My [redacted] Journey

A teacher's search for inner peace.


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Women, What are We Good For?


December 18, 2016

Disclaimer: This post contains content that some readers may find objectionable. Reader discretion is advised.

Dear Readers,

People are more misogynistic than we give them credit.

In 1974 I was attending a parochial (Catholic) school. Most mornings before school, I would sneak into the church to listen to the mass. One day, the priest announced that he needed a young man to assist him, as the scheduled alter boy was unavailable. As no young men were in the church that morning, one of my classmates, Barbara (not her real name) raised her hand and proceeded up to the altar. As she approached, the priest shook his head, “No,” and asked her to return to her pew.

The few parishioners, mostly rosary-carrying, elderly ladies began murmuring. The priest understood that unless and until he conducted the mass, the rosary ladies, who made up almost his entire morning congregation, would not leave. Thus, Barbara became the first female altar server at St. Vincent de Paul, and one of my first heroes. Unfortunately, the rest of the 6th grade students made fun of Barbara for being an ‘altar boy’. Huh, misogynistic?

When racy photos of Melania Trump first surfaced during the presidential race, people felt free to fly their misogyny flag. “Would you want this woman as your First Lady?” was the sentiment the pictures seemed to say. “Hell, yes!” seemed to be the response. In fact, one man I spoke with before the election told me, “If Trump wins, at least he has a wife that most men wanna fuck. No one wants to fuck Hillary, not even Bill.” As if being fuck-able is a qualification for her husband to be POTUS. smh

Conversely, not being fuck-able seems to put a woman out of the running. Hmm, misogynistic?

Aghh! What is wrong with us? idk but middle school seems to be no different.

One of my favorite bulletin boards I display in my classroom is my GOALS board. In years past, my students would color, cut and paste their way to a piece of student work I could post on my board. Today I’m much more savvy. I ask each of my students to send me a selfie so that I may print it. I have the students paste the selfie onto a mock-Instagram frame with the hashtag GOALS. I have them list their goals for the upcoming semester. It is incredible how many of my young ladies refuse to participate. In fact, they would rather take a zero than comply.

I know middle school students are self-conscious and even shy about their picture being taken. However, that doesn’t seem to be the problem. A few years ago, Melinda (not her real name) told me her mom wouldn’t let her send me a selfie. When I asked her why, she stated that her mom didn’t trust that the picture wouldn’t end up on the internet. Not a problem, I completely understand that.

Months later, I came across a selfie this same 12 year-old had posted on one of her sites. Here was my student in a push-up bra and thong underwear. Yikes! I had to have a heart to heart with the young lady.

This student told me that she liked the attention her picture received. She said that her ‘friends’ really liked how she looked in her picture! In her mind, her ‘friends’ knew better than she did about how to look good. She didn’t want me to put up a regular picture of her because the boys in her class would make fun of it. However, the boys at school who had seen her bathroom-selfie (as I kept calling it) liked ‘her’ and wanted to ‘go out’ with her.

Wow!  Definitely misogyny.  How heart-breaking to think that objectifying females starts so young.

Of course, men are not the only misogynists we have to look out for. Females, both girls and women, have turned misogyny into an art-form. Let’s face it, have you ever heard any of the following coming from a female:

“Oh, I don’t like women!” Or “I like to hang around with boys, not girls.” Or even “I don’t like girls, they’re too much drama!” Um…hello? You do realize you are speaking about yourself, right? I mean if a person does not like females, and that person is a female, it stands to reason that the person, who is a female and who doesn’t like females, doesn’t like themselves…right? Right.

Geez, this is quite a conundrum. But, I think I’m chipping away at the problem a little bit at a time. Having an influence on the next generation of young women is quite an honor, one that I don’t intend to squander. I hope never again to see one of my students posting a degrading bathroom-selfie. Because nothing is sexy about 12 year-old tits and toilets in the same picture.

peace, ~v.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow


student-love

I’m all about the love.

