Category Archives: Teaching

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!

Unhappy Anniversary

It was a year ago today that events set into motion the crash of my professional life.

I didn’t think that today was going to be a big deal, really; it’s just another day, nothing has happened that changes my thinking or feelings about the whole mess, and, if anything, I’m more and more glad that I’m out of that deeply broken culture every time I talk to those who are still struggling to stay sane and ethical in it.

I’m finding, though, that I’m wrestling to put down the last of my bitter feelings toward the people who, for whatever reasons, let things happen the way they did.  I’m trying to come to some sort of peace with the fact that people looked me in the eye and outright lied to me.  I’m trying to find ways to forgive people for their callous disregard for the obvious needs of the students and the staff.  I’m trying to let go of the rage against the perfect storm of incompetence and utter failure of ethics that nearly led to the loss of a precious life.  I’m working on releasing the anger and disappointment I feel for someone who participated in all of it despite the fact that I just know he wanted no part of it, but did it, anyway.  I’m practicing detachment from some people who said that they cared about me – loved me, even – but whose actions were anything but caring and loving.

I am cautiously hopeful that my professional plane is about to taxi down a new runway and this crash was not fatal.  Once I’m proverbially ‘wheels-up,’ I think I’ll finally be able to put this experience well and truly behind me.  In the meantime, I’m working on focusing on the good that came out of this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad experience; my chosen daughter is healthy and whole and has done nothing to harm herself since that day, and I’m as adamant today as I was a year ago that, even had I known the hell that was to follow, I wouldn’t do a single thing any differently.

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Filed under colleagues, compassion and cooperation, critical thinking, ethics, failure, frustrations, I can't make this shit up..., I've got this kid...., Mrs. Chili as Student, really?!, self-analysis, Teaching

Not Quite What I was Expecting

I spent part of this morning at CPS.  I was invited to today’s all-day meeting earlier in the week, but I wrote to Dr. Wong and told her that a) I wouldn’t be able to stay the whole day and b) I wasn’t sure, given the ambiguity of our relationship, whether it would be appropriate for me to be a part of those meetings in the first place.  We decided to split the difference by having me come in for an hour or so this morning, and Dr. Wong and I got a chance to sit down and talk specifics.

It turns out that they have no money to pay me, or, Dr. Wong said, they’d have formally hired me by now.  She seems genuinely interested in having me as part of her team; she told me that the dean who sat in on the workshop I ran last week had nothing but “glowing” things to say about me, and she recognizes that my particular discipline concentrations are decidedly lacking in her current staff.  She really wants me to get a feel for the school and the kids and the community – despite the fact that she can’t formally offer me a job – so she invited me to come and teach a writing workshop two days a week on a volunteer basis.  That would give me a time to see whether and how I would fit in with the place, and would give them a sense of what I can do with students.  I agreed to a six-week trial; we’ll reassess the relationship after that time.

Dr. Wong seemed really confident that there would be a position available for me in September, but a lot depends, of course, on the money situation.  The school will be more than doubling its enrollment in the fall, they’ve decided not to expand into the building in which they currently reside (they were thinking of breaking through a wall and taking over more square footage, but they’ve put that plan on ice for now), and the expectation is that there will be money in the budget for me.  I won’t know that for a while, though, so for now, I’m going to do the volunteer gig and see what happens.

It’s not an ideal situation.  I would really like to be paid for my time (especially given that I get to tack two travel hours to every trip I make out there).  This gets me in front of a classroom, though, working with kids, doing what I love, and making an impression that may well secure me employment for the next school year.  It’s not perfect, but it’s something I can live with… at least for six weeks.

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Filed under about writing, colleagues, frustrations, Grammar, job hunting, Teaching, winging it

New Class Idea: The Ambiguous Hero

I’ve been captivated, almost forever, with the ambiguous hero; the good guy who does bad things (and, conversely, the bad guy who does good things) and what role he plays in our psyche and, in a larger sense, in our culture.

A friend of mine wants to teach a summer class with film, and we were talking about this idea over dinner the other day.  I haven’t been able to let it go, and here’s what I’ve come up with.  I’m going to need some help zeroing in on the specifics – the assignments, the competencies and objectives, that kind of thing –  but here’s what I’ve got for materials so far:

The Dark Knight: the second of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy – this is the one with Heath Ledger as the Joker.  Christian Bale’s Batman is the perfect example, I think, of the ambiguous hero.

A Dry White Season:  This is based on a novel written by a white South African who gets involved in the anti-apartheid movement after someone he knows personally dies in police custody.

Gandhi:  You know this story, and I keep coming back to it as a conversation about civil disobedience and the question of how resistance is characterized on the different “sides” of the debate in question

Gone Baby Gone:  PLEASE tell me you’ve seen this movie!  It’s about a kidnapping, and centers around HUGE issues of “right” and “wrong” and where the law clashes with morality

Harry Potter:  I want to investigate Snape.  The idea of the double agent is always an interesting one.  I’m not sure which film I’d use, though; likely the last one.

Iron Jawed Angels: Another civil disobedience film – this one focuses on women’s suffrage and the outrages that some women suffered at the hands of law enforcement.

Milk:  About Harvey Milk and the early struggle for GLBTQ rights and recognition

Mississippi Burning:  This remains one of my MOST favorite films, mostly because of Gene Hackman’s REALLY complex character.  This scene alone is worth the film:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlzaBi_QxPw

The Negotiator:  This is the story of a cop who takes hostages in order to reveal corruption in his department – a good guy doing a bad thing for a good reason.

Leon, the Professional:  A hit man who adopts his 12 year old neighbor after her family is killed by a corrupt cop (played terrifyingly by Gary Oldman).  He’s a good guy who does bad things, and we have to reconcile his work with his personality.

Schindler’s List:  You know this one, too, I’m sure.  I think that Schindler started out as a bad guy doing a good thing (though for selfish reasons) and evolved into a good guy.

Shawshank Redemption:  Andy as a wrongly convicted man who becomes a criminal in prison, but who never gives up his humanity.

Tsotsi:  I haven’t seen this one in a LONG time, so I’m not sure if I’m remembering it correctly, but I think it’s about a boy who steals a car and discovers that he’s also stolen a baby.  The film tells the story of what he does after he realizes he’s got a tough choice to make.

Unforgiven:  This is a Clint Eastwood western.  Eastwood is a retired gunslinger who gets called back into the life of crime for reasons that he thinks are honorable.  His character is a tough one to suss out, and the film really makes the viewer work for the payoff (plus, it stars Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman, which makes it that much better).

I was also thinking that I would have the kids read Bel Canto (which asks the “terrorist or freedom fighter” question) and, if they’re given permission from their parents, to look at a couple of episodes of Dexter (a serial killer in a Showtime series who only murders murderers who get away from the legal system).

I think there’s a lot of richness to be mined in this “good guy doing bad things / bad guy doing good things” question, I just need to think about it a bit more before it takes on any kind of substance that resembles a for-credit class.

What do you think?

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Filed under colleagues, critical thinking, doing my own homework, Dream Course, film as literature, fun, GLBTQ issues, Holocaust, lesson planning, Literature, Mrs. Chili as Student, politics, Teaching, winging it, writing

I am SO Confused

Help me suss this out, You Guys.

A month or so ago – I forget when, exactly – a former student contacted me about the possibility of my being her advisor for an independent study in English.  She was interested in a class I taught the last year I was at CHS, and asked if I would be willing to offer her that class as an IS.

I can never say no to a student who wants to learn, but my response to this baby was something along the lines of, “I’ll absolutely do it, but there’s no way in hell you’re getting it past administrative approval.”

She sent me a text message today saying that she’s all set to go; she just needs to fill out the paperwork.

To say that I’m stunned is an understatement.

I have no idea what this arrangement entails.  I’m making the assumption that I’ll just be a mentor for her as she works the program herself (though I will give her the course I designed for another student who took the class as an independent study last year, and I’m sure I’ll be providing her with most of the films and reading materials, as well).  I can pretty much guarantee you that I won’t be paid for the work that I’ll do, but I don’t care about that; a kid asked me for my help and it’s within my power to give it to her, so she gets it whether I get paid or not.

Here are my questions to you; given that I was shown the door (though I have still yet to be told precisely why I was so unacceptable as to be dismissed), is there anything ethical about the school’s decision to okay my being a mentor for this student?  Should I be confused about being fired in June, then being approved as a mentor in January?  How should I approach this?

