March continues to be THE. WORST. MONTH. EVER. for public school teachers. And it's not over yet.
March is long. No breaks, no 3 day weekends. We are preparing for MCAS. The weather got gorgeous, sunny and warm, and all the snow melted, only to cover everything in white the next week with one of the biggest snowstorms of the winter. Too cold to take our students outside every day after lunch, and all that teen energy is simmering, about to boil over.
Here's some of the "fun" we have been having at my school this week:
- I had a student screaming the f-bomb right in front of me
- I saw a student being dragged down the hallway "in fun"
- A student yelled "I don't even like you!" in my face
- A whole table of students looked at me like I had 3 heads because I told them to stop throwing food at their lunch table
- A student told me that 2 different teachers called her annoying in the last 2 days. I didn't ask if she thought it was a pattern and or tell her that she ought to look inward to figure this one out
- Lots of nasty looks and eye-rolling
- Also lots of parent phone calls and emails asking parents to help us remind their children to be respectful and follow simple rules
- Parent complaints about various things
That is really just the tip of the iceberg.
We have also managed to actually have fun this month. We began "Cafeteria Karaoke" in our lunchroom. I made a playlist, we had students sign up, and amazingly, students actually sang. I was impressed - at their age, you could not have paid me enough to do something like that. My co-AP broke the ice by singing the first song, "Don't Stop Believin" by Journey - but so many students joined in, he was not the only one singing for long.
In other fun events, my colleague/co-assistant principal was honored in a fundraiser last Saturday. For his 37 years as a music teacher, he deserves it.
In my own class, we went deeper into our study of Australia by learning about Aboriginal Australians and the Stolen Generation. We watched and discussed the movie, "Rabbit-Proof Fence", about 3 girls who are taken from their homes to a settlement where they are forced to speak English only, and learn British culture while they are made to forget their own. My students were very into it and were able to understand and discuss, and empathize with the Aboriginal girls in the movie.
So, March is hard, and March is long. And even though it is technically spring, it feels a long way off. Just keep in mind that soon enough it will be warmer, we will start to smell and see flowers and feel the warm sun on our shoulders. Then we can start complaining about the heat and the insects.
Happy almost end of March, teachers!
I knew that my school life would be really different this year, when I took the position of half-time assistant principal while keeping some of my teaching schedule. What I didn't realize insight I would gain into the life of an administrator by being in this position. Who knew that so much happened behind the scenes?
I never thought much being an AP, unless it was to say that it was not a job I would want. When people asked me if I would ever consider getting my administrator license, I would say "HELL no!" I knew that I loved being in the classroom and wouldn't want to give it up. This year, I've been able to take a deep look at both sides, I'm not sure which one I'm better at, and I definitely have more years teaching, but I like both.
When it comes to teaching:
- I love that moment when you look at your class, and see a group of engaged, thoughtful students who are at ease in your class.
- I love when I see my students helping each other in genuine ways.
- It is amazing when my students get so interested they ask question after question, to the point where we get a little off track and I can't answer the questions, and I tell them I don't know and need to look up the answers.
- I love researching topics and coming up with new material that is tailored to my group of students.
- Laughing with my students makes me happy.
- It's weird to have the administrative perspective as a teacher.
As for AP'ing:
- I love walking around the school building and checking in with teachers and students.
- Collaborating with my co-AP and principal is amazing.
- Laughing has been an important part of every day. We always make sure some of that happens,
- When things happen that we can't believe happened, we mentally record those things for our future book, You Can't Make this S*** Up.
- I get to see students in a different light - not always good, not always bad - but I get to still have great relationships with many of them.
- I love those moments when I can help a teacher, parent, or student feel supported.
- I love having the teacher perspective as an administrator.
So, right now, it's a toss-up as to which I like more. Luckily, I can say that I not only love my job, but I have fun at it, and look forward to going - almost every single day.
These were the words of a woman in back of me on line at a grocery store in Puerto Rico.
My husband and I were spending two months on the island, the coldest two months of the year in Massachusetts where we live, happy to get away and enjoy the warmth and beauty of my parents’ birthplace. On that day, the store – in a heavily tourist area near San Juan – had customers who were a mix of native Puerto Ricans, Puerto Ricans visiting from the mainland, and native U.S. Whites and African Americans. I had just said something to my husband. The woman asked me, in a surprised voice, “Did you just speak to him in Spanish?”
When I told her yes, I had, she said, “I’m so proud of you!” I guess she thought I was a White woman. I told her I was Puerto Rican and that she didn’t have to be so proud of me because Spanish was, after all, my first language.
