Saying No

I have no problem telling my students no.  In fact, I often get an obnoxious pleasure out of it.  Mostly because the questions are so ridiculous.

“Can I skip class and go home?”

“No.”

“Can I sit next to my best friend?”

“No.”

“Can you give us five free answers to the test?”

“No.”

“Can we have a field trip to Taco Bell?”

“No.”

And yet, in true oblivious teenage fashion, no matter how hard I try to ruin their fun, they still come up with new and annoying questions to ask.  So I, in return, must come up with new and annoying ways to shoot them down.

“Can we have nap time?”

“When pigs fly.”

“Can you just not tell my mom about this?”

“When hell freezes over.”

“Can we skip tomorrow’s test?”

“When the crawfish whistles on a mountain.”

That last one is a little Russian idiom I stole from Wikipedia, a site second only to Google as the font of my useless knowledge and the one most frequently responsible for my raging hypocrisy.  Yelling at students about not using Wikipedia as an acceptable Works Cited source, while simultaneously searching it for “correct MLA format” so I can grade their Works Cited pages?  Wrong.  Being able to enter keywords like “idioms for improbability” and hit a whole Wikipedia gold mine of information? Oh, so right. No wonder my students love it.  But allowing them to use it as the main source for their culture project?  That’ll happen…

..on the afternoon of Saint Never’s day.

And yet, despite my elegant deftness in shooting down students, I somehow, still, have not mastered that skill with my administrators.

“Hey, Teach…we’re looking for instructional leads this year.  Would love it if you’d apply for that position.”

“Yeah!  That sounds interesting!  I’ll do it!”

“We need a class sponsor for the 10th grade. Can you take that on?”  You bet I can!.  “Can you mentor a teacher this year?”  Sure!  “Wait, make that two teachers.”  Why not?  “Dance chaperone?”  Done.  “Rewrite the teacher evaluation rubric?”  Sounds like fun! Committees, department meetings, instructional workshops.  Bring it on!  Because a full teaching load of adolescents only keeps my stress level at “Holy shit, I’m busy!” not “What the fuck was I thinking?” which, apparently, is where I function best.  Some people are in to S&M.  I’m into T&AD.

Teaching and additional duties.

I’m trying to learn to say no, but I still haven’t managed it, so I’ve begun digging through my not-at-all traumatic childhood in an attempt to discover the root causes of my disorder.  I’ve also joined the local chapter of Overcommitted Teachers Annoymous (OTA) which, while supportive, really just results in drinking too much beer as it’s held on Friday afternoons at the local brewery.

Multiple studies have shown that teachers who drink are 8.5 times more likely to stay in the profession just a little bit longer.

However, now almost thirteen years into the profession, I realize that while OTA and alcohol might be great for short-term stress management, they have yet to create lasting solutions for my overcommittment so I’m going to stop covering the symptoms with a stout-soaked bandaid.  If I can figure out why I do what I do, perhaps I can alter my actions.  Or, even help other overcommitters, as OTA membership is soaring.   So, through thorough research and after much consideration, I’ve divided the OTA ranks into four main categories.

  1. The People Pleasers:

This is not me.

I liked to be liked, mind you.  It’s generally more pleasant than being hated.  But I will not do something I don’t want to do in hopes of being liked more.  Nor do I particularly need to feel needed.  But when a teacher runs the yearbook, coaches volleyball, serves as the department head, attends all student council events, then sighs dramatically and says, “Oh, I’m so busy but how could I ever say no?  The kids/admin/department need someone to step up,”  I’m calling bullshit.  Of course they need someone.  That does not mean they need you for all of it.  And, shockingly enough, if you don’t step up, someone else will.  But you don’t realize that as you’re too busy taking on additional duties to reassure yourself that you’re valuable and to try and guarantee you’ll weather the next round of budgets cuts.

Lay off it, sugar.  You teach.  You’re valuable.  Now stop trying to convince others of that fact and go commit to something non-school related.  Like yoga.  Or scrapbooking.  Or sitting in your underwear on the couch doing absolutely nothing.

