Students

Teacher Oppression: An American Epidemic

In November of last year, the high school where I teach at got a new principal. The previous principal, the one who hired me, was loved by all of the staff. He was easy going, wasn’t a micro-manager, and was one of the most approachable principals I’ve even worked with. As our new principal took over, the staff seemed uneasy and unsure of what the following year, this year, would bring. The new principal didn’t make any major changes last year and sort of just went with the flow. Things were good.

Oh how the tables have turned.

This summer our new principal brought in new assistant principals that were moved up from the middle school where she’d been the principal earlier. I call them her cronies.

And now I am currently living in micro-management hell.

For the past three months, I have felt heart flutters and a crippling pressure on my chest. I dread reading emails and get depressed on Sunday night knowing I have to go back to that place.

I  do, however, have WONDERFUL students this semester. I’m not even being sarcastic for once. They are wonderful. They high five me when they come to class, they seem excited to be in English class, they do their work, they eagerly discuss the literature with gusto and enthusiasm. They aren’t jerks. I’ve only written ONE referral. They are an English teacher’s dream.

They, of course, will  be awful now that I’ve said good things.

Anyway, as I was making copies yesterday, one of my fellow, veteran English teachers came into the planning room. We started talking about the school year, our students–you know teacher-talk and he said, “We’ll get through this.” After he said this, we sort of joked and headed our separate ways. I got in my car and it really hit me, the mood at school among the faculty is that of an oppressed nation. We get late slips for being a minute late–not an exaggeration, I’ve received five of them– we get emails about how to write referrals, in faculty meetings we are show videos of “high caliber teaching,” (a post to follow on the video and the late slips to follow) and we are constantly being treated like a bunch of uneducated, moronic monkeys.

This type of oppression is very common among public school teachers. My father, a teacher for forty years, consistently complained about the issues he dealt with as a teacher. The complaining definitely increased over the years. He was so relived to retire this past summer. In the wake of the Chicago teacher strike and movies like Won’t Back Down and Waiting for Superman, teachers are often given a bad rap–some of it is deserved–but should teachers–or anyone really–be forced to work in such oppressive conditions?

It is very easy for administrators to forget what it is like to be in the classroom and have unrealistic expectations for their faculty. The teachers are in the classroom everyday dealing with the variables that are often ignored by society and administrators when it comes to student performance. Teachers have to cope with variables like students from broken homes, homelessness, negligent parents, and hunger–just to name a few. We are then shown footage of teachers team-teaching in affluent schools with classrooms with less than twenty five students. I have three classes of over thirty five students, and I teach in an urban school where affluent is a far reach. Frankly, these kinds of expectations are insulting to those of us who teach students whose last priority is school and first might be helping their mothers pay rent. It is insulting and patronizing to know our leaders–our administrators think we are not planning engaging lesson plans. Oftentimes, I create awesome lesson plans that blow up because half of my students do not do their homework or talk through the instruction beforehand.Also, engaging lessons with thirty seven kids is very challenging. It’s frustrating.

Administrators forget because many of them only taught for two or three years before becoming principals or assistant principals. Oftentimes, they are handicapped by the district to have certain expectations of their faculty. Although, this year with our administrative changes, it is very evident that our leaders have no faith in us. The administration dictates to us what needs to be on our white board, where it needs to be placed, how to write referrals, how to structure our ninety minute class, and on and on.

It’s depressing as hell and frustrating. The little bit of creativity that I have is being completely stifled and my contributions, all those extra hours I spend being a teacher beyond what my contract pays for, are not appreciated. When I get to my work thirty minutes before I need to, but am them one or two minutes late to a duty post, publicly shamed for not being at that duty post, then leave two sometimes three hours after my contract day ends, it makes me feel like not showing up and forgetting the whole thing.

If America wants good teachers, there are some things society needs to consider.

1. Treat your teachers how you’d like to be treated.

2. Appreciate them for all those extra hours they spend being teachers after the school day.

3. Stop treating them like they don’t know what the f*&! they are doing. They know what the f*&! they are doing.

4. Remember that teachers spend every damn day with the kids: not the principal, not the assistant principal, sometimes not even the parents spend as much time with their own children.

