Saturday, June 11, 2016

Day 180: Graduation

In the summer of 2011, I was informed by my district HR department that I was being reassigned to the Junior High School.  After 2 years of teaching mostly juniors, I was suddenly going to have a classroom full of 8th graders.

I was frustrated, annoyed and scared.  I had always considered myself a high school teacher.  All I knew about middle school was that it was a MUCH different animal and couldn't be taught in the same way as high school.

I had no idea what I was doing and wasn't in a frame of mind to learn.

Over the next year, that first group of 8th graders taught me more about who I was as a person and a teacher than I could have hoped.  Without them, their humor, anger, creativity, kindness, fashion, problems and strengths, I don't know I would be who I am today.

At the end of that year, I became one of the chaperones on the 8th grade field trip and continued to do so for all 4 years that I taught 8th grade.

Last year, our district announced a reorganization of the schools.  The 7th and 8th grade were moved up to the high school.  I was once again reassigned.  This time, I was being moved from 8th grade mathematics to 11th and 12th grade science, specifically Astronomy and Physics.

As much trepidation as I felt about the move to new classes in a new grade in a new department with new coworkers in a new building, I was also excited to be teaching a subject for which I have great passion and interest.

On top of this, because I had taught 8th grade for 4 years, I would now know students in grade 9-12.

The 9th graders who had just left my class were (somewhat) happy to see me.  The 10th graders who were in my first geometry class were (mostly) happy to see me.

The juniors and seniors remembered who I was while the students in that first class of 8th graders would stop by regularly to say hello and see how I was doing.

They would stop in my room and tell me stories that they remembered from my class, things that I said and did, jokes that we had.

It was amazing to me to see how they had grown.  Students with whom I had had problems in 8th grade were totally different people.  They also thought the same about me.

It was remarkable to see the changes that they had gone through and to realize the changes that I had gone through as well.

Many of them were becoming my friends and I loved seeing them every day.  This was this group of students who by far the most supportive of my teaching style, often convincing others to go along with my craziness, including High Five Friday.

Over the last 4 years, they had grown from boys and girls into men and a women.  They had jobs, cars, bills and were getting ready for college and life.

Last night, my first group of 8th graders graduated.

My assignment for the event was to take tickets at the handicapped entrance to the field, which much to my joy, was also the entrance for the graduating students.

After assisting their family members, shaking hands with the superintendent and blocking off the road for the late family members, the graduates came out of the building, passing my position in 2 lines.

How lucky were they to be graduating on a Friday!

As the students passed me, every one on my side got a high five.  Students I had taught, students I had seen in the hall and students who may have just been wearing graduation robes and jumped in line all held their hands up.  Many of them exclaimed "LAST HIGH FIVE FRIDAY OF THE YEAR!!"

One gentleman on the family side of the fence remarked at how well trained they were and I told him that we had been doing it every Friday since November.

Each face that went by was a reminder of a moment in the last 5 years.

They are truly a remarkable group of students.

I will miss many of them terribly and I hope they will keep in touch.

To the Woodland Hills High School graduating class of 2016, I am so very proud of you, but most importantly, you should be proud of yourselves.

Go forth and be human!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Day 179: Closet

Period 1: 1 Student
Period 2: 5 Students
Period 3: 3 Students
Period 4: 2 Students
Period 6: 0 Students
Period 8: 13 Students

I had an extremely productive morning!  Yesterday, the other physics teacher and I tackled the supply closet, throwing away 3 dumpsters of old, broken and confusing materials.

Someone had kept a box of tangled slinkies.  It was on the shelf above the burned-out light bulbs!

Today, wiped the shelves down and began organizing.  All of the sound equipment is on the top shelf.  Optics go just below that.

There is something very satisfying about bringing order out of chaos.

It went very well until the shelf holding the weights broke, spilling hanging masses, transformers and light boxes all over the floor.

I totally didn't crap my pants.

We're getting there.  Working on it tomorrow and Monday should see the whole thing organized before we leave for the summer.

The number of Uno games that were being played around the school today must have numbered in the tens of thousands.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Day 178: Prisoners

I've been thinking about prisons recently.

We, as a society, have decided that when someone breaks the law, it is necessary to house that person away from the rest of the population.  However, reasonable people often disagree about the purpose of prison.

Penitentiaries were designed to be the adult equivalent of "go to your room and think about what you've done" and comes from the same root as penitent, meaning one who repents for their wrong-doings.

