November 24, 2012

Everything We've Missed

This past week has been perfect. So much so that neither of us is looking forward to the trek back to Louisiana today. As I write this, we're waiting for our last load of laundry to finish so we can pack up the car and head "home," even though we don't call it that.

This whole week has been filled with lamentations from our friends and family about how much they miss us and want us to move back here. As much as we want to be in Chicago, we need to find jobs before we can justify breaking our lease and walking away from my income. We're working on it.

Thanksgiving couldn't have been better. Joel's family joined mine for the holiday, and we had a great day together. It was just awesome to have everyone together for the whole day. I'm looking forward to a repeat at Christmas.

We had all the foods we've been missing: Chicago-style pizza from Giordano's, Italian beef from Portillo's, soup and fresh bread from Panera, and, of course, all the Thanksgiving staples. Our week of gluttony is officially over, and we're going to have to eat extra healthy for the next few weeks to make up for it! But let's be honest, it was worth every single bite!

I hope you all had a fantastic holiday with your loved ones!

November 15, 2012

Where My Heart Is

Today, after school, we had a grade level meeting to discuss the students who have fallen so far off our school-wide PBIS system that they just don't care anymore. These are students who know they won't be able to attend the celebration activities (held every three weeks) because their "paycheck" balances are far too low.

For the eighth grade, we had about 25 students. Seventeen of them are mine, and the vast majority are in the same section.

Welcome to my life!

The goal of today's meeting was to set up mentor relationships with these students. Teachers were asked to select one or two students with whom they felt they had or could develop a positive rapport. We're supposed to meet with our students individually to identify two target behaviors for improvement.

The great thing is that they've given us the freedom to set our own rewards/consequences, and they're willing to support us with gift certificates and special privileges for those rewards. We also have the freedom to decide how and how often we will track the behaviors.

This... is my area. This relationship-building thing... it's what gets me out of bed every morning.

When I was student teaching, my cooperating teacher gave me the advice to pick one student each year to be my "project." She told me I can't possibly save all my students, but if I work hard to significantly impact the life of just one of my students, I've done something right. Each year since then, I've had one (okay... sometimes more than one) student who's had a little more of my effort and attention than the others. Not always because I like them best (in fact, my first year, it was the opposite until our relationship developed), but because they need it.

Today, I chose not one, not two, but three students. I may have gotten a little overzealous, but to be completely honest, I had my eye on about 5 other students I would have happily snatched if no one else wanted them (which was definitely a problem with some students).

One of my girls has already been established as my project child, and she knows it. When she gets kicked out of other classes, she always comes to my room. When she gets in trouble by other teachers, she knows it means a lecture from me. I've told her on numerous occasions that I will not sit by and watch her throw away all her potential because of a bad attitude. Her mom is in prison, and I think she really needs to connect with adult females to help fill that void. I want her to realize her value now to help her make the right choices going into the future.

My other two girls are more of a problem for other teachers than me, so I snatched them up in hopes that I can help them be accountable for their actions everywhere. One of them recently convinced the entire class she's coming to Chicago with me for Thanksgiving, so we already have that little rapport going in our favor. The other, was so mad when I was out sick, she ditched my class for two days. Interestingly, those are the two girls that fought in my classroom and bruised me up in the process. Ha!

I'm actually excited about this part of my job. Is it more work? Yes. But this is the kind of work that's meaningful and even life-changing. Something I'm happy to donate my "spare time" to do.

November 11, 2012

Reality TV and Reading

My mom sent me an email today and asked me to help a family friend who was looking for suggestions of books to read with her 17 year-old daughter who doesn't like reading. Of course, I jumped on it right away and threw together a list of many of my (and my students' favorites).