5. Remember that teachers are educated. Stop treating them like kindergarteners. They are professional adults. They are already under paid college educated adults, how about treating them like they’ve earned that degree?

6. Stop wasting their time with extra bull crap. Let. them. be. teachers.

7. Remember that they are human. Just like you are human, they are human. They have feelings, families, struggles, and challenges, just like you do.

8. Stop vilifying them for the under achievement of the students. Teachers are not the villains: the broken homes, absent parenting, and disrespect by the media are the villains.

9. Instead of making changes to education every five minutes, wait ten and let the teachers show you what they can do.

10. Let the teachers do their G-ddamn job.

 

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The String Theory and Preventing Depression

Back in the day, when I was a science nerd I did a ton of research on time travel. Okay, it wasn’t that much and it was for this project my AP Physics teacher offered for extra credit. Extra Credit + AP Student = Inevitable. The project was called “Teacher for a Day.” We were asked to pick a top in physics that interested us and had to give a 50 minute lesson. I’m realizing now that my physics teacher was a genius and got out of teaching about 10 classes. The spots for Teacher for a Day were limited and, of course, I was a hardcore AP student so I snagged one (I took 6 AP classes in one year, ridiculous. I was also in every club, hardcore band and drama geek– I would have Rachel Berry look like a cool kid).

Well, what I learned from my high school level research in time travel was that there are many different theories and the one that made the most sense to me was the String Theory.

I’m not going to go into a a big detailed explanation about the String Theory. Simply click on the Wikipediea article I’ve linked to above and  then come back and finish reading this. I’m an English teacher not a science teacher. I couldn’t explain my way around Mitochondria, inertia, or stoichiomtery (bleh chemistry blows). Basically with the String Theory (if I’m remember it correctly) there are many options for how your life can go (hence the strings) and when you time travel with the String Theory you can see the different “strings.” Also, one action in one string can impact another or all of the other strings–i.e.having a child.  I’m a little worried that if any physics people read this they might rip me a new one for how inaccurate this is. Whatever. I’m a writer, not a scienctist. There are plenty of reasons why medical school never panned out for me (cough cough:: 2.5 Cumulative GPA in undergrad) among other things (my inability to comprehend chemistry).

So why I am talking about this?

Today, as I applied for jobs that paid under ten dollars an hour and was spoken to like a moron at one of the retail outlets where I dropped off an application, I thought about the other directions my life could have taken. I look at my friends from college who live in New York, L.A., D.C.. and I think where the eff did I go wrong? Granted I have a wonder future FH and if life on another string didn’t include him, I’m honestly not interested. Still I wonder what my life is like had I pursued my dream to live life in New York City (oh no I’ve said too much) for awhile. Tough it out. Try the whole “life in publishing” thing. I never visualized myself wondering if I was going to be able to pay next month’s bills.

Well, who does?

It’s easy to tell people that they have to sacrifice and suffer before things get good, but I guess with facebook and things like that we don’t see our successful friends suffering. We only see them succeeding. God knows I don’t really like to post about how I cried my eyes out applying to be a freakin’ bank teller or a nanny or a–gulp–waitress. When I’m working full time, I’ll happily post a status that says, “I’ve got a full time job at Blank University” or wherever.

In the meantime, every time I apply for some crappy job –tomorrow I’m very likely to get a job as a waitress or hostess. Whatever. I can’t even buy gas or groceries–I get a little more depressed and wonder what if I’d become a band teacher, or what if I’d moved to New York, or whatever. It’s a very destructive way of thinking and frankly I blame my physics teacher for implanting the idea that the String Theory is actually possible and that wormholes are the key to time travel. Gosh darn it.

Seriously though, you can’t tell me that you haven’t ever wondered. Haven’t you?

I know there is no point in this wondering. I can’t go back and even if I could the grass is always greener…

Stupid cliches and how they are always right.

I guess, this suffering is good. Maybe it will make me a stronger writer. What do you think? Am I improving? Probably just more of a complainer.

