Monday, January 15, 2018

All the news that's fit to print out, over and over again

What's the deal with schools and parent newsletters?

Let me rephrase that: What's the deal with school administrators and their slavish devotion to the idea of having someone put together and print out a parent newsletter?

I don't get it, people.  We live in a digital age.  Most schools who have possession of parent emails will email out a newsletter on a regular basis.  It'll be with the latest calendar, have some school-specific updates and general information that parents and students would probably need to have.  Usually someone in the office will put it together, make a few changes and send it out after someone else proof-reads it.

My theory is that crappy schools think that more information is better, especially if it comes in paper form.

When I worked at TCS, each year our new principal (and yes, I had a new principal every year - in fact, one year I had TWO new principals, if that tells you anything) suggested that since I was the journalism, newspaper and yearbook teacher, I should put out a parent newsletter.

When I would point out that the district or regional supervisor already sent one out, they would all say the same thing: "But this is a printed version, for OUR parents!"  Worse, they would say this like they were giving me the opportunity to be excited about it.  Wisely, I always passed.

First, why would you dump this on an overburdened teacher anyway?  I'm not spending my limited free time trying to chase down administrators to proofread or approve the newsletter to publish it.  I can't even get them to get back to me about the fact that I don't have enough desks in my room. 

Second, what is the obsession with newsletters "printed out and available for parents?"  They can't read unless it's on a sheet of #10 bond?  Almost everyone now spends their time peering at their phone.  Do they really need paper?  Why is it so important for us to continue killing trees to give out sheets that parents will immediately toss on the ground in the parking lot?

I've decided that since administrators have no idea how time-consuming it is to produce written media, they must think that the elective teacher (me), needs something to do with her time.  I usually have a couple of responses.

First is a flat "No."  When they push, I ask what they'd like me to eliminate so I can get it done, like maybe a section of the yearbook?  That usually works.

One year my principal wanted it to look "professional."  Rather than argue, I spent an hour getting quotes from people who could print it and presented it to him.  He never brought it up again.

Another told me it was "no big deal - you'll just do it in your free time."  That reply was an emphatic no; what I said was "I don't have any free time when I'm at school.  You're suggesting I do it when I should be eating, sleeping or bathing?"  He laughed, but I didn't.  I told him he needed to get all the information together for me to organize.  Wwhen he came to check on my progress, I told him he hadn't given me any of his information for the articles.  (He hadn't, and I didn't attempt to remind him.) He bothered me twice more, still getting the same response, before he never talked about it again. 

The last administrator who suggested it never followed up, but I knew he wouldn't.  He just liked looking like a "doer."

Does more information make a school look better?  Or do principals think it does?  I ask because someone found out my journalism background and once again approached me about "doing a newsletter."  Luckily, this time I had the standing to say, "Only if I get an extra stipend to do it." 

My supervisor laughed.  "We thought you'd find it fun."

I deadpanned, "No, I'll only find it fun if I get bonus pay to do it.  So unless that's part of the package, absolutely not."  She quit laughing.

I'm waiting to see if they suggest I do it in my free time.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Seems stereotypical, right? That's typical

Most people would say you should avoid digging into stereotypes, but those people are usually afraid to kick up some controversy and are always worried about offending someone.  That sounds like a pretty good way to get a reader’s attention for this post, right?
Lately I’ve been thinking about teacher stereotypes.  Now, the problem with stereotypes is that they are lazy generalizations made by those who want to assume something about somebody.  The other problem is in that in many cases, those lazy generalizations can be true.
For example, teachers are nerdy people who lack social lives.  Yes, this is true, and so what?  Can there be an exception?  Sure.  Is there usually an exception?  Most likely not.
The reason I’m thinking about this is that I’m wondering where I fit in with the teacher stereotype.  I like working with kids, but I can’t say I absolutely love it.  I like my job, but if I could quit and have a work at home job that I could do in my sweatpants, I’d drop education like a hot rock.  Do I love blathering on about learning objectives and formulative assessments?  No, but I doubt that any teacher-type person does.  Is it really important to me that students learn?  Heck yes.  Do I spend time stressing about the best way to teach something or how to help a particular student?  Does a bear pee in the woods? 
But what is the typical teacher personality type?  Is the history or social studies teacher always a coach?  Does the English teacher go into spasms over symbolism in novels?  I sure hope not.
A student said to me a while ago, “You don’t fit the teacher stereotype, Ms. Marlowe.”  I was sort of flattered (see the above note about nerdy people with no social lives and symbolism-related spasms), so I asked why.
The answer floored me.  “Because you wear makeup.”
This female student then informed me that most female teachers (I don’t know what you male teachers do about eyeliner and contouring) do not wear makeup, have either practical chin-length bobs or un-styled, un-highlighted hair, tend to be overweight and are almost always single.
Before I could blurt out, “I only need to lose about five pounds!”, she then started naming teachers I worked with who looked like that.  And you know what?  She was right.  The majority of the female teachers (and by majority I mean about 70 percent) at my school fit that criteria. 
I knew I shouldn’t ask, but I did anyway.  “Who would you point out as a typical teacher-type?”
She didn’t even hesitate.  “Ms. Smythe.”
Ms. Smythe is in her late twenties, single, chubby, wears glasses, has long reddish hair she always wears in a ponytail, is always makeup free and LOOOOOVVVESSS English novels.  She’s actually a member of a Jane Austen society that re-enacts Regency balls and teas. If you ask her, she’ll gush on and on about dressing up Regency style. 
So my question is, does teaching attract a certain type of person?  Do certain subjects appeal more to certain people?  Are we more similar to the people who attend Comic-Con than we want to admit?  Is that why so many of them and us are still single?  (I'm married, so don't include me in this nightmare.)
By the way, I love Jane Austen, but I’d never be caught dead at an Austen re-enactment society event.  There’s a reason why people in the 1800s had such short lifespans.

