Will You Ever Go Back to Teaching?


It’s been a year since I gave up teaching, and it seems like the question is coming up more and more frequently of whether I’ll go back or not; it’s actually a silly question to me. You may as well ask me if I’ll ever go back to Mongolia… the answer is, “Maybe… I don’t know. I don’t have any plans to go back, but if the right opportunity came along, it certainly wouldn’t be out of the question.”

Even though I can’t say whether I’ll ever go back, I can tell you that I REALLY miss the teachers. It’s difficult to explain how unique and wonderful teachers are. Working in an office lands me with a lot of people who are under-educated and poorly-informed, whereas with teaching I’d grown accustomed to being the young one, who various colleagues described as “winningly naive” and “precious.” I was surrounded by Master’s degrees and most everyone had decades more experience and disillusionment than I had. Now, I’m surrounded by people who haven’t read books or traveled the world or experienced true stress. It bothers me in an elitest, snobbish way, but it also just bothers me that conversations about politics, poverty, religion, etc… are so completely devoid of true understanding and empathy. The head and the heart find no more elegant blending than exists inside the classroom. And I miss that.

I don’t actually miss the students very much. I know… you all think that I ought to be all melty inside over the special snowflakes I got to teach, but those of you who think that have not tried to get 35 teenagers to sit quietly and read. All normal classroom irritants aside, I will say that the one thing that pushes me over the edge of Why-the-hell-would-I-miss-those-jerks-?- is the amount of time I spent in my last two years of teaching fighting phones. The classroom drastically changed during my 7 years. Drastically. Being in a room with 35 kids isn’t the same as it was when I started, so what I miss is kids pre-Smart Phone, because they were human beings, albeit confused, awkward, arrogant, human beings, but they made eye-contact and enjoyed interacting with others. That sort of student was almost completely extinct when I quit.

I actually don’t miss the vacations. I get asked about that one a lot. Having a Fall break is nice, but being able to pee whenever the hell I want, is priceless… always having an hour for lunch… being able to walk outside whenever I’m tired of sitting… all more valuable than getting summers off. Teaching is like trying to cut 2 mins/mile off of your fastest training pace for race day, then not running at all for several weeks, then trying to cut another 3 mins/per mile off of an uphill marathon. The pace of my life outside of education is leisurely. I don’t even feel like I need a vacation with all of the time that currently exists throughout my workday – not even exaggerating.

I REALLY miss talking about books and how to write. I miss showing kids how to do things and helping them feel like reading is okay. I miss helping them find a confidence in their ability to offer something to their peers, teachers, parents, etc… in writing. I loved helping kids understand the difference between analysis and synthesis. I miss advising them on how to respect and communicate well with people they don’t like. In short, I miss teaching, coaching, and mentoring.

I REALLY don’t miss being responsible for, evaluated on, and expected to master the skill of controlling outcomes that are completely outside of my control. Working in an office has calmed my life in ways you can’t possibly understand until you’ve been graded on whether or not a kid who doesn’t speak English is able to pass a test in English, even though he’s only attended 20 days out of the last 50 days of school, and prior to that, he lived in another country… even though he never even learned to read and write in his native language. Since leaving education, I sleep better, drink far less alcohol, exercise more, and feel at ease. Not only is the pace of education unsustainable, but the expectations are impossible. At my current job, I am evaluated on punctuality, dress code, and the completion of tasks. Not to get too far into the money thing, but I also make the same amount of $ as I made teaching.

Will I ever go back?

I honestly don’t know. I loved that profession, and it shat all over me. And yet, I have an affection for it. My love of the classroom will probably always be a part of me, but I’m not sure I’m willing to entrust myself to it again. I spent my 20s on education – studying it in college, and then laboring in its field. It wasn’t a waste of time or lost time. I just want to spend my 30s on something else. Maybe I’ll go back to the classroom in my 40s. Maybe I’ll even teach overseas before that. All I can say is that it would be a waste for me to go back right now, and I can’t imagine anything worse than feeling like I’ve wasted the life I’ve been given.

