The Grumpy Language Teacher

English, Spanish, and some Russian, oh my!

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When you know you need a leave

There comes a time in many teachers’ lives when we need to take a leave of absence, whether it is for mental health, physical health, or for a family member.  Often, we try to keep going, using up sick days here and there, forcing ourselves to be in two places and at our best in two places, but that just does not work for many situations.  We suffer, our students suffer, and our own families suffer.  Once we get to the point of realizing that we just can’t do it all, the only real option left is a leave.

Once the decision is made, there are some big things to do quickly.  First of all, talk with your union rep (if you have one) or, better, your local president.  That person often is your best resource for what you need to do. Next, contact your insurance if you have short-term coverage.  If you don’t, contact your benefits office to get that started right away.  There are insurance forms that have to get filled out before you can take a leave (unless it’s an emergency, and then that paperwork can get filed later).  Once you start getting some of that in place, then you need to talk with HR and get the FMLA paperwork.  Your doctor will have to fill out something if you are taking the leave for yourself, and there is often a form for requesting a leave from your district anyway.  So, to recap:

  • Contact union for district-specific info;
  • Make sure you have short-term coverage with insurance (if possible);
  • Contact insurance company for their forms;
  • Get FMLA forms from district so doctor’s office has everything at once to fill out and send in;
  • Last, but definitely not least, document it all!  Faxing is better so you keep the original forms and can re-fax if the paperwork gets lost (ask me how I know…).

This is never an easy decision.  The kids are going to hate it, your administration will not be happy, but if you don’t take care of yourself and your family, no one will.  Once you have come to this decision, you need to get some big things set in the classroom for being away.  The list includes:

  • Updating all grades as best you can, as well as any way to deal with big grade items before any long-term substitute can take over;
  • Getting anything important out of your classroom before the leave starts since you will not be allowed on school grounds during the leave due to liability;
  • Creating a sub binder with plans (at least a calendar of what should be covered each day during the leave), a list of kids’ needs, seating charts, and copies of any handouts with prep marked and number of copies on it;
  • Creating another way for students and parents to get a hold of you, if needed or desired.

Keep in mind: FMLA exists for you and is your right to take when needed.  It won’t go perfectly, but you can mitigate a lot and do your best for your students.  Our job, while amazing and worth so many sacrifices, is not worth losing our lives over.  If you need to take the leave and you can afford it in any way, take it.

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What does success look like?

In reading Building School 2.0: How to Create the Schools We Need, the authors Lehman and Chase asked some very good questions at the very beginning the serve as signposts for the reading. What does success look like? What do we think school should be doing in the 21st century? What is the role of school in a modern world? These questions has been rattling around my mind for a couple of years now. In today’s world, what success are we leading our students toward? What skills do they really need? How do we know when we’re doing our jobs well and correctly?

I especially wonder that now that I am only on the middle school level. In high school, success is a little easier to easily and quickly to find. Did the student pass the class? Did the student get the credits to graduate on time? Did the alternative program get the student to graduate? Of course, we really rarely question what are these credits based on or what skills our students really have by the time they graduate.  On the middle school level, things get a little more gray. Are we getting them ready for high school is the main question, but what skills do they really need to be ready for high school? What would success look like for an 8th grader going in to 9th grade?

In education, it is easy for us to get off track in conversations and worried about test scores, attendance rates, things that are easy to measure. In fact, we are to write our objectives as SMART goals that have to be measurable. I know many teachers who have complained about the SMART goals paradigm because, if we are just starting something, how can we truly measure it? If students need time to master a skill, why are we measuring it at the end of the hour every single day? Don’t they need time to demonstrate any level of mastery? The real problem, as I see it, is that we have allowed business to infiltrate school. We run so many things now on a business model. Children become data points, goals need to be measurable at every step of the way, and staff is just a budget number. We worry about budgets because budgets are constantly getting cut, but are we worrying about our students as human beings more than we are about them as datasets? I am not always sure of that. When teachers and administrators look at students as compilations of data, it is very easy for us to forget they are growing, developing human beings.

