Day by Day, Wednesday by Wednesday

Last weekend is but a distant memory.

It's Wednesday again, the day I dread most. It's the most difficult day for me to get into because by Wednesday, I feel like I've been going at it for a while (last weekend is now a distant memory) yet the end of the week is nowhere in sight.

I was mentally prepared for today to be difficult, but I didn't feel prepared for my lessons. Regardless, my secret/not-so-secret goal for the year is to, well, make it to the end of the year. Nothing fancy. Nothing stellar. I just gotta make it.

My secret goal for the short term is to go as many consecutive days as possible without being absent. So far, so good. I'm in the minority of teachers, actually, who hasn't missed a day yet. It's been one month. Do I feel like I deserve some kind of reward? Nope. The other teachers legitimately were sick or had pressing reasons that they couldn't be out of town. But I'm not even thinking of them. I'm in competition with my self--my lazy self, that is. Or rather, my cowardly self.

I'm focusing on not letting my fear of failure or my imperfect lessons keep me from school. I'm focusing on being at school. A crappy lesson by me, a teacher whom the students know, is better than a non-lesson by a substitute. On top of that, my role as a teacher doesn't end at my classroom door. I have a responsibility to help build and maintain the new and evolving school culture into something positive. That only happens when us regular teachers are there as near every day as possible.

Finally, part of being there means being forgiving to myself after school in the evenings. I work as much as I can until I don't want to anymore. And then I stop. Because if I keep going, it's going to make me not want to go to work the next day and that's just not worth it.

That's all for now--happy end-of-hump day <3


All The Small Things

Ugh, it's Wednesday. Two Wednesdays in a row have been particularly hard days in no way in particular. So many feelings right now, good and bad. It's hard to focus and separate and comb out my tangle of thoughts and emotions.

There are so many big changes that I have to do in order to improve as a teacher, but I can't do everything all at once. I can't even make one big change happen at once. It takes time. Right now, I can only focus on the small things.

Small, do-able actions that have had big-ish effects:
-Smiling at students seems to have an unexplainable, magical effect: students who were sitting doing nothing ask me questions that show me that they were confused that whole time; students are nicer to me--friendlier, more helpful, more behaved; students calm down and I feel the tension between us melt just a little teensy bit...

-Sweeping the halls for wandering students during my prep and herding them into their classes makes me feel productive. It also gives me a chance to meet more students at the school--which in turn is good because I feel myself establishing my presence and permanence at this school.

-Walking around the class in a purposeful order (like following a walking path) gets more students on track during their Opener activity. It gives me an excuse to not try to attend to every student who's trying to get my attention ("I didn't do my homework, can I turn it in late?" "I need to use the bathroom" "I was absent yesterday, can I get the work?") all at once. This is important because then I'm able to take attendance, I'm able to tighten up on behavior issues and understanding issues during the Opener, and it gives all students a chance to have my attention when it's their turn.

-I can't deal with all the students who have been giving me attitude, but I can choose one or two at a time to address. I spoke to one student after my class when I saw her sitting in the hallway during her next class and I had a heart-to-heart with her. It was impossible to try talking to her earlier when she was telling me to leave her alone and when she wasn't doing her work because other students were watching our power struggle. When I had her one-on-one, I was able to tell her that I was surprised at her behavior because she had been doing so well up until today and that I was worried that there's something else going on in her life that's distracting her and putting her in a bad mood. I'm hoping she and I will have a better day with each other tomorrow. Another student has been throwing paper in my class and hasn't been staying after school when I tell him to stay after and clean up. I spoke with our school secretary and had her call his auntie (Spanish-speaking) and her auntie said that she will personally take him to me after school tomorrow and watch him pick up paper. YAY! There's so many other students who I can/should deal with as proactivity as I dealt with those two students today, but for now, I'll take the fact that I dealt with two students at all as a win.

-Chatting with students who aren't participating in P.E. I can't force anybody to do anything. I try to make activities engaging and I make participation a part of their grade, but ultimately, there are a few students who sit on the bench and choose not to do anything. When I know there's no hope in getting them to move, I just chat with them about their lives--like what they hope to do after graduating, what their hobbies are, if they have any siblings, and where they live. This is great for me because it gives me something to talk to them about later when I see them in the halls and it gives me a clearer picture of the maturity level of students. I'm getting better at making my lessons relevant to students whether they're 14 years old or 21 years old and I credit that to my getting to know them and having a better idea of my audience.

