Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Teacher's Aren't Martyrs

As the school year is coming to a close and I prepare to leave for summer break I keep pondering the teaching profession. More and more I see new articles, Facebook posts and blog posts etc. etc. accusing teachers of every wrong thing that has ever happened. Teaching as a profession is something that is easy to criticize and a convenient scapegoat for a lot of things. That being said I see the constant posts from other teachers where they make themselves out to be a martyr.

I hear complaints ranging from "we don't actually get summers off", "we do a lot of work at home", "we arrive early and stay late", "we don't get paid enough" etc. etc. and those comments frustrate me-they make the whole teaching profession look lazy and give people a bad impression of us.

I do work in the summers absolutely, but I don't work anything close to a 40 hour week. My only school related OBLIGATION (something that is required) for the summer is a 4 day conference in July-and it's only a obligation because I took a volunteer leadership position at school. There are many professional learning opportunities available to me and I'm sure I'll take advantage of some of them, but most of my summer will be my own. I do have a ton of work to do preparing for the next school year (as all teachers do), but I can set my own hours and working from my couch is way better than being in an office.

It is pretty awesome to get a 2 week Christmas break (which no professional job that I know of gives you) and a week at Thanksgiving, a Spring Break and plenty of random days throughout the year. Most other jobs aren't lucky enough to get that many breaks (and there aren't usually work related obligations during those times). DH and I don't have to choose between visiting my parents or his at Christmas since I get a 2 week break-because of that we have the time to do both. However, in order for DH to get the 2 weeks off he has to save all his vacation days and sick days and comp time for the WHOLE YEAR in order to get that time. I get all the breaks plus I get 12 days a year of sick time. That's a pretty great perk.

I do arrive early and I do stay late as do many of the other teachers I know. There have been plenty of nights where I haven't gotten home until 8:00, however, there are many days when I'm home by 4. DH is an engineer (definitely a professional job) yet there are many mornings he has to be at work by 5 in order to support a build or work with an overseas supplier. He often works 18 hour days-especially when he is on the road and he spends 6 months of every year traveling. He often spends 6 weeks or more away from home-no weekends at home, no evenings at home nothing!

As for the pay I don't make a ton, but I don't make nothing. DH makes WAY more money than me, but in my mind he works harder. In fact, I look around at my "professional" friends and I see that they have less freedom than I do, less time off than I do and they work harder and longer hours.

I don't do a ton of school work at home-at least I try very hard not to. Of course there are days that I have to bring home grading etc. but I use every single minute of my plan period to make sure that I get as much done during work hours as I can.

Teaching is not an easy job by any means, but then again neither is any other job. I feel that some teachers get an inflated sense of self-worth and they don't seem to realize teaching is a job just like any other. I've heard the argument that teaching is more important than other jobs because we affect the future of children. However, if DH messes up a design or misses something during testing he can cause people to DIE. At least I don't have to be 100% perfect or someone might die-suddenly teaching seems easy!

Teachers are attacked in the media, by our government etc. etc. and it's becoming worse. Plenty of other public service jobs are under attack at well (law enforcement springs to mind). The worst part is the fact that a lot of the accusations leveled at teachers are true. It is your job at a teacher to do the best thing for your students at all times, to work hard and to strive to change the public perception of teaching. Is that something unique to teaching?-Kind of.....but it's a responsibility you willingly took on.

Is teaching important? ABSOLUTELY! However, it is a job-all jobs require you to work hard, devote plenty of time to finding success and no one ever gets paid what they think they are work. Teachers-feel lucky that you get to work in a job that gives you paid vacations multiple times a year, time to work at home, shorter work hours (even if you don't get them every day), freedom to do things your way and the opportunity to influence the future of your country. If you are one of those people falling into the trap of complaining about how undervalued you are either do something to make a positive change for the perception of teaching or find a job where you will be valued. Honestly, you chose to go into teaching-you knew what the job entailed before you started and you made the choice-be accountable for your choice.

We as teachers can't keep making ourselves out as martyrs or as people with the worst jobs in the world. There are definitely things wrong with education (but that can be said for any industry), but we are in the unique position to change the future of America. We get to spend each and every day with the funny and unique people that make up the youth of America-even if they are surly sometimes or unmotivated. Teachers need to stop whining and start changing-we don't have it ANY worse than ANYONE else. In fact we have it better than A LOT of people-in fact we have it better than many people who work "fancy jobs". All jobs have hard parts and all jobs have awesome parts (as I always tell my students-there is good and bad in everything).

