excellence · expansion · TEACHING

Hungry Hippos.

5.2.18

As the school year draws to a close, I find that I feel a little stale in my teaching practices.  I have a toolbox with many drawers, but I tend to reach for the uppermost because it’s convenient, familiar, and reflexive.  Therefore, I’m not alone in my classroom feeling a little bored!

So, yesterday, I reached into my classroom bookshelf for my thumbed-through copy of Teach Like a Champion to remind myself of other techniques that are available to me.  OH MY GOD, what a relief!  I forget how many tools are literally (yes, literally!) at my fingertips.  I’m so grateful that my boss at my first school handed me a copy from her stores when I began my career and was drowning in novice-hood, sore-throated and haggard.

As I thumb again through the book, I see a handful of pages dogeared, but for the most part not touched.  The few techniques I recall (Vegas Moment, Exit Ticket, No Opt Out)… well, I recall them, but I can’t always say I use them.  Or say I always use them!

Of course, it’s not to use every tool every time, but to refamiliarize myself with all the drawers in my toolbox is like a draught of water on a hot day.  I feel relief.

Therefore, as I sat in meditation this morning, the idea struck me that I wonder if other teachers at my school might be feeling similar stagnation and welcome the chance to get together to read/re-read and discuss one or two tools a week and spitball some ideas for how to literally 😛 implement the techniques in their own classroom (since theoretical professional development is the WORST).

After dismissal, we’re still contracted to be on-site for another 30 minutes.  Well, what if I hosted a “Drop-in PD” in my classroom for 20 of those minutes?  We’d read a tool, refresh and head on our way.

Charged up with this idea and already composing an email to the faculty in my head (yes, during meditation!), I figured I should probably square this with the head honcho, in case there was a conflict or even an existing opportunity that I didn’t know about, and also to gain her ideas on the subject.

Therefore, at 6am today, there I am composing an email to my boss about how to improve my teaching, and perhaps the teaching of my peers.

Hungry.  That’s what I imagine she’ll think when she reads that email!

Because it’s not the first talk we’ve had recently on what I could do to increase my value (and compensation) at the school.  I met with her a few weeks ago to bandy about ideas and, through my supervisor, I heard that there may be one option on the horizon.  One that will be HOLY COW a lot of work, but it’s mostly initial set-up that can then be replicated with somewhat lesser effort in subsequent years.

I haven’t heard from the big boss on that yet, so I’m waiting for our monthly meeting next week.

But, in the meantime, can’t hurt to say I wanna host a klatch of teachers to improve our professional excellence, now can it?;)

 

Advertisements
generosity · gratitude · TEACHING

What act of generosity can I carry out today?

4.25.18.jpg

This is the central question I now have Post-Ited to my fridge.  Beneath it is one that reads, “What act of generosity did I carry out today?”

As things progress, stagnate, circumnavigate and develop, I can get a little lost in my brain, thinking about things to the detriment of actually doing them, particularly thinking about my relationship instead of myself.  Thinking is not always my highest mode of operation.

Therefore, it’s important for me to have a touchstone to come back to, coming back to myself and what’s happening before me and the people around me.

While contemplating this, today’s title question came to me: “What act of generosity can I carry out today?”  This helps me to reframe my day and my life to see how I can be of service in the world, and to employ the gifts I’ve been given to brighten said world.

I like the bookend nature of these questions so that, when last night I came home late from our school’s Open House, I got to reflect on what I had done for my students, rather than on the parent questioning me about why their 8th grader’s vocabulary scores weren’t higher on standardized tests.

Particularly, last night, I got to reflect on one piece of joy and light I brought to a family.

First off, my 6th graders are my saving grace.  While I enjoy and love (some of!) my 8th graders, depending on the moment, the 11-year olds are my delight.  Sure, teaching them during the last period of the day can challenge one’s patience, but that’s my own learning to ensure that there’s something active and capturing for that last 45 minutes of their schoolday.

One of my young students is one of those sports players I mentioned a while ago whom I’ve tagged as a strong writer, and his father stopped me in the hallway a few weeks ago to sincerely thank me for encouraging his son’s writing.  I replied that I was only acknowledging the talent that he clearly has.

