April 25th, 2016
We survived the Monday after break!
Here is a real post to make up for yesterday's non-post :-)
I've been thinking about why some teachers stay in teaching for so long, while others get burnt out more quickly. Also, there are teachers who maybe have been teaching for too long, and are no longer happy or fulfilled by it. And there are people who become teachers to only to realize it isn't their thing. Teaching is not for everyone, nor can just anyone teach. It's probably better to recognize that and move on than to remain and become jaded and bitter, and gradually hate the profession and the kids.
All of this led me to think about why or how, after almost 21 full years, I still truly love teaching. Do I get aggravated by administrative initiatives and to-down leadership? Yes. Do kids sometimes get on my nerves? I would be lying if I said no. Do I wish I had more flexible hours? Of course. Overall, though, I still feel satisfied and happy with my profession. I've thought about doing other things, maybe getting a doctorate, teaching at the college level. That may still happen (because mid-40s is the new mid-20's?), but for the immediate time being, I'm good.
So, I'm sharing some things I have found help me, even on the worst of days, even when I want to go home and cry, even when I question if I am reaching my students. Every teacher should find her own things, of course, if these don't work.
1) Be nice to everyone. No matter how crappy you feel in the morning, or what is going on at home, do your best to smile and interact with your colleagues, staff and students. It means a lot, and you will see the returns in people smiling back at you and caring for you. Reach out to people for help. Also, even if you aren't the most social person, try to come out of yourself to ask people about themselves - in the copy room, the lounge, at lunch. Small talk may be small, but in our society it's important. It might make you feel more a part of a community.
2) Be efficient with your time. If you take advantage of most of your preps and maybe some time after school, you might feel more prepared for the next day and you can catch up on grading. When my kids were younger, I would cart papers home and back to school, untouched. Then I decided that my time at home with my kids was time I could never get back. I started leaving work at school, and going home empty-handed unless there was something I didn't get to and really had to finish. This was when I had 100 plus students and was collecting work almost daily. It worked well for me to get to school early to prepare, use my prep time to correct in a really focused way, so that I didn't have that additional stress at home.
3) Try to get outside once a day.This one might be impossible for many teachers. I sometimes just walk outside and take in fresh air for 2 minutes, or put my face up to the sun. If I have more time, I drive somewhere close to get a coffee. Just to breathe in different air, stretch your legs, and relax your mind a little. I know we can't all manage this, but if you can I recommend it.
4) Take advantage of as many valuable PD opportunities as you can. (Notice I wrote VALUABLE). Ask to go to conferences in your field, join associations of teachers of the same subject. See if there are any free conferences or professional learning communities in your area. My principal has been supportive when I have asked to go somewhere (especially if it does not involve the school paying because of budget issues), and I always offer to bring back information or present to groups of colleagues if I think it will be helpful or new information. In our area the Western Mass Writing Project and the Collaborative for Educational Services offer a variety of quality professional development.
5) Lastly, find an outlet. When I first started teaching, I didn't have time for an outlet because I probably spent 3 hours every evening preparing. Then I had kids. Then I studied for my Master's. Now that I have "more time" I have found that outlet for me - dancing. My dance group, Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones, is a group of 6 women, all in education in our area. We meet weekly to rehearse, and our rehearsals, while hard work, are also therapeutic. We often start and end rehearsals by sharing challenges or stories about our kids, our jobs, our health, our families - whatever. And we laugh. And laugh. And laugh. Sometimes we cry. It's like group therapy, only free. We always feel better afterwards, and we know we have each other for support.
There are many alarming reports out there about how fewer young people are going into teaching. I'm not surprised; again, it's NOT easy. To be a teacher you have to be "on" all the time - there is no down time. You have to keep so many balls in the air while also maintaining your own sanity and keeping your family going, and just doing life and "adulting" (I love that this has become a verb). I encourage new teachers to find what works for them, and try to stick with it if it is their passion. And I hope that veteran teachers will have already found their balance, their outlet, and that they will stay the course if it is their passion.
