Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Not Fair

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a post about how to help teenagers through a tragedy as a teacher. This was sparked due to the death of a teacher. I have to do it all over again but this time due to the death of a student.

The student that died I did not personally have. He passed away Monday night in his sleep after going to sleep excited to drive to school for the first time on Tuesday. The cause of death is still unknown.

I am on the verge of tears. Not because of the child dying even though that is a tragedy, but because of how much pain my students are in and I can't do a damn thing about it.

There are literally zero words I can say to them that can make them feel better. I could feed them the classic lines of "he is in a better place" or "everything happens for a reason" but I know those are hollow words to the majority of teenagers right after this happens.

There is reason I constantly refer to my students as "my kids." I invest so much time, effort, and emotions into them that they may as well be my children. I want to throw them out the window because they can be so annoying at times, but in general, I love my students and want to help, protect, and inspire them to be the best human being they can be. Sometimes, I even get results.

I wrote five sympathy cards today to students that I knew were struggling. I did this because I knew that it was the only thing I could do to try and help. I let each of them know that I was there for them to talk to if they needed me because they might feel so alone which I never want for them to feel. Also, in each one I wrote the words "It sucks and it isn't fair" because it isn't.

It isn't fair that a 16 year old kid and athlete died in his sleep.

It isn't fair that my students have to feel this pain and sorrow as a teenager. You're not supposed to deal with this type of pain until you are older and know how to cope.

It isn't fair that my students have to go two years in a row with loss.

It isn't fair that life can't stop for my kids so that they can grieve.

It isn't fair that there isn't anything I can do to make them feel better.

It isn't fuckin fair.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Being a Young Teacher: A Pro/Con List

Recently, my students completed evaluations of all their teachers. After the evaluations were complete, I was able to request my results. Like the majority of evaluations from students, they said I gave "alot of work" (yes, "alot"). There was also the one random kid who either really does not like me or is not happy with their grade so they say I'm a horrible teacher.

Over the course of four years, I have learned to ignore these types of reviews. My subject tends to have a lot more "work" because they have reading and when 99%* of the reviews say they strongly agree or agree, then I know I can ignore the one that puts "strongly disagree" for everything.

The rankings were nice but the really telling part were the comments. When I first began to read them, I was loving them. They made me smile and sail on cloud 9.

My freshmen talked mostly about my instructional ability:

"Ms. **** is supportive, educated, and hardworking."
"She knows how to help someone get something if they don't get it"
"makes class less stressful keeps class on track"
"She is good at giving us helpful study guides and preparing us for tests. She assigns helpful homework that helps us to learn the course material"
"Knows how to make class fun"
"I don't think that I would have understood anything if she did not explain it the way she did."

My sophomores did the same but I am apparently making a bigger impact with them beyond the classroom. I put any of  the lines that really got to me from longer comments in bold.

"Ms. ***** is my favorite teacher because she keeps it real and is so understanding. She makes sure that the student is comfortable with what they're doing and is willing to reach out with a helping hand. We need more teachers like that. Her humor is spot on and her music taste is out of this world. She makes me feel important."
"An iconic role-model, really."
"Constantly reminds us of the times she'd be available whether it's before or after school. Even sets apart a time for the student to sign up for a time slot for the specific assignment. Ms. **** still goes to class. How she still makes time for us, I don't know. I aspire to be like her"
"I have dreams to be a teacher and I want to be like her."
"Great role model, easy to talk to about grades and assignments, awesome and amazing"

When I first read these, I felt honored. I was helping my kids more than I realized. I was doing such a good job that they want to be like me.

As time went on, it hit me:

They want to be like me.

I am 26 years old. I barely feel like an adult.

On Instagram, I use the hashtag #adulting when I feel like I did something adult worthy like cooking dinner.  I have less than $100 in my checking account and the only reason I actually no longer have car payments is because I got in college. I'm swimming in student load debt and I routinely have boxed or canned food. I drink crappy wine and beer because I can't afford anything else. I read articles like this one from Buzzfeed and do a laugh/cry because it pretty much sums up my life. The only thing I'm 100% sure about in my life is that I'm actually in the correct career which is more than I can say for some of my friends.

And these kids look up to me.

I can't decide if being a young teacher, especially to students that are barely 10 years younger than me is a good thing or bad thing. So, I decided to make a list.

Pros of Being a Young Teacher

  • I get the majority of their references which makes it easier to know if they are doing something they should not be doing.
  • I can relate to them because the pop culture references I pull from are exactly the same ones they would pull from
  • They feel more comfortable around me because I remind them more of an older sister than a mother
  • I can still remember what it felt like being a teenager so I'm more willing to cut them some slack
  • They are able to look up to me because I'm closer to their age

Cons of Being a Young Teacher

  • They look up to me and I barely have my life together
  • I barely have my life together
  • I barely have my life together
  • I barely have my life together
  • If you didn't notice, I barely have my life together.

Normally, I'm able to come to some conclusion about what I'm writing about at the end of my post. This case, however, I still don't know how I feel about the kids looking up to me. I'm glad that I'm making such a positive influence on them. I love my job and the comments about what I do well validate my teaching. 

I just hope they don't put me on a pedal stool and expect me to be perfect because I'm so far from that it isn't even funny.

I just hope they know I'm not infallible.  

*This is one percentage I know for sure is correct because only 100 kids filled it out.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

All About Taking Risks

I love my job and I love my school.