And last night, that same dad and son came to Open House and, while the son interrupted with apologizing for grammar errors or “it’s not edited yet” interjections, I read them both the latest short story from the boy.  The father was staggered.  (If I’m not mistaken, his eyes were misty by the end of the reading.)  He was so clearly impressed and delighted at his son’s writing, plus it was my pleasure to read this story aloud and reflect to the son that his words (even without editing!) are of value.

This, my friends, is my act of generosity from yesterday.  I continue to feel that encouraging the talent of this student and others is my greatest act of generosity—and privilege.  While there are good writers in my classes and even poor writers, and I get to find the diamond in the rough of each of them, clearly the ones with writing talent are among my favorites.  I can’t help it, I’m an English teacher after all!

I am so honored and thrilled to have done something for this student (and the 3 other parents who stopped me last night to say that their child was absolutely loving my class, some even saying that their child didn’t even particularly care for English before).  This is my honor and privilege, and as much as I know there are still hills for me to climb professionally to feel more capable and confident and engaging in my teaching, I feel nearly dumbstruck with gratitude that I get to shine a spotlight into the talent-corners of these children’s lives.  Amen.

 

shakespeare · TEACHING · uncertainty

V is for…

4.10.18

When I was 16 years old, my girl friend Tracey and I went to the midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Neither of us were too familiar with the movie—it was my first time seeing it ever—but we knew it was a little odd, like us, and a little verbotten.

When we arrived at the theater, the ticket taker outside took ours in hand and gave us a long, hard look.  He then announced to the hearing of all in the vicinity: You’re virgins, aren’t you?

We. Almost. Died.

Firstly, how on earth could he tell that from looking at us?  Omigod is that something people can SEE??  Secondly, what on earth does that have to do with seeing a cult film??

“Um… what?”

It’s your first time here, isn’t it?

“Ohhh… well, yes.”

I thought so, he concluded.  And proceeded to take a blue face-paint pastel and DRAW GIANT V’S ON OUR FOREHEADS  !!!  so that everyone else would also know we were “virgins.”  Immediately as we stepped into the dim of the theater, my friend and I vigorously scrubbed the V from our faces, bathed in darkness to hide the vicious red creeping upon them.

Yesterday was my first time teaching Shakespeare.

While the opening of my first Macbeth lesson plan—my “Vegas Moment” to quote Teach like a Champion—went wonderfully, as we came to the actual reading of the text, that “out of my depth” feeling suddenly swelled.  Oh god, their eyes are glazing. Quick! What do I do?

Well, first off, it was the end of that class period.  So I get to reapproach it all today.  And secondly, it is my first time.  I am inexperienced, awkward, Shakespeare’s elbow’s on my hair.

I’m stoked that my opening Vegas moment went so well (we created “fortune teller/cootie catchers” to illustrate the role of prophesy in all decisions if we knew what was going to come of us), and my students were engaged, curious, creative, and laughing.  They got the point of the exercise, and its relationship to the play.

But lord have mercy, today I go at it again.

I’ve taken enough Shakespeare survey classes to know how to read it at a college level, to read it independently, to sneak peaks at the modern English just to check anyway, because hello, Shakespeare.  But I do not know how to teach a 14-year old how to read it or how to translate it so that an 8th grader will actually care.

Yet.

I know I’ll go at it again.  I’ll walk into the classroom with blue smudges across my forehead, feeling a little gangly, a little uncertain of what parts feel good and what don’t.

But today, I’ll do it just a step to the right…;)

 

growth · love · TEACHING

The Elevensies Club

3.7.18.png

I love the misfits.  The oddball, unusual students who have the wry or wacky sense of humor, who know they somehow don’t fit into the “normal” mold of middle schooler.

But, too, I love the jock who writes privately in his school journal about feeling like his only pride comes from the scoreboard.  Or the soccer god who crafts a sinuous narrative with achingly emotional depth.

I am sweeping these hidden gems into my fold, and I am high on their burgeoning view of themselves.