So, what does success look like? I think of the dystopian novels that I am teaching this year, and I think of how success often is described and yet how often that description is wrong. We want students to be able to empathize first, then figure out a path. To make our country better, our students don’t just need the basic skills, but they need to be able to think on their feet, make mistakes and bounce back from them, look at a problem and imagine a million different ways to solve it. One thing that Americans have always been good at is imagination. Yet, we are now looking to other countries and other models that beat imagination out of children. We are taking away recess, we are taking away fun reading and making it so that it is measurable and must contain a certain number of pages or meet a certain number of data points, and we are testing them to death. That business model is harming a generation of students and a generation of educators. We need to look at the whole child, and that needs to be more than just a saying.

I would consider myself successful as a teacher if my students can figure out several different ways to write a paper ultimately choosing the right one. Wouldn’t it be great if students looked forward to going to the library knowing that anything with words on it was up for grabs? Yes, there are a lot of schools doing exactly this, but I would challenge anybody to find a large urban school that is not a small charter doing all of that. I would challenge anyone to find a small rural district with tight budgets and small staff sizes doing all of that. Maybe there are a few in the country, but in my experience most of the schools doing anything like this at all are majority white, suburban, and often private. If not, they are schools that have resources that large urban and small rural schools just don’t have.

It is time for a serious conversation in this country, and it cannot be led by the CEO of Exxon or Microsoft. It needs to be let by educators, parents, students. In my years, I have found that students often have the best ideas and the best ways to tackle things if only we would just listen to them. Often however, we educators are so hamstrung and tied by these goals, those objectives, that curriculum that we cannot use these amazing ideas that our students would love and learn so much from. It’s time for a new conversation and a new Common Core. What is success in the 20th century, and what would that look like for an American student? We don’t need to ask the business world what they think the answer is. We need to talk to the real experts.

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We need a new paradigm.

Dilbert Paradigm Cartoon

Every time I get on Twitter and read the latest chat or talk with my principal about the latest expectations, I cannot help but think that what we are really heading toward is an entirely new paradigm in education.  Of course, when I hear anyone say that, I think of the classic Dilbert cartoon.  I think the cartoon also speaks to how we often use words, even in education, that no one really understands.  The large, amorphous words sound great in meetings, words like “differentiation” or “research-based,” but they are almost impossible to truly implement in the large, urban classrooms of today.

I have just over 150 students.  Now, I have had more in a term before, but they were not so far below grade-level, so lost in academic English and at the ends of their ropes when it comes to school.  To have three sections of 37 (down from much more before the union stepped in) means I end each hour feeling like I ran a race and lost.  I am overwhelmed.

Then, I hop on Twitter, follow a chat or two, ask questions, research a new tool for my students, and I feel ready to tackle the week again–only to feel overwhelmed again by Sunday night.  Lots of lesson planning, now with differentiation!  Lots of grading and paperwork and parent phone calls and…and…and probably no sleep.

We need a new paradigm in education, one that doesn’t depend on killing off the teachers or shaming students.  We need to find a way to make education worthy of funding and time again but, this time around, for all students regardless of where they live or what their skin color is.  When I stop to dream, I can just start to imagine that new paradigm: small classes, project-based instruction at least half the time so students stay interested, mini lessons on basic skills so many lack, free reading time in the middle of the day when everyone is getting grumpy, enough devices that all students have access and can soar.  I dream of my school putting in a makerspace that we all can use; getting enough devices so I have a class set of tablets (or Chromebooks, I’m not picky) for text-to-speech reading, videos, and whatever else I can get the students to create; enough teachers so we aren’t overwhelmed with the paperwork to the point of illness and exhaustion; and kids excited to come to school to see what happens next.

Then, I come into my classroom on a Sunday night, look around, and get back to work.