November 16, 2016

*Names in the following post have been changed.

Dear Readers,

Respect is overrated. In fact, at times, it is quite inconsequential. I can think of several nouns I would rather have from someone than the ‘R’ word; peace and love naturally come to mind. Unfortunately, our world is sorely lacking in all three.

When I was younger (much, much younger), I was fond of saying that I would rather my colleagues respect me than like me. And I have always been confident enough in my skills to ensure that my coworkers would do just that: respect me. Boy was I wrong!

For the past year, I have noticed a definite shift in the attitude of my students, collectively as well as individually. There is certainly more bullying and less kindness on display in my classroom. Indeed, I have oftentimes pointed this out to my most unruly classes. The school year is nearly half over and I have finally gotten my students to take me seriously. I’ve had to prove myself over and over again to not only earn their trust, but, yes, their respect as well. But as any teacher of middle school students knows, it’s one step forward, two steps back. And sometimes it’s not my students that are tripping me backwards; it’s my fellow educators.

There are certain male teachers at school who seem to command respect by their mere presence. Something about a deep, throaty voice and a six foot frame that registers with middle school kids. I was always able to put the fear of God in my own children with my “look”, but it never quite worked with this bunch of students. I’ve even ventured to ask my students why they behave for Mr. Down-the-Hall but not for me. I’m not going to tell you their answers, but I’ve come up with a few of my own.

We live in a male dominated society. Like it or not, men are valued more than women. I try to not let that bother me, but it does. It especially bothers me when Mr. Down-the-Hall undermines my authority in front of my students. Instead of accusing me of dismissing my students before the bell rings, why can’t Mr. Down-the-Hall wait until there are no students around, mine or his, and ask me what happened that my students left early? Why? Because if Mr. Down-the-Hall had waited to ask me what happened, instead of accusing me of letting my students out early, I would have told him that as soon as I turned my back, my students (all but two) rushed the door and were halfway to the bus before I even knew they were gone.

These same students would never deign to pull such a stunt with Mr. Down-the-Hall, they’re too afraid of him. Alas, I am envious of the fear he commands. “If I could just have a teeny bit of whatever he has…” I muse, and sometimes cry. And today was one of those days.

Today was one of those, “I am sick to death of putting up with the lack of respect from pipsqueak, prepubescent would-be reprobates!” And Mr. Down-the-Hall just added to my frustration. I willed myself to stay angry to stave off the tears. “I will not cry on my way home. I will not cry on my way home. I will not cry on my way home.” Then I began to think.

I began to question where I had gone wrong. When had I begun to be ineffective? When had I lost the respect of my charges, if in fact, I ever had it? All I ever really wanted was respect. Respect, respect, respect. My respect mantra was still looping through my mind when I stopped at Panda Express to pick up tonight’s dinner. My anger began to subside (the anticipation of food often does that to me) and I began to soothe my soul.

Instead of telling myself what I didn’t have from my students, I began to tell myself what I did.  I have my students’ trust; they trust me to lead them in the right direction. I have my students’ laughter; they not only laugh at me, they laugh with me. I have my students’ love; they love me even when I don’t think they do. And as if on cue, I see one of my students, standing in line behind me, with her family. I was pretty sure she hadn’t seen me, and I didn’t want to embarrass her, so I was going to pay for my food and quietly slip out the door. It was enough for me to know that I was making a difference in my students’ lives. And, hey, at my age, I can STILL improve my character, I can stop the tears AND the anger, and I CAN be good to myself. Yea me! What had started out as a miserable evening was turning into a pretty good night. And it was just about to get even better.

Lost in thought and heading for the Panda Express exit, I almost missed my student stepping out of line and heading right toward me. She was walking with arms outstretched, smile on her lips, twinkle in her eye; my heart melted. I stopped and we enveloped each other in well-needed hug. We said, “Hi,” and “Bye,” and I was out the door. It was then that I finally let the tears flow freely down my cheeks. To hell with respect, my students LOVE me. And that, dear Readers, is what makes the world go ’round.

peace, ~v.  

