My [redacted] Journey

A teacher's search for inner peace.


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Middle School Madness


new class

My new classroom.

August 26, 2016

Dear Readers,

School is back in session and emotions are running high.  So far in my classroom there’s been laughter and sorrow, smiles and tears, and a whole lot of learning…and that’s only me, the teacher, not my prepubescent charges.  As always, I have so much to learn about the students I teach.

The school year started out better than I had anticipated.  In fact, it started out better than anyone had anticipated, the other teachers, the administration, even the students.  The ‘feel’ of the new school year was much lighter, much happier, and much more chill than the previous three years.  Even the students’ behavior had seemed to mellow over the summer.  The school’s ‘detention room’ had much lower numbers than in previous years, and it began to feel like our school had turned a corner, at least behaviorally.  Which made what happened this past week so upsetting.  However, I have to admit, what happened this past week is part and parcel of teaching at the middle school level.

I have a secondary-education, English degree and in my state that means that I am able to teach 7th through 12th grade English Language Arts.  I have always known that my personality and my teaching style work best with teenagers, ages 14 to 17.  I am both strict and demanding of my students.  I expect every student to reach just past where they think they can and to work just a little bit harder than they think they should.  In other words, I have high standards, for my students as well as myself.

My high standards do not end at my classroom door.  I expect students to behave like they have some sense when in the presence of adults.  I realize that middle school students can act crazy and they can be loud and obnoxious, which is why you’ll find me wearing earphones when walking the halls and/or during school assemblies.  It’s not the crazy, loud and/or obnoxious behavior that bothers me, be cause believe me, I can act crazy, loud and/or obnoxious right along with my students.  No, it’s not that.  It’s the flagrant disrespect, the bullying, and the violence that I cannot tolerate.  And that is what always pushes my buttons.

In my classroom, the rules are simple: 1. Listen and follow directions; 2. Raise your hand and receive permission before leaving your seat; 3. Keep your hands and feet to yourself; 4. Respect yourself, your classmates, and your teacher.  The consequences are equally simple: The first time a student breaks one of the class rules I give the student a warning.  The second time a student breaks a class rule, they are sent to time-out.  This may seem babyish and elementary.  However, my students all work in groups and it pains them to be isolated from their peers.  Needless to say, it is rare that I have to go to step three.  I allow my students to re-enter their group once they have sat alone for a few minutes, thought about what they have done, admitted to me which rule(s) they broke, and apologize.

My last recourse for a rule-breaker in my class is to send them to the office with a referral. Now, once they leave my classroom and head to the office to speak with the vice-principal, any further consequence is out of my hands, and the rule-breaker is out of my hair…at least for a the day.  Fast forward to this past week.

This past Wednesday was quite an eye-opener.  Not only did I have to write one referral in one of my classes, I was close to writing 8, yes, 8 referrals in one class.  I was beside myself.  Before I began yelling (yes, I do raise my voice at my little cherubs), I stepped away from the front of my class to calm down.  That is when I had a small epiphany: my students tune out anger and respond to calm.  I calmly addressed the class.

It worked!  The 8 rule-breakers were subdued with my soft, low voice and my encouraging words of wisdom…for exactly 6 minutes.  Six minutes is just enough time to lull me into a sense of false security!  It was the end of  the period and I just didn’t have the heart to write 8 referrals.  In fact, I was so hurt and disappointed that all I wanted to do was cry.  I excused my students to their next class with the threat of writing referrals for the unhappy eight as soon as school was out.

I didn’t stick around after school to fill out the paperwork, “I’ll do it in the morning,” I sighed to myself.  I do not make idle threats to my students, that just leads to students not taking my word seriously.  No, I had to follow through with the consequences.  However, I would sleep on it and go in to the office in the morning, sans emotion (I hear that is always best).

The next morning at school as I was writing the referrals, I received a call from one of the mothers of the unhappy eight.  The mother wanted to know why I was punishing her daughter, at which time I politely explained my class rules, i explained which rules her daughter broke, and what the consequences were.  The mother’s response?  “Well that doesn’t sound like my daughter.”  Sigh.  Of course not.

