Reduction of Languange

I find in my teaching that sometimes kids just aren’t listening. It’s not that they aren’t hearing what I’m saying, they just aren’t listening for the details they would need to be successful on their own without my voice guiding them. The Daily Prompt suggests that people would never understand each other unless language was reduced to seven words. I would argue that it is possible to communicate without words, and sometimes I teach classes silently in order to encourage more deep engagement because they have to work extra hard to understand what I am asking them to do.

But in the spirit of the prompt, I think that I would reduce my language to the following words:

Respect, Wait, Relax, Concentrate, Go, Come, and Congratulations. 


Habits are Hard to Break

Ah, the weekend post. This blog is slowly getting off the ground as I get my feet under me at my new job. I guess I shouldn’t call it my new job anymore since I’ve been doing it for a couple of months now, but it still feels a little new. We just started a new quarter, so I had a chance to start fresh with grading and planning, so I’m ahead of myself now and during the week I’ll have more time to blog.

This week’s The Daily Prompt asks :

Tell us about a habit you’d like to break. Is there any way it can play a positive role in your life?

There are several habits that I have, some are good and some hinder me in very specific ways. One habit that I have had for a very long time is the habit of using all other chores and obligations to procrastinate doing the one or two things that I really needed to do. When I lived alone, this wasn’t that big of an issue because I kept a very clean house and could complete all of my other tasks quickly so that when my high priority things finally were finished I felt a full sense of completion, enough that I could enjoy things like video games or going to the movies. 

Since I’ve been married that kind of management of the habit has become significantly more difficult. We have dogs and cats instead of me owning just cats, so I have tasks that are never done. My husband is not the tidiest of people, nor is he the fastest to undertake a necessary chore (I have waited up to 4 days for him to finally unload/reload the dishwasher), so even when it is not my turn to do certain things, the very evidence that there are chores to be done keeps me from mentally committing to anything I’m supposed to be doing. This has greatly increased my level of stress because as my real priorities pile up I feel overwhelmed, and the more overwhelmed I feel, the more I procrastinate.

Something had to change. So I decided yesterday to clean up our guest bedroom, get the old desktop up and working again, and arrange a space in which it appears that there are no chores to be done but I can isolate myself to work. This weekend I was able to get all of my grading done from the first week of the quarter, and today I was able to sit down and fully concentrate on my calculus work, which I have not been able to practice since my semester began at the end of August. 

I have to break this habit. I have to be able to do what I need to do in any environment: busy room, dirty room, loud room, quiet room.  I have work to do and the fact that my husband is comfortable with a giant pile of dirty laundry on the floor directly to the right of his empty hamper shouldn’t keep me from doing it. I think the key to this at first is to physically isolate myself, either by going into a different, cleaner room or leaving the house completely to go to a library or something. Once I get back into the habit of getting my work done on a regular basis I can start trying out mentally isolating myself in the livingroom and bedroom (our house is very small).

If my efforts are successful, my life will be affected in several positive ways. First, I’ll be getting my work done, which always makes me feel better. Part of my sadness and frustration over the past month has been rooted in the fact that I KNOW I can do the things that are being asked of me, but I’m failing because I’m not taking the time to refresh my knowledge and practice doing problems (homework specific) or taking the time to really grade student work so they know what they did wrong. I will be a better student and a better teacher. Maybe more importantly, I will be a better wife. There is no small amount of resentment and frustration with my husband’s…lack of motivation(?) and for too long I’ve been harboring those feelings towards him and I know it has been affecting our relationship. Perhaps by taking more control over myself, I can feel less angry about his lack of participation in the care of our home.

Making a bubble around myself at first will reform the good habits, and as I go I’ll expand the bubble to include my whole world. I think baby steps are essential though, since my habit train has gone so far off the tracks, and eventually positivity will return.

A Day of Rest

School years are always divided into grading periods. Some are quarters, some trimesters, some semesters, but there are always boxes in which to place a set of student accomplishments in order to assign some kind of final grade as a statement about their progress. The school district in which I currently teach does something that I have not experienced anywhere else. They allocate one day at the start of every new quarter as a planning day for teachers to gather their thoughts, plans, materials, and wits about them before they embark on the next 9 week journey. This is amazing to me. Every other district I have taught in filled these teacher work days with meetings, professional development workshops, or parent teacher conferences. Never have I taught in a place that seems to value teacher time and planning as much as the school where I am.

