Sunday, June 11, 2017

For the Out of Work Teacher...I'm Struggling Too

I’m struggling right now, so indulge me while I wallow and work through this with writing. Plus, maybe my story will at least let other teachers know they aren’t alone. Otherwise I’d keep my whining to myself.

In April my principal let me know they were “opening up my position”—a nice way of kicking me to the curb. As it was only my second year at the school, I was still on “probation,” and it was much easier to get rid of me. I have so many issues with this.

1. This was actually my twelfth year of full-time teaching. Why do districts treat teachers like first-year rookies each time you start a new place? Just because I’m new to your building doesn’t mean I have amnesia of the last 12 years. I didn’t just wake up and start fresh, with no wisdom or experience or lesson plans. Why do schools need to make it so easy to get rid of teachers? Oh wait, I know the answer to this: teaching isn’t treated like a real profession and teachers aren’t afforded any trust. There are all those BAD teachers running around! Lock your doors and protect your innocent children.

2. If you can’t trust me, why the f*ck did you hire me? Or, why ask me back for a second year (which is also probationary)? If I’m such a sh*tty teacher, why give me another year? Oh that’s right, I’m actually not a bad teacher, which brings me to #3.
3. I’ve been in trouble several times this past year for stupid stuff

(Seriously, it is stupid: not giving detentions for phones [we are zero tolerance—you even see a phone, it’s detention—like I have time for that], making adults uncomfortable during PD [still have no idea how big old meanie me managed that], “inciting rebellion” in my classes by letting them talk about the school rules, tweeting something construed as negative about the school [even though I never mentioned the school—and the tweet wasn’t about it], etc.).

Not once, lemme say it again, not once have I been in trouble for my teaching. Well, I guess you could say the “inciting rebellion” was my teaching. ;-) Yet, I’m not being asked back. I’m at the mercy and whims of an administrator’s feelings. I wasn’t even given a reason because no reason is needed those first two years.

4. The funny part (I have a gallows’ sense of humor): I’ve received my best evaluations these last two years from two different administrators. I’ve had constructive feedback, healthy dialogue when we disagree, and a feeling of mutual respect…of course neither of those admins have a voice in my future employment.

5. Honestly, I felt this was coming, and while it shouldn’t hurt, it does. It really does. It hurts to think I can push myself, risk my health, work like a dog, see remarkable (really incredible) student growth and improvement and realize it’s still not enough. That I’m not enough.

No, I’m not fishing for compliments or accolades or pats on the head or even stickers. That’s not my style. I’m simply expressing what I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling: no matter what we do as teachers, it’s never going to be good enough for those in power.

Please don’t tell me I shouldn’t care about admins because I’m doing it for the kids. That cliché will not help me keep my job, find a new job, or pay my bills.

But, I do have so much student support. I’ve even heard from parents about how upset their child is and how they are also upset. Other teachers are shaken and pissed off. I have built a pretty good reputation for being an effective teacher, so if I’m not being asked back, is anyone else safe? People who know me, really know me, as a teacher, are shocked. The general reaction from other teachers and friends has been, “Are you f*cking serious?” Yep, as a heart attack.

Meanwhile, I’m figuratively curled in a corner, not blindsided but still stunned.

6. However, I am a big girl. I’m applying for other jobs, which I’ve been doing since about February (told you I felt this coming). I’ve applied to five different schools so far. I’ve had one interview and crickets. I know it’s still early—that doesn’t help my anxiety over my ambiguous future. Two jobs have been filled. The one I interviewed for will be handed to someone who can coach two sports…oh, and teach English.

My inner figure shrinks further into the corner. Those ridiculing voices suddenly seem to be voices of truth: I’m really not good enough. Because, honestly, it shouldn’t be this hard for someone with my resume, in a state desperate for warm bodies, to find another position. Even with ELA teachers being a dime a dozen and ELA not being as important as STEM or athletics.

And, I’m looking around at the average or below average teachers who get to keep their jobs because they aren’t troublemakers like I am.

They don’t get the results I do, but results are nothing compared to compliance.

