Monday, August 3, 2015

Back to School



Back to School Time!!



It's that time again.  Back to school.  Only I'm not where I intended to be when I left school back in May.

Last spring, I began my search for my first Assistant Principal position.  I filled out applications.  I went to interviews, when I could get them.  I sent thank you notes and followed up and did everything I thought I should.  I was willing to relocate.  But eventually, the stack of carefully worded rejection letters (when they were even sent) started piling up on the corner of my desk.  "Thank you for your interest, but you were not selected.  We chose someone with more experience."

If this is correct, it appears there is a cycle of administrative openings that are being filled by other administrators from other districts.  It's like some mad game of musical chairs.  In spite of many job openings posted, evidence points to very few actual opportunities for anyone trying to get their foot in the door.  Okay, I get it.  I may have to leave the state for my first position, and then come back when I have experience.  Not my first choice because I love it here in Oklahoma.  But, I'll deal with that next year.  In the words of Scarlett O'Hara, "I can't think about that right now."  The kids are coming, and I'm not ready, physically or mentally.

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Today I spent my entire day at the Career Tech Summer Conference, and it helped.  I'm starting to get my mojo working again.  I'm thinking about getting a 3D printer...planning fundraisers....robotics team maybe.  I'm doing what I love.  I miss the kids.  So, maybe I have to take out more student loans if I want to continue work on my doctorate, pay my bills and help my daughter through college for the next year.  I can always try again for that elusive Assistant Principal position next year....right?  Right? Time to woman up and get ready....the kids are coming!!

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I am apparently, not the only person out there who is having challenges in the job market.  CASE IN POINT--

I stopped by the hardware store this afternoon on my way home to pick up a few things for some last-minute home repairs while I still have a few days of summer.  Checking out and I see a young man walk into the store and ask the manager if they were hiring.  The young man was carrying a skateboard.  He was dirty, wearing dirty clothes, ripped pants and didn't even bother to turn his hat around the proper way, much less take it off.  Oh, and he brought along his greasy-haired tattoo-and-muscle-shirted sidekick for moral support.
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Needless to say, he was told no.  

We are always told "don't judge a book by it's cover."  I have students tell me every day "I hate people who judge me before they ever even know me."  I love all my student, and have a special place in my hard for the students who come to school dirty, hungry and poorly dressed.  I want to provide those kids with a safe haven, if only from 8:30-3:30, where they know they will be fed, they will have running water and air conditioning, and someone will care enough about them to make them take off that dang hat!  But here's a cold water dash of reality.  We as educators need to make our students aware that outside of our cloistered walls of public schooling, they are being judged, and being judged hard.

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I teach a career teach class, but perhaps I am spending far too much time trying to interest students in exciting careers, and not enough time on the basics of what to do to actually get that job once they decide on it.

1.  Be clean.  Even if you are homeless, you can wash up in a Quik Trip sink on your way to ask for a job.  

2.  Dress as nicely as you possibly can.  If old, worn jeans are the best you have, wear those, but wear your absolute best, cleanest clothes.  Spit out your gum, take off your hat, and look the nice manager in the eye.  Introduce yourself and shake their hand.  Wanting to impress someone to get a job is not the same thing as being a sell out.  There are lots of poor, unemployed people out there who are very firm about not "kissing up to the man."  I appreciate the conviction, but I'm afraid you can't buy groceries with it.

agree-agreeing-captain-kirk-chuffed-delighted-happy-nod-nodding-pleased-smile-star-trek-well-then-william-shatner-yeah-yes-oh-yea-oh-yes-gif3.  Dress for the job.  My daughter has purple hair, a tattoo, and dresses almost exclusively in black emo band t-shirts.  She works for Hot Topic.  It's a great fit.  I know a lot more about classic punk music than she does...but they most likely would not employ me in my floral prints, business skirts and high heels.  Their loss.  I rock so hard.  On the other hand, she most likely would not be employable in my profession (outside of a progressive art school.)  





I think it might me a good idea to actually spend a little time this year showing my students how to apply for a job.  Lord knows I have had enough experience this past year.  Hmm...maybe I am more ready for back to school than I think I am.
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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Keep Moving Forward

I have spent the past year searching.  A long time.  A year.

I have spent the past 12 years as a classroom teacher, and a few years ago, I decided that it was time for me to make the leap to administration.  I love kids.  I love teaching.  But I also love the thought of helping to set a school culture and helping teachers and guiding kids and impacting lives that you can sometimes only do from the main office.  I didn't make this decision lightly, and I didn't make this decision because I am burned out in the classroom.  Far from it.  I think I have just hit my stride.  Good time for a change.

