Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Managable Goals (or... "Stop the burnout.")

-This post brought to you by a really bad day-

Everyone expects teachers to always be positive, upbeat, and helpful to all of the children that come into their lives.

Remember back when teaching was about conveying learning to pupils? I sure don't. Teachers these days are expected to be surrogate parents, nurses, and therapists for all of their students. I went into this profession because I wanted to do something that mattered. As it turns out, doing something that matters takes a lot of snuff.

I feel like a misreable git most days because I can't seem to keep up with the demands in my life.

So, in light of the last post: here are my goals... for good or ill.
  1. Do not take work home with me
  2. Plan in advance (lesson planning)
  3. Set reasonable classroom goals, and to hell with the district on this one... I can't teach everything they want me to teach
  4. Do not stay more than 1 hour after school each day... no matter what
  5. Remember that this is a JOB - granted one that I like - and that my MAIN GOAL is the health and well being of my family
  6. If all else fails - see goal #5 and learn to live with what needs to be done to make my family healthy and safe
  7. Have fun... with learning and getting to know the kids
Those are my new and improved reasonable goals. Let's see how this works.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Priorities... revaluated

I absolutely did not take my own advice. I have dropped more weight and my clothes are starting to get way too loose. Even my students have started to comment that I'm too skinny.

I just can't seem to find enough time in the day to get things done.

In fact, the act of getting up and going in for work has become painful. I don't enjoy teaching like I did last year. I've started to seriously consider the option of going back to work in research.

Why, might you ask? Because when I was a researcher I pulled the same hours but I didn't take it home with me. I suppose I should remember back to my time in the lab and realize that I was horribly miserable. I hated it. There was too much stress and everyone expected you to be perfect all the time. I was bored with the monotony and everyone there was not interesting. People were just flying by all around me and they didn't have anything going on in their lives that seemed worth a damn other than their families. That, and they didn't really have a sense of humor. I missed the crazy fun that I had in college and grad school.

That crazy fun was what drew me to teaching in the first place. I suppose that I need to focus on that and remember that I wanted crazy. I wanted to fine the Zen in the middle of an insane place. When I first started teaching I told my students that I needed a crazy life in order to be happy. I've been trying to do what each person who calls themself my boss says a teacher *needs* to be or do. I need to keep control. I need to make the immature kids that walk through my door into well-read, well-spoken, knowledgable little ladies and gentleman with manners and an understanding of how the world works so they can go out and thrive. Yeah, that ain't happening.

The kids that walk through my door are good kids. They haven't always had a great educational experience but that isn't my or their faults. I do need to teach them some basic skills but by trying to handle everything at once I will fail them. I can't do everything that the district and my professors at Grad School tell me I need to do. Why? Because it's too much, as the kids would say.

I need to set ATTAINABLE goals and try to meet them. Why? Because it's more fair on the kids? Why? Because I'm not a superhero. Why? Because I don't want to burn out. I love working with kids and helping them along but I'm new at this and I have to allow for mistakes. I'm still learning.

Why? Because when you set the bar too high, you only set yourself up to fail.

I know I'm a good teacher. I am a good teacher because I love each and every one of my students - no matter how ill behaved and unmanageable - and I can make changes in their lives by believing in them. And I do believe in each and every one of them to set manageable goals for themselves and meet them if they have the right motivation and positive feedback. I can help them with that because my students often have never had someone believe in them in their lives. I believe in them. I have to believe in myself and the fact that I'm smart enough to beat the system.

The system is broken. I can and will have to find a way around it for the sake of all the 180 little souls that are in my care for an hour a day each day. All of them are different, fun, interesting people. I need to remember that they are what comes first and not the district. I have to do what is best for them.

Repeat after me: the students are the focus, the students are the focus, the students are the focus.

Friday, September 25, 2009

When will it get better?

I gave a test out last week.

I still have students that have not made it up yet. They don't seem to know or care that a test has occurred in their class.

I suppose one way to get around this in the future is post when tests will be held much prior to when I have been telling the students about them.

I also need to think about MIDTERMS. Originally, I had wanted my students to do a project but it seems like most of them will not be involved enough in class to really get it done. Most of my kids (1 in 5) bring a book so for any bookwork they just sit there and say "can't do it - don't have the book."

I think that posting a schedule will help.

Also... sleep. I really need to get some sleep. I've been waking up at 2am for the past few days and it's making me sick. I can't teach with no sleep and I don't know how I did it all last year. Oh wait... I got sick a lot and missed 9 days of school. Grad school + first year teacher + not knowing what I teach (I taught Earth Space when I have degrees in Biology and have never taken an Earth Space Science class in my life) = no sleep for me.

Goal: Eat better and sleep. I'm dropping weight again. When will this get better?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Concentrate on the positive

What should I talk about today?

