students

Exit 238. The relationship goes both ways.

I saw a coworker the other day. Her children, two of whom had been students of mine in the past, were with her. The oldest one is now in high school. She was in my class three years ago, in that same memorable class as the girl who dropped precalculus, the guy I had no memory of, Protractor Girl, and the friendly guy I saw at the basketball game.

I waved. She waved back.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“Good,” she said. Or something like that; I don’t remember the small talk part word for word. “How are you?”

All I could think of to say was, “I’m really stressed right now.” It’s true. I am really stressed right now. I have a lot of things at home that need fixing. My house is a mess. I have a lot of school responsibilities I’m trying to juggle.

“It’s okay,” she said. “You’ll get through it.”

There are plenty of stories out there about teachers inspiring students. Most people have a favorite teacher who inspired them in a particular way, whether or not this teacher even taught the subject matter that the student in question enjoyed. But, after almost two decades of working in education, I would venture a guess that there are just as many stories of students inspiring teachers. Students and teachers are a significant part of each others’ lives for a time, and the relationship goes both ways. My former student is correct here. I will get through this.

And so will all of you. Happy Easter/Resurrection Day, friends.

Exit 227. Taking my own advice.

Two unrelated things happened this week that, when juxtaposed, say something interesting about me.  

The first was a conversation I had on Tuesday with a former student who is now in high school.  I’ll call her “Lambda-2 Fornacis.” Lambda was in my class three years ago, the same class as Protractor Girl, The Boy I Have No Memory Of, and The Kid Who Sat Behind Me At A Basketball Game Once.  She was the kind of student that most teachers love to have in their class. She did her homework, it was neatly written, and she always was one of the top students in my class.  I think she had straight As all through middle school. I normally tell students that they can add me on social media after they finish middle school and go on to high school, but somehow (probably because these kids have older friends who talk) she found my Instagram (which doesn’t have my real name anywhere on it) and started following me the year after she had my class, when she was still in middle school.  I didn’t do anything about it, though, because I figured she wasn’t the type to cause trouble, although I didn’t follow her back until the day after she finished middle school.

Anyway, Lambda asked me something about a recent post on Instagram, I replied, and then I asked her how she was doing.  She mentioned that she had dropped precalculus. This year has been the first time she had ever struggled in math, she didn’t like the teacher she had this year, and she had been rethinking her career plans.  I have to admit, that was a little disappointing to hear at first, because she was such a great student for me, and I’m always disappointed to hear when people don’t love math as much as me. However, I completely understand where she is coming from, and I told her so.  I told her about hitting the same proverbial wall with physics my freshman year at UC Davis, how I struggled so much with that class at first, and while I still did well, it just didn’t feel as natural for me as math did. It was during that first physics class when when I decided for sure to major in mathematics and not physics, and I didn’t take any more physics after I was done with the minimum that would be required for the math major.  I told her that there’s nothing wrong with changing your mind about your future plans, especially since she’s only 15. I told her that as late as age 19, I was telling people that there was no way I would ever be a teacher. And I told her that I took all the most challenging classes in high school, to the point that I had some very long days senior year, but I wasn’t doing it because I had a career plan. For me, it was because I felt like school was the one thing I was good at, and I would be a failure if I didn’t.  This is not a mentally healthy outlook. I know that Lambda is going to be successful no matter what direction she takes her education.

That was Tuesday.  On Wednesday night, I got very little sleep.  I discovered another important thing here at the house that needed to be fixed.  I started to panic under the pressure of everything that needed to be done. I was behind on grading papers.  I had errands and chores that were piling up, and the kitchen sink was full of dirty dishes. I had now four important home repairs that needed to be dealt with as soon as possible, one of which was already making life more inconvenient in very tangible ways, and another of which had the potential to do so if left unchecked.  I couldn’t sleep, and I wasn’t sure if it was related to stress, recent changes in medication, other health problems I didn’t know about, lack of exercise, or what. It’s very hard for me to get these home repairs and chores done sometimes, because I’m rarely home during business hours and my schedule isn’t very flexible. I don’t get a lot of exercise this time of year, because I’m only home when it’s cold and dark.  And I couldn’t call in sick and take a day to recover from the lack of sleep and deal with these problems, because the classroom is such a mess that a substitute wouldn’t be able to find what they needed, and the kids would get behind anyway because my curriculum doesn’t work well for people who haven’t been trained and aren’t well-prepared.

I went to work on one hour of sleep (and I had gotten three hours the previous night).  I made an important decision while I was tossing and turning: long story, but basically I sent an email to the administrators saying that I needed to back out of one of my weekly commitments.  This would give me one more day of the week that I could get home a little earlier when needed, if I needed to deal with something before it got dark and places closed. Thankfully, they were very understanding.  But, I told the principal, I still feel like I do so much less than so many other teachers. Some of them are working on graduate degrees. Many of them attend more professional development workshops than I do. Some of them are department chairs, or serve on committees.  And many of them have young children of their own. I feel like there is something wrong with me, that I have such a hard time handling my own job, let alone all that extra stuff.

And then it hit me.

Why do I have such a hard time taking my own advice?

Just a day and a half earlier, I was messaging Lambda telling her that it was okay not to burden herself with hard classes that she didn’t need.  So why can’t I tell myself that it is okay not to burden myself with stressful commitments that I don’t need?

