Category Archives: self-analysis

WHY Are You Here?

*Background; this semester, I’m teaching composition classes at Local U. and Not-Local Community College.  I’m also teaching a teacher intern seminar and fitness classes at two different places, so I’m effectively working five part-time jobs.  I’m so frazzled, I often have no idea how I make it to the end of the week.  That being said, I’m more than a little surprised by how well things are going in general, and I’m not sure what to make of that…**

So, this happened;

The other day, instead of reflecting on a quote, I had my Local U. composition students write me a brief note about how the writing of their first paper is going.  I asked them a bunch of questions to spark their thinking, ending with “is there anything specific – a grammar question or an issue with organization or comprehension of the source materials – that you’d like me to go over with you?”  That was the question upon which I based our post-writing discussion.

With the exception of a couple of kids who just finished an associate’s program within the University, every single one of my students in that class is a fresh-out-of-high-school freshman; that’s important to know.  The very first kid to volunteer to speak asked about MLA formatting and how much of it they were supposed to do for this paper.

None of it,” was my answer, and 22 pairs of eyebrows shot toward the ceiling.

“Look,” I said, “you’re working with two sources; MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and President Obama’s A More Perfect Union speech.  As long as you identify them in your introduction and are clear about which source you’re quoting from in your body paragraphs, you’re fine.  MLA citations in this rhetorical situation would be unnecessary and distracting.”

It was at this point that another girl chimed in with, “can I just say that you’re NOTHING like what my high school English teachers said you’d be like?”

If the preponderance of nodding heads is any indication, her answer to my query about what she was expecting was affirmed by nearly everyone in the class; they were pretty much universally told that they would have to hit the ground running with a full and competent knowledge of citation, structure and process, and academic vocabulary, and that anything less than skillful and consistent display of these qualities would have them shamed and ostracized in their classes.  From the sounds of it, fully half – maybe more – expected to fail out of college within the first few weeks.

It was at this point that I stopped them – literally held up my hands in the “whoa, Nellie!” position – and asked them what, exactly, they were doing here.  “WHY are you here, You Guys?  What is the POINT of your being in this class?”

Genius boy in the corner pipes up with a hesitant “to learn stuff?” (reminding me that I should probably show them Taylor Mali’s “Like, Um, You Know?” poem).

“YES!” I bellowed, making a couple of them literally jump in their seats.  “If the POINT of your being here is to LEARN STUFF, then why the HELL would I expect you to KNOW any of it ALREADY?!  What would be the POINT of this class if you already KNEW everything I came here to TEACH you?!  Can you IMAGINE how BORING that class would be?  Seriously; I’d want to gouge my own eyeballs out by the third class!  GAH!”

One of the things I’ve observed in my teaching practice over the last year or two has been the fact that students would rather sit in silence, confused – and frustrated by their confusion – than speak up and admit they don’t know something.  I can’t tell you how many times I read an article aloud to my classes and stopped after a particularly challenging concept or a $5 vocabulary word to check comprehension, only to have them assure me that they “get it” but not be able to explain it to me when I asked them to prove it.  At some point, the system the way we practice it beat out of these students the kind of curiosity that encourages questions.  It discouraged them from admitting that they don’t know something, which is devastatingly ironic given that the one place we should ALWAYS be able to admit we don’t know something is in a goddamned CLASSROOM.

So, now I’m on a mission.  I am crusading to get kids to start ‘fessing up when they don’t understand something, to ask for help if they need it, and to not let teachers get away with assuming that someone ELSE taught them what they need to know to do well in class.  I’m done with that shit.  I am a teacher; my job is to help people learn, not assume that they should already know everything.

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Filed under analysis, concerns, critical thinking, ethics, failure, frustrations, I can't make this shit up..., I love my job, really?!, self-analysis, Teaching, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

Monday Musing

(this is a re-post of what’s at The Blue Door today, so don’t worry if you think you’re seeing double.  I’m going to try to get more conscientious about posting here more regularly now that I’m back in the classroom.  Give me a little bit to get my rhythm, though; I still don’t feel like I’ve got control of it just yet…).

