Meta: In Which I Write About Writing to Make Sense of Things, In Order to Make Sense of Things (Or, Why Journaling is Crucial)

Over the past week or so, I’ve grown a little bit bored with my usual podcast lineup. Maybe bored isn’t the right word. It just felt a little stale, and while I was still enjoying the shows I listen to every week, I wanted some new content too. While listening to an episode of Literary Disco, I heard one of the hosts, Rider Strong (yep, that Rider Strong), mention some work that he did with another podcast, Mortified. From his description, I could tell that it was very similar to another show I’ve recently started loving called Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids (pretty self-explanatory).

The premise for both of these shows is simple: at various clubs where the events are hosted, adults get up on stage and read things that they wrote when they were kids. It ranges from really bad poetry and weird stories to middle school diary entries, notes passed in high school to AOL conversations printed years ago, and everything in between. The results are typically really humorous (and often very poignant at times). Many of the participants are also roughly my age, so a lot of the references and particular habits resonate with me (printing “important” AOL conversations in the late 90s so that you could read them again later to make sense of them? Guilty. Also my mom just recently threw away boxes of notes that I had from junior high).

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Things That Don’t Make Sense

There are certain things throughout the course of writing this blog that seem to come up again and again. Though I try not to beat things to death, I’m sure I’ve repeated myself more than once. While I try to not broach subjects that could potentially cause a lot of controversy, there are times when I need to write it out because I feel like my brain is on fire.

This is one of those times.

On Tuesday, my governor announced unprecedented cuts in funding to public education, and try as I might, I can’t find any sense in it. In fact, like many, I’m sure, I’m pretty enraged about it. Sure, I could keep these thoughts to myself, but I suppose I’m also curious to see if anyone can tell me why this makes sense.

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Do They Make Academic Rehab Clinics?

‘Tis the season to be writing papers, cramming for finals, and generally stressing out — or so says about 80% of my Facebook newsfeed. I’m insanely jealous.

I think I have an addiction to academia. I surmise that it started when I was two or three and started harassing my parents relentlessly about how long it would be until I got to go to school. I didn’t even really know what it was; I just wanted to go there. I heard there were books. Faced with having to wait, which is something I don’t believe I have ever been good at in my entire life, I resorted to scribbling on a chalkboard in the basement of our old house while my stuffed animals listened quietly and attentively.

If only my students, during my actual teaching career, had been so quiet and attentive.

Scene in my classroom, May 2008

(As fate would have it, though, I wasn’t done teaching stuffed animals) Continue reading

Me and My Sham Education

For my senior colloquium course in college, I had to read this book, The Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez by (you guessed it!) Richard Rodriguez. In it, Rodriguez talks about being a “scholarship boy” and the opportunities it provided him for a life amongst the gringos. He was given opportunities that his parents (who suffered because of a language barrier, in particular) just didn’t have. He was always concerned, however, that he was just pleasing people and going through the motions, that he wasn’t really as smart as everyone led him to believe. Much of this book examines the concept of duality. For a plethora of reasons, I hated it. Something about the language or his opinion of himself. I couldn’t necessarily put my finger on it, but I just hated it.

Then, a few years later, when I was in grad school, I had to read it again. Twice.

The more I read this book, the more I continued to dislike it. But as I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my education lately and where it’s gotten me, I keep coming back to this book. Curses! Something about that idea of duality and binary oppositions, that his entire education was something of a sham started to resonate with me.

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The Fall-Back Career

Over the weekend, I was afforded the opportunity to discuss education initiatives with other educators.

Okay, I was really just talking to my friends who are also teachers, but I liked the way the first sentence made it sound like I did something important.

Anyway, as we always do, we got on the topic of education initiatives, namely that of basing teacher salary on teacher success rates. My friend made a very good point when she stated that most teachers go into teaching because they want to make a difference. Given that, it should be obvious that teachers are trying to improve test scores. What apparently escapes lawmakers’ minds is that teachers aren’t actually taking the tests for the students. We can only do so much before the students must be held accountable for their own success (gasp! What a novel concept!). I immediately agreed with her because I share a very similar sentiment. Continue reading

Letters

Everyone goes through periods in life where they feel like throwing in the towel. What’s the point? I’ve been feeling that way for a while, but in an effort to make up for the last post, I’m writing about something more positive this time. It never fails to surprise me when, just as I’m ready to give up on myself and people in general, something makes me stop. Perhaps another time I’ll explain how I’m possibly the most secretly optimistic pessimist you’ve ever known.

Yesterday, after I heard the mail truck drive off up the street, I put my book down and peeled myself off of the couch. I’ve been receiving mail every single day this week, and none of it was good. In fact, every single piece of it was bad news relating to money. No. I’m sorry. I got three pre-approved credit card applications.

So when I pulled the stack out of the mailbox, I said to the dogs, “What kind of bad news do we have today?” There was a stack of envelopes, two of them coming from the source of my livelihood at the moment. There were a few envelopes for my parents. And there on the bottom was a plain white envelope, addressed to me with no return address. I didn’t need a return address because I immediately recognized the tiny cramped handwriting as belonging to a student I taught during the 2006-07 school year in Virginia – my second year teaching.  Continue reading

I’m Sorry You Majored In… (anything other than teaching)

Though I touched upon this in an earlier post, and I tried so hard not to bring this up, the abundance of snowy days this winter and the amount of whining and complaining I keep reading have driven me to feel the need to say something. First and foremost, I’m not saying any of this to be overly harsh and I’m not out to disrespect or alienate anybody. I’m also going to say right now that I’m using “you” in the most general sense because it’s easiest for my purpose. I am not yelling; I just want to make my side heard. That being said…

Look, I’ll be perfectly honest with you. I’m sorry that you weren’t an education major, but until you’ve taught for three weeks in a school, I really don’t want to hear you say snarky things like “Oh, I wish I still had snow days” or “Gee, it must be so nice to be a teacher right about now.” People like me are becoming silently infuriated at you, and my guess is that you know more than one teacher.