The Teacher Nightmare


As I was signing up for my 401 K last week, the rep. whose job it was to convince us to sign up and then help us do it was asking me about teaching, and he implied that teachers have it great because they get summers off. I very quickly let him know that he’s really really mistaken, although I don’t think he fully understood why…

Well, I got together with some teacher friends for a beer tasting over the weekend. They talked about teacher things and people that were a significant part of my life, but I have to admit, it all seemed pretty distant. It’s been about 8 months since I’ve been in the classroom.

And yet… I had a teacher nightmare that night.

In the nightmare, I was teaching at a middle school in one of those places that only makes sense in dream. There were apple trees all over the school; it was sort of like what I pictured the Amity compound to be like in Insurgent by Veronica Roth. The school didn’t have climate control, and there were at least a few other commonalities to the school where I taught in Mongolia. I had a class of maybe 15 kids, and they were all really cute.

Then, for no reason at all, someone released something like 10 tigers onto campus, and I grabbed one little girl’s hand and dragged her to safety, but I don’t know what happened to any of the other kids. And I felt sooooo guilty, because I’d abandoned them to save myself and this one little girl. She and I were hiding in a cleaning closet when I woke up.

That’s what being a teacher is like – probably not for everyone, but for me. Also, I’m sure the job took its toll on others in other ways. Regardless, I had that sort of nightmare for the last week of every break and the first week back for 7 years. We’re talking last week of Summer and first week back, Fall break and first week back, Winter break and first week back, Spring break and first week back…. I spent something like 8 weeks of my life having nightmares about my job. That’s almost exactly the length of Summer vacation.

Also, that’s not including any of the many catalysts for nightmares during the normal weeks of school. I had one student who would tell her mother she was in my classroom studying at 6:30 pm on Friday nights. I’d come in Monday morning, and her mother would have left me a voicemail asking if her kid was with me. I called her and told her the kid was lying, but for weeks, I’d come in to a red light on my phone signifying that the kid had done it again. I had a ton of anxiety over that one, and it only got sorted out when the kid was picked up by the cops, running away from home. Again, she’d told her mother she was studying in my classroom. Forget the common sense fact that no teacher stays until 6:30 on Friday… we load up our grading and take it home with us… If I was going to work over the weekend, it sure as hell was going to be while lounging on the couch with a glass of wine.

Now, it’d be one thing if I was the type who was prone to nightmares or anxiety. But I’m really not. I haven’t had a single nightmare connected to my new job. Not one.

So, 401 K rep – all I can tell you is that if you like dreaming about kids being eaten by tigers, and being thrust into the middle of someone else’s meltdowns… go for it. Teaching is the job for you!

 

Modern America and the Death of Humanity


“What is going to become of a society which puts emphasis on numbers and masses, rather than on the individual – where medical schools hope to enlarge their classes, where the trend is away from student-teacher contact, which is replaced by closed-circuit television teaching, recordings, and movies all of which can teach a greater number of students in a more depersonalized manner?”

This quote is from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s book On Death and Dying. She’s one of the fore-runners in hospice work. I thought it was wonderful to come across this quote that, for Kubler-Ross was about healthcare, but for me was about education.

Active Shooter Training


It was by far the most practical, yet weird training I ever attended. The school where I worked was lucky enough to be located in Oro Valley (smaller than Tucson, and generally more $). Our location meant that the police department there took care of us, rather than the Tucson Police Department. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with TPD. However, I doubt TPD would have provided us with two School Resource Officers and offered us a free active shooter training.

Throughout the entire training, I honestly kept expecting a mock attack to occur. We were in an auditorium, so I kept glancing behind me toward the entrances. There was no mock attack, but there is an unsettled feeling that comes with this subject matter, whether there are three police officers in the room or not.

After going through the training, we were encouraged to go through the information with our students, and most of us did so with each of our classes about once a year. This worked because we were teaching high school students – younger kids would obviously be a different story. I scheduled the conversation with my classes to correspond with the first lock-down drill of the year, and it was always one of the best conversations we had.

