Why I am saying “YES” to teaching

I took an unintended hiatus from blogging because of the enormous amount of stress I’ve been dealing with. Doing a three to four semester program in two semesters is not for the weak. If I had been in my early twenties when I started the program, I might have taken the extra time, but in November I’ll be thirty (so old, I know), and my student loan debt is adding up. Since January, I have been student teaching at a middle school. For that first month, I cried almost every day and thought for the first time that maybe this job was not for me. My classroom management skills are my weakness and my students could easily sense my discomfort with discipline. Many of them did not like that I was there and they made that very clear to me in the first few weeks. It also has never been a goal of mine to teach middle school, but it is a requirement. And now into my fourth month at the middle school, I am finally grateful for it. The students in my classes have pushed me and challenged me every second of the day. In doing this, they have made me an even stronger teacher. I did not let them see me cry, but I was able to share my frustration with them in the most honest way possible.

This semester much more than last has also been difficult due to the amount of negativity surrounding education. Last semester the school district spoke out about wanting to make classroom sizes smaller. This was exciting, as I had over forty students in my classroom. One of my classmates had fifty students. Fifty students to one teacher! Smaller class sizes would not only be beneficial to the students, but it meant the possibility for more job openings. I couldn’t have picked a better time to enter the field of education. I was excited and confident about my future and the future of the public education system.

Then came the negativity.

The Los Angeles Unified School District presented a budget plan that included the possible layoff of at least 600 teachers. Just a few months ago they planned for smaller classroom sizes, but now layoffs? Didn’t that mean even larger classroom sizes? Two teachers at my placement school received layoff notices, which didn’t necessarily mean there would be a layoff, but if there were, they would be the first to go. This news added to the possibility of a strike hit me hard. I felt like I was going to graduate from this program and be right where I left off. Would this be the third time I left college with no job prospects at all?

Then came more negativity.

Nancie Atwell, a teacher from main, received the very first Global Teacher Prize—$1 million dollars. In short, she basically kicks butt and she will be able to use the $1 million to improve her school and help students in need. When asked by CNN what she would tell a student considering a career in teaching she said, “If you’re a creative, smart young person, I don’t think this is the time to go into teaching unless an independent school would suit you.” Later, she backtracked, saying “I encourage anyone anywhere who enjoys working with young people to consider it as a career. The world needs all the smart, passionate educators it can get.”

What the heck? On this same blog piece, there is a survey you can respond to that asks, “Would you recommend teaching as a profession to young people today?” to which I answered YES. Currently there are 926 “yes” votes and a whopping 5078 “no” votes. Feeling anxious, I spoke on this to one of my mentor teachers with hopes that he would give me some type of uplifting response. To my surprise, he wholeheartedly agreed that it isn’t the time to get into the profession.

I am someone who has to make a commitment every day to be positive. I do not wake up in the morning with rainbows and unicorns flying out of my butt. I never have and I don’t know if I ever will. Most of my young adult life was spent being afraid of being who I am. Being in self-loathing. Being unsure. Having low confidence. It is very easy for me to listen to the negative comments, sulk in my uncertainty, and give up.

But what about the students?

I don’t mean to be cliché by saying, “What about the children?” BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN? If now is not the time, when will it be the time? There are students who want to learn and need passionate, creative, progressive teachers. If the system is broken, who is going to fix it if not us?

One week ago, I made a commitment to be optimistic and positive about my future and the future of education. I don’t know what my future is going to look like, so If I’m going to future trip, why not make it awesome? I like to know what is going on in the world, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let it bring me down. Over the next week or so, I will be reflecting strategies that teachers can use to deflect negativity and focus on the positive things we can do for ourselves and our students. The one I have been doing the most as of late is listening to inspiring podcasts. Connecting with teachers across the country either through twitter or listening to podcasts has shown me that there are tons of educators out there who are doing amazing and inspirational things.

