Monthly Archives: May 2014

Lessons of Grad Night

I recently chaperoned the senior Grad Night trip to Disneyland.  I did this for two reasons: the students asked me and it’s Disneyland.  I really don’t need an excuse to go to Disneyland.  And it was a fun trip.  I talked to some of my former students, learned of their aspirations after high school, and spent the day wandering the magic kingdom exploring some points that I don’t usually explore.  And, of course, I learned some things.

I had some pretty awesome students!  Walking around the park you see all kinds of young adults, just graduated and ready to face the “real world” with their hopes on their sleeves.  But some of those kids are just plan assholes!  I saw several groups of 18 year-olds being talked to by security for doing something stupid.  And none of those groups where mine.  Mine had fun and enjoyed themselves and completely wore themselves out, but they didn’t ruin the fun for others.  It’s encouraging to see that young people can still enjoy the magic and not destroy that magic for little kids.

Letting go is hard!  I didn’t run this trip, I merely chaperoned.  The two young women who actually organized it did a wonderful job.  But it was hard to watch them do things that I know they should do in a different why.  I’ve done more than my fair share of field trips with students and I have a good idea of how they need to run.  Biting my tongue when they did something differently from what I would have done is difficult.  Partly because, not two days ago, a lot of the this group were my students.  As a teacher, you get so used to being in charge, sometimes it’s difficult to let the nestlings use their wings.

“Teacher mode” doesn’t have a convenient off switch.  This ties into the point above.  I’ve been disciplining these kids for two years now.  I’ve told them what to do and when to do it and “no, you can’t go to the bathroom right now.”  Suddenly, I have absolutely no power or say over these young adults.  They are no longer at the mercy of detentions and referrals.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t see them that way still.  I’m still their teacher and I still want to tell them how the world works and to be careful and to go after their dreams and work hard.  It doesn’t just turn off.

Graduation is bitter sweet.  Grad Night was awesome!  They let a bunch of seniors run around the park, have music and DJs and dance areas and food.  They give the chaperones their own area in Ariel’s Grotto (which is a fantastic place that has a Princess breakfast meet and greet) with snacks and coffee.  At the end of the night, they have a special World of Color just for the grads.  Then, we hop back on buses and go home.  And they leave.  Some say goodbye, some even gave me hugs, some said they’ll keep in tough.  But the bottom line is that I will never see most of these kids again.  My time with them is gone.  They are moving on to college and careers, new friends and new adventures.  Most of them probably won’t even remember me in a few years.  But that’s okay.  It’s just also a little sad.

I’m going to miss the class of 2014 roaming the halls at school come the fall.  But there will be new students and new moments with the classes of 2015 and 2016.  Juniors I had last year are returning as seniors, ready to be learn and finish high school.  New juniors will join me in chemistry where I do my best to continue making science fun and interesting.

Good luck in the “real world” class of 2014!  I enjoyed getting to know every single one of you.


Every job has its frustrations.  Bad bosses, frantic projects, stressful meetings and deadlines.  There are times when every job really just sucks balls and you can’t wait for the day to be over.

Teaching, I think, presents a unique set of frustrations that most people would not understand unless, of course, they are a teacher themselves.  I know I’m going to get some flack for this, but if you aren’t a teacher, you have no clue about the amount of frustrations I deal with on a day to day basis.  And high school teachers have a completely different set of frustrations from middle and elementary school teachers.

I deal with girl drama, boy drama, “I can’t sit next to so-and-so because of x, y, and z” drama.  I deal with “put away your cell phone” and “give me your cell phone” and “don’t give me attitude for telling you to get off your cell phone in the middle of class” frustrations.

It’s not the kids.  Really, it’s not.  I actually really like all of my students.  Even the ones who give me six kinds of headaches in 90 minutes on Monday.  Because on Tuesday, they participate and do their work and are awesome.  Teenagers are sometimes frustrating, but they are also awesome to watch because they are starting to realize that the world is so much bigger than the little space that they occupy.  They start to question authority (just not mine, please 😉 ) and question life and ask the big questions of life the universe and everything (42).  I get more joy out of conversing with my students than I get frustrations.

My frustration comes from the other side of teaching.  The “why are you teaching?  You don’t get paid that much.”  The “teachers aren’t doing that great of a job.”  The “why are you complaining, you get three months off in the summer.”  It’s two actually and I don’t take any days off during the year unless I am bed-ridden.  Or if I’m so frustrated with the system that I will tear someone’s head off today.

Teachers are in a unique position where their success isn’t based on how well they do.  It’s based on how well their students do. If the student fails, the teacher was a bad teacher.

And when you have students move into your class three quarters of the way through the semester and they haven’t even gotten to the things you’re doing in your class yet because of whatever reason, there is little a teacher can do about that.  Or the teacher has a class of 40+ students and can’t get to all of them.  But the teacher tries.  Asks every kid if they need help and the kids always say no, then fail the test.  So the kid fails, and somehow it’s the teacher’s fault.  Even though that teacher is there every day for tutoring and offers help and gives the kid a book, but the kid never comes in for tutoring and never asks for help.  If the kid doesn’t care, it’s still the teacher’s fault.

No wonder most new teachers quit after three years.

The frustration mounts until some gives.  It builds and festers inside, waiting to explode.  And when it does, the teacher usually walks away from the profession.

I have hope that next year will be better.  This was just a stressful year for me.  Too many large classes which means less activities (too many bodies to move around), less labs (chemistry is dangerous), less opportunities to really inspire kids to like science.  Too many large classes means more reading, more boring worksheets, and more grading for myself (these 55 hour work weeks have to stop).  Too many students who don’t care and don’t do the work and don’t try.

Next year will be better.  I’ll come back after a relaxing summer, because, yes I do get summers off (I also don’t get paid for that time off) and be refreshed.  I’ll be teaching a new class that I’m super excited about.  I’ll have more honors kids and more chemistry sections because, apparently, they like my class.  And I’ll be less frustrated.

Next year will be better.  Keep saying it like a mantra until the end of the year.

Next year will be better.

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