My [redacted] Journey

A teacher's search for inner peace.


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The iGen


May 8, 2015

People try to put us d-down (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Just because we g-g-get around (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Yeah, I hope I die before I get old (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)  ~The Who

Dear Readers,

From the Greatest one to The Who, everybody likes talking about the current generation.  Is there a defining factor that distinguishes the current from the former?  What holds sway over today’s youth?  And what common thread weaves its way through the impressionable young minds of today’s generation?

“Who cares!” most of you may be muttering about now.  However, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss, because what I have experienced first-hand of Generation Z aka the iGeneration, will leave you shaking your head.

By most accounts, Gen Z/iGen includes my current middle school students (born 2001 ~ 2003) and are purportedly the most technology-dependent generation.  Hence, the moniker iGeneration or, iGen.  Well, I propose a new name for today’s youth, and I propose that several of my fellow educators would agree.  I’m toying with either the Mean Generation or Generation Bully.  Here’s a look at why:

Cyber bullying is alive and well at the junior high school level.  A few of the students at school have tried their cyber hands at bullying me on-line.  And one of the students had never even been in one of my classes!

My students are nonplussed at flagrant violence for the sake of violence routine played out in front of them on a daily.  Stimulants include television, heck, any visual media, computer and/or video games, society at large, and even one another.  GenZ/iGen members have their video cams on speed-dial.  Videos shot by a 12 year old, at school, in class are likely to go viral, especially if the videos contain fight material.

Finally, today’s generation is mean; mean to adults, mean to society, mean to themselves, and mean to each other.  This school year, students have lodged formal complaints on me with accusations to include threatening to “hunt…down” one of my students (I did not) telling another student to “drop out of school” (I did not), and calling a 12 year-old girl a “b**ch, a slut, and a ‘ho” (I did not).  Each complainant stated I said such things in a classroom full of other students and each complainant had several other students to corroborate the lies.

Fortunately, I come from the school of CYA (cover your a$$) and had documented incident reports so that my principal and my vice-principal had no problem believing the students were manipulative, untruthful, and just plain mean.  Unfortunately, all the documentation in the world couldn’t help save me from my most recent run-in.  In short, several of my students vandalized one of the tables in my classroom.  They unscrewed the bolts attaching the legs to the table top and one afternoon, while teaching, I leaned on this particular table, the legs buckled, and me and the table came crashing to the ground.  Not quite two months ago, and I’m still suffering debilitating back spasms.  See, just plain mean.

Well, dear Readers, as I near the end of today’s post, it occurs to me that I might just be able to get behind that name iGen.  Some have suggested that the ‘i’ is open to interpretation.  Here’s mine:

  • impetuous Generation
  • indolent Generation
  • iconoclast Generation
  • (and my personal favorite) icarus Generation

Who knows, this may just well be the generation that flies too close to the sun.  Peace, ~v.


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Never Let Them Push You Around


August 16, 2014

Dear Readers,

“I will do everything I can to protect you.  But, you’re gonna have to learn how to protect yourself.  And if it doesn’t stop, you will have to decide what you want to do.”

I heard this twice in the past two weeks.  The first time, my principal was talking to me, the second time, I was talking to a student.

A little over a week ago, I published what I was certain would be my last post on this blog.  I had encountered a breach in security, and I was convinced I would have to go into hiding as far as the world wide web was concerned.  It was so heartbreaking for me, as I have poured my soul into this blog.  However, at the time, I saw no other choice, so yes, I was ready to throw in the towel.  Good thing the voice in the back of my head wouldn’t leave me alone.

For the first seven days of my self-imposed exile, I toyed with the idea of created a new blog and writing under a pseudonym.  In fact, I had already created the web site and had finished writing my first blog post.  I just couldn’t bring myself to hit the “Publish” button.

The words of my principal kept ringing in my ears, “You’re gonna have to learn how to protect yourself.”  Yeah, yeah, I know, but wouldn’t it be easier if I just started over?  Of course it would be, and I was almost going to, until one of my students needed me to listen to her.

Thursday morning, Sara (not her real name), wanted to show me what she was writing in her journal.  Without breaking her confidence, I can tell you that she was suffering from something similar to what I had been experiencing.  My initial reaction was sadness.  How some people can get such joy from others’ pain is beyond me.  And then I got angry!