Monday, January 1, 2018

New year's resolutions that I'd like to think I'll keep

Yay for 2018!  I figured it's best to start on a positive note.

Actually, I'm beginning 2018 in a space of profound gratitude.  Y'all know that the first half of 2017 was pretty rough for me, and while I wouldn't want to go through all that again, I am glad for what came of it.  I'm in a much better place now and am happy that things have improved.

Of course, when you work in the world of education, it's really not that different from other industries.  No, seriously!  I love my job and all, but I'm sure all of us deal with the same hassles at the office or workplace: idiotic co-workers, unreasonable clients (students or parents) and nonsensical company policies.  

Because of that, I decided it's probably time to make some resolutions that will apply to any and all of us, no matter where we work or how much we can't stand Chad, our coworker.

In 2018, I resolve to:

Not roll my eyes when we have to do "team-building exercises" at training meetings, but I will mention a previously undisclosed disability that keeps me from playing the assigned games.

Tell "Chad" I'll be happy to help him with his lesson, just as soon as he tells me what the lesson objectives are, based on our state standards.

Follow up with my manager who asked me to help "Chad" by cc'ing her on the email chain in which I asked for the objectives.

Refrain from laughing at Chad when he demands I help him and I point out that he never answered my questions about the objectives, so until I get them, he's on his own. 

Put a small fridge in my room so that I no longer have to use the disgusting office fridge.

Politely ask my supervisor to cover my duties or exempt me from my deadlines in order for me to comply with her directive to teach "Chad" what lesson objectives are since this will take awhile.  

Refrain from laughing again as the color drains from her face and she says "Never mind."

Refrain from high-fiving my work BFF when we learn that "Chad" is taking a "leave of absence."

Use my free time more wisely, by planning instruction in advance, rather than looking at clickbait websites.  

Remember to pack and take my lunch to work, rather than using the receptionist's candy jar as a substitute lunch. 

Try to drink more water, and then try to work in more trips to the bathroom as a result, which should also help me reach my goal of 10,000 steps a day. 

Here's to a healthier, happier, Chad-free (hopefully) new year!

Monday, December 18, 2017

It's beginning to feel a lot like midterms

So, the semester is winding down, and instead of talking about how grateful all teachers are for the break and how they're secretly putting vodka into their coffee mugs to get through the day, I thought I'd talk about midterms.

Students hate midterms, but you know what?  So do teachers.  At least I do.

I hate the fact that most districts require midterms.  I always felt like a student's grades should be reflective of what they do in class.  If a student shows up every day, turns in his or her work and tries to understand the material, he or she should pass the class just fine.  But districts often require high school classes to have a midterm or final, and make the grade about 20-25% of the student's overall grade.  I hate that.  I don't think so much should be riding on one assessment.

Plus, students stress out over them, even though they don't need to.  At the beginning of the school year I always used to give my classes a little speech about how if they review their material regularly (2-3 times per week), there's no need for a big cram session before the midterm.  Plus, I assume that if you know what's been going on in class, there's no need for a huge cram session, but I like to think I'm what some people might call reasonable.  I never introduced new material right before the midterm or final, because that's cruel. 

However, the importance of test scores have been over-emphasized to kids now, so they hyperventilate at the thought of a major assessment.  This probably comes from too many standardized tests being thrown at them. 

My last year in the classroom, I gave my students the option of writing a paper instead of taking a test.  We could work on it in class, but not outside, and the students could conference with me each class period so I could check in on their progress, and they'd get progress grades as well if they had drafts ready on checkpoint dates.  To me, this is a no brainer - constant guidance and help from the teacher versus one huge test that she can't help us on?  I'd start writing right away.

But no.  The students STILL voted for the test, despite the fact that most of them didn't test well.  I asked why, and they all complained that a paper was just "too much work, and soooo boring!"

I just stared at them.  They had two full weeks before the end of the semester, and still, they wanted a test that they could complain about. 

So I just shrugged and said, "Okay."  Everyone looked relieved.  "But first," I added, "we have some new material we need to cover..."

