Thursday, January 6, 2011

Nelda, this post is for you! (It's long, and it's long overdue.)

Dear Nelda,

I got your letter this week and couldn't wait to tear it open.  The drawings on the envelope were especially fun, and there is nothing that I love more than receiving unexpected mail--especially from someone as delightful as you!

I will write you back soon (I promise!) but something that you said jumped out at me, and I decided that it needed to be remedied right away.  You said, "You haven't blogged as much about your students this year as you have in past years...probably because there are other pressing things to write about.  I hope you have some good ones."

Yes, Nelda--I have some good students.  In fact, I think this year might be my favorite bunch of kids yet.   Now that I think about it, this year might be my favorite overall teaching experience yet.  So it's high time I blogged about it, don't you think?

Here you go:

#1 Reason Why I Really Love My Job This Year...

     I am "job-sharing."  One of my good friends at work had a baby last spring, and she didn't want to go back to teaching full-time, but she also didn't want to quit altogether.  She knew that last school year was way way too busy for me with school, fertility stuff, church responsibilities, my work for the Hogar, she suggested that we ask our administrators if we could share a position for one year.  They agreed!  So Danielle teaches two classes (from 7:15-10:00), and I teach three classes (from 10:15-1:50).  It is heavenly.  I'm not very good at math, but I think these equations explain why I love job-sharing so much:

Fewer classes=fewer students=fewer papers to grade=happier Rachel=better teacher

Later start time=a little more sleep=a little more time to get stuff done in the morning=lower stress levels=happier Rachel

Honestly, I love it.  I still stay late at school every day (long after the other teachers have vacated the building), but I don't mind because I'm better rested and I'm happier and I'm not stretched so thin and I feel like I can actually be a good teacher and give the feedback and attention that my students deserve.  

For example, I actually had time last night to call the parents of all of my students who are currently failing.  I love reaching out to the kids who are used to slipping through the cracks--but it was impossible to do that when I had 200 students (I really did when I taught in was crazy).

#2 Reason Why I Really Love My Job This Year...

     I am teaching a new grade level.  Well, it's actually not totally new to me (I taught it several years ago), but I had been teaching basically the same schedule for four years, and though I had developed a great curriculum, it was boooorrrringg to teach the same thing every year--sometimes as often as four times a day!  (I had four sections of English 11 the past two years.)  One of the administration's conditions of our job-share was that Danielle and I had to share her schedule, not mine, because she needed to stay with the Honors classes.  At first, I wasn't too happy about this.  I thought, I decided to job-share because I wanted to lighten my, I won't be able to use any of my old lesson plans, and I'll be just as busy and stressed.  But I was wrong.  I think my brain thrives on a challenge, and though it has been work to create new plans for a new grade-level, it has been fun, invigorating, refreshing work.

Right now we are reading To Kill a Mockingbird, which just happens to be my favorite book in the entire world.

The last chapter gives me goosebumps and makes a tear come to my eye every time I read it.  Scout standing on Boo Radley's porch...oh it's just too much.

One of my favorite passages from all of literature is on the last page of the novel.  Scout is fighting sleep as her father, Atticus, tucks her into bed.  She is trying to explain the end of her bedtime story, to prove that she was really listening: 

"'Yeah, and they all thought it was Stoner's Boy messin' up their clubhouse and throwin' ink all over it and...and they chased him n' never could catch him 'cause they didn't know what he looked like, and Atticus, when they finally saw him, why he hadn't done any of those things...Atticus, he was real nice.'

His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me.

'Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.'"

As usual, Atticus manages to weave a memorable life lesson into an everyday interaction with his daughter.  (Love that man.)  I have reflected again and again on what Atticus says, "Most people are [real nice]...once you finally see them," and I couldn't agree more.

Which leads me back to those parent phone calls I made last night.

Now, in the past, you may have heard me rant about the ridiculous parents that I have to deal with in this profession...and it's true, some of them are ridiculous.  (Like the father who tried to tell me that it was a "coincidence" that his daughter's four-page essay was word-for-word identical to Spark Notes.)

Buuuutt, I think what Atticus says is true of students' parents too, and most of them are "real nice" once you give them a call. 

Last night, I talked to one mom who adopted her son just a few years ago.  She had been his social worker since he was six, and she had seen him bounced from family to family due to his extreme behavior problems, and she finally said, "Enough is enough--you're coming to live with me!"  Now that he is in a stable environment with a mom and dad who care about him, he is recovering emotionally and socially...he still has a long way to go academically, but we are working with him, and he'll get there.  I got off the phone feeling so inspired by this mother.

And then I spoke to the father of another young man in my class.  English is his second language--his family moved here from a different country just a couple of years ago.  The father must be the jolliest man on the planet.  When I told him that I was his son's English teacher, he said in an exuberant voice and a thick accent, "Oh yes!  I remember your speech!"  At first I was quite confused, but then I realized that he must be referring to my presentation of the course at Back-to-School Night.  Ha!  He made me smile.  When I told him his son's grade, he said, "Oh that very bad.  Very bad.  He come see you tomorrow."  Which he did!  I love when parents get their kids moving in the right direction.

Good students, good schedule, good books, good's been a good year, Nelda.  A very good year.  Thank you for the letter and for the Kinder Bueno and for being my friend.

Rachel  (AKA "Mrs. Nielson")


  1. I thought my Grandma was the only woman alive named Nelda!

  2. Great post! I hadn't heard anything about school in forever because of the adoption/fertility stuff, so I'm glad that it's going so well!

  3. There is a girl in northern Utah who is sitting at her desk, smiling. Thank you! I'm so glad you're getting a chance to enjoy some aspects of teaching that you have heretofore not had much time to enjoy. I re-read TKAM a few months ago, and I love love love the last line about "and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning." Thanks! A mere colon and parenthesis cannot convey my happiness, but that is what we have :)

  4. I LOVE this post. I am so glad you are happy teaching this year! I want to go write down what I like about teaching now . . .


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