  1. The Bleeding Hearts:

Contrary to the People Pleasers, the Bleeding Hearts overcommit for others rather than themselves.  These are the people utterly and totally incapable of looking a wide-eyed student in the eye and saying “no.”  As a result, Bleeding Hearts have a tendency to overcommit to student-centered activities even when they border on the ridiculous.  “Oh, you want to start a Harry Potter themed badminton club?  Why, of course you need one of those on campus, you poor, sweet, adolescent soul.  Naturally that will help find your way in life and I’d be honored to be your sponsor.”  One Harry Potter badminton, twenty school dances and three different lunch bunches later, you wonder just how you’re going to get you papers graded and emails answered before you have to go buy the costumes for the Thespian club’s musical rendition of an afro-cuban inspired Romeo and Juliet.

However, judging by how easy I find it to tell students, “no,” this is also not me.   A big-eyed request to help you with your homework?  Okay.  A well-rehearsed, sincerely spoken inquiry as to if I’d be willing to sponsor the finger weaving hip-hop club?  Nope.  Not even tempting.

  1. The Perfectionists:

Apparently, this is real problem for some people.  I find that rather baffling as I am notorious for blatantly ignoring the nitty gritty details, yet I have interviewed scores of teachers who suffer from crippling perfectionism.

The overcommitted Perfectionists may head up less responsibilities in number than the People Pleasers or Bleeding Hearts but they make up the difference in quantity with whacked-out attention to detail.  A Perfectionist charged with keeping meeting minutes sends them out in color coded fonts, each note marked with a time stamp.  Elementary school awards ceremonies are planned with greater care than celebrity weddings.  A Perfectionist organizing the cookie bake fundraiser will spend so much time divvying out corners of the school gym to address gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, nut-free, everything-free-I’m-really-just-living-off-air food allergies that he/she will then fret about not having sufficient time to create the hand made award certificates for each category. Never mind lesson planning.

As a note, at every OTA meeting I’ve ever attended, the Perfectionists are the heaviest drinkers. Must be a side effect of making sure that all the pens in your desk drawer are arranged by size and brand.

4.  The Dorks:

These folks, frequently, are the nerds who grew up to be teachers, the kids who loved learning in school even when they were supposed to be worrying about if they would ever move up a notch from their dorkdom to slightly cooler-ness.  As educators, these are the overcommitters that overcommit out of a complete inability to say “no” to their inner dork.  Take on department head?  Wow!  That would give me more insight as to hiring works and how vertically aligning the department increases student learning!  Of course I’ll do it!  Participate on a committee re-evaluating the school calendar?  I would find out how district priorities align with the school’s.  Fascinating!

We dorks (and yes, I include myself in this category because I just spent hours of my free time writing an entire essay analyzing why teachers overcommit) just can’t quit saying yes even after we know good and well that being invited to homecoming because they need a chaperone is not going to make up for not being invited to homecoming twenty years ago.  But we might learn how to use a breathalyzer to nail kids who’ve been pre-partying!

I am, down to the very atoms of my bones, an incorrigible dorkwad.

Thus, presuming that incorrigible dorkwaddery is, indeed, the root cause of my overcommitment, I attempt to work with myself as I work with my students.  “Now that you have the above information, Teach,  what choices are you willing to make?”

Well…

I could say no some responsibilities conscious that, even if I said yes to every one, I will still never know everything.

I could prioritize responsibilities that I am willing to take on by my level of interest in each.

I could do absolutely nothing and maintain the same insane level of activity as I have for the last decade plus.

Which is, as we all know, the most likely outcome.

I’m the co-vice president of brewery-based OTA, for crying out loud.

Somebody’s got to learn how to work a breathalyzer.

Posted in Education, Humor | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Spring Showers

photo-4I’ve been fielding a lot of crying lately.  And not a single tear has been from students.

Oh, no, wait.  There was a tear or two from a seventh grade boy in the principal’s office for an altercation with another student.  He seemed to think his presence in the principal’s office was entirely unfair which brought him to tears as he (justly, I think) asked the school counselor how he would feel if (direct quote) “another dude grabbed your hair and shoved his nuts in your face at the same time,” a move that, apparently, is called “nutchecking.”