Monday, November 13, 2017

Teach a child to fish, and he or she will wander around the shores of the lake all day.

Teachers are a fun bunch.  We're either the most maniacally optimistic people you've ever met, or we're bitterly, BITTERLY sarcastic.  I didn't have anyone in mind when I talked about being bitter.

Regardless, I get to teach a bunch of teachers how to go through their students' writing and score it quickly so they can get an idea of whether or not the kids meet the district benchmarks.  It promises to be lots of fun, and I get paid extra, so I hope everyone comes pumped, ready to work and ready to get smashed after it's all over.  I know I'll want to.

I decided to start with a bit of levity, so I thought I'd give them these examples, because the work can only improve from here, right?  RIGHT???

They are not going to be irrisponsibl forever they are going to deal with life time problems.

Such like in high school you have to get to class on time but if you don’t you’ll just be marked tarty.

I agree on the fact of everyone has a right to education but I don’t agree on explosion of students.

Everyone can be changed no one is perfect.

Students are more mature and know far more knowledge than anyone.

Why should I have to sign a contract if I know I’m not going to follow it?

Students who act in erotic behavior distract other students around them which prevents them from learning.

Of course schools would have to have some strict codes to prevent more serious issues like, rape, murder, etc.

High school in a sense is like hell.

The code of conduct ensures that all students should be dressed basic but distinctive.

Persons that don’t go to school usually go to prison or death.

I think we can all agree that last statement is incredibly profound.  Keep kids in school at all costs - that's my opinion. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Tis the season!

So, it's college application season, and boy am I swamped.

I still tutor occasionally, and now I'm frequently getting panicked texts and phone calls from high school seniors and parents who see a looming deadline and realize that what Skyler or Trent wrote is complete crap and will most  likely lead to ridicule, not an acceptance letter.

Because I don't want my time wasted, and because I really can't spend three hours with your senior, rewriting what should have been written and edited a month ago, I'm jacking my prices way up.  WAY up.  You call me last minute to fix something that has to go out tonight?  Then you'll pay dearly for it.  That's the American way.

You know what's weird?  Not a single parent has argued with me about it.  Students have, but who cares what they think?  To be honest, if I were the parent and found that out last minute, I'd pay through the nose to get it written so little Amy can get accepted somewhere and leave the house and eventually be someone else's problem.  At least that's what I think is going on. 

It is funny when the student seems outraged.  One of them actually asked me why I was trying to profit from their misfortune.  I said, "You mean your procrastination and your idiocy?  You could have called me weeks ago.  Now you think I should give up my time and drop everything to help you out of the goodness of my heart?"  She actually said yes.  I told her she was lucky I like her mother so much.

So parents, a word of advice: Start looking at those essays in September.  Early decision deadline is November 1st.  For your sanity, you can't wait to see if Chad comes up with something brilliant by the last week of October.  If you do, I'll probably be seeing you, with a tired but mean smile on my face, irritation in my heart for your dumb kid, and my hand out. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

It'll be a cold day in hell, or in my room, but either way...

My office/classroom is freezing.

I usually have more important things to complain about, like students not being able to understand simple sentence structure or to be able to identify cause and effect in a piece of writing.  But those thoughts are fleeing in the face of the Arctic blast that greets me every time I enter my room.

Just so you know, I live near Houston, and in this part of Texas, there’s no autumn.  We don’t have that lovely time of gradually decreasing temperatures and the leaves slowly becoming golden before drifting to the ground.  No, in southeast Texas, it stays hot right up until the end of October (and by hot I mean in the mid-90s) and then suddenly the temperature drops 25-30 degrees when November begins.  There’s no fall unless you count the sudden leaf dump that seems to happen at the beginning of December when the winds start.

So it’s still hot outside, but you wouldn’t know it to step into my room.  I’d say the temperature here is about 68 degrees.  I’m wearing a long-sleeve turtleneck sweater and a jacket with close-toed shoes.  I will be sweating the minute I step outside, but them’s the breaks.

Why is my room so cold?  I have no idea.  Even my principal has commented on the fact that the cold air seems to sit in my room and nowhere else.  He actually showed me that he had the A/C set at 76, and the rest of the school feels fine.  Or maybe he just dislikes me and is screwing with me.

I wish I knew whether it was a punishment from the gods of air conditioning or just a mistake, but by the end of the day, my shoulders hurt from hunching over in response to the frigid air and my hands are about ten degrees cooler than the rest of my body.  One of the students offered to bring in a space heater, because he felt sorry for me. 

I’m trying to find the upside in this situation, which is that either cold air burns calories or that my can of Coke Zero Sugar (!) stays cold now all on its own.  But it’s hard to do when I have to step outside the building to get some relief. 

One student and I spent the other day working through the short story “To Build a Fire.”  The main character keeps commenting to himself how cold it is outside in the Yukon.  The student said, “Ms. Marlowe, that sounds like you in this room."

It does.  But there’s no story that will be written about slowly succumbing to frostbite in a school building.