Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Stuff My Students Say Part 1

I've been down a bit about the reality that my job isn't as charming as I used to think it. However, I do have good days. One of the joys of teaching is hearing things students say to each other and to me in writing and in conversation. Today I thought I'd post a few gems from this term.

A response to an assignment where students had to read creation stories from different cultures around the world.
Student: "I learned that Japan has always been weird. Uh, I mean… Different. Lots of things just happened. The story I read was probably shortened a lot, so I don't know why a lot of things happened. When you think about it, all creation stories are weird. They try to explain very specific things that really didn't need to be explained. Did I really need an explanation as to why canoes exist? Probably not. They do let you see into other people's cultures, though. Even though most people in those countries are probably just as weirded out by them as we are. From what I have gathered, the members of the Japanese Imperial family are considered to be deities, or at least descendents of deities. Egypt is the same way, the Pharaoh used to be worshipped as a god. Something tells me these stories were written by people who were quite fond of their rulers. Or perhaps the rulers themselves wrote them? Either way, I’m glad we as a species have grown out of these kinds of stories, for the most part anyway."

As you might have read in the previous post, I tried to have a class party where students would wear togas, bring Caesar-themed treats, and have fun in class. My odd day classes inspired that post, but my even day classes seemed to have a better time. Here is a conversation with two students 10 minutes before class ended:

Student 1: So when do we party?
Me: . . . This is the party.
Student 1: Oh. Okay (sheepishly)
Me: I thought having a class debate would be fun and you'd get to talk with your friends and have a good time.
Me: It is supposed to be fun.
Awkward Pause
Me: I hoped it would be fun, but I'm a nerd and like this stuff. Maybe you guys can plan the party next time.
Student 1: Yeah! I'll bring my x-box.
Me: Um, no. Not going to happen. I think true parties are a waste of your academic time. I think it's better when you can do something fun and educational and get treats. That's a class party.
Student 2: Yeah, I get that. It was a pretty fun debate.
Student 1: Yeah. When do we get treats?
Me: I have grapes!
Student 1: Grapes?
Me: Yeah. You know, Rome, wine, grapes. Julius Caesar. (They nodded politely, but weren't sold on the coolness of the grapes). They are easy to share. Plus I wanted to be conscious of gluten and nut and other allergies. It's hard to find a treat that every one can enjoy.
Student 2: Okay, cool. Good point.
Student 1: They are tasty grapes.
Me: I was hoping you guys would bring something to contribute.
Student 1: I forgot.
Student 2: Yeah.
Me: Next time.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Say Thank You

I remember one day when I was in elementary school, I had forgotten an assignment or my lunch or something very important. As a responsible student, this forgetfulness didn't happen often. I received permission to go to the office and call my mom. Both my parents worked, but I got in touch with my mom and she said she would bring me what I needed. I ended the conversation with this: "Thanks, Mom."

When I hung up the phone the office secretary told me, "It's so nice of you to say thank you. We don't hear that much in this office." I remember this moment because of the shock it created. People don't say thank you to their parents? I was maybe eight years old and my parents taught me to show my gratitude. To this day, I say thank you often. When I am in the drive-thru, when students remember to do something, when I make eye contact with another human being that provided me a service, I say thank you. 

I feel like I need to say thank you to my parents right now for teaching me that interactions with people are not like ATM transactions. When you deal with another human being, showing some gratitude is always appropriate. 

I am given the task each year to make Julius Caesar come alive. It is probably the most boring play I've read by Shakespeare, but I do a good job of making it interesting. We talk about rhetoric and honor and justice. This year I offered them a toga party. Extra credit for dressing up. I brought a bowl full of grapes for each class. We watched the last scene of the Royal Shakespeare Company's newest version of the play (which I highly recommend; it's the least boring version of this play I've seen). We wore togas (well, I wore a toga) and had a class debate about whether or not Brutus was justified in killing Caesar and whether or not all the characters got what they deserved in the end. Awesome. 

As my students left, no one thanked me for the grapes or the party. No one thanked me for making the lesson interesting. In fact, I was battling phones so much, I don't know if anyone even knows really how the play ends. 

