teacher

Exit 244. Sunshine blogger award.

I had nothing to write about this week. Conveniently enough, Charlene at Curiosity & Confession nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award. Thank you! That means I get to answer a bunch of questions about myself, and then nominate people to answer different questions about themselves.  I know I’ve gotten nominated for a few of these before.  I don’t remember if I’ve done this exact one, but the questions are different every time, so it doesn’t matter.

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you.
  • Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.
  • Nominate new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions.
  • List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award in your post/or on your blog.
  • Notify the nominees about it by commenting on one of their blog posts.
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These are the questions I got from Charlene. There were 12 of them, even though there were supposed to be 11, so you get a bonus question.

Where do you get your news? Mostly from the website for the major newspaper in my area.

If your job gave you a surprise paid three days off, what would you do those three days? I’m a teacher, so I have long periods of not having to go to work on a regular basis. But if it happened unexpectedly, I’d spend at least one day sitting around the house being lazy and catching up on cleaning. And if my friends were doing anything spontaneous, I’d be a lot more likely to go along with it than I normally am on a weeknight. Maybe I’d take a day trip to eat at an In-N-Out Burger I’ve never been to before (I’ve been to 116 different locations). But anything more adventurous would require a lot of advance planning and mentally getting myself ready, not something I can handle in three days.

What is something that you resent paying for? Other people’s abortions, via my tax dollars. (Please don’t argue about abortion or politics in my comments. A question was asked, and I answered it.)

What is the most expensive thing you have broken? A few women’s hearts. I’m not good at having the conversation when someone is into me and I’m not really into them like that. However, I’ve been on the receiving end of those conversations far more often than the giving end.

What was cool when you were younger, but is not cool now? Vanilla Ice. When I was 14 years and 2 months old, he was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I had outgrown him and his music by the time I was 14 years and 3 months old.

What is something that no matter how evolved we become will always be popular? Breathing. Breathing has been in style since prehistoric times. Either that or the Rolling Stones, since they’ve already been popular for over half a century.

Who do you go out of your way to be nice to? Going out of my way to be nice is kind of my default. However, if you’re openly angry about how much you hate people with my beliefs and opinions, then I’m going to go out of my way to ignore you as much as possible.

Who was your craziest/ most interesting teacher? What grade did they teach? I’ve had a lot of crazy and interesting teachers.  And this is a hard one to answer, because I’ve had a lot of favorite teachers for reasons that “crazy” and “interesting” don’t describe.  (I could say that I’m my own craziest teacher, because I’m sure a lot of my students would say I’m crazy and interesting, but that’s a cop-out.)  The first one who comes to mind was my PE teacher in 9th grade, because of the nicknames he would give some students (for example, there was a kid who always wore a blue hoodie, not sure if it was gang related or not, but this teacher always called him “Little Blue Riding Hood”).  He also made up names for some of the activities we would play; the flag football class championship was called the Toilet Bowl, and when we would have to run two miles on the day before a long holiday, it was called the Turkey Trot (Thanksgiving), the Reindeer Romp (Christmas), and the Bunny Hop (spring break, which included Easter).  I think those are the right names.  I wrote more about him, including a hilarious quote, a few years ago when he passed away.

What are some red flags to watch out for in your daily life? People who say they care about you but are always too busy for you, especially if said people are significant others.

If you could move one character to play in a different movie, what character would it been and to what movie/show? Barry Goldberg on Beavis and Butthead. That could be interesting…
Barry: “And so I pass into Hyperspace, Maybe you can follow me
Where I will be starting my own rap colony”
Butthead: ” “Uhhhh… this guy sucks.”

What actor/actress plays the same role in almost every movie or show they do? Jack Black comes to mind. He’s really good at that one role.

What protagonist from book or movie would make the worst roommate or spouse? There was this one character, I don’t remember what movie he was from, where he would interrogate his roommate every time his roommate had a new woman in his life, and lecture him about Christian purity and how great it is not to kiss until your wedding day (the roommates were both adults, it should be pointed out). And sometimes he would wander around the house talking to himself about how messy and immature his roommate is (the roommate found out because the guy didn’t realize his roommate was home). He told his roommate on numerous occasions that he was immature and weak in his Christian faith because he played video games, and how he was wasting his time by having friends who weren’t Christians and not was actively trying to convert them. I can’t remember… what movie was that from?… oh wait, it wasn’t a movie, IT WAS REAL LIFE.

I don’t like nominating people for these, so if you want to be nominated, go ahead and do this. 🙂 And if you are nominated, leave a comment below so people can go check out your blog. The rest of you, go check out some new blogs in the comments.  Seriously, don’t forget that part, because that’s the point of these blog awards.

My questions for you:

  • What place would you most like to visit right now, if neither time nor money were a factor?
  • What is the farthest away from home you’ve ever been?
  • What is the longest you’ve ever waited in line, and what was it for?
  • What is the weirdest or most noteworthy story you have about how you met one of your friends?
  • What is something you liked to eat as a kid, but you don’t like anymore?
  • If you could bring back one discontinued product, what would it be?
  • What was your least favorite thing about school?
  • If you could change one law/rule/etc. that applies to you, what would it be?
  • Who is your celebrity crush?
  • If you could change your name, what would you change it to?  And if you like your name the way it is, why?
  • What’s that band/singer/musician that you’re a fan of, but you’re kind of embarrassed to admit it? Come on, everyone has one.

