn teddy bears, and prayed for help for what may have been the first time in months and months. I started to change my life, my outlook, and my future. One, tiny, babystep at a time.
            I decided that it was time to kick ass and take names. I began to revamp the Writing Studio. My rules were simple: 1) Do your work or I will pick on you mercilessly. 2) Yes, we are going to read this book even if no one, including myself, likes it. 3) You will not make me look like an idiot because you know nothing. 4) Don’t lie to me. 5) If you are annoying or lazy you may not spend your free periods in this room. If you are quiet and/or productive you may stay. 6) Chocolate will win you brownie points. These rules did not go over well. There was mutiny for a while. I hated my life.
             Then, suddenly, somewhere between going through my purse and talking about tampons, in hearing too much about their sex lives and not enough about their homework, in between their breakups and break downs, amidst their crappy writing and their whining, they burrowed into one of the deepest parts of my life and my heart. These kids were interesting, and heart wrenching. They needed so much more than the half-assed crap I was giving them. More time, more honesty, more support, more reality, more of me. They morphed from the monsters I thought they were into something between friends and little sisters, some mixture of student and an extension of my own, younger self.  My thoughts and schedule became more and more wrapped up in their problems and successes, their papers and prom, and the writing studio was not only more productive than it had been before, but still remained that safe landing place for this strange and swirling hurricane group of kids.
            I began to love them, not because they were the most upstanding group of kids in the school, because they weren’t, but because they were mine. In loving them, I slowly began to love me too. These kids reminded me why I am me. They brought out the good teacher in me, they forced me to stop moping around and start living again. These kids want to be successful and they dream big dreams and make big mistakes and they love fiercely, they’re honest and smart and funny. They make me smile. Sometimes they’d tell me everything, and sometimes they’d try not to tell me the things they didn’t think I should know, but then the other kids would tell me anyway. I think by now I know all the things they think I don’t.  I love them more than they know. They changed my life, and I didn’t expect them to.
            That bizarre and lovely group of teenagers who let me in on their secrets and fears and who cared about mine, changed the miserable path my life was taking. They uncovered something good in me that had begun to get grown over with adult fears, mortgage payments and bitterness.  They taught me way more than I taught them, they gave me more than I gave them, and I am eternally grateful. I was totally unprepared for the way in which these kids impacted my life, but I’m so glad they did.
            Some of them are high school seniors this year and I know that they will be successful because of the triumphs they had last year. Most of them are in their first year of college, and embarking on the exciting journey of their “real” life. I’m so excited for them, and proud that I have had a tiny part in their lives.
            Even though I find myself still unemployed, I take pride in all of their small successes, I love that they continue to inform me of their lives’ twists and turns, and I have hope for the future, because of them.  They told me about life as they saw it, which was a lot more beautiful than the way I was seeing it.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Its time for Autumn

I love fall. I love how crisp the air gets, all I want to go is go outside and breathe it all it. I love sweaters and jeans. I love apples and apple pie and all things apple-y and warm and gooey. I love pumpkins, watching them grow and turn orange, and carving them. I love autumn flavored coffees that appear in all my favorite coffee shops. I especially love the leaves changing. I even like the days getting shorter, and the boys coming out of the fields sooner, and snuggling on the couch earlier with a movie and popcorn and cider. I love making comfort foods that just don't seem right in the summer like chili, shepherds pie and roasted turkey. I love the promise of soon to come snow and looking forward to Christmas. I love Halloween and all the chocolate-y goodness that comes with it. Fall makes me happy.

Now, if only I could keep reminding myself that I am happy when its time to pay our bills!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Nothing happened today, wanna hear all about it?

I knew for sure it was going to be One of Those Days when I woke up at 4:45, realized it was still raining and could not go back to sleep. One would think that getting up at 4:45 am would lead to a day of productivity.....nope. Pouting. It rained all day. I wanted to go outside for a walk. Sadie wanted to go outside and play. Penny refused to go outside to pee. All three of us were miserable and cooped up inside.