Here's to making it over the hump. Hip hip hooray!


BTW, I found today's picture here.


Hello, Oakland.

I'm back in what feels like "home"--California. Namely, the Bay. And I'm living the dream! How many people can honestly say they live where they've always dreamed of living and have a job doing what they trained for and have been wanting?

It's hard, man. I knew it would be hard... I wanted it to be hard... but damn, you sure don't know hard until you're truly in it.

My routine looks like this:

Get out of bed at 6:20 a.m.
On autopilot, turn on some happy music and groggily put the kettle on the stove and grind coffee beans.
Make coffee, have granola with a banana and honey in milk.
Drink coffee.
Put on a slammin' professional-yet-young and hip outfit. And high heels.
Drive 10 minutes to work (whoo!).

Get to work between 7:30-7:40.
Prep until 8:30.
Teach back to back blocks of Chemistry.
Prep for one block.
Teach (run, play, herd kids, cheer kids on-aka get them to participate) P.E. for one block.
Eat free lunch in the lunch room.
Teach another block of P.E.
Teach another block of Chemistry.
(Mon/Tues) Tutor for an hour, teacher-y things until anywhere between 4:30-6:00
(Weds) Do teacher-y things until anywhere between 4:30-6:00
(Thurs) Meeting for an hour, teacher-y things until anywhere between 4:30-6:00
(Fri) Meeting for two hours, teacher-y things until 4:30 or so

Get home. Rest. Eat a delicious meal prepared by the boyfriend and/or my sister in our wonderful home.
Teacher-y things from 9:00pm-11:pm.

(Saturday) Actively block out thoughts of work.
(Sunday) Continue to actively block out thoughts of work until 4pm. Then work from 4pm-10pm.

And damn. Not only is that 12 hours of work each week day, but it's 12 hours of pretty hard work. It's hours of putting together the best lesson plans that I can given that I have no curriculum to follow and little to no science resources (70 chemistry students and only 7 chemistry textbooks. No glassware. No chemicals.), and only a couple hours to put something together each night. I'm doing kitchen chemistry with sand that I collected at the beach, glass vases and empty jars I found around the house, and random coins I collected in my travels from other countries. I keep my energy up to run and play games with students at P.E. and stretch my brain for activities to do with them with nothing but a small parking lot for play space, a box of chalk, 9 jump ropes, no balls, and a frisbee. Mind you, this is P.E. with high school students, not little, easily-amused children.

And then there are the students who are acting out of line, the daily battles, the power struggles, the individual cries for attention and help ("Miss April, is this right?" "I finished!" "Where do I put the homework?" "No, you ain't takin' my phone!" "What time does this class get out?" "I'm hot! I want water!" "No, I don't have to listen to you!").

And there's the emotional toll of working with Oakland youth. Knowing in the back of my mind that I see one tiny piece of my students' lives each day, but that after they leave my classroom and leave our school, some are dealing with very grown-up issues--like being the main breadwinner of their family, having to show up to court dates, homelessness, violence on their commute to school, turning their life around after substance abuse periods in their lives, repeating freshman year for the third time, being in foster care and transitioning to moving into their own apartment now that they're 18 years old...

Today was my 12th day with students. Of those days, I'd say 2 were rough days and 10 were overall good days. I've only had one almost-fight. And to tell the truth, nothing spectacularly bad happened in those rough 2 days--I just felt less ready for the usual craziness that is our school on those days.

I've heard that optimism is often confused as one's ability to remain content in all situations, but that it's actually one's ability to understand that everything is temporary. I get that. Everything is temporary--good and bad. That's why you gotta enjoy the good while it lasts and let the bad times pass.
"You are an imperfect and incomplete answer to your students' immediate needs." --unknown
More than being a "good" teacher to my students, I just want to be there for them. I want to be a constant in their lives while they are in high school. I hope that my being a caring, honest, hard-working person is enough. I'm trying my best to be a strong teacher, but that part will come later with experience.

Meanwhile, I'm thankful for many things in my life right now. I'm thankful for the opportunity to have gone to two good schools, UC Berkeley and Mills College. I'm thankful for my parents for... everything. I'm thankful for the lowest times in my life and the lessons I learned in my darkest hours. I'm thankful for the three years I took for myself to grow, explore, and nurture new relationships. I'm thankful for second chances. Most of all, right now, I'm thankful to have a job doing what I've always wanted to do and for an opportunity to try and be like the people who I look up to most.