As I finish my internship process and start to go on interviews for Assistant Principal positions, I have discovered something that was surprising to me.  It doesn't feel like I'm looking for a job.  It feels like I am looking for a family.  Like the character from one of my favorite movies, I have been on quite a few "adoption" interviews.




And like the character from the movie, I have gotten a lot of rejection letters.  And emails.  And phone calls.  For some reason, I haven't found a position yet.  It's a lot of work, on top of my current teaching duties, my internship and my full time grad school classes.



Yet, with every interview I get, I learn something.  I get to meet new people.  I'm making contacts that, regardless of whether I actually get a position in that district, will be valuable down the road.  I'm enjoying the process, and trying not to get too stressed about whether or not I will or will not find a position for next year.



With every interview, I try to put as much of myself in the interview as possible.  Yes, I know that flies against traditional wisdom.  You want the interviewer to project what they are looking for onto you, and like you so they will give you the job.



But it occurred to me that somewhere out there is a Principal who is already looking for someone just like me.  They are looking for someone who is enthusiastic and ready to do just about anything to be a positive impact on the lives of the kids.  Someone is looking for an Assistant Principal who's first thought is not "suspension" but support.  Somewhere out there is a school that is looking for a positive new member for their family.



Now all I have to do is find them....and keep moving forward.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Every once in a while, I get lucky.

Some days as an educator, I leave my home intending to change the world.  Some days, however, I just hope that I don't screw up enough that I become the lead character in some super-villain's back story.  Most days, I do my best and hope.

A few weeks ago, something happened that I have just now processed enough to be able to write about.   We all have those students who just fade into the background.  They aren't superstars, setting the world on fire.  They aren't the little toots that make us ask Santa for a new flask at Christmas. They are quiet.  They sit and observe.  They don't make waves.

Sunny September afternoon and I'm sitting at my desk, collecting my notes for class while my students come filing into the room.  The little blonde busy-body that I always call "The Narc" comes in, and I figure that someone was touching her pencil again.  She whispers, "There's a boy crying..."

That got my attention.  I left my papers and rushed into the classroom, thinking that someone was hurt.  And there was one of my students, sitting motionless at his table, just as he always does, but with tears running down his face.

Middle school kids don't do that.  When they cry, they weep.  They wail.  They sob uncontrollably.  I was looking for an Oscar-worthy performance, not the stoic little man with clenched teeth and haunted eyes.

"Go into my office.  Sit at my desk.  I'll be there in a few.  You are not in trouble," I whispered to him with my hand on his shoulder.  After I started the class in their activity, I followed him.

"What's wrong, baby?  Are you okay?"

"I got a lot of stuff going in my life right now."  With this monotone pronouncement, the chubby little man looked up at me and met my eyes and held them.  This is another thing middle school kids don't usually do.

"Would you like to go spend the hour in the counselor's office?"

He nodded, and gathered his belongs and left.

In spite of my uneasy feeling about this kid, I went back to my teaching, and the day moved forward.

I didn't check on him.

The next day, he was not in school.  Nor the next, nor the next, nor the next.

I didn't check on him.

After a week of absence, I called the attendance clerk and asked if she had heard from him.  He was in the hospital, and was not coming back for a while.

I hadn't checked on him.

As soon as I got a break in my schedule, I found the counselor.  He had made it to her office, and after listening to him for a while, she called his mother and helped the mother make the decision to get him the help he needed.  This 12 year old little boy was planning on putting a gun in his mouth and blowing his own head off.

I hadn't checked on him.

The first thing I thought about was, "Why hadn't I called the office to make sure he made it okay?  What if he had gone into a bathroom and hurt himself and I hadn't checked on him?"

I should have known better.  I, of all people, should have known to check on him.  I knew what might have happened.  I know because one year ago this month, my beautiful, brilliant, 16 year old daughter tried to take her own life.  I should have checked on him.

I am grateful that he is okay, and he is getting the help that he needs.  I am so glad that I sent him to the counselor, and that she reacted quickly and decisively.  I am so glad that I got lucky.   

  • Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 10-24. (2010 CDC WISQARS)
  • Suicide is the THIRD leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12-18. (2010 CDC WISQARS)
  • More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.
  • Each day in our nation there are an average of over 5,400 attempts by young people grades 7-12. (http://jasonfoundation.com/prp/facts/youth-suicide-statistics/)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Million?? Did you say MILLION???

