The English Teacher

Bad news?
January 18, 2008, 4:34 pm
Filed under: Damn it!, Future

At a recent faculty meeting, I learned that there is a distinct possibility that some teachers will be asked to look for other positions.  As much as I don’t want to freak out, I can’t help worrying just a teeny bit.  After all, I was asked to find another school at the end of last year because the enrollment numbers were too low to keep all the teachers on staff.  Since I was one of the newest faculty members, I was asked to leave.  This sounds really harsh, but I’m actually pretty fortunate since I’m hired by the district and not the individual schools.  However, as one of the newer members of the staff at this school, there is a good chance that I may be asked to leave again. 


National Board Certification
November 17, 2007, 11:11 pm
Filed under: Future

Ever since I became a teacher, I’ve been thinking about what I could do in order to advance my career.  I know this makes me sound like I care more about my job than the students, but I think ambition is an admirable trait, as long as it is within reason.  Sometimes I think about getting an adminstrative certificate, but I’m not sure if I want to leave the classroom, as stressful as that can be.  However, I am pretty certain that I want to try and become National Board Certified.  In a way, this decision is rather selfish.  Once I get the certification, I will receive a significant pay raise.  However, I also want to push myself as an educator and see if I am good enough to pass the rigorous and selective process. 

September 24, 2007, 5:08 pm
Filed under: Daily Life, Damn it!, Future

I got an email today informing me that an aide in one of my classes requested to be removed because he felt “uncomfortable” working with me.  That was indeed a surprise to me; however, I shouldn’t have been so shocked since it was pretty inevitable.  I have been having trouble with this aide since he showed up to class.  Basically, he didn’t really do anything and when he did, he either gave students the wrong answers or got them in trouble.  Even worse, he would lie about what he did and try to cover it up by saying that it was all a part of his “method.”

Frankly, I thought we were working better since the meeting we had last week.  We actually met with an adminstrator as an objective mediator and I believed that we had worked out our problems.  Apparently, I was mistaken.  I believe that the aide became offended when I asked him to stop giving answers to the students.  For some reason, he became incredibly offended by that and stormed off.  It’s all very ridiculous, really.  However, I stand by my request.  I normally don’t give my students the answers to problems.  Instead, I teach them how they can get to the answers on their own.  It’s like the story about the man and the fish:  You give a man a fish, you feed him for a day.  You teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.  What really annoyed me about the aide is that there are two distinct instances when he gave students the wrong answers.  One time I tried to cover up for him because I didn’t want him to look foolish in front of the students.  The second time, he felt the need to tell a student that she had chosen the wrong answer on a QUIZ.  As a student with specific accomodations, this is a student who isn’t particularly confident in her abilities so she, understandably, became flustered.  She changed her answers and ended up getting two wrong (the second one was connected to the first one so if the first one was wrong, then the second one was, as well).  When she got the quiz back, she was a bit upset because she had been right the first time but she changed it because of what he had said.  I looked over her quiz and it was apparent that she was telling the truth.  First of all, I don’t understand why he was walking around and telling the students what was wrong and what was right on a QUIZ.  Secondly, it was a simple vocabulary quiz.  An aide in an English class ought to have some basic knowledge of vocabulary.  If you don’t, you don’t go around telling students to change their answers.

The good thing about all of this is that I’m getting a new aide in the classroom and I’ve heard that the new one is quite good.  I do feel bad for whoever gets stuck with my old one.  However, I am worried about how this is going to reflect on me.  I know this is purely selfish, but I feel as if I’m gaining a pretty bad reputation as someone who has trouble with her students and colleagues.  While I do feel perfectly justified in this matter, what matters is how my supervisors perceive it.  I don’t want to be called in at the end of the year and told to look for another position for the following year.