As I think about how I feel like a crazy wanderer I’m going to end on a quote (something I vehemently tell my students NOT to do).

“Not all who wander are lost.” –Tolkien

God, I wish I could feel that way.

Yeah, I couldn’t end on quote. It would have killed me.

 

 

Do You Have a Workshop Style?

During the Spring semester I organized a three session community workshop for the summer. It’s been a small group (three to four people), but it’s been fun. I have always loved workshops. Yes, even when I bitched about workshops here, I still enjoyed them more than I hated them. That is of course, with the exception of hating the one and only poetry workshop I took during grad school. Poets and prose writers are so different, and frankly, I don’t really understand how poets, who have the reputation of being so sensitive, can be so effing mean. Anyway, I digress. The community workshop has been such a pleasure.

When I emailed TC about it, TC was very supportive and said something about how it was great how I had created an opportunity to teach something I like. This has been my teaching challenge, feeling nourished. The workshop has been quite fulfilling. I’m totally enjoying it.

Of the four participants, two of them have never been workshopped. Of those two only one of them has been writing regularly, the other submitted this mishmash of a story that wasn’t actually a story and turned out to be chunks of a bigger piece. The other two participants have been in workshops before, and I get the impression that they were the top of the class, but in a group where the writing was rough. They are also good friends, and one is clearly more talented than the other.

When teaching a workshop, I am generally pretty free spirited. This is actually my teaching M.O. I don’t like to dictate topics, or length–really anything. This is so unlike how I am in my life. I’m not really free spirited, although on occasion I am spontaneous. When I am being workshopped, I’m quiet and like to listen and take notes. I’ve noticed that my two veterans don’t take notes when they are being workshopped. How do they remember what people said, and how do the mark the moments that need to be fixed? They also talk a lot after they have been workshopped. They don’t ask questions, they instead explain and give excuses for why their piece wasn’t working, or why the group is wrong.  Personally, I don’t like to talk after I’ve been critiqued, unless I have a question, but that is just me. What is your workshopping/being workshopped style?

Still, it is so fun to be talking about writing with people who are just getting into it. It’s also great to discuss fiction with people who want to be there and are prepared.

Man, I needed this.

Learning Not to Starve/How I Learned to Feed Myself

Last fall, around October, I had a mental breakdown.  I was bitching to FH about teaching, my students, my weight–everything really. Because he is a wonderful and supportive man, he helped me through it and made me realize that putting in the effort level that I was putting into my teaching needed to be rerouted. I needed to focus on my writing and my career, not my students who didn’t give a f&%!.   Whenever I write, I feel so good. I feel great. Nourished. He reminded me that I needed to write and be nourished because my students weren’t putting the effort in. It was difficult for me to do this at first, but by the time the spring semester rolled around I did just that.

I have now started my memoir, and started work on a short story. Two things I’ve been meaning to do for months, and I finally got around to doing it this semester. I could not have done this if I had been too focused on my students. Still, while I’m proud of myself for reading and writing more, I do think I was terrible teacher this semester. I’m confident that my evaluations will reflect this.

Things I did very badly semester:

1. Took forever to grade student papers.

2. Didn’t respond to emails as quickly as I should have (if at all).

3. Didn’t encourage office hours.

4. Had an attitude of “I don’t give a hoot” all sememster.

5. Was lazy in my lesson planning.

I could go on, but I think these five crimes are enough to show you that I was a bad teacher.

While, yes, I was a bad teacher this semester, I do feel I became this way because when I did give my all, I didn’t get it back from students. While this is not an excuse, even teachers breakdown and need to be rewarded. Even if it is with students turning in their work.

I went digital this semester and only collected work through Blackboard. Having the students submit their work electronically had problems (possible post issue) and while I repeatedly went over the correct formatting and procedure, students continued to struggle with it. In part, I feel they may have been playing dumb in order for me to go the traditional hardcopy format of collecting papers. I also think they don’t listen.