Nutchecking.  You learn something every day.

But aside from the unfortunate nutchecked seventh grader, all tears shed have been from colleagues.

Nothing, I’m sure, to do with the fact that most of these conversations were the week before spring break or that I work with mostly first year teachers.  Hell, if you’re in your first year and you haven’t had a meltdown by now, it’s about friggin’ time you burst into my “office” (loosely defined as the custodial closet or any other nook, cranny, or hallway in which I set up shop since school is short on space and what used to be offices are now classrooms seating 30 kids) to rant, rave, or inexplicably burst into tears because you just can’t handle public school toilet paper.  I get it.  I don’t care how bad the budget is.  Nobody wants to grab a wad of tissue-thin single-ply and put it to use only to discover it has completely disintegrated and you are now, awkwardly, using your fingers.

But if you’re crying about it, you might be a little on edge.

So, since I’ve fielded almost all the standard and a few non-standard reasons for spontaneous spring tears, I thought I’d save us all some time and let you run through the following advice on crying in the educational workplace and take any related tips or tricks that may (or may not) serve you.*

  • (All tips/tricks are based on personal experience and the overwhelming pleasure I derive from running my mouth.  They are not data-driven or research based and they do not possess a cool educational acronym.  Sorry.)

At least this way, you might solve your own problem and we don’t have to squeeze in the same custodial closet together while you sob.

Bursting into Tears Reason #1:  “I hate education!”  (Related variations:  “Education is all bureaucratic B.S.” “Admin lives to make my life difficult,” “How the bleep am I supposed to do my job with no resources,” and/or “WTF have I gotten myself into?”)

It’s April.  You’re fried.  If you’re a new teacher, you’re beyond fried.  You’re toast. Actually, you’re those little rock-hard, overly burnt crumbs in the bottom of the toaster looking enviously at the veteran teachers who, while charred, seem to slather on a layer of butter and make it work.

Exaggerated metaphor aside, education is bureaucratic, day to day functioning is frustrating, but it’s nothing you can’t handle.  It only seems worse because you’re exhausted. Suck it up, and power through the last eight weeks.  In June you’ll suddenly discover that education isn’t nearly as bad as it seems.  In fact, in June, education will be the greatest profession ever.

If, however, in all your exhaustion, you reach the end of May and do not feel even the tiniest pang of sadness, not a moment of “Aw, those kids are never going to be my students again,” not even a tiny tinge of pride in seeing those annoying little goobers move on…

Then it is as bad as it seems.  You’re in the wrong profession, which is totally ok, because it means that some other profession desperately needs you.  So get the hell out of teaching and run.  Run as fast as you can to that happy place where you belong.  We won’t judge you.  We’ll applaud you enviously as you take on things like company lunches and private offices uncoated in children’s germs.

Bursting into Tears Reason #2: “I don’t make enough money.”  (Related variations: “I’ll never be able to buy a house,” “My ‘raise’ was insulting,” “How will I ever retire?”)

Seriously?  You’re a teacher.  You’re never going to be rich.  Honestly, you don’t even really have a shot at upper middle class.  Deal with it.  If you want to stay in education but absolutely must make a couple more bucks:

  1. Get your master’s/advanced degree
  2. Get national board certification
  3. Bartend (booze plus extra cash…score!)
  4. Choose your significant other based on financial considerations.  (Marry rich.)

Generally, however, the money sobbing is just another symptom of feeling fried rather than the actual cause.  In reality, as a teacher you should be so swamped with grading and planning that you don’t have time to actually go out and spend money.  Too much work = no socialization = not spending money = financial WIN.

Bursting into Tears Reason #3: “My contract hasn’t been renewed.” (Related variations: “I’m on an improvement plan,” “My admin hates me,” “I got fired mid-year,” “I generally suck.”)

Oooh.  That’s a sticky one.

Possibility #1:  It’s not a good fit.