It was then that I heard the same words coming out of my mouth that I had heard a week earlier, “I will do everything I can to protect you.  But, you’re gonna have to learn how to protect yourself.  And if it doesn’t stop, you will have to decide what you want to do.”  I continued, “Don’t let the bullies win.  If you don’t stand up for yourself now, you will most certainly regret it later.  I should know, the same thing happened to me when I was about your age.”

Well, the same thing was happening to me at that very moment, I just hadn’t realized it yet.  When it did finally hit me how similar our situations were, I cringed.  Who was I to be giving someone the same advice I had all but ignored?  Two days earlier, I had wanted to roll over and play dead or at the very least, hide behind a fake name.  Yet, I was telling Sara to stand up for herself.  Where was my fighting spirit?  Had I really given in to a…a…a cyber-bully?!  Who was this person?  And what had she done with Victoria?

Suffice it to say dear Readers, Victoria is back, I am back.  And I am fighting to keep my private life private, well, as private as one can be in this day and age.  I am standing up to the bullies and I won’t let them win, or at the very least, I’m going down swinging.  I will keep a close eye on Sara and let you know how her situation develops.  The adults in her life are wonderful and they will protect and guide her.  As for me, I would like to tell you dear Readers, that I had an epiphany right there and then as I was talking to Sara.  However, that was not the case.  It took a bit of Divine intervention.

Friday morning, and the last thing I want to do is to sit through an assembly, plopped down in the middle of a gaggle of prepubescent boys and girls.  Especially now that I am at that certain age in a woman’s life where sweat and facial hair are no longer just for the men in my life.  But, sit I will, and sit I do.  And the hand of God reaches down and grabs my spirit and says, “Pay attention, Vickie.  You are about to be schooled.”

Yesterday’s assembly was all about how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe on social media sites and safe from cyber-bullies.  Really?  Really.  I paid close attention.

I’m reminded of a joke I heard years ago.  A man I’ll call Doc is caught in a thunderstorm that leads to flooding.  The flood waters rise so high that Doc seeks refuge o top of his roof.  He prays for God to help him survive.  About then, a man in a rowboat happens upon Doc and asks him if he needs any help.  Doc answers, “No thank you.  I prayed to the Lord and He will help me out of this mess.”

Two more times a boat happens by and two more times Doc refuses any help.  Unfortunately, Doc passes away and comes face to face with his Maker.  Doc is beside himself as he asks God, “Lord, why didn’t You save me?  Didn’t You hear my prayers?”

The Lord says, “Yes Doc, I heard your prayers.  But didn’t you see the three boats I sent?”

The Lord helps those that help themselves.  Peace, ~v.


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The Ones You Never Forget


August 4, 2014

Dear Readers,

I just finished grading and recording 106 pieces of homework and 106 quizzes.  I had already put away the papers and was on my way to bed, when a piece of paper fluttered to the floor.  I bent over to pick it up and noticed that it was a picture that one of my former students had drawn and I was floored!  He is one I will never forget.

This past weekend, I had been emptying out old, old papers I had accumulated over the years.  Part of the accumulation was from 5 or 6 years ago.  I’m not a hoarder, just a recycle-er who forgets to recycle sometimes.  Anyhow, this drawing must have gotten mixed up with my current students’ papers.

As I picked up the drawing, I smiled at the recognition of the name.  He was one of my hard-to-motivate students, as bent on sleeping through my class as I was on keeping him awake.  I usually lost that battle.

Then I took a good look at the drawing.  It was drawn like a cartoon strip, with 4 panels.  Without going into too many details, the “cartoon” strip showed Mom and Dad physically fighting, son and Dad physically fighting, Mom crying, Dad leaving and son hoping for the worst for Dad.  Yeah, not funny.

I was saddened because that picture forced me to remember why that particular students had been so memorable.  The “cartoon” strip I ran across this evening, was not a cartoon, it was his real life.  Yeah, not funny.

It has been a few years since I last saw this student CM and I have often wondered about him.  I know he had a hard home life and I can only pray that he is living the life that God wants him to live.  But, I don’t know and I probably never will.