7. Plus, the thought of starting over in another district exhausts me. To move my books and belongings to another room—again. (The last three times I’ve done that, I’ve had to clean out the previous teacher’s crap before I could even move my possessions in.) To make new friends, which is hell to an introvert—again. To learn the ropes and students in a new district—again. To learn to navigate all the unspoken—again. To be treated like a rookie—again. To worry I won’t be asked back—again.

Is it really worth it? The pay sucks. The hours are ludicrous. The lack of respect and autonomy is stifling. I swear to god if you say anything about “the kids,” I will punch you in the face. If the kids were the only aspect of my job, then I could simply think about them. However, the kids end up being the least of anyone’s concerns.

8. Now I’ve reached a point where I don’t want to bother anymore. My heart is broken and my spirit is tattered. Maybe I shouldn’t be in education. Thus, I’m looking for jobs outside of education…which has turned up a whole set of thoughts I thought I’d laid to rest: I’m not qualified for anything but teaching. I’m just a teacher.

Yes, yes, I am an effective communicator, a virtuoso at multitasking, adept with technology, blah blah blah. Yes, I’m definitely trainable. But, why do I want to start over again in another field? My degree is in education. I don’t want to educate adults. I’m really not fond of adults. At least with teens I believe they still have a chance, still have potential.

I never thought I’d have to worry about qualifying for anything else. I was going to teach, get a master’s, move on to something else in education, maybe get a doctorate (dreams!), and again move on to something education-related. I have no desire to do anything else. Unfortunately, it looks like I’ve overstayed my welcome and education doesn’t want me.

So, if you hear of any jobs for an out-of-work, washed-up, unwanted former English teacher, let me know. Hmmm, wonder if I could stage a real life Breaking Bad. He was a former teacher, right?

**6-10-17 Update, I’ve applied for every ELA job in the area, which was really not many. Because of the stupid lupus, I really can’t commute a long way. I know I’m a masochist for trying to stick with education. At one school that had two openings, I applied on a Tuesday and by Thursday I received an automated email telling me the positions were filled/closed.

I may have a job (I’m waiting to hear back), but it’s really difficult knowing I’m not a district’s first choice nor is the position really what I would like. I’ll admit it’s pride, but, dammit, so what? Other careers are allowed to take pride in their accomplishments. Why can’t teachers? It doesn’t mean I have or will become complacent—that’s not my style. I’ve worked hard to become an “expert” in my field, but I also know I will never stop learning and improving.

I’ve made teaching my life, so, yes, it sucks when my hard work hasn’t paid off…

When I’m not a first choice…

When I have glowing recommendations and have built an impressive resume…

It hurts.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Experimenting with Revision

I’m finishing up my 12th+ year of teaching. But, I still am learning…and I still make mistakes.

Over the years, I’ve struggled with teaching writing, specifically research papers. I’ll admit during my first 5(ish) years of teaching, I appreciated the format of five paragraph essays and the Schaffer Method because it was something known—something concrete I could teach.

Writing is so subjective and amorphous…how the hell do you teach what you can’t exactly explain?

My first AP summer conference was an eye opener. I had an amazing, dynamic woman who had been teaching more than 20 years—and still loved it! She had an overwhelming amount of energy and handouts and tips and tricks and advice and wisdom. I could have listened to her for longer than the week we had. She helped me begin breaking the mold I’d encased myself in. Unfortunately, AP, and college writing, still needs quite a bit of format. And, I’ve taught AP longer than any other level.

I further evolved as a writing teaching when I began writing more myself. I’ll admit I started with writing AP essays with my students. But, I at least dropped one of the “required” body paragraphs. Haha! As I wrote, I actually began thinking about my writing and how best to communicate an idea. It wasn’t simply topic sentence, example, commentary, rinse, and repeat. I thought about punctuation. About the rules. I didn’t make all my changes that year, but the journey has continued since those first steps in 2007.

Each year, I get better, more confident in teaching writing.

I’ve also become better and more adept at discussing writing with students rather than “dictating.” I love looking in a student’s eyes and saying, “Hmmm, that’s a good question. What do you think?” or “Let’s look at your sentence. You could use this and achieve this effect. Or, you could do this and achieve this effect. What do you like better?” It’s amazing how empowering it is for them to make the decisions about their communication. That kind of freedom can also be terrifying for many of them, especially if tied to a grade (don’t make that mistake, teacher).