By removing the offending person from society, modern prisons serve two purposes: to give the offender time to think about their crimes, and to protect the rest of society by removing the offender.  There are arguments to be made about the effectiveness of our current prison system to accomplish either of these goals, but that's not what has been in my mind.

I've been thinking about the responsibilities of prisoners.

Prisoners are compelled to be in prison.  If they refuse to go, they are forcibly taken.  Once there, they need to follow certain rules for the duration of their sentence.  Should they break those rules, there are various penalties, including placement in a more restricting environment or even an extension of the sentence.  If they follow those rules for many years, then just maybe their sentence will be shortened.

Once they are released, many have difficulty finding jobs as a direct result of having a criminal record.  Of those released, more than half are rearrested within a year, with the 3-year and 5-year rates of recidivism being 68% and 77% respectively.

Is it the responsibility of the prison to rehabilitate these people, or simply to remove them from society for a designated period of time?

What are the responsibilities of the prisoners in this system?

What about students?  What is the responsibility of the students in school?  We tell them that they are part of a community, but very often don't give them a meaningful voice for change.  Much of that lack of voice is due to state or federal regulations about what must happen in a school and by no means the fault of local districts.

But how often are students involved in discussions about graduation requirements or district policy?

Students are compelled by law to attend school.  For most, this means the district in which they live.  Yes, their parents get a say in policy by voting for or against members of the school board, but this seems like a remarkably small voice considering that students will spend up to 17,550 hours in school.

This is 2 full years of their lives.

There are, of course, those who can shorten this time period by excelling academically or, more likely, take extra classes during the year or over the summer, essentially trading childhood for early graduation.

For most students, this is not a possibility and schools are not designed for it to be.

There is, however, a much easier way to shorten the time that a student spends in school: break the rules.  According the United States Department of Education, 130,000 students are expelled from school each year.

The benefits to taking advantage of educational opportunities are often abstract and far in the future.  We tell students that if they work hard now, they will be able to work hard in college and then get a job.  Schools have elective courses to give students a modicum of choice when it comes to what they study, but many districts don't offer meaningful choices until junior or senior year.  Those choices are often usurped by schedule conflicts because of classes that need to be repeated.

Early choices and consequences have tremendous ripple effects that students can't begin to understand at the time when they are made.

What appear to be simple steps to outside observers can become insurmountable.

Even for students who stay on track with grade-level expectations, school can often feel like something to get through rather than something from which to benefit.

The education system is not the prison system, but to many students, it can feel that way.  I won't argue whether this is a valid analogy or not because I don't think it matters.

If students feel like prisoners, then that's what they are.

In the compulsory educational system, what are the responsibilities of the student?  If they don't fulfill those responsibilities, (or if we don't convince them that they should) who suffers besides them?

It seem to me as though it is the responsibility of the student to do well for the betterment of themselves on the small scale, but for society on the large scale.

Young Adult Fiction is chock full of stories of teenagers whose lives are determined by their choices on a single day.
"I choose...the Crippling Student Debt Followed by an Unfulfilling Career faction!"

"Work hard for the betterment of society" is an upsetting message to be foisting onto children.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Day 177: Homeroom of 2

Some of the physics groups did an amazing job with their playgrounds.

I've begun the process of organizing this blog into themes.  I'm not enjoying the process and my writing style seems to be counter to the goals of organization.

I'll pay someone in hug and pizza to do this for me...

Monday, June 6, 2016

Day 176: Sparse

The biggest class that I had today contained 5 people.

I was able to catch up on some paperwork.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Day 175: Playgrounds

I'm going to start running again.  Yesterday was a tipping point for me and writing about it was extremely cathartic.  I went to the doctor and spoke to some friends and I'm feeling better today.

But not better enough to think that I'm alright.

Three years ago, I ran a half marathon.  I'm going to sign up for another in the fall and set up a running schedule.  I already have new shoes.  Now I just need to make the time.

With grades for seniors finalized this morning, the school has taken on an air of a summer camp.  There were torrential downpours and those, in combination with closed grades, meant that the population of the school was at around 50%.

My astronomy classes watched Cosmos and 2001 while various other students came to borrow from my collection of games.

We finished the playground presentations in Physics and some of them completely blew me away!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Day 174: Open Fear

I think that this will be the last year that I keep this blog as daily reflections.  I hope (and plan) to keep writing when the spirit moves me, but I'm tired.

