Category Archives: teaching

Teaching Tuesday: The open house blues

I’m a parent who always goes to open house. Even when open house falls on the first teacher work day and I’ve spent 8 hours at my own school, rushed to meet my husband for a quick dinner and then had to come all the way back to the elementary school my kids go to (which is next door to my school and 45 minutes from our house) and we don’t even make it home until nearly 8 pm, I go.

This year the teachers hadn’t even met my kids and I went to open house so I could meet them and see their classrooms. I wanted to hear about their teaching philosophies and learn what the year has in store for my kiddos, one of whom was a little more excited to go back to school than the other.

My enthusiasm for open house at my school, however, is not nearly as strong. It’s not because I don’t love my job. I truly do. I cannot really imagine being anything other than a teacher (well, except rock star, famous author or movie star, but I’m not sure my real-life self will be as good at these jobs as my dream life self is).

The reason I dread open house night at my school is because of the 120 students I currently have enrolled in all of my classes, I met parents of about 30 of my students. Unlike the classrooms at the elementary school where each room was packed so full many parents were standing, my classroom  had a sea of open desks.

When I asked my students why their parents didn’t show up, the reply I got most was something along the lines of, “I’m almost out of school and my parents don’t think they need to come.” Basically, since my students are juniors and seniors, most of their parents don’t feel the need to come and meet their teachers, find out what their kids will be learning or get involved beyond signing a course expectation sheet and maybe (and this is a BIG maybe) dropping me an email if their kid’s grade dips down below a C.

What floors me is that the majority of my students are Advanced Placement English kids, who are all college bound. I would think these would be some of the most supportive and enthusiastic parents. My guess is that many of the parents feel like they don’t need to come to open house because their kids are advanced and probably will not struggle much in school.

But really, what kind of a message does this send to the kids? School is very important at the elementary level. Or at least important enough for their parents to give up an evening to come and meet their teachers. Even in middle school open house attendance rates are pretty high in my district. But for each birthday kids celebrate, fewer parents show up to school events like open house.

To me it sends a message that school isn’t a priority anymore. Their kids are almost out, so they don’t need to care as much. This may not be entirely harmful to the parents, but the kids see this message and that’s where I think the real issue lies. If kids don’t see their parents interested enough to go to the school and meet their teachers and hear about their classes, are they as likely to be interested?

I really feel that as parents, we need to make it clear to our kids that their education, no matter what level they are at, is important. It is important enough for us to give up our free time and come in to learn about what they will be learning. Even at 18, most children still really care what their parents think and they pick up on the messages, even the subtle ones, they send out.

I know that when my kids are in high school, I am going to make my husband come to open house. He will go around and meet all of their teachers (they’ll be going to my high school, so I’ll already know them). I want my kids to know that their education is important to both their parents, not just their geeky ol’ school lovin’ mom.

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Free Reading Friday: Prayers for the Stolen

prayers for the stolenAlthough I’ve already posted reviews of several other Eliot Rosewater book nominees for the 2017-2018 year, Prayers for the Stolen was actually one of the first ones I read this summer. When I borrowed it from the school library at the end of May, I didn’t realize I actually already owned a copy.

I’d read about the book as part of an offer one of the publishing companies makes to teachers: preview copies for only $3 each. The idea is to see if the book is one you might want to teach in class and then order an entire class set or two. I often take advantage of this deal as I’m always looking for new books that might be interesting to teach. Plus, cheap books…who can pass that up?

The blurb in the catalog was enticing to me. A story about a young girl in a rural Mexican village where all the men leave in order to seek their fortunes. A town where girls disappear with such regularity that mothers purposely make their daughters look ugly and dig holes in their yards in order to hide girls so the cartels won’t kidnap them. A town where girls are educated, but only when there is a teacher willing to come to the village. A town where it is not uncommon for a best friend to disappear, but is unheard for her to ever return.

Except, of course, in this book she does.

Jennifer Clement offers up a beautifully disturbing book. While targeted at a YA audience, I think adults will find equal merit in this book. I find it hard to type the word “enjoy” as the book deals with very serious issues including child slavery, kidnapping, murder, drug cartels, alcoholism, adultery and abandonment and has so much tragedy in it. Still, I found the book captivating and could not put it down. Clement’s prose is poetic and haunting.

Ladydi, the main character (named because her mother was obsessed with Princess Diana), is a young woman in one of the most vulnerable situations imaginable. And yet, she rises through each horrific event and becomes stronger. She is powerful and empathetic and will open reader’s eyes to a world they’ve probably never even thought about before. It’s so easy to turn our backs on problems we cannot see, especially when they exist far from our doors, if not far from our borders.

 

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Teaching Tuesday: Teaching is not a “calling”

I don’t know how many times in my life I’ve heard that teaching is a “calling.” Usually this phrase is invoked to criticize teachers who want pesky things like raises, better benefits or better working conditions. After all, teachers shouldn’t be in it for the money, right? It’s a “calling.” People should only go in to teaching because they want to help others, regardless of whether or not they can actually live off of the salary provided.

