Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Teaching IS fun...I promise!

I must apologize for my rant about teaching last week. Here are some more fun photos from our class play to reinforce that I actually do love my job. :)

This was by far the funnest unit I've ever taught...the students loved it, I loved it...we're all sad it's over!

The patients play basketball in the Day Room of the mental ward...with Mr. Ruckley as the basket!

Nurse Ratched forbids the men to watch the World Series...
but McMurphy gets them to fight back!

McMurphy and Chief Bromden are in straightjackets...about to get Electro Shock Therapy!
(I put the overhead on them as a spotlight and then flickered it when they were getting "shocked." They pretended to get electrocuted. It's supposed to be a serious moment in the play...but let's just say, we were all laughing because of our terrible special effects.)

Candy and Billy "get married"

Monday, November 17, 2008

Blog Façade and the Truth about Teaching

WARNING: This post includes whining and a rather lengthy rampage. If you prefer not to hear my venting after a hard day at school, continue down the blog to the fun photos of my students, and you'll never have to know the Truth about Teaching. If you are intrigued and want to keep reading, fasten your seat belt. The Vent Session is about to begin...

A friend and I recently discussed the façade of blogs. On a blog, everyone's lives look perfect. Perfect kids, perfect spouse, perfect home, perfect job, perfect life...sometimes it can get a little nauseating! But the truth is, who's gonna air out their dirty laundry for the whole world to see? Not me. I'm not going to get online and post about a recent tiff with Ryan or an upsetting day at school or my recent self-loathing because I can't resist chocolate...(oh wait...I did post about that.)

Why would I want to write about that stuff? Why would I want to read other people's posts about that stuff?

I don't think any of us means to be dishonest or nauseating when we post on our blogs. I think we are trying to focus on all the positive moments in our lives and share our happiness with others. I think this is healthy. I think this is uplifting. I think this is natural.

I don't blame anyone for having a "Blog Façade."

But today, I'm breaking mine.

Get ready for me to air my dirty laundry.

On the weekends, all I can think about is how much I love my job. As I look back on the week, I remember the smiling faces, the insightful comments, and the "lives being changed." (Hence the cheery post last night about our class production and all the fun we're having!)

Then, Monday comes along...and I remember the truth.

The truth about teaching: IT'S HARD.

Here's a list of reasons why I think teaching is one of the hardest professions in the world:

*I blame myself whenever my students aren't succeeding. I find myself thinking, "If I would have presented the vocabulary a little differently, they would've done better on this quiz..." or "If I would've made class more engaging, they would've paid closer attention and written better essays." This self-criticism is almost never justified. Usually, I am truly doing all that I can to help them succeed, but they are simply choosing not to. They aren't studying; they aren't using their planners; they aren't listening; they aren't reading my feedback on essays...Even if I know this is the case, it tears me up when they aren't doing well, and it makes me question my own teaching abilities. That can get discouraging.

*The work is never done. I envy people who have jobs from 9-5 and can go home and forget about it. No matter what, I am never caught up. If I finish grading a stack of papers, I still have to prepare tomorrow's lesson, and if I've already prepared tomorrow's lesson, I still have to put together the next day's quiz, and if I've already put together the next day's quiz, I still have to call the parents of my students who are failing, and if I've already called the parents...you get the picture. This past Friday night, I stayed at the school until 9:30 p.m., and I still had to take work home to complete over the weekend. I was in the building for 15 hours, and I still wasn't finished. I will never be finished. (Well...until June 26th, and even then, I'll be expected to complete curriculum work over the summer.)

*When students are absent, I'm expected to get them caught up. This wouldn't be such a big deal if I only taught 30 students; but since I teach 120 students, several kids are gone every day...and then I have to worry about who missed what and what needs to be made up and how to reteach the material they missed. It's exhausting and one of my least favorite parts of the job.

*I internalize their criticism, and I am offended by their lack of motivation. I know I should just let all of this "roll off my back." After all, who cares what a bunch of 17 year olds think about my class? Who cares if they slack off and get bad grades? I DO. With the amount of effort that I put into teaching them, it honestly offends me when they are snotty to me or have a bad attitude about what I ask them to do. I want to say, "Look, kid, I spent fifty hours preparing this unit...and you better darn well sit up, put a smile on your face, and at least pretend to listen!!" (I actually did say that to a student one time.)

