Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category

Sorry I’ve been gone for a while. It’s been a little busy around here with not a lot of time for anything, including blogging, but it’s all good. I’ll catch you up a bit.

First off, I am now teaching for a district, which is a very cool thing. It all happened rather fast and just in the nick of time, as my former job was letting people go left and right with no warning and for no good reason at all. It’s a loooooong story and there are a lot of details, which I will spare you. Anyhoo, I decided to leave before my own head hit the chopping block and I received a wonderful job offer. I love the school where I am. A friend of mine had taught there for years before retiring and always spoke highly of his coworkers and the children, so I felt confident in taking the position. After a month, I am not disappointed. Everyone has been incredibly lovely and the kids are coming along. I think this could turn out to be good fit, once I get all of the new logistics down.

As if beginning a new job and a whole new teaching program wasn’t enough, a few weeks ago, I decided that I could handle everything and go out for a new show, which seems to be going swimmingly so far. I get to play a lovely drunk and couldn’t be more excited, so if you’re in the Metro Detroit area, please come and see Promises, Promises at the Players Guild of Dearborn in November and December.

While all of this was going on, we sent Oldest Child back to college, got Middle Child installed for freshman year at his college, and settled Youngest Child into his new room. (which, incidentally, was his original room when he was born, so not entirely new.) Youngest Child is now entitled to his own room, even when his brothers come home from college to visit. He is also heavily involved in marching band and cross country, so he stays very busy.

I’m choosing to not write about anything political or anything awful that’s happening in the world today, not because things don’t need to be said, but because I’m weary. My heart is sick, my brain is overloaded. I’m confused by how people think, I don’t understand a lot of things, and I know that if I say what I want to right now, there are people who will basically try to put me “in my place”, tell me to stick to writing other things rather than to comment on the travesties of our government and the world. I can’t answer them right now, I don’t have the patience, I don’t have the right frame of mind to deal with such demeaning ridiculousness at the present, so I will abstain from that right now. For future reference, though, I will write what I want to; it’s my blog. Read something else if you don’t like what I have to say.

All in all, everything is fine, just slightly insane at the moment. (Did I mention that I’m married to a saint?) In a few weeks, I’ll return to writing on a more regular schedule. In the meantime, I’m off to study lines, write some lesson plans, and squeeze in some dates with my Marty.

Until then, be kind to each other.

“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” ~Henry James

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

(This post will have absolutely nothing to do with anything political, of that I can assure you, so any readers who have previously disagreed with my political views have nothing to fear. Or to fight about. Not that my feelings have changed in any way, but it’s very soul-sucking to have to argue and defend all the time, especially after the Christmas craziness and play rehearsals kicking into high gear. I need a break. Just wanted you to know before you started reading.)

I was inspired by a meme on Facebook today. It asked the reader to judge the year based on the difference in where you were as a person at this time last year to where you are now. I know, I know, it’s a Facebook meme, but this one got my attention because I made a major life decision at the end of last year and I’ve been asked a lot about it recently this holiday season, mostly by people I haven’t seen in a long time. Having to answer these folks has made me think about the place I’m now, as compared to last year, and this is what I’ve come up with.

At this time last year, I was kind of a mess, mentally and emotionally. I was at the end of my rope as a teacher; depression and anxiety were a daily struggle that I was having a tougher time fighting as each day passed. I made the choice to take a pay cut, leave the profession that I had acquired several thousand dollars in student loans to go into, and went to work as the office administrator for my church. At the same point this year, I can say with certainty that leaving classroom teaching was one of the best decisions that I could have made for myself. There were parts that I loved: interacting with the kids one-on-one, light bulb moments for the kids, some silly moments, my teaching assistant and friend, Nicole, the hugs and pictures. But the bad had outweighed the good for me. There were plenty of times that I cried all the way home or in the shower from certain interactions or from work situations that seemed hopeless, all the while putting on a brave face during the school day so that I wouldn’t be seen as weak or soft. I was cranky at home, snapping at the kids for small, stupid things, constantly on edge. I was always defensive, feeling like I always had to be on my guard. I felt constantly defeated, that nothing would ever be happy again. I felt trapped.  I know it sounds pretty dark, and my thoughts did get fairly dark, but that is a very common depression symptom and it was true for me then. I want you to see the state of mind that I was in, how ugly it was.