Here’s the conversation in a nut-shell:

First, active shooters are interested in killing as many people as possible and the whole thing will likely be over in less than five minutes. In fact, the shooter’s goals likely include his/her own death. Additionally, active shooters kill indiscriminately; they are not trying to get anyone specific. Obviously, this isn’t exactly what happened in Oregon: the press is reporting that there was a vendetta against organized religion. Still, active shooter is the training I received.

There are three things a person can do in the active shooter scenario… while this is obvious stuff, it sort of frames the conversation.

  1. Run
  2. Hide
  3. Fight

Runners have the highest survival rate.

Hiders have second highest.

Fighters have the lowest survival rate.

Comic Relief: At this point in the conversation, a teenage boy (or two) will inevitably start talking about how badass he is and how he’d take care of all of us.  🙂

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Running

This was the part of the conversation where things got serious and real. We thought about my classroom, the closest exits, the closest safe places.

Comic Relief: I always told kids that I personally planned to run to my house, and that they could stick with me (and I’d give them cookies and milk when we arrived), or, if they felt safe running to their own houses, that was possibly an option.

Caveat: Kids nowadays are a little stupid about real life. They often don’t know how to act autonomously and need to be told that no teacher is going to be able to keep track of them and guide them… i.e. “From the point your teacher tells you to run, you need to make decisions and think for yourself.”

Comic Relief: “Are you going to leave us behind, Ms. James?”

“Of course she is… she runs marathons. Ms. James is going to take off and we’ll never see her again.”

“Look at those shoes she’s wearing – there’s no way she’s running through the desert in those.”

“Don’t you run in sandals?”

I would usually just smile and laugh during this part.

Important Point to Make: Don’t stop running until you are 225% safe. Run beyond the point where you believe you’re safe.

Question that always came up: What happens if the shooter chases us?

Answer: In all actuality, if you make it out of the building, you’re probably fairly safe, because an active shooter isn’t going to leave hundreds of people to chase 30. He’s trying to kill as many people as possible…

Final Point to be Made: Running only works if we’re confident the shooter was not along our path to safety.

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Hiding

This is the part that kids totally understand, but, for me, was terrifying.

Students have been doing lock-down drills since they entered school. However, at our training, the officers showed us a really haunting photograph of real students sitting quietly during a real college shooting.I believe it was the Virginia Tech shooting, and the photo looked something like this:

Picture Via Wikipedia

Picture Via Wikipedia

In the photo, the students were doing everything they were supposed to do… which is what makes the photo haunting. Everyone in the photo they showed us ended up dying when the shooter made it through the door.

I point this out because lock-downs are not necessarily effective if there is a shooter on campus. They are effective if there are killer bees, or if the shooter can find easier prey, because he’ll check the door and move on when he finds it’s locked. He knows there are students inside, but he doesn’t want to waste time breaking down a door if there are easier pickings nearby.

When schools practice lock-downs, they have your child sit in one corner of the classroom with the rest of the class, possibly behind a desk, but all students are almost never well-hidden.

After going through the active shooter training, I changed the way we did lock-downs in my my classroom, and you may consider talking about this with your kids if you have them. Of course, don’t have them start a revolution against their teacher, but maybe just make them aware.

Change #1: we divided into several groups, spread throughout the room.

Change #2: We talked about the most solid objects they could hide behind. The literal conversation went something like, “Is there anything in this room that could stop a bullet?” There are very few items in a classroom that are very solid – the teacher’s desk and file cabinets are about it.

Change #3: We talked about what we could shove in front of the door to barricade it, and I assigned two or three students responsibility for getting the biggest objects in front of the door.

Change #4: We talked about what could be used as a weapon or a distraction. It’s important to remind kids that throwing something high in the air and slowly at the assailant is sometimes as effective as throwing an object hard at his face, because it’s a distraction that may give them a second or two to get away.