*I am "on stage" all the time. I always have to be peppy, I always have to be prepared, I always have to be excited about what we're learning. What if I need to go to the bathroom in the middle of class? Too bad. What if I'm feeling sick and exhausted and want to rest for a minute? Too bad. What if I found out last night that my great-grandpa is dying of cancer? Too bad. In almost every other profession, you can take a bathroom break; you can rest and surf the web for a few minutes; you can keep a "low profile" at work the day after receiving bad news. In teaching, you really have to press forward and keep teaching those little angels/monsters, no matter what. (By the way, none of my great-grandpas are alive...the bit about the cancer was made up to illustrate my point.)

*The grading. Oh the grading, grading, grading!! Think about it: 120 students, 15 minutes per paper, at least two major papers per quarter. That's about 3600 minutes or 60 hours. And that's not even including all the little assignments and quizzes throughout the quarter. Multiply one quarter by four, and you have about 240 hours of grading essays throughout the school year. Now does it make more sense why some older teachers stop assigning writing?

*As if the grading isn't bad enough...what about the planning? Every day, every single day, you have to come up with well-developed lessons including activities, assessments, worksheets, etc. And you're not just coming up with one lesson per day; you may teach several different courses, and you have to plan a separate lesson for each.

*Some kids are just jerks. And why are they jerks? Because their parents are jerks. Although this is not always the case, most times it is. How can I, as a teacher, combat that? If the parents enable their kids and never hold them accountable, how can I instill in them the importance of responsibility? If their parents have taught them to lie in order to get what they want, how can I teach them that dishonesty is despicable?

*Finally, perhaps one of the most discouraging aspects of my job is hearing the conversations in the hallway: profanity, sex, alcohol, racism, unkindness. It breaks my heart. I really think I see the best of my students in my classroom. I expect them to be kind to each other, and they are. I share with them what I value, and so they share with me what they value. After reading an essay about how much a student loves his grandpa, it is very disconcerting to see him in the hall pushing kids around and yelling the f-word. I can't help but think, "What would your grandpa think if he saw you acting like that?" I just don't understand why teens have to pretend to be so "tough" and "rebellious" when they are actually wonderful people inside. It makes me sad.

So there you have it. The truth. The bleak, overwhelming, disheartening truth. My job isn't all cotton candy, care bears, and skipping through fields of daisies "changing lives." If I've given that impression, it was just my Blog Façade.

I have to admit that writing this post was very cathartic, and I feel much better after a discouraging Monday.


1) I love my job. I really do. But boy is it hard, and boy is it exhausting. Anyone who says that teachers are overpaid is, well, a lunatic. (Send them to my classroom, and we'll cast them in our play!)

2) I understand that there are some "solutions" for many of the problems I've listed above, and I do actively pursue those.

3) Some of you may have picked up on the fact that I am a bit of a perfectionist (uh...to say the least), and I know that this characteristic makes teaching much more work for me than it is for others. I just hope that my dilligence translates to my students learning more. (Over the past three years, I have gotten better at cutting out frilly extras in order to save my sanity.)

4) There are many many many wonderful kids in this world, and the majority of my students are awesome, appreciative, and amazing. I'm sure they have equally wonderful parents.

5) It's not as a bad as it sounds. I piled everything up into one post for dramatic effect. I think it worked.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Learning Inside a Loony Bin...

I'm in the middle of teaching my favorite unit of the year: the play version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. It is a hilarious and very touching play, and the students love it because it's set in a mental hospital so the characters are...well...a little loony. The main character is also quite crude, which of course goes over extremely well with high schoolers. For the unit, I actually turn the classroom into the mental hosptial, and I make the students audition for the lead roles. Surprisingly, they get really into it, and all of their classmates vote and "cast" the play. Then, as we read it, I direct them, and they act it out--costumes and all. The students love it because they are moving around, acting like lunatics and saying hysterical things. It's especially good for my special education students because it's hands-on learning. One of my male students who has a reading disability and is usually very quiet asked me if he could play a part that would "make the class laugh." I cast him as Mr. Scanlon, the mental patient who thinks he's building a bomb to "blow up the whole stinkin' world." Whenever he says a line and his peers chuckle, he beams from ear to ear. I love it.