This year and last pushed me even more. I work with juniors who have barely written anything since middle school. Hell, I would’ve even taken a formulaic essay. I can work with that. I’ve almost started at ground zero: basic essay structure (they needed training wheels), grammar/mechanics IN CONTEXT (not drill and kill), annotation, analysis, blah, blah, blah. I even pulled out some of my 8th/9th grade assignments to introduce skills to them.

I do have to say I’m incredibly proud of my students’ growth last year and this.

Now that I’ve prefaced enough…on to the actual post. Sorry, folks, I’m big on context!

Grading research papers has always been the bane of my existence. They take me so long! I try to read them twice: once for content and once for format/grammar/mechanics. In years past, I’ve been the copy editor, slashing and correcting until the paper lies bleeding on my desk (partly why I switched to pink/purple pens from red).

Each year, I try to find loopholes and more efficient ways to grade and actually help students instead of them glancing at their grade, ignoring my corrections, and trashing the paper. Last year, I only butchered the first two pages and focused on content for the rest. That saved me some time, but still didn’t teach students much, even though I had them do another revision.

This past weekend, I think I had a brilliant idea. I handed back the “final” drafts on Monday. Students grabbed a highlighter and a red pen (which I keep in my class for other assignments).

My directions:
1. Grab a highlighter.
2. Look at the 1st source on your Works Cited.
3. Find it in your paper.
4. Once you find it, highlight the citation and the source. You only have to do this once for each source.
5. Now, do this for all your sources.
6. Compare the Works Cited and your citations. Are there any in your paper not on the WC? Are there any on the WC not in your paper? Circle those.
7. You cannot list it on the WC unless you used it in your paper. Period. If you use it in your paper, you have to list it on your WC.

Part II: To earn your grammar/mechanics research paper grade:
1. You must find and correct 15 mistakes.
2. You can use capitalization, any punctuation, spelling mistakes. There must be a variety--not just 15 capitalization mistakes.
3. Highlight the sentence you are correcting. Make the correction in RED INK.
4. If you actually used the revision checklist for your rough draft and are having problems finding mistakes, feel free to play around with punctuation: use a colon, semicolon, and/or dash.

I had some of the most productive discussions with students during this process. They weren’t afraid of failing, so many of them really did play with punctuation. They also felt free to not use my suggestions. Seeing their confidence gave me a high.

Today, Tuesday, I asked for feedback: 1. Was yesterday helpful? 2. What is one thing you learned/remembered?

Overall (like over 90%), students said this was helpful. Many of them said they learned their papers are never finished. Just when they think they’re done, they should re-read and make more corrections. It’s only been 2 months since they submitted these, but the majority couldn’t believe how “bad” the papers were. That’s growth, readers.

So much of AP writing is rushed and “bad” writing. I try to stress the process whenever I can. I will definitely do this assignment again. I think I’ll only wait 2 weeks-1 month next time—kind of depends on whether I need to review that fancy punctuation (as the kids call it). Putting some of the work back in their hands saved me and actually taught them something.

Why didn’t I have this epiphany sooner?!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Whites Will Never Find Greatness (by Themselves)

I knew Trump was going to win as soon as I knew he was a Republican candidate. Why? Because I know how base humans can be.

That sounds pessimistic, bordering on nihilistic, but humor me while I work through some of my thoughts (and emotions) after the election.

This will not be a white guilt or white woman’s tears post.

I hope I never detract from those voices more silenced than my woman’s voice. After all, I am still white and still enjoy privilege. Instead, I want mostly to address my thoughts toward that white woman audience.

People of color (especially those women who continue to lead the charge even though white women do everything in their power to cripple them) know how white people screwed them—continue to screw them. Hell, they know their history. White people are the deliberately blind, ignorant, deaf, tunnel-visioned voters. This post is for them.

