Monday, January 25, 2016

Sunshine on my shoulder, or where it shouldn't shine

“Mrs. Marlowe, we’d like you to be part of our new committee!”

Most of you who work in any office know that that sentence doesn’t bode well.  The correct way to respond is to throw yourself on the ground and curl up into the fetal position while sobbing.

The committee I was being asked to be on was the “Sunshine Committee.”  I was being asked by an administrator whose secret nickname among the staff rhymed with, uh, Rick, so let’s just call him that.  He was standing in front of my desk in the librarian, where I deliberately sat while checking in books to show him I didn’t have time to talk to him.  I looked at him with a faint smile on my face and said, “Why?”

The question clearly caught him off-guard.  “What?”

“Why do you want me to be part of this committee?”

“Oh, well the Sunshine committee will be in charge of helping with birthday celebrations and spotlighting employees that go above and beyond –“

“Right,” I interrupted, “I get that, but why?” I kept smiling, but now it had a bit of an edge to it.  Sunshine?  Clearly this wasn’t going to be something that fit my personality.

“We feel it would be a fun way to recognize –“

“No, I mean, why do you want ME to be on the committee?”  I had an idea why, and I knew it wasn’t going to be fun, but really, I just wanted him to articulate it.

“Oh, well, since you’re the librarian, we thought it might be something you’d enjoy.” He then named five other very FEMALE teachers who were going to be on the committee.  I was pretty sure none of them volunteered, and also pretty sure that not a single male teacher was asked to be part of it, even Mr. Cohen, who was gay. 

“So it’s going to meet each Monday afternoon, and you’ll collect donations from the staff to get cakes to celebrate birthdays once a month.  Also –“

“I don’t think I’d be the right person to have on the committee.  I don’t even celebrate my own birthday.”  This was partly a lie, but partly true, because I never mentioned my birthday to my co-workers and took a personal day when it came around each year.  The best way to celebrate is in a place where one is happy, and TCS certainly wasn’t it.  Plus, I was irritated by the blatant sexism of it.  Why would he think that because I’m female, I like buying cakes and planning birthday parties?  I can’t even wrap a present properly.

“That’s not a problem; you’ll just need to –“

“Wouldn’t it be more helpful to bring in a teacher who’s been here longer than I have?  I would assume you’d want someone who knows the staff members well and who has a bit more free time.”

“That’s why we thought of you!”  Rick had a big smile on his face, which made it clear that he hadn’t listened to what I just said, and made it even more clear that I needed to punch him in the face.

“I’m not sure why, because I don’t have any off periods.”  His smile began to sag a bit.  I could tell that he hadn’t talked to anyone.  Maybe I should have asked him who the “we” was.

“Uh, you don’t have any off periods?” he asked lamely.

“No, because the principal wants me to keep the library open when I’m not holding class, and I have yearbook meetings after school, so I’m not sure when I’d have time to meet with the committee, much less to go out to buy cakes during the school day.”

“Oh, don’t worry about the details, we can work that out later once you all start meeting.”  I felt stupidly impressed by how he was still smiling and refusing to go down easily.  I shook my head and was about to respond when it became clear that he didn’t want to talk anymore.  “Mrs. Lawson will be contacting you later today to talk about when you’ll meet.”  He started to turn away.

Now I was furious.  “Great, because I’ll have some suggestions for her of who she should ask instead.”  I turned back to my pile of books and started scanning them.

He turned around, blinking.  “Well, the committee is set.”

The heck it was.  “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to help because of my previously ASSIGNED duties, like the yearbook and the library.  But I’m sure there’s someone else who’d be a real asset to the group.  Have you asked Coach Beeker?  Or what about Mr. Cohen?  He loves parties.”  I watched as Rick stared at me, uncomprehendingly.

“I doubt they’d be interested.  They’re pretty busy,” Rick said dismissively.

Busy because they're men?  I was silent, hoping that he would realize what he just said. He just stared back at me and after a second or two, I said quietly, “All of US TEACHERS are busy.”

“Oh, yes, of course!”  I could see his mind working frantically behind his glasses.

“I’d suggest asking Coach Beeker or Mr. Cohen because I’m sure you’d agree that we need a DIVERSE group to represent the school.  It wouldn’t look good to have only FEMALE teachers on the committee, don’t you think?”