Comic Relief: Usually our badass kid will get up and do some physical demonstrations with a stapler or book.

Note: My classroom did not have a window, but our trainers talked to us about windows’ weak points, which is worth noting here. If you are trying to break a particularly sturdy window, do not bash it in the center. Work on the corners.

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Fighting

For this one, the only tip our trainers really gave us was the law of centimeters. Basically, if you get thirty 4th graders to attack one person, that person is going down. Whereas, one 4th grader, or even one beefy man may not win a battle against the same assailant. So… the fighting has to be planned, united strategery. Whoever the boy was who said he’d be the hero will be more effective if everyone else helps him.

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Last things to talk about: When the cops show up, their priority is to take down the shooter. Therefore, they may step over your child’s wounded bff, and keep moving. Kids find this shocking.

Also, the cops would prefer your child leave the building and take care of his/her own safety, rather than sitting down next to and/or trying to protect wounded bff. If your child can help bff gimp his way to safety, absolutely help. If, however, there is no chance of getting bff to safety, the cops want your kid to take care of himself.

This is the part where kids want to know if I’d actually leave someone behind.

I tell them that I hope not. I hope I’m the person who would stay and protect my friend, but the police officers’ goal is the safety of a lot of lives rather than individual lives. If student leaves friend behind, he has a greater chance to live, which is what the officers want.

Comic Relief: One kid will usually mention or just deliberately look at a friend and say something cheesy or make a joke that she’d leave that person behind. This is almost never mean-spirited.

Last Tips: Tell kids to make sure their hands are visible to the cops, don’t run up and grab or touch the cops like some people do when they feel like they’re finally saved (they’re going to get shoved to the side), and don’t yell but rather just point in the direction of the shooter if they know it.

There will be first responders whose job is to help the wounded. However, the first guys on the scene are only interested in getting the shooter.

 

 

This is what I think of when any shooting occurs and takes over our media. I don’t know how much parents should talk about it with their kids. It did surprise me, however, that tons of my students claimed their parents never talked to them about what to do in emergencies.

Characters Who Read


Note: This is a book review I wrote on Goodreads that I thought I’d like to share here. It’s for the ever-popular YA novel and, more recent ish, film The Perks of Being a Wallflower🙂

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When I was young, I LOVED Sara Crewe.

She’s the protagonist in A Little Princess.

Mostly, what I loved about her was that she was different from her peers, kind, and imaginative.

Sara Crewe, was a character who shaped my character.

Then, there was Dorothy Jane on a little-known TV show called The Torkelsons.

And Anne with an ‘e’.

All young girls who are different, kind, and imaginative…

I’ve finally read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and it occurred to me that my different, kind, and imaginative characters are changing. They aren’t what they used to be… Charlie is different, kind, and imaginative, but in a messier way than my fictional role models were. Sara, Dorothy Jane, and Anne all faced moral dilemmas, and chose to be “good kids.” Charlie’s drug abuse and physical violence against a bully were almost non-events… insignificant in a story of depression and moral depravity.

And yet, he’s the role-model our different, kind, and imaginative kids turn to. He epitomizes what it means to be outside of the “teenage wasteland” because he is self-aware, thoughtful, intelligent… and I wonder if our attempts to see the world more completely, with depth and empathy, have caused us to over-complicate morality. Charlie is a “good person” who does naughty things. He even does them sometimes with a “good heart,” which pisses me off. Although morality is certainly complex, I’m disappointed that my students are offered such an anti-hero role model.

Where is the Sara Crewe, who, starving and exhausted, offered her last piece of bread to a stranger who needed it?

While I understand that the world has changed, and current YA literature reflects the times, I also wish we had a few true heroes, who struggle, but ultimately stand up for what is right – who would struggle with decisions that Charlie hardly even notices, because he’s too busy getting high and kicking ass.

I want more than The Perks of Being a Wallflower for the kids, with whom I spend most of my life. I want better than Charlie. 😦

Career Change and the Education


I haven’t posted in awhile because I’ve been busy learning about insurance.

