The never-ending drums…

A lot of people have accused me of never being able to shut off the inner teacher I have in my head, and I hate to admit it, but they were right every time they said it to me. I think most teachers are wired this way: always listening and always ready with some cookie-cutter and overly-positive response to an adverse situation. You know the type:

Carpe diem!
Just do your best and eventually you’ll find your way.
Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you will land among the stars.

I hadn’t ever really realized how cheerfully idealistic I was until it started to wear off.

Being back in a retail setting has reset my cheerfulness gauge to one of increasing cynicism. I don’t spout the same pedantic nonsense anymore unless it’s an extreme case, and rarely do I carpe the diem these days. Today, my version of seizing the day involved waking up early, cursing loudly, then rolling over and sleeping an extra hour before I decided to drag my ass out of bed and get ready for work. Essentially…I am in fuck-all mode save for one aspect of my personality waking up that I did not expect.

As I got ready for work this morning, I was thinking about Star Trek: The Next Generation. Mainly episode 101 entitled “Darmok.” In it, the Enterprise crew encounters an alien race that communicates primarily by speaking in folktale and metaphor. Think expressing the concept of generosity through telling the tale of the good Samaritan. The whole episode plays out like a sort of grammar charades with Picard learning how to more effectively communicate to the point where relations with this alien race can begin in friendship.

I thought about that episode, repeating the phrase “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra,” to myself in the mirror until inspiration slapped me in the face and I had to run into my living room and write a one week unit on folktale, metaphor, and spoken language as an important communication tool.

I hadn’t had an original idea for a lesson plan come to me like that ever. Ever. EVER.

I guess maybe shutting off the teacher awakened the creative part of me that the teacher silenced. We shall see how this develops.

On the ocean. The beast at Tanagra.


A Helpful List

I have noticed a disturbing trend in places where parents are putting their small, defenseless children. Being the helpful individual I am, here is a short list entitled:

Places Where You Should/Should Not Put Your Children

Places Where it is Okay to Put Children:

1) A stroller
2) A play pen/room
3) Playgrounds
4) Sandboxes
5) In front of a coloring book
6) A Chuck E. Cheese
7) On your back or shoulders to delight child
8) With grandpa and grandma
9) Nickelodeon Universe
10) Build-a-Bear Workshop

Places You Should NOT Put a Child

1) In a bike trailer without a helmet while you ride through traffic.
2) In a crowded bar while loud music is blaring.
3) Near Matchbox 20 CD’s
4) Near a pedophile
5) Nickelodeon Universe (specifically near the exits where they can wander off.)
6) An alligator pit.
7) Near a pot of hot coffee.
8) Near Gary Busey
9) Any place that it is supposed to be quiet Nd they can’t shut up.
10) Anywhere outside your field of vision. Watch them. They are your goddamned kids.

This list was generated (mostly) from personal observations and things I’ve seen young parents do with their kids. In short, parents: pay attention to number ten and be responsible. I saw a kid throw his booster seat at the back of a random woman’s head about ten minutes ago and nothing came of it.

My parents would have buried me in the yard.

There is always an explanation…

I was adverse to the whole concept of updating this beast from my phone before, but seeing as how the processor on this thing actually rivals my laptop and it’s more portable, I’m kind of warming to the idea.

I find myself enjoying eggs and Cajun hashbrowns, a strawberry and cream cheese croissant, and coffee this morning on a sunny patio in Uptown. I was sitting by myself in a shady spot quite enjoying the Mozart pumping through the speakers and people watching until…they showed up.

If there is one thing that I believe contributes to children being assholes, I think it is stuffy, monied adults that spawn them and then instill selfish values. These two women, since sitting down, have managed to cause me a large amount of irritation just due to the inane conversation they are having. It’s literally a back and forth as they attempt to size up the life and standard of living of each other. The first thing that tipped me off that it was going on was how one was discussing her son’s neurological disorder when the other fired back about her own child’s food allergies. It’s kind of amazing to watch the conversation develop. Trendy diseases have become a sort of betting chip in the lives of suburban house moms. Based on how the conversation stands right now, I’d say the mom whose son has celiac disease and whose husband wore his golf outfit on the tennis courts at the country club is beating the mom whose son has asbergers and had to hire a new gardener.

Favorite quotes so far:

“Thank God for video games. Otherwise he’d always be in my hair.”

“Miguel was great. He always cleaned up after himself and was so polite. He was like a hard working, talented dog.”

“I hate to keep coming back to it, but even though he has asbergers, at least he doesn’t have to fear food.”

Now they’re discussing what AP classes they’re going to make their sons enroll in for the second semester of school this year and what colleges they’re pushing them to apply to.

Dear god.

Ladies, all parents everywhere: life is not a contest. Your children’s respective ailments are not bragging points, and honestly…stop breeding in general.

And if you must breed…either be good people or give your kids up for adoption to a parent who can raise a decent human being.

The first day of school…

Last night before I went to bed I found myself in a very sort of strange place. I laid there, at 2:00 in the morning, my stomach in knots and my head filled with the whispers of insecurity that I’d become accustomed to over the course of two years as a professional educator. All teachers experience the first-day jitters. It’s kind of our way of self-checking whether or not we’re ready for the rigors of the year ahead.