There was no getting through to this mother.  She kept insisting, “That doesn’t sound like my daughter!” and my insisting that it was exactly like her daughter was not going to change her mind.  Finally, she said, “Well, I’m good friends with Mr. Vice Principal, and I’m going to give him a call!”  Sigh.  Of course.

I was certainly upset with this exchange.  However, I had the whole morning to decide how I should handle the whole referral mess, the afternoon would come soon enough.

As the unhappy eight entered my classroom, I realized they were happy and smiling.  The mess from the day before was long forgotten.  What had broken my heart wasn’t even a  blip on their radar.  Oddly enough, this made me smile.  The were 11 and 12 year old kids and they had been acting like 11 and 12 year old kids!  It was then that I had a little bit bigger epiphany: they are only 11 and 12 year old kids!

The class began with light and airy conversation between me and the (now) happy eight.  I was certainly in a much better mood, as were they.  As we all came to an understanding, the student whose mother had called me that morning raised her hand and asked with a smile on her face, “Miss, did my mother give you a hard time on the phone?”

I smiled back, a genuine smile and said, “No, she just kept telling me, ‘That doesn’t sound like my daughter.'”

My student chuckled, “Yeah, she doesn’t know how I act at school.”

Of course not.

Peace, ~v.

 

 

 

 

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Stay Gold


May 5, 2015

Dear Readers,

Fourteen years and way too soon ago tomorrow, my father passed away from that insidious disease, “C”. With all of my heart, I wanted my post to evolve into a sincere, yet loving, yet heartfelt tribute to my dad that would make my mother proud. A tribute for the ages! A tribute to end all tributes! A tribute…well, you get the picture.

Mom always said I was too dramatic, and sadly, perhaps it is true: I am too dramatic. And given that I am so, umm, theatrical, I intended to stage the perfect tribute. Rather, I intended to write the perfect…well, you get the picture.

On a serious note, my years of teaching parallel the number of years our family has been without its patriarch (14), which, in itself, is almost not a milestone. However, when you couple one of my greatest joys with one of my greatest sorrows, it does lend itself to dramatics, at least in my world. So, why can I not write the tribute? Something’s blocking me, and I think I know what it is.

This is my first year teaching a standard 7th grade Language Arts class. As far back, and as early in the school year, as September, I had my doubts and misgivings. Here is an excerpt from a letter I addressed to both my principal and my vice-principal:

I don’t know what it will take for these students to learn what they have to in order to pass 7th grade Language Arts. However, I fear that I am not the one to teach it to them.

This has been my best start as a teacher and I feel the best I have ever felt. Yet, my students’ academics are the worst they have ever been.

I am losing hope in my ability as an effective instructor.

Again with the dramatics, right? Wrong! Call it a bad feeling, call it a sixth sense, call it any euphemism you can think of; I knew I was in for a wild ride. And so did my principal. Here is an excerpt from her response:

Do not lose hope or confidence. We need to help all teachers of 7th graders get the message through to this group that their lack of effort is just unacceptable.

That message never got through to them. In fact, they never received even the basic of messages one expects to get through to a 12 year old. Messages such as, “Be respectful and trustworthy,” “Treat others how you wish to be treated,” and “Bullies get bullied.” No, those messages never made it through.

However, they did receive these messages: “Respect no one, not even yourself,” “Treat yourself better than you treat others because, like yolo (you only live once),” and the ever popular, “Snitches get stitches.” What a wonderful world it could be…

I mean to make the most of my last few weeks with my students; they may have given up and/or given in, I have not. I am not sure that I can salvage what has been a painful series of life lessons at the hands of a bunch of prepubescent schoolchildren, but I’m going to give it my best. After all, it’s not like a bunch of prepubescent schoolchildren determine whether or not I still have a job next year, right? Oh yeah, that is right. Hmm, gold is not good, or as Robert Frost put it, “Nothing gold can stay.” Peace, ~v.


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The Role Models


It is unclear to me how I maintain a "Bully Free Classroom."

It is unclear to me how I maintain a “Bully Free Classroom.”

September 4, 2014

Dear Readers,

I sat down last night to write my latest blog post, wrote it, but couldn’t bring myself to publish it. Something just didn’t feel right. I saved the post and went to bed.

The post I wrote yesterday, but couldn’t seem to post, was about bullies and their bullying behavior. In all my years as a teacher, I have never had such a problem with bullies. Since the start of the school year, I have had more than my fair share of encounters.  It didn’t dawn on me that I was experiencing an unusually high volume of bullying in my classroom, until last week at parent/teacher conferences.

No less than five (5) of my students’ parents brought up the subject of bullying.  Each wanted to know what is being done about students being bullied, teased, threatened and mocked.  These parents conveyed to me that it was their son and/or daughter that were the victims, and had been for at least 2 years!  I was appalled, dear Readers.  I was unwilling to believe that this behavior had not been otherwise stymied by the administration and the faculty, at large.  I was unwilling to believe that, dear Readers, until today.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.  And the good people at my school were doing absolutely nothing about the bullying problem, at least as far as I could tell.  Thus, the evil has been allowed to triumph.  As a matter of fact, not only has the evil been allowed to triumph, it has been allowed to thrive.  How does that happen, dear Readers?  Evil is allowed to thrive when the people in charge, the people that lead the charge, the role models, they are themselves, the bullies! 

In the past 24 hours, I have been bullied by three of my fellow educators.  In the past 24 hours, I have been bullied by three of my fellow educators in front of my students.  Well, no wonder some of my students are such bullies; that is what the adults around them are modeling.  No me.  Each time I was confronted and the bullying commenced, I stood up for myself and said, “We can have this conversation away from the students.”  In which the bully replied, “Never mind,” yet kept on trying to intimidate me.  And I do know that it had an effect on my students, because inevitably after each incident, my students began teasing me for allowing another teacher to speak to me in such a way as to be bullied.  Sigh.

See my dilemma, dear Readers?  I cannot allow this behavior to continue, whether it be my students or the faculty.  And now it’s a race against the clock.  Now, dear Readers, time is of the essence.  I fear I must find a solution, quickly, because today, I stumbled upon one of my being bullied boys.  You know what he was doing?  Yes, that’s right, he was aggressively bullying another student.  (please pray for) Peace, ~v.


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August 22, 2014

Dear Readers,

Teachers are forever assessing and reassessing.  We assess our students’ skills, our lesson plans, and at times, even our own effectiveness.  We do this on a daily basis and mostly while on auto pilot (after years of practice, it’s second nature to us).  We even have a phrase for this assessing and re-assessing:  modify and adjust.

As a teacher, I must modify my plans so as to teach to the majority of my students.  Then, I further adjust if not everyone in class “gets” the concept I am teaching.  My days are in a constant state of flux.  However, it seems I rarely expend that kind of energy in assessing my life.  And certainly I do not modify and adjust anything in my world.  It’s kind of like what I don’t know can’t hurt me.  Too bad after all these years, I still haven’t learned that the opposite is true.

After teaching for the past 14 years, I can honestly say that this school year, 2014-2015, has been the best start for me in recent memory.  I believe that is is because of my great start, that I have failed to acknowledge the little unsettled feeling that keeps tap, tapping on my soul.  Given that I write to get my feelings out, I went through my past blog posts to see if I had written anything in the past year that would indicate that I was aware of this twinge of something I can’t quite put my finger on.  Boy! was I ever surprised.  A year ago August 18, I wrote a post entitled “My Dichotomy”.  It remains the same, one year and four days later, it remains the same.

I have been teaching at my new school now for a little over a year, and I seem to be enjoying it.  There were certain realities present in my previous two teaching jobs that have thankfully, been removed.  The last two places I taught include a boys’ prison in the middle of the Sonoran Desert and a girls’ school in the middle of the Arabian Desert.  Both environments were equally restrictive, yet equally rewarding.  On the surface, they appeared to be polar opposites.  However, upon closer inspection, I realized that the two couldn’t be more alike.

Although I have always dreamed of becoming a high school teacher, the thought of teaching boys behind bars never once crossed my mind, until it did.  And then, when it did, I was only too willing to go along.  Well, most of me was willing to go along.  And the most of me that was willing to go along, was always waging war with the some of me that was not.

Some of me usually whispered through clenched teeth, “Are you kidding me?!  Get us out of here!  It’s a prison for Christ’s sake!”

To which most of me would usually respond, “But, we’re making a difference.”

And we were; making a difference, that is.

By the same token, teaching in the Middle East had never crossed my mind either.  As a matter of fact, some of me and most of me had the same conversation as when I was at my previous job.

Some of me would say, “Are you kidding me?!  Get us out of here!  It’s the Middle East for Christ’s sake!”

To which most of me would usually respond, “But, we’re making a difference.”

And we were; making a difference, that is.

Here’s the laundry list of similarities:

Both schools are located in the middle of a desert – At least I didn’t have to get used to the weather!

Both required me to dress ultra-conservatively – Not a bad thing, I just prefer to choose my own dress.

Both were far away from me, culturally – I couldn’t understand the gang mentality that was prevalent in the boys’ prison, nor could I relate to the overwhelming patriarchal society prevalent in the Middle East.

Students at both schools called me something other than Ms. Kunzmann – the girls in the Middle East called me Miss Victoria because my last name was too difficult for them to pronounce, and  the boys in the “pen” called me Fucking Bitch because, well, they could.

Students at both schools thought I couldn’t teach them anything – Students at both schools were wrong.  I was able to teach the boys a modicum of English so that many of my students earned their GED while locked up.  Additionally, I was able to teach the girls that they could affect change in the world, and I am happy to report that they have graduated high school and they are changing the world..

Students at both schools had very limited freedoms – Understandably so for the boys, they relinquished their rights once they were adjudicated (sentenced).  However, the girls’ rights were stripped from them once they were born.

Students at both schools saw me as an anomaly.  Subsequently, students from both schools really, really, really wanted to know the real me.

Students at both schools needed all of me.  Subsequently, teaching at both schools was mentally taxing.

Now however, I am back where I started.  I am teaching at a traditional public school.  The students are traditional public school students.  I am a traditional public school teacher and I seem to be enjoying it.  Right?  Right.  So then tell me, dear Readers, why do I feel like something is missing?  Peace, ~v.


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An Open Letter to Teach For America Corps New Recruits 2014


August 3, 2014

Dear New Teacher,

The first, and probably the most important thing, is that this is a letter of support.  Teachers are teachers no matter how they made it into the classroom, traditional, nontraditional, I respect both.  I also respect your passion.  I know you have a passion because who other than a passionate person would embark on this journey.

Like you, I came to be a teacher in a nontraditional, unconventional way (I was a 33 year old, mother of five when I went to school to earn my degree).  Also like you, I am passionate.  However, we differ in that I went through a traditional, secondary education program and you are a Teach For America recruit.  Both can be valid.

In the ensuing months, you will no doubt read and hear more rhetoric regarding education in America than perhaps you have already.  I would encourage you to ignore the negativity on both sides of the aisle:  pro-TFA, anti_TFA, doesn’t matter.  I say this because you have a job to do and your kids need you, all of you.  In fact, they need more of you than you have to give, but please, don’t give them all of you; hold back a little for yourself, you are going to need it.

You are going to need a place within you that is sacrosanct, a part of you in which only you have access.  This is the place to which you will retreat, a place where homework and standards and Common Core are four letter words.  A place where making a pauper’s wage for what we do, is never an issue.  A place to go where bitter, veteran teachers cannot hurt your feelings, nor your new TFA supervisors encourage you to believe that you will be an effective teacher, you won’t be, at least not initially.  You need that place.

You need that place because you will encounter this, and so much more, and you need to sort it all out, calmly and rationally, relaxing not stressing.  Then get ready…

Your kids are going to tell you things (some in person, some through their writing) that you are not going to believe; believe them. Your kids will test you and test you and test you some more.  They do it to all new teachers.  You will have to earn their trust.  The kids you teach will have seen teachers come and go, so they do not want to invest emotionally if they even suspect you will leave them in a few years.  Although, the students you had initially will be gone, the influence you had on them will not, if you are one of ‘those’ teachers, and let’s face it, we all want to be one of ‘those’ teachers”.