There are eight billion schools out there.  I’m sure you’re a rock star, but you probably aren’t the ideal candidate for all of them.  I mean really…traditional district schools with tenure and unions, district schools without tenure and unions, charter schools, private schools, college prep, Montessori, Waldorf, alternative learning, classical academies, expeditionary learning, project-based learning, online schools, blended schools, international schools…

Just because you don’t fit at one school doesn’t mean you don’t fit at all schools.  Chin up, do your research, talk to other teachers and schools and find your dream gig.

Then tell your previous employer to shove it.

(Kidding.  Don’t actually do that.)

Possibility #2: You really do suck.

This is an even stickier one.  Because chances are, if you do suck you don’t realize (or believe) you suck, sooo…

Which will be a fairly painful process unless you’re an insanely blunt and direct person with an affinity for masochism.  Right now, a full 80% of you saying, “Oh, yeah.  I’m tough as nails.  I can totally take feedback,” are full it.  Most teachers I know who don’t get asked back play the “Yeah, but” blame game.  As in, “Yeah, but my team is dysfunctional…Yeah, but my school didn’t give me the training I needed…Yeah, but…”

At some point, you’re going to have to shove the “Yeah, but” up your butt.

Swallow your pride, ask your admin, then – even just for five minutes – assume the feedback they give you is true.  However, to make this even more difficult, 80% of admin (all numbers and percentages in this post pulled out of my butt) is going to try and soften the message by giving you the “you’re not a good fit” talk when really they mean “your classroom management sucks/you can’t get along with your colleagues/you shirk professional duties.”  So you’ll have to pester them a bit.

“Give me three concrete things I need to do to get better with supporting examples from what you saw in my classroom.”  They should have done this anyway as part of your eval, but shockingly, sometimes education isn’t all it’s made out to be, admin included.

However, if all else fails and you still find yourself in tears on a rainy day in April, sit down in a calm, quiet place.  Close your eyes and think about that student, parent, colleague you’re struggling with.  Visualize yourself carefully, intentionally approaching that person.

And nutchecking the shit out of them.

Good for giggle every time.

Happy spring.

-SP

Posted in Education, For New Teachers, Humor | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Right-Wing Nutjobs, Liberal Wieners and Kids Know Best

Against my better judgement, I recently waded into a Facebook debate on education.

Three seconds and twenty obnoxious Facebook notification dings later, I came to my senses, quickly clicked “stop notifications,” then ran directly to the kitchen where I did three straight shots of tequila and banned myself to my home office to write “I will never attempt an intelligent debate on Facebook” five-hundred times as a punishment.

An Abbreviated Version of Every Hot Topic Conversation on Facebook Ever

“I think ABC.”

“Well, really, it’s DEF.”

“DEFs are liberal wieners!”

“ABCs are right-wing nutjobs!

“My right-wing logic is infalliable due to WXZ”

“YOU FORGOT THE Y!!  You’re a Y-forgetting logically incompetent right-wing nutjob!”

And so forth.

In this case, I was the liberal wiener.  Not shocking to those of you who know me and most of you who read the blog could probably guess as much.  However, I would like to point out that I am not a rabid wiener.  I’m actually a pretty good listener and even, on occasion, have been known to have friendly conversations with conservatives.

Shocking, right?  But in the end, I appreciate a good argument, even if I disagree with it.

Claiming the Common Core is a socialist experiment designed to brainwash American students into thinking like Nazis is not a good argument.  Sorry, folks, it simply isn’t.  And I would be just as quick to point the same thing out to a group of rabid wieners if they tried to claim that prayer in schools is facist plan to brainwash students into joining an evangelical theocracy with designs on the White House.

Do I agree with prayer in schools?  No.  Do I think those who do are Jim Jones/David Koresh freakballs?  No.

Does the Common Core have flaws?  Yes.  Does that mean it must have been written by Nazis?

For the love of all-thing-holy-in-a-non-specific-non-religious-idiom-only-type-of-usage, I can’t even believe we’re having this conversation.

