Posted in about me, differences, education, mental health

The glory of having energy at the end of the work day

The last couple of years, most or all of my classes (as a whole—not every individual student) had self-control issues. Inability to stay quiet, to accept directions, to follow through on assignments, regardless of where the task fell on the fun meter. In extreme cases, yelling and swearing. Unrelenting back-talk. Things said to me that I wouldn’t have dared say when I was a kid, nor would I say now to anyone, much less someone with power.

(I teach 5th and 6th grade.)

At the end of the work day, even though I was part time, I was exhausted. The majority of my energy was going to classroom management, and a tiny slice was given to actually teaching. The groups as a whole didn’t play well, though there were individual students who did.

It was draining. It was demoralizing. It definitely did not make my life better.

This year, I have a couple of classes that act like normal classes, which is to say, we can get stuff done. Occasionally I need to redirect a couple of students. There’s always someone who asks a question that I just answered. But that’s all pretty standard.

I can teach and they can learn.

It’s glorious.

I come home from work and have energy left. Things get done around the house. Exercising is easier. I have more patience for The Kid. I have mental energy to think about different ways to teach. (It’s never the same twice, whether it’s tweaked or totally overhauled.)

Having a job that doesn’t suck me dry is a big deal.

Happy to have some of myself back.

Posted in mental health, mindset, motivation

Debt and interest

This popped up in my Facebook memories the other day:

“Looking up info about my student loan … It will accrue $77.45 in interest in the next 25 days. This thing has got to go.”

(It’s long gone!)

Years ago, I saw an exercise where the writer* took a calendar. She calculated how much she made per day. She colored in the calendar for how many days of work it took her to pay for each of the expenses she had.

I don’t remember what her calendar looked like. But I know that she made interest a separate category.

She had a visual representation of how many days she had to work every month just to pay interest.

It was powerful and motivating.

There are a lot of finance “gurus” out there who will sell you a plan for reducing your debt. All of those plans work for some people. None of them work for all people.

Some don’t work for everyone’s income level. Some don’t work for everyone’s state of mind or way of thinking about the world.

Anyone with disposable income can pay off debt faster than they are now, if it becomes their priority. There are tons of reasons why it’s not people’s priority, from comfort shopping to gambling addiction to not enough emotional energy to deal with it to sheer lack of willpower against “cute” things or things that are a “good deal.” And on and on. As much variety as any “I know I would be better off if I did This Thing but I’m not doing The Thing.”

Life is less stressful with less debt. We trash talk “kids these days” who are looking for instant gratification, but it’s not just the kids…


*I don’t remember what the site was or who the writer was or I would give credit. If you know, let me know. Or maybe this is a fairly common thing to do, but I don’t remember seeing it again…

Posted in audience participation, parenting, thoughtfulness

Worse than losing a child

I taught a hip hop class second semester last year.

Damien was one of the kids in it. He was a neat kid.

At the end of the year, 6th grade promoted, and he moved on to junior high.

Except he only went to two days (and that’s only because my district started already).

As the result of a medical condition I was unfamiliar with, last week Damien seized, hemorrhaged, and had a stroke. He underwent emergency surgery to relieve swelling on his brain and, as of Thursday night, he is brain dead.

I can’t imagine what his mom is going through right now.

In addition to dealing with that, she has two other children whose daily needs persist, as well as their new emotional needs as a result of this trauma to their family.

What could be worse?

Well, because it’s the United States, the injury is compounded by medical bills. Damien was treated at two local children’s hospitals (once as where they chose to go, once to the closest available), so they’ll bill her separately.

This post isn’t because they’re friends of mine (I’ve never met his mom and haven’t yet taught either of his siblings). It’s because I’m angry, and because my heart weeps for this woman.

Another. Fucking. GoFundMe. For medical bills.

What is wrong with us that this is OK?

I know four people quickly off the top of my head who had these to help with their cancer expenses. Those are just people I know personally.

I’ve seen countless others in my virtual path.

I could rant for a long time about this, but I’m not sure that waving my tiny fist online makes a difference. But I add my name to petitions. I add my support to people in and out of government who are working to change this system. And I encourage you to do the same.

Before you need a GoFundMe.

Before your illness or death in your family is exponentially worsened by medical bills.

(Or just because you have empathy.)

If you have a few bucks burning a hole in your pocket and would like to share them with Damien’s mom, click here to go to her GoFundMe. You can also learn there what the unfamiliar-to-me medical condition was.

Posted in education, mindset

I am a miracle worker, but…

I wrote Thursday about how some of the habits that made me a great student were actually reaction to trauma, and I wondered how my life would be different if any of my teachers saw red flags instead of the ideal.