 

Every once in a while, I’m dumbstruck with wonder by the sheer, improbable miracle of it all.

I was talking to some of my basic writing kids this morning about the point of writing.  I’m trying to get them out of the mindset that writing is only something you do because you have to, and that writing’s only purpose is a grade at the end of the class.

I told them the story about Punk coming to me one afternoon many years ago and complaining that there’s no magic in the world.  She’d been reading Harry Potter and was feeling cheated that our everyday didn’t include wondrous things conjured at the end of a wand.  It didn’t take much for me to change her mind, though – I brought her to a switch that gave us light; to the television that brought us images from places we’d never be and ideas from people we’d never meet; to the faucet where clean water (and hot, if we wish) poured out; and to the car, where I can twist a key and go nearly anywhere I want or need to go.  I explained that even though we understand how to make these things happen consistently and reliably, our understanding of them makes them no less miraculous.

Then I talked about ideas.  The point of writing, I contend, is to communicate (which, I also contend, is one of our most basic human needs).  Think about it for a second; that I can get an idea out of my head and into yours – and in a way that is satisfying to both of us – is nothing short of magic.  That we can share feelings and tell stories and learn the answers to our questions and explore ideas that we never would have come to but for our interaction with each other is, I think, approaching the pinnacle of human experience.  Writing is a part of that, and it should be approached with excitement and wonder befitting the amazing place it holds in our collective experience.

I think I got some kids thinking a little differently about writing this morning; I know that I left the classroom excited about what I do.

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Filed under about writing, critical thinking, I can't make this shit up..., Mrs. Chili as Student, out in the real world, self-analysis, success!, Teaching

Quick Hit: Getting Ready

So!  I start teaching at the two community colleges the Tuesday after Labor Day.  Next Tuesday marks the start of staff meetings.  Of course, both colleges are holding important, orientation-type meetings for new adjuncts on the SAME DAY, but I was lucky that the staff meetings at Not Local Community College (NLCC) end in exactly enough time for me to hop in the car and make my way to Local Community College in time to make it to the meetings there.

Phew!

I’ve just about got my syllabi put together.  I’ve found myself stressing most about the schedule part of the document; I tend not to schedule out a semester’s worth of classes just because experience has taught me that scheduling is a pointless exercise; the first two days go as planned, generally, but then the class takes on a life of its own.  I don’t want to spend a lot of time and energy on a plan that I’m going to abandon in the second week of classes.  If I abandon the idea of mapping out every last class meeting, I can say with some confidence that my syllabi are ready to be printed.

Neither of the classes I’m teaching (college composition and developmental writing, which is essentially pre-comp) are particularly challenging for me to teach; I’ve done it many times before, and I have more than ample materials and facility with the process to make it work.  I’m going into two entirely new environments, however, and I think that’s what’s accounting for the mild case of low-level jitters I’m experiencing lately.  I’m sure that, once I get a feel for what the respective colleges are like (and get to know my colleagues and supervisors a bit better), I’ll fit right in.

So, that’s my professional life at the moment.  What are YOU all up to?

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Filed under doing my own homework, lesson planning, little bits of nothingness, self-analysis, the good ones, The Job, writing

Branching Out

So, have I mentioned here that I’m becoming less and less confident about my ability to find work in a classroom? If not, well, I am; I’ve been out of work for more than a year and in all that time – despite having sent resumes to literally every educational institution within a 50 mile radius (some more than once) – I’ve only had three interviews. There’s something not right about that.

As a consequence, I’ve begun to consider moving outside of education and pursuing something in activism. To that end, I’ve been sending out this letter to groups and organizations that work for social justice causes (I’ve only changed identifying details):

Hello!

I wish that I could make this introduction in person because I fear that I’m not going to come off at all the way I intend. Keeping that in mind, I’m just going to forge ahead and hope for the best. I beg your indulgence.