But that’s what happens when people like to run their pieholes according to the political talking heads‘ agenda rather than an actual knowledge base.   Makes intelligent people on both sides of the aisle slap their forehead in disgust, then shoot tequila in their kitchen to try and forget the insanity. Does it matter that I’ve got thirteen years in the field and experience working in both Common Core  and non-Common Core schools?  Nope.  I’m not a conservative nutjob, therefore I am wrong.  Experience, research, references be damned.  As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure that those Facebook folks weren’t even really listening to my argument which wasn’t, as they seemed to think, a defense of the Common Core, but rather a suggestion that maybe (just maybe) equating it with the Third Reich might be a bit of a stretch.

I got steamrolled by shit that didn’t even make sense. So, like any normal human being in a similar situation, I threw my hands up, deemed my counterparts morons, and quit.

But it did make me wonder…

How many of us teachers are provoking the same reaction from our students?

I’m not talking about the hot-button political issues covered in social studies or the evolution debates of science. I’m asking how many of you out there, on a daily basis, are making your students throw up their hands in frustration, deem you a moron, and quit.

No matter the topic you’re teaching.

Here’s a quick way to check.  Do you think you know better than your kids?  If you do,  you’re the right-wing nutjob/liberal wiener.

Kids have spent a long time in their bodies.  They’ve spent a long time in their heads.  I don’t care how much you know about education or your content area, kids are the experts on themselves.

And yet so many teachers overlook this simple fact and steamroll their students with opinions, instructions, mandates, and advice, half of which may not even apply to the student in question.

You don’t know what it’s like to go to their homes after school.

You don’t know what runs through their brains when they get a poor grade on a test.

You don’t know what happened to them that morning, last week, or when they were five.

You don’t know.

You are not the expert.  You may have valid tools, useful insights, great strategies, or pertinent information or even a pretty darn good guess, but you don’t know.   And if you don’t know the problem, you can’t select the correct action step.

The problem isn’t that the Common Core is a socialist experiment bent on brainwashing.  The problem is it has some flaws that could use reworking.

The problem isn’t that the kid doesn’t want to learn.  The problem is…

Oh, wait.  You don’t know.  You haven’t asked.

Q.  What would it help me, as your teacher, to know about you in math class?

IMAG1966

Oh.  No wonder you’re a huge behavior problem in my class.  You’re bored out of your mind.  It’s like making me sit through the same staff meeting three years in a row.

Dear God in heaven.  That would be miserable.  Let’s see if we can either get you bumped up a level or speed up the curriculum for you.

IMAG1965Sweet!  You’ve got the motivation, so if you get a lousy test score I know it’s not because you don’t care.  We’re gonna do good things with you this year!

IMAG1971Sounds good.  Will get a homework plan in place.  I’m also going to keep an eye out for you on word problems because your odd spacing and spelling errors are letting me know there might be literacy issues.

IMAG1973You…you’re going to be one of my soft spots this year because you just laid it all on the line.  You can attitude-it-up all you want, Ms. Sassy Pants, but we’re going to build some confidence in you this year, like it or not.  You can do math.  And this will be a safe space to try.

As a teacher, these check-ins aren’t more work for me.  They’re less.  One check-in and I know exactly where each student is.  I’m not wasting half a year throwing every tool in the toolbox at my kids haphazardly hoping they get hit by a monkey wrench, drill bit, or whatever the heck it is they need to understand the material.

I’m not trolling for Nazis. I’m not making accusations about why my kids fail.  I’m calmly adjusting for what works, tossing that which doesn’t.  And as a bonus, I’m getting the kids on my side because they know I care enough to ask.  And listen.

I’d like to say that us liberal wieners are just good at these things.  We are blessed with inherent communication abilities severely lacking in the right-wing nutjobs.  But I know a solid group of conservative teachers, so I’d be lying.

But maybe it does have a little to do with listening to the experts no matter what side they’re on and trusting they do know something about the topic.  Be it a kindergartener who claims that reading is hard or a teacher who’s actually taught the Common Core.

Or, if all that’s too much hippy-dippy wiener talk, just click here to steal easy ideas for student check-ins (or see the previous post).  It’ll make your life easier.  You’ll thank me later.

Even if I am a liberal wiener.