There are teachers who deal with those circumstances just fine, Mr. Marty Man being one of them. He can leave work at work, talk down any outraged parent, and deal with horrible behavior without so much as an eyebrow twitch. My parents-in-law were good at that, too. I’m just not built that way. I internalize the criticism, take it home with me, dwell on what was said, and dread having to deal with the situation again. Like for days and even weeks. Parent-teacher conferences and report cards were a nightmare. While I always gave the grade that the student earned, I knew which ones would turn into a big deal and what would be blamed on me with personal attacks on my personality and teaching ability, even though I always felt that I did my best, but it didn’t matter.

On the other hand, there were absolutely fantastic kids, parents, and extended families, some who still stay in touch. There were some good times, really good times. When I first started student teaching, and then for a long-term sub assignment in the same school (6 months!), I loved it. My cooperating teacher was amazing and the school had a close supportive staff. I enjoyed teaching for that first year and if it had kept going that way, I may have stayed in. For whatever reason, the circumstances changed and it all began to fall apart after that. I know that I was able to reach some kids, that there were kids I could help, but ultimately, I felt that I wasn’t an effective teacher. It’s a horrible feeling. Kids deserve the best, even if they’re obnoxious and difficult to like. I do believe that, from the bottom of my heart, but I found it really hard to put into practice another reason to leave the profession. I’m not good with sassy and difficult. Kids deserve a teacher who can see past that and there are some children who aren’t as easy to love as others. I hate typing this, admitting it to the world, but it’s true. Difficult kids need love, too, and being a classroom teacher isn’t for everyone.

My family has noticed the changes since I left teaching, my kids especially. Mama has a much longer fuse than she used to, the snappiness is much reduced, and I’m much calmer, less prone to black depression holes. The depression holes aren’t gone, but I have more energy stores to deal with them than I did before. They don’t last as long.  I’ve been spending a lot of time with my beloved theatre this year and not feeling torn in five different directions with all of the work at home hours. There is a lot of guilt, I do admit, about the decrease in pay and I’m not sure quite how that’s going to pan out in the long run, but for this moment, this very moment, I’m okay where I am. Why is that a good thing? Because I hadn’t felt that way in several years.

So, on the occasion of this New Year, I toast to change. I toast to scary, freaking difficult decisions, and I toast to dreams that turn into goals.

Saluti.

 

Read Full Post »

Last week, I got an email from the parent of a student who I had taught for two years, fourth and fifth grade. This child had been a delight, her family was supportive and amazing, and I will always have fond memories of them. If all of my students and families had been like them, I probably would have stayed in teaching.  I won’t show you the contents of the email, it’s private, but the gist of it was to show me how well this student was doing now and to thank me for being her teacher.  The thanks were profuse and overwhelming and beautiful.

I teared up. Immediately. I couldn’t speak for a few minutes, but I showed Marty Man and then quietly went on with what else I was doing. I went back later and reread it, but I was uncomfortable with those beautiful words. It took me, shamefully, a whole week to even think of something worthy to write back to them because I had to make myself sit down and do it. It wasn’t because I was too busy or I didn’t want to correspond with them, but because I have a really hard time accepting compliments and praise.