Some days your kids will be your saving grace,and some days they will be the bane of your existence, accept both with equal fervor, kids only expend energy on teachers they feel strongly about.  You want them to feel strongly since indifference and apathy kills creativity.  Learn how to turn the negative into a positive and you will have a loyal fan for years to come.

Finally, I was going to end my letter of support welcoming you to the profession and wishing you best of luck in the coming school year;  I’ve had second thoughts.  Although I do welcome you and I do wish you the best of luck, take careful note:  kids know.  Kids know whether or not they can break you, whether or not you are a teacher for life, whether or not you really care and whether or not they can trust you.  Kids know.  So, if your aim is to put in your two years and move on we, the kids and I, would rather you just keep moving, we don’t need you.  If, however,  you have an open mind with regard to making teaching your vocation we, the kids and I, welcome you with open arms, we need you.

Good, bad, or indifferent, all teachers leave their mark.   You choose.

Peace,

Ms. Victoria Kunzmann

7th Grade Language Arts


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Thoughts and Musings


P1000438

July 29, 2014

Dear Readers,

Here’s the truth of it.  I had an occasion to look back through my writing journals today and I liked what I saw.  In fact, I liked it so much that it is now the subject of today’s blog post.  So dear Readers, without further ado, I give you some of my past thoughts and  musings.

…on who I am

“I am a realist hiding in a cynic’s body, trying to be an eternal optimist. Sometimes it works, most times it doesn’t.”

“No one gets to be my age without some scars. Some scars blend and fade over time; I have those. Some scars only become deeper with age; I have those as well. And some scars never heal, they remain jagged to the touch and even “bleed” when touched; I definitely have those.”

“I am unable to pinpoint just where I began slipping away from reality. Heck, I can’t even tell you the month or the year the darkness began to take over. And that has been my savior and my demon.”

“I have done the hard work to get myself back to the land of the living. No more having to relive the past and no more worrying about the what-ifs of the future. I am finally living in the present and it feels good, it feels right.”

“It is simply amazing that one year ago I was in the depths of solitude and now I am reaching new heights.”

…on motherhood

“I’m not your friend, I’m not your buddy, I’m not your pal, I’m your mother, and you will respect me.”

“I came to realize that a mother only has a few precious years in which to mold and shape her children. I was determined to do the best I could by you. I can look back now with pride that I had such good kids to work with! You all made it so easy for me to be the best I could be. You helped me understand when I was way too much, way too close, way too everything. And for that, I thank you.”

…on being a teacher

“I do not teach, I TEACH!”

“I don’t want to change the world.  I want to teach the students who want to change the world.”

“Teachers are overworked, underpaid and undervalued.  And I wouldn’t have any other job.  I have always, ever wanted to be a teacher.”

…on food

“Me and food, we’re tight, we’re good friends.  One look at my voluptuous figure bears this out.”

“Food is the common ground we human beings, share. It is what keeps us well, alive.  We bake bread, eat bread, receive the bread and even break bread. It is one of our common denominators.”

…on my writing

“I have been told that my writing is quirky and inspiring, refreshing and heart-warming.  I’d like to think that it is just you and me, dear Readers, sitting around the kitchen table drinking coffee on a crisp early morning as the sun rises over the horizon.  Or perhaps it’s just you and me sitting in the backyard on a lazy summer evening, drinking a beer and watching the sun melt into the distance.  Either way dear Readers, it’s just you and me, talking, laughing, crying, connecting like two, long lost friends should.”

…on my faith

“I forgive and I love.  I forgive because I have much in which I must be forgiven.  And love?  Well, when God calls me home, I want to go knowing that the people I love know that I loved them.”

“What a kind and merciful God we have. I am blessed and divinely favored. I praise God each and every day that I am where I am today.  God is good and I intend on living my life in praise of Him. To whom much is given, much is expected.”

…on teenage girls

“Teenage girls chatter, they gossip, they seek to belong and they seek to be individuals. They love pop music, pop stars and popcorn. And they all have dreams; dreams they will strive to achieve, dreams they will hold close, dreams to leave this world a better place. And sadly, dreams they will never realize.”

