Monday, March 21, 2016

AtoZ Challenge Theme Reveal 2016

Today is definitely a challenge, for me at least.  Not only is it the Theme Reveal Day, but it's the first day back to school after spring break and I'm totally swamped.  My students have their first draft of a major research paper due tomorrow, so we're all panicking right now and trying to get everything done that we put off last week.  They all want to meet with me during my planning periods and conference times to try and incorporate any feedback I can into their paper.  I probably should have looked at those papers last week, because my regular speech on procrastination reeks of hypocrisy right now.

I'm also out of Coke Zero because I forgot to go to the store.  This doesn't bode well.

But anyway, back to the Theme Reveal!!!  My theme is advice.

I realize that may sound lame.  But I think you'll be pleasantly surprised to see what kind of advice I have.  By the way, I'm not necessarily the one giving it, so you should also be pleased to know that whatever advice you read will come from a familiar, semi-reliable source.  Notice, though, that I didn't say it would be all GOOD advice.  I'm a teacher, not a miracle worker or a trained psychologist though I did take two psychology classes in college.

Monday, March 14, 2016

No kidding around here

“Charly, we’d love for you to work on our youth-outreach program!”

“Charly, would you mind helping out at our youth fundraising event?”

“Ms. Marlowe, we’ve got a wonderful opportunity for you to work with underprivileged youth as a mentor.  You were recommended specifically to us.”

Do you see a theme here?  If not, it’s usually my name and the word “youth.”  If you’re a K-12 teacher, you get asked to volunteer at all sorts of “youth” events and activities, and I’m not talking about doing it for the school outside of the school day.  People assume that since you work with kids all day, you’d be thrilled to spend more free time with them.

Listen closely to me when I say this: No, I wouldn’t.  And no, I won’t.

Do I like teens?  Sure, for the most part.  I care deeply about education and making sure kids have a fair shot of getting the knowledge and skills required so they can function as adults.  I want all kids to do well, and I’m willing to help them out to get what they need.

But I don’t want to spend my free time with them.  I already spend about 10 hours a day with them during the week.  That’s quite enough.

I get asked a lot to volunteer at book fairs, tutor the neighbor's kid in my "free" time, or teach in youth Sunday School classes at church.  And my answer is always a smile and a “no, thanks.”  The requester always seemed baffled by that.  “But I thought you’d be happy to do this!” they sometimes remark.

Well, you thought wrong.  Or you thought you found a sucker. 

Look, kids are exhausting.  I know the subject I teach pretty well, and I know how to teach that.  I spend most of my day keeping my students in line and trying to impart knowledge to them as best I can.  But at the end of the day, I’M DONE. 

Ask any parent out there.  You love your kid, but that doesn’t mean you want to spend even more of your time -what little you have - in a preschool or daycare.  No parent thinks, “If I’m not spending time parenting my own child, I’ll spend time parenting someone else’s!”  Okay, maybe some people think that, but they’re insane.  Kids take a lot out of an adult.  That’s why we raise them to grow up and move away. Being a teacher is no different.  Your job is to give them what they need so they can go on and use it somewhere else. 

It’s just not fair to assume a teacher wants to spend every spare minute with kids.  We want adult conversation and beverages in our free time.  We don’t want to referee intramural events (okay, I don’t) and organize community clean ups for the teens in the neighborhood.  We (I mean me) want to lie on the couch, eating Oreos and watching Downton Abbey in peace and quiet.

By the way, saying, “But you’re so good at working with kids!” won't convince me.  Does an accountant want to spend all of his time doing taxes for everyone in the neighborhood for free?  He may be good at it, but it’s rude to ask, just like it’s rude to ask a teacher to do more teaching when he or she isn’t at work.  Let’s face it, you’re asking the teacher to corral the kids because you don’t want to do it and you think she’ll be less likely to say no, or complain about it if she says yes.

Handle your own kids, or learn to handle other people’s.  Not only will you gain a better understanding of what she has to deal with, you might end up enjoying it and turning into one of those adults who’s known for “being so great with kids!”

If that happens, I'll plan on seeing you at the volunteer desk at the school's book fair next week.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The apple shouldn't fall far from the tree, if you can find the tree...

Teachers love parents, especially involved parents.  We love you, love you, love you!  Unless we hate you.

I’ve spent most of my teaching years working in Title 1 schools, so sadly, I’ve seen little in the way of parental involvement.  Most parents of Title 1 kids have bigger issues to worry about than how little Johnny fares in class, so contacting a teacher isn’t at the top of their list of priorities.  Some struggle just to get by day to day, and others feel that school is the teacher’s job, not something the parent needs to be concerned with.

When I worked at CISD and TCS, parent-teacher conference day was an exercise in futility.  I typically had 75-90 students total.  But when we’d clear an afternoon or evening to have parents show up for conferences, I never had more than 7 people show up, and usually one of them came to the wrong classroom.

