Monday, March 31, 2014

Why I Love Teaching

Per my last post, it is obvious it has been a trying week for me at school. Not only have I been having a hard time, but some students have been struggling due to being close to the teacher that passed away since they were in Model UN which was the club the teacher proctored. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, there were times where I had another teacher cover my classes so I could sit and let these girls talk. Or the girls would have study hall and just come in my room and relax so that they would not have to be in complete silence (like our study hall requires).

Beginning on Friday, the girls that were struggling as well as some other juniors that I had taught for two years in a row, started to stop by to ask me how I was doing. It isn't that they were over their grief, it was that they knew I was grieving as well.

This past week has been one of the hardest of my life so I tried to think of something positive. It wasn't hard today to realize that the most positive thing in my life is teaching. Yeah, it is stressful and there are days I want to scream due to losing patience with my students, but overall, I enjoy it. So to remind myself that there are positive things in life and to have a less depressing post, I present you with the following list.

5 Reasons Why I Love Teaching

  1. My students that I currently have. One of them sent me the following picture in an email to try and make me feel better. I printed it out in color and it is now hanging on my door to remind everyone else as well. Not only did I receive this but they have also been super patient with me both in class and outside of it. They have been on their best behavior recently and they haven't bugged me about why I haven't gotten their tests graded that they took on Monday. They know I'm struggling so they are giving me time and space. Regardless of the times when annoy me, in general I care about my students and it is nice to know that they care about me.

  2. My former students. So many juniors (juniors because I taught the majority of them two years in a row) have stopped by my classroom to use the scented hand sanitizer that I keep on my desk as an excuse to ask me how I'm doing. Most of them are on a "bathroom break" from their class so that they could just pop in to ask me if I was okay. One even made me the card/picture below (the blurry parts are my doing to blur out names). I started to tear up at it because I knew they cared about me.

  3. Students I haven't even taught. The girls that are struggling from Model UN knew I was close to the teacher so they have been coming to me for comfort since they know I feel just like they do. I have never taught any of them. This morning, they cam in with cookies (because I need to make sure I eat) and a card. I was yet again reminded of how many lives I touched just by doing my job even if the part of my job I'm doing isn't the actual "teaching" part. The card read:

    You have no idea how much your support has meant to us. An escape to your room may seem simple, but it helped SO much to get away, even just for a few minutes. It helps so much to talk to someone who understands. I hope you are getting better everyday, and know that you meant a lot to him. He'll always be watching over us, and, if you need anything, or just a hug, we'll always be here for you. #MUNislife
  4. Influencing every day. What this event has taught me is that I'm influencing students every day even if I don't realize it. It is sometimes hard to realize why I do my job or if I'm actually impacting students since many times they just sit there and stare. I'm never actually sure if what I'm trying to teach them gets through. This past week, however, I know for a fact that I have at least taught them compassion. They may not remember why Moore wrote Utopia but they know when a person is suffering and actually care.
  5. I am surprised everyday. Sometimes these surprises are upsetting like learning a student has depression, that I didn't expect, or that they had a parent that passed away. However, most of the time, I am surprised in a good way such as learning that my students care so much or that they made sure they learned the material so I wouldn't get frustrated at them. Sometimes it is as small as learning that one of my students actually finds my jokes funny or remembered the fact I had told them the previous day in class. Regardless, I love that my students can surprise me every day and that, for the most part, it is a good surprise. I wouldn't trade that for the world. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

How to Deal When the Unthinkable Happens

On Tuesday the unthinkable happened.

A fellow teacher passed away.

He was not just a coworker but also a very good friend.

He was the proctor for Model UN which I helped out with. The kids in that group got to know him really well so they are taking it the hardest.

I am 25 years old and I have never had a close friend pass away. I can't image how I would have handled it at the age of 15, 16, or 17.

For the past two days, these kids have tried to go to class and tried to take tests. However, something will happen where they break down. Either someone will say something that reminds them of him or someone will do something that makes them sad/angry whatever. They show up at my door in tears not knowing how to handle themselves.

They have no idea how to handle their feelings but they know I feel like they do so they come to me. From listening to their stories, so many people don't know how to handle them. They try but they just don't get it which ends up hurting them more.

I am no expert when it comes to this situation. However, there are a few things I learned that are helpful in dealing with students in this situation and I figured I would share what I learned.

