So get this: the meeting last week with the mother, stepfather, and Education Advocate for our student who “has not done...
Could you spare a good thought/prayer for Baby Tomes? He’s going in for an upper GI X-ray at 8...
6th grade ICT.
It’s just not getting better.
I don’t get it. I’ve made a huge turn around with my other 6th ICT class. I...
Yesterday privilegedwhitegirl asked if I was going to finish my NaNoWriMo book.
LOL. I wrote a couple of thousand words. It was hardly even an attempt. A big part of it was time. November was a whirlwind of conferences and sub days and being several assignments behind in grading.
It was also a whirlwind of not being present with my family. My brother shot his first deer this month and texted me a picture. Today, my dad hosted a huge dinner for all of our extended family, most of whom I haven’t seen in over two years. I wasn’t there.
When my mom asked me about coming to visit them for Thanksgiving, I told her I couldn’t afford it (true). My stepdad called me back and offered to pay my way, which I know they can’t afford. The truth was (is) that I don’t want to go see them; out loud, I said that the real problem was the sheer volume of driving (also true: eleven hours one way by myself is misery).
As much as I miss my mother and stepdad and baby (16, but who’s counting) brother, I feel really good about the decision to not go to KY for Thanksgiving. It would not have been a break and I would have returned emotionally and physically exhausted, reeking of cigarette smoke and depression.
Of course I’m here with mb24jg and her family, and it has been a really good, low-pressure long weekend. I am once again humbled by the generosity and kindness of a friend’s family, a recurring theme in my life. There has been an abundance of delicious food, lots of baking, and good company. The visit here has left me in a much more positive and relaxed mindset than visiting my own mother ever will.
I don’t know what to do with that, to be completely honest, even though it’s an emotion I’ve been feeling for nearly twenty years. I can’t tell if it makes me a terrible daughter, or if it is more a reflection on her being a terrible mother, or if it just results from a terrible set of uncontrollable tragic circumstances, or some combination thereof.
I would have really enjoyed myself at Dad’s this weekend, though. I couldn’t get there, though. Dad did not offer to buy me a plane ticket, even though he could have probably afforded it. To be fair, I didn’t ask, but then I did just ask for money towards the Christmas ticket. The thing about my dad is that he is really self-involved, and I don’t occupy any space in the center of his life anymore. He loves me, of course, and when I ask for a thing he generally tries to make it happen for me. He doesn’t see me as an integral part of a family holiday celebration. I don’t really know what to do with that either, so I just spend a lot of mental space being nostalgic for when I was young and Dad and I just had each other.
Anyway, I would have really missed the time with mb24jg.
The real reason I didn’t finish my book has not much to do with time and everything to do with inspiration (as cheesy as that sounds). I know I have a book in me. And I know that I can string words together pretty well. But I don’t know which story to tell or which words to use. I keep telling myself to be patient, and that the story will show itself when the time is right, but I’ve been impatiently staring at a blank page since I was 12, waiting for this damn story to materialize.
If I knew how to work for it I would. If I knew how to mine a story I’d rip through the earth with my bare hands to find it. If I knew how to build it I would break my back to lay the bricks. If it had to be planted I’d plow acres by hand for it, work until my hands cracked and bled, work until I was sunburned and sweating and caked with dirt.
If I knew how to make a place for myself in my own family I would do that too.
This past year—this current fall—I have been the happiest I’ve ever been, I think. I am in love with my job and my school and my home life. I just can’t seem to shake this particular set of stressors, and they feel like anchors. Anchors that haven’t actually managed to lodge into a specific spot and hold me steady; anchors that I’m constantly dragging through heavy silty mud.
Dear Department Head + Admin Team,
Look, I know our department is difficult. I’m difficult—self-righteous and pretentious, full of procrastination and abstract ideals, always a little disorganized. And every surface in my classroom is covered in either papers or lab equipment or, recently, non-human organisms. My sense that I work a little harder than most and know a little more than most makes it tough for me to play well with others. I know. And that’s just me, and there are about 13ish other humans you have to manage in our department, at least six of whom are significantly more challenging than me.
We are dysfunctional. We don’t like each other. We don’t respect each other. We can’t have a sustained civil conversation about anything. We don’t agree on anything, not even on the basic tenets of the science we’re supposed to be teaching. We don’t share with each other, though there’s a fair bit of snooping and stealing that goes on. There’s a lot of eye rolling and not much honest eye contact. Our students have no consistency in their science education. Our lived teaching philosophies have almost no discernible overlap. The rest of the school regards us all with raised eyebrows and a little apprehension.