Now that school is over, and grad school classes are smoothed out, and I have a few minutes to sit down and do things like work on my blog and read the newspaper....I wish now that I hadn't.  Tulsa World---front page---above the fold---

BARRESI INJECTS CASH INTO CAMPAIGN

Not a surprise....politicians do that all the time when it comes down to crunch time....but wait!

"Oklahoma Ethics Commission reports show Barresi has loaned her campaign a total of $1.26 million..."  Tulsa World, June 18

Million????  To say that I had an emotional response would be underplaying the amount of coffee that I spit onto the paper.  Who has a million dollars?  I don't know anybody that has a million dollars, but then again I'm a teacher, and don't run with that crowd.  Apparently, Barresi is that crowd, and that makes me uncomfortable. 

After taxes, mandatory teacher retirement deductions, insurance costs for only me, etc., my take home pay is a smidge over $2,300.00 a month.  That is with 2 undergrad degrees, a Master's, a National Board Certification, and college hours toward my doctorate.  This is what I earn to pay my bills and take care of my daughter.  I can't afford to buy my daughter a car or send her to college without student loans.  I have to check my bank balance before I can go grocery shopping.  Every single teacher I know who doesn't have a spouse with a high paying job is in the same boat.

Okay, math lesson for today.  If I wanted to save up $1.26 million dollars, I would have to take every penny of every paycheck that I make for the next 547 months (or 45 years) to make that happen.  I couldn't even live long enough to make that much money.

Do I sound bitter and maybe even slightly jealous?  Bet your butt I am.  I work as hard as I can at what I do, and put in long hours trying to be the best teacher my students will ever have, but no matter how hard I work, I will never be that successful.  Never.  I feel as though I have gotten nothing but disrespect and insults from the State Department of Education ever since Barresi took office.  Today, however, I received something different from my leadership.  Today I received a math lesson.  I just don't think those numbers add up.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Remember when special meant something good?

This morning, I came as close to being truly angry as I ever get.  While I am very passionate, occasionally irritable, sometimes excitable, and frequently squirrelier than a Bullwinkle film festival, I very rarely ever get angry.  It's just not in my nature.  But today.....ooooo....dang.

So, I'm doing morning duty in the gym (or as I tell the kids....I gotta go do a doody in the gym!)  My job is to make sure they don't eat or drink in the gym, stay in their seats, and don't kill each other.

I'm watching this 7th grader in a green jacket shove two or three kids about half way up the bleachers.  I can't have this...so I march over, and invite the little hooligan to come down and have a seat on the front row until the bell rings.  Pretty benign, just trying to contain the madness.  He says "No." and turns and walks away from me.

Oh heck no.  That kid did not just diss me like that in front of 100 kids.  So I followed him and gave him one more opportunity to comply.  This time he yelled "NO!", and sat down and glared at me. 

After telling him to go the office, and then asking his name, both time met with "NO!", I got his name from another student, and after the bell rang, stomped off to find the Assistant Principal.

By now, I am livid.  This does not fit in with my world view in the least.  I am the teacher.  I am the authority figure.  That is what makes our microcosm society of public education work.  One of my greatest fears is that one day the students will figure out that they outnumber us 50 to 1, and that we really have no real power over them whatsoever.  When that happens, it's going to be the ants vs. the grasshoppers all over again.

So here I come, barreling down upon the poor Assistant Principal, who is monitoring the hallway, blissfully unaware of the 200 pounds of irate teacher bearing down upon him.  As I storm up, I cock my head at him and say "Do you know (insert kid's name here)?  Big, deep, soulful sigh from the AP.  Yes, he knows him.  I explain to him what whet down, and expect a reply something along the lines of "How dare he!!  Let's hang him by his thumbs in the dungeon!!"  Instead, I get "He's special ed.  I'll tell the head of the department."

Well, there went the wind out of my sails.  Special ed.  I know exactly what is going to happen.  Nothing is going to happen.  And tomorrow he'll be back in the gym, doing the same thing, and 100 pairs of eyes will be waiting for my reaction.  When they see me standing there watching, completely powerless, every bit of authentic authority that I have is flushed like a dead goldfish.

Please understand.  I am a huge advocate of special education.  I have long championed the idea that every kid should receive the modications that they need to get the most of of their education.  But at what point should we hold our special needs children accountable for bad behavior?  Today, I taught this kid (unwillingly) that he can do whatever he wants, and there will be no consequences because he has an IEP.  This will most likely be reinforced through his public education career.  How cruel will the real world be for this kid?  I promise if he gets a job and treats his supervisor the way he treated me this morning, there will be no modifications for him.  His rump will be sacked, and he will be standing there wondering, "What just happened?  That's not the way this goes...."