A new year and a small hope
January 2, 2007, 8:58 pm
Filed under: Daily Life, Future, Quotes

2006 was an interesting year.  At this time last year, I was just beginning my stint as a student teacher.  The school I was sent to was in an affluent area and the neighborhood’s wealth was reflected in the school.  I guess I enjoyed my time there, but when I wasn’t offered an interview, I was pretty bitter.  This may seem like a harsh emotion, but considering that I asked the department head for one (because there was going to be an opening for this school year) and was told that I would be contacted, I would say that my feelings of anger and bitterness are justified.  Upon finishing my student teaching, I desperately applied to several school districts, including those I wasn’t familiar with, and did not hear anything from them.  I did have a preliminary interview with a local school district but I guess I didn’t qualify.  In short, the reason why I moved all the way out here was because this was the only school district that offered me a position.  The school I initially interviewed with actually turned me down for another applicant.  It was upon Susie’s suggestion that I called up other schools that had vacancies and asked if they were interested in interviewing me.  One accepted, interviewed me that day, and called me back the next day with an offer.  When I think about it now, it was very foolish jumping in without knowing anything about the school, but I was desperate.  Though it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if I had been jobless for about a year, I didn’t want to be the only person from my graduate school who was graduating without a job.  Damn pride. 

The school I am at now is very different from the one I student taught in.  Even though I was prepared to expect the very worst, it is not that bad.  The students can definitely be difficult and it’s an uphill battle trying to get them interested in their futures.  In a way, my students remind me of this passage from Patrick O’Brian’s Post Captain.  In this passage, Stephen Maturin is making an observation of the common sailors in the Royal Navy, “the sailor, at sea (his proper element), lives in the present.  There is nothing he can do about the past at all; and, having regard to the uncertainty of the omniptent ocean and the weather, very little about the future…Sailors will provide against a storm tomorrow, or even in a fortnight’s time; but for them the remoter possibilities are academic, unreal.  They live in the present.”

I think this accurately sums up my students’ attitudes.  Many of them live intensely and wholly for the present moment.  They care only about themselves and their immediate circle of friends.  Very few of them are interested in laying aside provisions for the future.  If they can experience gratification and pleasure now, then they are satisfied.  I know that part of this mindset is due to their ignorance and immaturity, but I wonder how much of this is influenced by older siblings or parents.  For some of my freshmen, the idea of dropping out of school is not a novelty in their families for they have older brothers and sisters who are still living at home and working a minimum wage job.  Unfortunately, those sisters may also have little ones of their own.

It’s a hopeless situation.  Even at the best of times, very few, if any, would describe as an optimist.  Though I don’t altogether consider myself a pessimist, when I look at some of my students, I wonder how many of them are going to drop out because they can’t (won’t) try to succeed, because they become pregnant, or just because.  I only see a very few of them managing to crawl their way to the top and graduating because they care and because there is someone at home who also cares.  I honestly hope and pray that I’m being uncommonly negative because this is my first year on the job and that my students will surprise me.

December 16, 2006, 3:34 pm
Filed under: Daily Life, Future

In order for any relationship to work, there must be commitment between both parties.  I don’t think too many people realize that education and learning is the result of a good relationship between the student and the teacher.  We, the educators can only do so much to impart information and guidance.  How that information is processed and developed depends on the student’s willingness to learn. 

I have students who bitch and whine about failing my classes but when I look up their assignments, I notice that they haven’t been doing any work in my class.  When I contact their parents to alert them to this alarming behavior, they often get annoyed by the fact that I called them at home.  I called one parent to let her know that her daughter was consistently late for my class and that she would have to face severe consequences unless she started coming on time.  The mother’s reaction was simply, “And?”

If neither the parent nor the student wants to commit to securing a greater future, what more can I do?  The very fact that I’m the only one who is committed to this relationship means that we are doomed to failure.

But what is commitment?

This is something I ask myself several times a day.  Sometimes I’m questioning my level of commitment to my students and at other times I’m questioning my students’ and their parents’ commitments to their futures.   It was with a bit of a shock that I realized that I had given up on several students and that I had done so quite some time ago.

