Category Archives: I love my job

Update on a great kid

Remember Mohawk – from, like, seven years ago? Well, he’s a senior now. And guess what? I just found out that he’s a National Merit Scholar. His mom said he’s the first one from his high school in twelve years. I’m elated – and not at all surprised to hear this about him! This is hands down one of my favorite parts of my job. I love hearing about the cool, wonderful, and awesome accomplishments from all the cool, wonderful, and awesome students I’ve had over the years. It humbles me that I know I got to be a part of their journey.

 

And on a personal note, let me just tell you that this news made me cry because of the way it juxtaposes yesterday’s news. Finding out that one kid is pregnant and another kid is receiving awards of national distinction…Well, they’re just two really different things. And it feels weird somehow – and hard – to be a part of both of their stories.

Teach on.

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Poo-tee-weet?

Last year when I taught Slaughterhouse Five, it was difficult to help students take all the notes they would need to take – and then keep those notes straight so they would be able to access them at the end of the novel for our big project.

This year, I arranged for the English department to purchase books for my students. Each student received their very own copy of the novel to write in and mark up and highlight and sticky note…and then take home at the end of the unit and keep for ever and ever. I was so, so excited for them. They were so, so surprised, and, most of them, really appreciative.

Well I had this girl. Great girl. Sad story. Issues with mental illness, problems with homelessness, off-and-on drug use. Collapsed social network and nonexistent adult presence. She’s been in and out of school my entire three years here (because of the aforementioned issues). She started strong in my class last quarter, but then things got rocky and she stopped coming every day. Then she just stopped coming altogether.

Yesterday, I saw her in the hall. She ran up to me and said, “I love that book! I finished it and then I read it again! Twice! I’m going to start it again this weekend! I love it so much! Thank you for buying me a copy! I’m so glad I took it with me when I left!” And then she ran on and caught up with her friends.

I don’t know all the demons she’s wrestling with. I don’t know how OK she’s going to be a year from now or ten years from now or even tomorrow. But knowing that she has Kurt Vonnegut and Billy Pilgrim to keep her company makes my heart swell and my eyes leak. I wish that she, too, finds peace on Tralfamadore.

Perspective

Monday, a few teachers had their cell phones stolen, one had her wallet stolen, and a kid had his backpack stolen. Everything has been recovered and the kid responsible for it all was arrested yesterday.

Overheard in the staff room:

“It’s such a shame. I guess I’ll have to do a better job locking my door.”

“Part of why he got turned in is that his friend found out whose phone he stole and she said she couldn’t let him do that to me.”

“These kids work so hard all the time to disprove the stereotypes about kids in this school; it’s an added insult when someone breaks that trust.”

Overheard in the halls:

“That kid was new here. He didn’t know how we do things. You don’t just go and disrespect teachers like that. If he ever comes back, we’ll make sure he understands this time.”

Members Only

In my study hall, I have a second teacher in there with me. Recently, she had a conversation with a student who was learning about the early foundation of the KKK in history class. She shared with him that she had gone to high school with the son of a then-leader of one KKK chapter. A girl on the other side of the room overheard and yelled, “Your husband is in the KKK?!?” so we all laughed and talked about how that’s how rumors get started.

Today, she was talking about something with another boy that another girl on the other side of the room misunderstood and asked about. Then, things got out of control quickly.