I was told by my Grad School Advisor (the new one) that I need to concentrate on positive points I can change. It's hard for my to stay positive these days. I just look at my ill-equipped classes in the Room From Hell. Or I look at the broken copier - one of two in the building - that has been out for 4 days. Or I see another standardized test where my students are removed from the room on the schedule and I found out about it 3 days prior. Or I look at the benchmarks coming up where I have to teach the students insane amounts of materials... and if they don't make the grade then my job is threatened.

I can't see the positive. My students just got the book. Most of them don't bring theirs to class. Most of them have almost no background in science. I'm supposed to teach them when most of my students have issues understanding what an atom is - and I get to teach them about hydrogen bonding between proteins. I have to teach them genetics and they don't understand what a cell is. Most of them make it a point to say that they "don't care" and will not nor will they ever do this thing called studying. The district tells me that I can't assign so many F's but the kids have to pass the benchmark.

I'm surrounded by impossible demands.

I don't know how other teachers handle all of this.

What's worse... it's hard for me to see the positive side of teaching at all right now. I don't like teaching and I'm not having fun. When does this get better?

Sorry for the depressing post, but it's how I feel right now. Sure, I'll focus on the positives. I have a job. That's a positive. I like most of my students. That's a positive. I want so much better for them. That's a positive.

That's all.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Class size and my personal war with the district (or ”you can handle 30 so try 40“)

Things are starting to get a little better with the class sizes, but this is still my personal problem in life in that it's very difficult for me to be heard over 45 freshman. The one class is still insanely huge and I don't know what to do about it. I've been told by “on high” that my classroom numbers are exactly where they need to be for me to keep my job.

Granted, I do not have that many students in all of my classes – but jeeze oh Pete's – even 35 freshman is a lot to handle. This is especially true of my last period class that has the mentality of jumping beans. They literally run around the room when my back is turned to go and talk to their friends. When they see me start to turn back, they drop to the ground and try to crawl to their seats behind my desks.

It's amazing what kids are doing these days in class. I suppose I need to read “First Days of School” and work on my procedures a lot.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My students make me laugh so much (or ”the day a student told me I needed a bigger butt“)

How I do love it when I get good jokes in my classroom. This was the gem from today.

Me, walking around and lecturing: Blah blah blah blah blah.
Student (not raising hand): Ms. D., you're too skinny.
Me: You think so? I get told that all the time by my family.
Student: Yeah, you need to eat more and get some weight on you.
Me: I'll get right on that.
Student (making hand gestures that look like squeezing two large grapefruits: Yeah, you need to get some... you know... curves... especially in the booty.
Me: (long pause) A-, did you just tell me to get a bigger butt?
Student: (Turning bright red as he realized what he'd just done) Uuuuhhhhhhhhhhhh...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Test re-test test test test (or ”I secretly hope for my district’s destruction“)

A lot of school districts have this deal going where they have the kids take a test that "qualififes" them to graduate. My district is an example of this. We give the kids a test in the 10th grade that covers math and english skills they should have mastered to this point. If they don't pass it then *theoretically* they don't graduate. I was sent to babysit the kids that have passed this test and don't have to retake it since we are in the middle of "re-take week." This is the magical fun place where juniors and seniors that have not passed the test get pulled out of class during the morning to retake the test. Of course, it they don't pass this test by the end of their senior year they still graduate... so blah.

There I sat in an auditorium with 29 students. The classroom across the hall from me that had kids retaking the test had easily 40 or more students in there. That was one room in one building. There are at least 4 other rooms the same size having testing today.

I'll repeat that because it makes me ill: 29 students in their junior and senior years passed 9th grade english and math.

Remember when you actually needed to gain skills to be passed up in the educational system. Yeah, it's like that only the opposite.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Why does my district LIE (or ”newspaper says our district has 20 students per classroom and I don’t find that funny“)

I came across an article that rated the schools in my city. What I found inside said article (which pulled it's info from the Department of Education) was quite alarming.

Apparently, the official stats for my district say that we have 20 students to every teacher. This is called classroom size and there are many, many, many studies out there that have all found the same thing - smaller is better. The optimal classroom size is between 23 and 27, I think. Well, I've heard tell of this mystical thing called a state law that requires that students in a lab class have no more than 28 students. This is a safety issue because I do not want to be the one legally responsible for all of my students wielding scapels while I try to control them at 54 students.

My current numbers are at something like 170 in 5 classes. For your viewing pleasure - I give you my class sizes:
Period 1 - 25 souls
Period 2 - 33 souls
Period 3 - 42 souls
Period 4 - 33 souls
Period 5 - 34 souls

Now, this wouldn't be so bad if I didn't have "THE ROOM FROM HELL." Alternatively, I've taken to calling it one of the following (and on bad days, all at once in one long stretch) "The room that time forgot," "science room circa 1954," or "land of mismatched stools." I have a room filled with those old-fashioned black benches that have broken faucets and gas outlets and a sea of stools that all look like they've been through world war 7. My students regularly spend 5 minutes of the start of class fighting over the stools and who gets the really sucky ones.

To a teacher, the ability to control the seating in the room is the key to maintaining order. I'm working with a room that takes the ability away from me.