5 Pieces of Advice For How to Handle Students Going Through a Tragedy

  1. Don't force them to talk about it.

    So far, two of the girls have come crying to me because a teacher figured that the best way to deal was to force them to talk about it. Although it is helpful for the class as a whole, those that are the most effected will hate it. They feel like what you (or their classmates) are saying is superficial. If they were close to the teacher, they know those that weren't. It is actually more hurtful for them to hear someone else try to work through their pain. It may sound narcissistic but these students know who understands their pain and who doesn't. They aren't about to share with someone who doesn't understand. 

    On the same note, if it isn't a school wide tragedy, still don't force them to talk about it. They will talk with those they feel comfortable with. The only question that is acceptable is "Do you have someone to talk to?" If they say yes, then let it be and just keep an eye on them.

  2. If they are actually struggling, they will tell you.

    Some teachers have kept moving on because they assume that some people are going to try and take advantage of the situation. They will only say they are hurting in front of the entire class to try and get sympathy points or get out of work.

    Although these students (sadly) exist, those that are actually struggling will come and talk to you. They will tell you "I can't focus" or "I tried but I can't bring myself to do it." They will speak up because the teacher/adult they are talking to about everything will tell them to do that. If they don't come, the teacher/adult they are talking to will. Either way, you'll know. Those that just want attention, will be too afraid to tell you in person. So please believe the students when they tell you, in private, that they are struggling.
  3. Give some flexibility...

    If they say they couldn't do the homework or that they can't take the test, be understanding. They are trying because they do want things to be normal again but sometimes it becomes too much. If they ask for it, allow for some flexibility.
  4. ...but don't completely let them off the hook

    Don't say "oh don't worry about taking the test. It won't count" That isn't what they need. They need you to change the due date or test date not give them a pity party. As I said, they want normalcy but they don't know how to get it. By still making sure they do their work, even if it is a little later, that will help. Letting them off the hook completely just reminds them that they had a tragedy.
  5. Remember that they are teenagers

    I am 25. I have dealt with loss before. Nothing this hurtful but I have dealt with loss. When I first mourned for someone it was in college. Although I'm struggling, I know people are there to help me. I know that what they may do might not be the best but I know it is them trying to help. I know that the best way to move on from something is to try and move on with my daily life. Even if it seems impossible right now. I have to try.

    Teenagers instinctively think no one understands them. They instinctively think that everything is harder than it is and that if they can't figure it out, it isn't worth their time. Add this natural/biological outlook on life to a tragedy and you have a huge problem. So many adults have tried to act like nothing is wrong around them. They still get upset with them when they walk into class late. They won't let them leave the classroom to have a breakdown because, in the teacher's minds, they should just move on.

    Yes, you can treat an adult this way but a teenager you can't. They are trying but they are going to mess up more than an adult would in this situation. You have to remember that its okay. By assuming they should just continue with their everyday lives is the worst thing you can do for them. Even worse than letting them off the hook. Yes, you may have experienced loss before and know how to handle it but they haven't. This was unexpected. This was someone they loved. This was someone they felt understood them. You can't expect them to just "move on" no matter what you say. Teenagers blow emotions up. This is why they cry if someone makes fun of them. They don't know how to brush the little things off and keep going so why on Earth would you expect them to know how to brush off the death of someone they loved?

A death like this is hard. Teenagers struggle to cope and if you happen to be the one that they come to for help, just listen. Sometimes, they may want to talk about something else. Sometimes they may just want to cry. Other times they may just need you to be in the room with them. Just be there for them so they know they aren't alone.

Rest in Peace Patrick. You'll be missed. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Lessons from Feeny: You Don't Have to be Perfect

I am coaching JV softball (not that you would know considering we have been outside three times during the first 17 days of the season....thank you winter/snow). Due to all the snow, I'm yet again watching Boy Meets World and yet again thinking of all the things I can actually learn from a 90's sitcom with a teacher as a main character.

During an episode in season 7, Topanga decides to go on a diet because she has *gasp* gained weight. This of course causes everyone else to freak out about their weight. Corey also thinks that the reason why Topanga has gained weight is because she is pregnant (this is of course not true). The craziness ends up with everyone freaking out in the student union and Mr. Feeny trying to calm them all down because they are freaking out for no reason. It is here that Mr. Feeny saying this gem

Coaching high school girls allows me to see this even more than when I teach them. Every time they make a mistake, like over throwing a ball or not knowing where to backup, they say "Sorry." I asked them once why they say this, and the group of 14, 15, and 16 year old girls told me that they do it because they are supposed to say sorry when they messed up. I then asked why especially when some of them have never played the sport  so why would I expect them to know where to go when I have never taught them? One of them thought about it and said "Well coach, I guess we are just expected to be perfect."