I have maintained a constant state of dread and nausea since I first heard Trump connected to the Republican Party. Sure, I did my share of laughing early on. Come on, he’s a buffoon. He’s going to deport Muslims? Force Mexico to pay for a wall? Tiny baby Jesus. How asinine are those two ideas?! How could intelligent people vote for someone so clearly unqualified, so clearly wrong? Yes, that last rhetorical question is stupid because even then I knew the answer to that: People hate losing their power, whether they earned it for real or “earned” it by being born with white skin.

I took my Latinx students seriously when they asked me what would happen to them. All I could say was, “I don’t know.” And I would try to be optimistic for them, “Nothing will happen. There’s no way he will get elected.” Ahhhh, if only that were true.

I spent the next several months watching in horror (but not surprise) as the Facebook “friends” showed their true colors and refused to listen to reason. I’m not going to pretend I’ve always been “woke.” However, I’m a personality type (INTJ) that will listen to other sides, ponder them, dig for any truth, and then can change my mind with relative ease—if presented with truth/facts/logic. When I realize something is right/wrong, I make that appropriate change. While I’ve squirmed in embarrassment, discomfort, and guilt over the last five-ish years, I’ve also come to see how wrong I’ve been about being colorblind, about respectability politics, about objectification of women and ownership of their lives, about LGBT+ issues, and so many other issues.

I thought I was out of the cave before. The last few years have shown me I was still enjoying the shadows, chained to the floor. I thank so many people on Twitter for their patience, their brutal honesty, their anger, their emotion, and their bravery in sharing their lives with stupid people like me. I believe in educating myself, but I thank them for sharing their stories so I have material to use in my education. The pain of the blinding sun as they shone the truth of their experiences…wow. I admit I unfollowed people like Melinda Anderson (@mdawriter) because she pissed me off for so much. Then I realized why I was angry—she was right. I had been doing the “not all white people” crap instead of acknowledging hers (and others’) experiences.

Although I teach literary theory to students and the importance of looking at more than one side, I had developed a blind spot about my own egocentricity. I’ve learned the danger of only “reading” one narrative. So, I found @mdawriter and many other important voices, followed them, shut my mouth, listened and amplified them, and reflected on myself whenever those voices upset my precious little white fragility. Actually, it’s been awhile since I was offended by anyone other than white people. So, let’s discuss that now…

To reiterate, I’m angry, disgusted, saddened, but not surprised by the election. I know people can be better; I know they can work to improve themselves and their world; however, people are generally such selfish assholes that they rarely surprise me. Sadly, acts of generosity and kindness surprise me more than violence and hate.

Mostly, I’m so incensed by white women I could actually do harm. White women, here’s the message we’ve sent to the world:

1. We’re okay with the patriarchy as long as they take care of us and buy us pretty things. More candidly, men just need to buy us red hats and Trump T-shirts to make us happy. Or, gold-plated rooms. Okay, I can’t prove this point with empirical evidence—well, I could, but I don’t have the time/energy—so this point is simply emotional.

2. We would rather elect a man who brags about “grabbing [us] by the pussy” then elect someone who actually has a vagina. Good job, White women. Way to be leaders of the “free” world. Way to send a message of equality. No, I definitely don’t advocate voting for Hillary simply because she has the same anatomy, but I do advocate thinking for yourself and what’s actually best for society. This time, it was Hillary.

3. We will do anything to make sure our white men retain their power. Why? Because it benefits us. Makes me think of that scene in Gone With the Wind, with the thinly veiled reference to the KKK: The men created their “political society” to protect their women. Sure people died, but by god, those White women’s reputations went unbesmirched. For all our f*ing platitudes, we really want men to protect our “purity,” maintain our social status, keep us on those mythological pillars. Fools. We’re fine with White men catcalling, disparaging, discriminating against, harassing, sexually assaulting us as long as they continue to place us on pedestals to show we’re better than other women. Which brings me to my next point…