Tomorrow I will go in to school and have 7.5 hours in which to prepare my classroom for the next portion of the school year. Having been hired 3 weeks into the year, there was a lot that I was unable to do that other teachers did in the week prior to students coming back. This one day is such a gift to me. What a fantastic change from prior experience. I wish I knew who to write to to thank them for this opportunity, for valuing the fact that teachers need time to just plan.

A day of rest before the pre-Christmas quarter storm. I absolutely cannot wait. 🙂

Home Is Where The Jobs Are

I think I have decided that as long as there is The Daily Prompt to give me ideas, that Saturday will be the day I write my response to one of them. As I sit on Saturday mornings watching the college football program, it’s nice to just let someone else give me an idea for what to write about. This week we will be exploring the concept of home.

When you’re away from home, what person, place or thing do you miss the most?

What is home to me?

I have had many homes. My home in the northeast was what any childhood home should be: one which was good enough to remember, but uncomfortable enough to want to get away from. I shudder to think about the person I would have become if I would have stayed there for the rest of my life like my parents stayed for their entire lives.

My home in the southwest was my first real home on my own. No partner, no friends, just a cat, a job, and a car and I had to make a go of it. 

The midwest was never really a home, since I always intended for it to be a short-term place to live while I got my doctorate, if you can call 4-6 years short term. However, it was home in that I met my husband there and we lived together for a year in a lovely duplex. 

The southeast is my married home. Two dogs, two cats, a husband, a job, friends, going to school, renting a home, all of it meshes together to make what I have always envisioned as a home life. 

What do I miss?

All of these homelands have something that I miss, and it’s hard to believe that I have lived in all of them over the past 8 years. I miss the seasons in the northeast, as described in my previous post Changing Seasons. Personally I miss it because I miss the solitude that comes with not living in a city. When it snows, it’s like you’re snuggled up in a cave made just for you and you can be quiet and safe reading a book with some hot chocolate. I enjoy having a CVS two seconds away, but sometimes I miss not having any noises at night. I enjoy having lots of things to do close by, but sometimes I miss the necessity of coming up with something to do because you don’t want to drive an hour to get someplace.

I miss the southwest terribly but I could never go back because of the political climate. I miss the mountains and the family that I had (very close friends that I wish I still had but all of us just fell out of touch). I loved my apartment that I had and the job that I left to go to the midwest could have actually been a good job for the long term if I had stayed. I loved the weather as well, especially the lack of humidity. I can has regretz? Still, it’s probably for the best that I left, and when the pros outweigh the cons I can come to terms with those regrets.

My husband and I have been talking quite a bit about moving back to the northeast within 5 years, so lately I have also been thinking about what I would miss about our current home. I would miss all the sunshine but I would not miss the heat. The southwest summer heat was not humid and so it was bearable, but this southeast summer is just brutal. I would miss all the things that are available to do: sports events, beaches, and theme parks. I would miss the friends we have made. The new job I have found here is actually quite awesome so far, and so I think I would miss that if we had to try to find new jobs up North. If this job continues to be good and they want to rehire me next year, this may be the first job I would be scared to leave.

The life of a teacher, 2013.

There has been a lot of hullaballoo about there not being enough jobs in America, especially for students graduating from college. I’ll tell you that the teaching jobs are out there and there is still a reported teacher shortage in many areas of the country, in both desirable and undesirable places to live. If you are willing to move you will find a job in education. If you are willing to go someplace that might not be the best, most fun place to live for 3-5 years, you will find a job that will probably pay you more money, which you can leave for a better job once you’re done there, most likely with some of your student loan debt forgiven in the process. The most difficult part about accepting this reality is that you have to leave home, and that can be difficult for the current generation who is moving in with their parents en masse after graduation because they “can’t find a job.” I suppose that it would be difficult for any generation to move far enough away from home that you couldn’t necessarily go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, just to have a job. That’s scary, there is no doubt about it. 

