Monthly Archives: December 2010

The Waning Days Before Winter Break

This post is dedicated to the final days (and more comically, the final day) of a public school before a break for the holidays.

I sit comfortably in my apartment on the Sunday after Christmas. This is a Sunday defined by close Jets loss, at least 20 inches of snow falling in Brooklyn, Xbox 360, and no real need or pressure to shower/get dressed all day. Right now, thinking in my quiet apartment, my brain can function at a rate about 5 times greater than anytime last week.

After a much needed Friday and Saturday of food, spas, family, and True Grit, I can look back at the last few days and laugh.

Trying to teach anything on the last few days before a break is like trying to climb up the opposite side of an escalator.

Use your imagination to jump into my nightmares

And this downward escalator’s steps are moving faster than your normal escalator.

And filling up all the lanes of this escalator are screaming middle school students blocking your ascension to the next floor…..

Sorry, I’ve lost my metaphor and phased into a weird and scary dream that I’ve had about school. Anyways:

I did feel like it was a possibility to get my students to focus, but it took so much more effort on my part. Anyone who has gone through grade school knows that when you close in on a long-awaited break, the whole atmosphere changes. The students are less directed and less focused than usual, and many of the teachers do let their guards down. Who can blame them?  Sleep, relaxation, and clarity of mind are so near that it doesn’t make any sense stressing about minor student annoyances. When it comes down to it, everyone really just wants a break from the work.

To further complicate my job last week,  I had more students absent for seemingly random reasons than any other week of the year. If my relatively small number of students (with learning disabilities) don’t show up to school, I can’t support them at all. This has been one of my top frustrations this year, and its flat-out sad.

In addition, I’ve had two or three observations from supervisors from graduate school and other program people over the last few week. They’ve all given me some greatly appreciated “constructive criticism”. I put “constructive criticism” in quotes because it just fits. For me, its that dreaded type of criticism that you immediately resist and get defensive about, but then realize after a few days is honest and worthwhile. At the time I received said feedback, it was more stressful than beneficial – but I guess that’s what this break is for – to iron out some teaching plans and get better.

Finally, the last day of school before a whopping 10 days of freedom was Thursday. To sum up Thursday in a sentence: It was a giant movie-watching, game-playing, gift-giving, party-having waste of time. I don’t mean it to sound grouchy or anything, and nothing makes me happier than the fact that the school watched my favorite holiday movie Elf.

Does someone need a hug?

But in all seriousness, we ALL did not need to be at work on Thursday. I do think that celebratory days are necessary, but I think that an entire seven periods of 11 to 16 year olds watching pixar movies and then running around the hallways with plates of food could have been done at home.

I want to end the post with the statement that this year of teaching has been so different than last year, but much better and more comfortable. I think that this result is a mix of the school atmosphere being superior and my having a little more experience dealing with daily problems. Or maybe its because I can complain and vent about the stressful or ridiculous events on this here blog. Either way, hopefully it continues to get better for the second half of year two.


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The Winter Struggle Returns

Last week was, hands down, the toughest week of the year so far. The last fortnight preceding our winter break is arguably the most challenging time of the year for teachers.

By midday last Wednesday, I felt like I was going to collapse, get sick, and explode simultaneously. The staff  at school were definitely fatigued, the students were even more visibly tired, and the week dragged on like a wounded, laboring beast (sorry I’ve been doing too many similes at school). In general, life for me at school has been great this year. Compared to last year, I’m really not too overwhelmed or upset on a daily basis – but last week was roughhhh.

I'm not 50. I don't teach high level math. But this was me.

Proof of my exhaustion and, at times, frustration this past week and a half can be found in many different snapshots.

1 – Today, three different students commented about bags under my eyes. This is not due to lack of sleep, but rather to general wear and tear of trying to control pre-teens everyday.

2 – Monday, I went on an eighth grade trip the Tenement Museum in Manhattan and attempted to curb one of our craziest students from throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of the street. She screamed at me at full volume (and this girl is loud),  because I did not let her go into a second Chinatown gift-shop. FYI -, this girl’s favorite two sayings as of these week are: “Shakin’ My Head!!!” (or “S.M.F.H.!!!”), and “Calm yo Nipples!”.

3 – This week, we had a fight between two students involving a broken off piece of an umbrella as a possible weapon, flying pieces or weave, and a dean hitting the deck. The next day one of our students shouted at and “went-at” the principle of the other middle school for “getting in her face”. I wasn’t lucky enough to be there but I heard it was an energized bout.