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I Teach in Pain, and That’s Okay

This summer has been a rough one for me when it comes to my autoimmune diseases. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with interstitial cystitis, this after years of dealing with health problems and thinking I was finally clear of most of them. Then, last year, both my internist and my chiropractor agreed that I most likely have fibromyalgia as well. Even wrapping my head around that diagnosis was difficult. I didn’t want another autoimmune disease, and I didn’t want to believe that my pain was really staying around this time. As the year progressed, I had to finally admit that they were probably right as my pain levels and flare-ups pretty much because constant. I finally had to admit that my internist was right and that I needed to see my urologist again and start on a medical treatment I had been putting off for years.

It turned out I was right to put it off. The medicine was absolutely awful, and I ended up being allergic to it. I was on it for less than a week, and it took almost three weeks to finally feel close to normal again. That month was pretty much lost time in terms of prepping for the new school year, getting all of my knitting projects and housework done that I’d planned, even doing the canning and freezing I had hoped to do. At least I am off of it now.

While some amazing things worked out this summer in terms of my job placement and what I get to teach and I am inordinately excited for this new school year, this summer has also been one of re-learning my limits and asking for help. I don’t like asking for help, and I especially don’t like admitting that I’m in pain outside of a very small circle.

See, I live in pain. Rarely is my pain level below a 2 these days, per the usual pain scale all doctors use. It can flare up to a 7 or 8 on the really bad days, but usually it is closer to a four a lot of the time. I keep track of it as well as triggers in an attempt to figure out what I can do or what could be making it worse. I got in the habit of tracking my pain years ago when I had appendicitis for ten years that was misdiagnosed, though I stopped after the surgery for my kidney tumor when the pain was just horrific and stayed that way for months. After I started feeling more myself after that surgery, I didn’t want to go back to tracking my pain and pretty much ignored it for years, even when my body did what it could to get my attention. It was only when I couldn’t ignore it any longer that I admitted defeat, saw a specialist, got diagnosed, and started tracking my pain again.

While most people who live with my level of pain can take opiates or other painkillers for their pain, I can’t. Opiates don’t work, ibuprofen gives me ulcers and has to be carefully treated and rationed, and acetaminophen and naproxen sodium flat-out don’t do anything. I inherited a genetic condition from my dad in which opiates don’t block the pain pathways at all but do give me all sorts of unpleasant side effects. When people talk about how great vicodin is, it is hard not to get jealous. All that does for me is make me nauseous. Morphine to my spine for surgery gave me a fever and nausea. Dilaudid made me vomit without any warning (and I still feel bad about puking on that nurse’s shoes). Over the ten years of appendicitis, we tried opiates from every class and never found one I can take.

That ten years, especially the last year of which (I call it my Year of Pain), taught me that no one really cares about other people’s chronic pain unless they have lived it themselves. People ask when they can tell I’m hurting (and I do try to hide it most of the time with a smile, makeup so I don’t look too pale, and brushing off people’s questions), but if I really tell them what’s going on, they back off fast. They can’t deal with it. Others start spewing all kinds of helpful advice as if I had never tried it before, telling me about surgeries, treatments, pills, diets, prayers. It makes them feel better, I suppose, but it just gets me irritated. I live with pain, and thank you, I know how to deal with it much of the time, though I will admit to just ignoring until I can’t.

Honestly, I think my pain makes me a better teacher in the end. I look back at who I was in college, and I was arrogant and impatient. While I loved my students, it wasn’t until after the pain hit the summer before my student teaching that I really started seeing them as people going through rough times. My pain gives me insight into others’ pain, and my history helps me commiserate with students facing surgeries, chronic illness, and more. I’m not saying that my pain is always an asset, but I truly believe that I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today without it.

As this new school year starts, I can’t help feeling a bit nervous. The medicine didn’t work, and my flare-ups are getting worse. That said, I am moving into a better teaching position, and I can’t help but wonder if getting to teach what I love again won’t make the pain ease up a bit. This new year has so many amazing possibilities in it, and if it takes being in pain for me to see them and have my eyes open, then it is worth it.

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This has been my year of good intentions.