In case you're wondering, here's the list I sent:

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins (My post is here.)
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (You can read my post about this book too.)
Marley and Me by John Grogan
Bossy Pants by Tina Fey
Seriously, I'm Kidding by Ellen Degeneres
A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

After looking over my list, I realized how surprised I was at the number of non-fiction books. When I was a kid, this would have been my last choice in reading, but now, I have more autobiographies on my list than fiction books. Which, of course, led me to question why that was the case.

Partially, I think it's because when we were forced to read non-fiction, it meant we were reading a textbook or a biography/autobiography on someone assigned. Usually, it was a person about whom I had very little interest, like a president or other "ancient" leader. Certainly, I would have been more interested to read about people I liked.

I'm willing to accept that some level of this interest comes with age and maturity. I know I'm much more open and interested in learning from others today than I was when I was a child. Lance Armstrong's It's Not About the Bike was the first autobiography I read by choice, and I really pondered his perspective on life and loss.

Also, though, I wonder if there's any evidence that shows an increase in non-fiction reading since the birth and evolution of reality television. We are basically encouraged to become voyeurs by following everything about peoples' lives. And somehow, we've been convinced (I include myself in this. You know how much I love my reality trash.) that it's entertaining to know every last detail about celebrities and reality-celebrities.

I'm inclined to believe that this shift in television and magazine entertainment has helped increase my (and perhaps others') interest in non-fiction. I mean, if it's fun to see pictures of where they're eating and what they're eating, it must be even better to hear their thoughts in their own autobiographies, right? We just can't get enough of these people!

What about you? Do you think you read more autobiographies now than ever before?

I Can't Believe I'm Considering This

I honestly felt I found my true calling when I became a teacher. From the moment I started grad school everything felt right. I loved setting up my classroom, determining procedures, planning my lessons, engaging with my students... it was a dream job.

And then, this year happened.

I was warned by several friends and family not take this job.

"I'm afraid that environment is going to destroy everything you love about teaching," Carolyn warned me. "You're a fantastic teacher," she told me, "and I don't want this to change you."

But I needed a job. I needed the benefits. And I was desperate to have my own classroom again instead of subbing.

And now I hear her words over and over again in my head. Because she was right. I hate my job. Hate it! Not the kids, at least not as people. In fact, developing relationships with students is still the best part of my job.

But I'm beyond exhausted because of the rest of it. Teaching in a charter school means you are micro-managed to death. Joel keeps lamenting that I spend my whole weekend working, when the truth is, I spend the whole weekend filling out their stupid lesson plan format, not actually making my lessons. It's a colossal waste of time. I have to log, on our discipline site, every time I give a kid a warning about behavior. Don't they realize this is a full time job in itself? Oh, and I have to log, on another site, every conversation I have with every parent. Ever. And someone comes around every period and checks your name off on a spreadsheet to make sure you're doing hall duty. So don't try to run to the bathroom in the 3 minutes between classes! And about once a week, you'll get an email from your department head or AP about yet another spreadsheet they need ASAP so they can track something else about your students. So, you'll have to work on that during your "planning time" too.

Any amount of freedom or creativity I've experienced in the past 6 years of teaching is all but gone. They do not value authentic learning because they focus so much on teaching to the damn standardized test. Even my AP agreed with me on Friday when I said this isn't authentic learning. He said, "This isn't the best practice, but it's what we do because the test is so important."

All they care about is numbers. This is so frustrating to me. There is a lot of learning that happens in my classroom that simply cannot be assessed on a multiple choice test. But they don't care about that learning. And don't you dare try to do any fun formative assessments; it must be a LEAP-aligned exit ticket.

I'm so grateful Thanksgiving is next week because I'm seriously at my breaking point. For the first time since becoming a teacher, I'm seriously questioning whether or not I want to do this for the rest of my life. I know teaching doesn't look like this everywhere, but I do think teaching looks more like this than what I experienced in suburban Chicago. So unless I can get another one of those jobs, I just don't think I want to do this again.

I'm starting to do some research about alternative careers. I still want to work with kids, this much I know for sure, but I don't want to be in a job where my effectiveness rests so heavily on their ability to show mastery on one stupid test.