This year, my writing has received more scrutiny and has more concerns expressed about it than ever before and, while some of the complaints may be valid, it has made me feel as though I can't be as honest and open in my writing as I want to be or, more accurately, as I need to be in order to derive benefit from it.

I no longer feel safe.

Here's the kicker:

I fully recognize that the majority of my discomfort and fear is entirely in my head.

My administration has been supportive of this blog since I started writing it.  I have been told that "I think your blog is awesome and it's good to reflect in writing."

No parents or administrators have complained to me about my writing.

But I still live in constant fear.

I will write that again because it's such a huge portion of my mental state and how I interact with my students.

I am afraid almost all the time.

I believe in what I do, in my goals, my methods, my outcomes.  I'm also not sure that I'm acting on them correctly.

The practical side of me says "yes, you have provided them with constant opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and have tried to inspire them to be the best version of themselves."  It tells me that this small piles of notes and messages from students thanking me for being their teacher, for encouraging them to work harder, should help to uplift me and remind me that I'm doing good and right by my students.

The groups of students who come back to see me week after week, year after year, let me know that I am making an impact.

The student who failed my class for the year and still came to thank me for everything that I did for him and how much he appreciated it.

Perhaps that makes it worse.

I took my children to the playground this weekend.  In addition to the gaggles of young kids running around, there were 2 sisters and a friend of theirs, all between the ages of 11 and 14.  This older group was running around, playing, having a good time.  A woman stormed over the playground with a small flock of 5 year olds and began screaming at the teenagers for picking on her kids.

The teens immediately started apologizing, and claiming that they weren't picking on anyone.  I could see their defensive postures from 200 feet away.

When the woman finished screaming at them, they went back to playing, but the joy was gone.  It was obvious that they were done and just wanted to go home and, within 5 minutes, they left the playground, talking and walking slowly.

They had been yelled at, but they didn't get in trouble in any meaningful way.  There was nothing that the angry could or would do to them, and yet the adrenaline had been pumped, the nerves had been shot and the fun was ruined.  No matter how much fun the rest of the day had been, they were only going to remember being yelled at.

Each time I get an email from a parent or administrator, a stab of fear goes through me.  This is COMPLETELY irrational, but it happens nonetheless.

The camouflage of positive confidence keeps me from looking like the shivering mouse that huddles just below the surface.

I recognize that teachers receive more scrutiny than many other professions.  On one hand, we are shaping the future for society and for individual students, but on the other hand, we are people.  It seems as though teachers are not allowed to make mistakes, that we are expected to be experts from the day we graduate from college.

No one explicitly says this, but the expectation is there.

Every teacher knows another teacher, either personally or by anecdote, whose career was ruined by a single bad interaction with a student, parent or administrator.  Every teacher also knows hundreds of teachers for whom that in't the case at all.

I have seen teachers who are horrifically ineffective with both content and behavior management.  They go about their days (seemingly) without a care in the world.

Each time a student earns a grade lower than what they feel they deserve, I am terrified that it will spiral into administrative meetings and the end of my teaching career.

One of my graduating seniors has asked me to jump the cumulative year grade from 78% to 80% because it effects scholarship options.  I don't feel comfortable doing this but I fear that refusal to do so will have lasting repercussions for me.

I have no evidence to this end, but the fear is there, warring with the argument of integrity stating that said student, even knowing what was resting on the final grade, didn't do everything possible to get there.

Even without including students names, or even genders in most cases, I struggle writing about my negative interactions with my students.  Even though the goal of my writing is, and always has been to help me think through the situations and improve my own teaching practice.  Even though I have put Herculean effort into NOT allowing this blog to be a place where I complain, but rather analyze my own actions so as to improve.

I can't derive the benefits that I need from this blog if I feel as though I'm surrounded by Tommy DeVito.

The whole point of having this blog be public, having my Twitter feed, be public is to keep me in check, but I'm starting to feel as though there is no longer balance.

I could make the blog private, but I know that many other teachers are gleaning benefit from the sharing of my thoughts and struggles.  I also know that making the blog private, or not writing at all, won't solve the anxiety problem that I have.

At the same time, writing as much as I do (almost one million words since August 2013) is both physically and mentally exhausting.

There are 6 days left.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Day 172: Better

We finished the review for the Astronomy final.  The Physics kids put the finishing touches on their playgrounds.

I had a nice note in my mailbox to start my day and I was invited to a graduation party for one of my seniors.  I have more I could write, but I'm going to simply enjoy this.
I have no idea who wrote this, but thank you

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