When she looked unsure of what I had said, I followed up by saying, “And please don’t tell me ‘but you don’t look Puerto Rican,’ because I’m 100 percent Puerto Rican.”
Shrugging, still unconvinced, she asked, “And what about your husband?”
“He’s from Spain,” I said.
“Really?”, the surprise still registering on her face. “Oh, I thought you were both European.”
“Well,” I said, “he is European. Spain is in Europe.”
“Oh, yeah, I guess. But I was thinking more of England.”
(Why do Americans equate England with Europe? It’s always been a mystery to me).
“England,” I informed her, “is in some ways the least European country because it’s actually separated from the rest of Europe.” I didn’t want to confuse her so I didn’t even mention that Great Britain had recently voted to exit the European community.
“But Spain,” I continued, “is smack in the heart of Europe.”
“Well, yes, you’re right there,” she conceded.
And that was my encounter in Puerto Rico, the land of my heritage, concerning identity, language, and ethnicity.
It’s not that this kind of remark was unprecedented. People have frequently told me, “But you don’t look Puerto Rican,” expecting, I guess, a brown- (but never white- or black-) skinned individual. (Again, I often wonder why people like this think they know what all Puerto Ricans should look like. Where do they get their ideas? Is there a “standard-issue” Puerto Rican? )
And why was this woman “so proud” of me? Because I’m fluent in a language other than English in the most multilingual nation in the world? Actually, on this we could probably both agree: native English-speaking Americans are what Terrell Bell, a former Secretary of Education, famously called “monolingual bumpkins.” Mr. Bell was in the cabinet of President Ronald Reagan, no less, a president who was staunchly anti-bilingual education and a proponent of “English Only.” Reagan was once quoted in the New York Times as saying, “It is absolutely wrong and against the American concept to have a bilingual education program that is now openly, admittedly, dedicated to preserving their native language and never getting them adequate in English so they can go out into the job market” (as quoted in Baker, 2011, p. 189). He made this awkwardly phrased statement with no sense of irony (what is the “American concept” and who are the “they” to which he was referring?). Well, after all, perhaps he was right: Maybe Americans first need to master English before they can take on other languages.
Baker, C. (2011). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism, 5th ed.
I used to think I would be a natural at parenting. And in some ways I am. But there are aspects of parenting that I never thought about. Now I realize that when I thought about having kids, I mostly thought of them as babies.
I used to think that all the rules I had in my head and the expectations I had for my kids would just be followed, no problem. That’s what I did - for the most part anyway. I used to think that a punishment would be enough to convince my child he or she did something wrong and then they wouldn’t repeat it. Now I know that each child is so different, and each situation has to be looked at differently as well, and that all the rules and expectations I had in my head can mostly be thrown out the window.
I used to think it would be easy, with some bumps in the road. Now I know it’s difficult and mostly bumpy, with some smooth sections. The smooth sections are the ones that make you forget about the bumps.
I used to think I would never, ever let my kids ________________. Now I know there is no way I could have known enough to decide that before my kids were born. Example: my son refused to sleep in his bed, and slept instead on the couch, for almost an entire year. I realized a few weeks into it that while I did not like this fact, it wasn’t so important in the scheme of things. Was he sleeping? Yes. Why should it matter so much where he slept? I used to think I would be rigid about those rules because I also used to think my kids would just follow them.
Now I know. Being a mom means making it up as you go along, compromising, rethinking your stance all the time. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don’t.
Being a teacher is much like this. I used to think that teachers maybe just have a special thing that guides them every day and makes them natural teachers. After 20 plus years of teaching, now I know that isn’t completely true. Yes- teachers are often masters at the content of what they teach, and yes - some teachers are more naturally good at it. But finding what works with our students is a different matter. Teaching involves a ton of trials with failures and successes. Good teachers, in my mind, don’t always stick to something because it’s always worked. Good teachers try new ways and new lessons all the time. Sometimes they work - sometimes they fall flat. But they don’t stop trying. After all, our students are always changing, so we should change with them and learn with them.
Like parenting, teaching involves mostly bumpy roads with some smooth parts. And like with parenting, those smooth parts are what makes you forget about the bumps and keep us doing what we’re doing.
Each of our students is so different also. We can’t pretend to meet all of their needs all of the time, or completely know or understand them always, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. Finally, teachers, like parents, are not perfect. Some of us have more experience than others, but all of us are learning as we go.