The struggle is real
A radio interview
Hello all! I will be on hiatus this week relaxing and trying to disconnect, but if you are interested here is an interview I did with Natalia Munoz for her radio show on WHMP. My part is in the beginning of the show. Thanks for reading/listening and teachers - hope you are able to find some peace, quiet, and strength this week!
Here is the link: http://whmp.com/podcasts/vaya-con-munoz-4-16-16/
JOY - Jewel of the Year
In January of this year, I found out I had been nominated for Massachusetts Teacher of the Year by a friend and former teacher, Mary Ginley (thanks Mary!). It was a long and arduous process to take on, but I decided to do it - and I am really glad I did. I made it to the finalist round with 5 other teachers, and though I was disappointed I didn’t make it to the end, applying was a learning process that involved a lot of reflection and writing about teaching and community involvement. Here are some of my takeaways from the process.
1.My community rocks.
When we moved here from New York, I knew that it would be a big, but healthy, change for our family. At the time there were 4 of us, and I was pregnant with our third; we wanted to be near family. My husband grew up in a small city and I loved the city, so we thought it would be a big adjustment. It wasn’t as difficult as we thought it would be. Our new community welcomed us and brought us into its fold. As the years have passed and I have become more involved in different ways in the community, my time is pulled in different directions more and more. Through this process, though, I realized that my community is pretty amazing in many ways, and that I am thankful we live here.
2. I love being a teacher.
Obviously, I knew this, but it’s really good to be reminded of it. Sometimes I wonder what I would do if I didn’t teach; what would it be like to have a job that didn’t have a rigid schedule, a ton of preparation time, and dealing with 12-14 year olds all day. I have often thought about going for my PhD and teaching at the college level. But through this process, I was reminded of how much I love this age, even when they’re at their most challenging. I’m not sure I could leave the classroom behind.
3. Impostor Syndrome is real.
Sometimes I have severe doubts in my teaching - even after 21 years. I’m probably not the only one to have this “Impostor Syndrome” . The process of applying for the TOY was reaffirming because the people I told were so supportive and believed in me wholeheartedly. I’m sure I will still have days where I will doubt myself, but knowing people have my back no matter what will always be something to make me feel better.
4.The process is random.
TOY is a little random. I definitely felt honored to be nominated and to make it to the last 6. All throughout the process, though, I kept thinking about all the wonderful teachers I know (This goes back to the impostor syndrome, of course), and all the great teachers there must be in our state. I just happened to be lucky that Mary believed in me and took the time to complete the nomination.
5. My biggest fans are my parents.
I sort of knew this of course, but over the last few months, I have really felt my parents’ love and pride in me. Or as my dad put it: “Te voy a nombrar la joya del año” - “I’m going to name you jewel of the year.” His and my mother’s words and support, and that of my husband, kids, and good friends, is enough to keep me going for a long time. Being the JOY is better than being the TOY.
Here is to all the amazing teachers out there! Keep doing what you’re doing, and have faith in yourselves. You are NOT impostors, your're the deal deal and you are all JOY to someone!
Teaching is Like Doing Laundry
(a re-post from my former blog site)
My kids do their own laundry - in theory. They each have hampers in their room, and they are supposed to take their clothes to the basement, ideally on a weekly basis, and wash, fold and put them away. In reality, this is what happens:
My son doesn’t use that many clothes. He will get to his laundry after about a month of build-up, and only because I hassle him until he does it. In my daughters’ shared closet, I found MOUNDS of dirty clothes hidden behind the hampers (they have 2), because the hampers were overflowing. The girls have a habit of wearing something and then throwing it on the floor, so that eventually, even if it wasn’t really dirty to begin with, it gets dirty. Inevitably, I have to step in at some point of the laundry process, usually the folding part.
So, yesterday, when I was folding a (thankfully) smaller load of the girls’ clean clothes, I couldn’t help but think that teaching is a lot like doing laundry, in these ways.
