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Teaching – Cracked Ice and Chrome

A ticking time bomb

Silly me. I thought that the longer I was in education, the easier things would be. This is year 23 for me and I have never felt so slammed by expectations and pressure to make sure that everyone passes – no matter what.

I won’t get into the specifics of it all, as you never know when your own writing will land you in hot water, and although I am frustrated by this field right now, I don’t want to leave it just yet. However, there’s a nagging little voice in the back of my head that has been growing louder day by day with a catchy little chant: What else can I do? How can I do what I love to do without this immense pressure to be a grading machine, a super motivator, a surrogate parent, and a relationship builder — all while trying to run my own life?

The buzz word in education these days is self-care. My district focused on that last year. We actually had some good PD from it when we had Zoom meetings with a wonderful presenter based in Colorado. But the question remains – if this profession is so heavy and stressful and chaotic that we need to teach teachers how to take care of themselves outside of the work day, what exactly is wrong with this picture?

The irony remains that the pressures increase and the self-care talk is now replaced with the new buzzword: relationships.

I don’t know about you, but I have trouble maintaining relationships with the handful of long-time friends that I have, much less 170 teenagers, some of whom have absolutely no interest in building a relationship with me. We are regaled with sob stories about students who give all the credit for their success to the teachers who went the extra mile. And that’s great, really. I know I credit my own high school teachers for instilling a love of education in me, and that is why I ended up in education.

But now the mantra is that if we are not going the extra mile for every single one of our students, we are not doing our job right.

There’s a napkin dispenser in our break room that has this saying: “Every student. Every day. Whatever it takes.”

Whatever it takes? Every day? For every student? All 170 of them?

That’s more than pressure; that’s downright impossible.

I belong to a few teachers groups on the book of faces. It’s a blessing and a curse; I get some great ideas, but it is painful how vicious teachers are to one another. Once in a while, a teacher will post anonymously about his/her frustrations about the job, and within minutes, the holier-than-thou types start lashing out. Inevitably, someone starts preaching relationships. Surely that kid would not be misbehaving if you tried to build relationships. Surely you are lacking in some way. Surely it’s YOU.

It’s amazing and incredibly sad to watch the thread play out in a very predictable way. Rather than supporting one another and acknowledging that we work in a field that is not only difficult but even more so since the pandemic (for various reasons). Rather than admitting that student behavior is not just off the charts at our own schools, it is happening all over the country, we tear apart the teacher who admits that she’s at her breaking point. It reminds me of the teacher cliché of talking to another teacher about a student’s behavior in your class – then having to listen to the other teacher say that the same kid is an angel in their class and they are so surprised that the student acts out in yours. You walk away from that conversation feeling like a failure.

In my 23 years of teaching, I’ve been flipped off (with both fingers – an added treat), told to f*ck off (numerous times), told “tough sh*t” when I pointed out that I expected respect from a student, had my tires punctured with construction screws several times in one school year (no accident, I can assure you; that was an expensive school year!) and been accused of treating students unfairly in various ways. And that’s just the stuff I can think of right now. This year, I have more students than I have ever had in my entire career and now grading has gotten to the point that if a student fails, WE have to prove what we did to try to mitigate that.

Grades are due tonight. I suppose I had better get my defense ready.

I’m tired, y’all. And it’s not just me. It’s teachers everywhere who are dealing with students who have seldom been told “no’; who have zero parental support because there ARE no parents; who come to school hungry, unwashed, unloved, and angry at the world; whose only ambition is to work at the local factory so f*ck you and your English bullsh*t; ones who have been up all night playing video games and therefore can’t stay awake in class; students who get called out by mom and dad every time the kid says “We’re not doing anything today,” (which is almost always untrue); students who are really and truly addicted to their cell phones and cannot even have their phone off their body for an extended amount of time — no joke!; students who are carrying around a lifetime worth of trauma that even the best-trained teacher would have difficulty assisting with . . . the list goes on and on and on.

And now we are taking kids who are barely functioning well enough to exist day to day and asking their teachers to not only hold them to high standards but ensure that they don’t fail any of their classes.

After all, if they fail, it surely has to be our fault because teachers didn’t try hard enough. YOU didn’t contact home enough. YOU didn’t form relationships. YOU didn’t give enough grace. YOU didn’t enact good self-care and thus were not in your best form for work. YOU didn’t differentiate your lessons enough to meet all levels of learning. YOU. It’s gotta be YOU.