Me: Remember: That’s how rumors get started.
Girl: Oh yeah, we talked about that before. Because isn’t it, like, your ex-husband who like started the KKK or something?
Other teacher: No! I graduated with a kid whose father was in the KKK.
Boy: I think it would be cool to be in the KKK.
Other teacher: What?!?
Boy: Yeah, you get those free clothes.
Girl 2: You mean the white robes they wear?
Boy: Yeah, I could like wear it for Halloween and it would be all authentic.
Me: Or, as a suggestion, you could shop Sears’ clearance for white sheets and avoid the hassle of actually having to join a hate group.
Boy: But Sears sheets aren’t authentic.
Girl 2: It seems like a lot to go through just for some sheets and a Halloween costume.
Me: Plus, no offense, but I don’t think the KKK would take you. They have standards for membership.
Girl 2: Yeah, white standards.
Boy: Wait, how do you know that they wouldn’t want me?
Me: OK, I’m not a paying member of the KKK, but they have historically been pretty up front with their membership requirements. They’re pretty uninterested in people who aren’t white. But you’re not the only one; the KKK wouldn’t take half the people in this school.
Girl [who had been on her phone most of the time]: Wait, you’re in the KKK???
Me: No! For crying out loud! People! Rumors get started when we don’t listen to all the facts!
Girl: Whew! I didn’t think it made sense for you to be in the KKK. I mean, it’s OK to do what you want and I don’t judge and all that, but Ms. H, you’d make a real shitty KKK member.
Me: Thanks. I think that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.

Bleeding vs Blackface

I had students writing out a quick list of all the things they know about racial tension in America in the mid-1900s. You know, the Civil Rights Era. They worked in small groups on posters that we then hung up for discussion.

I’m walking around, doing the good teacher thing, checking on groups and whatnot. I go over to one group, read some of the stuff on their poster, then point to something they wrote about three from the bottom. “Menstrual shows?” I ask.

“Yeah,” this boy responds. “They were really popular for a long time. It was where white people painted their faces black and put on these plays where they made fun of Black people and stuff. They really just helped make a bunch of Black stereotypes.”

“Oh! Minstrel shows!” I said.

“Yeah, menstrual shows,” he replied.

I just left it.

And you know what? That poster’s been hanging in my room now for two days. No one. Has said. A thing.

End of Term

Tomorrow is the last day of school this year, so that means that today and tomorrow are finals. And that means that I’m seeing students I haven’t seen in a while. Because nothing says “last ditch effort” than showing up to take a final exam in a class that you haven’t attended all quarter. By the way, in case it isn’t clear, those students won’t be passing.

This has been a transformative year for me. I’ve gone from being sure that I need to quit my job to being sure that I’ll retire from teaching in another 25 years. I’ve also realized that there’s a little bit of love inside me for this job and for these kids. I never thought I went into teaching because of the people side of the job, but after ten years and some really incredible teacher friends sharing their version of what their passion looks and feels like, I’ve come to accept that yes, I really did want to teach because I wanted to work with people. One teacher friend told me that at the beginning of every year, she tells her students that she intends to love them, and that being together in the classroom every day and reading together and writing together are the glues that form that bond. I like that: I intend to love you. Love has always been a weird thing for me – difficult to recognize and accept and even difficult to pinpoint within myself. But this year I’m seeing it more and more, and in fact I’m seeing it enough that I’m even seeing it in my classroom.

I recently went to a graduation party for a student who I had in middle school. Do you remember that class four years ago? It was a tough year, but we made it through and now those kids are all going off to college. Anyway, the party was for Sweet Girl (read more about her here and here) and it was so, so wonderful to be invited to her party and to hear all about what her and a bunch of those other kids will be doing in the fall. In a strange way, it has been this class coming full circle that has helped me decide that I needed to stay in teaching. Maybe the events of that year were what gave me doubt in the first place, but it has definitely been those kids who have had the greatest impact not only on my decision not to leave, but also my realization that I’m in this for the love, for the heart, for the people. They are all where they are today because of me – not just academically, but emotionally as well. We processed together, healed together. And that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t loved them.

As I clean my desk and get ready for summer vacation, I find that I’m looking forward to next school year more than I have possibly ever. I’m going to enjoy my summer, spending time with my kids at the pool and taking day trips and reading books and laughing with friends, but I think next year is going to be great. I’ll be in the same room (remember, I moved schools two years ago, then changed rooms last summer), teaching the same thing (English 11!), and I have a leadership position working with teachers as we make some pretty drastic (for some) changes to our grading policies district-wide. Things will be good at home, too: my kids will be attending the same school all day for the first time ever, we’re getting a foreign exchange student from Spain, and we’re starting some really awesome remodeling projects. All in all, things are looking bright. And I’m grateful.