I started this school year like a bright-eyed ingénue.  Oh, I had the best of intentions and the best of plans.  I was going to move just before school started and have almost all of my unpacking done by the end of September.  I could take 2 grad classes a term, co-teach a grad-level class for first trimester, and teach in two different schools with a new-to-me curriculum and handle it just fine.  I was going to stay on top of my grading, parent phone calls, and participate in at least two Twitter chats a week.  Oh, I had plans.  This year, I was finally going to act like the master teacher I have been trying to be for years.

Instead, reality hit, and it hit hard.  I finally had to accept a medical diagnosis I have been hiding from for a few years now when the pain came and stayed for weeks.  I got horribly ill this spring with the worst cold in years that took me out of commission for days and then lingered with extreme fatigue and a nasty cough for another week and a half.  While I didn’t have to prepare for court, thank goodness, the grad classes ended up being more work than I had figured, and many days, I stayed up long past a realistic bedtime for my age and health condition and just tried to stay caught up.  Teaching in two different schools on two different levels has turned out to be far more difficult to balance than I had planned and, honestly, far more difficult than the last time I did it.

I have been behind in my grading from day one, and I haven’t done anywhere near the number of parent contacts I wanted to.  My plans have dramatically changed as I have found my students to be seriously behind in digital media literacy, reading skills, writing skills, and desire.   I still have boxes around the house and in the garage that have never gotten unpacked, and I have lost track of how many nights my son has made dinner or my kids both have had to forage for dinner while I just plain collapsed in exhaustion or was in class and didn’t eat dinner until afterward at 10pm or later.  I look around, and I see failed dreams and unmet expectations everywhere I look.

My children, though, have survived.  My son’s a pretty darn good cook now and experimenting more every week.  My daughter has been dealing with her issues better and is healthier than she was last year.  While two moves in two years was too much for them, they are making friends and doing well in school.

I have survived.  In many ways, I am a better teacher now than I was last year.  I have more tricks for getting students to practice Spanish and have been relying on worksheets much less.  While I still need more TPRS training, I have been getting better at using it in my classrooms, though I still seriously struggle with it at Phoenix where the students just don’t like that method, regardless of its place in the curriculum.  While I wish I had better relationships with all my students, I have made good relationships with many, including ones who started out not trusting or liking me at all, and I even have come to enjoy teaching middle school, which I did not think would happen at all.

I co-taught a blended learning class to teachers, and I have upped my Twitter presence, especially since I finished my master’s classes.  I presented at the Michigan World Language Association state conference, EdCampOAISD, MACUL, and I will present at EdCamp Global this July after accepting the organizers’ invitation.  I was accepted as a Classcraft Ambassador, and my interview for that was just recently published on the Classcraft blog.  I am working on an article for MASA’s newsletter, and I hope to get that published soon.

While my forensics team did not come to be, I helped with Book Bowl and will be working with my school’s team more closely with that next year, whatever school I happen to be in, now that I know better how that works.  I have taken over the Hillside newsletter and revamped it entirely, bringing it into the 21st century.  My students are working on Genius Hour projects this term, and I can’t wait to see what they do with those.  Getting my students to work more on self-reflection has helped with outcomes, and I hope to get into that more seriously next year with a better effort at student blogs and podcasts.  My students’ writing skills in Spanish seriously improved each trimester, and I hate to admit it, but the Collins writing method actually works fairly well.

In classroom management, I went from a daily argument with my 7th graders first trimester to grudging acceptance for the most part, and my Phoenix students have come around this trimester.  I started off the year not liking the RTP method we use at Hillside, but I have finally found a good mix of that method and my Classcraft game so that my low-level sixth graders are actually settling down this trimester, gotten to work easily most days, and are improving daily in their Spanish.  My eighth graders may complain about Classcraft, but they eagerly accept any and all points and are quite dismayed when they see that they have lost health points and then try to earn them back.  Gamification really works with my middle schoolers and would with my Phoenix students if they did not have so many absences.

