Tag Archives: School

Lukewarm

It has been a while since I have posted, almost two weeks to be exact. I have started a lot of posts in my head, but have never been able to sit down and type. Part of the reason is because my laptop officially died (I knew it was coming), so J and I have to share a computer, and part of the reason is because I am so tired, I have no motivation for writing. Or, I feel like I am only going to be negative, so I avoid writing to come across as whiny or inconsiderate or – worse – a bad teacher.

A student today asked me what I wanted to be a teacher. To my dismay, I could not give him a straight answer. I finally joked that I really wanted to be a three ring leader in the circus, and teaching was the next closest thing (to which another student replied, “can you go to college to be in the circus?”). In all seriousness, though, my Facebook status the other week was something to the tune of “I am not sure I am cut out for this teaching thing.” I think I scared a few future teachers with that. One girl that I know who is a senior English secondary-education major at SU told me her status scared her. And I didn’t mean for it to scare anyone, especially not anyone who is looking to become a teacher. I responded to her that I have good days and bad days, and the day I had made that my status was a bad day. Unfortunately, I vented my frustration via a public forum, so it was easily misinterpreted.

It is true, I have good days and bad days. There are days when I feel like, “okay, this isn’t so bad, I can do this,” and days when I think, “how am I going to get through the rest of the week, let alone 30 more years?” But in actuality, I have good days and bad days, but no REALLY good days or REALLY bad days. Most days are lukewarm – a little bit better than yesterday, or a little bit worse, but all in all, rather tepid. I’m not burning, I’m not freezing, I’m just going along, getting through each day, looking forward to one more day closer to the weekend.

I don’t like this lukewarm feeling. Honestly, what good is it to be lukewarm? It makes horrible bath water, disgusting drinking water, and is all in all, a rather useless temperature. But that is how I feel about teaching right now. I don’t love it, I don’t hate it . . . I’m just getting through it, one day at a time. But I wish that something would happen – a day would turn to ice, where I just cannot wait to get home, or I burn myself with something exciting and fiery. I want there to be a day where I break down screaming or crying, cursing myself for choosing this profession, or a day where I scream “YES! YES! YES! THIS is what I have been waiting for!” But neither of these days have come. True, I have had some moments where I have been on the verge of tears or a mini-breakdown, or days where I come home and tell J all through dinner the funny stuff that happened with my students that day. But all in all, each day is like every other, fading into the next, an endless sea of lukewarm, gray water.

We are almost through the first nine weeks, which means I have a quarter of the way through the school year (and my first year of teaching). I am praying that between now and June, something happens that lets me know whether or not this is truly what I should be doing. Am I cut out for this teaching thing? Sure I am. I can handle it. I can deal with it. But I want to do more than just deal with it . . . I want it to be what I was made for.

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You drive me crazy (uh, oh) like no one else (uh, oh)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a new teacher fresh out of college is in want of a classroom full of annoying twelve year-olds.

Yes, that is the opening line of Pride and Prejudice, modified, of course, to fit my needs. The truth of the matter is, I am becoming increasingly annoyed at a few of my students, and I am not quite sure how to handle it. There are a few times where I have really struggled to keep my cool, biting my tongue and clenching my mouth shut at the “SHUT UP! JUST SHUT UP” that is bubbling beneath the surface. In all honest, I have discovered that many seventh graders lack simple “sense and sensibility.”

For example, I have one student who refuses to close his mouth. You can literally tell him not to talk for the rest of the period or he is out in the hall, and he will make a comeback to that! He has become increasingly more frustrating, both for me and for the other students, who are constantly telling him to “be quiet” (after I remind them that the words “shut up” are not be used in my room). He often will distract others by making funny noises or tapping his pencil. The other day, I asked him to get something from his desk. He was at the front of the room, and his desk is near the back (after I discovered that him being at the front was a distraction). Instead of walking over to his desk, like a normal human being, he proceeded to CRAWL across the room, on his hands and knees. Yes, he CRAWLED. I never realized that as a middle school teacher I would have to remind my students to walk on two feet like the young adults they are.

Middle school is truly a case study in many, many aspects. If you ever want to research human behaviors, a middle school classroom is surely the best place to do so. I knew that middle schoolers would be different in that they are so wrapped up in their own little lives, but I never realized to what extent. I try to validate their lives as much as possible – when a girl tells me on Monday she is in love with the boy she started dating at Friday’s football game, for example – but I also need them to realize that school is not ONLY for socializing, and that we are not there ONLY on their terms or on their agendas, and that you can still concentrate in school EVEN IF the boy in front of you is chewing gum. I guess part of me didn’t realize how much of a “life curriculum” I would be teaching: how to behave like young adults, how to ignore those who are bothering you, how to know when to let things go, how to deal with conflicts. Many days I feel like a life coach.

It’s fun, though, I must admit, and when I see a side of a student that I’ve never seen before, it’s amazing. We laugh a lot, we learn a lot, and we make mistakes a lot, and at the end of every day, it’s (usually) rewarding. But, boy, oh, boy, some days I really wish I didn’t have to remind a student not to crawl across the floor.

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A minimum of talent

If you have a minimum of talent, but you sit at that typewriter long enough, something will emerge. All I had was this burning desire to be a writer and all these emotions.” – Robert Cromier

I have not written much in a while. Sure, I do semi-frequent blog updates, I write a lot of lesson plans and comments on student papers, and write out a lot (much more so, these days) of checks. But I have not written something creative, original, or even analytic in a long time. It has been 10 months since my last college paper. Some of you may think, “So what? That sounds great!”, which I completely understand. But in many ways, this lack of writing makes me feel almost hypocritical.

Let me explain. I am a language arts teacher. I teach reading and writing. And not only do I teach the act of reading and writing, but I have also decided I am a masochist because I want to teach the joy of reading and writing, which is no small feat for a 7th grade teacher. In so, in this quest of impossibilities, I have my students read, and write, and read, and write some more, all with the hopes that within this reading and writing, a small spark will ignite within them that will feed the ever-glowing embers of the love of language.

Yet, in many ways, I do not practice what I preach. Sure, I have got the reading thing down, although, in all honesty, I should read more than I do (I’m averaging about a book every two weeks, which is not that good. Even some of my students are reading more than I am). And I used to have the writing thing down, until that blissful period called “college” ended and the real world came crashing down around me. Yet, how can I expect my students to understand the value of reading and writing, which, in my opinion, correlates with the practice of these disciplines? How can I say to my students every day, “Writing can be an outlet, a way to express yourself. Just write and you will see what I mean,” when I do not use writing as an outlet myself? Of course, I do value reading and writing, or I would not have chosen to become an English teacher, but do I value it enough?

In a lot of the education books I read, they say that a teacher’s enthusiasm and love of the content can often inspire his/her students. So my question is, do I display my enthusiasm and love of the content? I try, but I think I would be more inspiring if actually DID the content: if I actually read and write daily, as a part of who I am. Readers and writers can only be taught by other readers and writers, no? If expect my students to enter the discourse of reading and writing (both those taught in school and outside of school), then I myself need to enter that discourse and not just stand on the sidelines as an outlooker (which, my students could tell you, means “watcher” as it was one of our vocab words last week. But I digress).

Now, the truth is, I am scared to death. I have not written creatively in a long time, at least not in an inspired way. And I have certainly not written anything analytical or thougth-provoking without the aid of a prompt or professor. But I cannot, and I will not, tell my students one thing and do something else. I tell my students to take risks, to try something and if it doesn’t work, try something else, until they get it right. I tell them to just keep writing, even when they think they have nothing to say (they really hate my “write in your journals for 5 minutes without stopping” warm-ups). I tell them that writing is thinking, and one of the best ways to think is to write down your ideas. I tell them it doesn’t matter how bad of a writer you think you are, practice always makes perfect, and the more writing you do, the better you’ll get.

So I sit in front of my computer, with my seemingly minimum amount of talent, and will sit here until I have something to write. Because inside, I have not only a burning desire to write (and read), but an even larger desire to see my students write. And what better way to teach them than by example?

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And we go on and on and on and on and on

Fair week ended yesterday. J and I went five times. It was probably the most times I have ever gone to the fair just to go and not work. Of course, during high school I was there basically every day, but that was because I worked for Sunset Ice Cream and had to be there. But this year we spent four nights and one afternoon there just for the food, the walking, the sights, and the people-watching. I was nervous that we wouldn’t be able to go a lot because we’re both working and I am always crazy-busy with school, but we managed to fit it in. And it was glorious.

Speaking of school, progress reports came out last week, meaning that I am already 1/8 of the way through the school year. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s bad that I am keeping track, but I can’t help it. I’m a time-keeper, a clock-watcher, a cross-the-days-off-my-calendar girl. I like seeing progress that has been made, which is, many times, in the form of time. And I have to admit, I am proud that I have already made it this far in my first year of teaching, because honestly there are some days when I do not know if I can make it. Of course, there are other days when I think, “Oh, I can so do this!” as well. It’s been a mix of good and bad, black and white, energy and complete exhaustion, but I am doing it, and that’s what matters.

This week and weekend were great though. The girls came up Friday night and we took them to the fair Saturday morning, and then we went to Annie’s house in the afternoon. J and I finally got our pictures framed – one was a wedding gift from the girls and three were originals we had picked up from an artist in Rome – so as soon as I am done typing this we are hanging them up. I decorated for fall a little bit, got some stuff done around the house (including fixing up a guest bedroom, finally), and today we are heading to my grandparents’ to put the cover on the boat. It has been a busy weekend but relaxing, and I’m sad that it’s almost over. But we’re starting a SSR (sustained silent reading) in my class tomorrow where students get to choose what they read (and if they don’t like the book, I’m not making them finish it). I really want to start literature circles but I don’t have the resources right now, so this is the next best thing. I’m reading a really awesome book called In the Middle by a middle-school English teacher named Nancie Atwell, and I am getting so much inspiration and ideas from her that I’ve been really pumped to start trying it. So I’ll have to update on how that goes.

Alright, time to hang those pictures!

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Why can’t we be friends?

Yeah, I’m still sick, but now the grossness has migrated from my throat to my nose. I’m surviving on water, gatorade, peppermint herbal tea, Dayquil, Nightquil, and Airborne. And tissues . . . lots and lots of tissues.

Anyway, today I witnessed something rather, well, amazing, in my opinion. In my one class there is a boy with Asberger’s. He’s very smart, rather funny and quick with a joke, gets along pretty well with teachers, but socially around his peers, he just doesn’t cut it. He’ll get upset easily in class, yell out inappropriate things such as “SHUT UP!” or “KNOCK IT OFF, YOU RETARDS!” (which, by the way, the use of the word “retard” is a major no-no in my book, but I’m not quite sure how to get him to stop saying it . . . or if I even can), or go up to girls in the class and try to touch them. Many of the other students find him strange or, at the very least, an avoidance, and I must admit, I feel his pain. He was aware of his condition which probably makes it even more painful. He has a TSS worker who is with him throughout the day, and, while she is a great help, especially to the teachers, and works extremely well with him, I am sure her added presence just makes him feel even that much more noticeable in terms of his differences.

Anyway, there is another boy in the same class, and apparently there is some bad blood between these two. The TSS worker said they got in a fight last year, and even in my class there has already been some confrontations. I even caught the second boy making the (for lack of better words) “retard” sign at the student with Asberger’s (which resulted in an immediate visit to the vice principal because actions like that, in my opinion, are bullying and will not be tolerated in my classroom). To put it bluntly, things have been a little tense between these two boys, and I try to keep them separated as much as possible for the good of the order.

Flash forward to today. We are working on a creative project where students are allowed to work in partners or groups of three. As the students are pairing and grouping off, I keep an eye on my student with Asbergers, because I know one of his “touchy” points is group work. As he kind of fumbles around and figures out what to do, I hear a familiar voice call to him, “Hey, you wanna work with us?” I look and it’s boy number two and another classmate, who also has a tendency to be a bit . . . sneaky, if you know what I mean. In my head, I’m thinking, “Great, this is not going to go well,” but I let the boys work together and stand close by in case anything should go down.

Well, wouldn’t you know it . . . those boys worked together SO well that class and then later on during Core Plus time (I see my students twice a day; the second time is called Core Plus). I was actually completely dumbfounded. I first I couldn’t tell if the other two boys were being sincere or not but I truly think they were. All three of them were joking and working together, and while the boy with Asberger’s was actually working on his own project after all, he sat near the other two and was cracking jokes with them. I made sure to tell the first two students how proud I was of them for inviting him into their group with them, and I am truly hoping that this is the start of a new chapter for them. While I know seventh grade hormones and everything can be fickle, I am still remaining optimistic. It was truly a great part of the day.