Rick opened his mouth and then stopped.  I think he was about to respond, but realized what I was saying.  I stood up and said, “My students are about to come in for class.  Can we talk about this after school?”

“Okay,” he said shortly and walked out.

The good news is that I didn’t GET to be on the Sunshine Committee, but sadly, neither did Coach Beeker or Mr. Cohen.  According to Mrs. Lawson, the committee met for a month and then never met again, after Rick had said they needed to get staff donations to pay for the monthly birthday cakes.  The staff didn’t like this idea because birthday cake never tastes as good when you pay for it yourself. 

But I did buy two packages of Oreos and take them around to the former members of the Sunshine committee to celebrate its demise.   

Monday, January 18, 2016

Trying to be the best that someone else SHOULD be

Teens overall are pretty self-centered, so expecting any appreciation or even useful feedback from them tends to be an exercise in frustration.  Most teachers know not to expect any acknowledgement from their students for their hard work and dedication.   

I’m always surprised, then, when students go out of their way to thank me or tell me they’ll miss me at the end of the school year.  Truthfully, in my mind I’m thinking “Yeah, right” every time a student says he or she will miss me, or this was his or her favorite class.  I think students just feel sentimental at the end of the year.

Last year, though, a student brought me a box of chocolates, a note, and a whole lot of emotion.  Sarina was a pretty good student in my freshman writing class, but she’s not an overly expressive person.  She set the bag on my desk and then burst into tears.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, alarmed. 

She shook her head and wiped her eyes.  “This is for you, Ms. Marlowe,” she said with a sniff.

“Oh, thank you,” I said.  Feeling awkward, I grabbed some tissue and handed it to her.  “Are you all right?”

“I’m so sad that you’re leaving,” she said.  “I signed up for Newspaper next year because it’s your class, but now you aren’t coming back.”

I turned in my resignation a month earlier because I felt that three years in a crappy school was enough to make me look stable.  I was leaving in search of more money and less disorganization.  I’d told students I wasn’t coming back, but also told them that it was because I was moving away, which was true.  I was moving, but not far enough to justify not returning to the school.

“I would have loved to have you in Newspaper, Sarina,” I said, putting my hand on her arm.  “You would have been great.”  My heart swelled, and I wanted to hug her.  The angels were singing and telling me that THIS was why I teach, to make a difference in students' lives!

She nodded, still wiping her eyes.  “You and Mr. Cooper are my favorite teachers, and both of you are leaving!  I’ll miss you so much!”

And that's when the bubble suddenly burst.  I pasted what I hoped looked like a pleased smile on my face as she walked out.

Mr. COOPER?  That jerk who texts his friends and other teachers during his lessons?  The one who flirts inappropriately with his female students, who was reportedly caught by the principal getting “serviced” in the school parking lot by the receptionist after a soccer game?  I’m on par with Mr. "God's mediocre gift to humanity" Cooper?  

This better be good candy that she gave me.  At the very least, it better be better than whatever she gave Mr. Cooper.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

IWSG January: How to be less, a LOT less

I need to lose some weight.

I do, and I’ve known this for a couple of months.  I think most adults over the age of 25 generally could stand to lose a few pounds, and it’s not because I’m obsessed with being thin or have unrealistic expectations for my weight, or anyone else’s.  Having had many good friends who have been personal trainers and dieticians, I’ve hung around them enough to glean a few relevant facts about diet and weight loss.

What I’m insecure about this month (for IWSG) is the fact that for once, I really don’t want to put in the effort to lose the weight.  Normally, when I need to slim down, I discipline myself to eat right and exercise more until I’m back to my regular size.  Now, I just don’t want to. 

I could be because I learned now to make pralines over the Christmas break and I’m lying to myself that pralines are full of protein, due to the pecans in them.  All the cream and sugar are just extras.  It could be that since I walked the route of my 5K that I was stressing about a few months ago, I’ve convinced myself that I’m more fit than I am.  It could be that I’m not over the holiday sugar binge yet.  It could be the cold since I hate the cold.  Or it could just be laziness because right now, I’d rather improve my writing than move around a lot.

I’m not insecure about my writing at all.  I figure it’s not that great, and it’ll take me a long time to get to the point where it’s good.  I’m willing to work on it, so that’s fine.  It’s just everything else I’m not willing to do.  “Aren’t I busy enough already?” I ask myself.  “What more can anyone ask of me?”