I told them, much like Feeny did, that this is an unrealistic expectation and it is ridiculous to try to live up to it. From this I made a rule that you only say "Sorry" if you said something that hurt someone's feelings otherwise, you shouldn't always be sorry for mistakes because everyone makes mistakes. Only be sorry if you don't try to learn from them.

I told my boyfriend about this rule and he told me I should start listening to my own advice because I do the same thing. It was then that I realized, like my team, I do it because society expects me to.

It may be too late for me to change (I say at the age of 25) but I refuse to allow my team/students believe they have to be perfect. I want them to know that they are okay to make mistakes. I want them to learn from them and try to be better not focus on the fact that they aren't perfect. So what if you make mistakes? You shouldn't let society tell you that isn't okay.

I don't get mad at the girls when they say "Sorry." I just point at them and they go "I bad." Yeah, it is almost the same thing but by saying "My bad" they are admitting they made a mistake but they aren't apologizing for it. I'm going to try my best to make sure this idea sticks with them because I want them to know it is okay that they aren't perfect.

Friday, March 7, 2014

7 Painfully Accurate High School Teacher Hashtags

So this awesome Buzzfeed post is titled "24 Painfully Accurate Teacher Hashtags" and like most things, it is directed mostly at elementary teachers (or so I hope because I pray no high school teacher would use #WhyIsThisSticky because I'm pretty sure if you are saying this to high school students, it isn't the same type of "sticky".....).

There is nothing wrong with this since I'm all for elementary teachers because, well, they are teachers but, I would like to make it more geared towards high school teachers, although some could apply across the board. So, to replace the seven (numbers 2, 3, 4, 12, 14, 17, 23) that are geared towards elementary school, I present to you:

7 Painfully Accurate High School Teacher Hashtags

  1. #PaperGrading #DidYouReallyWriteThat

    Pearls Before Swine

  2. #ExtraCredit #DoYourWork

  3. #Listen #GetOffTwitter

  4. #Parents #ScreamsInside

  5. #Senoritis #BeMoreThanABlob

  6. #LastDayOfQuarter #OhNowYouCare

  7. #BangsHeadOnDesk #Cries

Thursday, March 6, 2014

I Don't Want to Grade Papers So I'm Sharing Things With You

I realllllllllllllllly don't want to grade my freshmen essays.

You benefit though.

I put up a bunch of my resources for teaching thesis essay writing. You can find them all here.

You can see the other resources I have provided at the menu bar above or by going here. My resources are constantly(ish) being updated so check back every once and a while to find new goodies.

Hope this makes your life easier!

Also, I hope this makes you smile

Monday, March 3, 2014

Literary Analysis: Sophomore Style

So my sophomores had to write dialectical journals about Things Fall Apart. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, it is when students take quotes and write about them. They can write about how the quote inspires them or makes them angry or confuses them. Basically they can write what ever they want as long as it is about the quote.

The purpose is not for them to make an argument or analysis the text but just to get them thinking about the text. Most of them end up analyzing the text as well as reflecting upon it but they don't feel like they are because it isn't in a formal setting. (you can find the assignment here)

Needless to say, I'm getting some pretty funny/awesome responses (not sarcastic at all). They were too good to pass up. I have also gotten some that made me want to cry which I have included as well. Since these are the awesome gems of my sophomores, I have titled this "Literary Analysis: Sophomore Style." Enjoy. (note: I didn't change a thing so the spelling and grammatical mistakes are my student's not mine)

  • "Also, it really loved me in a bad way that Okonkwo lied to his whole family and lied to Ikefuma saying that he was going back to his family."
  • "He doesn’t take crap from anyone, he’s strict and to the point"
  • "In this quote Mr.Brown is trying to get people who are not educated to join school so they can read and write and become smarters."
    • ^"smarters" made me stop grading for the day. I just couldn't handle it.
  • "All in all, that umunna was quite the party-pooper as Okonkwo was the one who bettered the party with his words."
  • "Okonkwo is a tragic hero because at the end of the movie....."
    • Didn't realize we read a movie in class
  • "Okonkwo has what we now a day call anger issues"
  • "He seems like a deep kinda guy."
  • "Okay this guy Okwonko needs to stop. We get it you’re trying to be a big man and show your in control but really? Aiming a gun at a woman shows your either afraid to stand up to a woman like a man, or your actually crazy."
    • I couldn't stop laughing at this one especially at the "actually crazy" part
  • "I hope in the future he actually messes up while trying to “prove a point” and goes to far and realizes how idiotic he has been."
Sometimes I really love my students.