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Validation

January 11, 2012 1 comment

Last year was hard. My boss didn’t like most of what I did in the classroom and let me know it all year.  If one of my six-year-olds was (gasp!) wiggling on the carpet, she’d write in her notes that the class was off-task and not learning.  This time last year, we had an hour-long meeting to explain that I might not be recommended for reappointment that spring.

Flash forward. I have a new evaluator who thinks deeply about teachers’ practices.  We’ve talked informally about my class throughout the year, we are in 2 hours a week of team meetings together, and she’s been in to observe a few times. We had a 15 minute mid-year meeting today in which she said that I am exceeding expectations on 7 of the 23 professional standards and she’s recommending me for reappointment.  She explained that she’d thought a lot about the observations she’d done in my classroom and even talked with my mentor to think through her evaluation of it.  She said that her first impression was that the kids were behaving rather “loosely” with me (yet would sit up ramrod straight when she looked at them), and that threw her off a little.  But then when she looked more closely, she saw that I was constantly checking for understanding, pushing kids to explain their thinking, and providing enough freedom for the “hard to fit in” kids in my class to feel comfortable and find success.  She said, essentially, that my management style is not her own, but that if it works for me, she’s fine with it, because she can see that it’s working for the kids.

Forgive me a flowery moment: this is like a balm to my soul.

I’ve spent the last year and half filled with fear, doubt, and a sense of incompetence because my classroom simply doesn’t look like the other classrooms.  I know my kids are learning, but when other people see or hear our room, I feel judged – that I can’t control them, that I don’t know how to keep them in line.  And the truth is, I don’t – not in the way other teachers do.  I cannot for the life of me get a class full of six-year-olds to line up straight and silent (though I’ve seen it done).  But I kind of don’t care about that, which is probably why I can’t do it.  It’s just not a battle I feel like waging when there are so many other things that matter more to me.  Honestly, the one major non-academic battle I’ve fought this year is to have students stop touching the levers on my chair.  Drove me nuts.  They stopped.  I’m sure if I really, truly cared I would figure out how to have a quieter, less wiggly class.  But I love the roly-poly, puppy nature of six-year-olds.  I love their random conversations and off-topic explorations.  I let them conspire with a buddy sometimes instead of reading because I want to see what they’ll come up with.  I watch them change the rules of the math games and invent totally new activities, then I talk with them about what they’ve figured out.  Not all of the freedom I give them is productive, and I definitely feel sometimes like my kids are less “polished” than many of the other teachers’, but they’re learning to think, to explore, to test boundaries.

For the last year, I’ve been taught to think of myself as a failed classroom manager and therefore a failure as a teacher.  Today’s evaluation reminds me that while I may fail to look like everyone else, I’m succeeding at putting my teaching philosophy into practice.  As I read what I’ve just written about my classroom it sounds exactly like the application essay I wrote about teaching and learning to get hired for this job.  My goal for the rest of this year is to approach each day with a sense of positive purpose for what I’m choosing to do in my classroom and let go of the needless guilt and worry about how things might appear.  If I’m happy, my kids are happy, and they’re learning, that works for me.

Change of plans

February 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Tomorrow was supposed to be a holiday (making this a lovely three-day weekend), but because of our snow days, it’s going to be a full day of school.

A full day of school might not sound awful, but Mondays are supposed to be early dismissal days.  It’s the way the county deals with not giving us enough planning time during the rest of the week.  So instead of a four-day week, or even a regular week with Monday planning time, we’re going to have the only five-full-days-with-no-planning-time week of the year.  Combined with the frustrating conversation with my principal and assistant principal on Friday afternoon, I am feeling pretty cranky about the upcoming week and about school in general.  I’ve been enjoying my class more each day and feeling more drawn to keep teaching, but at the same time I feel less and less interested in actually working in a school next year.

I have no idea where this leaves me, other than obsessively researching long vacations to exotic destinations as soon as school lets out.  (If anyone has any recommendations in Latin America or the Caribbean, I’d love to hear them.)

 

The ups and downs of six-year-olds

December 7, 2010 1 comment

My class chatted non-stop through my 40-minute observation by the principal today…and kept right on chatting ALL afternoon.  They simply would not stop talking.  It was remarkable.  A force of nature.

By dismissal I’d plain run out of creative ways to get them to (briefly) quiet down.  So I just sat on the carpet (where I was trying to get them to sit, too) and put my head on my knees.  Immediately I had one girl stroking my arm, another running around the circle getting people to sit down, another jumping up turn off the lights and tell people to be quiet, and another (my non-English speaker) poking my leg until I looked up.  “You ok?  You ok?  You ok.  Good.”  We ended the day singing quietly in the dark, with three of my girls curled up next to me.

One thing to note here: the boys did not notice my despair, did not try to help, and did not want to sing.  I wonder sometimes if this reflects the disposition of six-year-old boys more generally, or if my group of boys has created some little subculture of boy-dom that is prematurely tough and self-focused.  I worry sometimes that the class might work better for the girls than it does for the boys, and maybe that’s my fault, but I think in student teaching my class actually worked better for the boys than the girls, so I don’t think it’s a gender-bias inherent in my teaching style.

In the end, for as much exhaustion and stress as the kids caused me today, we ended the day on a very nice note.  That’s the thing about working with six-year-olds.  Their highs are high and their lows are low, but neither lasts very long.

