April 28, 2011

Too Bad...

Earlier this week, one of the administrators posted a reminder to us teachers to watch what we say in front of students and parents.

In the hallway we pondered what the story behind that e-mail was, and which one of us said something that triggered an angry parent's e-mail to administration. We joked about the poor sucker who stepped in it, but we also wondered if one of us was the one who screwed up. Reflecting back, haven't we all said something to students that, when repeated at home, might raise some ire? I've had a rough bunch this year, and I've given a record number of brutally honest speeches this year. What have I said? Oh lordy...let's not go there.

Worse yet, in this late part of the year, as some of us are locked in gladiator-type battles of wills with helicopter parents, so goodness only knows what could have been said to a parent. I've been there, too, on a smaller scale. Early this year, I said to a parent that her student didn't care about his work, and that was why he did poorly on a project where we had multiple drafts. (The student should have been there to give his own excuses so I didn't have to speculate, but that's another matter entirely.) There was almost blood in the meeting, and after the meeting the parent was still ranting about me to other staff members, and later I did end up in the principal's office. My team's tough love approach does not always go over well...

One of the teachers in my hallway was able to dig up the dirt on the offending words warranted a reminder from adminstration, and she reported back to us during lunch that somebody had said, "Sucks to be you."

Oops, I should have warned you. It is pretty harsh.

I hope my colleagues will be more careful, as will I, when offering sarcastic sympathy for petty excuses.

Sonny, I remember when "Sucks to be you" was too crude for the classroom, but it has become a lot more mainstream in everyday life, including in the classroom. Nonetheless, we should soften our words our students.

No pencil?
"What idiot doesn't bring the one thing he needs each day? Too bad you will not be able to do your work."

No homework?
"Thank you for telling me about your non-achievement. Sit your ass down now."

Forgot the project I assigned three weeks ago, although I have reminded you daily about the due date?
"WTH is wrong with you?" Perhaps saying nothing is best here...

See? It takes some practice, but teachers should learn to censor themselves, or as one of my colleagues mutters under her breath as she's monitoring her classroom, "I will not say what I think. I will not say what I think."

I should take this to heart, too. I am harsh with my high school students (this "sucks to be you" matter was from my middle school), and in fact, one of my boys frequently comes in complaining that his arm hurts and he cannot write, to which I reply, "Okay, cupcake. Suck it up like a real man, grab your notebook, and sit down." Except for the cupcake part--I think he prefers being called "creampuff"--it's quite motivating for him.

What will become of my students in the future? I think of my them struggling against the hard, cold world, unable to stand up on their own, unable to take responsibility for themselves, and unable to learn from life's hard knocks. They take the wrong things too seriously and cannot laugh at their own little mistakes. Man, it's going to suck to being them.

April 25, 2011

Vacation is My Kryptonite

I put in my typical 12-hour day, and I'm exhausted. Actually, had I remembered to do a few things during the break, my day would not have been so long. Well, home for 3o minutes, and I'm ready for bed. How quickly I forget how to get through each day.

How long did my rose-colored glasses stay on? Er, I'm still trying to have some hope, but about 15 minutes into my first class, that is at 7:20 a.m., after having to remind two girls to stop talking--two girls who had previously been assigned new seats but found their way back to each other--I wanted to go back home. I get so tired of the stupid shenanigans. Just SHUT UP!

I don't think I'll need as much energy to get through tomorrow.

I hope.

April 24, 2011

Refreshed!

It's been 10 days since I've had my in-class teacher shoes on. Reluctantly, I have spent most of the day getting back in the mind frame so I can walk into the classroom ready to roll. I know it's pointless, as the students will not be ready to roll until at least 3rd period, but that's them. I'm going to be a professional about going back to work for another month after a blissful spring break.

(I am thinking of this spring break as practice for summer break, and I was getting pretty good at it.)