I’m not entirely sure where the idea got started that teachers have this luxurious, easy life. Just because when you were in school you did nothing at night, on the weekends, over holidays, and during the summer doesn’t mean that teachers follow the same schedule. In fact, many of the days the students aren’t at school, the teachers are. They’re sitting through horrible professional development seminars and in-service presentations. The funny thing is that, in many districts, they have to sit through those same things periodically during the summer.

First, Pennsylvania has a really good teacher education program that permits reciprocity in something like 35 or 38 other states. That’s why we churn teachers out of here. It’s not an easy program though, and so while many people I knew of had light semesters of 16 credits and went out drinking and partying all the time or had a lot of downtime, I can think of two semesters in my entire college career where I had 18 or fewer credits. Usually I had a course load of anywhere between 20 and 24 credits so that I could make myself as well-qualified as possible for the job I wanted. You know how your senior year spring break was so awesome because you either went on some crazy trip with your friends or you just went home and relaxed? Education majors were still at school doing their student teaching.   Continue reading

On Goals

As I write this, I’m sitting in the classroom where I first read about Romeo and Juliet and Miss Havisham: my 9th grade English classroom. A new teacher came into this room the next year, and while the teacher’s desk is now in the back corner as opposed to the front center, while the desks are now facing the back of the room as opposed to the front, and the blackboard has since been replaced by a white board, this room is still familiar. The same sickly green paint typically reserved for hospital rooms covers the walls, and the view out the window hasn’t changed (aside from the house across the street that burned to the ground and was rebuilt). I can quite acurately walk to the spot in this room where I sat and read Great Expectations. I can see the spot where the new girl was sitting in study hall when I wrote her a note welcoming her so that she would feel more comfortable here. She looked nervous. Where I sit right now is very near the area where I would rest my head against the side board during 9th period and wait for the day to be over.

I wasn’t a stellar student in 9th grade. I could have had amazing grades if I had just tried a little bit, but I didn’t really care. My attitude toward academics would change in a few months, but I was a much different person in 1997-98. Once the fog lifted off of 7th and 8th grade, arguably the worst two consecutive years of my life, I was actually relatively happy. In truth, I had just as much of a love-hate relationship with myself in 9th grade as I did 10 years later with the 9th graders I was teaching. But in my mind, it is always springtime when I think about 9th grade. Everything seemed just on the verge of happening: softball season would be starting, school would be over soon, summer league would start up, I would finally be done struggling my way through biology with a teacher who seemed to hate me for reasons unknown. Junior high would be over and high school would be starting. More importantly, I was making new friends, coming out of my shell a bit. New friendships are fabulous because there’s always that sense of, well, newness. Continue reading

Addendum

In the event that you find yourself offended by my most recent post (to which I gave very little thought before writing), my intent is not to say that other professions don’t work as hard or harder than teachers. It’s not to say that a lot of people don’t put a lot of time and effort into the behind-the-scenes action involved in public education, and much of that is very good. It’s come a long way. I think that perhaps the problem is that it’s just so easy to be jaded in the teaching profession, and maybe that’s what came out in my post. It was sort of a knee-jerk reaction.

The long and the short of it is this: basically, education needs some kind of reform because it’s really not fair for a teacher to have so many other things to do and then have to worry about losing his or her job if the students don’t hold up their end of it. Because in an ideal world, the kids would be ready to learn and they would love school and they would cooperate with the teacher and they would care about their futures. The teachers would always be able to motivate them.
But in reality… that doesn’t always happen.

Leaving NCLB Behind

On my best days as a teacher, I’d be at work at 7:15 a.m., spending the next eight hours trying to find a volume level for my voice that didn’t make it hurt by the end of the day – a skill that took me nearly two months to perfect at the beginning of my career. I would deal with common problems like classes who couldn’t keep quiet to save their lives and students who made it a habit of never doing homework. During my “break” I was working on lesson plans and creating homework, tests, worksheets, and the like. I was updating my website and making sure that the homework was available to students on the web so that they could have no excuse for not having it. Left your homework at school? No problem. Just print one off! Once the kids were gone, I’d change my boards and grade some papers, answer some emails or make a phone calls to parents. I would have to make sure my grades were in the computer. I wouldn’t have finished everything anyway, and so eventually I would pack things up and go home and continue to work well into the evening on whatever remained.

On my more common days, I would do all of that and more. My students felt comfortable talking to me as a trusted adult. Most days after school, and often during my planning periods, I would find myself with students in my room who wanted to talk or who wanted advice. I’ve listened as students coped with death, depression, heartache, teen angst, and school problems. If those students weren’t in my room after school, then I was advising (which is code for “doing everything”) a community service club that I was encouraged to start up during my first year. When all that was over, I would have to go one of two places: either to my second job (because teaching doesn’t pay nearly enough for all the work that goes into it) or to a night class for grad school. Most people aren’t crazy enough to work two jobs and do grad school at the same time, but as it turns out…I am. Continue reading