Upon passing my Life and Health Insurance Licensing Exam, I will start working for Aflac. I take the exam some time next week. I can take it 3 more times if I fail, and I’m not that worried about failing.

Some things about this:

1. I’m so sad that I believe I’ll be making significantly more money than I made in the classroom. As my teacher friends go back to work, I feel a bitter-sweetness because I know I made the right decision. As they tell me about their weeks, I feel a reinforcement that getting out needed to be done, which is terrible. They mention their first meetings and how they discussed marketing their school and came up with department mottoes… and I think I might vomit. Since when is it a teacher’s job to write a department motto? Since when is education something to sell? Since when did education lose its status as a privilege and a social mandate? Since when…????? While my decision is reinforced because I can’t stand the ways education is warping, I miss it. I haven’t even been away from it yet, but I miss it. I miss the kids. I miss the colleagues. I miss the shared commitment to and direct impact on the future. I miss it.

2. The class I’m taking to prepare for my test is a 10-day online thing, and it sucks.

I’m a decent student, but the class is built so that I read for something like 4 hours a day (on a screen), and I watch videos for something like 10 minutes. The reading is dry and cold. The vocabulary is pulled completely out of context. Sure, insurance was always going to be technical and legal, but a good teacher can find ways to present that information so that it’s relevant and accessible. Also, I would have rather purchased a hard-copy book than this insufferable book built of pixels and links. It doesn’t even offer me the capability of taking notes in the margins, so I keep taking notes by hand on paper, which is easier done if I have a hard-copy book. Also, I’m realizing that one of the primary ways I accessed info from school as a kid was by building a map of the book in my brain. Even if I couldn’t immediately recall info, I always knew which part of the chapter the info was in, as well as which part of the page to look at to find the info. The class also doesn’t allow me to build my own flash cards; I have to use the ones they created, so I’m writing out my own hard-copy flash cards. So, without the technological benefits of getting to type out my notes or cards, I still feel the nausea of staring at a screen all day. Luckily, I can print the chapters for a fee, so I’m doing that, but sheesh…

The videos begin with someone speaking in a soothing and cheesy voice about how so-and-so and his spouse died in a car accident after he purchased a a $100,000 life insurance policy on himself and listed the spouse as the sole beneficiary… if spouse dies, where does the money go????? Aside from the fact that the video isn’t explaining anything that wasn’t already explained in the reading, and isn’t explaining it in a more comprehensible or even a different way than the text explained it, I find the voices to be sort of surreal in that they are clearly uncaring about the hypothetical people who are dying or being dismembered. Yes, those people are fake, but they represent real people, and I want the voices to show some empathy. All I can think is, this would be sooooo much better if I had a teacher with whom to interact. A teacher would have a human tone and visible empathy… I hope. In all fairness, there’s some sort of webinar thing I can sign into to watch a real teacher, but I’d really like to be in the same room with a human being who knows me and will talk to me. I’d like to be able to raise my hand and ask questions.

The world is changing, and I don’t like it.

3. My pay will be entirely commissions, which is terrifying, but also awesome. This means that I’ll have flexibility in my schedule, and my pay will likely have a direct correlation (or close to it) to the number of hours I invest.

And now, dear friends, although there is much more I could write, I must return to the studying… I’ve got about 2 more hours of reading to do today to stay on schedule, and I’d like to re-read some of the more complex and detailed ish that’s been tripping me up on quizzes.

*And, sidenote: Aflac has been amazing thus far. I’m not complaining about Aflac. I’m complaining about… the future and our culture’s obsession with online everything, and I’m complaining about education. And if you wake up tomorrow, and find that somehow all of the technology in the world is broken and you have to chase down a Javelina for your dinner, you can scream out to the heavens in anger, knowing that I am responsible. And even if I die of dehydration because I live in the desert, it will have been worth it to restore humanity to humans.