1. IT IS A JOB THAT IS NEVER OVER.
If there were one household job I would get rid of, it would be laundry. Even when I passed it on to my kids, I still end up doing some of theirs. I feel really accomplished when I do other household chores – when I clean the bathrooms, they smell good and sparkle for a while after. When I cook, we enjoy a meal. When I sweep, the floor stays clean for at least 2 days. When I do laundry, THERE IS ALWAYS MORE.
Teaching is exactly like this. When you think you have “finished”, don’t kid yourself – you never “finish”. You may finish planning and teaching a lesson, but there is always follow-up, or there are things to tweak for the next lesson. You might go home at 3 or 4 PM, which I try to do to be with my family, but the work is never done. You just have to find another time to squeeze it in. Just like washing clothes.
2. WHAT HAPPENS TO THE SOCKS?
When you wash clothes, if you don’t have a good system for keeping socks together, you will always lose one of the pair. I took this picture recently after trying in vain to pair my daughters’ socks (about half of which are mine, stolen from my sock drawer.) I posted the picture to Facebook, with the caption “What happens to the other sock?!?!?!” and got lots of amusing replies from friends.
If you don’t have a system or a plan for your students, you will lose them as well. Even the most organized students need a plan. I realized this once when my small, 4 person class told me that they didn’t know if they should put their papers in a binder or folder, and they didn’t know what to keep and what to recycle. I had spent so much time in September on getting to know each other activities, and I hadn’t focused enough on systems. I had never told them if they should use a binder or not. I just assumed they would decide what they wanted to use.
Meanwhile, the other ELL teacher, my colleague, had them keep a very structured binder. So, I stopped what we were doing, and we spent about 25 minutes getting them organized. In truth, I didn’t want to give them another binder to carry in their already packed backpacks. Instead, I have them binders and cleared a shelf so they could keep them in my classroom unless I told them to take them home. They were relieved at getting themselves more organized, and I learned a lesson about what I need to pay more attention to next year.
3. IF YOU BREAK IT DOWN INTO SMALLER STEPS, IT’S LESS OF A BURDEN.
Laundry is a more manageable task when broken down into steps. If I can get past the fact that I have to cart the clothes to my basement, the rest is not so hard. I find that if I can wash one day, fold the next, and then put the clothes away, it’s easier to get it done. Good teachers, I think, know that it usually works out better if we break down tasks for our students rather than throwing a huge project or assignment at them. I do the same thing when I plan, actually. I think of the “big idea” and work backwards from there in small steps, using backwards design.
4. EVEN IF YOU DO YOUR LAUNDRY “RIGHT”, THERE CAN STILL BE PROBLEMS.
A few weeks ago, my daughters did everything right when they did their laundry, and yet the clothes came out with black marks all over them for some reason. In teaching, you might have what you think is the bomb.com lesson plan, and it might seem perfect, and you think you worked out the kinks and anticipated every challenge – and it can STILL go very wrong. My first year as an ELL teacher, 4 years ago, I had a class of 7, and each student was from a different country. They got along horribly and there were lots of misunderstandings. I remember planning what I thought was an awesome lesson on friendship and respect that ended with the students arguing with each other. You know what they say about the “best-laid plans”!
5.DON’T TRY TO CARRY ALL YOUR CLOTHES IN YOUR ARMS.
I should know, I try to do this ALL the time to avoid taking more than one trip. What happen? Every time, without fail, I leave a trail of socks and underwear behind me. To me, the message here is: “Don’t bite off more than you can chew”. That goes for me as a person trying to not take on too many responsibilities. It also is important for me to remember as a teacher: don’t go too fast or present too much at once to your students, because you are bound to leave a trail behind you of confused and overwhelmed people. I try to remember this as I feel pressure to cover a certain amount of material, or to assign more homework and give more assessments. I need to keep all my clothes together in the laundry basket, just like I need to bring all my students with me, without leaving any behind.