I had some essays I need to grade, as they were turned in earlier in April, and now it's the end of April. I'm pretty sure nobody cares about what has happened in the time since I collected and how I wasn't actually one the job to correct them. In the first part of the year, the students wrote a lot of essays, but since the big state tests, we have had other projects going on. The essay I assigned to them, the topic on what makes a good communicator, was not a big in-class production, but we did go through the whole writing process over the course of a few weeks.

And so far...the essays are pretty terrible. I started with ones that were turned in late, as they were on top, so I keep telling myself that they will get better once I make it through the students who didn't care enough to turn it in on time. (Years later, my theory that late work is rarely the highest quality work still stands.) Unfortunately, there were a lot of students who didn't turn it in on time, so I am not sure I'll ever make it to the good stuff before I totally lose any drive to get up and go to work in the morning.

(Thank you blog for the distraction.)

Because I'm feeling refreshed from spring break, I'm ready to squeeze more out of the students before they move on to high school, but this isn't my first gig, and I know that the next month will be nothing short of hell. Okay, so maybe it won't be totally roasting the whole time before June 9, but I'd say I really only have a good solid 2 weeks before everything really falls apart. Still...I'm ready to make rockin' writers out of every single one of them!

Oh! In my burst of energy (from getting to sleep in until 7:30 am each morning), I am even thinking, "We should have a longer school year because the last few weeks of the year, students shut down, so we should add a few more weeks." How crazy am I? Wow! It's like I'm back to the beginning-of-the-year optimism!

This might be a good time to start a pool on how long this good mood will last. The refreshed me is thinking by the end of the week I will have lost my spunk, but that other voice in my head is saying, "Yeah, right. You will be lucky to make it to 7:07 am with your first class. They screw your mood over all the time."

Oh! But maybe...maybe not this time!

April 14, 2011

Gettin' Schooled

I'm off to a 3-day IBO workshop for "MYP Assessment in the 21st Century." I'm always interested in learning more about assessment, but sometimes it seems the more I know, the less I really do know. I don't know why it's so complicated. I'm looking forward to learning some new things about the IBO Middle Years Programme because it is time to freshen up. Besides assessment, I think the whole IB realm is something that just when I think I'm getting it, I find I'm not doing as well as I could be. In the case of IB stuff, as I've come to realize, it's just a difficult program to do well in the structure of our test-frenzied school system.

I'm going with the coordinator of the program, so I anticipate some great planning and conversations that we can bring back to the school to enhance our program. Oh yes, it is sure nice to attend workshops with dynamic people. It's much easier to bring back valuable information and ideas.

Great content, great company, and we're going to Vancouver, British Columbia. (I do feel guilty knowing that times are tight, but the rub is also that part of having an IB program means that we are obligated to get training...) It's a short plane trip for us, and it's not Tennessee or Texas. No offense to either of those state, but I have attended a lot of conferences in those states. New places, new perspectives, new experiences. Those are ideas that fit with the IB program!

April 7, 2011

Continuing Support with Writing Projects

It's been a disheartening week for me as an educator. Besides the alarming conditions in my school district, the reality of the National Writing Project being defunded hit home with me yesterday after the leadership team at my writing project, Southern Nevada Writing Project (SNWP). There's a project to encourage teachers to blog in support of trying to get federal funding back.

Over the years, since I went through the summer institute in 2005, I've reflected many times about how much SNWP and NWP have impacted my life. It's only been six years since fateful summer that changed my life, but I am not sure I can easily articulate how it's impacted my life because writing project experiences have woven themselves into my life in so many different ways that I cannot pick out specific threads. The Writing Project continually helps me grow as a teacher, and that is in itself awesome, but because it keeps me going as a teacher, I am able to keep my students going, too.

I was a fairly experienced classroom teacher before I joined the Writing Project, but I have always been a humble teacher who feels she can always learn more and do more to be a better teacher. That summer I attended the summer institute, I had wanted to be a better writing teacher. I'm an secondary English teacher. It's a big part of my job. Now, I don't remember what I used to do, but I know what I do now, and I can think of specific things that I picked up that summer, such having response groups modeled from my experience, that are mainstays in my classroom. I'm pretty sure that my constant encouragement for students to be writers--be thinkers--is much stronger after my experiences.