So teachers: as you're enjoying your summer break take a minute to do something positive for the public perception of teacher. Write a letter to the newspaper talking about all the awesome things your school does, plan a community involvement event, reach out to a former student, leave a Facebook comment on a news website about teacher. At the same time take a minute to think about why you have the BEST job in the world-if you don't think your job is the BEST maybe you should spend your summer researching a career change.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

End of the School Year Wrap Up

The 2014-2015 school year is coming to a close-only three more days left with students! I'm genuinely excited for summer, but at the same time I dread the end of school. The last day of school means letting go of the students I've worked so hard with for the past nine month, it means that I won't have one more chance to finally get those light bulbs to click on and it always means something is changing.

Gone are the days where teachers stayed in the same room year after year and taught the same lessons each year. I do repeat a few lessons each year, but for the most part summer is my time to refresh, find new ways of teacher, reflect on what worked and what didn't work etc. etc. This summer is going to be even busier because I'm changing subjects for next year. For the past four years I've taught English and next year I'm going to be a Social Studies teacher! I'm thrilled since my degree is in Social Studies and the English certification was just a back up in case I couldn't get a Social Studies job (and I'm thankful I had it).

While I'm super excited to be teaching my first love and getting to share my passion for history and government with my students I'm also freaking out a little bit over the amount of work that has to be done. My new colleagues are super supportive and helpful-always freely sharing resources but we have a new test to prepare for so none of us have all the resources we need. We need to get better at meeting the Common Core Standards and at covering document based questions so we're rewriting our tests, creating new lessons together and figuring out strategies to teach writing and reading in the Social Studies department. It makes me thankful I have the English experience so I'm already ahead of the curve-History and English are super easy to mix! This year I taught World War II/Holocaust, Civil War and The Great Depression all in the context of covering literature from those eras.

However, even though mixing English and History is easy it still requires a lot of work on my part. I have a ton of ideas for teaching and for making our Social Studies classes even better! Social Studies is often seen as something that isn't important (and it certainly isn't afforded the importance of Math and English), often times it is looked at more as an elective rather than a core class. However, Social Studies is a great opportunity to inspire students to make changes in their world, emphasize high level reading skills, utilize critical thinking skills to analyze historical documents and social problems and to write essays and letters that require evidence and the defense of a position. Social Studies can also help students become better citizens and affect our whole world in a positive manner. It is my goal to make Social Studies a course that is important, relevant and an important part of a well rounded education.

I'm afraid of falling into the trap of showing movies everyday (since there are SO MANY excellent Social Studies movies) or just having students color maps every single day. I've seen classes like that and I can't see the educational value-I want a class that is rigorous, truly prepares students for high school and life and inspires passion in my students. Too many kids complain that history is boring-but there are SO MANY fun things about history and I want to expose them to all of it!

Along with my new subject I have to move rooms as well so the last few weeks have been a whirlwind of cardboard and tape! DH is away on a business trip so I'm holding down the fort at home along with packing up a whole classroom (and I'm one of those teachers who should probably be featured on Hoarders). I'm also leaving for Europe on the last day of school to meet up with DH which means I'm desperately trying to get the yard mowed in between rain showers (which seem to be occurring every single day), running the dog to the vet to get shots, packing for the trip, buying last minute items, packing all the things DH forgot etc etc.

Even though my summers are never a do nothing time for me (seriously my to do list is 4 typed pages long!) I'm excited to catch up on all the stuff I neglect during the school year and prepare for my new classroom and my new subject. Plus I'm thrilled for a four day educational conference, two different trips to Europe and plenty of time with the dog! DH is in his busy time at work (harvest time) so he'll be traveling most of the summer, but I can't wait for the days he is home so we can do super fun stuff together (like swimming and bike rides). I'm also planning on teaching the dog to go on bike rides with me so she can get more exercise (since her vet said she was getting chunky) without killing my injured foot!

I'm sad to say goodbye to my current group of students and my current subject-I've really enjoyed my English career-yet I can't wait to see what next year holds! Posting will probably be light for the next few weeks as I travel and check things off the massive list, but I'll post when I can and hopefully posting will resume soon!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Talk Derby to Me

This past weekend I packed up the Jetta and headed out the Kentucky Derby-alone. In an effort to live a bit of a happier life I've been trying to get out more and do more things that make me happy. DH gets to travel all the time for work and I get insanely jealous of his fantastic trips (he's jetting off to Italy soon).

A few weeks ago I had an epiphany-I could sit at home feeling sorry for myself and complaining about all the things I was missing out on or I could pack up and go. I've always used the argument that someone needs to be the responsible one in the relationship and take care of the house and the dog, but I deserve time for myself too. With that in mind I decided about 5:00 on Friday night to make the drive into Kentucky. DH stayed home and took care of the dog while I made the drive.