The past two years I had said jitters. I wondered if I had made enough copies of the syllabus, whether is adequately rehearsed my first-day lectures well enough to the point that the students would understand and, perhaps most importantly, whether I’d set the tone for the maximum amount of learning to take place.

As I laid awake in my bed last night, I had to add a sort of new response to these jitters for one important reason:

I didn’t have a class to teach anymore.

It was a sudden, harsh reality that kind of bum-rushed me and overwhelmed me. There would be no tense moment waiting for the starting bell to ring, no lecture to review, and no horde of new children whose faces and names I could learn and get to know.

In that moment, the jitters went away and were replaced by genuine sadness. An empty, gaping hole in my heart that I wasn’t aware of until that moment. My last teaching gig was miserable at times, yes. I was angry a lot and hated more than a few of the people I worked with, but it was never about the people I was working with. It was always about the work itself.

I recently moved into a new apartment. In moving, you’re sort of forced to sort through and pack up all aspects of your life into boxes. In that sorting, I found all the little tokens  given to me by my students during my last days: the custom shirt from the class of 2013 who all signed it, the caricatures of me doing everything from teaching to landing a TARDIS on the head of Rebecca Black, and the letters written from the heart by students who at one time I’m sure cursed the day I was born. In a blog titled “Your Kids are Assholes,” it’s hard to express what I really feel.

Sadness. A vast and infinite sadness. It’s not that I’m not working at something I love…

It’s the thought that I’m not making a difference.

I feel bereft of purpose. I feel like another blip in the stats for what folks.are calling “The Lost Generation.” However…being who I am…and what I believe, I am going to continue fighting. I will teach again.

In the meantime…there’s always subbing. That should generate some fun, eh?


Endless Job-App Discotechque

Been awhile since I wrote something here. Of course, now that I’m NO LONGER TEACHING, now would be the perfect time to start posting about it again, right? Wrong. Instead I’ll just go and talk about something else:

The unemployment rate in this country is at a maddeningly high level right now. I read an article awhile back that the current market for teachers to find work is the worst it’s been since the Great Depression. I’ve literally been applying everywhere I find a job posting save for three states: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio. Those of you in the know realize why I wouldn’t apply in those states. Those of you not in the know, please put down your beer bongs, turn of Dancing with the Stars, and pick up a newspaper and read up on the antics of the governors of those respective states. For fuck’s sake…

I’ve put in applications in at places I never considered before. My short list, without referring to the legal pad I have covered with scribbles in my car, is: NC, SC, AZ, MN, IN, ME, MA, ND, AK, CA, WA, OR, and a few others that I can’t readily think of right now. In short, it’s been between 30-50 applications so far.  These are not your standard job applications, either. Most of the time they involve answering several essay-format questions. A couple of weeks ago, I did an app that wanted me to complete 12 short essays. It took me four hours and when I clicked “submit” on the final page, the entire thing evaporated because during the time it took me to fill in the blanks, the school district in question *coughEDINAcough* had pulled the application.

During all this hard work, I’ve been doing the necessary background stuff: cold calls to district offices asking about the job, emailing teachers within the district, and Googling information all over the damn place to try and brush up on my “knowledge” should they ever ask me in an interview. The only replies I’ve been getting have been “Please await contact from the school district human resources personnel.” I get no email or phone contact other than the automated responses I get when I finish the applications…

…until today…

Today I got the first round of what I have learned to call FOAD emails. FOAD = Fuck off and die. They’re every so polite messages sent from a computer that’s programmed to fill in your name into a message to make it look like it was tailored to you personally. They’re rejection letters, plain and simple. Once I get these, I cross that particular district off my list and search for a new application to fill the gap left by the one I got rid of. Today I got five emails, which is a step forward from the first time I ever applied for a teaching job. I didn’t get any FOAD messages until mid-September after the school year was already in session. That was a fun day, let me tell you. I got over 200 messages over the course of a two day span. Ridiculous.

Anyway…the application process is not fun. It’s basically a way to build anxiety in your own mind about your current job situation while you sit and wait patiently for “the call,” that might give you a slim chance at an interview. There are thousands of teachers out there right now, and I am just one of many. It is that anxiety that literally drove me to a state of near-madness and forced me here to a small town on the Michigan/Wisconsin border to visit my parents and try to unwind the choking cord that has been my mind for awhile now. It’s nice here: quiet, boring, smells nice, and my mom has a dog. I left my Xbox and all other distractions back home in Minnesota so that I can concentrate on completing as many applications as possible in as short a time as possible. Some apps are easier than others, and I’d like to give a massive amount of kudos to the state of North Carolina for their teacher job databank. All I do is access this state-wide net of jobs, type in my personal info, upload a resume and a neutral cover letter, along with my letters of recommendation, and click the boxes next to each job I’d like to apply for. Fast, easy, and there’s not a single essay question in sight.

Diversion over for now, though. I’m being given another cup of coffee by a young girl whom I taught during my student teaching, but doesn’t recognize me.