So props to you, DH + Admin Team, for recognizing that this is problematic and deciding to address it. I mean it. Thanks for trying. It’s not easy to try to fix an interpersonal clusterfuck. In this profession, it’s not even easy to admit that a problem exists. You expended considerable resources to try to help us sort ourselves out, and I believe, genuinely believe, that the motives were good. You recognize the good teaching that’s going on—there really is a lot of good teaching—and you’d like to see us collaborating a little more, or at least playing nicely with one another. It would make us all a little better, or would at the very least make the school a more pleasant place.
But here’s the thing, DH + Admin Team, although I am sure you yourselves already realized this: today didn’t solve anything. You took me away from my students for a day, even after I explained in detail that I was already scheduled to miss several instructional days this month for long-ago scheduled PD experiences that are directly tied to my instruction. I was assured in the most professional of exchanges that this “PD” experience would lead to better outcomes for my students and would improve my work environment. I was skeptical, but I stopped putting up a fight. If you were going to commit to this and try, then I would go along with it. I do want a better work environment. I do want colleagues I can collaborate with. I do want our students to have some consistency. I don’t want to be part of a dysfunctional department.
So I showed up to our “team-building.” I participated. When a discussion prompt was tossed to the group, I bit. I wrote the things on chart paper. I talked about my values. I even managed to not roll my eyes when all of my colleagues insisted that they, like me, valued integrity. I didn’t call my colleague out on his perpetuation of harmful racial stereotypes when he told a lengthy anecdote involving Native Americans who spent weekly “government checks” on “used liquor.” Nor did I point out the irony of him advocating fiercely for “Global Understanding” as a shared departmental value moments after he insisted on the importance of integrity. I didn’t say out loud that another colleague was crazy when he claimed that it was “socialistic” to force him to teach something he didn’t agree with, even though we all know he is a Creationist and a climate-change denier. In spite of those things I bared parts of myself that I hold sacred: I talked about the sheer wonder of the universe and my commitment to a broad ideal for improving science literacy. That’s me, my essence—that’s as much of a soul as I can ever to claim to have. As requested, I was honest.
I have my limits though, and as we entered the time window during which I should have been providing instruction to my ESOL/special education students, my colleagues decided that we should enter into a 40 minute session of griping and deflection during which a few people talked in negative unproductive circles about systemic policies over which we—and the facilitator—have zero control over. None of the actual leadership in the room—not you, DH, and not you, Admin Team, and certainly not the frightened-looking facilitator—stepped in to shut down the pointless talk. It’s OK, though. You had me—the least experienced teacher and youngest person in the room—there to speak up and suggest that perhaps our limited time would be better spent discussing things we could actually impact in our classrooms. Did you notice how my colleagues looked at me with shock and surprise, as if the very notion of trying to effect small meaningful change in a classroom context were psychotic? I’ll admit that I was upset and even in danger of losing my poker face. Honestly, I was pretty full of rage. You want to pull me out of my classroom? Fine, but you don’t get to let others waste the instructional time you’ve stripped from my students. Keep the talk worthwhile or put me back where I belong—with my kids and my scientific clutter.
The conversation did reposition itself. And we made some small progress. More significantly, though, we saw several members of the department choose to not thoughtfully engage. Every minute that they dicked around and made jokes out of the tasks was a minute that I could have been spending teaching science to my students. A group of my colleagues, when asked to identify their limitations, explained that they don’t work well with “lazy, boring, or stupid people.” I talked about the ways in which my commitment to my vision of science education made me stubborn and occasionally gave me tunnel vision. They blamed others’ perceived laziness for their inability to work with other humans. I explained that I was so deeply invested in my own big picture of scientific literacy that I found it difficult to compromise. They admitted no flaws.
So at the end of the day, DH and Admin Team, not much was actually accomplished. I knew where people stood before. I know where they stand now. It’s in the same place as before, very far away from me, and very far away from their students’ best interests. In some cases, it’s even very far away from the beautiful scientific truths about our universe that fuel my passion and commitment to the field. A concern that I have now floated, explicitly, several times, has yet to be productively addressed even though every exchange of today confirmed it: “collaborating” with these people is not going to improve my teaching. If they let it happen at all, it might improve theirs. But at what cost to me?
I don’t think you quite understand, DH + Admin Team, that the materials and lessons I create for my students are my masterpieces. They are infused with the things I hold to be true and sacred and moral, and they are delivered to my students with passion and precision and love. When you encourage me to collaborate, you and I both know that I am going to receive nothing from the exchange. When you encourage me to collaborate, you are encouraging me to share these carefully crafted materials with people who have no respect for me, no respect for their students, no respect for this profession, and no respect for the wonder of the universe. Let’s not mention that it would require me to give up some of my precious few minutes, at the expense of myself and my students.
I feel valued as a teacher by you, Admin Team. I really do. You know what my classroom is about and you respect my hard work. I feel valued by my students and their parents. I feel valued by most of my non-science colleagues. I don’t feel even a little bit valued by most of my fellow science teachers, though. And today made it abundantly clear that they are not interested in investing any real though or energy into building meaningful consensus with me or anyone else.