But then I thought about it some more. When I first read the email, I smiled and I felt honored and blessed to have received it, and that’s how I think they wanted me to feel. When you write somebody a wonderful, sincere, letter, you don’t expect them to get upset. You write it because you care about that person in some way and you want them to know that they mean something to you. You want them to be happy. If I wrote a letter to someone who meant a great deal to me, I would want them to feel happy when they read it and, like I said, part of me did feel happy before the self-loathing demons decided to rear their ugly heads. I was able to push past them and go back to that first happy feeling. (Accepting a nice compliment shouldn’t be this hard, should it? Anxiety and depression are very tiring sometimes.) After a struggle, I decided to accept what they had to say, cried a few happy tears, and printed out the email to keep forever in the fire-proof box with a grateful heart.

Aaaaand, that let me to thinking about other things. When was the last time you reached out to tell someone what they meant to you? A teacher, a friend, a relative, a neighbor? Someone who has no idea that they helped you in some way, someone who you regard highly? Tell them. Yep, that’s my challenge to you this weekend. Go out and tell somebody how they made your day, or your year, or your life. There are people who have gone out of their way for you at some point and you appreciated it. (If you didn’t appreciate it, shame on you!) Call them, text them, send them an email, send up a smoke signal, but tell them that in some small, or not so small way, they helped you along and you want to thank them. The world needs more positivity and love. Heck, we’re dealing with the crudest, most crass, vilest political candidates that I can remember (one in particular), there are terror threats everywhere, and the comment sections of the internet are filled with scary people, so don’t be like that. Telling someone what they mean to you is a nice thing to do and could just make their day. Who knows? They could turn it around and pass it on to someone else and so on. Will we change the world? Probably not, but we can make it a more pleasant place to be.

Do I truly accept every nice thing that that parent said about me? Well, maybe not. I do what I do the best way that I can, but I’m at the process point now where I can feel content that they think of me in that way. It’s a nice feeling. Now go pass it on to somebody else. Tell me about it in the comments section. I love to hear from you!

A presto…

 

Read Full Post »

As a teacher, I see and hear a lot. I mean, a lot. I know things about my students’ parents that would make those parents cringe. Children see and hear much more than you know and, boy, do they like to tell teachers all about the weird stuff that happens at home. Most of it is humorous, some of it is heartbreaking, and, thankfully, a very small percentage turn out to be matters of real concern.

This topic that I’m addressing today, something that teachers hear a lot,  isn’t a matter of concern in the sense that authorities need to be involved, or that we need to have a conference, but I encounter this situation every year and it seems to be getting worse. Something needs to be said. Here goes:

Parents:

Stop telling children to get As or they’ll be grounded.

Stop telling children to get 100% on tests or they’ll be punished.

Stop promising exorbitant presents and/or cash for good grades.

Stop setting kids up against each other, comparing them to siblings, cousins, or friends.

Stop. Just, stop.

You’re crushing your kids. I’ve held them as they’re sobbing when they get an 89% on a science test, absolutely certain that they’re going to lose computer privileges or won’t be able to go to the birthday party that weekend because of a B+.

Let me repeat that: Because of a B+. A grade that’s considered above average. They crumble into my arms, convinced that it’s the end of the world, afraid of taking that paper home to you. A B+.

Parents, not every child is an A student. Not every child is a B student. Some even struggle with being C students. Most students do, instinctively, want good grades, even the ones who would rather be out playing a sport instead of studying. They want to please you, they want to please me. Few elementary students have the foresight to truly understand that good grades eventually equal a better job, but they constantly hear it from all of the adults in their lives, including my fellow teachers and me. Getting good grades, for them, means parental approval. No matter how old they are, children want their parents to be happy with what they do, to be proud of them. When they hear from their parents that anything below a 90% is unacceptable, the pressure can be too much for many of kids.

Does this mean that (gasp) teachers don’t want kids to get As? Absolutely not. Any teachers I know simply want our students to do the best that they can, to love learning, and to understand the value of learning for its own sake, not for the grade. Sometimes, their best is a B- or a C. For some kids, learning and schoolwork come easy and we push them to do well. When they study, they easily earn good grades. (Notice that I said study and earn; we’ll come back to that in a minute.) For others, getting a C+ on a test is a major accomplishment. School is hard for them, whether because of a learning disability, problems focusing, or they are just not naturally inclined toward academics. They know it, I know it, and I celebrate their successes with them, especially when I see how much time and energy they have invested in studying.