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Filed under concerns, critical thinking, ethics, frustrations, I can't make this shit up..., I've got this kid...., lesson planning, really?!, self-analysis, Teaching, winging it, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

Quick Hit: Do NOT Start with Me

This afternoon, I came to the high school at 2:35 to pick Punk up for an appointment that she’d be late for if she took the bus home.  A group of students was waiting for their bus on the sidewalk on the far end of the driveway that loops to the front door, and a few kids were across the driveway so they could all throw snowballs at each other.  No problem; I expect that (especially considering there was a doozy of a snowball fight happening in the senior parking lot as I drove by).

I slowed and stopped so they could see me, and made eye contact with the two kids still on the driveway.  One of them crossed back to the sidewalk, so I slowly proceeded toward the door.  As I made my way by him, one of the students threw the snowball he was holding at my car, hitting the drivers’ side rear window.  He crossed the street behind me and rejoined his peers on the sidewalk.

In a dark red coat.  He was easy to pick out of the crowd.

I stopped the car, backed up, and called the young man to my passenger window where I calmly but sternly scolded him (I’m the mother of two teenage daughters and a high school teacher myself; I have some experience with this sort of thing).

Me:  You.  Over here….  What was that?

Kid:  It was a snowball.

Me:  I know it was a snowball.  Why did it make contact with my car?

Kid:  Uh…

Me:  NOT okay, do you understand?  Do not ever do that again.

Kid:  Okay.  Sorry.

To his credit, the boy apologized to me, and I heard him being soundly ribbed by the kids watching from the sidewalk as I drove away.

My intent was to embarrass him – which I did – and to make him think twice before he does something like that again.  I think he was genuinely shocked that I backed up to reprimand him, and I know that many (probably all) of the kids looking on were surprised; I’m sure they’re not used to being called to task by total strangers.

Punk-ass kid.

 

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Filed under dumbassery, failure, I've got this kid...., out in the real world, really?!, student chutzpah, Teaching, winging it, You're kidding...right?

Thoughtful Thursday

I’m at a kind of low place energetically right now.  I’m sure a lot of that has to do with my grandmother’s passing and her upcoming memorial (there’s a whole MESS of stress I’m carrying about that, but that may be the topic for another (possibly private) post some other time), but I’ve spent the better part of today on the edge of full-blown panic about my professional future.

Here’s the thing; I know what I’m meant to do, at least in the abstract.  I’m a teacher.  I’ve always been a teacher, ever since I was a kid.  I love it, I’m good at it, and it’s exactly what I want to do.

What has me freaking out right about now, though, is the idea that a) I may not find a job in a classroom next year and b) I may not want a job in a classroom next year.

I’m coming to the hard realization that, for all its faults, CHS was a pretty damned permissive environment.  Even there, though, I ran into a lot of problems, and I have gotten more and more frustrated the more I think about the fact that we say we want to raise careful, energetic thinkers, but we really don’t do the things that are required to produce them because we’re too afraid of “crossing lines” or “pushing boundaries.”  As soon as someone gets a bug up his or her ass about something – as soon as someone is the least bit uncomfortable or challenged – administrators panic, all hell breaks loose, the teachers get blamed, and we’re right back to tiptoeing around only the safest playgrounds.

I’m calling bullshit on that.  The problem is, though, that this attitude is not likely to make me a particularly attractive candidate for employment at a school district.

I’ve been kicking around the idea of trying to land a gig as an outreach coordinator or a workshop facilitator for an outfit that aligns with my ethics, but I don’t have the first inkling about what I’d be qualified to do or how I would go about finding a place to do it.  I thought about perhaps trying to find a position with an activist group or a liberal politician – maybe even of becoming a lobbyist – but, again, no frickin’ idea how to go about getting something like that moving.  There are a couple of teen-centered programs in my area, and the thought has occurred to me to look into what they’re doing to see if they have a need that I can fill, but my concern is that I don’t have the counseling or social work credentials that would be needed to work in places like that.

I hate this feeling of being directionless.  I feel off my mooring, adrift, and not a little scared.

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Filed under concerns, critical thinking, ethics, failure, frustrations, job hunting, out in the real world, politics, self-analysis, Teaching, winging it, Yikes!