A big part of my job is helping students pass writing exams. My 8th graders take a big exam, and my high school seniors are desperate to pass their exams for high school graduation. I have three frustrated seniors who have just found out that, 7 weeks from the end of the year, have still not passed their writing exams. I am frustrated, and they are terrified, but we are still working away. Just recently I was reminded that as often I can help my students with tips and tricks, I do not allow them to take too many short cuts. Unfortunately, it's not much consolation to my students when I say, "I know you didn't pass, but you have some so far since August." The proof is in the portfolio. It does give them hope to keep growing.

Two of my students recently found out that they passed their exams. Neither of these boys have had an easy time of high school, and writing class is never a class anyone wants to take. Because my class is structured for students who need to pass their exams, and we are just a few weeks into the quarter, both of the boys had the option of leaving my class, moving onto more popular classes such as art or P.E.

At separate times, I spoke with both of the young men, and told them they could transfer out if they wanted. OR, if they were planning on attending community college, they could stay, and we could continue to work on their writing so they could be better prepared for college.

"Nah, nah, Miss. I'm staying."

"Are you sure?" I asked, "You know the schedule this quarter. Some collaborative brainstorming. Independent work. Peer evaluation. Back to your own writing. Of course, I'll help you, too. A topic a week."

"Yeah, yeah. No, I'm staying. I want to be even better."

Super score! Not only have they passed their proficiency exams, I have convinced them to keep growing past the exam. Not only am I teaching them to pass their tests, which is frustrating, but I am teaching them to be writers and thinkers, too. What are they thinking? Oh, they think a lot, but the theme of this week is thinking beyond yourself to be better than you thought you could be.

Yes, in July of 2005, I was very much interested in how to be a better writing teacher. I almost didn't make it that far because in the January of 2005, I was searching for jobs outside education. I was frustrated with being a classroom teacher, and from students to administrators, it felt like all the forces were against me. I'm one of those people whose life was "changed" from being in the Writing Project. I'm not going to pretend that it's been a cakewalk in the years since, but I am thankful for opportunities and support that I get from the amazing professional community I've found.

Tonight, one of those boys, so excited and relieved that he passed his exam insisted on giving me a big hug.

"Miss, nobody ever helped me with my writing before," he told me. Of course he could write before he came to me, but I helped him fill in the gaps.

This is what it comes down to:

The Southern Nevada Writing Project and The National Writing Project helped me.
I help students.

It's no small thing.

Reality Comes

Yesterday was a rough day, as teachers were called down to the the office to be told their positions have been cut. One colleague was no shock, as she was hired in the middle of the year when a little extra money was found for her position. The shocking moment of the day was hearing that we lost a foreign language position, leaving two teachers to provide foreign language to 500 students who are required to take it it the IBMYP program.The low man on the totem pole has been at our school 5 1/2 years.

I've heard that lost 11 positions. I don't know which ones for sure, but that's 11 teachers with uncertain futures and 55 classrooms full of students left to be absorbed by those of us still standing.

I don't even want to go to work today with the mood so heavy and situation nothing but hopeless.

To make matters more depressing in my mind, the proposed cuts on the table now include a 5% pay cut and a 20% increase I what I pay for health insurance. From estimates I've seen on what that means is that I need to cut $300-400 from my family's budget.

My poor kids are really getting the shaft at school and at home.

April 3, 2011

Now with 20% More!

It's hard to be a happy classroom teacher in my neck of the woods right now. Things have been bad in Nevada the last few years, and we have experienced drastic cuts in educational spending, but we've survived. This year, the governor has put it on our district to cut $400 million from our budget. What we're looking at to save that money is an 5-8% salary cut (something we had avoided in the past few years, yet we did go into a pay freeze last year) and 2,500 lost positions, some of which will be support staff, but a gigantic chunk will be classroom teachers. There are other proposed smaller cuts, like no new textbooks and transportation adjustments, but when it comes to cutting millions, it has to be teachers and salaries.