4- Last Friday, I remember myself just sitting there in the empty classroom after last period had just ended. The eighth and ninth grade seminar students had hurriedly left for the day, and I was literally frozen there in my seat. I caught myself staring into the back of the room as I just felt bad for myself.  The class was in a word -pathetic. I know it was a Friday. I know it was last period. But the students made it far too clear that they all did not want to be there, nor give into any of my attempts at making our reading interesting. I was left with a terribly heavy feeling (that I think is perfectly normal from time to time), and I was just really disappointed about the flat out suckiness of the class. In better news, the classes this week have gone much better and I think I hooked them on “The Most Dangerous Game”.

Other awesome/funny notes I quickly jotted on post-its this week so I wouldn’t forget:

– This tuesday, I walk into a first period coverage (when I have to cover another teacher’s class) to a chorus of disappointed moans and groans. “Are you our substitute?!”, “O.M.G.!”, “Noooooo!”. I’m not kidding – about 16 of the 20 students in the room were voicing their feelings about this prospect. I didn’t respond, told them to get their stuff out and that I was just filling for the sub who was late.

Ten minutes later, when I go into the 7th grade math room that I usually push into, I try to enter quietly. Either way, they saw me, and at least half of them let off a collective moaning sound. The teacher who was teaching turned to them and said, “Did you all just groan at Mr. K coming in?”. I told her that was nice compared to the other class.

– A student growls, as I walk into the class: “OH MY GOD. I was happy a second ago before I viewed this unwanted man!” For some reason this makes me happy.

– A usually pleasant and polite student, to me after I kind of sarcastically called her out for not being able to find her assignment:”I really just want to hit you right now!”

-An enraged student says to me after I approach her in the middle of an aggressive rant: “DO NOT **beeping talk to me right now. I’m not in a good **beeping mood. I’ll go at you like I did to that **beeping **beep” (the other teacher in the room). YIKES!

That’s pretty much a jumbled collection of notes that hopefully represent how jumbled I’ve felt since I last posted. Lots of anger, lost of frustration, and lots of emotion this time of year from the future leaders of America.

At least this week has been much improved. We just had a successful Student vs. Teachers Soccer game (Teachers win 4-2), and in general, don’t feel as overwhelmed as I did last week. All I know is that I need the break to just step away from the classroom and think about what has gone on. If you work in a friendly office and you’ve just read this, you should probably be feeling pretty good.

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A Thanksgiving Post – Right On Time

I’ve been so lame this week that I’m just now putting up a Turkey Day post a week after the holiday.

I started writing it last week and basically just trailed off and curled into a ball (Let’s pretend I was mentally preparing for my first full week back at work in a while).

Anyways, here it is:

It’s been a nice Thanksgiving break.

Four days spent relaxing, enjoying family, and eating insane amounts of food have been exactly what I needed. I think that last year at this time I needed the break more than this year, but hey – I’m not complaining.

At my Thanksgiving, we don’t really sit around and sappily say what we’re all thankful for. No offense to those of you that do – but my family is way too interested in the stuffing and gravy to verbalize any kind of thanks other than toward the chef.

In general, I think that coolest part of Thanksgiving is that it does make people feel more grateful than usual.  Most people actually do think about others who’ve worked hard to help them in their lives. All this thought of thankfulness brings me to a reality that I think about quite a bit while working at a middle school – the plain old lack of gratitude of adolescents.

First off, I want to state that I’m not mean-spirited or angry at the fact that most of my students never acknowledge that their teachers are working hard for them. Most of this is a straight-up observation of an interesting phenomena of my daily life. Being so young, and also being so responsible for the learning of almost-real-human beings, truly makes you really grow up in some odd ways. One of them is learning to work insanely hard for students without many of them ever acknowledging you. In fact, many of them are more likely to kick and scream in resistance.

Maybe I just got so used to people in my life being really polite and aware when others were trying to help them. In my world now, you can bring in candy for students, show them a movie or video clips, or help them one-one, and not hear a single thank you all day.

I've seen a note like this maybe five times in a year and a half. Those times were pretty swell.

I realized something important the other day while I was sitting there in the teacher’s room staring into space. Obviously, sweat was dripping down from my matted sideburns because the heaters are on way too aggressively and I’d just finished running around from five different rooms. I thought to myself, “This might be what it means to be an adult”.

But then again, maybe adult isn’t the best word for the feeling. I think a better substitute might be “father” or “grown-up in charge of ungrateful little humans”.

Either way, I’ve slowly reached of point of realization that I’m not working for immediate gratification and gratitude, but towards a much more difficult “thanks”.  The kind of “thank-you” that many teachers are working for might only come in the form of a better test grade, a kid moving onto the next grade, or even an eventual graduation from school – but the hope is that its more meaningful. It is really hard to seem unappreciated at times, but I guess that’s just owning responsibility. Man, this job really tackles you with some real ‘ish.

I swear next week I’ll get back to some of the funniness. Until then, Happy Chanukah and enjoy the start of winter.

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