While I have failed in reaching so many of my expectations this year, I am wrapping up the year with some successes.  I have learned how to deal with our onerous curriculum and seen decent outcomes, and I think I know how to improve on those next year.  I finished a rigorous master’s degree and will be graduating on May 15th in Los Angeles.  While I haven’t worked on getting published, I have been somewhat successful in becoming a presenter on blended learning, gamification, and English language learners.  I have a long way to go before I will truly consider myself a master teacher, but all in all, I have improved this year and can’t wait to see how I will grow and change next year.

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What bears repeating….

My students have few tech skills and only very basic digital media literacy. Most have grown up with smartphones but no computers in the house. Most are great at reading and manipulating video games, having grown up with a gaming platform of some sort, but they can’t read a website.

This message was repeated loudly and clearly this last week when my Spanish 1B high school students had to learn new vocab and turn in 2 online worksheets using my online textbook.  It was the testing day (thank you, MiSTEP, for removing students from class for days at a time for an invalid and useless test), and I knew that my alternative high school students would have a better chance for making up missed work if I used my online textbook. During the entire proceeding, I watched students have difficulty navigating a simple online text with a navigation sidebar, have trouble finding content and the assignments, ask repeated questions about how to type in the answers, and even struggle just getting into to textbook, all caps and logins baffling several.

Later that day at my afternoon school, in subbing for a teacher still monitoring the MiSTEP, I found that her 6th graders had no idea how to open a new tab in Chrome or Explorer.  Logging into a page completely stumped all but 2 in the class. They knew a gaming website but didn’t know their district emails to login and save their scores.

The digital divide is real, and we ignore it to our students’ peril.  It is hard to read of teachers working in 1:1 programs, teachers embedding coding or Minecraft in their curricula, teachers whose students use their websites to turn in classwork and projects easily.  I get jealous. I have taught in 1:1 programs as a long-term sub, and I miss the ease of telling students to turn something in on my Moodle page or giving an online quiz.  I miss telling students to get out their devices to do a quick quiz for feedback or reading over their project blogs. My students here don’t know what blogs are, and I gave up trying to make Socrative work with our meager WiFi bandwidth and their phones.

I worry about my kids. What jobs will they have in 10 years when they can’t read a website, let alone create one?  What will happen to our citizens on the wrong side of the digital divide?  How can we fix this when our poor need money for food and shelter and put a new laptop or fancy tablet low on the priorities list?

We cannot ignore this problem in education any longer. Schools with high poverty rates like mine need more technology support than our richer neighbors, not less. If we don’t want the digital divide to grow further, we need to intervene now.

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I made it!!

I got the email last week that I earned my MAT TESOL degree from USC. What a long road that has been!  I started looking for degree programs just over two tears ago, started at USC two years ago May, and I have finally finished.

In that two years, I have lived in three houses, three different towns, taught in four different schools (this year, I am in 2 different schools, a high school in the morning and a middle school in the afternoon), and been through so much. I made it through the closure of one school, the loss of my job mostly due to my master’s work, and then coming back to urban education after a few years off.  Writing papers and prepping for class takes on a new meaning when you are also checking out rental homes and K12Jobspot.com.

I have learned so much, and I am still finding new concepts to apply daily. This was one of the more difficult yet amazing experiences of my life, and it will totally be worth all those loan payments.

Even though I only finished with a 3.93, I still feel rather proud of all I accomplished and honored to know all my new TESOL colleagues. May we all take to heart the USC slogan and fight on.

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The Art of Being Sick

I managed to catch the latest viral whatever going around a couple of weeks back, and I’m only now starting to really feel more myself.  What makes that ironic is that I’m on Spring Break.  I had it all: ear infections, sinus infection, congested lungs, aggravated asthma, exhaustion, pain everywhere, you name it.  It was awful, and I still have the bad cough, headaches, and cranky asthma.

I write all that to say this: teaching while sick is especially difficult.  I had to take 2 days off (doctor wanted four–not enough sick days in the kitty for that), and the day I came back after 2 days off was brutal.  I could barely breathe, and I had no energy.  My students were mad at me for being gone after being gone to a conference the week before, but we still had to move forward, still had to keep going even though it was a Friday and I was sicker than a dog.