4. Jesus, White women. If you're really wanting equality, it ain't comin' from your White men. Why do we need to completely sh*t on women of other races? Do you realize how stupid you are? Those women could be our allies, our sisters in the fight for equality. Instead, we are such competitive and power-grubbing bitches, we can’t acknowledge help from women of color. Honestly, women of color are doing more for equal rights than we are, especially before and after this election. They were those prophets in the wilderness, calling out our doom if Trump were elected. Being stupid and perverse, we White women heard those messages and blithely said, “Who cares? Men will still take care of us.” And we flipped off those marginalized groups, those groups who wisely voted against Trump because they know the ugly side of America. Dear god we are deliberately dumb and hateful.  That takes me to my next area of contention…

5. Allow me to wax idealistic on this point…Why couldn’t Whites vote for humanity instead of their own selfish desires? Why can’t White men release their death grip on their power and the government and the nation? Why can’t White women realize a vote for marginalized groups would also (selfishly) serve their own equality? Any positive step toward equity for one group is potentially a step for all groups…if we would only realize this. You know the cliché, “We are only as strong as our weakest link,” so why do Whites deliberately create those weak links? Whites continually beat down and beat down and beat down anyone who isn’t White (or cis or hetero or “Christian” or binary or whatever the hell makes one acceptable to the Whites in power). Whites should be afraid of other races gaining power and staging an “uprising.” Those groups are rightfully pissed at us. We’ve earned their ire—and continually stoke that fire; then we castigate them for their anger.

Why couldn’t Whites (especially women) realize a vote against Trump was a vote for all of the society? Why can’t Whites realize strengthening the groups we’ve deliberately weakened would, in fact, improve our entire society? When will Whites realize this incestuous exchange and sharing of power is not a healthy symbiotic relationship, but is parasitic? Whites are sucking the life from America, denying our country any possible chance at greatness. No one and nothing can ever be great if you’ve stolen, murdered, pillaged, and raped to achieve power. Power does not equal greatness—it’s simply a show of strength. If your pathway to “greatness” is littered with the torn, bloody, broken bodies of others, you are not great. You are a bloodthirsty tyrant, only great in your own bloated, egotistical, warped mind.

Greatness is not a quality one achieves by hurting others. Greatness is a higher quality: something one aspires to by throwing off the baser qualities. One becomes great by realizing one is nothing without others. Those “others” are not simply people who look and believe like you. Those “others” are people who challenge you and push you and expect you to be a better human being.

If we really want America to be great, we need to finally admit we have royally screwed everything up since the first White landed on the continent. We need to finally admit Whites do not have all the answers, nor should Whites hold all the power.

To truly (and finally) make America great, we need to stop finding scapegoats and admit the reason America is screwed up is because Whites have tried so hard to keep those “others” under our heels—and they’re sick of it.

Whites need to finally admit we, by ourselves, will never find greatness.

Those “others” will be America’s salvation…if Whites will stop screwing up that real search for greatness.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Guest Blog: Music

Below is a blog from one of my students. I let them write about any topic they wanted so I could assess their content. This student gave me permission to repost. I did not make any corrections because I'm not worried about sharing a "perfect" piece (although it's already gorgeous). I meant to share this awhile ago, but I kept forgetting to ask her.

Reprinted with permission from my student. The student retains all rights to this work. 

      Music is dangerous. It can lead people to tears, bring back harsh memories, and it can make them smile. You are the master of your decisions when you are the master of your emotions. Society today relies mostly on emotions, not facts. That is what makes it so perilous. If you control the music, you control the people. Think about it. When you listen to a song in a soft minor key, you tend to calm down. Your heart rate slows to keep time. You might close your eyes. You breathe deeply. You submit to the melody, and are no longer entirely in control.

      The musician has an important job. A common misconception about music is that it moves people. It is not an active being. It’s more like potential energy. It sits, vibrating, buzzing with life, but not alive. Musicians have to move it. They have to contort the sound and manipulate the instrument to get their personal propaganda to your ears. What you feel is not the music prodding your heart. It is what someone is trying to communicate to you. You feel sadness because they fashioned the song to make you feel that way. Ninety percent of music is not emotion, it is more a calculation of human tendency. Crescendo increases tension. Rubato increases drama because you don’t know exactly what comes next. It is a difficult thing to do because your tone and intonation must remain impeccable at all times, as well as keeping a steady pulse, so that your listeners will give their full attention. You have to express the emotion without getting too wrapped up in it yourself.