Once, at a school board meeting when members of our community were remonstrating against a desperately needed referendum, a member of the community actually stood up and suggested that locals should be able to pay us in fruits and vegetables rather than a standard salary, because, after all, teaching is a calling and we shouldn’t be in it for the money.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can’t pay my mortgage with turnips.

Despite what many people want the general public to believe, teaching is not a “calling.” Teaching is a profession, just like any other. There are teachers who excel in the profession. They go above and beyond what is needed to ensure they make education as enjoyable and as meaningful as possible. This does not happen simply through some sort of divine intervention or some inborn talent they have. It happens because they work very hard, sacrificing countless hours of their own time with friends and family in order to work on lesson plans, grading, training, etc.

Teachers are not religious leaders. They do not live off the charity of their parishioners. They do not take vows of poverty. They do not have the ability to ex-communicate any member of their flock. Sure, administrators can expel students, but it is a whole lot easier for a pastor to tell someone not to come back to the church than it is to kick a student out of a school. There are no laws telling pastors how to run their churches, who they have to serve within the community, or how long they have to allow people to stay in their congregations. Anyone who wants to can become a pastor. Although many pastors do go to seminary or have religious training, there is no mandate that they do. Thanks to the internet, anyone who wants to can get ordained. Anyone who wants to can recruit followers and set up their own church. Teachers cannot do this.

Teachers, like people in a great many other professions, have to have college degrees. They have to pass state and national exams. They have to be licensed by the state. They are employees of a school corporation. Teachers, are doing a JOB. And like members of every other profession, they deserve to be properly compensated. Yes, believe it or not, teachers become teachers because they want to be paid for their knowledge and their skills. It is our lively hood, not a “calling.” While I love my job and work very hard at it, I go to work every day, not because of some divine “calling,” but because I have a family to support. And my children deserve a good life, just like the children I teach, whose parents are doctors, lawyers, accountants, mechanics, etc.

Indiana is currently experiencing a rather large teacher shortage. While “experts” speculate on why this is, any teacher can tell you why: teachers in Indiana are not well compensated, are being vilified in the media and are being forced to jump through ridiculous hoops to prove they are “qualified.” The state keeps rolling out new tests to measure students, slashing education budges and adding more to the already overworked shoulders of teachers. Is it a wonder that articles like this one in the Indianapolis Star are popping up in newspapers around the state?

While I appreciate the Star trying to shed light onto a very real problem, I found myself getting so annoyed when they referred to those who are still willing to become teachers as people who have a “calling.” This myth needs to be put to bed. People who become teachers may be following their passions. They are hopefully going into a profession where they feel their skills will be put to good use. But they are not on some divine mission, nor should they be treated as they are.

Teachers are professionals who want to do their jobs. They want to give their students the best educations they can. They deserve respect and compensation, not sainthood and poverty.

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Free Reading Friday: Fresh Off the Boat

Frest off the boatOnce again, I really had very little idea what I was getting into with this book. I vaguely remember hearing that Fresh off the Boat was the name of a TV series, but as I haven’t had any sort of cable in a few years, I’d never seen it. I actually just saw part of it at the gym earlier this week. I always bring music or a book to listen to while working out, but when I glanced up at the TV hanging over the Arc Trainer, I saw the intro for the show and found myself glancing up at it several times during my workout.

Before picking up this book I’d never heard of Eddie Huang or Baohaus. I actually bought the book after reading a short synopsis of it in a catalog I get a few times a year which previews books teachers might want to use in their classroom. As I am always looking for new, interesting works of non-fiction for my AP Language kids and I have only a handful of non-fiction books in my classroom by Asian writers, I bought a copy and added this one to my summer reading list.

At times I struggled reading it. It’s not that the book is hard to read, bu there is a lot of slang in it, and even when I was young, I was never extremely fluent in slang. Well, I did 80’s Valley Girl ok, but that’s because I actually grew up in Southern California in the 1980’s and mostly just picked it up from friends. East Coast street slang is an entirely different world to me. I also know next to nothing about sneakers and my hip-hop/rap knowledge could definitely stand to be better.

What I really enjoyed about this book was that I feel like Huang’s voice is authentically his in this book. He starts off as a young man, searching for himself, trapped in world where the only faces he sees that look like his are members of his family. As he grows up, he is caught between cultures and trying very hard not to become the “stereotypical Asian” he sees so many people around him becoming. His identification with hip hop and rap artists felt so real to him because like them, he felt like an outsider, looking into a world that didn’t really want him.

I think it’s great that Eddie is unapologetically himself in his memoir. He doesn’t try to turn himself into some sort of flawless hero. He shows the world who he is and was, warts and all, so to speak. He admits to mistakes. He talks about what he’s learned. He shares his frustrations and anger with his readers.