I need to follow up with that today to clarify that I don’t blame my teachers, and I wouldn’t blame a teacher now for not seeing it.

You see, we’re trained to teach. Of course we know content, though that tends to be the easiest piece. We know how to deliver content in a myriad of ways. How to help kids who are struggling and kids who are flying at the same time. How to be engaging. Classroom management.

But we’re also expected to teach basic social skills. (Making eye contact when addressed. Saying please and thank you. Not talking over other people. Not calling names. Cleaning up after yourself. And on and on.) We’re expected to be social workers. (You can’t learn if basic physical and psychological needs aren’t met.) Parents. (see: social skills)

But we have boundaries set for us, and they’re in different places for different kids, parents, teachers themselves, principals, school districts. What one parent berates us for not doing another parent thinks is over the line.

We have classes with too many kids. Kids with mild behavior problems. Kids with major behavior problems. Kids with physical limitations. Kids with mental limitations. Kids with emotional limitations. Curricula that are not developmentally appropriate.

When I was in kindergarten, we learned letters, numbers, colors. We played games and sang songs, had snacks, played games, and, if we were there the whole day (which was atypical), we took naps.

Now, if you show up to kindergarten without knowledge of letters, numbers, and colors, you’re behind. And of course you’ll be there all day. How else will we have time to teach you everything you need to know to be ready for first grade?

Except that I learned to read and write and do math just fine, as did many of my contemporaries. We didn’t need to learn it a year earlier. (And I’m certain that the kids who struggled to learn it in first grade weren’t going to have a higher success rate a year earlier.)

There are other places in the world where children aren’t taught to read until they’re 8. And they’re still literate. And people enjoy reading more and are better at it.

There’s quite a bit of research about education, about ideal class sizes, about what is developmentally appropriate for each age, but we don’t use it. We have this unfounded notion that in order to do better, we have to do more and it has to be earlier.

It’s flat-out wrong.

Kids are stressed about school (and about high-stakes testing), and adults are so stressed themselves and don’t have enough emotional space to be empathetic (or thoughtfully critical), and kids are told that this is how life is …

But it doesn’t have to be. And especially for kids, it shouldn’t be.

If kids are stressed in the learning environment, they’re not going to become lifelong learners, because learning has become equated with stressful. But the work environment now requires lifelong learning and adaptability.

(How many people will tell you they’re not good at math because they had trouble with math in school 20, 30, 40 years ago? Or that they can’t sing because their elementary choir teacher told them so? Emotions connected with learning in school stick.)

We have an industrial mindset for a workplace and world that simply isn’t industrial any more. And the blowback is at the teachers.

Teaching is

  • powerful (ignorant people are much easier to manipulate)
  • female-dominated (female is still less-than in this country and most others)
  • an art (arts are culturally seen as frivolous; teaching is so much more than content knowledge)

I think if it mattered less and was more masculine (which would also, culturally, make it less artful), we’d be more inclined to follow the research and fix it.

So often, I hear teachers demonized for letting kids fall through the cracks. But honestly, how can they not? How can every teacher wear all of those hats all the time, teaching material that isn’t appropriate to such a variety of social-emotional starting places?

As I have been known to say: the miracles I work are only so big.

Posted in differences, education, mindset

Different perspectives on “easy”

Last year, some of my band classes did a month-long composition activity.

I asked students for written feedback: tell me if you liked the activity or not and why.

Two reports read the following:

“I liked it because it was easy.”

“I didn’t like it because it was too easy.”

Isn’t that funny?

First, that two people used the same adjective in opposite ways.

(I think this happens often.)

One of them: up for being challenged; the other: not so much.

But I also know, because I designed and oversaw the project, and because it was my class, that the student who thought it was too easy was also not terribly motivated. She could have done more than the bare minimum and made it more challenging for herself—and potentially ended up with a final project that she had more pride in.

(There were a lot of reasons tied up in why she didn’t challenge herself.)

Would she have done more work if it had been required? At what point would her feedback have said that she liked it (regardless of why)? Or that she didn’t like it because it was too hard?

I will be more explicit about the possibility of exceeding expectations in the introduction the next time we do the project.

For myself, I’m glad when things are easy when they’re things I don’t want to do in the first place. (Neither of those students is with me again this year, so odds are high on that one.)

I can’t think of an example of a creative assignment that I felt competent doing and did more than was expected, but I can’t think of many required creative assignments that I felt competent doing, either. Competence always came in concrete.

Too easy feels like busywork.

Easy feels like a relief unless the hope was to be challenged…but can still feel like busywork.

Challenging is either glorious or tedious, depending on the task, the emotional investment on the outcome, and the expectation going in.

Too challenging is just frustrating.

So many variables. It’s no wonder we have so many different experiences of the exact same thing.