The rest of my morning consisted of: go down stairs, make coffee. Go up stairs, put on pants. Go down stairs, drink coffee. Go upstairs, change pants because they are so tight they restrict breathing. Go downstairs, boot up computer to possibly edit mountains of wedding photos. Give up on wearing pants. Go upstairs and put pajamas back on. Go downstairs and google teaching jobs. Cry. Get more coffee. Add baileys to coffee. Keep crying. Add Jameson to coffee. Feel better. Google silly online comic strips. Google apartments with room for a horse. Google houses for sale that I could never afford. Google pictures of cats. Edit pictures of Heather's beautiful wedding. Consider the fact that I am pushing thirty. Start to almost cry again. Sip coffee. Decide its time to shower. Go upstairs. Strip naked. Get in shower. Realize there is no hot water. Go downstairs. Realize I am still naked. Run upstairs. Try really hard not to cry. I mean really, really hard.
Look around my disaster of a bedroom and silently judge myself on all shortcomings. Put on fat pants and giant hoodie. Realize that I have neither fed the horse, the dogs or myself. Silently judge myself on my lack of ambition, personal hygiene and time management skills. Consider going to a walk in the rain. Consider driving anywhere but here. Consider filing away all the receipts I have been saving for my photo business. Lay on couch eating Doritos instead. Go upstairs to find clothes to put in laundry. Sit at computer and stare at the screen. Watch it rain. Watch Sadie pace in bored circles. Watch a fly buzz around the sink full of dirty dishes. Force myself to edit more wedding photos. Write this blog.

I am lucky to be inside and dry. I am lucky that I found pants that fit. I am lucky that I have copious amounts of both coffee and booze in the house. Those are all the blessings I can count today.

I think I will take a nap.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Summer School busy.... no time to update.... life is crazy....

I'm teaching a regional summer school English review course next week. 6 Days of classes and the State Exam.... its better than being out of the classroom forever, but its a job that no one else would take. ugh.

Then... in the fall? Nothing. :-(

Monday, June 06, 2011

And so it goes....

I can pretty much sum up how crummy the last few weeks have been with a some conversations I had with my students on Friday....

Smarmy Kid: Miss W how old are you?
Me: Older than you.
SK: Well, when are you gonna get hitched?
Me: That's a very good question.
SK: No, I mean.... I'm serious.
Me: Well if Prince Charming ever gets his act together I hope soon.
SK: I hope soon too, I mean, you're like, in your late 20s. Times tickin'.
Me: ...........................

Einstein: So whatcha gonna do this summer Miss W?
Me: Be a lady of luxury
Einstein: You're going to sell cars?
Me: huh?
Einstein: I've only heard that word once before, you know like "luxury sedan".....

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Horrible Infectious Disease

Today I feel as though I have The Black Death. Yes that’s right THE Black Death. On that note I began to think about all the horrible ways that I will probably die today, as I feel that my head is about to explode all over my classroom. In fact, the more my students talk incessantly, the more likely I feel that this could happen At. Any. Moment. Yes, I am being overly dramatic as I am prone to do when I am DYING. On that note here are some things that I will not miss in the afterlife.

1. Cell phones

2. Technology in general

3. Mosquitoes

4. My 3rd period tenth graders

5. The sound that straw brooms make when gliding across the floor

6. Email

7. Chalk dust

8. Parsnips

9. Waiting for a table

10. Waiting in line

11. Waiting for anything

12. The smell of gasoline on my hands after pumping

13. House flies

On the other hand, these are the things I will miss.

1. My dog penny

2. Hot French fries

3. Thanksgiving dinner

4. Parades

5. My bed

6. Reading in my bed

7. Watching “my” seniors graduate

8. Laying in my bed for long hours

9. Butter

10. Crocus

11. Fireworks

12. Banana seat bicycles

13. Coffee

14. Bubble baths

Do you think there are mashed potatoes in heaven?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Parents are like the Boogie-Man

I had a horrible, rotten, terrible Parent Meeting on Friday. It was basically your average "You-look-like-you're-twelve-how-can-you-possibly-teach-my-child" mixed with a few "I realize you're only a sub" and "My kid is usually an "A" student"s...... Now mind you, I have my masters degree in Education, my bachelors in English Literature, a teaching certificate from New York State, a reasonable amount of experience tutoring ELA, 3 years of teaching experience and have worked at several libraries in my lifetime. But for some reason these parents who were secretaries and mechanics respectively, (Not that they aren't hard working, intelligent people they just HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A TEACHER!!!!)

I felt smooshed. Deflated. MISERABLE afterwards. And still had to teach all day since this meeting was scheduled for second period. Long story short, I gave their daughter an incomplete instead of the 41% she earned on her report card, to give her time to get her grade back up to par. I did this out of the goodness of my heart, not because I had to. Her parents were angry that I wouldn't count her VERY late, and poorly done work for full credit but had agreed to bump her grade up to a passing 65%.