BigDick242

It’s not often that I laugh at something a student says – that anyone says – in a way that catches me off guard. My husband gets exasperated with me because I can sit through an entire two-hour stand-up comedy routine without even barely smiling. It’s not that I’m anti-fun or anything, just that I’m generally pretty reserved like that. I do laugh, easily, even. But, I don’t know, I guess I just measure my responses. Especially at school. So often kids say or do things to get a response and I just don’t give it to them.

However, I have this girl who says things all the time without trying to be funny that are just funny. And I laugh at what she says all the time in spite of myself – because what she’s saying is just barely on the tip toe edge of being crass. It’s the level of crass that when other kids say stuff at that level I’m able to look at them with a little glare and remind them that they’re in school. But her delivery is so natural, so candid, and so unassumingly witty, that, well, I don’t mean to, but honest giggles come out of me.

The other day, I overhear this sort-of-exchange between her and a boy in class. She’s actually just sort of quietly talking to herself at the beginning, but he jumps in.

Girl: God, sometimes it sucks being a good student. I have enough cleavage; I should just ditch all this and invest in my porn career.
[A boy two rows over throws himself on the desk to offer a high five.]
Girl, suddenly disgusted: Ugh! I’m not going to high five you for that! I’m not saying that so I can get your support! I have all the support I need from my online fans – guys like @bigdick242. Get out of my face.

And the same day, this between her and another girl.

Another Girl: Oh my god, I love Insane Clown Posse.
Girl: Yeah, I used to listen to ICP in eighth grade. It made me depressed as hell and definitely contributed to some bad choices. I regret those years.
Another Girl: What years?
Girl: Eighth grade.
Another Girl: Eighth grade is only one year.
Girl: No, I told you, I liked ICP then. It was more than one year.

Celebrate good times!

I have a student who finished his first book today! He read Cairo by G. Willow Wilson. He kept bringing up the fact that it’s a graphic novel, to which I kept telling him, “Don’t discount this! It is a book! And you read it!” Then I sent him to the library to return his book and get a new one. Without complaining even a little bit, he did. When he came back with another graphic novel, my co-teacher, B, had to tell him similar things: This is an awesome accomplishment! Finally, the kid accepted. “Yeah, I guess it’s pretty cool.” I told him if he didn’t think reading a graphic novel was awesome enough, then when he’s done with this one we’d find him a “real” novel to read. He said, “Yeah, OK.”

You guys, I’m trying not to get choked up here. I seriously have tears pricking at the backs of my eyeballs. He is 17 years old and just read his first full book. In my class.

Also today, he found out all his felony charges have been dropped to misdemeanors, so he’s off house arrest. He’s pretty excited about that.

On the way out of class today, I’m giving that kid a high five (and if you know me, you know that’s a big deal because I hate high fives). He has two cool things to celebrate today.

MLA

A kid just argued with me about how tough it is to set up a paper according to MLA format. I think it’s easy; he thinks it’s a pain in the ass. So I showed him how to do it in under 60 seconds.

Don’t mess with me, fools. I have written more papers than all of you combined; I have four college degrees plus a professional endorsement; I have taught formatting and paper writing for more than a decade.

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Nostalgia

I presented at a conference yesterday about grading practices. It was my first conference presentation and it went really well, I think. (I haven’t read the comment forms yet because I don’t want to possibly be told otherwise.)

Anyway, the weirdest thing happened! In the middle of my presentation I realized that everyone in my audience – about 20 people – was paying attention. They were looking at me! And taking notes!

They looked engaged.

It has been a year since I’ve encountered this! In my old job, this happened all the time. However, here, I consider it a good day if half the kids are looking somewhat in my direction at roughly the same time. And I’ve pretty much given up on the idea of them taking notes.

Do you  want to know something? I’ve really missed that!

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