      Picture it like this: the musician is speaking, and the melody is a megaphone. If he or she speaks too loudly, the words become jumbled, and indecipherable. It grates on one’s ears.  If that person speaks too softly, the megaphone will not pick up on the voice. It is like the device is not being used at all. Instead, a perfect balance between sound and silence must be achieved so that the audience clearly understands the message.

       The virtuoso takes a breath, and tells his or her story to you. They pour out their hearts to the crowds because they have to. They have no other way to say what they need to tell you. As the curtain closes, and the audience stands, the performer smiles. He has just disclosed to the people a lifetime of secrets, yet the world is none the wiser.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Meeting My Son

It was a day full of emotion and tentative words. A day of loud silences, tears, and hugs. It was the day my child told me she was not “she,” but was he.

I’ve wanted to write about this for a long time, but I also wanted to wait until my teen gave me allowance to address this. Let me set the scene:

Since my child hit puberty, he has had a rough time. There was some bullying and a lot of self-loathing. We even had a brief time where he was suicidal. I chalked all this up to typical teen emotions and a hypersensitive child. I, too, was hypersensitive, but I learned to quietly swallow everything and bottle it up. Emotions were not dealt with healthily, so I have always tried to cultivate a safe and open environment for my husband and child. Emotions themselves are not unhealthy—it’s how we use those emotions that can be toxic.

We got through the middle school years and coasted into high school. Life was somewhat better, but my child still floundered. For 10th-12th, we let him do an online public school because of his sometimes crippling anxiety. By senior year, life seemed to be leveling out, and my baby graduated June 2015—just shy of his seventeenth birthday.

Fast forward to July 2015. I had spent three days at teaching GAfE for a school near Muskogee. After that last day, I eagerly headed home. As I flew down the turnpike between Tulsa and OKC, I tried calling my teen to check in. No answer (which is actually pretty typical). Then I got this text:

I stopped at the McDonald’s halfway to text my response (I don’t text and drive!).

Then this one came in (a Google doc was also attached):

My heart dropped. I’m not a worrier; I’m more of a problem solver, but when you get a text like this, you can’t help but feel a level of anxiety.

There in the McDonald’s parking lot, I read the attachment, with some trepidation. It was lengthy but beautifully and honestly written. I have raised a talented writer. J

To summarize, my daughter was actually my son. He had begun some soul-searching in recent months and realized the truth of his gender. He logically and eloquently explained how he arrived at this conclusion and shared his new name. He also remarked how the movie Inside Out helped him explore his identity since the emotions and the character Riley seemed more open and not set on a two-gender dynamic.

I read slowly and thoroughly. This was my child’s heart and soul on paper, so I took my time to chew on and digest.

Then, I cried…and prayed.

Let me clarify: I did not cry and pray this wasn’t true. I didn’t rail to God and ask, “Why?!” Instead, I cried and prayed I would say and do the “right” thing when I got home. I cried and prayed because my rational mind immediately clicked through statistics for LGBT people in America, especially transgendered people. I cried and prayed because I’ve read the stories about the beatings and/or murders of transgender people. I cried and prayed because I knew my child was about to begin a hard journey—harder than anything else we’d encountered. I cried and prayed God would give me even more strength to be there for my son. Then, I started home.

I managed to compose myself before I pulled into the garage. I took a moment and a deep breath. The next words out of my mouth had the potential to nurture or destroy my future relationship with my baby. I don’t say that capriciously: My child and I have always enjoyed a closer than “normal” bond. I have no idea how I am so blessed because I’m not really a nurturing person, but my child is definitely attached to his mother.

I walked into my house and saw my child in our kitchen. I walked around to him and said one of the simplest and most profound sentences of my life, “Hello, Coby. It’s nice to meet you.”

I will never forget the look of relief on my son’s face and how he collapsed into me. I surrounded my sweet child with my arms and my love. In that space of time I knew nothing had changed and everything had changed.

It’s probably the only time I have been 100% proud of myself as a parent. I have no regrets and don’t think I could have handled that moment any better.