 

 

 

 

 


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H.W.G.A. or Here We Go Again


August 7, 2014

Dear Readers,

Here we go again.  When we were growing up, my siblings and I used to say, “HWGA,” whenever our parents would argue with one another.  We would roll our eyes at one another and simply mutter, “HWGA,” and we all knew what that meant, “Here we go again!”  We would all scatter to various rooms in the house, or sneak outside so as to not have to listen and/or to give our parents their privacy.  Don’t know if we ever told Mom and Dad what HWGA meant, or if they even knew we had a little code.  Well, Mom knows now if she’s reading this (sorry MmR, GaZjr, AeZ, FaZ, MdZ, VlD and DrZ for giving away the secret).

Today’s post will be my last post for…well, I don’t know how long.  I will leave this post, and the rest of my blog up for three days, and then I am sorry to say, I will be shutting it down.  I am sure some of my dear Readers would like to know why.  Here is the condensed version:  a student.  That’s all I will say on the matter.  However, I will be back.  I don’t know where or when, but I will be back.

I do this to protect not me, but my loved ones.  It is my decision to write, so I am willing to suffer the repercussions.  however, I do not wish to harm anyone with what I do and who I am.  I know you dear Readers will understand.

Now, on to loose ends.  In my last post, The Ones You Never Forget, I wrote about a former student (CM) that seemed to be troubled.  I had several people tell me that they wouldn’t be surprised if I hear from the student again and that he would remember me.  Well dear Readers, God does have a way of making believers out of us cynics.  Yesterday, two days after my post, CM did indeed get in touch with me!  He has since graduated from high school (no small feat) and is gainfully employed and looking forward to being a father and getting married (in that order).  He said he sought counseling on and off through his high school years and although he is not quite over some trauma he suffered in his teen years, he is much better than when I saw him last.

Now this is why I teach, because of kids like CM.  When I met him, he did not believe he had a chance at a life, he couldn’t see past his pain.  I did not think he would ever remember that I taught him how to write a complete paragraph, nor did I think he would remember that I taught him how to write a proficient essay.  What I was hoping for, however, was that he would remember the seed of hope I was so desperately trying to plant within him.  He thanked me for always believing in him, for never giving up on him, and most importantly, never letting him give up on himself.  Wow!  You could have knocked me over with a feather  Now that is why I teach.

Two other posts that I have to close out are Out of Focus and Out of Focus, Again.  Although this school year has started off better than perhaps the past five or so years, I had one class that I was not really connecting to, yet.  I thought I had solved the problem, but after a second lesson went flat, I decided I needed to try a new tactic.  I thought, I prayed, I meditated, I slept, I asked fellow teachers, I thought I had tried everything.  Then, God sent me an angel in the form of a Badass Teacher, DS.

DS wrote to me and suggested that I try a team building exercise.  Some may know it by a different name, but the premise is the same.  When you are with a group, be it work, school or church, and you must function as a group, you must have trust and a sense of camaraderie.  Without those two things, your group will not function properly.

“But, of course!” I thought when I read DS’s message.  “I need to build a little trust and camaraderie among my students.”  Not only does it help the students gel as a class and as small groups within the class, it is a diagnostic tool for me.  Here is how my team building exercise went:

I had my students do an exercise called “The Human Knot,” (again, some may know it by a different name).  Eight students stand in a circle, for my classes it worked out well, since my classes are in groups of four.  The eight students put their right hands in the middle of the circle and grab the hand of someone within the circle that is not standing next to them.  Next, they put their left hands in the middle of the circle and they grab the hand of someone else not standing next to them.  In order for the exercise to work, each student must be holding hands with two different people, and they must not be holding hands with someone directly to their left, or directly to their right.

Next, the students must try and untangle themselves to form a circle without dropping each others’ hands.  It can be done.  It has been done.  And in my classes, it was done.

