Category Archives: job

Dear Students

I just want to tell you that it’s time to take responsibility for your own learning.  I’m trying my best.  Are you?

I had a student ask me the other week why I kept lower their grade.  Why I was lowering their grade.  Not how they could help their understanding.  Not what they could do to increase their grade.  I was lowering their grade and they wanted to know why I was ruining their GPA.  Seriously.

I’m not ruining your GPA or lowering your grade.  I enter grades in the gradebook based on your performance and understanding.  Why are you turning in assignments half completed and expecting full credit?  Why aren’t your taking responsibility for your learning?

I had another student ask if they could have extra credit.  This student is missing half of the assignments I have given out.  Why should I go out of my way to give you extra credit when you don’t do the regular credit?  Why aren’t you taking responsibility for your learning?

I am at school at 6 am every morning and I leave school around 3:30 pm every afternoon.  I work nights and weekends to ensure that you have fun in class, are engaged, are stimulated, and are learning the material.  I bring papers home and ignore my pets and friends because I need to grade and provide meaningful feedback.  I lose sleep at night because I’m trying to figure out new and better ways to teach concepts that I know are difficult.  Please don’t mistake this as a complaint.  I love my job (despite what pop culture leads you to believe about teachers).  I really enjoy working with you and teaching you and watching you grow into the young adult that you will become.  I don’t mind grading and planning on my off time.  I understood the time commitment of the job when I signed up.  So I don’t mention these things to complain.  I mention them to illustrate my dedication to you.

I know you have other things going on.  I know you have sports and clubs and jobs and friends and family and stuff.  I don’t expect you to live and breathe chemistry, but I do expect you to try.  I do expect you to do the work.  I do expect you to ask questions.  I do expect you to get help when you are struggling.  I don’t think it unreasonable to ask that you think about things and challenge yourself.  You will certainly be expected to once you leave the comfortable halls of high school.

So please, start taking responsibility for your learning.  If you don’t know, ask.  If you don’t understand, get help.  I am here for you and I am always happy to help in any way that I can.  But if you don’t do the work, don’t blame me for your grade.

Sincerely,

Your teacher


School’s out for summer

The song rang through the office yesterday as students joyously filed out of buildings toward their buses. School is out! We have survived another year. Next year, they will come as sophomores of juniors or seniors and be all the wiser for it. Except “next year” is only two months away! Which got me thinking about the weird crazy world and schedules of schooling.

I don’t live on a typical schedule that is divided in finical quarters and broken up by projects and report deadlines.  I live on semesters and fall breaks and winter breaks and spring breaks.  I live on a schedule of midterms and finals and years ending at the end of May and starting in the beginning of August.  Who cares about New Year’s Eve?  That just means that second semester starts on Monday.  What beginning of a new year?  I’m halfway through my year already!

Being a teacher means thinking about years in a completely different way than most people my age view them.  I am truly at the end of my year right now.  The school year 14-15 is over.  On August 5th, the school year 15-16 will start and my new “year” will start.  And it will be completely different from last school year.  Sure, some of the daily routines and rituals will stay the same, but I will have a new group of students, try new ways to teach them, and have new technology as my disposal.  There are not too many other jobs that I know of that get to basically start fresh at the beginning of each year.  Most people work with the same team year in and year out and work on the same on-going projects year in and year out.  Not that the stability of knowing exactly what to except when you get into the office is a bad thing!  I get to come into school in August with only a vague idea of the personalities that will be waiting for me.

Being a student is very similar, I think.  Students change teachers every semester at my school.  Basically, every 4 months, they get a new set of “bosses” with new rules and policies and procedures.  I know people now who would flipped if a new boss came in every 4 months, but they seemed to deal with it just fine when they were in school.  It just fascinates me how the culture of school is so different from the culture of business and work and career.  Unless of course you’re a teacher.

But school’s out for summer.  Teachers and students get a wonderful 2 month break before we have to head back for the new school year.  Congrats to students who passed all their finals!  Congrats to seniors graduating this week!  Enjoy your break before heading off to college or the military or careers.  And congrats to teachers.  We finished another amazing year!