Everyone’s brain works differently.  I get more easily stressed and overwhelmed, and I’m fighting demons from the past that many of my coworkers don’t have.  If I really believe what I told Lambda, then it’s hypocritical to insist upon myself that I take on extra commitments that I don’t get anything out of.

It’s now Saturday, and I feel so much better.  Getting out of that extra commitment allowed me to leave earlier than usual on Thursday, which gave me time to make some phone calls to start the process of dealing with the two most pressing home repairs.  I didn’t get completely caught up on grading, but it’s now a three-day weekend, so I’ll have time to catch up.

I’m going to be fine.  :)&[4].

Exit 155. Light at the end of the tunnel.

I can see a light at the end of the tunnel.  In a few days, I will be finished with this school year.

The end of the year is always a bittersweet time.  I’m glad to have a break coming up.  But I’m definitely going to miss some of the students.  Although their math skills left much to be desired at times, this year’s students really were sweethearts for the most part.  Of course, many of them I will still see walking the halls next year (but then, last year’s students who are finishing middle school entirely I won’t see around anymore), and there are always a few every year that I stay in touch with.

The end of a school year is also a good time to reflect.  I can look back and think about how this year went, and what I can do differently next year.  I had some ideas for things I could do differently this year, and once the school year started, and I became overwhelmed by many other changes made across the whole school, my ideas didn’t get implemented well.  It didn’t work the way I had expected it to.  So I’ll try again next year, and it will be better now that I know how this year turned out.

This is also a good time to reflect on my personal life.  I have some time off coming up, obviously, and that is the perfect opportunity to do things out of my comfort zone.  Sometime in the next few days, I’m going to write a list of goals for my summer break.  It sounds kind of clichéd, but I’ve done this a couple times in the past, and it really did help me do something out of character that I wouldn’t ordinarily do on at least one occasion.  I don’t know yet what will be on my list, and I don’t know yet if I’m ready to share my entire list, whatever it ends up being.

I often feel pressure at the beginning of summer vacation, like I have to make this the best summer EVER!!!.  And I often feel pressure at the end, because of everything I wanted to happen over the summer that didn’t happen.  I’m trying not to worry about all that and just enjoy life.

Exit 142. It’s hard being angry and feeling like there’s nothing you can do about it.

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with someone from the one dance place I’m still attending regularly; I’ll call her 2M1207.  We had never talked about my work until yesterday, and she was interested to hear some of my thoughts about being a teacher.  I said something I’ve said often before: 7th grade is both the best and the worst age to teach.  You have the nice kids from stable homes, who are just starting to emerge into maturity but are still childlike enough to give me the fun of working with children.  And then you have the angry tough kids from broken homes, who are at the height of defiance and have not yet been humbled by harsh reality.  In my current position, I have a lot more of the first type than the second, at least compared to the other school where I once taught 7th grade.

Regarding that second group of students, the ones I referred to 2M1207 said, “It’s hard being angry and feeling like there’s nothing you can do about it.”

That statement really hit me.  Because it sounds a lot like me.  But not about school.  I know the feeling of being angry and feeling helpless.  That’s how I feel about a lot of things in the world right now.  The world is really messed up, and it doesn’t make sense to me, and it often feels like I am out of options.

Of course, there are options.  I just don’t always see them right away, because they require thinking outside the box, trying something different than what I have always done before.  And the same can be applied to the angry students I come across.  There is help for them, but they have to think outside the box… and I may need to also in order to understand completely where they are coming from.

I don’t know if my conversation with 2M1207 will help me out of my anger at the world, but hopefully this perspective will help me in my next interaction with an angry student.

 

Exit 137. Maybe this is my legacy.

I am at a wedding right now as I am writing this. It’s that boring part where everyone is waiting for the family and wedding party to take pictures. I probably won’t finish this whole post now; that seems too antisocial, so I’ll probably finish it at home.

But that’s not the point. I’ve been to somewhere upward of 40 weddings in my life, and this is the second time I’ve been to a wedding of a former student, and the first time I have ever been to a wedding of two former students marrying each other.

As I have gotten older, and stayed in touch with some former students, I often feel like I’m stuck in a weird time warp. My former students grow up, graduate, get adult jobs, get married, and have families of their own… and I don’t really change at all. Last week, I was Facebooking with another former student from a different school. I asked her how her daughter was doing; she said she was crawling already and made a remark about how they grow up so fast. I replied, “I know! I don’t know firsthand, since I don’t have children myself, but I’m sitting here talking to you, I’ve known you since you were 12, and now I’m asking you about your kid. In fact, you are the same age now as I was when I was your teacher.”

I often feel sad about the fact that I don’t have a family or children of my own. It feels like I’m missing out on a beautiful and wonderful stage of growing up. But maybe this is my legacy. Maybe I just wasn’t meant to have a family of my own. Maybe staying in touch with some of my former students and watching them grow up is going to take the place of having a family of my own. It will never be the same, but this is a beautiful experience in its own right. And I don’t have to change diapers. I can still be an important figure in others’ lives without being biologically related to them.

And it’s entirely possible I may still have children someday. Life isn’t over, and I’ve been wrong about things before. For example, I was wrong that I wouldn’t finish this blog post before the wedding pafty finishes taking pictures. Hurry up, already. I’m hungry.