I shuffled my way through the rest of the day. Cursing my job and my crummy luck. I hate not having a "real" job. Granted, I will be teaching at the same school until June. I worked as a full time teacher there last year. But, I'm just filling in for a long maternity leave. The truth is that I am really just a sub, and that makes me so sad.

But, I do have an impact of 96 students every day. And I do love my job.... and dammit I matter.

 Eleventh period that day my principal came down to my classroom and asked to speak to me. I got immediate butterflies. Butterflies having seizures.

Him- I just wanted to let you know that I think you are doing a great job. No matter what those particular parents think.
Me- (stuttering like a fool) OMG. Well, thanks. Really. Thanks. I mean. Thanks.
Him- You're delightful and I wish we could keep you around, you are a fantastic teacher and Im glad to have you on my team.
Me- ..........................................
Him- Alright, thats all. Just wanted to check in to make sure you're ok.
Me- (blushing like a lobster) uhhh.... thanks.

Then I grinned for the remainder of the day. I may not be eloquent but I am delightful ;-)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Appreciate Me; or else.

A friend of mine works in a school district in sunny California, so overall I am jealous of her and her weather anyway. Additionally, she works for a district that is overtly thankful for her. What I mean by this is that they demonstrate their appreciation for her regularly and in ways that matter. I’m not talking about a button for her ID lanyard proclaiming her a “#1 Teacher”, I’m talking about a personal thank-you note from her immediate supervisor with intricate details about a job well done. Can you imagine the very idea of such recognition? Granted, she works is a very affluent district, so wealthy in fact that parents of her students bought her plane tickets as a Christmas gift this year…but thank you notes, they’re free.

It seems that as a profession, teachers in general are getting the proverbial beat-down. We can’t seem to ever do enough, and the very idea of summer vacation always seems to send us into the realm of useless professionals with too many days off. Which is a completely asinine assumption as the breaks offer both teacher and student the opportunity to digest information, and relax the mind. Too many people in the general public believe that teaching is a job that anyone can do, which again is so far from the truth its laughable. Teaching is a calling, in the course of my day I have the power to transform the minds of children. I can make their day either fabulous or miserable, I can offer guidance or crush dreams: imagine if just “anyone” were given that power.

I didn’t go into teaching to make millions, I’m still holding out that I will become rich and famous one day, but teaching isn’t what is going to get me there. Most of my colleagues make less than $40,000 a year, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t fabulous educators with a true passion for their students. There are clearly more profitable fields we could go into with our Masters level educations.

I am sick to death of worrying about the state budget and district cuts. I am tired of hearing how teachers are overpaid for their work. (By the way I work waaaay more than an 8 hour day. I spend well over 50 hours a week at school, and I handle the emotional and educational needs of more than 100 students every day). It saddens me to see that class sizes are growing out of control and that I cannot devote much time to each and every student. I am so worn out wondering where and if I will be working next year. It is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain a positive attitude about myself and my profession.

I became a teacher not for recognition, but because I loved kids and wanted to make a difference in their lives. This is one of the only professions where I have the unique opportunity to make a difference each and every day. That is not to say that I wouldn’t like nice pat on the back now and then.

Don Quimby reminds us to “keep on keeping on” over at in saying that “Teaching is a special calling. Teaching is a mission. Will teachers ever reach the point where they will be properly rewarded in their efforts to make a difference? I don't think so, but…so what? People don't become teachers because they know they will make a lot of money and live the lifestyle of the rich and famous. What matters most is that teachers have an opportunity to touch lives in ways that can make a difference in the futures of thousands of people.”

All in all I feel that a simple thank you would go a long way toward making the educational atmosphere a more tolerable place to be. If you happen to be my administrator, monitoring my key strokes well then check out ways to make teachers happy and perhaps realize that our time is valuable and so are we. Like a fellow blogger comments over at “I want to Teach Forever” : “Most importantly, our time must be respected. This statement has many meanings:
• give us as much uninterrupted instructional time as possible
• don't waste our time with pointless faculty meetings (meetings are for things that require discussion and debate, not for things that could be written in an email or paper memo)
• don't bury us in redundant paperwork
• let us have actual lesson planning time during planning periods
• before you schedule something on weekends, before and after school, or during breaks, discuss it with us first!”