I know that I will not be able to reach every one of my students, nor have I ever been able to.  However, there are the ones I know I helped, the ones I hoped I helped, the ones who didn’t want my help, and the ones I couldn’t help; those are the ones I’ll never forget.  Peace, ~v.

 

 


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But For the Grace of God


July 25, 2014

Dear Readers,

I am feeling quite humbled today.  Yesterday, I briefly allowed myself to wallow in my grief.  Today, I am thanking God that I have so little troubles.

Yesterday my students began writing personal narrative essays, today I began reading them.  I do not know why I am surprised at the content of the essays, but I am.  With the exception of the short time I taught in the Middle East, I have worked at diverse, predominantly lower income schools, including two boys’ prisons.  And the personal stories I read about are the most heart wrenching stories I have ever come across.  Today was no exception.

I am not going to write specifically about my current students.  However, I will give you some idea of what I have run  across.  I have taught students whose parents have abandon them, turned them into drug dealers, and turned them out (prostitution).  I have taught students whose parents have initiated them into gangs, and I have taught students whose parents were the ones to beat them out of the gangs.

I have taught students whose parents have allowed their “friends” to have their way with them (sexually speaking), and students whose parents themselves have had their way with them.

I have taught students whose parents have been arrested, imprisoned, shot at, and shot up in front of them.  I’ve had shoeless students and I’ve had homeless students.  I’ve had them all, dear Readers.  It breaks my heart.

I have taught students who have lost siblings, mothers, fathers, and yes, even pets.   They write about it all.  Most of them have also lost their innocence.  So as I was reading my students’ essays today, I came to a realization, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

I am blessed.  I was fortunate enough to have been given a strong foundation through the guidance of my family.  I have been given the will and the strength to have survived not even half of the things I have read about in my students’ essays over the past 15 years.  Okay, so I’ve suffered a loss, a big loss.  But I can do this, I will get through this.  If some of my students can live through the things they have had to live through, well so can I.

I have taught students who have lost just about all they have to lose.  But the one thing, the one thing I can honestly say about my students, past and present, they have never lost their spirit.   A girl could learn a thing or two from that.  Peace, ~v.


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You Make How Much?


A new school year begins.

A new school year begins.

July 18, 2014

Dear Readers,

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you want me as your child’s teacher.  I do what is in the best interest of the students, even if it is not what is in my best interest.  Small example, today’s students work better in small groups than individually.  Subsequently, my classroom is set up with tables and chairs instead of traditional student desks.  Students working in small groups drives me up a wall.  However, it is not about me, it is about doing what is best for my students.  And I do a great many small things that would ordinarily bother me, but it is what is best for my students, your children.  Today, I was reminded of one of the great things that I sacrifice for the good of my students:  my salary.

Because my salary is a matter of public record, and without an exaggeration, I will tell you that my it runs somewhere between $33,000 to $35,000 pr year. I have an advanced degree with a double major, my student loans totaled over $43,00, and I have been a certified teacher for 14, almost 15 years now.    I think I have eared the right to  earn just as much as any other professional with my educational qualifications.  However, most of you Mr. and Mrs. Average Citizens do not seem to agree.

Last night was our school district’s Welcome Back to School Night for both parents and students.  I found myself in the middle of a conversation between two parents about what educators should earn once they become teachers.  I politely declined to give my opinion.

However, it is a subject that comes up every few years or so.  In fact, even now, my school district is proposing to its citizens an increase in its primary property tax levy.  This would increase property taxes on a $100,000 home from $2,370.00 to $2,639.20.  And that was the topic of discussion I came upon last night.

Although I have addressed this subject before in my August 1st, 2013 blog post entitled “A Class Divided“, the conversation is almost always the same thing.

“Another tax raise?  We just voted to give teachers a raise.  But, I see in the news that our school’s are failing our children.  What about that?  Why should teachers get more money if our kids can’t even read and write at grade level?  Shouldn’t a raise be based on your job performance?  If teachers are doing their jobs, shouldn’t students be able to pass their reading and writing tests?”

I just smiled and nodded, very non-committal.  But that just gave the parents fuel to add to their fire.