I have a wonderful gift of freedom to allow my creative side shine. Yes, I have to adhere to a curriculum but I do not have to give the same exact assignment as my fellow teachers.

Does this mean that my students may not focus on the same thing as the other freshmen and sophomores in another teacher's English class?


Is that a bad thing?


With literature, there is so much you can teach that you have to pick and choose the larger picture part which allows for each teacher to teach what they enjoy about the readings from the curriculum and teach it how they want to teach it.

This allows me to use techniques and tools that I believe will reach out to my kids.

In the past, I have used memes, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pintrest with various degrees of success depending upon the lesson I was trying to have the students learn. Some lessons bombed and didn't do what I thought they would. Others were better than I could ever imagine.

Most recently, I have started having my students blog. With my sophomores, I had them mimic the style of the poems we were reading in class and then, in another unit, write about and reflect upon a particular theme that appears in the novel.

The poems worked fairly well but my sophomores seem to struggle with the reflection aspect. I know they are reading because they have lively discussions in class. The problem seems to be that they are afraid of writing especially when I don't tell them exactly what I want them to write.

This is a constant struggle I have with my sophomores. They are so afraid of being "wrong" that they are afraid of trying. Currently, the use of the blogs is only achieving the goal I want with only a few students.

However, I have faith that if I force them to keep with it, they will finally start to open up and reflect upon everything.

I know this because of my freshmen.

My freshmen were told to reflect upon The Odyssey as we read it in class. They started off timid; not really sure what to write. As time went on, the blog posts got better. They began to rant about Odysseus and the gods. They would try to tackle what they should have done and the motivations behind the characters actions. They well exceeded the 300 word limit and they were wonderful to read. I was (and am) so proud of them. Now, as we read Oedipus, they are much more open about debating in class. The class discussions have gotten better all because they learned to express their feelings through a blog that is not only personal but feels safe since there is no one making faces at them or giggling when they voice their opinion. They gain the confidence they needed to be able to find the excitement in English.

I can never be that teacher that does the same thing over and over and over and over again. I want to be the teacher that takes risks and is constantly trying to find new ways to reach out to their students. Not only do I want to be that teacher that takes risks, but I want other teachers to do the same.


Because if we all take risks, we'll be more willing to work together and only together can we change the things that we need to change about education.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Finding Meaning in the Crazy

My life is crazy.

No, really.

I teach 9th and 10th graders full time. I have 6 classes for a total of 121 students. Not only that, but I teach English which means my grading takes at LEAST twice as long to complete than the average math or science teacher.

I am also enrolled in grad school full time. Yes, full time. 9 credits. Luckily it is my last semester.

I also am the head JV softball coach. "That isn't so bad. You have assistants to help you out." Yeah...not so much this year. The assistant varsity coach will be on maturity leave during the season so the head varsity coach took my assistant coach thus leaving me with no full time assistant this year. It is also very difficult to find a replacement because there are not that many people who can get off work at 3pm every single day.

So yes, my life is completely crazy. My boyfriend and I get into stupid fights because "I don't make time for him" but he "doesn't want me to give up what I love"

Which means I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place.

I've learned the only way to combat this feeling of complete craziness is to remember why you got into the crazy in the first place. If you can't remember why, then you should just cut it out of your life.

I have been involved with softball since I was 5. I played it until I was 18. My freshmen year of college, I missed it so much that I found a local team to help coach. I was an assistant varsity coach for three years. After college, I came back home. I decided not to coach my first year teaching because I figured that would be too crazy even for me. I realized I missed it way to much.

Last year, the JV coach left and they needed someone. I stepped up to the plate* and decided to coach knowing full well I would have to balance grad school as well as teaching.

It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

The girls were a blast to work with and that intense happy/satisfied feeling softball brought me as a player came back as a coach. Not coaching would leave me with a hole that can only be filled by softball.

Grad School
Obviously, I can't just "quit" grad school. Even though I can't get rid of it, I have to remind myself why I do it.

I do it because I want to learn more about profession. I want to become a better teacher. I want to impact my students in new ways. I don't want to become the boring, old, repetitive teacher; I want to constantly be current and engaging.

Even though it drives me crazy every once and a while, grad school is important to everything I do.

The burnout rate for teachers is less than 5 years.

I'm in year 4 and I can completely relate to that statistic.

I am constantly tired because I stay at school for over 12 hours. I work on the weekends and sometimes freak out when I don't. I've gotten better at making sure I set aside time for myself but it is difficult when I feel like I don't have enough hours in a day to do my job well.

Every time I think I reach my breaking point, something happens to remind me why I teach. This time it was an argument.

My sophomores are reading Things Fall Apart. Like most assigned reading for school, my students were not excited to read the novel. However, due to my hard work in grad school, I was able to devise a unit that would at least force the students to read and not rely upon SparkNotes.

On Friday, they were assigned various aspects of the Ibo culture to examine and draw conclusions about based upon what is presented in the novel. Two of those topics were "manhood" and "womanhood." My students began to debate, totally unprompted by me, about Okonkwo and if he really was "manly" or not. They were using examples from the text and finally agreed that it depended upon the definition of "manly" that was used.

They were not only reading but having an emotional response to the reading. They were exploring the human concept of "strength" and "weakness" on their own. They were doing everything I had hoped they would do and more.

It seems small and it seems insignificant but, it the meaning in my crazy. It is the reason I do what I do and it is the reason that, although I'm exhausted, I'm no where near burned out.