To make matters even cooler, last year I suggested that the school put on the play as the fall drama--and they decided to do it. So, this weekend, all of my students will be attending the play. They are really excited to see what we've been studying in class performed live, and I think it will be a great review and reinforcement. (It's their "final project" for the unit; I told them they could either see the play or write a paper...surprise of all surprises, they all chose to buy a ticket to the play.)

The play is Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Orchard Park High School. If anyone is interested in going, let me know. I will probably be there all three nights, and I think Ryan and some friends are going to join me on Friday night, It really is a great show.

These are some photos from my make-shift class production; I'm sure the school's production will be much more professional, but we sure have a lot of fun acting in room 322! (As you can see...)

McMurphy's just chillin' in the Loony Bin

In the real show, I don't think McMurphy and Nurse Ratched would be this excited to see each other... :)

The Aides tie up one of the patients

McMurphy fends off the Aides "lion tamer fashion."

Nurse Ratched may look sweet...but don't be fooled! (The student is actually very sweet, but she sure plays a vicious Nurse Ratched...it's awesome.)

Kevin (who is 6'5") plays Chief Bromden--the giant Indian who pretends to be deaf and mute until McMurphy comes along and befriends him.
P.S. Thanks to the friends who loaned me scrubs, labcoats, and a leather jacket to spice up this production!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Because I Have Been Given Much...

During my teen years, my mom started giving us Gratitude Journals every Christmas. She encouraged us to write down a few things we were grateful for every night, and this is a habit I've tried to keep up in the years since. I've noticed that writing down what I'm thankful for has helped me 1) recognize just how blessed I really am, and 2) notice little "tender mercies" sent from Heavenly Father as I go through my day: Ry and I will have a spontaneous dance party in the kitchen, or I'll get a phone call from my sister just when I am feeling lonely, and I'll think, "This is going in the Gratitude Journal tonight!" Writing down my blessings has made me more aware of my blessings.

Lately, I've been thinking about my mom. Okay, well, I am always thinking about my mom...but I've been thinking about her even more than usual. In spite of all of the health problems she faced throughout her life, she was always profoundly grateful for her blessings and tried to teach her daughters this quality. When I was about six, my mom decided that the hymn "Because I Have Been Given Much" would be our family song for the year, and, as a family, we memorized all three verses and sang it at every Family Home Evening. Interestingly, before that year, we'd never had a family song, and we never had a family song after that year...it was just that song that she wanted us to memorize. We have the cutest home video of my little sister (who was only three) sitting in bed under her Little Mermaid sheets singing all three verses of "Because I Have Been Given Much" word-for-word. She can't pronounce her Rs or Ls, but she keeps singing: "Because I have been bwessed by thy gweat love, Deaw Lowd..."

It was only later in life that I started to really understand what the words of the hymn mean and why my mom wanted us to learn it:

"Because I have been given much, I too must give. Because of thy great bounty, Lord, each day I live, I shall divide my gifts from Thee with every brother that I see, who has the need of help from me."

This is how my mom lived her life and how I must remember to live mine. It is so easy to get caught up in my own challenges, struggles, and frustrations and forget about how richly I've been blessed. The last few weeks, I've been selfish. I've felt sorry for myself because teaching is outrageously busy and hard and because Ryan is too overwhelmed with school to spend a lot of time with me. Wow...these are really not challenges to whine about, are they?? Again, writing it down really puts it into perspective. With all the suffering that occurs in the world, I need to stop worrying about myself and start sharing my blessings with others. That's what my mom would do.

I am grateful for my mother. More than almost anything else in my life, I am grateful for her.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I want to be a health nut.

Imagine, if you will, a skinny young woman named Sally. She and her newlywed husband Mike invite another young couple over for dinner, and they chat, eat, and get to know each other. Fairly expected scene, right? Well, after dinner, Sally gets up to go get dessert prepared. She returns with four large dinner plates--each plate filled with 1/4 of a pan of brownies, towering with ice cream.

"Uhhh...do you think you got a little carried away here, Sal?" Mike asks, chuckling as she sets the plate in front of him.

She is genuinely confused. "What do you mean?"

"Well, most people don't eat 1/4 of a pan of brownies in one sitting."