“Sadly, most of them have accepted their lot in life.  Well, I have not accepted this fact! I refuse to accept it for me and I refuse to accept it for these girls. I will continue to bang my head against the proverbial wall. I will continue to demand the respect I, as an authority figure, deserve. It is an uphill battle to be sure. However, perhaps someday they will look back on their brief encounter with me and remember that as an authority figure, I was valid. And perhaps they will begin to realize that they, and all women, are valid as authority figures.”

“I stand here before you today to tell you that you are no different from the girls I taught back home. Yes, as a group we are different. However, individually, we are the same; we live the same, we learn the same, we love the same. We hurt the same, we cry the same and we die the same. We are the same.”

…on war and peace

“When you are stronger than somebody, you have power over them.  And when you have power over them, you can “rape” them.  And when you can “rape” them, you can brutalize them.  And when you can brutalize them, they will fear you.  And when they fear you, you can control them. And when you can control them, you do.”

“When we, as human beings begin to realize that we are all the same, we will have no more hatred, we will have justice.  We will have no more war, we will have peace.  I want to live in that world and I know you do to.  So go out there and make a difference, change the world or change your mind; one is just as dificult to do as the other.  And then begin to make this world a better place.  I want to be proud of you and I want to tell the world that I taught the girls who taught the world how to be a better place.”

Enough said, dear Readers.  Peace, ~v.


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Missteps, Mistakes and Mississippi


July 22, 2014

Dear Readers,

Every year I go back to school forgetting how difficult it is to start back up again. Several things have come together this year to form the perfect storm, not the least of which is less me time.

Last year I had 8th grade and this year I have 7th. Because of this change, I must create all new lesson plans. Right there, less me time. I know, I know, why didn’t I do my lesson plans over the summer. I wish I could have. However, the company with which our school district contracts to create our curriculum, did not have it available until the week before I went back to school.  Thus, I could do no lesson plans over the summer…darn!  I know, I know, I should be working on lesson plans right now.  Misstep.

But I have been doing a little bit of my plans, really.  Here’s the thing, though, I do not create my own tests.  The company the district uses to create the curriculum also creates the tests.  Okay.  I am told what to teach my students, I am told when to teach it to them, and I am told how to assess them.  This would be fine, except the tests are riddled with errors.  And not just simple, “Oops, I misspelled a word,” errors.  But huge, glaring, “I could drive a truck through the holes in this test,” errors.  For example, one test has an excerpt of an informational article for the students to read and then answer questions.  Only problem is, the answer to two of the questions is nowhere in the excerpted article.  I did some digging and found the original article available on-line.  When the test makers took an excerpt of the article, they did not include the part that contained the answers to two of their questions!  And the test only has five questions.  How am I supposed to deal with that?  The tests are copyrighted so I cannot change them.  Administration’s response is to…well, they haven’t gotten back to me as to what I should do.  Mistake.

There is a bright spot in all of this, dear Readers.  Driving an hour to work and an hour home each day is giving me time to catch up on my reading.  No I do not carpool, I drive myself.  I have taken to enjoying audio books.  I have been soooooo reluctant to listen to books.  I enjoy reading books so much so that I cannot even stand Kindles.  I love the feel of a book in my hands, the way the paper crunches, just a bit, as I turn the pages.  I love the way I get lost in the setting of a book and the way my mind envisions the characters, and I was under the impression I could only get lost and envision while my mind was focused on nothing else.  I was wrong, gladly, I was wrong.  I began listening to audio books over the summer while driving to and from summer school.  Not only did the time go by quickly, I found I could still get lost in the setting and envision the characters while driving.  I found I rather enjoy being read to.  It takes me back to my second grade teacher, Mrs. Pickett, and the way she would read a book to us every few weeks.  And that was where my love of reading began.  I have come full-circle.  By the way, I am listening to a book right now titled Sycamore Row by John Grisham.  The central character is a lawyer and of course there is a mystery to unravel.  I can envision the characters and I love getting lost in the setting…Mississippi.

Again, I leave you dear Readers with more of my beautiful pictures.  One of you, dear Readers said it perfectly, “God’s paintings.”  Thank you, DP.  And thank you all, dear Readers for allowing me to ramble my way into your lives.  Peace, ~v.