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 220. No memory of this kid.

Every year, on the first day of school, I give my students an assignment where they answer some questions about themselves.  It gives me a chance to do some necessary paperwork while they are writing, but it also gives me a chance to learn a little bit about who is in my class that year.

One of the questions I ask is who lives at your house.  That way, I can see if a student has a large family, or if they live with both parents, or if a relative other than Mom or Dad is raising them.  I added to that question two years ago: “If anyone in your house has had me as a teacher, circle their name.”  I looked at my class list that year and saw a few familiar last names, most likely younger siblings of students I had had before, and by that point I had been at the school long enough that I was probably going to be getting younger siblings of students I knew every year until I retired (unless I end up at a different school for whatever reason).  So I added this, just in case there were any students whose siblings I knew but I didn’t notice that they were related.

Students aren’t good at following directions, of course.  I’ve had a few students just see the words “circle their name” underlined, and they circle the names of everyone in their family.  And the reverse happens too; I had one this year name her older sister on that paper and not circle her name even though her sister was in fact in my class.  Whether this was due to not circling the name or just not knowing whether her sister had been in my class and being too lazy to ask, I don’t know.  With this student, it could have gone either way.

Sometimes I can tell right away when a student has an older sibling whom I know.  This year, there is one boy in my class who very much resembles a girl from three years earlier with the same last name, except that he’s a dude and not built like a gymnast.  On the first day of school, I told him a funny story involving his sister and a protractor, which he said he remembered hearing about back when it happened.

One girl this year circled her older brother’s name.  I just assumed it was a mistake.  The name didn’t seem familiar, and it’s a fairly distinct last name that I would have remembered.  I never asked her whether it was a mistake or not.  But about a week ago, a student sitting next to this girl mentioned that she had heard stories about me from an older friend who was in my class last year.  I just kind of chuckled.  The girl who had circled her brother’s name then said, “My brother told me he liked having you as a teacher.”

I made some noncommittal remark, something like “That’s good, I’m glad.”  But that really got me thinking.  Apparently this girl did in fact have a brother who was in my class, and I had no memory of this kid.  I thought maybe he never actually had my class.  Maybe his friends were in my class, so he knew who I was.  Maybe he was a student who liked to hang out in my room after school and do homework, because I’ve had students do that sometimes some years.  Or maybe he came to the club that I sponsor once a week after school.  But surely I would have remembered him if he had actually been in my class.

I got curious a few days ago.  I clicked on the archives of previous years of the student information system and started checking class lists, going back to the first year I was at that school.  And eventually I found him.  The girl was right, and I was wrong.  He was in my class, in 2015-16, my second year at this school.

And I had no memory of this kid.

That was a pretty memorable class, too.  Some of the students I remember the best were in the same class as him, the same period in the same year.  Like Protractor Girl.  And the student who sat a few rows behind me at a Kings game once.  And one of the handful of students who have been consistently in touch with me since they left the school.  And the daughter of a coworker who had a hilarious quote about one lesson that I’ve shared with every class since.  But I don’t remember this kid at all.

I feel bad when I realize that there are former students who I don’t remember.  A few years ago, I wrote (warning: there are a few of you with whom I’ve discussed some of my fiction writing other than what has appeared on this site, and clicking the following link may contain spoilers about the events that inspired that writing) about a particularly memorable experience about forgetting a former student.  But in that case, eleven years had passed in the time since I had had that student, and I had moved.  This time, it was not nearly as long, and I’m still at the same school, with his sister in my class right now.

I just got out the yearbook from his year to see what this kid looked like.  And he wasn’t there.  That made this whole thing look even more creepy at first… but probably not, he was probably just absent on picture day.  I found his picture in the yearbook for a different year, though.  And he still doesn’t really look familiar, except for the fact that I can see the resemblance to his sister who is in my class right now.  While I was looking through the yearbook, though, I saw so many other names and faces whom I hadn’t thought about in years.

I’m sure I’m not the only teacher who goes through this.  I’m sure it’s perfectly normal, after having 140-150 students every year, that I’m not going to remember every single one.  It just makes me feel bad.

I don’t spend a whole lot of time reading those papers about my students.  Maybe I should get them back out every few months as I get to know the students.  And in the meantime, I’m glad that this student thought I was a good teacher, even though I don’t feel like one since I don’t remember him.

Exit 162. Not the new guy anymore.

I told someone recently that the upcoming school year will be my 18th year teaching (not including 2005-06, when I was traveling for half the year and substituting the other half).  How is that possible?  The students who recently graduated from high school and are starting college this year were newborn babies when I started teaching.  Where did all the time go?

And more importantly, why do I still feel like a new and inexperienced teacher?