When I look back on this semester, all I think about is how much my students complained to me (and my boss –at the one school) repeatedly. I think about how it was impossible to satisfy my students (and both bosses), how my assignments and methods were questioned continually by both my students and boss (at the one school). Most semesters I feel some moments of reward, incentive to come back next year. I can honestly say, if I I don’t get a teaching job for the fall I wouldn’t be upset in the slightest. I would be totally fine with it (barring I had something lined up that was salaried). In fact (I’ve probably mentioned this already), I’ve been applying for jobs outside of education.

This semester has made me realize that there is life outside of academia. There is a big world out there, and people with my skills can be used in any field. I don’t have to be a teacher.

My mom, my boss (at the school I like), and others have told me that I’m a great teacher. That it comes naturally. I have a gift apparently. Having been told this throughout my career, I never ventured outside of the school walls. When you have a gift, aren’t you supposed to use it? Aren’t you supposed to take that gift and help others with it? (God, I’m so Catholic sometimes) I love school, as both student and teacher, why leave a place that I feel so comfortable? The thing this is this year I haven’t felt comfortable. My hair has fallen out in clumps, since last May I’ve gained about 15 pounds, and I dreaded driving to work. Oh! and my panic attacks and migraines returned. My body gave me physical signs that I needed a change.

The last day of finals I woke up with my chest feeling heavy; I still needed to grade some papers and finalize my grades. As I drove away from campus, done for the semester, I felt lighter and happier. All I need now is a good cry to get out the negative energy still remaining in my system.

The fact that I haven’t been happy, and excited to work on teaching stuff is a culmination of many things. First off, I don’t love teaching the modes, I prefer teaching argument, literature, and of course creative writing. I have had the opportunity to teach argument, but the curriculum and textbook required were not suited to my teaching style at all. I teach a lot of lazy students at the community college level which is actually an extension of high school. Many of my students weren’t at the level necessary to really dig deep. They struggled with basic computer skills, and no concept of how to do research. Also, the lack of care that went into their work was unbelievable. They didn’t proofread, or acknowledge that there are rules of formatting at all. It’s like they just discovered different fonts and decided to experiment using Calbri and Garmound in my class. I think the real kicker as to why I haven’t been happy teaching this semester (okay, all year) was because I was repeatedly told by my bosses (both schools) that I’m too hard on  my students, that I don’t have compassion and am insensitive to the non-traditional student. They are right, I don’t give a f&*$. Get your work done. There is not an employer in the world who would tolerate excuses like: my kids were sick, or I didn’t understand the assignment so I just didn’t do it, or you didn’t respond to my email so I didn’t know how to move forward. Really? Give me an effing break.

So when I think about how I’ve changed because of this semester I realize that not only have I been writing more, but I’m reading more. I’m also really excited about the possibility of a career change (separate post on topic to follow). While I would take pretty much any salaried job that was in my field, that prospects in education don’t look so good, but maybe that’s a good thing. Don’t misunderstand me, I wouldn’t turn down a teaching job, but if I had the choice between a job outside of education (like copy editing or something like that) and a job in education, I think the job outside might win. Just the thought of leaving my work at work….oh sweet lord. If anything, I’m not going to settle. I’m going to turn something that could easily be a negative into an opportunity to refocus and change.

Teaching-wise, not my best year. Work-wise, not my best year. But, something great did come out of this year: more writing and really understanding that I need to be nourished by work. If I’m not going to be nourished and fed in education, then see you students later. Trust me, it’s your loss. I’ve never been one to starve myself.

I will keep you posted on the job hunt.

Saving the World: One Wasted Conversation at a Time

Currently, I’m sitting in the adjunct office trying to finish up comments on papers, grades, and mentally prepare for a day of presentations. The office is busier than usual because there is a potluck in the office. Generally, I think most of the adjuncts on this campus are pretty cool. I have no beef with any of the faculty; they have been nothing but nice to me. No complaints. Really.

I do, however, hate (okay–dislike) being around them. Most of them bitch about their students. Shamefully, I will admit I participate sometimes. Oftentimes, however, they have theoretical and sociological discussions about humanity, education, politics, religion, and God knows what else.

They sit in the office trying to solve the world’s problems.

God bless them for not having any effing papers to grade.