Trustworthiness and Bowling Alone


I recently started reading the book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. It’s a book that I bought when I got my tax return because Turbo Tax offered an additional 10% of any amount of my return I took in Amazon Gift Cards. I don’t remember for sure, but I think I bought it because of the teacher association. In attending the Leadership Summit and Delegate Assembly, I realized that so much of what people do is in search of connection nowadays.

There is something that Arizona is getting a fair amount of national attention for doing well in the field of education… that thing is called eSwag. I don’t remember what it stands for (Educators Standing With… I don’t know; look it up), but it’s basically a mechanism for engaging and retaining educators under the age of 35. I didn’t join it because I’m too cool for it (and church groups for singles). I also didn’t join because I felt like I had enough on my plate with all of the normal baloney sandwich mess of being the secretary of my local. However, I was able to observe the eSwag-ers from a distance and gain a fairly clear picture of what was going on there. Turns out, Arizona has managed to gain positive national attention for throwing ridiculous parties that get forcibly moved from one hotel room to another, to another, to the hotel bar where the cheapskates didn’t even order anything because they brought their own libations… no joke, that’s what eSwag did at Delegate Assembly.

I was hugely disappointed to discover this because I wanted to see the association engaging young teachers by bringing them a bit deeper into the profession. I wanted to see mentor programs where veteran teachers partnered with new teachers to show them how it’s done. I wanted to see people getting to know one another and truly caring. I wanted to see my generation of the extended adolescence… well… growing out of our adolescences.

With eSwag turning out to be a series of keggers… and let’s be honest: I’m obsessing right now about the correct spelling of kegger because I’m the type who voluntarily took an extra linguistics class heavy on the sentence-diagramming in college when I could have been out partying. I became a teacher because I believe learning is more important than fun is… most of the time. Why the hell did they think I would enjoy staying up late, getting drunk, and talking to people I didn’t know? Okay, so they assumed that because that’s obviously what most folks under 35 want.

That all being in the background, I started reading Bowling Alone because I wanted to get a handle on this longing we under 35s (and really everyone of every age) have for community.

I say longing because I think it’s the best descriptor here. I honestly think we’re caught up in a mess of disconnect and probably spend a fair amount of time distracting ourselves from the fact that we don’t have community and don’t know how to get it. We long for community, and chase after it with enthusiasm and abandon, but we never quite achieve the type of community we think we will. We never quite get there.

Building and engaging community are catch-phrases in the church nowadays, and I need to get better about ignoring or possibly even encouraging folks who have jumped on-board the trendy-train of abandon-tradition-because-it’s-keeping-us-from-engaging-for-real-!-All-Christians-are-faking-it-!-They-don’t-care-about-people-! but trendy things become trendy for a reason, and there’s something that’s causing the teacher association and the church to track with one another in a thrust toward community.

The book said something interesting. Now, granted, I’m only on the second chapter so far, and it isn’t exactly light reading, so I’ll probably be reading the thing for the next two or three years, but I’ve got one pearl to share with you right now.

Trustworthiness lubricates social life.

I thought this book was going to lay the blame on social networking. However, right out of the gates, our author Robert D. Putnam brings it down to an incredibly basic level. Younger generations trust less. I’ve read things about this, and it seems to come up in tons of those generation descriptions. There’s always mention of the skepticism that comes with living in an age when we’re inundated with ads. There’s talk of the mass public shootings and how that makes us wonder if our neighbor is building a massive collection of killing devices in his parents’ garage. So maybe we have good reason to mistrust.

I’d never considered that trust might have any role in keeping us from feeling connected to other human beings? What if that’s the reason the teachers under 35 can’t make friends without destroying their livers? What if, at the most basic level, human beings are beginning to believe their fellow-men want to screw them over?

It’s a sad thought, right? Maybe I should’ve waited to write this until I’ve finished the book. Maybe Robert D. Putnam has some answers, some idea of what we can do to fix this mess. All I can think of is to commit ourselves to individually and collectively becoming trustworthy…

Thoughts?