To end this post, here is a link to Angela Watson’s blog post on “How to be unshakeable in your enthusiasm for teaching.” Angela Watson, a former classroom teacher and current educational consultant and instructional coach, hosts the weekly podcast “Truth for Teachers.” Each episode is about ten minutes and it prepares teachers the week ahead. “Truth for Teachers” is one of many podcasts I listen to that keeps me focused on why I want to become the best teacher I can be.

Middle School

The idea of teaching middle school has always frightened me, so this semester I get to face my fears.

I like kids of all ages. I appreciate their humor, their eccentricities, their enthusiasm—even their immaturity can sometimes remind me not to take myself too seriously. They say the strangest things without even thinking. They get up and dance randomly. And, for the most part, they still see adults as authority figures, so they listen (at least sometimes).The good thing about being a middle school teacher is that you can really prepare kids for high school. You can start asking them to practice skills that will help them in the future. Plus, lots of the kids are still in a place where they feel comfortable taking risks, so you can get into all sorts of weird conversations and fun activities.

I am in a weird position because the students I’m working with now have been working with the same teachers for the past year or two. I show up, a week into their second semester, and it’s just kind of… different… all of a sudden. I don’t know their names perfectly. I don’t know what I’m supposed to teach them or how they’ve been taught in the past. I don’t think they see me as an authority figure and I don’t totally feel comfortable being that for them. I guess the best way to describe how I feel is just uncomfortable. I feel awkward and a little bit afraid.

I don’t really know where to go from there. At the end of last semester, I stopped writing about my experiences because things got really overwhelming—not so much as a teacher, but as a student. Right now, I don’t feel that passion I felt when I started all of this because it’s underneath a lot of discomfort. Nothing can stop me, but I do want to recognize that right now I don’t feel great. From experience, I know this will change. I will start to feel more comfortable and engaged. I won’t doubt myself so much. I will grow.

Classics that I’ve Occasionally Lied About Reading

Occasionally. Since getting a Master’s, I’ve been pretty honest about what I have and have not read. So here’s the list. I’d like to challenge myself to read all of these in the next year or so. Or ten years.

  • Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • Animal Farm
  • Ann Karenina
  • Anthem
  • Atlas Shrugged
  • As I Lay Dying
  • Beloved
  • Breakfast of Champions
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • The Color Purple
  • Crime & Punishment
  • David Copperfield
  • Dracula
  • Emma
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • The Fountainhead
  • Gone with the Wind
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • Great Expectations
  • Gulliver’s Travels
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • The Hobbit
  • In Cold Blood
  • Infinite Jest
  • Julius Caesar
  • The Jungle
  • King Lear
  • The Last of the Mohicans
  • Les Miserables
  • Lolita
  • The Metamorphosis
  • Middlemarch
  • Middlesex
  • Moby Dick
  • Naked Lunch
  • Of Mice & Men
  • The Old Man & the Sea
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • Sense & Sensibility
  • Siddhartha
  • Slaughterhouse-Five
  • The Stranger
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • The Virgin Suicides
  • War & Peace
  • White Fang
  • Wuthering Heights

I Just Want to Write

Often I find myself feeling this way. I just want to write and I want to write something good. I have no practice of waking up in the morning and giving myself time to write. I do not carve out an hour at night before I go to bed to write or to read. I stay swamped in my school work, and when I take a break from that, I zone out. I watch television. I play on my phone. I sleep. I scroll through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest, wishing there was another social media outlet to melt my brain. I do not write.

I see this in my students, too, even though they don’t even want to write. They don’t give themselves any time to read or to write because they don’t see it’s importance. Everything is so fast. There’s no time to sit down and just read a book. And what book would you even read? It’s too complicated. It’s too boring. I know they don’t write or read because I see their work. Grammar and mechanics mistakes aside—they are unable to flush out their ideas and create coherent thoughts. But then there’s a handful of students who CAN do this, but they don’t try to go beyond. There’s no reason too. They ask, “Will I get extra credit?” or “How many points is this worth?” I care very little about points. I am concerned, not even with how this will affect their futures, but just with how it affects them today. I know that every student won’t love to write, but there’s something special about being able to get your thoughts out onto a page. There’s something so incredible about creating imagery or showing how even simple words can dance around a page. And what about curling up with a book? And reaching those last pages when you know it’s going to end… but you don’t know how you’re going to get up and live your life outside of this precious piece of text.