The reality is that we don’t live in an “Everybody Loves Raymond” world anymore. If you want a job that uses your degree, you can’t always settle down in the same town in which you grew up. You have to go. You will have to be uncomfortable. You will have to budget for groceries and pay rent. You will have to experience financial stress so that you can learn to stand on your own and make good choices with your money instead of spending it all on XBox games and new cars. You can’t put yourself in a position that forces you to be a Starbucks barista and then complain about the fact that you can’t find a job that uses your degree.

It’s okay. You will miss home. But you will make a new home and it will be great. You’ll have a job, and a place that you call yours, and maybe even a significant other or a pet. You’ll take ownership of your successes, failures and responsibilities. You’ll grade papers and assignments while eating dinner and watching tv. And every so often something will remind you of your childhood home and you’ll want to cry. You’ll want to run back and have your mom do your laundry and make you dinner and you’ll be okay working at Target forever just don’t make you be alone anymore because it’s TOO DIFFICULT!! and then you’re up the next day, taking attendance and beginning anew.

When you’re away from “home”, there is always something or someone you will miss. The trick is to make investments where you are so that the missing is a dull ache and not a roar. You will then have the same chance your parents had at making something warm, welcoming, and special enough to be called home. Make an adventure worth sharing with your students. Be brave. 🙂




Transformation in Clay: Music to Math

Sitting here on a Sunday morning, trying to get up the motivation to begin the large pile of grading I have to finish before tomorrow, I went once again to the inspiration of The Daily Prompt for my writing. 

Your personal sculptor is carving a person, thing, or event from the last month of your life into the glistening marble of immortality. What’s the statue and what makes it so significant?

It is worth noting that the current workforce in education is highly mobile. A teacher between the ages of 23 and 35 is more likely to switch jobs every 3-5 years than his or her older counterparts. It used to be in education that you began teaching at a school and that was your home for the next 30 years. I used to feel like I was a person that couldn’t hold down a job, or maybe I wasn’t “sucking it up” like people who had been teaching in the same place for 8-15 years. I have never been fired, and in the last 8 years I have taught at 9 different schools, 5 different public school districts, a private contracting company, a university, and for myself as a private lesson provider. 

In the past month and a half, I made the most drastic change. All of my teaching experience is in the area of music, and just recently I changed to teaching math at the high school level. And. I. Love. It. I love it so much. I leave school and see the marching band rehearsing out in the hot sun and I think “HA. SUCKERS!!” I love that I have 100 kids that I see every day instead of 600 kids that I see once a week (some on each day) so I can learn their names and try to reach them with different methods of behavior management and instruction.

The sculpture I would want made of myself would be one that signifies this change. Perhaps my feet and legs would be in some kind of mud, but in the mud there are music notes and treble clefs and other stupid symbols you see that make you think of music. Maybe one hand is still holding a trumpet or flute. But then there is an obvious diagonal shift across my body and at the top I am dressed more professionally, and my other hand is reaching up and grasping a book that seems to be pulling me out of the muck of music education. I don’t know, something like that. Something that symbolizes being saved from my past and accepting/celebrating the newness of the present. 

The study of music in ancient Greece was called the study of “harmonics” and it was essentially just a different kind of math. Music theory and the study of relationships between tones. The music of the spheres. That kind of stuff. The actual playing of instruments or singing was viewed as feminine, or less than the study of harmonics, and Plato stated that it should be done in moderation.

I hear you, P-Dawg. I’m coming back into the right side. 🙂


Changing Seasons

Technically it is fall now. When I was growing up and going to college in the Northeast it was painfully obvious at this point that winter was coming. The deciduous trees were changing leaf colors, apple orchards were opening their trees for self-picking, and the smell in the air was a crisp, cool one. When I was a student these changes made me feel as though I was heading for a period of time where there was no escape, when I had to buckle down and get work done because there wasn’t much else to do.

Here in the Southeast things are a bit different. I do not intend to look a gift horse in the mouth, because the lower humidity and high temps is a welcome change. But the “lower” high temps are still in the mid-eighties and the trees are green and the sun is shining.

How do kids know it is time to be at school down here other than simply being required to attend? With beaches and nice weather, sports and recreational activities, how do kids focus on school at all? Winter is a benefit to education in that it rips everything kids want to do away and provides for them warmth at home and in school. Sure you can ice skate, snowboard/ski, and go sledding, but in the end there is only so long you can spend out of doors before you seek refuge.

I find myself wishing for a more obvious change in environment. Where are the orange leaves? The smell of hot apple cider? The ability to wear a hoodie with jeans and not die of heat exhaustion? Some change in temperature to convince the kids that this is time for learning and that soon, when the year turns, it will be time for freedom once again.  Without these changes, I fear students are missing out on something that can’t be learned later, but the same might be said for the opposite situation.

What might I say if I grew up here and taught in the north? That students don’t have to learn to deal with distractions to their education by themselves? That winter forces them to learn and be focused and they don’t have the constant distraction of sunshine and oceans to deal with? The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but the differences definitely cause a different mindset, a different situation, and a different person who enters the world after graduation. I wish there was a way to more accurately measure those differences.

Mentor Mania: Too Much of a Good Thing

Every position I have ever held, aside from my university teaching and my first job, has required me to have a mentor. Mentor programs vary along with other things from district to district, ranging from an intensive program with weekly instructional meetings and conferred hours/certificates to casual breakfasts you can choose to go to.

When I began my career in a very rural school district I was in charge of the entire music program from Kindergarten through 12th grade.The only experience I had with teaching was the requisite student teaching experience overseen by an experienced teacher, and while I had plenty of freedom to experiment with lesson plans and behavior management, there were may aspects of the program that were never placed in my hands. I was immediately overwhelmed, the high school students completely rejected me, students were coming to my rental house and throwing rocks, I had no idea how to organize this entire program all by myself. A mentor would have been useful: someone to bring questions to and to ask for guidance. No such person existed. I resigned from the position after 6 months, having been run out of town by most of the older students. It came to my attention later that the teacher’s union had already had the principal and superintendent in line for the chopping block, and my situation gave them more fuel for the fire. It’s a shame that I had to be a victim in the situation, but that decision was for the best. Despite what happened, I am not entirely convinced that a mentor would have significantly improved my experience, but maybe I could have survived the full year before making a change. 

Any teacher’s first position is the only time when I would advocate a mentor. Maybe even within the first two years of teaching if you change positions, but brand new teachers need guidance. There is so much more than lesson plans and record keeping (read: politics and bullshit) that new teachers don’t even know is coming until it happens.

So when I took my new position in the southwest halfway through my first year teaching, having a mentor wasn’t so bad. It kind of sucked that my mentor was 68 years old and getting ready to retire and so bridging the gap between her generation and mine was often a challenge. In addition to mentor meetings and availability, mentees were required to attend weekly, 3 hour seminars on different topics related to teaching (lesson planning, classroom management, stress management, etc.) and complete papers and worksheets related to the content. We were not reimbursed for this time. For those of us who just left college this was all repetitive, and for people who were required to be a part of the program because it was their first year in the district kept rolling their eyes because some had been teaching 5 years or more.

Which leads me to why I think the mentor program idea is taken too far: people who have been teaching FOREVER are forced into it if it is their first year in a new district no matter how long they have been teaching. It is currently my ninth year of teaching, and I am a mentee this year in my new district. Last year I was in a different district and I was a mentee too after 8 years of teaching. And it’s not that what they are trying to teach isn’t relevant or important, it’s that there is no filter. Everyone goes in one big pot with no recognition of strengths, weaknesses, experience, or interests. There is no filter. So every new employee, every new district, every new job holds the possibility that you will be hammered into a program that may or may not suit your needs. If we view teachers as the keystone of public school success, this is a waste of resources of the highest order. 

This is an area of professional development that requires reform which would move us towards quality rather than quantity, effectiveness rather than efficiency, and a system that might celebrate experience and improvement rather than simply logging those in-service hours to prove the district is “implementing” the mentoring requirement.