Lockdown

Today was one of those horror days that your read about in the papers and pray it never happens to your school.  Five minutes before the final bell rings, the assistant principle announces over the loud speaker “This is a hard lockdown.”  For those who have never had the pleasure of working in a school, we practice three things now-a-days: fire drills, soft lockdowns, and hard lockdowns.  Fire drills are pretty run of the mill – the alarm rings and everyone leaves the building.  Since I teach chemistry, I always assume it’s going to be me that actually starts a fire and turns the drill into practice.  Soft lockdowns and hard lockdowns might be new to you.  Soft lockdown means that something is happening near the school but no one is in any real danger yet.  You can keep teaching as long as the door is locked.  Hard lockdown is the scary one.  It means that someone is very near campus or is on campus and they have a weapon.  Everyone gets down on the floor, all the lights go out, and we sit quietly without talking or checking our cell phones.  Myself included.  Usually, staff gets a heads up when there is a drill in order to talk our students through it.  But this wasn’t a drill.  This was for reals.

It’s super scary being in a hard lockdown.  You have no info and you aren’t supposed to contact the outside world except for your principle to let him know that you have all your students in your room.  That’s it.  No phone calls, no texting, no Facebook.  Try explaining that to 38 students who are told to sit down, be quiet, and don’t use your phones.  It’s stressful for them and I’m sure it’s stressful to their parents, but we as teachers are told to confiscate cells and not let students text or call their parents.  That might seems harsh or unfair, but it’s something that I happen to agree with.  First off, there is nothing a parent can do in the event of a hard lockdown.  They aren’t allowed on campus, their calls will be politely ignored.  They can’t come get their student even if they wanted to.  And there is actually a lot of harm that could be done.  Parents could block emergency personnel that need to be on the scene or they could provide targets for unknown assailants. The school notifies parents via a call system as to what is happening.  Students don’t need to do that.  Second, students in class could be targets for posting things on Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat.  If the assailant is another student, they could be friends with people on social media, could easily figure out where certain students are located and could target them.  Students are safer if they don’t post their location and situation on social sites like they are want to do in any situation.

Luckily, the situation at my school was resolved peacefully before anyone stepped foot on campus.  The suspects were running through the neighborhood near the school and caught before they had a chance to enter the campus.  The lockdown was lifted and students (and staff) were allowed to leave.  But in the future, I hope all students realize the seriousness of such a situation and follow the rules despite the fact that they don’t agree with them.  Sitting quietly on the floor with no phone for an hour sucks big time (it sucks for me too), but it’s important because peoples lives are at stake.  I don’t want to die because some gunman decided to shot into my classroom because some 16 year kid couldn’t shut up for an hour.

These are scary times we live in, and scary times for students, teachers and parents when schools need to practice what will happen in the case of a lockdown.  I’m just glad that we do practice so at least students know what to do when the real thing hits, whether they follow the rules or not.


What Students Really Need to Hear

I just said the same thing to my classes today because they didn’t do some homework. The point wasn’t that they didn’t do their homework. The point was that they didn’t even try because it was “too hard”. That thought drives me nuts! As I told me students: Step up and figure it out. Life’s hard, get a helmet.  This essay is exactly what I wanted my students to hear.  The point of school isn’t the academics, although those are good things to know, the point is to step up and learn to overcome difficulties.  Thanks for writing it. 🙂

It’s 4 a.m.  I’ve struggled for the last hour to go to sleep.  But, I can’t.  Yet again, I am tossing and turning, unable to shut down my brain.  Why?  Because I am stressed about my students.  Really stressed.  I’m so stressed that I can only think to write down what I really want to say — the real truth I’ve been needing to say — and vow to myself that I will let my students hear what I really think tomorrow.

This is what students really need to hear:

First, you need to know right now that I care about you. In fact, I care about you more than you may care about yourself.  And I care not just about your grades or your test scores, but about you as a person. And, because I care, I need to be honest with you. Do I have permission to be…

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Shocked

One of my former students was arrested for child molestation the other day.  I don’t mean that I had this student a few years ago, either.  This was a student that, up until a month or so ago, I talked to on a very regular basis.  He was in my honors class last year, he was in my club, I took him on an overnight field trip to California with 20 other students at the end of last year.  I knew this student.  Or at least I thought I did.  Turns out, I didn’t know him at all.