It’s the things like this that remind me why I decided to drag my butt out of bed before the sun rises, deal with whiny twelve year-olds, read and plan until my eyes and fingers hurt . . . because I know that sometimes, it is truly worth it.

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Wake me up when September ends

Eight days into the school year and I taught my first day of school as a sick teacher. Sore throat, runny nose, you know . . . the fun stuff. And then I got to give a student her first lunch detention because she basically decided she was going to sit through my class (again) and do zero work and talk to people around her.

Yeah, it’s been one of those days.

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It’s been a hard day’s night . . .

I am so, so, so very tired, and I am only seven days into school.

I am sure this is just a “getting adjusted”-type phase and in a few weeks I’ll be more acclimated to the 5:45 a.m. mornings, hour meetings after school (only sporadically, thank goodness), the 90+ pre-teens I see every day, and the hour or more a night I put in planning. But right now, at this point, it is all I can do not to fall asleep on the drive home. Luckily, J and I just got a beautiful, comfortable, LARGE (this is key) king sized bed delivered yesterday and I had the best night’s sleep that I have had probably since May, which is in large part due to the fact that neither of our dogs woke up in the middle of the night for the first time ever. However, despite the great shut eye, I am still exhausted.

Honestly, it is September 3, and I am looking forward to October . . . November . . . December . . . May . . . and I must admit, I am not quite sure how I am going to do it. I know they say that the first year of teaching is the most difficult, but am I truly ready for it? I gotta admit, I can be lazy sometimes. I can procrastinate like the best of them. Yet despite (or maybe because of?) these flaws, I did extremely well in school and in college, without pulling all-nighters or getting TOO stressed out. And yet, now, as a teacher, I find that I can not do it, at all. I cannot procrastinate. When in college, the only person I was ever responsible for was myself. If I didn’t do the work, the only person it really affected was me. Now, if I don’t do the work, I have 90 12 year-olds staring me down, plus a team of teachers and administrators breathing down my neck. It is really intimidating, truly. I have always said that I work better under pressure, but . . . jeez. Can I really handle this kind of pressure?

The only thing that is keeping me going right now is my a) still kindling passion for teaching, b) the knowledge that every single new teacher has, is, or will be going through the exact thoughts and feelings that I am, and c) I know I am a good teacher (well, as good as you can be at this stage, anyway), and I can’t let my insecurities and the feelings of being in waaay over my head remove me from that knowledge. I had excellent training, I know my content extremely well, and, most of all, I love the students and what I do (well, most of the time). I just wish I had a Dr. Reeves or a Jan around to remind me of that these past two weeks. 😦

But, hey . . . tomorrow is a new day.

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Back to school, back to school, to prove to dad I’m not a fool

So I am completely in over my head right now.

Okay, perhaps that is an exaggeration, but . . . wow, oh, wow . . . is real teaching NOTHING like student teaching. I mean, sure, there are some similarities: waking up early and lesson plans. But the management, the paperwork, the faculty meetings, the Act 48 hours – none of that you get during student teaching. And I have to tell you: I had a really really awesome student teaching experience. So that first week of real teaching? Maybe nothing can truly prepare one for that.

I should say now that while I know a few posts again I said I would probably be blogging a lot about turning “green,” now that teaching has truly taken over my life, much of this blog will be dedicated to that. I should also add that as a professional, I need to be careful about what I write here, especially considering it is a public forum and everything. However, I do think it’s important to chronicle my first year as a new teacher, and I like my friends and family to read about my life so they know what’s going on, so I will try to blog often about what I can.

So, anyway . . . the first week was pretty much a success. I have only had issues with one student so far, and I found out that it is probably not just me, so that was a relief. I have also discovered that seventh graders are chatty, chatty, CHATTY. While I do not mind students talking, by Friday I found myself a little annoyed at the amount of talking they did while getting out their materials, turning to the right page, while I was putting something on the board, etc. In fact, I told most of my 4 classes that I was rather annoyed with the talking, and I think they got the idea rather quickly. Right now I have my students sitting in groups of four because that’s how they were during student teaching and I really liked that. However, I am not quite sure seventh graders are mature enough for that much face-to-face interaction, so I may have to rethink my seating arranagements for now. While I do not necessarily want to go to rows (it’s kind of against my teaching philosophy, which relies heavily on cooperative learning), I also realize that middle school is a different ball game, and that many of my students are still learning “school” in a sense: that is, a lot of them don’t have the skills for positive, beneficial group learning yet. YET. I think by the end of the year I can definitely get them there, but I think I may have to rethink some of my expectations now that I have spent a week with my students. Not lower my expectations, mind you, but rather, adjust them for the time being and the reality of the situation. I would never lower my expectations, of course – I am too high-reaching for that. 😉

