The English Teacher

June 9, 2008, 6:40 pm
Filed under: Reflection

According to this article, there have been several accounts of teachers who were suspended or removed from their positions due to the contents of their websites, including the popular social networking site, Facebook. 

I understand that teachers are considered role models, regardless of whether or not they want to be one, but is it really fair to judge them for behavior that takes place outside of the classroom and has no adverse effects on their teaching practices?

As an educator who keeps an online journal, I have to wonder if it is fair for an teacher to be fired because s/he has a life outside of the classroom.  Obviously, if I post pictures of myself consuming illegal substances or partaking in illegal activities, then I should expect consequences.  However, if a teacher, who is over 21, is shown drinking, maybe even to excess, or if s/he posts risque pictures, is it fair to penalize him/her for behavior that is fairly normal for young adults?  According to one of the teachers interviewed, “my work and social lives are completely separate. I just feel they shouldn’t take it seriously. I am young. I just turned 22.”  However, a spokesman for the school district commented that, as public servants, teachers are held to public scrutiny.

While I agree with both, I also believe that if a person is placed on a pedestal, it’s difficult to maintain balance and he/she must inevitably fall, especially if the teacher is only be a few years older than the students in his/her classroom.  Considering the large numbers of retirees, most of the teachers now are young adults in their 20’s who have just left school themselves.

We all make mistakes.  Some of us are fortunate enough to make these mistakes in private, while others are foolish enough to post them online for the world to see.  Regardless, being young and foolish are not reasons enough to suspend or fire someone because someone is offended by a picture or a comment.  Honestly, in this day and age is there anything that doesn’t offend anybody?

180 degrees
March 21, 2008, 4:13 pm
Filed under: Daily Life, Reflection

” “It is dreadful to be unkind: one keep remembering it.””–Post Captain, Patrick O’Brian

Even though I’m not naturally affectionate or friendly, I don’t think of myself as a particularly mean person.  I will admit, however, that my manner of speaking and my natural expression can be off-putting and may even be construed as stern.  I am not perky, optimistic, or a cheerleader.  Thus, it is unfair for me to be reprimanded for not being bright and happy-looking when I teach.  I try the best that I can, but I think it is unjust that I need to get in trouble for acting the way I normally do.  If I behave like my sister, who is naturally more open and affectionate, or like some of the other teachers, then I am being false and I would feel horribly awkward.  Rather, isn’t it good enough that I stay true to myself while I teach in the manner that best befits my personality?

My personality is something I’ve been reflecting on recently.  I wonder if I’m being too hard on my students.  But considering that most of my classes are doing pretty well and that I get along with most of my students, I don’t think there is much of a problem.  Of course, this is a very subjective viewpoint and that I may be mistaken.  While I think my students and I get along well, they may just be humoring me.  Last semester was a constant battle with one class and I will candidly admit that I am glad to be shot of the whole lot of them.  It’s somewhat unfortunate for another teacher that, with the change in semesters, I ended up getting most of her well-behaved students while she ended up with my “bad” ones.  I just hope, for her sake, that the class composition has changed enough that they don’t present as many problems as they did with me.

On the whole, my students this semester have all settled down and they’re lovely.  Even on the day before spring break, when all students (and teachers) get a little antsy, my students behaved beautifully.  They did as they were asked and they were very, very good.  I was a bit surprised because I was expecting a good amount of fidgeting and excitement.  Instead, they almost seemed….tired.  Strange.  Perhaps this was why my last class was so disappointing.

In this class, I have a student whose behavior has changed drastically.  Last semester, he was a great kid.  Sure, he was no Einstein, but he was bright and friendly.  However, I was a bit concerned at the beginning of this semester because he had stopped doing his homework and had become increasingly truculent.  He is turning everything into a constant battle in the classroom and the worse part of this is that the other kids are getting drawn into it.  I’ve tried everything, calling mom, calling his coach, but to no avail.  I know his mom is troubled by this, too, because we discuss possible strategies that may help and I know she talks to him about his behavior.  When I contacted his coach, the student immediately jumped to the conclusion that I was trying to sabotage his position on the team, which is just ludicrous.  I don’t know if it’s the fact that he has been switched to a class from the middle of the day to the end of the day that is causing him to behave like this, but I don’t like it.  After battling for half this semester, he has developed this attitude that he is going to get in trouble in class and then he acts on it.  In short, he acts out on a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Like I said earlier, I’m not an optimistic person, but I was taught to treat every day like a new day and go in with the assumption that everything will be fine. 