Part of the reason is because I haven’t been teaching in the same place for very long.  I haven’t been in any one public school or school district for more than four years.  Every time I have started over, I have felt new again, since students and their parents don’t know me, and I am unfamiliar with the school culture and the curriculum.  I spent seven years at a tiny private school, and that’s kind of a different world, not to mention that there were only nine teachers and many of them had been there for a long time, so I still felt new in some ways after a while.

But I think I’m finally starting to feel like I’m not the new guy anymore.  My school has had a lot of turnover since I was hired in June 2014, with several retirements, several others taking other positions elsewhere in the district, a few moving away for family or financial reasons, and one death.  Even though I’m only going into my fourth year at this school, I think I’ve been there longer than about half the staff, and among the six math teachers, I have been there the second longest, and I am tied for second in terms of how long I have been a full time teacher in the district.

I have started preparing for the upcoming school year, and I have gotten to meet some of my new coworkers.  And the idea of not being new anymore is finally starting to sink in.  I am able to help some of my new coworkers find their way around the school, get the computers to work, and, in the case of math teachers, learn how the curriculum works.  And this really seems to be helping my confidence.  I’m not quite as shy or reticent among my other coworkers as I used to be.  I feel more like I belong, and less like I’m always rubbing people the wrong way.

I have written before that my principal has told me that she could see me being a leader among the teachers.  Maybe she’s right after all.

(By the way, I missed another week on this blog.  Sorry.)

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 143. That would be cool. Huh-huh.

As I suspected, the changing of the calendar from 2016 to 2017 has not seemed to slow down celebrity deaths.  But the passing of memorable and influential individuals hit home twice within the last couple weeks.  A coworker of mine who taught special education and was involved in a number of student activities left two months ago for medical reasons and ended up being a lot sicker than anyone thought.  I found out Tuesday morning that she didn’t make it.  There is much I could say about her, but my thought for this week concerns someone else who passed this month.  I hadn’t seen this other individual in over 20 years.

Mrs. J, as I’ll refer to her here, taught English at the high school I attended.  I never actually had her for a teacher myself, but I knew her because she was our class advisor.  Also, I knew her daughter, who was the same year as me.  I haven’t stayed in touch with her, or her daughter, so I just found out about this a few days ago when a friend from high school posted Mrs. J’s obituary on Facebook.  Although I never had Mrs. J as a teacher, she was involved with one of the most significant memories I have from that era, one which I still mention now as a major turning point in my life.

I wrote a bit about my high school experience a couple years ago (Highway Pi #26), and as I said before, I was pretty sheltered, and I kept to myself a lot.  I did homework during lunch, and I pretty much never saw people from school outside of school other than the occasional sporting event or dance that I would attend at the school.  A lot of people were nice to me, though, encouraging me to get more involved with the school.  About a month into senior year, I was sitting in the walkway reading when two other seniors walked by, reminding me that we had a class meeting during that lunch period to discuss Homecoming activities.  I didn’t usually get involved with that kind of stuff, but for some reason, I decided to go with them this time.  Maybe because it was senior year, and it was my last chance to get involved with school activities.  So I followed them to the meeting, in Mrs. J’s room.

I know that I have a few readers outside the USA… I’m not sure how it works everywhere else, but homecoming is a time in the fall when a variety of school activities are planned, usually in the week leading up to the first football game played at home against a league opponent.  It is tradition for alumni of the school to return home to watch that game.  At the school I attended (this part is not something that all American high schools do), we had a rally during homecoming week in which each class would perform some sort of skit, and planning the skit was on the agenda for this meeting that I attended.  Our class usually did a skit involving characters from some movie or TV show that was popular at the time (the early ’90s).  As juniors, our skit was based on the movie Wayne’s World, for example.

When the time came to talk about the skit, Mrs. J suggested we do something based on popular characters again.  “Like, maybe, Beavis and Butthead?” she said.  Several people started laughing and expressing their approval.  I scrunched my face into my best Butthead impression, and said, “Huh-huh.  Huh-huh.  That would be cool.  Huh-huh.”  Someone pointed at me and said, “I think he’s going to be playing Butthead!”

Beavis and Butthead aired on MTV between 1993 and 1997.  It was the brainchild of the brilliant dark satirist Mike Judge, who later brought us other brilliant satire like King of the Hill, Office Space (note: link contains inappropriate language), and Idiocracy (note: link contains a bare butt farting).  It was about the misadventures of two dumb teenage boys, their obsession with bodily functions and dirty jokes, and their commentary on music videos.   For me, the quiet kid who helped people with their math homework and sat in the corner reading during lunch, to get up in front of the whole school and act like Butthead surprised a lot of people.

And it felt so freeing.

It was the first time I had ever done something like that in front of a crowd.  And it was awesome.  Not scary like I expected.  To this day, people often ask me why I like Beavis and Butthead, because it’s so stupid, and after saying something about Mike Judge’s brilliant satire, I add that it reminds me of the first time I ever got up in front of a crowd and did something silly and out of character, and how it really did feel like life was going to change once I realized that I was capable of doing this.

Thank you, Mrs. J, for the suggestion.  May you rest in peace.