But when students ask me if I’m wearing skinny jeans, and I NEVER wear skinny jeans because they look horrible on everyone who isn’t a supermodel, then something is wrong.  Now I need to work on being less-fat.  So I’m writing about it, to kill two birds with one stone. Although honestly, it probably looks like I just ate one of the birds. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Back in the ill-fitting saddle, fittingly

Being sick causes you to reflect on some things.  There's something about lying in bed that causes you to take stock and review your life.  That's one reason why sick people always look miserable, or at least why I do. 

I’m reflecting on my poor choices of workplaces in the past.  Granted, I’m sure there are some good public schools out there, but they usually don’t have openings or I don’t know about them.  That’s why I jumped ship for a private school, so don’t judge me, Mr. or Ms. Judgy! 

When I interviewed at TCS, the AP I interviewed with asked me to give her a sample lesson.  I got all prepared for the sample lesson, and asked where the classroom was.  “Here,” she said.  We were in her tiny office. 

“You want me to just give the lesson to you?”  I figured sample lesson meant we were going to simulate a classroom environment.  Boy was I wrong.  I stumbled through the lesson while she hunched over in her chair behind her desk, sucking on a bottle of Diet Coke. 

I got the job anyway.  It should have occurred to me that their standards weren’t too high, and that should have been my warning to leave.  I was a new teacher, though, and eager to find a school.  I’d heard great things about TCS, great things that turned out to be, for lack of a better word, lies.

From what I noticed later, they would give a job to any warm body that came by.  I worked with some great teachers, but most of the worst teachers I ever saw were at TCS.  I also worked with some mediocre teachers who thought they were great. It wasn’t hard to be great at TCS – you just had to not suck at your job.

For example, the LOTE department head wasn’t certified to teach in the U.S.  She was a soft-spoken woman who’d put up with a lot, just so that she wasn’t forced out.  We had a science teacher who was caught showing “Sex and the City” to his class.  This was in January.  He claimed he’d already finished the entire year’s curriculum and was just trying to “pass the time.”  Smart guy – he was actually moved to another school and promoted to department head.  Our chemistry teacher sat in a corner of his room and played on the computer while the class fell into anarchy all around him.  He told the kids, “I don’t care what you do, I don’t care if you cheat, but you WILL respect me.”  All the juniors failed chemistry that year.  I don’t think his logic worked.

Our dean of discipline never did any discipline.  She constantly told us not to send students to the office, that we should be able to “handle it ourselves.”  Teachers, frustrated by a few students constantly disrupting class, began shoving those students out into the halls.  This same dean also refused to contact parents when she was put in charge of curriculum and instruction.  She claimed she was “too busy.”  I’d love to know what she was too busy doing, if she was too busy to do her actual job.  Maybe she was constantly simulating a classroom environment for prospective teachers?

The teachers I worked with at CISD were pretty good.  But they quickly grew tired and burned out.  They came to CISD because they were leaving other bad districts and just hoping for something better, and why not?  We had a new superintendent and leadership in the school, so it seemed like things would improve.  Despite all the talk about change, teacher turnover last year surpassed 70%.  I guess I’m not the only teacher who became disillusioned pretty quickly with the broken promises, frequent on campus violence and uninvolved but blame-happy administration.

Debut Academy is so different that I almost don’t think I deserve it.  Yes, there are some mediocre teachers, but they’re mediocre in a way that wouldn’t hurt anyone.  Bad teachers haven’t lasted very long at all.  Good teachers are in the majority, and I’m working hard to try to be one of them. 

I used to be dismissive of private schools, feeling like they were similar to gated communities.  My feeling is that everyone deserves a good education, just as everyone deserves to live in a nice place, so why would you fence it in and make it inaccessible to others?  Now I think I understand, even if I don’t condone it.  If you pay money for it, you want a good value for your dollar.  Private schools don’t need to cater to students who want to disrupt the classroom, administrators that just want to collect a paycheck, or teachers who don’t care enough to do what they’re supposed to. 

That doesn’t mean all private schools are good, just that I’ve found a good one and am so grateful.  The negative aspects are so minimal it’s not even worth bringing them up.  Except tech support, which really, really sucks.  I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that yet. But really, I love it here, minus the IT department.