Frankly, I’m just incredibly confused and lost about what to do with this student.  I don’t want him to switch classes this late in the semester, especially into an Honors class, which is what he wants, but I’m at the point where I just want to be rid of him.  This is a real shame because he was such a great kid last semester.  Very bright, eager, and friendly.  This semester, it’s almost as if an evil twin appeared.

I’m also troubled because this student has the tendency to twist words around in order to fit his interpretation of how he is being treated.   Any comment I make, he turns it into an attack.  Unfortunately, there have been a couple of occasions when I snapped at him because he was playing on my very last nerve.  I always replay these incidents again and again and I wonder if I’ve lost him for good.  I always hope I haven’t, but I know, that a little more of the relationship that we had built up last semester has eroded away and that he’s getting further and further out of reach. 

This last part may seem selfish because it makes me look bad, and that is certainly a part of the issue–I don’t know who he is talking to when he is in this mood.  However, I am largely concerned with his self-esteem.  According to his mom, part of his problem this semester is that he feels that he is in more of a “special ed.” class than last semester.  I can guess what that means and I’m a little angry at him.  He is paranoid and evidently suffers from low self-esteem while, at the same time, he is very egotistical.  His ego is big enough that he thinks that he is better than some of the other students in this class.  He is constantly making remarks like he doesn’t need to learn something because he already knows it or that he doesn’t need any extra help, unlike others.  This is ironic because he will certainly take advantage of his accomodations.  On the other hand, he also has trouble digesting objective comments regarding his behavior and he will take it as a personal affront to his intelligence.  The other day, when I said something to another student, he thought I was talking to him.  Even after I corrected him, he would not stop complaining.  Finally, I just went up to his desk and, in a private conference, said, “You know, you need to stop being self-centered.  Everything I say does not always concern you.  The world does not revolve around you.  There are other people who are here, as well.” 

Perhaps not the most diplomatic thing to say, but his eyes began to tear and his nose and cheeks reddened with the effort of holding back the tears while he tried to save face by making a snotty comment.  This is what I don’t understand about him.  He thinks he is better than others while, at the same time, he’ll start tearing up when he is upset.

I’d like to say that this is because he is a typical adolescent boy: annoying, hormonal, and confused, but, with a few exceptions, the majority of my adolescent boys do not act like this.  In fact, two of my biggest behavior problems from last semester, who also happen to be in this class, have changed for the better.  Well, one is still working on it, but at least he is making some progress, which, unfortunately, is more than I can say for the other one.

The end of the rope
October 12, 2007, 8:20 pm
Filed under: Daily Life, Reflection

I often wondered what that phrase meant.  Even though I’m still not clear about the etymology of the phrase, I’m inclined to believe that at the end of the rope, is a noose. 

It’s only October, but I’m already tired.  I don’t mean physically tired, though staying up late to grade papers hasn’t really helped, but I’ve been feeling emotionally and spiritually tired lately. 

This year has definitely been pretty disappointing.  I thought that things would get better since I was moving from a school in a lower SES area to a school in a higher SES area.  It’s not an understatement to say that that was a stupid assumption. 

Last year was not easy for me.  It had its share of trials, but I think I had some freedoms, as well.  This year, I feel so trapped.  I have classes of entitled kids who obviously have never heard the word, “No,” and who feel the need to argue about everything.  I’m seriously inclined to let them fail their classes.  The unfortunate consequence that I would have to face is the onslaught of phone calls and emails from parents demanding to know how it is possible their precious children could fail.  In my ideal world, I would be able to tell them that their kids are stupid assholes who should be put out to work because there’s no chance in hell they would get into college.   I would also tell the parents to grow up and start acting like parents.  They need to stop letting their kids get away with stupid shit.  They need to teach their kids to respect authority, not fight it.