…and on the other side of the coin…

Okay, that last post may have been a little on the side of pandering to my own ego, but I have something legitimate with this one, promise.

I found out sometime last month that I was going to be losing my job here at the school just as thousands of other teachers around the country were (and still are in some cases) discovering they shared a similar fate. For me it was a number of things that lead to my not coming back for next year, but primarily it was a shortfall in the budget that put the final nail in the coffin of my career at this particular school.

“There isn’t any money,” has become the rallying cry for people who seem to want to upend public education. Currently…they’re semi-correct. There isn’t any money to fund public education for several reasons, the foremost being that there’s no tax revenue being generated because Congress is controlled by those who’d levy burdens onto the middle and lower class rather than levy taxes against the super rich who need to pay their fair share. We’ve all always paid taxes in this country. Remember “No Taxation without Representation!”? That whole chestnut that set off the Revolutionary War? Well…we have the representation, so where the hell is the taxation. It kind of amazes me the amount of entitlement that people have when it comes to paying taxes. An employee of the school district (non-union, highly conservative) tried to explain to me that she shouldn’t have to have her tax dollars go toward the schools if she didn’t have any use for them, ie-no kid in school, no tax dollars to go to it. Therefore, their dollars shouldn’t have to fund it.

Okay…so I’m not old. Why should I pay social security? See the holes in that argument? If so, then please use it to destroy stupid people when they throw that out there.

There are, however, things earmarked in school budgets that I don’t necessarily agree with. I’m being subjected to one right now, actually…

I’m sitting in a classroom for our school’s “after-school program” with about 13 ne’er do wells (one of them is the child of the woman who has issues with her taxes going to services she doesn’t utilize), and as an educator I’m having some serious issues. These are students who have either failed or are in trouble or “at-risk,” with some adverse home situation. For many of these students, credit recovery is the name of the game. Spend a certain number of hours in after-school, then that failing English grade from two years ago disappears and you get a credit and get to pass high school! It could be a good program save for the fact that again…it’s filled with ne’er do wells. I’m looking at the room in front of me. One student is reading, four are perusing the yearbook, determining which boy they’d want as a boyfriend, two are sleeping, one is watching Netflix or playing Bejeweled or some shit, and another one is succeeding only in making a terrifying mess of chip crumbs around him. Out of all thirteen of them, only one is legitimately working on schoolwork right now.

There are two rooms of this going on currently. In the other room, students are receiving credit for watching a romantic comedy. Every day during the second half of after-school they get to do this. Each room has a teacher being paid the contract hourly wage, which is $30.00 per hour. I’m sitting in it for two hours, which equals $60.00. The person who usually does it, sits for two hours per day, five days per week, totaling up to $300.00 per week, $600.00/week for the two of them. Not necessarily a HUGE budget windfall, but still. My primary concern here isn’t the budget itself, but rather the budget funding something that holds little-to-no academic merit or benefit.

I can’t justify it because it seems to fall into that category of things being dumbed down for students. I’m appalled that it even exists in the format it does currently. Should the general public (especially the school’s rather conservative tax base) get wind of what goes on in that program, then some people need to be held accountable for their lousy program.

I have…a…plan…

Apparently my goal during my last two weeks of employment at this school is to try and get myself fired in nearly every way possible. Yesterday I didn’t squash a joke that two students insisted on propagating, and today I’m doing my very best to live on the edge in every other way as well.

The first example is me taking students outdoors to write some “nature poetry.” Let it be known that while I have studied poetry, I am certainly no expert. Especially when it comes to writing nature poetry. The entire lesson structure involves two things that tend to make students very excited:

  1. Me.
  2. The outdoors.

I take them outside, sit them in a circle, and simply have them enjoy being outdoors and write about what they see, how they feel, and, most importantly, what they are hearing.

Students spend a lot of time talking this day and age–text messages, Xbox Live voice chat, cell phones–but I always stop and wonder if they’re actually listening. It used to be that the great writers were inspired at a young age by life, living, love, their personal struggles, and/or an appreciation for the outdoors. The lives that students live currently just don’t seem too conducive to time spent listening to the world around them. They want to interject an opinion before the other side is finished. Sit. Listen. Write. It’s a simple technique, and as long as I don’t place too many stipulations on it, then what occurs is nothing short of wonderful, gorgeous magic. The thing is that I’m technically supposed to get administrator permission a week in advance to do such a lesson…and I did it this morning. Fuck it. What are they gonna do, fire me more?

The second thing is that I’ve…managed to build in some work time during regular class hours. As I type this, my freshman students are watching Dead Poets Society and will be writing a paper about the importance of independent thought and self-expression once it’s all done. I know my nosier colleagues will be watching me like buzzard hawks, but…again. Whatcha gonna do, yo? I find it valid because I can always justify what I do in my classroom and what videos I show my students. If a woman who teaches AP students five days a week and watches a video on almost a weekly basis just because…then I think something that can be analyzed for academic merit is a bit better than say…her watching Cars because it’s super cute.

Renegade folk hero.