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Notecard Check-ins (the short and simple version)

Who: Every kid you teach

What:  Brief, simple check-ins on paper in order to get kids’ direct and honest feedback on anything.

When:  Whenever the hell you feel like it.  But ideally, at least once per quarter.

Where: On a notecard.  Thus the “notecard” part of “notecard check-ins,” Captain Obvious.  Though paper also works.  Technically, I think they’re the same.

Why:

  1. Because kids will tell you more in writing than they will face to face.
  2. Because it gives you an instant check-in with every single kid in the class.
  3.   Because if you don’t ask the kids their opinions, then you’re making assumptions about what they think.  And you know what they say when you assume.  Makes an ass out of you…and…well, just you.  Because your kids are doing the best they can with their still developing brains, limited life experience, and whatnot.
  4. Because it makes you look like you care.  Which you should.  And if you don’t – well, the kids notice it.  And they’re likely being little shits to you because if you don’t like them, they don’t like you.

How:

  1. Hand kids blank notecard.
  2. Ask three targeted questions.
  3. Request they give you honest and open feedback.

(Yes, I require they put their name on it.  I still get honest feedback.)

Recomended Notecard questions:

Beginning of the Year:

  • Looking at this upcoming school year, what are you excited about?
  • What are you nervous about?
  • How can I best teach you?

Check-ins:

  • What’s going well?
  • What’s hard for you right now?
  • What do you need more of in class?
  • What do you need less of in class?
  • What’s going on in your life outside of class?
  • What suggestions do you have for improving my teaching of this class?

THE ONE I PUT ON EVERY SINGLE CHECK IN I DO, EVER.  E.V.E.R.

What do I, as your teacher, need to know about you?  This is your chance to tell me anything about how you learn, what’s going on for you personally, or anything at all that might affect your performance in this class.

The Results:

  1. You learn so much:

IMAG1970 IMAG1968

2.  Kids get a chance to try on honesty in a less scary way:

#4

#1

3.  You get unexpected props: (even if they all have the same theme)

#5

#6

4.   Teenage smartassery still reigns.

#2

Cheers!

SP

Posted in Education, Useful Junk (Ideas free for stealing) | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Don’t Touch the Bathroom Pass (and Other Life Advice From a Teacher)

Don’t Touch The Bathroom Pass (and other life advice from a teacher)

A few years in the classroom, a few interactions with teenagers and life has taught me a few valuable lessons in the way only a career in public education can.

After watching teenage girls cruise down the hallway with shorts shorter than their hoo-ha:

Freedom of expression makes you who you are.  Your words, your gestures, your style all combine to give your first impression to the world.  Think hard about what you want that impression to be.  The well-dressed but opinionated know-it-all who speaks before he thinks?  The young-at-heart grandma who still wears skin-tight mini skirts?  Or perhaps a thugged-out teenager with saggy pants and a soft heart? There is a place in this world for all types, but make sure you carve out a place that causes no harm to others, that your freedom of expression has the best interest of all of humanity in mind.  Monitor those parts of you that could hurt, scar, or harm another human being.  Like loose lips, so flabby with gossip they jiggle worse than a muffin top in skinny jeans.  Or misplaced pride so blatant it produces a cringe worthy of a hairy plumber’s crack.

Whether you’re a teenage girl with a rockin’ bod who just barely makes dress code, or a hairy middle age man with a secret fondness for Richard Simmons workouts, show your best side. Metaphorically and literally speaking…

Life Advice #1: Your shorts should be longer than your genitalia

After watching scores of students fiddle with their crotch and smile:

Friends come in all shapes and sizes.  New and old. Bright and shiny. Dirty and worn.  Maybe your friends are clear and sharp. Maybe they’re frazzled and cracked. Whatever they are, friends are great.  Family can be friends, colleagues can be friends.  Classmates can be friends.

Cell phones cannot.

Cell phones are wonderful devices that help us work with our colleagues, connect with our family and communicate with our friends.  But cell phones are not people.  They can’t hug you, touch you, or laugh at your jokes.  They might do great things like tell you the weather or track your homework.  But they also fall in toilets, butt-dial ex-boyfriends, and make you look like you’re fiddling with inappropriate parts of your body under your desk when you should be learning about biology.