Add to all of this that there are students in education programs who are choosing other fields because they hear about the nightmares they will be facing once they get their own classrooms, and this country has a problem that will soon rear its ugly head.

I apologize for making this post about me and not something more fun like antiques or tablecloths or Elvis or literally anything else. This is what was on my mind on this Sunday, and I hope my next post is lighter in subject and way more fun.

Enjoy your weekend!


The cicadas tell the time

I’m going to miss sitting outside in the morning with my coffee, listening to the pond. That quiet that surrounds me during those moments is crucial to my well being, I think. No other sounds can be heard except the water running from the waterfall and the fountain.

See how my fountain looks sort of wonky? Funny story.

I used to have the fountain sitting on top of a platform in the middle of the pond. It had two extension tubes at the top so it was just visible over the surface. It was lovely.

Then a new neighbor dog decided that my pond was going to be his personal swimming pool. Every day he would come over and get in one one side, swim around a few laps, then get out the other side. My fountain sometimes got knocked over by Swim Dog, and during one of those swimming episodes, the extension tube got knocked off and sank to the bottom.

Continue reading “The cicadas tell the time”

Goodbye, July?

I did a doubletake when I looked at the calendar this morning. July 28? Can that be accurate? It seems like five days ago when I was just getting back from Branson.

It feels like I fell down a rabbithole somewhere, and I guess I have. I started the tedious process of trying to get my materials ready for the school year. This year is a wee bit different, of course because I have no idea what the school year is going to look like.

Continue reading “Goodbye, July?”

I quarantine; therefore, I write

Like many people in the United States, I have suddenly become a homebody. I realized that my “Gee, I have no time to blog” excuse no longer applies, so here I am. Blogging. Thinking. Cleaning. Playing games with my family. Cleaning some more. Sneaking peeks at the CDC website to see what the newest bad news contains. Telling my kids that no, they cannot go hang with friends, although some days I am so tempted to just tell them to go wherever they want. I mean, MUST video games and movies be SO DANG LOUD? Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Continue reading “I quarantine; therefore, I write”

Time to teach

All my travels have come to an end and I am facing the conclusion of summer.  School (for teachers, anyway) starts on Monday and the real deal begins on Wednesday.  It truly seems like summer began just three weeks ago.  I was so pumped for spending time with my kids and traveling and indulging in my hobbies … and now, I’m wondering why I didn’t use my time better.  Or perhaps I did?

I will admit it – my profession comes with some perks.  There are few other professions that allow people several weeks off in a row.  I get holidays off.  I have decent insurance.  My working hours are predictable.  I don’t have a boss yelling at me to stay late or come in earlier.  That’s stuff that most teachers do automatically because they have to. However, as the demands of our profession have risen, the time to get everything down has declined.  If I could change anything about how a school day is set up, I would demand that teachers have more time to plan.

Budget issues and emphasis on standards and benchmarks have whittled away planning time to one 42-minute period per day.  Yes, I know — most people would LOVE to have 42 minutes a day to do whatever they wanted.  However, this is not a break time for us.  It is a planning time.  If you use that period as a break time every day, you will never get anything done and will fall hopelessly behind.  Those 42 minutes are for cramming in all the stuff we need to do on any given day: ordering copies, writing lessons and handouts, contacting parents and answering emails, grading papers and entering grades, generation progress reports, conferring with other teachers, scheduling computer time, tracking down students, setting up A/V equipment, organizing handouts and packets … the list goes on and on and on.  For teachers who are actually trying to be innovative and doing something extra, those 42 minutes go by in a flash.  Therefore, I’ve gotten in the habit of using my lunch time for additional planning time.  I scarf down some yogurt and get to work.  Unless i’m really stressed out and just want to get out of the building, that is my daily routine.  When I am teaching a writing class, using my lunch is a necessity unless I want to bring work home with me, and even THEN that extra time isn’t enough and I end up correcting at home too.

If anything, that is where I feel the disrespect the most — when people fail to realize how much time it takes to plan and correct, particularly for those of us English teachers who get anywhere from 30-80 essays being handed in on the same day.  For a writing class, you are expected to get those essays corrected and handed back before the next batch comes in.  For me, correcting just one essay thoroughly (if I am marking all grammar and spelling errors and making suggestions) can take up to twenty minutes — and that is for an essay that isn’t riddled with errors.  Do the math: twenty minutes times eighty essays.  I need approximately twenty-four hours to correct all of those essays, and that is not even taking into account the essays that are so messed up that it can take up to 45 minutes to get all the suggestions written.