If it was only the kids, then that would be an infinitesimally understandable issue.  However, I’ve been having difficulties with an adult classroom aide and now, I’m having some issues with a co-teacher.  I think my problems with the former actually stems from the fact that he was an ignorant jackass–I’m actually being kind.  My issues with my co-teacher, though, arises from the fact that I feel as if I’m doing all of the work for the class.  Even though I’m the lead teacher, it was my understanding that the duties were suppposed to be shared between the two of us.  And yet, I am the one who is doing all of the lesson planning, teaching, grading, and creating of quizzes and tests.  When I ask her to help me out, she almost looks affronted.  I understand that she is very busy with her students and with her family, but do your damn job already. 

I need a break; otherwise, I’m going to be the one to break up.

September 15, 2007, 3:07 pm
Filed under: Daily Life, Reflection

I had a pretty demoralizing debriefing after being observed by my supervisor.  In short, I was asked if I enjoyed being a teacher or if I liked my students.  When I heard those questions, I was taken aback.  I didn’t think I hated the kids, but something in my demeanor must have made it seem like it.  Quite frankly, I was a bit upset.  When my supervisor observed me, I thought I was doing a pretty good job and that the lesson was rather entertaining.  However, I was told that I jumped from a really high-level of thought, to a very low-level activity.  Upon reflection, I can see that she is correct.  This doesn’t mean that I feel better about myself.  I’m not particularly upset about the fact that my lesson was criticized.  After all, I’m pretty new at teaching.  I am, however, rather agitated at the thought that I look as if I don’t want to be in my classroom with my students.  I won’t lie.  Even if I dislike the students, I can’t show it.  Despite everything, I need to be encouraging and kind.  But, and you knew there was a but, it’s SO HARD.  Even when I come in with good expectations, these students destroy them with their behavior.  I remember being told to always be positive or think optimistically, “This day, this class will do well,” but I’m not an optimist by nature.  It’s only September.  There’s no way I can survive the rest of the school year if I can’t think of some way to get around these kids.  Unfortunately, this is a team-taught class so there’s another teacher in the class with me.  While this is usually a pretty good thing, the other teacher (OT) has taken a strict disciplinarian (authoritarian, rather than authoritative) route with the kids.  Because of the kids’ horrible behavior at the very beginning of school, I initally didn’t mind, but now, I wonder if the OT isn’t being too persnickety about some of the things that are being punished.  Because we’re both teachers, I know the students can’t help but group us together as one unit, but I’m a bit worried that this is actually hindering us from building relationships with one another.  By relationships, I don’t mean friendships, but some sort of a connection which causes the students to want to succeed, if only for my sake and goodwill.  I must admit, this whole situation is very worrisome.

The first week; or, thank God for the Labor Day weekend
September 2, 2007, 7:12 pm
Filed under: Daily Life, Reflection

I won’t lie.  This really was a difficult week for me.  Part of the problem is due to the fact that I am at a new school this year.  In a way, I feel as if this my first year all over again.  Another problem is that I am coming from a school with block scheduling to a school that is on a regular bell schedule.   Now I understand what my instructors and lecturers meant when they said that it was more difficult to adjust from planning for a block period to a regular period than vice versa.  Thirdly, the student climate and population is very different from what I experienced last year.  The socio-economic status of most of the students in my school last year was relatively low.  The students mostly came from working-class families (and yet, they still managed to afford the latest game systems and Air Jordans).  This year, my students are mostly from the upper-class.  One look at the student parking lot immediately reveals the disparity between their lives and the lives of the teachers.  Whereas the students drive BMW’s and Hummers, we drive Corollas and Civics.  One of the assignments I gave out to my students was to plan a short introductory speech, just so I could learn a bit more about them.  Well, I learned that they are much more cosmopolitan than I can ever hope to be.  During my summer vacations in high school, I just lolled around at home or worked.  These kids travel, and they travel well.  Those who did not travel went to sleepaway camps.  In Colorado.  Is it strange to be jealous of kids who are 11 years younger than I am?