This last week was truly difficult for me.  Each day seemed to stretch on interminably and it was with a gasp of relief that I welcomed the weekend.  I groan when I think that I have one more week of the grind until I get to go on break for the holidays.  Friends of mine often tell me with a slight tinge of envy that I’m lucky to have my summers off, plus all the other holidays and winter/spring breaks.  However, I don’t think they realize how much work I actually do during the regular school year.  There were several days this past week where I didn’t get to leave until well after my contractually stated end time.  In fact, on Thursday, I was in the school for 12 hours.  12 HOURS.  That’s five hours of overtime for which I do not receive any compensation.  So why do I do it?

I’d like to think that I’m truly committed to the welfare of my students and I want to make sure that I take my time while I’m grading.  However, the real reason is that I did not want to take any work with me over the weekend.  For that, I will gladly put in extra hours during the week.  Unfortunately, as it turns out, I still have to work today and tomorrow.

I know that I’m at the low point (I’ve been saying that rather frequently as of late) and I’m fervently hoping that winter break will rejuvenate me and, hopefully, fill me with a greater sense of benevolence and commitment towards my students.

Rising Action
November 8, 2006, 8:11 pm
Filed under: Daily Life, Future

According to studies (don’t quote me, I’m not sure what the studies are, but this is something I was told in grad school), newbie teachers go in with a sense of ideal enthusiasm and then get burnt out around now.  I’m not sure if I’m burnt out, but at a recent post-observation conference, I was informed that I sounded as if I was resigned to the fact that my kids can’t remember to bring their supplies, to write legible and coherent essays, to remember their major projects, to get their grades up, or to care about their futures.  I lied, I made up most of that, but the part about me being resigned is true.  It’s difficult for me to hold on to any hope and enthusiasm when I’m surrounded by jackasses who don’t make any conscious effort and constantly blame me for any failure on their part.  I can’t help getting frustrated when the kids turn toward me with big blank stares when I inform them for the nth time that they have a project that is half of their grade due at the end of the semester.  I’m literally living for the weekends and the days off when I don’t have to see them anymore.  Is this what teaching is supposed to be like?  If so, then I chose a bleak profession. 

At times, I catch myself daydreaming about jumping ship and getting into another career.  However, I don’t think I have the skills and qualifications to do anything else.  And honestly, I’m terrified.  Am I going to pass my observations and have my contract renewed next year, or will I do the whole job search dance again?  Considering how hard it was to get this job, I don’t have the confidence that I will be offered anything else anywhere else.  Am I going to be the bitter harridan who just counts down the days until retirement?  That would suck. 

There are some days when I do enjoy teaching, but I hate interacting with the kids because they can be little shits.  Don’t let others fool you because somedays, the kids truly suck.  Even the very good kids will have very bad days and they will be a pains in the ass like all the others.

Supposedly, I’m at the low point right now.  This is when the noobs realize that teaching isn’t all fairies and rainbowdust and they realize that teaching is hard work and most of that work isn’t even compensated (for instance, I’m supposing to be writing an exam right now and I sure as hell ain’t getting paid to do that).  One more week after this and then Thanksgiving Break.  A few more weeks after that and then Winter Break.  We’ll see what happens afterwards.

About Face
October 22, 2006, 7:47 pm
Filed under: Daily Life, Future

I need to change my attitude in regards to my students.  I spend a lot of my time complaining about how ungrateful and awful these kids are and not enough time praising them for their moments of brilliance.  Admittedly, the latter has been few and far between, but these are still young kids.  I shouldn’t be so hard on them.

My goal for this week:  Be nicer to the kids.  Less threats and guilt trips (Why am I the only one who cares whether or not you will graduate from high school?).  More praise and encouragement.  But to be realistic, I’m still going to allow myself some leeway because I know that my students are going to behave in ways that will bring more E’s than A’s.  I will say at least one nice thing to each class each day.  I will encourage all of my classes to aim high and work towards getting into college (or technical school).  I will actively inspire these kids to want to achieve their dreams instead of negatively grumbling that they will never meet their goals with the work they’re turning in.  Wish me luck.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow

–Langston Hughes