I have students who cannot do grade-level work on their own, but whose parents expect them to get As, or rather, expect me to give them As anyway. When they have homework, it comes to me perfect, in complete sentences, every answer correct, because they have lots of help at home. They cannot duplicate that work at school, either on tests or in their classwork, because they struggle with the material. If these students earn a subpar (in the parents’ eyes) grade on a test, I hear it from their parents. I didn’t give a good enough study guide, I didn’t review enough (two days isn’t enough?), the test was too hard (it was taken directly from the material), or, as a last resort, can they take the test over again? (No, not unless it was a fail.  A C is not a fail. Neither is a D. An F is a fail. And even then, they can’t have their original test back and they have to take it the next day.) They are convinced that their child should get an A, even if they did not earn it. Too many parents make it all about the grade, not about what their children are capable of achieving. The struggle to teach these kids how to be independent in their work is real. The student ultimately learns that they cannot achieve acceptable grades on their own merit. This both appalls and scares me, especially during standardized testing time.

Are some kids capable of achieving better grades and just don’t because they don’t study or work up to their full potential? Yes, absolutely! I have a few of them every year. Their idea of studying is to try and remember what we talked about in class. (For the record, that was mostly me as a kid. I had more important things to do, like band and theatre.) Those kids probably need a parental push. The kids that I worry about are the ones who study their hearts out, to the point where they are so nervous about a test that it affects their whole week, the same ones who collapse in tears at any grade short of perfection, the ones who don’t get as good of a grade as their brother/sister/cousin in the same class or the same grade.

I guess part of the reason that this upsets me is that I don’t have that background. I don’t know about you, but my mother simply expected me to do my best, not to get an A every single time. She pushed me when I needed it, but I never broke down in tears in front of a teacher because of a grade that I earned, even in the subjects that truly were difficult for me and I had to actually study, like trigonometry, pre-calculus, or physics. (I still hate the idea of an imaginary number.) My schoolwork was my responsibility and that concept taught me about personal accountability.

I know some people will argue that we should push our kids, that good grades should be expected,  and I would agree with you, to a point. But when parents are using the strategy of threatening children with punishments for not getting perfect, or close to perfect, grades, it may backfire on them in the long run. The key is knowing your children. Are your children serious about school? Does it come easy for them or do they struggle with every new concept? Are their lives balanced, or are they spending hours studying every day? Are they happy, or are they constantly living under the stress of the next test?

As a teacher, I can tell you this: Encourage them to do their best. Their best may be all Bs, or even Cs. Pay attention to how their work is going, but let them be in charge of it. Check to see that their homework is done, but don’t fix it for them. Let natural consequences happen and see how they respond.  If they need a little extra help at home, go for it, but don’t do the work for them or demand that they achieve perfection. As a parent, I know, it’s really, really, hard to let that happen. For example, Middle Child is a HUGE procrastinator on everything from regular homework to major projects. We ask him about deadlines, and it scares me to death that he won’t turn things in on time, but somehow, he always manages to pull it off on his own. His grades are on him and he does very well. (There, Middle Child, I wrote about you.)

I know this won’t change everyone’s mind about the amount of pressure to put on kids and most parents don’t do this, but, as I pointed out in the beginning of this piece, I see this more and more every year. This week, I just had a very nervous 5th grader ask me if a 90% was a good grade to get on a history test because her mother said she had to get an A. Knowing this student, that she studied on her own, I hugged her and said that I was proud of her. As a bonus, her parents were happy, too.

If you’re not sure if you’re pressuring your children too much, ask yourself this: When your children are grown, what will they remember about their school years? Will they remember never measuring up, never being good enough, or that they were encouraged to be independent and to push themselves to be their very best? Things to think about.