Suggestions?

November 6, 2012

Election Day

The great thing about Election Day is that there wasn't school today. The buildings are used as polling places, so for safety and logistical reasons, it is not an attendance day. I have to say... I like this plan!

My students participated in a mock election last week during social studies, and not surprisingly, Obama was the winner by a landslide. This probably won't be the result of the state, but at least we know where the youth of Baton Rouge stands. 

This year is the first time I haven't participated in the election. Truth be told, I'm still registered in Illinois, and I was a little preoccupied with Joel's car accident (and ongoing recovery) and my own health issues (including my recent double ear infection) to think about trying to get an absentee ballot.   

To be honest, I'm only heartbroken about it for symbolic reasons, as I know my vote wouldn't make a difference in my state anyway. Illinois always votes Democratic; they don't need my vote to help. And since I'm not currently living in the state, I haven't followed much of the local politics to have an educated opinion on those issues. 

And while I have some very strong, personal beliefs about this election (and the politics that go along with it), I've tried really hard to stay away from the Facebook debates because they've gotten pretty ugly this year. Politics and religion are two areas, I've learned, that people are unapologetic about their beliefs and have very little (if any) room to consider alternatives. 

So rather than fight with my friends and family, I choose to focus on the fact that we live in a country where we have the right and privilege to cast our votes, even it is with limited choice.

November 4, 2012

Mama, I'm Coming Home!

There are 9 school days left before Thanksgiving break. Nine.

And I have a feeling these are going to be the longest 9 days of my life because as soon as I get home from school on that 9th day, Joel and I are hitting the road.

Since I get an entire week off of school and Joel is between jobs (and still recovering from his car accident), we decided to head back to Chicago for the holiday.

I'm seriously so excited I can't even stand it. My heart races every time I think about it. We will have a full week with friends and family... I can't tell you how badly I want this. How badly I need this. How much we need it.

So much has happened to the people I love since leaving Illinois. It's definitely time to play catch up!

My parents moved into a new home the week before I came down here. I saw the house before I left, but it was still unfinished. I'm looking forward to seeing their home with all the new furniture and boxes unpacked. I wish the weather was still nice so we could take advantage of their pool!

And my puppies! I get to see my puppies! This excites me more than you can know. Joel and I spent some time watching Animal Planet yesterday, and they were showing a marathon of Too Cute, which is a show about puppies and kitties... it's seriously adorable, but it's made me miss my dogs so much. I can't wait to cuddle up with Wrigley and Gizmo. I can already see their tails wagging with excitement when I walk in the door..... eek!  So happy!

I could shriek with excitement over my plans to see my BFF from high school, Ashley. Since I last saw her, she has announced that she's expecting twins, making me an auntie times two (she she's my sister from another mister), and she moved into a new (dream) home. We already have plans to see her and her house, and I'm so relieved to think I'll finally be caught up on the fun, new thins in her life.

My dear friend Carolyn has already declared that she's basically planning to camp out at my parents' house for the week that we're home so we can spend lots of time together. Since leaving home, her son, Ryan, has started walking and talking... I'm missing way too much. I also need to go see their new home, which they moved into a week after I left.

We're planning to spend Thanksgiving Day between Joel's family and mine. It will be the first time each of us will meet the extended families... yay!

Finally, we have plans for a night out to celebrate my sister's birthday with her before we leave. My brother will pretend he doesn't care I'm coming home, but I know deep inside, he's pretty excited too. He misses his favorite sister... who wouldn't?! ;)

It's going to be an action-packed week with lots of time visiting loved ones and eating foods we miss (Portillo's and Chicago-style pizza, we're looking at you!). Oh, November 16th, please come soon!

If any of my Chi-town peeps want to get together during the day Monday-Wednesday while the rest of the world is working, let me know! Our schedules are filling quickly!