I am a 44-year-old mother of two teenaged daughters. My husband and I have been together for over 20 years and have lived in Coastal New England for all of them. I graduated from LU in 1996 with a degree in English with a concentration in education and literary criticism, got married that summer, and delivered our first child the following June. Mr. Chili and I did the math and realized that it would be much more financially sound for me to stay home with the baby, so that’s what I happily did. Our second daughter was born in March of 1999, and I rocked the stay-at-home-mom gig until she went to kindergarten and I headed back to LU for grad school. I finished my Master’s in English teaching in 2006 and worked teaching at the high school, community college, and university level until last year, when I took some time to pursue a post-graduate certificate (again, at LU; I have an all-State education!) in adolescent development.

I’m writing to you because I have discovered, through both casual observation and focused introspection, that I’m deeply passionate about social causes. Just about every class discussion I ever led was grounded in figuring out why things happen to people the way they do, in identifying what forces are in place that cause them (and how we do or do not perpetuate those systems), and in exhorting students to think critically and to find – and use – their voices. My friends have told me that I’m the first person they go to when they need information about an issue, or when they want someone to help them work through their thinking about one thing or another. My whole life has been spent as an outspoken and unapologetic LGBTQ ally and, separately, a strong pro-choice advocate. A significant part of my identity is wrapped up in being socially conscious and energetic, and in teaching others to be so, too.

I wholeheartedly embraced the crazy of this past election cycle (I had time on my hands, after all) and I found myself being frustrated, again and again, by the lack of knowledge that was being utilized by my friends and acquaintances. I posted about a zillion things on my facebook page and tried to direct people to thoughtful, accurate sources for the information they lacked. I spoke to people, I enlisted former students into the voting rolls, and volunteered with the local Obama campaign.

I want to do more of that, but I’m coming quickly to understand that my energy and passion are seen as liabilities in traditional school settings. I guess what I’m asking you is this; is there an opportunity with your organization that would use my passion, my teaching skills (I am an excellent and enthusiastic teacher, particularly of teenagers), and my research, writing, and speaking abilities in a position where I can feel like I’m making a difference? I’m not a naive 20-something; I understand that one person doesn’t go out and set the world on fire. I do believe, however, that one person can set off a ripple that reaches farther than that person ever imagined it could, and I feel like I am a significant pebble that could make some really wonderful waves if I could just find the right pond.

So, there you have it. I’m outspoken, energetic, committed, and thoughtful. I’ve got some significant work experience and I care about the job that I do. I’m personable, easygoing, and eager to learn. I need something to do with all this energy. Got any suggestions?

Thank you so much for taking this time for me. I really, really appreciate it.

Warmly,

Mrs. Chili

 

I haven’t had any luck in getting positive responses to this email until today, when I got this:

Hello Chili,
Thank you for your email and for your passion for justice.  I think that I would like to meet with you face to face to talk and see what we could possibly do together.
Is it possible for you to meet sometime next week in *one of our bigger cities*?  I will be free Thursday and Friday afternoons.
Or suggest another time/place.
 
Best wishes,
Sarah Jane

I’ve written back to let her know that I’m available at her convenience.  I’m really excited to see where this goes.

 

p.s. I’m still working on putting together the post about my experience at Dr. Wong’s school (here’s a spoiler; once I left, I never heard from them again…).

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Filed under Civics and Citizenship, concerns, critical thinking, frustrations, job hunting, Learning, Mrs. Chili as Student, out in the real world, self-analysis, speaking, success!, Teaching, The Job, winging it, Yikes!

A Year Ago Today

It was a year ago today, and at the literal last possible moment, that I was told that I would not be coming back to Charter High School for the next year. I had absolutely no warning or indication that it was coming and, in fact, had been explicitly and repeatedly told that it wasn’t by people I foolishly trusted; I have copies of emails and instant messages to prove it.

A lot has changed in that year, but what really hits me is what hasn’t changed. I still, to this day, have not any reliable explanation; no one has bothered to give me the decency of telling me exactly what happened to me or why it happened. I’ve heard different stories from different people, each told to me in almost embarrassed tones, like the speaker didn’t really believe what they were saying. None of the principle players involved in this little drama has ever reached out to me, either to explain or to apologize.

For a year now, I’ve held doors open; I’ve been available and accessible in the hopes that someone would grow a conscience and send me a message, to offer me some kind of explanation, to tell me the truth. No more of that, though; I’m done. I’m not accepting the apology I never got, but I’m not going to leave myself open anymore, either. I’m too hurt – and too angry – to keep hoping that they’re going to suddenly become decent or ethical. I need to move on, and in order to do that, I need to lay this baggage down.

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SO?! How Did it GO?!

Apparently, it went really, REALLY well!

I got moderately dressed up (for those who care, I wore a cute blue plaid sleeveless dress with a flow-y white swing sweater and super-comfy blue suede flats) and got to the school about 20 minutes early, so I sat in my car, breathing and playing solitaire on my phone.  At about 5 minutes to 11, I walked to the building and checked in.  I was shown to a conference room and waited for a few minutes for the assistant principal to come in.

He greeted me warmly and explained that the other teachers would be joining us shortly.  The lead English teacher, who’s been a blog buddy for about 7 years (Hi, Chatty!), made an enthusiastic entrance with a huge smile, followed by the social studies teacher, who was friendly but a bit more reserved.  The science teacher was off on a field trip, “tromping around a pond” doing research with the kids about the ecology of a local body of water.  She came in just a few minutes later.

The AP did most of the talking.  He talked about the structure of the team, the incredible book purchases he’s made this year for the freshman and sophomore classes, and the philosophy and goal of the school.  He looked me in the eye and gave every indication that he’s wholly invested in seeing this experiment succeed.  I got the distinct impression that he’s a very supportive administrator.

They’re functioning as a collaborative environment where teachers actually work together (and those of you who’ve been with me for any length of time know that’s exactly what I’m looking for).  The AP emphasized the freedom that the teams have to structure not only the curriculum, but the way that time gets spent (though I’m going to have to see it in action to really understand what that means in terms of the practical application).

Everything he said sounded great, but I found myself staying quiet; I was worried about coming off as too eager.

I talked a little bit about some good lesson plans (specifically, about how much I love to teach Frankenstein, and the ways in which I combine TKaM, The Book Thief, and Letter from a Birmingham Jail).  I talked about how I always seem to fall into the role of teacher, how important social justice issues are to me both personally and professionally, and about how my entire paradigm is rooted in collaboration.  Oh, and that I’m a goddess in the kitchen.

I left feeling pretty good – not great, but pretty good – about how I did.  I felt better when Chatty sent me a message telling me that she thought it went well, too.  I felt even better when I got a call, about 20 minutes ago, asking me to come in for a second interview on Friday.

 

This might actually happen, You Guys!

 

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Filed under colleagues, job hunting, self-analysis, speaking, success!, Teaching, winging it, Yikes!

On the Eve

For the first time in more than a year, I have my first real interview for a job tomorrow at 11.

I’m finding I’m feeling the oddest combination of wicked excited and incredibly anxious.  I started having the weird anxiety dreams a couple of nights ago (had ‘em again this morning, too), and I’m actually stressing out about what to wear.

Me, stressing out about what to wear.  If you knew me in real life, you’d know that this was a sign that all is not entirely well.  Chili almost never stresses about what to wear; it’s just not what I do.  Here I am, though, worrying about finding the balance between professional and casual, classic and fun, pretty and comfortable.  Trousers or a skirt?  Capri pants or a dress?  Sleeveless and a jacket, or a button-down blouse?  Plain or patterned; colors or black and white?  And, oh, GOD, which shoes?!

It’s utterly ridiculous, and I need to stop.

For all that, though, I’m going in with no small amount of confidence.  The person who’s lead English teacher on the team has known me online for going on 7 years now, and in that time has had full access to all my blogs and my facebook page, so she knows exactly who I am and what’s important to me.  I also know – in a way that is not at all arrogant or conceited – that I am damned good at what I do.  I know it’s cliche to say that someone would be an asset to whichever outfit is smart enough to hire them, but I really feel like I have something valuable and important to offer.  Knowing these things is helping to buoy me.

So, should I wear the diamond earrings, or the pearls?

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Filed under dumbassery, funniness, I can't make this shit up..., I love my job, job hunting, little bits of nothingness, out in the real world, really?!, self-analysis, winging it, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?