Until next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Dear Mama,

I’ve been your child’s teacher for a quite a while now. He has been at this school since he was small and the staff knows him well, for all the wrong reasons it seems, mostly.

We have talked, day in and day out, about his behavior. About how impulsive he is, how disrespectful, how unfocused he is. He gets sent back from special classes because he doesn’t listen and because of his incessant talking.  His card gets flipped constantly for disturbing the class. He is, in fact, a difficult child. We agree on that, you and me. There is no question about it.

“What can I do?’ you plead with me day after day and I, with a heavy heart, really don’t know what to tell you. I manage to say that every day is a new start, that we will try again and hope for a better day, that I will praise him for his good choices and remain calm during his bad choices that make me want to scream with frustration or anger over his blatant disrespect and disregard for anyone’s feeling but his own, but, honestly, I don’t know how to fix this.

I’ve been teaching for several years, and even though I know each child has an individual personality, I also know what children his age are typically like. They’re able, for the most part, to follow directions, to control the urge to bolt out of their seats and to not have stomping fits almost every day. They’re generally able to learn from their mistakes and are able to understand why they received a negative consequence. Your child can parrot back all of the rhetoric, but can’t put it into practice. He’s not able to see that he is responsible for his own actions, blaming his poor choices on others, sometimes to a ridiculous extent.

I know, in my heart, that here is something amiss with this child that I cannot change, not even with the most patient of teaching skills. This child needs something more, professional help, and I try and hint that to you in ways that will keep our relationship from falling apart, that will keep me from being perfectly blunt because I see the pain in your eyes every single day and I don’t want to be the one to twist that knife. I’m also not sure what I’m legally allowed to suggest to you, other than perhaps you should take him to see his pediatrician and describe what’s been going on for years. Please don’t keep asking me for a diagnosis, I can’t give you one. All I can do is gently try to make you see that his behaviour will soon be beyond anything we can help him with at school.

I know this isn’t what you planned on. I’m a mother, too. I know the joy of learning that you’ll be bringing a new life into the world, of dreaming what that child will be like: beautiful, intelligent, perfect in every way. Your plans were no doubt like my own. Your baby would excel in school, be the perfect combination of nature and nurture, win the love and admiration of everyone who met him. Spending countless hours with the teacher and the principal conferring about that sweet baby’s bad behavior is not something that was on your list of hopes, I know. All new parents soon realize that parenting is not easy and that the little prenatal angel that they had envisioned is capable of being stubborn and naughty at times, but I don’t think it enters any new parent’s mind that their child would need professional intervention down the road. I know that hurts, I know that’s hard to digest and nothing I say is going to make it go down any easier.

I haven’t had to go through that with my own kids and I’m not going to pretend that I know what your pain is like. I don’t. I don’t know what life is like at home behind closed doors. I don’t know what caused him to be this way. I can guess, I can speculate, (and, honestly, I do think about it on those days when he’s giving me a run for my money), but that fact is that I just don’t know. That’s not my area of expertise, nor is it my business. My business is educating my classroom full of children, all of them, teaching them what they need to know, giving them hugs when they’re feeling sad, listening to their problems, doing my best to help them be happy and secure with themselves and, believe me, I try my best. But I’m realizing that I can’t give your child the kind of help he really, truly, needs.

Please don’t be discouraged. Please don’t feel ashamed. I know that those feelings are hard to avoid, you tell me almost every time we talk. But I see determination in your face, too. I know that you love him, he is your precious child and the most important thing in the world to you, as he should be. He’s lucky to have you. I’ve seen similar situations where the parent is not so involved and the child knows it, but you tell him and show him that he is loved, no matter what and that is what touches me the most. I am convinced that you will get him the help he needs to be successful. Don’t give up on him, he needs you.

Whatever you decide to do, we’ll make the best of it, together. I know you have a rough road, but you were chosen to be his mama for a reason. I admire your strength.

Sincerely,

The Teacher

Read Full Post »