"They don't?" she asks, settling down in front of her own feast and digging in.

Sally is a real person; she is, in fact, my mother. And according to my father, this story is the absolute truth--no exaggeration. To make matters even worse, he claims that she not only finished her 1/4 of the pan--she cleaned up the scraps of everyone else's as well.

Now does that help explain why I consider chocolate one of the food groups? It's hereditary! I can't help it!

Seriously, I am completely obsessed with junk food. I mean, I know everyone loves chocolate and sweets; but I think I take it to a whole different (and slightly frightening) level: When I bake cookies, I easily eat at least 15--and that's not including all the dough I devour; when I'm stressed after school, I go down to the vending machines and buy candybars or bags of cookies to comfort my frazzled soul; and when I should be listening in church, I find myself fantasizing about the dessert I will make later that evening. (Brownie Trifle, Hot Fudge Pudding Cake, Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins, Peanut Butter Shakes.... ) Sometimes it feels like dessert is all I'm living for!

The truth is, I don't want to be obsessed with junk food anymore. Not only will it lead to steady weight gain year by year--more importantly, it will eventually destroy my health. I recently read an article in Newsweek about how the poor American diet is a major contributor to the high rate of cancer fatalities in this country. It scared me because, considering my family history, I certainly don't need to do anything to increase my risk for cancer.

I truly admire people who are healthy. And I don't mean people who are on a diet--I mean people who have a consistently healthy lifestyle, who don't gorge on french fries, brownie batter, and doughnut holes every chance they get; people who eat fruits and vegetables--and actually like it; people who have no problem saying, "No thanks!" to the cookie tray that's passed around at church gatherings, not because they are trying to lose weight but because they recognize the dangers of eating excessive sugar, and they take care of themselves.


The question is...HOW??? How do you change who you are?? How do you change what you value and crave? How do you change your entire lifestyle?

I need help. Please give me advice.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Fuddy Duddy Halloween

So...I think I'm getting old before my time. I mean, I'm only 24, and I am already turning into a complete and utter FUD. Guess what I wanted to do on Halloween? Get ready for this because it's pretty exciting...go get a space heater, hang insulation on our windows, and go to bed early. Am I a party animal or what?

Honestly, after a long week at school, sometimes I feel so exhausted on Friday nights I can't believe it. I just need the evening to recup. Plus, I usually only get Ryan's undivided attention one night a week because he spends the others studying, so our "to-do" list has grown long over the past few months; a lot of times our Friday night date is just grabbing something for dinner and then running errands and getting stuff done. Luckily, I always have fun when I'm with Ryan, no matter what we do.

This Friday (before we headed to Home Depot for the space heater) we tried Mighty Taco, a fast food chain that is famous in Buffalo. I had heard rave reviews, and let's just say it didn't live up to my expectations. I think it was the processed ground beef swimming in grease. Nasty.

Anyway, our actual Halloween evening was quite lame, but we did celebrate the week before at a couples Halloween party thrown by some friends from church. It was a great party with delicious food and great people.

Ry and I showed up as Harry Potter and Hermione Granger. We look pretty authentic, don't we? (There is a mirror behind Ryan's head that sorta looks like a wig, so ignore that part. But we did use spray-in color to dye his hair black! It actually looked cute on him...but then again, what doesn't? Oh no, I'm gushing about Ryan again...)

I also dressed up for school on Friday. The staff all decided to dress 80s, so I busted out my cousin's 1980s prom dress. My co-teacher Sherry poofed up her hair, and all the kids thought it was a wig. We had fun.

(As a side note, Sherry is a special education teacher, and she teaches three of my 11th grade classes with me because I teach all of the 11th grade special education students. These aren't students with severe mental or physical disabilities--they are in regular classes but have reading disabilities or dyslexia, etc. Sherry and I work together to make the lessons, assignments, and assessments accessible for them. Many of them struggle academically, so it's so nice to have two of us to help them succeed. I absolutely love her, and we have a blast together.)

A lot of my students dressed up on Friday, but my favorite costume was Kim the Banana. She is one of my very favorite students because she is so positive, nice to everyone, and confident. You'd have to be confident to wear this get-up to school!

I love that Halloween gives us a chance to be a little goofy. It's the one day of the year that no one will be mocked for dressing differently or acting strange...it's great.