The only tickets left on the night before the Derby were infield tickets but I took what I could get, threw a few things in my little suitcase and hit the road. My plan was to drive through the night, reach Kentucky in the morning, sleep in my car for a few hours and then hit the Derby. About 1:00 in the morning (8 hours into my drive) that plan went out the window and I stopped in the lovely town of Mount Vernon, Illinois to grab a few hours of sleep at their Quality Inn.

The next morning I downed a Red Bull and drove the rest of the way in to Louisville. I drove straight to Churchill Downs and realized that was not the place to be! Most of the residents were offering parking for a low low price of $25.00 to cram my car in their yard-that wasn't going to happen. I couldn't imagine trying to get out of there after the race was over so I kept going. I was able to park at the Kentucky Expo Center for only $8.00-I had all the space I wanted and only had one small incident with a group of drunk tailgaters.

It's a pretty long and hot walk from the Expo Center up to the racetrack. I stopped at a Starbucks for water and to use their bathroom before braving the crowds at the track (I wasn't about to be stuck using a Port-O-Potty!). Getting into the track was suprisingly easy-I walked right up to the gate, handed them my ticket and off I went into the belly of the beast. I saw some other people getting their bags searched, but my giant Coach purse must not have raised alarm bells since no one even gave it a second look.

Once I was inside the gate was where the real madness started-thousands of people crammed onto the infield with most of them being drunk monkeys. In addition the Vineyard Vines tent was giving away foam hats shaped like their whale logo-I spent the rest of the day getting smacked in the face. I strolled around the infield, bought a few souvenirs and an overpriced lunch and checked out the lay of the land. Apparently getting their 4 hours before the race starts is getting there late since every spot of grass was covered with bodies.

Churchill Downs installed a large TV screen on the infield so people can watch the race-it cracked me up to see the rows and rows of lawn chairs people had lined up in front of the screen. It looked like the rows at a movie theater and made me question why on earth would you go into the mess of Churchill Downs on Derby Day just to watch the race on a screen? Why wouldn't you just stay home?

I staked out my spot on the first turn between two very boisterous groups of people and promptly fell asleep on the grass using my purse as a pillow(I'm blessed with the ability to sleep anywhere). When I woke up I was the color of a lobster and bored. Being there by yourself is not ideal since you don't have anyone to save your spot when you get up to get a drink or food. I couldn't leave my spot all afternoon in fear of losing it. The people in front of me had made a circle with their chairs and blocked it off with "Police Line" tape-I spent most of the afternoon imagining elaborate crimes that could occur there and giggling to myself.

The actual race started and was over in the blink of an eye. American Pharaoh won and I saw just a few seconds of the race when they thundered through the first turn. Then it was time to leave-one exit for 70,000 people (part of it includes a dark scary tunnel that you have to walk through). Leaving was quite possibly the worst possible part of the day. Everyone is pushing and shoving, people are whacking each other with chairs and coolers and drunk people are falling down. The lovely souvenir mint julep glasses are shattered on the ground so you're dodging glass with each step.

After I got home Churchill Downs sent me a survey about my experience, one of the questions they asked was "Was it a luxury experience?" and I just laughed. Imagine a frat party times about a thousand and that was the infield atmosphere. I like a good party and I like a good cocktail, but the amount of over consumption and rude behavior was ridiculous. People were passing out on the ground, marijuana was being smoked in the bathrooms, glass was being thrown etc. etc. and no security was present.

I guess the question is was is worth it? Yes and no. It's not something I would do again unless I could really do it up right (and I'm in no financial position for that) but the experience was definitely worth it. It was fun to see and fun to experience. However, I much prefer watching the race from the comfort of my own couch-it doesn't involve 22 hours in the car and I can cuddle my puppy during tense moments! I will say that the focus of the Kentucky Derby has changed from horse racing to fashion and booze. I love fashion (as evidenced by my overflowing closet) and I like booze, but on Derby day I want it to be ALL about the horses. I'm a huge horse racing fan-seriously I can name every Derby winner, their time, their owners etc. etc. I'm just a repository for useless facts (yet I can't usually remember where I put my car keys). Why can't we focus on the horses and their athletic achievements rather than on what hat Kendra Wilkinson wore? I don't even care about the gambling portion of it-I just want to see the ponies run.

Now I just need to attend the Belmont and the Preakness to complete my own personal Triple Crown-and it's nice to check attending the Kentucky Derby off my bucket list since next year I'll be curled up on the couch watching it!