I loved the parents who came.  They were involved with their kids, asked questions, checked up on what needed to be done and were invested in their child’s performance.  Those were the parents I knew I could call if Johnny stopped turning in homework, or suddenly seemed to have anger issues.  It’s not that their kids were angels; these students knew that whatever I asked in class would be reinforced at home.  It made my job easier.

The rest of the parents made it harder.  I had a few who I’d prefer stay uninvolved.
Only one time did I ever have a parent argue with me about his child’s grade, and that guy was a jerk anyway.  (HE didn’t show up for parent-teacher conference day.)  He felt I was unfair for giving his daughter a zero for talking during a test.  Even though it was a school rule, and in my syllabus, the principal wouldn’t back me up and I had to let her retake the test.  I was furious, but not at his daughter, who was actually a good student and seemed embarrassed about her dad’s involvement and apologetic for the fuss he was making.  She was willing to take the zero, but he wouldn’t stand for it.

Another dad emailed to say that he was sure his daughter could earn an A in my class, so why was her grade so low?  I assured him that she certainly could get an A if she’d turn in all her work.  She didn’t.  He asked if she could turn in late work.  I said she could, but she’d only get half credit for all of it.  She turned in some of the late assignments.  The rest of her work was lazy at best, but surprisingly, she eked out a B minus.  He kept emailing me to see if she could do extra credit work.  I quit responding, because clearly, Daughter wasn’t as invested in her grade as Dad was.  Eventually he left me alone, probably resigned to the choices his flesh and blood had decided to make.

Then there was the dad who wanted me to write a letter of recommendation for his daughter (why is it always dads and daughters with me?)  She was a decent student, managing about a B or C each term.  I explained that I only wrote recommendations for students that I’d had in prior years, in order for me to have more to say about the student.  He was disappointed but understood.  The next year he approached me to write the letter right at the beginning of the school year.  I did, and he sent it back with edits.  Yes - edits!  Basically, he wanted me to punch it up, to make it sound more enthusiastic and describe her as a take-charge type of person.  The daughter was incredibly shy and hardly spoke; I didn’t even know what extracurriculars she was involved in, even after a year in my class.  I still wonder if he was hoping to present his daughter as a dynamic go-getter, which she wasn’t.  I spent the rest of the year pitying her for having a dad who clearly didn’t understand anything about his child.  By the way, I passed on doing the edits, by pointing out that parents are actually not supposed to read letters of recommendation anyway. 

It’s sad, really.  The parent-teacher relationship should be a good one, where both are working together for the benefit of the kid.  This is why conferences are so important: It’s a way for the parent and teacher to form a relationship and feel comfortable communicating about what that student needs or what s/he struggles with.  But as busy as teachers are, most parents know that they’ll only hear from him/her if there’s a problem, and vice versa.  No news is good news, or else it’s just that – no news.

So parents, we need you to be involved.  These are your kids, not mine.  I know you’re busy, but I have more teens to look out for than you do.  And they never give me anything on Mothers’ Day anyway, or even on Teacher Appreciation Day.  Stay involved, and I’ll bend over backwards to help you, unless you are a dad with an axe to grind about his daughter, and then I’ll avoid you.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

IWSG - The Walking Wounded and Angry

Here we are again, airing our insecurities to the world as part of IWSG for March.  How are we?

“We” here, meaning “me,” are not doing so hot.  “We” managed to be stupid enough to strain “our” right calf muscle, badly, by doing something stupid, and that something was what “we” call “running.”  Which means that “we” are currently hobbling around the house with an ice pack, cursing our bad shape and fighting the urge to trip those who can mosey on by “us” so easily.

So what insecurities are “we” harboring? 

Well, one is the fact that while I’m shuffling around like someone who’s disabled, I don’t have the fun placard to display on my car which would enable me to walk a little bit less or to have people stop asking me dumb questions about my weird gait.  I was glad when the doctor told me that I didn’t need crutches, but now I wished I had some so I would quit getting weird looks.  Then people would just feel sorry for me and run to open the door.  The walk from the doctor’s office to my car took me almost twenty minutes, and no one would even hold the elevator for me.

Seriously, though, I’m not looking for sympathy, unless it’s in the form of cash or Oreos.  It’s just going to make work harder this week, as I sit around hoping that students will come to me instead of me walking around with them.  How am I going to be able to intimidate them if I’m sitting down?  And walking to the cafeteria at lunch is going to be horrible. 

I’m supposed to be better within a week or so, so I should probably quit my whining.  It’s just temporary.  I just hate not functioning like normal.  I get angry at the world when I’m sick, because I feel like it’s not fair.  Unfortunately, the only person I can be angry at for my calf is me.  But I comfort myself with the fact that I now have good reason to NEVER try to run again.  Clearly, it doesn’t work for me.  At least now I can say, “Oh no, I can’t run, I injured myself and it’s not for me.”  I hope that excuse holds up for at least the next four years.