But I’m not doing any of this. I see that this poses a problem. If I’m going to expect something from others, I need to live the life of a reader and a writer.

BUT I’M TOO TIRED! BUT, BUT, TELEVISION!!! 

We don’t even have cable anymore, but there’s Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and so on.

And freaking Facebook! My time slayer! What to do? Well, I don’t know. Maybe I should make myself a schedule and try to stick to it. Maybe I should start with just 20 minutes of reading and 20 minutes of writing. EVERY DAY. I expect this much of my students, so why shouldn’t I expect this much of myself? I think this might be the key. It’s this key that I’ve held onto forever, but I’ve never really used it. This is probably because I don’t want to give up my time suckers, like the two hour scroll I do through Tumblr and Instagram.

Maybe I try it? Maybe I write a Facebook status about it?

Vent

Today I feel like I can’t keep up. I feel negative. I feel like skipping out on class, but I won’t because I’m too responsible and trained to feel guilty about stuff like that. I feel like I need a break or a cry or a 20-second hug.

The university I attend is fantastic. I’ve met professors and colleagues there that I know I’ll keep in touch with—maybe forever! But this program I’m in is new and condensed. I try to stay positive and see certain courses as just jumping through hoops to get to the finish line, but today I’m annoyed. I’m feeling like I’m not getting what I need out of my classes. Today I’m forced to read an article that was published in 2004 and shows statistics about English language learners and students with disabilities from 1998, 1999, and even the 1980s. In another class, I was told we were required to teach students certain information from the Common Core that we would not be covering in our class this semester. The syllabus is already outlined, so we can’t change it apparently.

I’m frustrated. I’m feeling loss of creativity. I’m feeling like I don’t know how to engage my students. I don’t know how to manage a classroom. I’m feeling kind of defeated, but not in the way where I want to give up. NO, I WILL NEVER GIVE UP! I have 37 students in my classroom and I know I can’t reach them all every day. OR CAN I? I know when I work with a student one-on-one that I’m helping them. I’ve seen it and I’ve felt it. It’s part of the reason I wanted to become a teacher in the first place. But 1:37 is more challenging—36 more times challenging to be exact.

I’m reading Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle for my English Methods class. This woman is the type of teacher I want to be. She reaches her students in the way that I want to reach mine. She writes with them and shows them the process she is going through—where she is struggling, where she wants to expand, sentences she is proud of, sentences that are confusing—and they learn together. They read whatever book the want to read and they write about whatever they want to write about. They write about themselves and how they see the world. They write about deep, personal experiences. They become journalists, artists, performers, storytellers, WRITERS! This book is becoming very meaningful to me because I see it and I think Yes, this is it! This is what I’ve been looking for! It’s like she takes my feelings and puts them into her activities and exercises. And she is changing these kids. She is helping them open up and take the types of risks they would never experience from a five paragraph essay.

But I am not her! I am me and I am disorganized, frazzled, and just getting started. I am surrounded by rules and standards. I am worrying about classroom management, my own classes, applying for grants and scholarships so I can pay my rent and stay alive. I don’t want to worry about that crap; I want to write! I want to figure out how to reach my students and show them how they, too, can be writers. They have important stories to tell.

I don’t want to feel negative about my current situation. I want to be excited and enthusiastic, like the whole world is right in front of me and I get to bring all these high schoolers along with me. But I turn around and see pens in their hands, but confused looks on their faces. Do I have to write this down? How many points is this worth? When is this due? 

What can I do or say to get them to come with me?