“Aren’t the reading and writing scores at this school not very good?  A couple of years ago, my oldest son took the [reading and writing test] and he did not pass.  But he passed his Language Arts class.  How does that happen?  Shouldn’t he pass the state test if he passed Language Arts?   I don’t understand.  I think it’s the teacher’s responsibility to make sure my child learns what he is supposed to pass the test.  Do you think teachers should get a raise  when kids are failing the state test?  I don’t want them t raise my taxes.  And I don’t want to pay teachers for not doing their jobs.”

I remained quiet, still smiling and nodding and in time the parents ran out of steam and we got down to the business of introducing ourselves.  However, I can and will answer the parents’ concerns right here and right now.

Yes, I should be held accountable for how well I teach your children, my students.  The problem is, the state test the students take are not an accurate measure of my job performance.  Just because your child does not pass the state test does not indicate I did a poor job of educating him.  There are so many factors that go into whether or not your child does well on his test.  Did he get a decent night’s sleep?  Did he have a well-balanced breakfast?  Did he complete all of the homework pertaining to what is on the test?  If homework is not turned in, if classwork is not completed, your child has not done his job as a student.

I, however, have done my job.  I have completed the lessons and given the tests that the state requires of me.  I do my job and I do it well.  I should get a raise based on my job performance and not your child’s test scores.  I can think of no other job that ties trainers raises to whether or not the workers they trained can pass a test.  No, it is the worker who failed the test that either loses his raise or loses his job.

Being a good teacher does not necessarily translate into high, or even passing test grades.  There are so many other contributing factors.  What are they, you ask?  Well, each child is different.  I know only a small part of your child’s abilities, worries and various other personal characteristics.  I can assess, observe, and teach your child.  However, and this is a very unpopular viewpoint, you as his parent should be able to tell me what the other contributing factors are to your child’s testing abilities.

You are his parent, I am merely his teacher.  One of us has more of a responsibility than the other.  One of us has the potential to spend more time with the child than the other.  One of us has values and morals to teach this child.  Me, his teacher, I do the best I can.  You, the parent, do you?  How about the student, does he do the best he can?

Geez, all of this for a mere $34,000 a year?  Peace, ~v.


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What I Did This Past Summer


Look closely, gaming sites were more popular than the education sites.

Look closely, gaming sites were more popular than the education sites.

June 13, 2014

Dear Readers,

My two week stint as a summer school teacher has come to an end and so, it is time for reflection.  Educators worth their salt know that in order to improve their effective instructional practices, reflection is a must at the end of every lesson, unit, day, month, year, professional development class, etc.  It helps to see what works, what needs improvement, how we can better serve our students, our schools, our colleagues, our communities, ourselves, etc.  In other words, how to use every waking, breathing, livable moment of our lives to create master teachers, dang it, because we teachers, are failing our students!

My apologies, dear Readers, for my little soapbox rant.  I am back on track now.  Although it may appear that I am poking fun at reflection insofar as it relates to my teaching, I believe it to be a valuable tool in assessing what I need to improve upon.  Unfortunately, without the cooperation of the other ‘players’ on the educational field, my improvement will only go so far in helping our students to achieve.  The players’ roster includes, but is not limited to, students, other teachers, administrators, parents, and even society at large.  Now, how’s a girl supposed to get all of those entities on board the “Yea, Learning!” train?  I’ll tell you, it ain’t easy!

For the past two weeks, I was the instructor of record for a credit recovery class for a group of 6th and 7th grade students.  For those of you dear Readers who thought disinterest in institutionalized learning began in high school, I can assure you that it does not.  Yes, it seems that even 11 and 12 year olds need help recovering their credits.  Gone are the days when little Suzy or little Johnny had to repeat a grade because of failing marks.  Now, (cue Superman theme song) teachers can advance a pupil’s learning ability through the help of self-directed, computer based programs.

For the past few years, computer based learning programs have become all the rage.  Which is fine, for a certain section of the student population.  The demographics for that certain student population, I believe, would be as follows:  self-motivation.  Yes, dear Readers, self-motivation is the key.  Without that, self-directed, computer based programs are difficult to teach at best, and a disaster waiting to happen, at the very least.  Here is where I come in.