Living under observation

June 10, 2010 Leave a comment

The principal walked into my classroom unannounced today and settled down at the back table. Luckily I’m still in student teacher mode and am used to everything I do being observed. Also luckily, the kids were excited about the lesson she walked in on – I had them prepping readers theatre performances, including making props and costumes.  The kids weren’t perfect, but they were very creative and generally on task, and the principal seemed to like what she saw.  Since I’m still technically a job applicant at the school, it’s a relief to have an observation go well.  I suspect that I’ll have a lot more drop-in visits throughout my teaching career.  Given that, it seems like a good idea to stay in student teacher mode even once I’m full-time – always expect to be observed, always be ready for someone to walk in.  Or as mom always told me when I worked in daycare, always act as though someone is watching.

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Paddling is assault, not discipline

April 16, 2010 Leave a comment

I have heard many arguments in defense of and against the use of corporal punishment with children.  Most focus on whether it is effective in comparison with other methods of discipline.  This is entirely beside the point.  Think for a moment how the news article would read if we substituted a variety of adults for the children punished by paddling.  Imagine, for instance, that a boss complained about how discipline in the workplace wasn’t what it used to be and that employees needed real consequences to teach them to behave…and that he thought paddling was the answer.  If an adult boss paddled his adult employee there would be an immediate lawsuit, newspaper outrage, and most likely criminal charges.  Or let’s say we read about a husband who said the only way to teach a woman to behave is to beat her.  Our society would favor protecting his wife and prosecuting the husband for abuse.

We have strong legal and societal protections for adults hit by other adults.  So why don’t we have these protections for children?  Why is it still legal to paddle students in 20 states and why is spanking still a suggested method of discipline in many communities?  Here’s what I believe: if it would clearly trigger an arrest or a lawsuit if you did it to someone your own age and size, it should be absolutely verboten to do it to a child.  I think it’s time that we framed corporal punishment of children in the same way we frame it for adults.  Shouldn’t our society extend at least the same protections to our children as we do to our ourselves?  I know many communities in this country already do this, but we need to keep raising this issue until children in every community are protected from assault by adults.

Categories: Choices Tags: , , ,

Shaping one’s own career

March 17, 2010 1 comment

The Virginia Festival of the Book is going on this week and it’s pretty cool.  I went to two events today: one on taking charge of our time and careers, and one on the bible.  The event on time and careers meshed well with my current obsession with figuring out my next steps and the values that matter to me as I take those steps.

First, presenter Leslie Treux spoke about being able to shape our own careers rather than letting our lives be shaped by them.  She read an excerpt from her book in which she wonders at all the people she sees getting into their dress clothes and cars and racing to get to the office on time – while she sees her kids off and then starts the work day in pajamas.  I thought about the luxury of time I’ve had during graduate school.  To some extent, it still amazes me that I can just get up and go to the store at 10:00 on a Tuesday morning and no one will ask why I’m not at work.  Even when I’ve set punishing schedules for myself, the flexibility of setting my own hours is an amazing freedom and one I think I’ll miss if I go back into traditional full-time work.

The second presenter, Christine Louise Hohlbaum, argued for changing our relationship with time from one of scarcity to one of abundance.  She suggested doing this, in part, by setting aside specific times for “information gathering” (e.g., checking email, twitter, facebook, etc.) and focusing on just one task at a time instead of trying to switch between tasks.  I’ve actually spent the last 4-8 years trying to do just this.  I have disabled automatic email checking on my work computers, set aside 30 minutes at the beginning and end of the day for email during busy times, and used stopwatches to track how long I spend on tasks – and remind me to stay focused.  I think much of my success in freelance work has come from these time-slowing, focusing skills.  They keep me from falling down the time-wasting rabbit holes that plague so many people who are new to working from home.

As I look to next year I am increasingly seeing myself as a full-time freelancer, piecing together existing jobs with new or expanded lines of work to create a full-time salary, hopefully at less-than-full-time hours.  Of course, an offer from the right school could change all of that…

Categories: Books, Career Tags:

My friend’s boyfriend thinks my boss has Aspergers

January 28, 2010 Leave a comment

I arrived in Philadelphia today and headed straight to my old office for my old company, the one I used to freelance for, then worked full-time for, and now freelance for again.  I’m in town for the company’s annual retreat, an event that I considered not attending, but was afraid to turn down an invitation to for fear of signaling a lack of interest in their future direction.

When I arrived at the office today I was happy to greet former coworkers and gave hugs and waves all around.  Then, I settled in, pulled out my computer, and realized that I didn’t have a plan for talking to my boss.  And then I realized that I didn’t actually know if my boss and I were talking.  Like, in general, not just that afternoon.  We haven’t actually spoken since he blew up in a sudden display of aggrieved emotion in November that was so bad that my other boss called immediately to distance himself from it.  Since then, Boss #2 has done all of the interaction with me – a complete change from my last 4 years with the company.  So given that, I thought it was reasonable to wonder – are Boss #1 and I speaking?

I suppose I got my answer when he came over to speak with me.  He asked if I had business in the office that afternoon, then asked if my semester abroad went well.  I said that it had been wonderful and that I’d been sad to leave.  He cocked his head to the side quizzically. “Sad?  Why?”  I explained that I had to leave a classroom full of kids I loved and a city that I was very happy living in.  “But don’t you like Charlottesville?”  I assured him I did, and that while I was happy to be home I was still sad to leave.  He thanked me for coming and said he was sure I would make valuable contributions to the retreat.  And then he walked away.

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Categories: Relationships Tags:
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