This incident has made me wonder and question the relationships I have with students.  Teachers are often told that we can make a huge difference in student’s lives, both inside and outside the classroom.  We go through training on how to spot if a student is being abused or neglected.  We spend hours discussing how to help our students do better in school so that they can make better decisions outside of school.  We talk to students about their interests and what they’re doing and what type of TV they like or books they read.  But we only see them for a few hours in the day and that really doesn’t amount to anything.

I had this student in my classroom for 90 minutes every day for a semester.  Plus I saw him every week after that semester for our club.  I talked to him about Star Wars and comics and science.  I watched him interact with his peers.  Sure, he was a little creepy at times.  I had to kick him out of room once because he yelled at another student.  I had to talk to him once or twice about being sexist – one particular time he maybe half joked, was half serious that Marie Curie deserved to die because she was a female doing a man’s job and I thought one of my female students was going to beat the crap out of him.  Yeah, he had no social skills in my class, saying and doing whatever he thought was right.  But I never suspected the guy would actually hurt someone  And certainly not suspected he could do something as serious or dangerous as child abuse.

It was completely stunning when a current student of mine said to me the other day “I’m in a little bit of shock after finding out what happened with Doug.”  Then he showed me the article.  I believe my first words were “Are you shitting me?  Holy shit!”  Then I had to shove it aside because I had a class to teach and couldn’t think about other things for a while.  Now that I’ve had a few days to think on it though, I’m surprised and shocked and angry and saddened.  This student took something for an innocent victim.  This student, who was bright but a little weird, could have gone on to do good things with his life.  Instead, he’s going to trial and probably to jail for a very long time – deservedly so for the crimes he committed.

This is one of those times when I wonder if I’m really doing enough as a teacher.  Am I really changing anything or just going with the stasis quo?  Could I really spot a student who was being abused by someone?  Or a student who was abusing someone?  It’s difficult enough keeping up with lesson planning and grading and teaching the content and tutoring and going to meetings and professional developments and running a club.  But maybe that’s not as important as developing the relationships so that a student would feel comfortable telling me things about their home life.  Or maybe it’s just as important to give those students a chance to focus on something else for a while.  I’m not really sure.  I guess all’s I can do is what I’ve been doing – teach them the science, talk to them about whatever they want to talk about, and hope that if they feel safe around me they’ll tell me when something is wrong.


Summer

We’re half way through summer vacation and I have to say it: I’m bored.  No, really.  I’m bored.  I’ve read three books since summer started, finished one TV show, beat two video games, finished a class I was taking and am halfway through a second class.  I’ve done almost everything I set out to do this summer.  The only thing left is to finish planning out AP chemistry for next year. But if I finished that now, I’d have nothing to do in July.

I’m bored.  I never thought I’d say that about summer.  I’m an Phoenix native.  That means I’m used to the head-in-an-oven heat.  I used to live in the pool during my childhood.  The only wardrobe I needed was my swimsuit, some flip-flops, and maybe a pair of shorts if my parents dared to drag my out of the pool and take me into public.  My sister and cousin and the neighbor kid would have epic water balloon fights.  We’d run down the slip-and-slid.  We’d set the hose up under the trampoline and play for hours in the spray of the water.

On the days there wasn’t constant swimming, there were video games and night time tag and vacations to Flagstaff so my mother could get out of the heat.  We’d read and play with stuffed animals and watch an endless amount of Disney cartoons.  Nobody dared utter the words “I’m bored.”  And if the phrase did slip from your lips, there was always a parent near by to instruct you.  “Go ride your bike.” “Go swim.” “Here’s some crafts to work on.” “Go read your book”

We weren’t allowed to bored during the summer.

I know I shouldn’t complain.  There really aren’t any other “real” jobs that give you two entire months off besides teaching.  I mean, people are given vacation time in other jobs, but I don’t think most bosses would be happy if their employees took two consecutive months off of work.