As my last class was nearing an end, I had five minutes left. I wanted to ask if they identified Brutus' fatal flaw. While I waited for a response one kid stood up and put his backpack on and remained standing, like he was ready to leave class. I said, "We still have five minutes. Have a seat." The look of disdain on his face was evident. I looked around as everyone else packed up and prepared to leave. I said, "Fine, You're excused." They looked at me dumbfounded and remained seated. I said, "No seriously, get out. You can go. Why are you still sitting? Leave!" One brave soul did, and I walked to my computer and looked busy. I would have sat at my desk, but I don't have one because there isn't enough room in my classroom for a seat for me. I removed it to add three more student desks. 

And still, no one said thank you.

I just need to realize that my students don't actually owe me anything, which is true. A simple thank you just goes so far. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Teachers are Professionals? HA!

One of the greatest sources of my own inner turmoil is the constant nagging about how long I legitimately think I can keep teaching. Every Monday, the dread that faces me is enough to make my concerned husband ask if I want to quit mid-year. We both know I'm far too "professional" for that, but it doesn't seem like the rest of this state considers teachers professionals. 

Last week an article, "Lawmakers consider creating board exam for teachers in effort to keep standards high," appeared on KSL news, and it indicated that the State Legislature is considering enacting a new board certification process for teachers to keep and earn their teaching licenses. This move seems to be in direct response to the Utah State Board of Ed's decision to lower the requirements needed to earn a license in the first place. 

Here's some background: Utah is facing a teacher crisis (that will be the subject of another post altogether), and the Board is trying to use a short-term solution to fix it. Basically, under the new rules, any person with a bachelor's degree can get a job teaching, and through mentoring, receive a teaching license. I take issue with many of these new regulations, including increasing the already demanding work load of experienced "master" teachers, neglecting to acknowledge that it takes education and instruction to learn how to manage a classroom and educate students, and bypassing the many necessary steps it takes to prove mastery in both a content area and in teaching before getting a job. I do understand that the Board is facing a shortage, but they might be doing it at the expense of losing their overworked teachers already in the field. 

I digress. The legislature is proposing (in response to the Board's decision) that teachers be required to take . . . wait for it . . . a test to prove mastery of teaching and get board certified. The process will include evaluations and a test and who knows what else. Upon reading this article (link below), we find out how out-of-touch legislators are with the requirements it takes to get a degree in teaching and in keeping a license. 

Here's what already happens:
Every year teachers get evaluated by administrators in their building. They follow a challenging rubric of best teaching practices. Together the teacher and administrator work on a Growth Plan to improve their teaching and student outcomes for the future. This process is technically different in every district, but not much different (I've worked for 3 districts and it's all about the same). This evaluation process is also directly tied to whether or not teachers earn a pay increase, or in teacher terms, a step increase for the following year. It's high stakes and teachers really are held accountable for what they are doing or not doing in their classrooms. 

Also, before I graduated from Utah State University with a Level 1 teaching license, I had to pass the Praxis II test in my content areas of English and Speech Communications (my minor). A few years into the job, I had to pass the Praxis II PLT (Principles of Learning and Teaching) to upgrade to a Level 2 license. That's two tests. And, evaluations yearly. These are just a few of the requirements to keep or renew or attain a teaching license. Teachers are also required to do a lot of continuing education and professional development, and some teachers even go through the National Board Certification process (which I don't know much about because I don't even know how to create time to research what that takes). 

Do lawmakers not know what teachers already do in order to become "Highly Qualified" in their fields and receive a teaching license? I have to think the answer is no, because a board exam would seem redundant if they did know. Adding requirements to the licensing process will harm the interest of new recruits and deter veteran teachers from staying in the profession. A move like this from lawmakers makes me wonder who in the legislature gets a kickback every time they require or mandate another test. Are there test-maker lobbyists? Is that a thing? That theory makes more and more sense the longer I think of it. 

Teachers are professionals. I am a professional, and I work with professionals. If Utah lawmakers can't accept that, then maybe we shouldn't be called professionals or given any indication that this is a career. They should just teach us to be good little worker bees and do what they ask. Then we wouldn't get so confused about why we are continually treated as though we can't do our jobs. 

It's time that local lawmakers recognized the huge resource they have in the teaching workforce and help us do our jobs instead of giving us all one more reason to quit tomorrow. 

Here's the article if you're interested: