Thursday, January 28, 2010


it's been a hell of a week. it should have been friday two days ago.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Goal updates

There are definitely some things I could actually write about, but I'm too tired for that. Instead, I will share updates on my year goals. They've been

First, the positives:
-I have successfully posted here once a week. I think.
-I posted a couple times on my photo blog already this month.
-I have worked out at least once for four weeks of the five (counting this morning for this week).
-I have been making small granny squares to eventually make a blanket (?). So far I've got sixteen.
-I've been keeping my eye out and sending emails about photo opportunities.
-I opened a new savings account specifically for the new camera. (Since a new lens costs about half as much as the D300, I figured it would make more sense to just save for the camera.)
-I signed up for a photography class! It starts this week!

Not so positive:
-I have not been so great about doing my dishes. It's been about half and half, maybe, that I clear everything away.
-I haven't written a letter yet. There are a couple I have in mind to write, but of course I have been too lazy thus far. I still have a week or so for that 'deadline.' Also, I owe some family some presents, that I have completely not gotten or even thought about. Very bad job.
-No progress on the home decor.
-I need to work on my finance stuff and roll over previous retirement accounts. I've put that off for months already.

I'm glad that I recorded these goals. I have them in a little notebook so that I can jot down notes and thoughts and updates. I find they're a lot more real this way and I want to be more successful seeing them written down. Of course, it hasn't even been a month yet, so it's all still pretty fresh. The test will come farther down the road to see if I'm still thinking about them.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Just a Sub

Being in the classroom is hard.

I read Mrs Mimi's great take-down of this opinion piece by a substitute teacher. (Link: The Replacements) Mimi made some great points about the piece, and I wanted to add a few of my own.

Here is some background info: This is my 6th year teaching. (Holy cow!) I've taught at three different schools. The first two weeks of my first year were spent subbing (one in a kindergarten classroom as an assistant, and one in a very tough middle school that would go through four principals that year). I subbed for three months last spring at a few charter schools. So at this point, I've seen enough to know both sides of the story fairly well (and also to know that, as rough a time as I've had, things could be so.much.worse than I've ever had it).

This woman subbed once a week for two years. This does not make her a reliable expert to me. If she had ever been a classroom teacher, she wouldn't be saying most of this. Most of her 'facts' and all of her suggestions show little to no research on her part. Also, her tone is just too far out there.

She says that teachers are out all the time, and that while sometimes it's 'legitimate' (ie, sick), she implies that many teachers are just selfish and lazy and are absent all the time (they take a mental health day or go to an event (which, I agree, is weird and probably inappropriate)). Obviously she hasn't spent enough time in a classroom to know that teaching has to be one of the hardest jobs out there. Surely she has met teachers who cough and hack for days on end because even if you do bring yourself to take one day off, you can't take more than that, even if you need to. (I have had to cough, hack and spit over the garbage can in the middle of teaching, because I was still sick. The kids looked concerned and asked if I was okay. "Not really," I replied. But what else am I gonna do?)

So a mental health day here and again? Any teacher who's been a teacher for more than a few months knows that mental health is a real thing and it's a real thing that can bring you down down down. The teachers I know don't take it lightly and don't take advantage. But sometimes, yes, for god's sake, we need a day off. If you think subbing is so, so hard, because no one told you what to do, try that for an entire year, every single day, in the same room with the same kids! You will need an occasional day off too!

As a middle school teacher, I often had to cover another class during a prep. Usually it was older kids, ie, devils. As a sub, I almost never had a lesson plan left for me.

If a teacher wakes up sick one morning, how is he or she supposed to magically send a substitute plan to the school? Ain't gonna happen. Are teachers required to have generic sub plans submitted to the office? Of course. Does everyone do that? Who knows. Do the plans make it to the classroom on the occasion that a sub requires it? Probably not.

Teachers know that a sub in their room means total chaos and destruction will most likely ensue. One day I returned from being out and things (charts and bulletin boards attached by nails) had been TORN OFF the walls.

Naturally, if you know ahead of time that you're going to be out, you want to leave something for the sub (because you can sympathize about the panic when faced with a group of unfamiliar, rowdy students with nothing to do, and because you want to minimize the damage to your classroom). You can't do anything new, because the kids probably won't get it and you don't want to trust a stranger to teach it how you want it to be taught. You basically have to find some busy work for the kids. Any sub worth their salt knows this and wants this. The sub can't really do much other than say, "I'll have to tell your teacher that you x/y/z." But it's better to have something concrete to give That Kid to do than nothing at all.

Are there bad teachers who don't give a shit about anything and never leave anything at all for the sub or the class to do? GOD, YES.

So guess what? I always brought a bunch of stuff with me. I wanted to be prepared, just in case! I have an assortment of games, activities, generic lessons (often grammar related, since I taught english for so long) to be ready with. I'm like a scout--always prepared! Can you imagine the alternative?

It sounds like she's had tough times with a few plans from a few teachers. And that sucks. But, and this might be my martyr complex talking, be grateful for anything left for you at all, for crying out loud! Also, there is always a good student somewhere who can tell you about those mysterious routines teachers might mention.

Point/counterpoint for her so-called fixes:
"School administrators should provide substitutes with basic training in classroom management, teaching, contacting the office and dealing with medical emergencies."
YES. Of course. That would be the professional thing to do. Realistically though, if you're going to a different school each day, and showing up 10-30 minutes before school begins, there's not a lot of time for this, for the sub or for admins.

"They should check with their subs during the school day."
This sounds like common sense, doesn't it? It never happened to me. Nor did I really expect it. Administrators, good ones and bad ones, are freaking BUSY PEOPLE. They have demands coming in from all sides all day long. There's no time to talk to a sub about how she's feeling that day. Especially if, like in so many big nyc schools, there are anywhere from two to eight subs in the building at once. The sub has the unfortunate duty of taking on a difficult task with little to no thanks or feedback. Come on, you have to know that going in!

"And they should form district-wide advisory committees (comprising the superintendent, principals, teachers and substitutes) to find solutions to problems related to substitutes."
That sounds awfully complicated, vague and, again, unrealistic. There are way too many big problems that schools/districts need to worry about. Subs should be certified and trained, sure. But I don't think that they can do much more than that. Subbing can really suck, and teachers have to be absent sometimes. End of story, really.

"To minimize the need for substitutes, principals should require that teachers call them personally when they’re ill — calling in to a machine increases absences."
Meh, I don't know about that. Teachers feel guilty about taking a day off; they're thinking about their students and their classroom. That doesn't change if they're talking to a machine.

"They should keep track of all teacher absences."
Um, they do that already. Where are you that they don't? Why on earth would you think otherwise?

"And they should hold in-service training sessions for teachers on weekends or during the summer, rather than on school days, or else conduct them in the classroom with the students."
No Effing Way. Are you on glue? NO.

"Principals should also try to arrange for other teachers to use their prep time to fill in for absent colleagues. British secondary schools do this — and pay teachers a stipend for the extra work."
Again, they already do this in secondary schools. It sucks, but those teachers deal with it. Because of course teachers of adolescents need to have even more stress during the day, dealing with unruly, unfamiliar adolescents. But it happens, and teachers have to suck it up and do it. Who is this woman claiming all these outlandish things as suggestions?

To reiterate:
I've been Just a Sub. It's freaking hard. Ignored, left high and dry to suffer through a day. Some students are pleasant and polite, but many are not. And that's to their 'regular' teachers, so amplify that times a million for a strange substitute that they'll see for less than a single day. That's a hazard of the profession. (At least in this town.) Some subs work really hard to manage their temporary charges, and teachers admire them and are grateful to have them cover their classes. Some subs don't work very hard. Some subs do try hard, but the kids can make things really difficult.

I agree, there are a lot of things that need to be fixed about education, teaching, teachers, curriculum, discipline, management, and schools. Substitutes are a necessary thing, and I really empathize with the people doing it, but it's nowhere near even the first half of all the trouble facing schools nowadays. This lady needs to get over herself.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Year Ago (plus a week)

I was fired from my job on January 8, 2009.

Last week was really weird. I was sort of in the past and in the present at the same time. I was remembering the awfulness of being in that job, and the shock and fear at losing it.

And then congratulating? myself on not getting fired from this job. Thinking about how much better off I was out of that other job. How I should have quit right away, that the crying and no sleeping was never worth it. Thinking that I don't cry at this job, but I still can't sleep. Wondering how far I'll make it through the year. I'm pretty sure I'm not at risk of firing (bad pr, you see), but do I really want to make it all the way? How much longer can I go without sleeping well? How can I last another five months when just about every day I am exhausted and out of patience?

I got home that night last week and there was a package for me. I hadn't ordered anything, so I was very curious what on earth it could be. Turns out, it was an art book that has one of my photos in it! That certainly would not have happened last January, and it certainly couldn't have happened without what did happen last January.

I wonder where next January will find me?

Saturday, January 09, 2010

feedback on feedback

Thank you for the insightful comments! Nancy, you are spot on about the modeling piece. That's always been one of my weak points; I tend to skip over that. So thank you for the reminder about "I do, we do, you do"!

I read this great book over the break, called "Schooled." It's a novel about a starry-eyed new teacher who enters the world of Manhattan private school. It probably would have found it funnier if I didn't find it all-too-familiar and depressing. It's yet another book about teaching where the main character finds acceptance and thus leaves teaching.

Anyway, the character was really into creating unique and fun activities and lessons, and it was another eye-opener for all the good teaching that I haven't been doing, or ever done. And then I ended up watching a couple pieces of the Dr Oz show. In at least one segment per show, he chooses a seat at random, and that person is the Assistant, and gets to come up and do some kind of hands-on thing (not anything terribly complicated even) about the topic.

These two things were quite an inspiration. It kind of made me feel down about all ways I haven't been involving students, but then I just figured I would use those ideas. Hence the small-group activities and also a hands-on social studies/art/science project. On Thursday, because Wednesday's test scores were mostly bombs, I had them work, I guess. I rewrote each problem on an index card and put the problems of the same skill at each table. I put them into level groups, but I had them rotate individually. It was definitely somewhat noisy and chaotic, but just about everyone was on task, and for the most part, they were getting the problems correct! Plus they didn't realize that they were basically redoing the test from the day before. They also got to talk and help each other with the skills they had trouble with. At the end of the session, once they were back in their seats, I asked them to raise their hands if they understood more about the skills. Just about all the hands went up. Then I asked them to raise their hands if they were going to ace a new test the next. Up went the hands; some kids raised both!

The scores from Friday's retest were definitely better. Two got a hundred, two got in the nineties. One kid went from an 18 to a 75. A couple kids went from a single digit to a slightly larger double digit (like 3 to 11, or 8 to 14), which is still bad but hey, it still counts as improvement.

I also finally did two days of small groups stations for reading. They had to complete the tasks for the reading curriculum to be ready for the weekly test. That was harder and there was more off-task talking and goofing around, and most of the groups didn't finish the tasks. (I assigned three simple tasks for each station to be sure that no one would work too quickly, but it backfired a bit in that a couple of the tasks took the kids way too long.)

We'll see how much I can keep up the interactive stuff. Part of me feels that I can't be a good teacher without it, but then I remember that the small group stuff isn't actually instruction; it has to come after direct teaching.

My To-Do List This Weekend

1. Sleep.
2. Crochet.
3. Read (a new YA series!).
4. Play new Katamari game.
5. Have brunch with friends I haven't seen for a month.
6. Watch movies.
7. Sleep.
8. Finish the two, er three blog posts I've started.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

instant feedback

Did I mention how obsessed I have been with crocheting? I did a lot of crochet over the break. It was lovely: mindless hours looping along, seeing something grow and take shape.

If I had spent even half those hours planning for school, I would have all month planned to the minute. Alas.

I did make sure to spend some time doing a rough plan of the week, and specifics for Monday. I came up with a cool writing activity about making goals. I was all excited about it. I made a form page for the kids to do their 'final' goal setting, so it would be all uniform and clean, and then I would put them up for display. (Because one of the reasons I'm a bad teacher is I don't have a lot of student work displayed.) I typed out what I wanted to say and everything.

When I started the writing period with the class on Monday, it seemed to be okay. I talked about goals and how being vague isn't helpful. I came up with a hypothetical vague goal and had volunteers help make it more specific and measurable. (Hello, can you tell I've internalized a bit of the charter school culture? :D) They seemed to get that. But then when I gave them time to come up with a list of their own, it just didn't work. Half the kids weren't doing anything at all, and the other half were half-heartedly doodling things like, "Do better." A couple times I stopped them to give more examples, from my own list and from a couple hard-working student volunteers. But still, not much happening.

I was really disappointed. I told them that, too. I had to have them do the official page as homework since they weren't getting it together to do it in class.

And then of course, the homework was also half-assed.

I was supposed to finish a chapter of math before going on break. Actually, I originally scheduled myself to finish it in the beginning of December. Please tell me, other elementary teachers, that I'm not the only one eight years behind the curriculum pacing guide!

We pretty much finished the skills before break, but there wasn't time to take the test. Obviously I won't give a test right after a long break, but I didn't want to just teach it all over again. So I planned a group activity.

I gave each group a skill to review and reteach. They went back to the book and made a poster with notes and instructions and problems to work. I was worried that it would be chaotic and only the three good kids would do any work and everyone would still fail.

However! The group work went really well! The groups busily got to work! Several of them worked together on what to write, or rotated writing. A few were spacing out, but nearly all the class was working! A miracle!

Today, the groups presented their skill to the class. And lo, it was good! The class was eerily quiet. Most of them diligently took notes and completed the practice problems. (As the minutes wore on, a few more students would get lost to the world of distraction.) But they were paying attention! Test is tomorrow. I've yet to be satisfied with test grades this year; here's hoping these aren't miserable.

Starting a group project for social studies. Today I split them into groups, gave them a basic group info sheet, and let them go. There were some raised voices, but there was also voting, and "who wants to do this?" and "which one do you want to do?" and some actual decisions made.

Glory be, hallelujah, I don't have only bad moments this week. Lord knows I need a little encouragement from feeling like the worst teacher ever. Apparently the answer is for me to not actually teach them. Harrumph.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Goals for the Year

I've never been one for Making New Year's Resolutions. For one, I don't have any vices that I need to quit, and for two, I'm not the type who wants to make sweeping changes, because inevitably it won't work.

Last year, I was asked to come up with three resolutions for a school thing. I came up with: take a photography class; travel to a new country; and knit something new (like a new garment that I hadn't tried before). Of course, two of those require money, and since I spent more than half the year either unemployed or underemployed, they didn't happen. As for the knitting thing, I was lazy. I'm one of the crafty-in-spurts types, so whatever.

One year in high school, I made myself a list of goals for the gymnastics season. After each meet, I would check off what I accomplished. By the end of the season, I had accomplished almost all of the goals! I felt that I had worked hard and focused, and I was proud.

So I am in favor of goals.

Then, last week, I ended up trolling some amazing photography blogs, and I was inspired but also bummed that I don't have that much photography work. One of them had a list of "100 things in 1001 days." That was really inspiring and interesting to read.

After that crazy shit of this past year, I decided that there are some things I want to work on in 2010. I wrote down a list in a cute little pocket notebook to help me keep notes and thoughts. Here they are!

1. Go to the dentist twice. (I haven't been in three years. So as soon as I get my insurance info, I will make an appointment. )

2. Buy at least one new lens. (I have some money to help from Christmas. I think I will go for the 10-20mm wide angle!)

3. Save up for a D300. (I know. Lots of money. I bought the D80 in December 2008, so I figure two years is a good time to spend with it before upgrading. And maybe closer to the end of the year, the price will go down a teeny bit more. Even used it's a little more than $1,000!)

4. Travel to a new country. (Check! Last week we bought tickets for Costa Rica for spring break!!!!! WOOOOOO!!!! Also, my brand new passport arrived, fresh for another decade of country hopping!)

5. Do a paid photo shoot. (I would love to do some engagement sessions.)

6. Write on blog at least once a week. (There's always so much in my head, but I'm usually so tired and lazy at the end of the day.)

7. Update photo blog at least once a month. (I would love to post the link here, but I'm a fan of Anonymity. Send your email address if you'd like to see my work!)

8. Exercise at least once a week, at home or at the gym. (That's a pretty easy goal. One I've already exceeded for now--I went twice last week and this morning too!)

9. Get a new job. (Not teaching. Yeah.)

10. Attend 3 Meetups (for any group). (I would like to be more social and make more friends. Also this would help improve the work/life balance the right direction.)

11. Shoot a wedding (as first or second shooter). (I want to get better and take more photos!)

12. Take a class (photography, Spanish, etc). (Time is a problem here, with my stupid late hours at school. But I really want to do this.)

13. Visit my Grandma. (Haven't seen her in a few years.)

14. Attend graduations. (Check! Bought tickets home for June! Yay!)

15. Write a real letter at least once a month.

16. Decorate bedroom (frame van Gogh print, new dresser, paint?).

17. Donate clothes/books once per season. (On New Year's Day, I finally donated the FOUR large bags of clothes that have been cluttering my closet and car for the last five months.)

18. Buy a new computer. (I bought this one in the spring of 2006, and the memory is crap. I upgraded it once, but not much compared to today's standards, and I have a second hard drive that's more than half full with tens of thousands of photos and music files. I don't think it's exaggeration to say that I will need a new one.)

19. Knit or crochet a garment. I have been completely obsessed with crochet for the past month. I've made three hats this week. Last night I started a granny square. I want to buy some yarn specifically to make a vest as a start, since it's only two sides.

20. Some kind of financial goal. (I wasn't able to save any money for most of 2009, as I didn't have a real income. I would love to max out my Roth IRA contribution, but $5,000 is a lot in one year. I was thinking about getting my savings account up, with a goal of $10,000. I have about half that now, so it would be a two-year goal at best. I already bumped up my monthly contributions to both savings and IRA. We'll see how the job thing develops.)

21. More freelance photography. (That's not exactly up to me, but I have so enjoyed going out to shoot new things and then seeing my work published in a real newspaper! I will contact the staff there and let them know I'm more available. I can definitely do a shoot every other weekend or so.)

22. Do not leave any dishes out or in the sink; wash everything before going to bed. (I get lazy and feel bad about being a bad roommate; the boy never leaves dishes out.)

I hope to revisit these occasionally and evaluate my progress. It's my hope that making them public will help hold me accountable, so think good thoughts for me. :)

Friday, January 01, 2010

decade in review

Ms M wrote a fascinating post about it, then Nancy did, and now I'm inspired too!

My junior year at UW. I live in an apartment just off campus, and I make good friends with one of my roommates. I'm double-majoring in Women's Studies and French. In the summer I do a month-long study abroad in Paris. It is amazing and I love wandering the city. In the fall I decide to drop the French major so I can graduate on time. I move home. I begin my senior thesis, on body image and the media. I break up with my college boyfriend.

I graduate from college! I am very proud of myself. I go to Europe for five weeks with assorted family members: Greece, Italy, Paris, Scotland, London. Incredible. I apply for AmeriCorps NCCC (which I had first found in Paris the summer before) but get wait listed. I quit Starbucks for good, after three years part-time. In the fall I receive news that I am accepted into the winter term beginning in January. For the fall, I do temp work and work at a restaurant.

January to November is spent in AmeriCorps NCCC in the Northeast Region. I work in Baltimore, rural New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Connecticut, with brief stints in San Antonio, Gulfport, and Cape Cod. It is the hardest thing I have ever done but also the most worthwhile and life-changing. When I go home at the end of the year, I am lonely and sad without my team. I apply for Teach for America and am rejected.

I do seasonal work at a downtown department store. Then I get a temp job at a mortgage office. It becomes permanent, and I move from being at the front desk to being an assistant. I volunteer regularly. I have a boyfriend and then break up in the summer. Also in the summer my knee suddenly freaked out and I had to do physical therapy and stay off my feet. I gain like ten pounds and am at my heaviest. Finally I start taking walks during my lunch breaks at the office. It quickly becomes the best part of my day and I go every day, rain, shine, or snow.

In January, I travel to Paris for a week, with a couple days in Belgium. It is lovely and charming and I want to travel more and more. I have recently been 'promoted' to funder and it is busy and stressful. One day I start crying on the way to work and within a week have submitted my two weeks' notice. My former team leader sends me a posting for the NYC Teaching Fellows. After a year pushing paper and answering phones and feeling completely worthless, I am desperate to do something for the Greater Good. So I apply for the Fellows as well as for NCCC Team Leader. I go to New York for a week for the interview and to see my friend from college. I decide that I'd rather do AmeriCorps than teach, but never hear back from them. So I accept the teaching fellowship. I move to New York City on June 16, 2004.

The summer is long and lonely and tough. My first year teaching, beginning in the fall, is pretty much a disaster. I have no idea what I'm doing and my management is non existent. I don't care about my grad school classes. I know nobody in the city and am lonely. I turn 25 alone with no celebration. I buy my first digital camera.

Somehow I survive to the end of my first year. It is by far the most difficult thing I have ever done. In the summer I do grad school and prepare for school. I go home to visit and spend a week and a half driving back to New York, visiting former teammates and family on the way. My second year starts off a complete 180 from the first, and I love my classes. My mom comes to visit at Christmas and we travel to Barcelona and Paris.

I go to Prague in February. It is gorgeous and incredible and I adore it. In April, I volunteer in New Orleans for a week. It is hard work, but I enjoy feeling like I'm doing worthwhile work. At the end of March I begin a relationship with a wonderful boy three years younger than me. I move into my own studio apartment, still in Queens. It's cute and just the right size. My second year ends. It remains my favorite year of teaching. In the summer I graduate with a Master's Degree. I decide to stay in NYC and keep teaching. My boyfriend comes with me to visit home. My third year of teaching begins. At Christmas I travel to Amsterdam on my own. It is noisy and smoky, and I feel old and cranky. The Anne Frank House stuns me. I thoroughly enjoy visiting the Hague. A couple more days and Amsterdam grows on me.

In February, the boy and I visit London and Paris. It's his first time out of the country, but he proves to be a worthy travel companion. I vow to stay away from Paris until I visit enough other places. We celebrate our one-year anniversary in Boston. I upgrade my camera from a crappy point and shoot to a more sophisticated point and shoot. In the summer, I spend three weeks in Australia. I completely fall in love with the entire country and everyone in it. My fourth year of teaching begins.

I decide to start looking for a new job. I am bored and restless after teaching the same thing for four years in a row. I want something new, different, and I want to challenge myself to become a better educator. So I start applying at charter schools in February. (I have No Idea what I'm getting myself into.) In April I visit a KIPP school in Austin. I love the city and the school, but I am rejected. I look for jobs the rest of the school year. My boyfriend surprises me with my first DSLR. We visit Maine for a few days in August, and it is just gorgeous. We move in together, in Brooklyn. I start working at My First Charter School. It kicks my ass but good. I feel like I've reverted to my first year again. I cry most days at school or at home, and I cannot sleep. I am at school for twelve hours and never feel caught up. (Oh, how I laugh at that self now. I only had one lesson to prepare each day! Now I'm supposed to do FIVE!) In December I upgrade to a better DSLR. At Christmas, I travel to Guatemala. It is amazing; I am blown away; I do not want to come back home to the bleary winter and my stupid job. On New Year's Eve with friends, I cry when talking about it.

I am fired in the first week back from break. Thank god. I do some photography work and sub in charter schools. The boyfriend and I become official Partners and later move into a new, fantastic apartment. I accept an elementary teaching job. It kicks my ass also, but I do not cry at home or at school. I like the age I'm teaching and I really like some of my students. However, I am frustrated with the workload and that I can't live up to the standard I'd like, and really start to feel that it's not for me. I turn 30! In December I realize anew that teaching is not for me and I need to figure out what to do with my life.


I became an independent adult in this decade and then defined who I am: I'm a teacher in New York City. I don't want to be either of those things anymore, so by the time I'm 40 (gah!) in 2020, I want to be something else somewhere else. By then hope to have visited even more places around the globe, continued to work with photography, and of course to still be in this great relationship.