For the first month of school I didn't have enough stools in the room to accommodate the amount of students that I had in there. I had 45 on the books for the one middle class and only 41 stools. I actually took the one stool that was behind the teacher's desk and used it because there was no other choice. I never sit down now.

I was told to "put in a form" to request more chairs the first day. Now, a month into school I finally have enough chairs because I started stealing them. I literally went around the building and snuck into rooms (yes - humming the mission impossible theme in my head) to ransack them for chairs. Yes, I'm probably causing a lot of problems for other teachers but I need the chairs.

I think I have fantasies about buying matching stools for the room so the kids stop fighting and I have enough spots for the butts sent my way. Ugh.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The perfect lesson plan template (or ”what’s my major malfunction with lesson planning?“)

I went through this last year and apparently I learned nothing from my exploits. I HATE lesson planning with a firery passion. I hate it with the intensity of 10,000 suns. I think it's an insult to my intelligence and at the same time I have no idea what I'm doing. I think that I'm an idiot for not understanding it despite having met with 3 different academic advisers at my graduate school to help me to understand it. What is the problem here, brain? This is just a recipe for a class learning period, right?

This can't possibly be this hard?

Actually, it is. It most certainly is when I have to change what I do 5 times over the course of the day depending on how my students handle it. It most certainly is when I'm still having trouble coming up with content because my students are partially illiterate, some have no books, I have no access to computers, I had no access to a blackboard or dry erase boards for the first 3 weeks of school, and the copiers are almost always broken. I'm starting to hate my job because I can't think of anything fun for the kids to do with the lessons other than take notes - and they really hate that. It's also a problem because many of them come to class without a writing utensil or paper and they get angry at me for "making them get paper" all the time.

I'd really like to be able to do something interesting in my class but it helps when my classroom doesn't make me want to slit my wrists.

Today is a bad day. Here's to hoping tomorrow is better.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I’m running out of energy or enthusiasm (or ”too many painkillers in one week“)

I'm probably breaking some sort of law with how many presciption painkillers I've been taking to keep myself upright during teaching. Some days I just want to stare at my students because they keep coming saying "I have such a hard life - I don't want to learn today - I hate school - I'm tired because I was up until 3am texting/myspacing/videogames."

You know what? I was up at 2 am because I have a burning pain in my abdomen that won't stop and keeps getting worse. I'm going to have to have my belly cut open for the second time this year and it takes me a month to get up and moving again whenever they do it. I'm constantly up too late trying to come up with fun ideas to make my students learn and working on my stuff for graduate school. I'm dropping weight because I'm always running around class trying to help each of my students out.

I want to hear no more comments about how hard life is out of any of my students. Perhaps I'm turing bitter, but they need to zip it around me.

I don't know about their lives and how hard they are but my life is no picnic right now. My body is falling apart and I'm just trying to keep on top of things and still lead my normal life of teaching. Of course, if I'm taking pain killers all the time then I start to hate my job and I think to myself "what am I doing here... these kids need someone who believes in them and NOT another bitter person." I joined this cause to help my students learn and succeed. I can't do that if I become another one of those horrible teachers that outwardly hate them.

I hate this. I want all the pain to stop. I need to be here for the kids and not turn caustic.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

This just in - exercise in class to get attention spans up (or ”I got frustrated and started teaching them yoga and it actually worked!“)

During yet another day of notes where my students send vibes of pure hatred my way for daring to make them write, I could tell I was starting to lose the attention of the vast majority of them.

This is something that drives me nuts during most of my classes - my students talk the entire time that I'm trying to teach. They don't just talk. Some of them even shout across the class or get up to walk around and carry on a conversation. It's something that I need to break them of right quick or I'm going to bring in a squirt gun and some silly string to get it to stop.

Anyway - to get my students back on task I sat on the corner of one of the sides of my room and put my legs up into the lotus position while I lectured. It took them about 30 seconds to realize that my legs were all "bendy." I asked them how many of them could do that with their legs and we took about 5 minutes out of my class to do some basic yoga poses. I just wanted to get their blood up and running around before they all revolted and killed me.

I'll be a monkey's uncle - it worked. When they went back to writing their notes they were all sitting writing away with fresh vigor. Apparently a break now and then is justified.

Monday, September 7, 2009

I remember last year not sucking (or ”when did I start to suck?“)

Either I keep fantasizing about how well I did last year or how well behaved my classes were or I have massively begun to suck as a teacher. I seem to rememeber that last year I was able to talk and the students would settle down and start listening. I also remember that when I did the “clap once if you can hear me, clap 3 times if you can hear me” trick that the students would settle down. Now, I have to keep doing that trick upwards of 5 times and then it starts to lose it's efficacy in the classroom as the students ignore me and just go on talking.

I need to start throwing some of them out in order to keep the peace. I should just send them to the hallway for the rest of the period if I have to ask them repeatedly to be quiet. It will be massively bad the first few days but after that point it will work.

When did I become so cruel?