Prioritize the humans in your life.  Don’t fall for the glowing temptress.  No matter how much time you spend with her…

Life Advice #2:  Know your cell phone (tablet, laptop) will never love you

After the annual cleaning-out-of-the-lockers in June:

Your life is one big storage locker of everything that makes you who you are.  It’s got your family, your friends, your bright ideas, your bad ideas, your thoughts, values and probably a few weird things you hope no one ever sees, like your collection of superhero underwear.  That’s why it’s a big, life-size storage locker.  Not like the little puny ones they gave you in high school.  Yet like the puny one you had in high school, your storage locker likely has a lot of crap you don’t need.

Clean out your locker from time to time.  Get rid of that which no longer serves you.  Like the Geometry test you failed, the hot girl who turned you down at the homecoming dance, and the moldy lunch you didn’t even know was in there.

Old baggage only serves to make you look like a slob.  And if you don’t take care of that overflowing locker of outdated baggage, it becomes someone else’s problem.  Your boss doesn’t want excuses about why your project failed.  She just wants you to do better next time.  The custodian doesn’t care that you left school early due to a dentist’s appointment.  He just doesn’t want to pull a moldy bologna sandwich out of your locker in July.

Whether you’ve got unresolved issues with ex-boyfriends or leftover lunches…

Life Advice #3:  Don’t let bologna rot in your locker

After multiple choatic trips outdoors in rain, sleet, and snow for unplanned fire drills:

Life likes to kick you in the nuts (or punch you in the boobs) occasionally.  Sometimes this comes in the form of a phone call telling you your grandma just died.  Other times, you lose your spouse, your job, your life savings in a fierce game of strip Uno.

Whatever you do, don’t panic.  In every life crisis you have two choices:  calmly respond, or frantically react.  The former might actually get you somewhere.  The latter usually results in flashing lights, crying kindergarteners, and a trip to the principal’s office.

No matter how unexpected the crisis, stop, think, and take measured action but…

Life Advice #4:  Never pull the fire alarm

After twelve years in the classroom:

In short, life is filled with things that are gross and dirty and do you no good.  Like toxic relationships, processed foods, and reality tv.  Avoid that which is germ infested, detrimental to your health, or just makes you feel nasty inside.  Even if the Hostess cupcake calls to you with her siren song. Even if that friend promises it will be just one beer.  You know the things that are bad for you, even if they seem cute and adorable – like a little stuffed monkey sitting on a teacher’s desk.

That monkey has unaccompanied hundreds of teenagers to public school bathrooms. It will not tell you where the teenagers sat it down or left it hanging. It has seen unspeakable horrors.  It is an unspeakable horror.

In life, wherever you go, and whatever you do…

Life Advice #5:  Don’t touch the bathroom pass  

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‘Twas The Night Before Christmas (Teacher Version)

Originally posted on Singing Pigs:

Christmas‘Twas the night before Christmas and up in her house,

A teacher sat staring, exhausted, at her spouse.

Her work clothes were hung in a closet without care,

In hopes that just sweatpants for two weeks she’d wear.

The children were all sent home with knowledge well-fed,

While worries about final grades danced in their heads.

And me in my sweatpants, my grading pen I capped.

And settled my brain in for its vacation nap.

When suddenly from the phone arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the couch to see what was the matter.

Away to my Android I flew like a flash,

The tea I’d been drinking hit the ground with a crash.

The screen of my phone with its ever-shining glow,

A whole world of worry in front of me did show.

For what to my terrified eyes should appear,

A list of school emails whose contents…

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That Time of Year: December Edition

I went to a teacher happy hour this weekend.  Primarily because in the invitational email, the organizer threatened to punch a teenager in the face if she didn’t get some beer.  Not, mind you, because she is a violent sociopath.  She’s just your average mother of five trying to eek out a living by spending her days teaching literature to  a hundred and eighty teenagers.  Because having five children of your own isn’t nearly enough.  It totally makes sense that you would want to follow the morning routine of rousing and prepping your own children for school by by rousing and prepping other people’s teenagers for college.  Which assures me that even if my friend isn’t a sociopath, she’s definitely a masochist (you must be, to teach) and in a desperate attempt to save her from teenage-punching sadism, (a combo that never goes over well in education) I agreed to join her little happy hour soiree.