Stuff happened.  Kids were mad.  I was grumpy and not altogether with it when the fever came back.  Most of us kept plowing through and did okay.  That’s life in the schools: we keep going even when we can’t.

People outside of education don’t get it.  I’m not saying that people don’t understand what it’s like to work sick.  Heck, that’s practically as American as apple pie.  I’m saying that non-educators don’t understand what it’s like to teach when one is royally ill.  Granted, they don’t know what it’s like to teach anyway, but teaching while sick is even more difficult.

Teachers have to be heard over 20-35 voices (or more).  That takes lung power.  If your lungs aren’t working great, you have to use other tricks to get kids’ attentions like clapping, wait time, knocking on a desk top, having a student call for order instead, whatever works.  Teachers have to be able to use proximity and circulate through a classroom.  Again, that takes lung power and energy, and when that is in short supply, one has to sit but still move periodically from sitting location to sitting location.  That’s not ideal, but it’s the best you can do, and most kids are helpful in getting things and coming to you when they see that you’re sick.

Then, there’s the coughing.  When the cough attack hits, everything else stops for the teacher, but the kids keep going or take it as a chance to stop work and sit and chat while waiting for the teacher to breathe again.  Ricola cough drops are the best, I’ve found, but even they can’t work 100% of the time.  Tea with lemon in a water bottle helps, as does plain water, but those only go so far, and the real problem with them is that they make you have to go to the bathroom, which we teachers only can do a couple of times a day.  In the end, all you can do is hang onto something when the wracking coughs hit, use an inhaler if you can, keep a cough drop in your mouth, and keep going.  Most kids are nice about it and will politely wait for you to breathe again.

If you think you might faint, don’t stray far from an open chair.  Most students freak out if they see their teacher get woozy and sit down fast, and high school kids are great about running for help if that happens.  If you deal with chronic pain, like I do, the best thing to do is to find non-drug ways to deal with it and keep going.  Warn the students if you’re particularly cranky from pain, and just move slowly.  The kids will get to the point of ignoring it if you do and act like it’s normal.

The best tool in any sick teacher’s toolbox, though, is honesty with the students.  Tell them you’re ill, and ask them to help you out.  I always tell my students I would rather they be honest with me if they’re sick, tired, grumpy, or whatever, and I am honest with them in return.  Most appreciate the heads-up, and it has started conversations with students that have helped build relationships and helped me know to get them the help they need.

That Friday, I shouldn’t have been at school, not with the fever having come back and all.  Still, writing sub plans for that many days out is awful, and limited sick days meant I had to go in.  That’s just the way it is for teachers–we go in anyway, even with pain, even with fevers, even with whatever viral/bacterial thing attacking our systems.  It doesn’t matter: we’re teachers, and we have to be there.  We just need the right tools and attitude, and we’ll mostly get through the day, and the kids will too.

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What have I learned this trimester?

It has been a long time since my last blog post just because there was just so much going on that I had little time for real reflection.  I am in two different schools at two different levels here in Kalamazoo with a very different Spanish curriculum than I have ever taught before, and with helping teach the REMC Blended Learning in the Classroom class and my two grad classes for my master’s, I spent the entire trimester just plain overwhelmed, and frankly, I did not do the quality of job at any of them that I expect for myself.

I have learned a few key lessons (or learned again, as the case may be) that I need to keep in the front of my mind now here in the third week of the new trimester.

  • I have to be true to myself as a teacher.

I made the mistake (yet again–you’d think I would have figured this out by now) of trying to act more like the teacher I was replacing instead of being myself and just barrelling through it.  When one replaces a revered teacher, everyone wants the new teacher to be just like the last one down to the last detail.  The problem is, there is no way I can possibly do that–none of us can.  It’s a trap.  So, now, in my second trimester here, I am working on keeping what seemed to work and instead incorporating what I know has worked better for me and helps me to be more true to who I am as a teacher.