He also shares his very real disdain for a number of people in this book. While I do think he goes overboard with the way he airs his disdain, I haven’t lived his life. I am white and have never felt out of place in America. Disappointed in my country, sure, but never like I don’t belong here, which he has clearly felt, and been made to feel, countless times in his life. I think his anger is justified. I can’t imagine what it is like to grow up in a world where I barely see myself reflected in the media or where I feel pushed toward a minuscule number of professions.

I’m glad Huang wrote this book. I’m glad he started a business that truly reflects who he is as a person and gives others the chance to do the same. I’m glad I read this book and I hope several of my students read it as well. I think it may give some of them a perspective they’ve never thought of before. I love the line he has near the end of the book, “My main objective with Baohaus was to become a voice for Asian Americans,*” which he follows up with this footnote: *”Note that I say ‘a voice’ not ‘the voice.’ I don’t speak for all Asian Americans, I speak for a few rotten bananas like me.”

I think more voices like Huang’s need to be heard in our country.

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Throwback Thursday: Travel mugs

owlI have lost another travel mug. I don’t quite understand how I have done this, but this is the second mug I’ve lost in the past two years. And once again, it is not one of the random travel mugs students or extended family members have gotten me as gifts.

This mug was one from my children’s first school. It was not only easy to carry and easy to clean, but also the exact perfect size to hold the water I heat up for my tea in my Keurig. I don’t actually make the tea in the Keurig…I think it’s too weak that way, but I get the hot water from my Keurig and the mug that has gone missing perfectly held one run on the medium fill and one on the small.

Although I did love this mug, it was not quite as important as the first one I lost. The first one, which I’d had for several years, was full of pictures of my kids and my dad, who has passed away. I know exactly where I left it: at an education conference on a university campus. When I realized it was gone the next day, I knew I’d never see it again. I lost it the Tuesday before Thanksgiving break and the only reason the building was open was because of our meeting. I knew everyone would be gone until Monday and that by the time I called about it, some janitor would have tossed it. I was right.

I should be clear that I am not someone who loses things often. I may misplace my keys for a few minutes or forget where I set something down in my house, but I never just leave things behind. So to do it twice, in two years, is a big deal. Especially since I used these mugs all the time. I had the one with my kids on it for about 3 years and the one from my kids’ school for 6.

The only upshot to losing my mug is that I had to use one of those generic mugs someone got me as a gift. It is not a great mug: it’s too heavy, is not insulated so it gets way too hot and is a sort of ugly plaid color. The reason I’m calling this an upshot is because I do get to use the adorable drink koozie one of my best friends got me a few years back. She bought it not just because it was adorable, but also because an owl was the mascot for my kids’ school. Every day when I see it on my desk in my classroom, it makes me smile.

So even though I’m drinking from a new mug, I get to see my old friend the owl every day.

 

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Teaching Tuesday: Back to School

It’s official, we are back to school. While I was completely ready for my children to go back–they were extremely argumentative that last week–I was not ready to go back.

Ok, technically I was ready. My lesson plans were done. My courses were set up in Canvas, our classroom management system. My room was clean, in order and even had new posters and bulletin boards up. I had student books ready for distribution and class lists printed. My new grade book was sitting on my desk (although I can’t put names in it until the end of the second week as students are still dropping and adding classes now).

Anyone looking into my room on Monday morning at 8:00 am, would have seen a very prepared teacher.

Except, of course, I wasn’t. Not mentally anyway. My daughter woke up in the early hours of Monday morning. At 3:45 am to be exact. She had a nightmare about a zombie apocalypse. Despite not watching any shows/movies with zombies or playing any games with zombies, she has seen her older brother’s Plants vs. Zombies books and so bad dreams ensued. Even as I tried to console her and tell her zombies were not real, all she could do was cry, “but what if they are?!?!?!” There was no reasoning with her. So, I made the mistake of letting her spread her sleeping bag on our bedroom floor to finish out the night.

Not that either of us slept. I dozed off for just long enough to have not one, not two, but three dreams about sending her back to her room to sleep. Each one was interrupted by her making lots of noise. First she was “whispering” to the cat to come down and play with her. Then, she woke me up to tell me she heard some kind of buzzing noise in my room. Next, she woke me up again to tell me about the mysterious buzzing noise. She had a string of coughs that sounded decidedly fake. There was also general tossing and turning…all of which my husband slept through.

Finally, five minutes before my alarm clock was set to go off, she shouted out “YES!” so loud I almost fell out of bed. It seems it was close enough to wake up time, so she thought we should all just get up and get ready for our first day of school.

I did, but boy was I unhappy about it.

It doesn’t help that I don’t drink coffee and all my school teas are herbal, so there was not even an artificial pick me up for me.

I made it through the day though. My students all seemed fairly alert and as I looked out over my classroom to gauge how well they were handing the first day back, I got several enthusiastic head nods, a ton of smiles and even some laughter.

Although I was exhausted by the end of the day, I made it. And, when I picked my daughter up after school, even though we still had to get through some pretty major traffic and swim lessons, I liked her a lot more that afternoon than I had in the morning. At 4:00 her enthusiasm about her good day was endearing.

Despite a rocky start, I think it may be a good year.

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