There are currently two students, one in 8th grade, one in 6th, who fit this jock/closeted writer profile.  The older one has the reputation for being the out-of-bounds kid, the one always in trouble, the one we’re just hoping to get through.  He’s not stupid, but some of his decisions and actions paint him as a caustic child/teenager who heeds none of our words.

So, when I discovered in his (public to me) journal that he related to one of our book characters whose “Life Raft” was cartooning because he felt his only life raft was basketball, I began to see another side of, and some light for, this child.

I began to take more notice of what he was writing.  And so, he’s begun to share it more — with me, though not with his peers.  He is the secret softie, and I am glad to keep his secret from his classmates.

But when yesterday the students were sharing out a narrative from their journal prompt, and he volunteered, we listened, and I responded, “I know you’re working on your craft right now, and this really shows your skill at world-building,” I saw his quiet, hidden pride shine.  I witnessed his, Shh don’t tell them, but oh jeez, thank you for seeing me.  Then his eyes darted back down to his twiddling pencil, his posture slumping into detachment (feigned or otherwise) once again.

That I get to foster and fan the flames of this child’s ownership of his voice is price beyond rubies.  I’m not blowing hot air, puffing up his pride with false words of praise; truly, he shows the seeds of talent and I am continuously surprised by the depth of his thoughts — as I’d painted him the lost cause, too.

So now we both get to see this something special that he’s developing.  We both get to see that he is more than his scoreboard.

Surely, he dons his role as a clown, a rebel, a juvenile delinquent as well-worn shoes, but offering him this other pair, this one pair of shoes that says, You have worth inside you…

He may never decide to own that he’s emotionally and creatively intelligent.  He may move on through his high school and adult years as solely the jock, the tough guy.  I can’t know.

But I do know that he’ll have the option to remember that his English teacher once praised his writing and held open a door he’d not known existed.

joy · struggle · TEACHING

Can’t Hardly Wait

2.14.18 cant hardly wait

In an uncanny manifestation of the maxim, “What you resist persists,” I am now an English Teacher.  Woe, that I defied this title, this job, for years!  Struggling against the inexorable pull, sneering at the middling title, eschewing a complacent slide into the profession.  (“Those who can’t do, teach.” …)

As a creative writer since youth, an English major, an English Master, a poet, blogger, and storyteller, I felt that to accept the job of English Teacher was sooo woefully predictable.  So average.  So unambitious.  So … basic.

Therefore, I skated around the pit I saw the job to be, and instead languished in all office jobs related to writing!  “Marketing.”  “Communications.”  Death.

Until the magnetic pull of what is the natural fiber of my being caught me, like an x-wing in a tractor beam.  Call it circumstance, fate, desperation, but I needed a new job, and a financially and professional flailing 30-something is not very attractive — to me or anyone else.

So, here I am, a Middle School English Teacher.

Just what I always resisted; just what I always wanted.

Middle school, I’d imagined, would be my preferred age-range (harrowing and potent as those years can be).  And I couldn’t have been more accurate.  I love this age.  Teaching this age, not being — being that age was horrible for me.  Therefore, I’d always thought that I wanted to help usher and guide upcoming youth through that awkward, excruciating time.

In this, my new and current school, my first year as a full-time MS English Teacher, I have discovered that I fit seamlessly.  My homework is to read YA literature; my day work is to discuss it.  My class work means I invent journal prompts for my students, like, “Write a Love Letter to a Piece of Nature,” or, for Tu B’Shevat: “You are a Tree.  Write at least 10 sentences.”

Recently, when I lamented to my boss that I emphatically did not enjoy or want to teach the book my 6th graders are assigned (one listed on the curriculum for years), whined that the language was too difficult for my more struggling readers, she merely replied: So don’t.

“Find a book that you truly love, that you can’t wait to teach.  And let me know.”

The end.  End of story, of lamenting, of struggle.  End of desperation.

Do what you love, the literature tells us.  Do what you love, my boss tells me.

Woe, that I resisted it so long.