My class started with 18 students, 3 girls and 15 boys, all completely disinterested in spending 4 consecutive hours staring at a computer screen and me staring at their backs.  Of the three girls, two were highly interested in the boy seated next to them.  Moving the girls away from their love interest did no good, they just moved their interests along with their seats.  And sending them to the office did no good, as they were right back in my class the next day.  Sigh.  As for the boys, two slept their way through the first two days of class, four kept trying to hide the fact that they were spending the majority of their time on gaming sites, and three of the boys could not stay seated (one kept wandering aimlessly around the room, while the other two simulated professional wrestlers in the middle of the room).  As for the remaining 9 boys, three tried to continuously get onto web sites that had been blocked by the school district, one tried to hack into the control panel, and one wore an ankle monitoring device that kept beeping because it needed to be recharged.  So, for those of you keeping track, of the 18 students on my roster, exactly 5 were willing to learn.  Unfortunately, they were the five neediest of the bunch.  You know the type; cannot type a word without the approval of the teacher.  So all day long it’s, “Miss, Miss, Miss, c’mere, pleeeeeease, I need your help.  Miss, Miss, did I do this right?  Miss, why don’t you help me?”  Sigh.

"Hey, if the teacher is waaay over there, she can't see what we are doing on the computer, right?"

“Hey, if the teacher is waaay over there, she can’t see what we are doing on the computer, right?”

I can laugh now, dear Readers, summer school is over.  And although it does sound like a comedy of errors, that is exactly what it was like the first few days.  By the end of the first week however, the students got on track, with a few exceptions.  By the end of the second week, all but those few exceptions had passed the classes they had failed throughout the regular school year and recovered their credits.  Not bad for two weeks of summer school.  As for the few exceptions, the three boys trying to get onto websites blocked by the district, well, they managed to get on some of them.  What were the sites you may ask?  Well, let’s just say that three of my students now have a very good grasp on the female anatomy, a very good grasp.  Sigh.  I guess it goes with the territory.  Here’s to a restful rest of the summer.  Peace, ~v.


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Does My Child Meet, Exceed, or Fall Far Below the Standard? Part II


May 2, 2014

Dear Readers,

Yesterday I wrote my evaluation on a student in my class (Part I).  Untamed Adventurer, my nickname for PH, is an academically, above average student in my 8th grade Language Arts class.  He will most likely receive Exceeds the Standard on his Arizona standardized test (AIMS).  Today, I will compare him to another one of my students, JD aka Compassionate Leader.  Compassionate Leader will also most likely receive an Exceeds the Standard on his Reading and Writing Aims test.  However, these two young men receive different evaluations from me.

Compassionate Leader is exactly as his nickname insinuates.  He is a leader, although sometimes reluctantly.  He has the self-confidence of a leader, with the just the right amount of conceit to lead.  He is kind and conscientious of his fellow classmates, most of the time.  After all, he is a typical 14 year-old young man.  Compassionate Leader (JD) and Untamed Adventurer are friends.  Whereas Untamed Adventurer likes to run wild, Compassionate Leader tempers is enthusiastic spirit in the name of his academics.  JD is concerned that he does well in his classes and not in that “My mom is gonna kill me if I don’t get good grades,” kind of way.  Although, I can imagine that is the case (jk).  No, JD takes his studies serious because he knows he has been blessed with above average intelligence and he is proud and determined to live up to his potential.  In a world where we so often hear of young people doing the wrong thing, JD is a young man determined to live up to his responsibilities.  These qualities will serve him well as he enters into high school.

As far as his reading comprehension skills are concerned, JD is above grade level.  He is adept at answering basic comprehension questions and can look beyond a story to answer critical thinking questions about why a particular character does what he does.  He understands a characters motivation and he understands how it contributes to a theme in a story.  This is what allows him to be compassionate.  JD understands human nature, at least in so far as his peers are concerned, which is what we expect from our leaders.  JD’s writing skills are also above grade level.  He is adept at writing a compound sentence, he can revise and edit a rough draft essay, and he understands the importance of the writing process.

So, there you have it, dear Readers, my assessment versus the standardized state test assessment.  Both Untamed Adventurer and Compassionate Leader are on equal footing as far as the state of Arizona is concerned; both will earn an Exceeds the Standards on their state reading and writing assessments.  However, each will need very different guidance and support in order to be successful in high school.  I, for one, intend on fighting to see that they get it.  Peace, ~v.