Witnessing this on occasion, once again, leads me to question my existence and purpose in this life; why am I teacher?  I too have very strong political views. In fact, just this morning my mother and I had an in-depth political chat discussing what the impact on the planet would be if the government does decide to release photos of Osama Bin Laden. We also discussed our surprise at how much information about the operation has been released to the general public. The thing is, I keep these thoughts to myself. The only time I share my political beliefs is in my writing (and generally it’s implied, not flat-out stated), when a little hammered on wine with my best friend who lives way too far away, and at Sunday dinners or family dinners because I live to see my father enraged and shocked. I love to see his face when I share my political or ideological beliefs. I’m sure he goes to sleep wondering how it is possible that I am made from 50% of his DNA.

Of course, teachers talking politics is nothing new. I think what bothers me is how freely they discuss their ideas. I don’t know if it’s my immigrant upbringing, or possibly the heavy influence World War II played on how my parents raised us, or if it is my having read 1984 entirely too many times, but discussing beliefs so openly makes me very uncomfortable.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to discuss controversial issues. In fact, in all of writing classes I live to watch my students dook it out. As a teacher, however, I am forced to remain neutral. Maybe what scares me about the discussions I overhear my colleagues having is that they discuss their students and their political beliefs. They are clearly judging their students and what they believe. They are not being neutral in their classrooms. It also seems they are forgetting what it’s like to be a nineteen year old. Most teenagers (and young college students) often share the same (often Conservative) beliefs their parents spout off at the dinner table. It isn’t until these young adults realize their parents are not infallible, that they can finally determine and understand their own ideologies. So why are these teachers judging them?

Shouldn’t they be trying to open up their minds with questioning and information?

Also, don’t my colleagues have to get ready for the end of the semester? Do they not have papers to grade?

The Whites of Your Eyes

I’ve been trying really hard not vent about my students because I don’t want to let their idiocy get to me. However, I cannot contain these thoughts for much longer and so I present an open letter.

Dearest Students Who-sit-in-the-front-then-don’t-pay-attention-and/or-roll-their-eyes-while-I-give-instruction,

Oh what’s that, you didn’t think I noticed? I notice every movement. I notice how you don’t sit up straight or take notes, how you text during my instruction. I also notice when you roll your eyes when I speak.. That’s right, I can see the whites of your eyes. It is quite unbecoming.

I should mention your not paying attention and your constant questioning of my teaching methods is getting old. I understand that you’ve repeated this class and that your previous teacher taught this content differently, and according to you was much better than me. The thing is, I don’t care. You are in my class, and I’m asking for something different. By the way the withdrawal period hasn’t passed, you can still opt out. But if you decided to stick out with me, how about to avoid taking this class again you humor me? Higher education is simply lessons in jumping through hoops. Get over yourself.  Also, you’re in this class again for a reason.

Think about it.

Also, when you question what I’m looking for, or ignore me and then your writing does not contain it, how do you think you’re going to do in this class? Do you actually expect to pass? Suggesting and confronting me by telling me you write all the time, and are a “good” writer is not enough to get the grade. You actually have to be a good writer.

Just in case you weren’t sure, that’s what I effing teach!

So, as I grade your essay that is spiteful and terrible, frankly, I want you to think about the less that stellar grade you’ve earned.

Since you have one more paper to redeem yourself, how about you check you G-D attitude and ego out the door.

I’m teaching this class (partly because the department didn’t have any literature or creative writing sections to give me) because I have the specialization and nearly a decade of education.

Shut your freakin’ trap, open your ears, and for God’s sake stop rolling your eyes.

Thanks.

Sincerely,

One MEAN (and angry)  M.F.A.

An Open Letter Rant

Dearest Students who turn their work in late and then want me to rush to grade it,

Sorry, no can do. You’re not special, and I have over 100 students who turned their work in on-time. Maybe when you learn to follow instruction, you too, can get your grades when everyone else does. Frankly, you should feel privileged and lucky to have a professor nice enough to accept your work.

What I’m trying to say is shut it. Got it?

Thanks.

The One and Only,

One Mean Mother-f-ing MFA