 

 

change · gratitude · TEACHING · travel

Gung Hay Fat Chance

(*have no idea if this will go there, but I had to use that
phrase!)
I didn’t graduate college “on time.” All my roommates and
classmates were getting their tassels aligned and family convened, and I was
lining up for Seroquel, my family convening in a sterile hospital cafeteria.
So, when that episode was over, I got a rinky-dink job at a
local drug store, and when that was enough of that (and my hair had grown back
somewhat), I got a job as an admin in an insurance claims company, finished my
degree with night classes, and graduated in May of ’04, instead of ’03.
That summer, I applied for the Birthright program—a program
which sends Jewish teens and 20s to Israel for 10 days for free if they’ve never
been. I applied and was accepted to the “graduate” program, the older group of
folks, between 22 and 26. I spent 10 days in a dusty bus gaining some of the
most incredible experiences, and information—nearly all of the people on the
bus were “doing something” with their lives. One worked at a magazine in New
York City; several were in law school; one taught high school English in a
Catholic school. I… was a claims adjustor.
When I got back to my cubicle, under the fluorescent lights,
I decided it was time to call this episode over, too. Incredibly, my dad had met a
woman on his commuter bus who was an editor at a New York magazine, and through
a short interview process, I was hired as their Editorial Intern.
It was amazing. It was probably the job I’ve enjoyed most of
any I had. The differences were drastic: although I was working longer hours with a much longer commute, I was coming home more “happily tired” than simply
exhausted, as from the claims job. I loved
the work. Writing copy, coordinating with off-site editors, proofreading &
editing. I even wrote my own article about Bill Nye The Science Guy’s endorsement of a new
brand of contact lenses.
I loved the pace, the investment I had in the work, the
creative input I was able to have. The respect I had of my superiors for my
intelligence and ideas. I loved working at 6th and Canal, walking the street
vendors at lunch, earning real dough, even for an intern.
But, summer ended. It was a post-9/11 market still, and small
optical trade magazines didn’t have much of a budget for an editorial
assistant. So I went back on the market.
The market was bare.
My aunt suggested I go teach English abroad. She’d done it
in Taiwan, and there were plenty of recruitment companies to choose from. I
found one, and in conversation with them, found out that although there were
plenty of South East Asian jobs, the most money was to be made in South Korea.
So, after a 9 pm phone interview with a school director
outside of Seoul, two days later, I’m buying my first real luggage at Target. Two days from then, I’m on a plane to a place I’d never been to work with
people I’d never met in a country whose language I did not speak, to remain for
the next 18 months.
Sure. Why not?
My experiences were wide and varied and not always pleasant
in that peninsular country. I won’t engage the story here (I’ve got to
leave for work), but the school year always ended and began around the Chinese
New Year, a.k.a. today.
Today would be the day you would be assigned or reassigned
to a classroom of sometimes wily, sometimes endearingly shy 5 year olds. Today, as
the cherry blossoms bloomed outside and streets were hung with red paper
lanterns and students’ parents handed you red envelopes full of “thank you”
tips, you listened to the 5 year olds who had cried at the start of the year,
“Teacher! Water!,” ask you, “Molly Teacher, I’m thirsty. Can I have some water,
please?”
It was more beautiful than the blossoms. 

acceptance · adulthood · commitment · discovery · finances · growth · maturity · TEACHING · time · work