Still, I feel like I’m trapped in some bizarre Ground Hog’s Day episode of my life.  “What’re we gonna do today?”  “Same thing we did yesterday.” “Try to take over the world?” “No, run, swim, play video games.”  Same thing every day.

Here’s hoping that July, with trips and planning for fall, will bring something different to my day.


Frustration

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.


Hope for the future

This weekend I took 5 of my honors students to the Arizona Evirothon. It’s a two day competition for high school students. Students compete with other teams from around the state in wildlife, forestry, aquatics, and soil by taking 3 tests at different stations. Each test is 55 minutes and includes complex scenarios that requires critical thinking and application of knowledge. After their tests, students have two hours to prepare a 10 minute presentation. The presentation senerio this year involved sustainable agriculture. Each team had to answer the senario by using the concepts learned plus defend their decisions.

Nine teams competed this year. Forty five kids have up a Saturday to talk and learn about the environment and environment issues. It gives me hope for the future.

It’s easy to forget that there are kids out there who still value knowledge. Listening to these kids talk to each other makes me realize that the future will probably be okay. Sometimes as a teacher, you focus so much on the low kids, the kids that don’t get it, the kids who don’t care, the kids who to have to force to think because they’ve never had a deep thought in their lives, that you forget there are kids out there who think, who learn, who are capable of moving us forward.

I love spending time with those kids. They give me hope. They’re going to figure it out and be ok. They’re going to contribute positively to the world and we’re going to be ok.


Holy crap it’s spring break already

Time flies.  Spring semester began only a few days ago, right?  What?  It’s already been 9 weeks!  Where the hell did the first half of my semester go?!  I though this semester would be different.  I have a prep period this semester.  That means I have an extra 1.5 hours in my day that I can spend to plan out lessons, grade papers, be on top of work…

Right… Or I can use that time to go to meetings, make copies, email parents, talk with admin about new classes for next year.  And yes, grade some papers and plan some classes.  This is the first time I’ve had a prep period in a year and a half.  I thought it would mean more freedom, but instead, I find myself looking up at the clock and going “Shit, class starts in 5 minutes!  Where the hell did my 90 minutes go?”

How is it possible that I still have a stack of papers to grade every Sunday?  How is it possible that I still don’t have enough hours in my day to get everything done?  It’s over loading some times.

But the good news is that I’m almost done. 9 more weeks until graduation and summer vacation.  It’ll be 9 weeks of pushing students (especially seniors) to do their best, to study, and to keep showing up.  Summer isn’t here yet and they still have chemistry to do and wildlife to study and they can’t shut down yet.

And on the other side of that is motivating myself to stay on top of things.  It’s not summer yet for me either!  I need to stay focused, stay on task, and keep being the best teacher I can for these kiddos.

The break certainly helps.  Spring break is almost over, but I feel recharged and ready go.  Hopefully that thought will last until Monday.


Another teacher complaining about her job

I am a teacher.  Most of my friends are also teachers.  And yes, we complain about our jobs.  This doesn’t mean we don’t like our jobs.  Personally, I love my job.  I get to work with amazing people and teacher amazing kiddos everyday.  Just like any other profession, though, teaching has its ups and downs.  Plus, it has unique ups and downs from other professions.  Most people don’t understand those downs.  In my opinion, after listening to others talk about the teaching profession, they view teachers as spoiled adults who still get a summer vacation.  What do I have to complain about when I only work 10 months out of the year (I only get paid for those 10 months too)?

Let me paint a picture for you.

Imagine a 7:00 to 3:00 work day.  Sounds pretty good, right?  You get in at 7:00am.  You have 20 minutes to prepare for the day – and your day consists of 4 meetings, each a different topic and each 90 minutes long.  They can’t just be 90 minutes of you talking, though.  There has to be activities and group work and practice work.  You knew you wouldn’t have time to set that up this morning, so you worked for hours over the weekend preparing your meetings.

But now you’re at work and ready to go.  You need to finish making copies and set up for the day.  Except one of your clients has a question for you and it needs to be answered now.  Which only leaves you with a precious few minutes to get settled in.