So I have been slowly getting acquainted with the school, the faculty, the other teachers on my team . . . and quickly getting acquainted with my students. I have to say that, even already, I have become fond of many of my students. There are some really funny kids are our team, and some really kind spirits, and I think this year is definitely going to be interesting. However, it has been hard getting adjusted to a new school, a new district, new teachers, new students, and, yes, a new curriculum. That is a lot of new for my life, although, let’s face it, “new” has been the key word for my life this entire summer. I am still learning the ropes of the school, while at the same time teaching and lesson planning and figuring out my curriculum. It has been a lot of learning on my part, and just a reminder that even as a teacher, I am still a student. However, despite the early mornings (waking up at 5:45 is going to get old real fast) and the 30 minute drive, I am still loving teaching. I am just trying to make sure not to become jaded by the commute, the difficult students, the loads of grading, or the other teachers (negative attitudes are abundant, unfortunately) and keeping that gusto that I felt during college and student teaching. The good news is, I have a great support system, a supportive husband, and some awesome students, so it should all be good. 🙂

However, we’ll see how I am feeling after the SECOND week . . . just kidding.

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And if you wanna be the teacher’s pet, baby, you’d just better forget it

I have reached a turning point in my life this week. I have officially begun the long process of setting up my classroom. After being under construction (and in the dark) for most of the summer, my room has finally be opened to me and I spent the last two afternoons trying to figure stuff out. And let me tell you, there is a LOT of stuff to figure out. I am sure my predecessor was a nice lady, but, holy crap, did she leave me a lot of JUNK. In my classroom I found a half-full bottle of Mylanta, random pictures of students, a gallon milk jug full of soda tabs, chapstick, an entire drawer full of stickers, 6 containers of gold glitter, and about 1000 “Student Achievement” papers, not to mention the stack of books, papers, and random school supplies. I officially have enough staples, paper clips, and thumb tacks to last me for the rest of my teaching career, I think. Of course, these various odds and ends were not organized in any fashion, but rather stashed in the top drawer of the desk. Yeah . . . I am STILL cleaning it out.

We had a district new employee seminar today (complete with breakfast at Country Cupboard), in which we received a CRAP load of information about benefits, pay roll, and, of course, the teacher’s union. We had a lunch with our district union president (a teacher at one of our elementary schools) and our PSEA (Pennsylvania State Education Association – the larger “union,” if you will) representatives. They went over EVERYTHING; it was rather tedious. But I now have a better understanding of the “business” side of being a teacher, including the credits I need to start accumulating if I want to keep my certification. (For those who don’t know – in Pennsylvania, after you get your initial teaching certification, called Level or Instructional I, you have six years to get 24 additional credits in order to apply for your Level or Instructional II. If you don’t achieve these 24 credits, you lose your certification.)

Tomorrow we have a team building day at Camp Victory (human knot, anyone?), and I hope it only takes half the day so I have some more time to work on my classroom. Thursday is a “normal” inservice day, with faculty meetings and stuff. Friday I will probably also spend most of the day in my classroom finishing everything up. It’s been a little overwhelming, but the more time I spend at the school, the better I feel. Plus, I met two out of the three team members on my team (each grade level has two teams that teach the four core subjects), and they both seem pretty cool. I also met my mentor today (the other 7th grade English teacher) who is NOTHING like I had thought (but in a good way). I’ve also made some friends with new staff at the middle school, and a few of them are my age and fresh out of college, which is nice. I was worried for a little that I would be the only 22 year-old in a school of middle aged teachers.

Now I have to work on my classroom management strategy and make a poster for my classroom rules. Well, I’m not calling them “rules” – more of a contract, between me and the students. I’m going to read some parts of my Classroom Management book a little, just for some tips and ideas, and then get cracking! Wish me luck. I am going to need a lot of it these next few months.

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