If all I taught was a writing class, then I’d be OK.  I’d use class time while the kids were writing along with my planning period and lunch to get them done in a week or so.  However, a writing class is usually one of the four classes that I usually teach.  I can’t use my planning period everyday to correct writing, because then I’d be neglecting the time it takes to keep up with my other classes.  Needless to say, those 42 minutes just don’t cut it on most days.  Even using my lunch as a planning period doesn’t seem to make much of a dent in the time it takes to correct writing and deal with other classes as well.

Teaching is a different animal, and sometimes I get tired of telling people I’m a teacher only to have them get that “look” and then say, “Must be nice to have summers off, huh?”

So often I have to bite my tongue to keep myself from saying, “Yes … and it must be nice to have a coffee break and actual lunch hours, huh?”

Our profession has taken some major hits in public perception.  The media, the government, disgruntled parents — all of them seem to be intent on making it seem like all we do in school is hand out worksheets and have sex with our students when we get a free moment.  That sounds crass and jaded, and perhaps it is.  How many good stories do we read about what schools are doing today?

If you have never visited your child’s school, do so.  Most teachers would be happy to open their doors for you and allow you to see what they do.  Having a parent in the room is nerveracking and a bit disruptive, but it’s also nice for people to witness the energy that’s required to get through a class period and the immense organization and dedication that is required.  Most people see what we do and say, “I’d never be able to do that; I’d go nuts.”  And for some people, that may be true.  At the very least, however, I’d love people to recognize that those of us teaching school actually know what we’re doing and we not only care about the subject we teach, we care about the students in our classroom.  Somehow schools and teachers have been made the enemy by a disgruntled public and the media, and it is this attitude that will do more damage in the long run than anything else.  There are bad apples in the bunch, but I guarantee that those people are the exception and not the rule.

School starts in approximately ten hours.  Time for bed.  🙂



It’s that time of year

back_to_school_bannerIt’s fair week here in our small town, and I cannot believe that the summer has already flown by.  I mean, it seems like I just cleaned up my classroom and walked out with an armload of books, ready for a break and a fresh start in the fall.  I say “fall” loosely, because it seems that school starts earlier and earlier every year, and it no longer is limited to the fall, but mid- to late-August.  This year it’s beginning on the 17th for us teachers, with the regular circus beginning on the 19th.  Oh, how I long for the days when the school year couldn’t begin (by law) until after labor day!

Of course, I understand that with most schools being climate controlled, there really is no reason to hold off the commencement of school until after the typical August blanket of heat and humidity has dissolved.   We’re good to go as soon as the teachers shake off that zombie-like stare and begin to feel like their old selves again.

It’s a typical pattern that I will spend most of August resisting the urge to begin really long, time-consuming projects in order to procrastinate working on school stuff.  It’s like the opposite of a nesting instinct because it’s an instinct that tries to distract me from what needs to be done.  In fact, that anti-nesting instinct is the very feeling that provoked me to begin this blog a year ago.  I wanted to do something — just not school stuff.   It was a good move, because this blog satisfies my urge to write and also allows me to connect with others who enjoy the same things I do.  I’ve met some great people just by reading other’s blogs and maintaining my own.  So if you’re one of the handful of people who regularly stop by and read my feeble ramblings, thank you.

I’m feeling motivated to make the upcoming school year as stress-free as possible.  I’m sure by October I will be laughing at my naitvetee, as I often do, but I know I have to do something in order to keep my sanity a little better this time around.  You see, last year I began teaching high school AND middle school, and because the two buildings are currently not together, that meant that I’d be doing some traveling back and forth to the different buildings.  Basically I’m half time at one building, then I get in my car and zip over to the other building and spend the rest of the day there.  And while the arrangement does provide some wonderful variety, it just about kills me every day.  I didn’t go into last year being supremely organized, and trying to deal with the new situation, the new classes, and my lack of organization is what just about did me in.

This year (I told myself), it would be different.  I’m playing around with some options to help make being a multi-building teacher a little less chaotic, both for me and the students.  I created a website that will house all my lesson plans, class information, resources, etc.  I’ve done that in the past, true enough, but it was always part of some company’s setup, so the URL was always hard to remember for the kids.  This year, using the great discount I get at ICDsoft for creating new websites, I bought a domain with just my name so that the students have no excuse for not remembering it.   There it is — use it, kids!

Now, if I can only fight this weird urge I have to go buy a bunch of school supplies I don’t need.  As someone who has an admitted fetish for office supplies, that will be more difficult than it seems.