The day starts and the first of your meetings begin.  There are 40 people in the room when the room was really build for 30, but you make due.  One top of it, a quarter of your clients completely forgot what you told them yesterday and another quarter aren’t prepared for what you planned on doing today.  But you improvise and make due.

Plus, not all of your clients are going to sit quietly and behave.  Some of them are going to interrupt you while you’re talking.  Some are going to sleep through your lecture and then ask you what they are supposed to be doing.  Some of them are just going to sit there, arms folded across their chest because they really don’t want to be there.  And part of your job is to make sure each and every one of them buy the very important product you are selling.  So not only do you have to sell your product, you have to monitor their behavior and correct it as your go.

You’re only half a day behind your plan by the end of the meeting and you’re pretty sure most of them are going to buy.  Five minutes until your next group arrives which gives you just enough time to switch everything out.  Except, you’re expected to greet each client at the door.  Never mind, you’ll figure it out.

Two meetings down and it’s lunch time.  You look forward to a nice long, relaxing lunch.  In reality, you have 20 minutes to shovel some food down your throat before your next meeting.

Finally you’ve reached the end of your day.  Your four meetings are over with.  But you really need to make sure your clients buy your product, so you had them fill out some information and answer some questions.  Now you have to go through them.  All 150 of them.  And to top it all off, a few of your clients have no idea what you were talking about today and want your help after the meetings are over.  Maybe you’ll make it out of the office by 3:30pm.

Teachers don’t have a normal 7-3 work day.  Many of my colleagues show up between 6 and 6:30 every morning and leave between 3:30 and 4:30 in the evening (I’ve personally been at school for over 12 hours trying to set up labs).  Most grade papers at home and work during the weekends planning or modifying lessons and activities and grading more papers.

I’ve mentioned that your clients have to buy what you are selling.  It’s important.  And it’s also how you get evaluated.  You are considered good at your job if 80% of your clients buy your product.  Here’s the catch – you can’t pick your clients.  And you can’t get rid of those clients you KNOW are never going to buy the product.  You are stuck with them.  Just be better and make them buy.

Sound like something you can do?  I urge you to go watch a teacher in action.  It’s not easy.  I have 35-40 students per class.  Some come from great backgrounds where education is important.  Some come from not so great backgrounds and don’t want to live like that, so education is important.  More come from backgrounds where the value of education is not seen, so they really don’t care.  They are at school because they have to be at school.  They have no aspirations of going to college.  Which is perfectly fine.  Not everyone should go to college.  But those kids aren’t there to learn.  They are never going to buy my product.  If those kids don’t buy what I’m selling, I’m seen as an ineffective teacher.

I think that’s what makes teaching hard.  Behavior problems can be dealt with.  Subjects can be learned.  Strategies can be modified and taught and experimented with.  In the end though, I’m basically being graded on how well the people I manage do their job.  And if they don’t want to do their job, I can’t fire them and I get punished (some times financially) for their lackluster and unwillingness to do their job.

We’ve seen too often recently that teachers are cheating – answering questions for kids on tests, changing answers, falsifying scores.  That’s what happens when you tie someone’s lively hood to student test scores. Teacher paychecks can be dependent on student test scores – students that they can’t choose and can’t get rid of if the student just don’t see the value in taking the test (We currently see this with AIMS science in AZ.  Students know they don’t have to pass the test to graduate, so they don’t try.  Luckily, AIMS doesn’t yet count toward teacher evaluations.  I somethings see this in my own class as well when students “don’t need this class to graduate.”  They see no value so they just don’t try, often resulting in low Ds and Fs for the course.  Those do count towards my evaluation).

If you know of another industry that evaluates their employees like that, please let me know.

Let it be known that I do not condone teachers cheating.  Nor am I defending it.  I just think non-teachers need to understand why it is happening and need to see that teaching isn’t an easy job.  And any one who thinks it is, I dare you to step into any primary or secondary classroom across the nation and give it a try.  Half of teachers quit during their first five years.  Could you do it?


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