I tried, DH + Admin Team. Don’t ever expect me to come quietly out of my classroom for these people ever again. I refuse to waste another minute of my students’ time on these “teachers.” And I have a lot of words to send to you in real life about what makes PD directly tied to student learning and the ways in which this was not. And the next time I am asked to participate in anything that is labeled as “collaboration” or “teaming” with these “science teachers,” you can expect a professional, articulate, written statement from me about how unsafe I feel in conversations with this department.
I’m settled into a hotel room in Denver for the weekend. It’s Knowles fall meeting time.
It’s stupidly early here but I’ll be going to bed once I’m done typing this. I’m stupidly tired.
My internal meal clock was thrown today. I had lunch at a normal time, so I wasn’t hungry when I got to the airport at 2:30, but I was scheduled to land in Denver past my dinner time, so I ate something small and unhealthy. I wasn’t hungry when I checked in, but I got a free cookie and enjoyed it. Now I’m sorta hungry but I’m already in pajamas so I’ll just have ALL THE BREAKFASTS tomorrow. That part will be easy; KSTF feeds us a little too well at these meetings.
I scurried out of sixth period today while my students were still working (my co-teacher took the reins). I forgot many things, which is particularly annoying because my grades are due Monday at 2:40 and now I don’t have some of the things I need to grade.
I’m looking forward to this meeting. I need to feel re-energized going into second quarter.
They finally put us up in a hotel with a complimentary airport shuttle.
I’m really broke again and am not thinking about how I still need to get my plane ticket for Christmas. Dad will pay half, but even the $150 feels tricky right now.
NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow. I don’t even know what the hell I’m writing about and I know it’s going to turn into autobiography and I hate that about my writing which is why I don’t write.
The warm-up question for AP Biology today was about zombies. They appreciated it.
Next weekend I’m traveling to Pittsburgh and I’m really excited about it.
But my weekends have been so busy, and they will continue to be until 2014.
I miss my roommate.
I sort of told my mom that I wasn’t going to see her for Thanksgiving this year. I don’t want to go and I can’t afford it (financially, emotionally, or physically). But I feel horrible about it and very sad, and I want to go back to the days when every interaction with my mom didn’t make me terribly sad, but I don’t think those days ever happened.
Yesterday was International Day of the Girl, and my school did a really nice job raising awareness. We were encouraged to wear yellow, and the International Club hosted a special student-led presentation about the state of girls’ education worldwide after school.
I currently teach/have taught many of the most active international club members—the club is mostly populated by our ELL students, plus the occasional exchange student and some first-generation American kids. They are overwhelmingly female. The student presenting was a student I taught biology to last year. She’s from Nepal. She’s astonishingly bright, but was in my on-level class mostly because of language ability. (I recommended she switch up to gifted this year for chem, and she’s doing well.) I felt bad all year about this student because she clearly enjoyed science, was very diligent and participated well, but was in a class that I struggled to teach effectively. There were a lot of repeater students and a lot of students who refused to engage in the more active lessons I planned, and by the second semester I’d burned out of trying. She excelled anyway, and scored higher than most of my students (gifted or otherwise) on the state biology exam.
Anyway. She wore traditional dress from Nepal while she spoke with clarity about the importance of girls’ education and barriers they face around the world. She was energized, and enthusiastic, and urged her peers to participate. Her spoken English—like so many of our ELL students—is unintentionally beautiful, a beauty that comes from using words and grammar to create vivid images in ways native speakers could never dream up. At the end I shook her hand and thanked her, then went back to my room for some Friday-afternoon cleaning and grading.
About 15 minutes later she came by my classroom with two friends—two other ELL students I teach. One of them, from Iran, was in my inclusion class my first year teaching, another class I struggled to teach and manage well. The other, from Korea, was in my inclusion class last year and did so well that now she’s in my class again—gifted biology this time, and she’s working crazy hard and outperforming native speakers left and right. All three were in yellow, and they wanted a picture of me in my yellow with them.
I made some small talk with them. My Iranian student invited me to come to her international club presentation in the winter. My Korean student asked if she asked me too many questions during class. My Nepalese student told me about her current chemistry class, and then said suddenly, “You know, you’re really popular Ms. F.”
I laughed and shook my head.
"No!" She was suddenly really serious. "Everyone says you are the best teacher. They say that you are really a teacher, you know?” Her two friends were nodding in agreement, and chiming in with the names of specific students who had talked about how much they loved my class and my teaching. ”You’re like the best one we ever had!”
There are some students you know you reach. There are other students you worry about, who sit quietly at the corners, who hover on the edge of your teaching, who have the misfortune to land in a class you can never quite manage, who stumble through the language or the science, who talk while you’re talking, who blow off homework assignments, whose lab notebooks are a complete mess, who never get started when the bell rings, who need continual prompting to get their folders out…who move in and out of your classroom without ever revealing what, if anything, they got from you.