Naturally, though, that day her entire family came down with the stomach flu and after her husband, also a teacher, tossed his cookies at school, she was forced to abandon her mental health/drinking plans in favor of caring for ralphing family members at home.

Nasty.

I am proud to say, however, that despite the absence of our fearless leader, we bravely carried on, downing several pints in her honor.

Because, indeed, it is that time of year.

For teachers, the entire school year is “that time of year.”  The type of stress and related coping mechanisms just depend on which “that time of year” it happens to be at the moment.  Is it the August/September time of year when you’re frantically scrambling to get attendance lists that actually accurately reflect who is in your class rather than who was supposedly in your class the previous February when students signed up before really having even the vaguest idea if they would pass the prerequisite?  Is it the late October time of year when you’re drowning in a sea of grading while the crazy parents that are starting to crawl out of the honeymoon-is-over cracks hold your head underwater?  Or is it the February time of year when you realize that contrary to what every calendar says February is actually, hands down, the longest month of the year?

Currently?  None of the above.

It’s the December time of year when revolting stomach viruses decimate the school population and both students and teachers crack under the pressure of final exams and the grading they require.  Plus, of course, the end-of-semester failing students who now might not graduate high school.  And, in relation, the eight hundred emails (per student) between admin, teacher, and parent about how said students might not graduate high school.  All combined in a condensed calendar due to snow days/ice days/ flood days/the boiler-blew-up-and-classroom-temperatures-varied-from-32 – 130 degrees-so-we-had-to cancel-school days.

So, after being locked in small spaces together for about four and a half months now, pretending to read Shakespeare, memorizing verb conjugations and doing whatever the hell it is you do with the pythagorean theorem and all those math shenanigans, patience on all sides is beginning to wear a little thin.

“How was your day off?”  I ask one of our new middle school math teachers the day after seeing a sub in his classroom.

“Adam decided to punch Sam in the face during third period,”  he responded, employing the classic teacher technique of judging the quality a day off by how much shit has to be dealt with upon returning.

“And why’d he do that?”

“Because Sam’s annoying.”

Apparently, impulses are the same, whether you’re thirteen or thirty.

“Adam’s suspended. But how do I tell Sam’s parents that their son is annoying and if he doesn’t grow up he’s going to keep getting punched in the face?”

“He’s thirteen,”  I told him.  “His parents have been living with him for over a decade.  Either they know good and well how annoying he is, or they’re of the variety that will never figure it out.”

“So what do I do?”

I plopped a jar of hand sanitizer in his hand.

“Use this religiously.  Even though really, it’s not going to save you because the stomach bug is a virus, not a bacteria. But at least you’ll feel like you’re doing something useful.”

“And that relates to fighting students…?”

“It doesn’t.  Here’s five bucks for that.”

“For…?”

“Go buy yourself a beer.  Makes everything better.”

“Is that legal?”

“If you don’t drink it during school hours.”

“Damn.”

I pat his shoulder reassuringly.

“Don’t worry.  One more week and it’s over.”

“What is?”

“First semester.”

“Then what happens?”

“Second semester.”

“And that’s…”

“Exactly the same, except that sometime around April the weather gets warm and students wear skimpy clothes and start making out in really awkward public places.”

“Eww.”  The teacher eyeballs the bottle of hand sanitizer skeptically.

“Yeah, you’ll want to keep that for the spring mating season,”  I confirm.  “Except it won’t really do you any good then either, as I don’t think it takes care of cooties.”

“So you’re telling me I should drink more beer?”

“I’m just telling you not to punch a student in the face,” I tell him sincerely.  “What you do in your free time is up to you.”

“Um…thanks?”

“Happy holidays!” I say bubbling with politically correct seasonal joy.  Then I grab my stack of grading papers and head for the nearest bar.

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