Sucker

Dear Folks,
My new “normal people” hours are conflicting with my ability
to write this with coherence, and eat, shower, become fully conscious. So,
forgive its in/coherency, if it is so.
I had two phone calls yesterday that sort of count as
informational interviews. One was with my darling Aunt Roberta (technically my
mom’s cousin, but all those cousins are sort of like aunts and uncles – that’s
how it was when you played stickball in the streets of Brooklyn in the ’50s).
She has been a professor of English since the sun was born,
and had some great information and tips for me. She sent me her teaching resume
to take a look at, as I’m beginning to apply for teaching jobs – something I’ve
viciously avoided for so long, I almost
forget why. … but I do remember.
For as long as I can
remember, what with my interest in literature, and writing, and reading,
well-meaning folks have said the following to me:
Well, you could always teach English.
Somehow this phrase has turned into an anathema for me. Is this the only
thing that I can do?? It begins to sound like a default, like welp, you could
always settle. It has calcified into a job title that brings to mind aging high
school professors, eking out their little lives in some underappreciated,
underpaid job. My vision of “teacher” has come to also mean “sedentary,” as
once you get a job teaching, all I hear is “tenure” and that’s all people are
working toward – all they want is to stay as absolutely still as possible. No
room for exploration, movement, change. You got it, you keep it, you pipe down,
and suck it up.
Obviously, many of these ideas are unrealistic and quite
ridiculous, but that hasn’t kept them from keeping me away from the whole idea
of teaching – teaching English, teaching high school, teaching college – as if
I’ve ever thought that I could.
But…
The reality.
Firstly, as Roberta was quick to assure me, teaching does not mean wasting away in some small town or inner city
for eternity – it doesn’t have to mean that, and particularly in the beginning,
it doesn’t mean that – as chances are, as a beginning teacher, you’ll have to
sort of go where the job is.
Secondly, … and here’s the hilarious irony … I like teaching.
Sure, it’s hard work – I’ve done it before, but never
considered what I’ve done as “real” teaching. I had a job at a Sunday School last year, once a
week (and had lots of lesson planning experience to really really learn that lesson planning.is.not.paid.). I also
taught ESL in South Korea for almost two years, but I don’t “count” that either,
as I was hung-over most of the time, and worked out my lesson about 10 minutes
before class, if that.
However, I do like being in a classroom. I also think I have
a lot to offer – I, if I may be so unhumble, think I’m pretty cool. I’m funny,
performative, creative, a good listener, and a very good judge of classroom
dynamics and social cues (i.e. they’re not listening – change it up, or so and so is
interested in so and so, so I better move them). I also have a lot of outside
interests, which makes for a well-rounded incorporation of things into the
lesson plan.
Thirdly, I’m technically qualified to do it now, with my degree and all. 
So, I could do it.
And as I’ve reminded myself a lot over the last year, “Can I
do it?” is a different than “Do I want to do it?”
But here’s the change occurring. My wonderful sunshine ball,
Maila, came over for tea last night. Here’s what she said:
“If it wasn’t hard, they wouldn’t have to pay us.”
BAH! Oh, right. It’s work. The ideal is that work include some play or interest, or a lack of
soul-crushing mindlessness that leaves
zero energy available for outside pursuits. And the thing
is, I want and would love to pursue a LOT of outside pursuits.
As she was leaving, I thought of something else which has
probably helped to keep me at arms-length from a “real” job. I’m reminded of my
life several years ago, which I know is similar to a lot of folks I hang out
with.
In the cheepy-birdie hours of the morning, in the hours when
the sky is beginning to lighten, and the new day is dawning, I and we, were
usually heading home. Weaving and wending our way to some pass-outable
location, or so red-eyed and clench-jawed that the chirping birds were a
mockery of all that is holy (Shut the fuck UP! Don’t remind me it’s a new day,
I’m still … still … STILL up!).
And as we were wending home, or at least one well-worn path
I remember particularly, as I was wending my way home in my second tour of
teacher duty in South Korea, I would pass by a church on Sunday morning. There,
people, humans, were walking to church. And I would sneer, Suckers.
These people, in their pressed, clean clothes, with a full
night’s sleep, and a full refrigerator. With brushed teeth, and combed hair,
and a place to get to at 8 or 9am. Who paid rent, and taxes, and didn’t have
their utilities turned off monthly. Whose teeth were not ground down with
clenching, or livers distended with liquor, or clothing bathed in a cheap bath
of smoke. These people, with real jobs, real lives, real responsibilities, were
Suckers. They knew nothing of the way things ought to be, the nocturnal,
hedonistic, nihilistic counter-culture. They were suckers.
And as I begin to accept that it’s time for me to take on
those same responsibilities, there’s a part of me that calls myself a Sucker.
But, I’m not a hedonist anymore. I don’t reek, or steal, or
slink anymore. If a balanced check-book, paid rent, cat and people food, and
some bass lessons are what I want, then I have to do what they do. I have to be
a Sucker,
which I guess is another word for Adult.