I met with my principal on Friday to sign my evaluation this year. She gave me my directives for next year, which are pretty much to continue with doing the things I'm expected to do in my job anyway, and she thanked me for doing a good job. (I appreciated that actual verbal praise.)

She said, "I don't know what to tell you about next year."

"Oh, I'm not worried about my position here. It's like it was last year. If I get bumped, the whole department is screwed," I joked with her.

She glanced at her seniority list, confirming what I knew already about my seniority, which is 2nd in my department at my school. When it comes to district seniority, I'm pretty much in the middle of the list, too.

I continued, "No, what I'm worried about is how much more it's going to suck working here with larger class sizes and no funding. Moral is already low. It's not going to get any better."

You know, my boss didn't even bat an eye at my frank talk. We're all in this sinking ship together.

The buzz among us teachers is concern for those larger class sizes, which are predicted to be 7 students more than we have now. I don't know about others at my school or in the district--although a new student in my night school class claims she has already 56 students in one of her classes at a local high school during the day--but my classes have 4-5 more students in them this year than they did last year. What do you want from me? A scientific study or something? My larger classes are harder to manage. It takes us longer to accomplish things. Students have fewer opportunities to speak or interact with each other. I do not have the opportunity to interact with many of my students.

I can tell you that adding adding 20% to my class next year will absolutely change the way I teach. Oh, is that a threat? Or am I going to evolve as a teacher? Parents and the public should know that more work--especially with the reward of less pay--will not be a great motivator for me, but more importantly, having to do more work with the same amount of time and resources will not produce a better experience for the students. What I should tell parents is that we are preparing them for college. Students need to come to class, get the information, do their work, turn it in on time, get their feedback, and if they need help, it is up to them to seek me out after school.

Wait, that's kind of how it is now anyway. Only parents, and sometimes administrators expect much, much more of me as a teacher. I'm expected to hold hands. Pay attention to the whole child. Differentiate my instruction to meet the varied needs of students. Teach them to think while teaching to the test. Document everything as I do it, too. You know, pay attention to each of those 150 students. Oops. I mean, 175 with classroom size increases. Yeah...You can go---oops. I'm in teacher mode here. Language in check, please.

I don't even know where I'm going with this post. I've want to talk about these frustrations, but my thoughts are so jumbled with work overload, depression from constant public abuse of teachers, and doubt about exactly how much I should be expected to do as a teacher.

I'm not happy about having my pay cut.

I'm not happy about my job being made harder.

I'm not happy that teachers are being demonized in the public eye.

I'm not happy that I'm begrudged a living salary, health benefits, and retirement benefits for my service.

I'm not happy that my students do not value education, and I'm to blame.

I'm a survivor who has stuck out tough times in the classroom since the day I walked into it.

I'm going to do what is expected of me and act professionally--even when I'm not treated professionally.

I'm going to still give my best to the students; I'm not going to blame them for situations they cannot control, like overcrowding and lack of materials.

Life in education is disheartening these days. I'm not ready to quit it yet, and after investing 15 years of my life in it, it would take a major shift for me to move out of it. But how much more major would that be?

I understand that times are tough and we all need to make sacrifices, and I'm okay with it for a short-term fix, but with all this talk of cut, cut, cut, there has been no talk of how education will be built to pull us out of this slump. For three years, in the state, it has been all about cutting education, and little talk from leaders about funding education. In the meanwhile, in schools, we talk about raising achievement--getting those test scores up--with the fear that if we don't, our schools will be deemed ineffective, taken over, and reorganized. In our classrooms, where we try to block out the adversities knocking on our doors, we fight student apathy and a cultural disregard for the value of education. We teachers love our jobs, but there is a lot to hate about it, too.

I don't need sympathy. A little respect would be nice. Education is not about the teachers just like health care isn't about the doctors. I wish I could be persuasive enough to convince the public and politicians that they really don't get what is going on with education, but from everything I've read and seen in the last few years, it's a waste of my breath.

Frustrating.