At first, the students were reluctant to hold each others’ hands.  Then, all it took was for one student to make a move, and they all dug in, teamwork at its finest.  It worked beautifully.  One group within each of the three classes that tried this,   were able to form a circle.  It was the neatest thing to watch.  And that is all I did, watch.  Here were the results:

Most of the students were able to successfully work together.  However, there were a few that started out extremely annoyed with me for even suggesting this exercise, but they quickly joined in and tried to help.  Even so, there were two or three who simply refused to help, they just stood there, not helping, but not hurting the team.  The students thought it was fun, but didn’t really know what it could possible tell me.

I was able to see who the leaders and the reluctant leaders of the groups were, who the loyal followers were, who the reluctant followers were, and who took on the role of comic relief.  After each class had finished the exercise, I gave each student my observation of how they functioned in a group.  For the most part, the way students behave in team building exercises is the way they will behave when working in small groups.  Both the students and I were surprised at the leadership qualities in some of their peers.  However, I explained to them, now I know who has the leadership qualities, and I fully expect them to live up to their roles.

I tried this, and similar team building exercises with many of my classes over the years.  And each student that has participated, has risen to the high expectations I have set for them…without exception.  It was, and has been an exceptional diagnostic tool.  Now that I can see the beginnings of my students strengths and weaknesses with a small group, I can begin to work with them to get their best efforts.  By the end of the first quarter (around the end of August) I should see students working up to the high expectations I maintain for all of my students.  Teaching…It’s a Beautiful Thing.

Well, dear Readers we have come to the end of  very fine friendship, at least I think so.  I will be back someday; someday soon, I hope.  I will continue to write, because writing soothes my soul.  As for publishing, well, I’m working on it.  I thank each and everyone of you, dear Readers around the world.  I have enjoyed every smile, every frown, every frustration, every thing that this blog has brought me.  I leave you with the hope that you will all go out and change the world for the better, even just a little, I know I will.

Please always remember, and don’t ever forget…Peace, ~v.

 


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Out of Focus, Again


August 2, 2014

Dear Readers,

Two days ago, I published the post Out of Focus, in which I described falling flat on my face during one particular lesson in writing.  I took my lunch hour to furiously write about my dilemma and meditate in hopes that either one (or both) could help me determine where it was that I went wrong in the execution of the lesson.  I was completely out of focus and I couldn’t be, as long as I had other classes to teach.  Long story short, I figured out what the problem was and I was able to fix it so that my afternoon classes would not have to suffer the same fate as my morning classes…or so I thought.

Although my afternoon classes did go much smoother after my adjustment, the real test would be the next day when I had to try to re-teach the lesson in which I received no student engagement whatsoever.

In my first class, the lesson went well.  One down, one to go.

I bombed, again.  I’m still trying to figure out what had happened.

I will lay out the groundwork.

I am teaching my students how to write to persuade.  Additionally, I am teaching them the six traits to writing a proficient essay.  Each of the next six weeks will be spent closely examining a different trait, last week was Ideas and Concepts.

The easiest way to get students to come up with good ideas is to have a class discussion, but they will only discuss that which is important to them.  I thought I had picked a good topic and discussion and I did pick a good topic, at least for three of my four classes.  A good topic is one that ultimately ends  with a collaborative class discussion, one in which students are throwing out their ideas and opinions and I am playing devil’s advocate.  And this did, in fact happen, in three of my four classes.  My second hour class just would not be moved.

There I was, trying again, to inspire, motivate, even cajole 29 12 and 13 year olds to voice their opinion.  Nothing.  Thus, I am left, once again dear Readers, to reflect on what it is that will move my students.  I think I may be on to something.  Of course, then again, I thought I had solved this little dilemma.

This may take some time, dear Readers.  I will have to sleep on this one as I am out of focus…again.  Peace, ~v.