Now that I've had some time to cool off, I'm not mad anymore.  I'm sad.  Will this kid be able to hold a job?  What happens if he runs a red light and decides not to pull over for the police because he is in a hurry and doesn't want to?  By not giving this young person a consequence for breaking the rules in 7th grade, we are laying a certain foundation for this boy.  We should be trying to prepare him for his future.  That's our #1 job, isn't it?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Justice for G

A few weeks ago, I lost a student.  Literally.  I'll call him G.  I don't know where he went.  I know that he checked out of school, but I don't know where he is now. 

I'll tell you what I do know about G.  He was a scruffy 7th grader who always had hair in his eyes.  He had a generally unkept air about him, but that's not unusual for 7th grade boys.  There was something about this kid that I really liked.  There was something in his brown eyes that was slightly sad, but hopeful.  He loved my engineering class, which always gives kids brownie points in my book.  He tried really hard, and always had a smile for my jokes (which are not nearly as bad as you might hear from my students.)

Flashback to several weeks ago, and G told me that he and his folks were moving.  I told him that I would miss him, and asked why they would move so late in the school year.  He freely admitted that they were behind on their bills and had to move.  And suddenly, things started making sense.  The unwashed clothes.  No haircut.  The sad looks.

Can you imagine telling your 13 year old that they have to leave their friends and everything they know because you are being evicted from your apartment for not paying the rent?  What if he didn't have enough to eat...he was such a skinny little kid.  What if they don't have a place to stay now, and are living in a car or under a bridge somewhere?  This is not a faceless statistic.  This is MY KID.  How in the hell can something like this happen in a country where the freaking Kardashians spend $200 on a bottle of shampoo?  It's not fair and it's not right and it fills me with a righteous fury that both invigorates and nauseates me at the same time. 

A simple message for our elected officials, who think it's perfectly okay for this to happen, as long as we can keep giving tax cuts to oil companies--I hope you never, ever have to have someone that you care about walk out of your life into a dark, impoverished unknown.  By all means, vote against raising minimum wage and cut back social services and leave public education staked out in the sun while you are at it.  God forbid that every single person that earns minimum wage rolls enough pennies to afford gas to drive to the polls this November.  But if there is justice in the world, and Karma smiles upon G and his family, you may be back in the private sector in 2015.  Sure hope your business doesn't rely upon anyone but lobbyists and rich people.  Be a darn shame if someone set up a website or something listing your voting record as a part of a review of your business practices.   

Friday, April 25, 2014

Tattered, Torn and Tired

This morning as I walked down the hallway of my school, I started noticed how shabby the halls were starting to look.  Signs on the wall peeling away, and posters with rips and scuffs along the walls where hundreds of bodies move past every day.  Middle school students are very tactile.  They have to touch everything.  And sometimes, when they touch, they tear and pick and destroy.  It happens.
 
As we plod through the testing season, I think this becomes a metaphor for our entire school.  I see veteran teachers that we depend on for leadership announce retirement, and new teachers that bring sparks of vitality at the first of the year, burn out and drop from our ranks.  Those of us that are left are scrambling to call our government representative and beg for our funding and plead for them to stop passing legislation that will dismantle public education.  Like our beloved school house, we are tired, tattered and torn.
 
I have only been teaching 11 years.  Maybe some of you can answer this:  How did we get to this point?  At what point in history did teachers stop becoming respected and revered and start being seen as leeches on our economy and failures of our children?  I can't understand....
 
I am a product of an excellent public school system.  I am a proud graduate of Durant High School, Class of 1983.  (This is the part where you look at my profile picture and say that I don't look my age.)  My teachers were respected, and the students who were nasty to the teachers were shunned by the entire student body. Not anymore.  Sometimes I feel like I have a big target on my chest, and I dread parent calls, because usually there are excuses, accusations, and no positive action to speak of. 
 
As the school year winds down to a close, you can feel the tension of the students starting to build.  The days are longer, the weather is warmer, and summer is beckoning like an old, long-lost friend.  I really don't blame the students for being distracted and squirrelly.  Unfortunately, a lot rides on these tests.  I'm waiting for the day when teachers get fired for non-performance on the tests.  I saw that a lot when I taught in Texas from 2003-2004.  That's a lot of pressure....and some teachers are starting to snap.  
 
Almost all of us started this profession because we love kids and we love what we teach.  Like any relationship, you have to feed and nurture that love for it to continue.  A teacher who loves what they do can change the world.  A teacher who is tired and burned out, stressed and under pressure, is an ineffective teacher.  We are in danger of becoming what they say we are...and that scares me more than any test score.