Aside from this feeling of insecurity, I have a rather difficult prep.  This year, I have three sections of 9th grade and two sections of Honors 10.  The latter classes are a nice group, if rather chatty.  I’m anticipating very little problem from them this year.  However, the 9th graders are already problematic.  Two of the sections are actually not bad, except for the fact that they are also a little chatty.  However, the third section is chatty and rather arrogant.  I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing or if they’re just trying to hide their own insecurities, but I have never come across a group as obnoxious and disrespectful as this before.  They feel the need to quibble over everything.  When I told them that I expected all of them in class on time, one student, who obviously has a great sense of entitlement, decided that that was unacceptable and proceeded to argue about it.  This is just absolutely ridiculous. 

I’m hoping that they will get all of that arrogance out of their system quickly.  I haven’t been here long so I don’t know how much involvement the upperclassmen have with their younger peers, but I hope that the older students will be able to straighten out the younger ones.

July 8, 2007, 4:30 pm
Filed under: Daily Life, Reflection

Even though it has been almost a month since school was let out for summer vacation, I really couldn’t sit down and write about this past year until now.  It’s not that I was incredibly busy, but it was more that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about.   Since I was so unsure, it would have been easier to not write anything at all, but, despite my writer’s block, I really wanted to put my reflections down on paper-so to speak-in order to make this past year more real.

To be honest, the school wasn’t quite what I had expected.  When I accepted the job, I had one idea of what the school was like but later on, I learned that the caliber was a bit lower than I expected.  Maybe I’m being harsh, but this school’s climate was pretty bad.  The level of respect the students had for their teachers was -10.  Most of the students weren’t even expected to graduate.  In the beginning of the year, I had to fight with a couple of students in each class just to get them to turn their work in.  Though I had mostly freshmen, about one or two of the students in each class were already planning on dropping out of school.  Needless to say, this was a pretty discouraging start.

As the year progressed, however, I felt that my students and I developed a tolerant relationship.  Some relationships were better than others, though.

The end of the year, unfortunately, had more low points than high points.  That’s when I learned that I would have to transfer to another school (this actually worked out to my advantage) and I had a pretty bad review from an adminstrator which I felt was unfair.  Basically, this adminstrator had never spent an entire class period observing me and when we met, I was told that I needed to develop more of a rapport with one class.  At the same time, the high failure rate in this class was attributed solely to me, which I felt was incredibly unfair considering that this was a class for students who had failed the very same class the previous semester.  It was, and still is, my opinion that this adminstrator, who had been offered an administrative position at another school, was out to settle old grievances (which most likely happened to a colleague of mine) and/or hurriedly finish doing the things that were supposed to have been completed months ago.  I think my incident fits in the latter category.  The last time my administrator had visited my classroom for that particular class was around February, March at the latest.  The last time this adminstrator visited another classroom was in the first semester.  Somehow, these 10-15 minutes of observation gave the adminstrator enough fodder to accuse me, in June, of contributing to the high failure rate of my one class.  I voiced my discontent with the review to the adminstrator and my direct supervisor and I signed the form.  I just wish that my supervisor, who I believe is a fantastic teacher, had enough backbone to stick up for the teachers who get lambasted unfairly.

My experience with the other teachers was, on the whole, excellent.  I definitely relied greatly on my House leader who provided me with a lot of guidance and assignment ideas even though it wasn’t really his job to do so.  At the same time, as a first year teacher, I was fortunate enough to have a Consulting Teacher who also came in an observed me at least once a month.  Her observations and debriefings were much more informative and much more valued than my adminstrator’s since my CT actually stayed for the entire class lessons and she saw me progress through the school year.  I think I was incredibly lucky since I know that there were other teachers who had horrible CT’s who did not provide any guidance or help.

Though this past year was spent in an unfamiliar environment, I think I am the better for it.  In this profession, it’s necessary to gain as much experience as possible.  For a person like me, who tends to get very comfortable in one place, there couldn’t have been a better place for me to start my career than in this school.  On my own, in my home state, I would never have knowingly applied for a job in a similar school.  However, because I was forced to apply outside of my state, I got the job in a completely new environment with a student population I have never worked with before.

This is not to say that I am not looking forward to my new school next year.  My new school is completely different from my old one.  The students are very motivated learners and were even the subject of a book about overachievers.  So, rather than forcing kids to do their homework and bring their grades up, I’ll have to force kids to back off.  I’ll be looking forward to these new set of challenges and experiences next year.