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Out of Focus


Out of focus

July 31, 2014

Dear Readers,

I am writing to you during my lunch hour at school. I am writing because I believe it will help me to focus for the remainder of my classes. Right now, I am so out of focus that it is interfering with my ability to teach.

I am one of the few teachers who will admit to loving lesson plans. I love the creative process that comes with lesson planning. I enjoy coming up with new and exciting ways to teach the same old concept. I may have to teach the same rules of grammar over and over and over again. But, you can bet that I have never taught it the same way any two years in a row. (I know a teacher who is still using the same lesson plans he created when he became a teacher…12 years ago. Seriously? Seriously!)

Today I thought I had a fairly decent lesson on writing a persuasive essay; it wasn’t my best, but it was far from my worst. I enjoy writing and I especially enjoy teaching writing. However, this morning, I fell flat. The students in my first hour class couldn’t concentrate as we had a fire drill right in the middle of class. Holding their focus after that commotion was not going to happen. Okay, I’ll get the next class.

I was even more out of focus for my next class. Have you ever been to a comedy show where no one laughs? The comedian is giving it all he’s got and all you hear is crickets? No one, not one audience member is giving up a laugh and it is painful to watch. And if it’s that painful to watch, imagine how excruciatingly painful it must be for the comedian. During my second hour class, I was the comedian; crickets.

So here I sit, dear Readers, writing during my lunch hour. I am reflecting on how I can improve my delivery for my two afternoon classes. Teachers do this. We reflect, we modify, we adjust. What works for one class may not work for the next. In addition to not wanting to be boring, I am constantly changing the way I deliver a lesson. Right now, I figured if I could purge this horrible, falling flat on my face feeling through my writing, I can re-focus.

I’m going to take twenty minutes and meditate before my next class, I’ll let you know how it goes. Peace, ~v.

Dear Readers,

I’m baaack! This afternoon went much better. It was the polar opposite of this morning. After my meditation and reflection, I decided to change the topic of the writing assignment and that seems to have done the trick. Not only did the students participate in the class discussion, when it was time for them to write in their journals, they didn’t want to stop. Now, that’s what I’m talking about.

As the only adult in a roomful of 34 people, I have to take responsibility for the crash and burn. I first look at what it was about my delivery, my planning, my something that sent the lesson south. It is not always me, but even when it is not, it is always my responsibility.

I can admit that, yeah, most of the the time it is my delivery, my planning, or lack thereof that leads to my bombing a lesson. Today was no different, it was my fault. In fact, the only time that it has ever been more the students’ fault than mine was when I worked at a boy’s prison, and I defy any teacher to hold a lesson together while a student is calling you an effing ‘B’ and throwing a computer at your head. But that dear Readers, is a story for another day. Peace, ~v.


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The Good With the Not So Good


One of advantages.

One of advantages.

December 17, 2013

Dear Readers,

I am finally getting to see the advantages of working at a junior high school as opposed to a high school.  I have been complaining all year about the immaturity and the disrespect that I have encountered working at the junior high school level.  Now, I’m ready to see the tide turn.

Even though my students are in 8th grade, they range in age from12 to 14 years old.  And, Boy! have they given me a run for my money!  It has been an uphill battle, to be sure.  But, dear Readers, I am not here to complain.  I am here to celebrate!

Advantage #1:  Junior high students still like to draw cool cards for their teachers (see above).  What a labor of love for a student, or anybody for that matter, to take the time to personalize a card.  I am truly humbled beyond belief when students present me with one of their drawings.  It happened to me twice today.

Advantage #2:  Junior high students still allow some people to see who they really are.  Not only do my students draw for me, they take the time to write to me, from their hearts. The words they write are invaluable to me.  They are also very personal, so I’m not going to repeat any of them here.

So there you have it, dear Readers, a banner day!  But wait, I just know I’m forgetting something…ahh yes, I knew there was something else.