I’m not determined to be anyone’s favorite teacher. But I am determined to be really a teacher, a title that can only be awarded to you by earnest kids who really, in spite of everything, just want to know something about the universe they inhabit and feel like a person cares whether they succeed.
And if I had any doubts about whether what I’m doing is working they’ve been pretty much handled. I’m where I need to be, and what I’ve been able to give has been imperfect but good enough, and when I’m feeling tapped again in a month or three months or two years, I get the feeling a student might drop by and unintentionally renew my commitment to this crazy vocation.
It’s only been a week back at school and I have already logged my first anxiety attack. Although perhaps that is not actually too surprising.
One of my dearest friends from has a master’s degree in nutrition and works as a dietician. Like me, she works many long hours in a stressful work environment where her decisions and work affect other people’s well-being. For a number of reasons her stress level at work has gone up significantly over the last couple of months, and she has been struggling to cope with the extra stress.
We talked about it a bit when she gave me a “how was your first week” phone call on Friday. She had been doing some reading about hormone levels recently and had hit on the following advice to deal with elevated cortisol (simplistically but not falsely called the “stress hormone”) levels:
She said that after a week or so of paying attention to those things, she still felt stressed, but she felt better about it—like maybe everything wasn’t dark and terrible and impossible, just difficult and tiring but OK.
I’ll let you know how it goes for me.
If I don’t start feeling more in control of this stuff, that probably means it is time to do what I told my grandma I’d do a long time ago and perhaps go talk with a medical professional type person about anxiety.
Thanks to writteninthekitchensink for the tag.
1. Although I enjoy an afternoon or occasional weekend of doing nothing, I can’t handle having more than about three or four days of unscheduled time. I get restless and depressed. (I hated summers in high school.)
2. My first career goal was paleontology.
3. I like being good at things.
4. I like being the best at things even better, though, so I always set my bar pretty high.
5. I seriously think I have a book in me. Not sure when it will start to take shape, but I’ve felt it lurking for years.
6. I like my body. It’s taken me a while to get there.
7. I am a fantastic procrastinator.
8. At this moment in time, I really can’t imagine myself in a committed, long-term relationship with a guy. It’s a recent-ish realization that I don’t quite know what to do with.
9. I like writing handwritten letters, though I don’t do it nearly as often as I used to.
10. If I could lead two simultaneous lives I’d be earning a PhD in English literature right about now.
So says Frodo of time spent in Lothlorien. In The Fellowship of the Ring much is made about how strangely time moves in Lothlorien; the hobbits can clearly recall only about three nights spent there, though the moon indicates that they’ve spent an entire month. Legolas explains that for Elves, time moves at once swiftly and slowly, and the Fellowship experienced this distortion while in Lothlorien.
Anyway. I just read that part of the story, as my time here in Michigan draws to a close. Just three more nights here! It’s passed slowly and swiftly. I would swear it was only a week (if even that long), not nearly three. Each day slipped by before I even realized it had started. I didn’t do nearly enough napping or reading or pl*nning or sunbathing or visiting. I didn’t bake enough or drink enough or walk the dogs enough. I didn’t get to a Tigers game and I didn’t go camping or go to any of the Great Lakes.
But I’m feeling the strain of time and distance on my own personal timeline, and in many ways I’ve been looking forward to getting back home since I got here. There are boxes to unpack, and a deck to enjoy, and real schoolwork to get done among all of my books and resources. I miss mb24jg fiercely and am eager to settle into our home. I miss my walks and talks with Labmanager, and I miss Samwise the cat. Three more nights seems an eternity.
Michigan has been doing this to me for years—ever since I left, really. When I get here I feel like I’m stepping off of the timeline of my life for a bit. I become primarily a daughter and granddaughter, two identities that are completely shelved when I’m anywhere else. My own actual life—teaching, living in PA and then MD—seems hazy, dream-like, a little surreal. Blurry around the edges for as long as I sit here in the Great Lakes State with no urgent responsibilities. I feel unencumbered; there’s breathing room here.
But I’m static here and after a few days I can feel my deep-set restlessness begin to work. I don’t accomplish things here; I don’t grow here; I don’t work here. I’m hardly even viewed as a fully functional and independent 25 year old professional adult when I am here; I seem to fall back (for other people) into my teenaged self. It’s this stasis, I think, combined with the uncomfortable knowledge that my other timeline is plowing on without me and I’m missing stuff, that makes these vacations seem long and slow.
tl;dr—It’s my last weekend in Michigan and I don’t want to leave but I’m ready to get moving.
It’s occasionally useful for your stepmom to be a dental hygienist such that the local dentist knows your family.
Here’s hoping all I need are some antibiotics. Though it does feel like its improve since yesterday.