It is easy to get lost in this job.  We are always being asked to be what others want us to be, and that is a trap of the worst kind.  It is easy to lose who we are in trying to please 150 or more students, all of their parents, all of our colleagues and administrators, and the list goes on.  If we aren’t true to ourselves, we will never be truly effective, and that is a lesson I needed to learn again.  This trimester, I already feel more confident as I incorporate more of what I know has worked for me in the past, though I still have to win over some.

  • I have to schedule in down time and allow myself a chance to breathe or my body will make me do it.

I went weeks without knitting, the main way I deal with stress, and it showed.  My temper was short, I didn’t sleep much at all, and I ended up having some of the worst pain I have had since getting diagnosed with my health stuff.  Worse, now my doctors think I have a worse one.  If I don’t make sure to slow down and breathe and relax and let this stress out, my body is going to make sure I do by shutting me down in pain or worse.  That really means that I have to do a better job of taking care of myself–eating right, exercising, enforcing a bedtime for me and my children, and knitting.

  • Teaching these days is far more than it has ever been, and many of us are sinking under the weight of paperwork, more paperwork, meetings, more phone calls, and more, more, more.

I am constantly amazed at how much paperwork this job entails, and how difficult it is to stay on top of effectively.  It’s not just the paperwork, though.  We are expected to call every single parent within a week or two–all 150+ students with a 5-10 minute phone call on our own time.  That’s many unpaid hours that I need to be a mom, to plan, to grade, to exercise, whatever.  We are expected to go to all these meetings, many of which don’t apply to me at all as a Spanish teacher, and moreover, we have all the grading and paperwork to document this, that, and the other thing waiting every time we sit down.  The amount of work is ridiculous.

  • It’s okay to cry.

This one I had to learn again.  No, it’s not okay to cry at work or, at the very least, in front of students, but crying is actually healthy, and I need to give myself permission to grieve the loss of jobs and schools, deal with family drama, and let it out when a student/parent/administrator hurts my feelings.  It’s okay for me to cry at home or on the way home when I really need to so I can get those toxins out.

We’re all burnt out this last week before Winter Break.  Still, if I can keep these lessons in mind, I can make it though, step by step, tear by tear, knitted stitch by stitch.

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I am one seriously happy teacher!

For some reason, I have often ended up being that teacher who fills in for someone, takes on that position halfway through the year, is the long-term sub, or who gets the classes no one else wants and has to fix them.  The problem with being that teacher is that I’m also expendable: once the year is over or the grant has run out, there’s no reason to keep me there.  So, I have a whole box filled with shirts and hoodies from schools I have taught in (I am thinking of making a quilt except I don’t sew), many memories and mementos from students and colleagues, and a whole lot of experience that often, but not always, transfers to my next position.

Now, though, I have landed in Kalamazoo Public Schools, and I am so ridiculously happy that it’s silly.  Yes, I know I have a tough assignment (two schools, two levels, three preps to start with that will probably go to four, urban district, etc.), but I am just so happy!  When one of my new principals led all of us new teachers in a training on Anti-Bias Education, I got weepy and almost went to the bathroom to cry tears of joy and relief.  I am in a district that cares about that!  I teach with amazing colleagues who care about that!  That repeated through some of the other trainings we had for the last two weeks–learning about something (often for the second or millionth time since I’d had those trainings in previous jobs) that just cemented for me what an amazing district KPS is for me to teach in.

See, not all teachers are alike, and not all districts or schools are alike.  We don’t all bloom well in the classrooms where we are planted.  Some of us need to work with urban students, while others work best with rural kids.  There are teachers who do great in monolingual schools, and there are others of us who do our best work when we hear many languages every day.  We are just all different and have different strengths and skills.  This is part of what makes hiring teachers so difficult, harder even than college admissions or hiring for many other jobs–we’re not all identical parts that can be interchanged easily.

I had gotten to the point in my teaching career when I had forgotten that since I have had to try to bloom in so many different gardens, all with different soils and conditions, but now that I am in a district and in schools that match my particular skillset and strengths better than I have had in years, I feels joyously happy and excited for the year to start.  I know it’s going to be a rocky road ahead, sure, but that can’t wipe the silly smile off my face or drown my spirits just yet.

I am home.

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