My day complete, I began packing up my teacher bag to head home for the evening.  One of my phone accoutrements is missing.  I know I put it…NO!  Sadly, yes.  I know what happened to it.  One of my students was playing with it and I admonished him to put it back on my desk and, and, and it is nowhere to be found.  Long story short, found the kid, didn’t find my accessory.  He said give him until Friday to see if it turns up, if not, he said he’d be responsible.  Not exactly an admission of guilt, but at least he is willing to take responsibility.  HEY WAIT!  AT LEAST HE IS WILLING TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY!  Yes, I am shouting, wouldn’t you?  One of my students is willing to take responsibility.  That is growth.  That is what I’ve been aiming for.

I guess I was wrong, dear Readers, The whole day, including the ending, was something worth celebrating.  I think I’ll have a piece of cake!  Peace, ~v.


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ACT Out


March 4, 2015 Dear Readers,

I recognize academic burnout when I see it.  Most, if not all of us, have had it a time or two in our lifetime.  I mean, let’s face it, from about the age of 4 or 5, upwards toward 18, we have an excess of compulsory school days in this country.  So yeah, at one time or another, even I, lover of school and all things academic, have had academic burnout.  It is what caused me to dropout of college after only 1 year.  However, by that time, I had been going to school for 14 years.  The thought of continuing another 2 was simply too much for me to take.  I recognize academic burnout.

Unfortunately, I am seeing this phenomenon in my students.  “Ho-hum,” some of you might sigh, “it happens to the best of us.”  And indubitably, I would agree.  However, signs of academic burnout in 12 and 13 year-olds used to be few and far between, it was the exception, not the rule.

When academic burnout hit me, at age 19, I emptied out my brain of anything and everything remotely school-y, I dropped out of the college scene, and I began working as a cashier at a convenience store.  Now granted, it was certainly not the academic accolades I had always dreamt of receiving, but I worked hard, I began raising my family, and I was a contributing member of society.  And truly, what more could society expect from this college drop-out?

Eventually, and by eventually I mean 14 years later, I returned to school, earned a Secondary Education/English B.A, graduated with honors, and became the teacher I knew I was always meant to be.

But that was me.  That was 19, 20 year-old me.  What path is there for a 12, 13 year-old academic burnout?

Even as I say it, it sounds ludicrous, “12, 13 year-old academic burnout!”  But I’ve seen it; am seeing it.  And it breaks my heart.  It breaks my heart not because they will have an adverse effect on society, although chances are…  No, it breaks my heart because the joy of learning has all been sucked out of education and out of my students’ lives, if in fact, it was ever there to begin with.

My students cannot recall a time in their education when they weren’t being tested to death.  And that, dear Readers, breaks my heart.

This past Tuesday marked the 21st instructional day my students have given up to testing.  Wait, scratch that; the 21st instructional day that has been stolen from my students.  Of the mere 51 school days so far this year, my students have slogged through 8 Common Formative Assessments (CFAs), 8 re-take CFAs, 4 days of Galileo Summative Assessments, and now, the ACT Explore.  The 16 CFAs to gauge how well they grasped the content of the individual standards, the 4 days of Galileo to gauge how well they grasped the content of the individual standards, and the ACT as a pre-cursor as to how well they should expect to do on their college entrance exam!  Seriously?  Seriously.

As I walked up and down the rows of 8th graders, I wanted them to act out, act up, act indignant, act insulted, act like they were mad as hell and they weren’t going to take it anymore.  Admittedly, all they could do was act lethargic.  And sadly, that was no act.  21 of my students’ 51 school days have been eaten up with testing.  A full 41% of their time under my tutelage has been snatched away because of testing.  Almost every other day.  Testing.

Today, and I’m no social scientist here, but today’s junior high school students are exhibiting signs of academic burnout so frequently as to be considered normal.  Is this what we, as a nation, are striving for?  Is this the goal of our education communities?  Is this how academia as we know it will end, not with a bang, but with a whimper?  Say it ain’t so, Joe, say it ain’t so.  Peace, ~v.