The last year hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbow-farting unicorns. Coby is seeing a therapist for the anxiety. The therapist also focuses on LGBT issues with her practice, so that has been wonderful. We did keep all this pretty quiet for much of the last year, at my child’s request, to protect him. I even did the balancing act of saying “daughter” at school and to friends and family and “son” at home because I respected Coby’s desire for privacy.

We did enjoy a wonderful summer break together. In the last few months, he’s been much more open and much more confident. I am so proud of who he is becoming.

Ultimately, I have once again realized not everything in life is about me and my feelings; this is about my child realizing who he actually is and about him becoming comfortable in his skin. This has been about me not giving a flying f*** how my family feels or how anyone feels about my child. This is about my son being happy. Period.

As we have begun telling people, I have been amazed by the beauty and goodwill from some of our family (not everyone knows yet), our friends, and my students. While I have never minded letting Coby fight his own battles, I will say if anyone harasses my son for simply being who he is or if they deny him his right to live his life, this momma is ready to take on those people. Let me warn you, it won’t be pretty—for you. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

My First Week (+ 1 Day) 2016

Recently I began my twelfth year of teaching (not counting the 1 ½ I taught part-time). I’ll admit to not being exactly thrilled to start a new year, for several reasons. I’ll share two:
1.     Last year took a lot out of me. My faithful readers know I have lupus. Last year exhausted me both mentally and physically. I spent pretty much all of June simply resting and trying to recover…it didn’t really help. I am currently trying to get back on my infusion instead of being stupid and trying to do without it.
2.     I did not prepare for this year like I normally do. Usually I have most to all of my year planned on Google Calendar by the time school starts. This year I had the first day planned—that was it. However, I did spend the summer researching and really thinking about myself, my privilege, and changing my curriculum. My problem was I felt overwhelmed by the myriad of issues I could cover. There’s so much going on in the world, so much that needs changing.

So, teachers reported back, and our “welcome back” speech didn’t feel welcoming. It felt the opposite…but I was determined to keep a good attitude for my students.

We did get some much-needed time in our classrooms. I appreciated the quiet so I could putter around and put finishing touches on my room. It was ready before we reported back, but I find it calming to spend time in my classroom—and I hope my students feel the same.

Students came back on a Friday, which was weird. Really weird. Once again, I welcomed students to their junior year and AP Language, and said, “Let’s read a story.” Just like last year, we read “Examination Day” by Henry Seslar. I always get such odd looks from the students. After finishing the last line, I asked students to turn to a neighbor and discuss why in the world their AP teacher would start the year by killing off a child. I gave them a couple minutes to ponder, then we talked as a class.

I stressed the importance of thinking for themselves, of taking risks, or opening their minds. We talked about who is easier to control: dumb people or intelligent people. I told them I had to desire to control them. I wanted them to question everything, even me.

From there we looked at “Pretty Good” by Charles Osgood and a satirical letter, thanking a teacher for focusing so much on test scores. I used these to further the conversation about grades, learning, thinking, etc. We finished the hour with a class bingo just to get the students up and moving.

Several throughout the day remarked I was the only teacher who welcomed them to the new school year, who talked about grades, and who wanted to give them room to make mistakes.

During the next week, we did some assessments so I could gage what they learned/knew/remembered from last year. Our pre-AP program (at least for 9th and 10th grade) is much too weak, so I had a good idea where students would be. Our department lacks alignment, so we don’t know who’s covering what literary terms as which grades, students aren’t really doing research papers, they aren’t doing much writing, and are doing little analysis or other AP prep.  
We began the week with a “Who Am I?” five-slide presentation. I asked for their name and a picture and a slide each telling me their likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses. These presentations really helped me begin putting names with faces!

We did a “pre-test” of literary terms and basic essay format, then went over it as a class so I could see what I needed to review or teach.

We finished the week with students blogging over a topic of their choice. I simply wanted to assess their content and voice/style. There were some weak and skimpy blogs and some truly beautiful work. In fact, I posted one of them as a guest blog. (Caution: the student wrote eloquently and honestly about rape, providing some mature and healthy talk about the subject. You can find it here:

Overall, they did well, and I already see much potential in this group. We shall see as the year progresses….