Self Pep Talk

On keeping things in perspective...
First and foremost, I'm doing better. I'm doing better than I was before; I'm making progress--teensy, tiny, progress. I'm able to go for longer stretches of days teaching in a calm-ish, non-freak-out manner. My students are awesome. They're sweet, thoughtful, funny, and hardworking. They're figuring out teenager things--like what their friends and teachers think about them, their grades, not getting their parents angry. Many of them are figuring out big, life things--like balancing being a teen mom and a student, whether or not to stay in school, and in one student's case, heartbreakingly, genuinely wondering whether or not he'll live to see 18 years old, based on the number of funerals he's attended for friends and family members.

It's rough, kids. I feel for you. I'm trying.

But damnit if you kids don't give me a run for my money. FUUUUUU**... It's hard. It's so hard. It's so hard trying to plan something to teach and do for class every day. It's so hard trying to get everyone to do their work. It's so hard figuring out what to do when someone doesn't do their AND is being a hot mess. It's hard when SO MANY students are being a hot messes.


On getting students to try...
Dear students, put the phone away. Take the earphones out. Try the work. Ask me for help. Ask someone for help. Just try. Try. OK, you tell me you're trying, but try doing the work without chatting with others. Without talking about last night's party and who was drunk and who made out with whom. This is important information that I'm telling the class right now, please listen. Please stop chatting. You will ask me this exact question in about 30 seconds if you don't listen to this announcement right now. You want to walk out? Right now? OK, then don't come back. Some students want to be here, I can't chase you down and force you to stay. Who cut the cord to my computer mouse? Why did you do it? Who tagged this profanity about me into this desk? Why did you do it?

I see that the students are testing me. I feel their eyes watching for my next move when someone has a melt down. They wonder if I'll be back next year or next week or tomorrow. Students, please stop shooting yourself in the foot by opting out each and every day. Please opt-in today. You need to practice probability but you don't know how to do fractions? Oh, you don't know how to do long division? Let's work on it for an hour after school. You need to practice using lab materials but you don't know what volume is or how to read a graduate cylinder? Let's practice. Please stop throwing the equipment. Please stop hitting each other. Please clean up your mess.


On teaching skills other than the ones you actually meant to teach...
Teaching is full of so may surprises, good and bad. With limited resources, I made a last-minute decision to throw together a research project in which students had to research the chemistry behind a product of their choice and present their research in their own blog. Turns out, many students did not know how to use keywords for searching information online; many students did not know how to email themselves files or information for later use; many students did not know how to rephrase information and not plagiarize. I'm embarrassed to say many students also did not know what a chemical formula is or what physical or chemical properties are, even this far into the school year.

Managing time spent at the computers meant disciplining students for mishandling equipment or eating at the computers, keeping students from blasting music from the speakers, and kicking students off of Facebook or inappropriate sites... on top of teaching students keyboard short cuts and computer skills... on top of teaching them the actual chemistry part of the project... on top of persuading students frustrated at having to learn how to make a blog that yes, you can do this; no, you may not opt out of the blog and do a handmade poster instead.

In the end, I had multiple students tell me that they enjoyed making a blog. They had never made one before and were excited to start their own blog about make-up or cars or whatever they were interested in. They liked showing their own work off to teach other and checking out other students' blogs. And hey, some students actually learned something about the product that they researched.


On having a wide range of responsibilities...
One of my responsibilities at the moment is helping students pass the math portion of their high school exit exam. While tutoring one student, I realized: forget geometry and algebra--my student doesn't know how to do long division or how to add and subtract negative numbers. She's embarrassed about what she doesn't know and is stressed out because as a senior, passing one more semester and passing her high school exit exam are the only two things standing between her and graduation. I'm realizing that my official title for the school may be 'chemistry teacher', but my actual role is being there everyday for whatever need may come up--be it tutor in basic math, let a student cry to me about problems at home, or counsel another struggling teacher over a 10-minute lunch break.

Right now, at my job, in this moment, teaching chemistry is not a high priority--being there, doing what I can, and celebrating small, teensy tiny successes are.


On accepting challenges and pacing myself...
Sometimes, my sister and I fantasize about jobs we'd rather have than the one that have now. Note, these conversations often occur on Sunday evenings after a long, lazy weekend, while feeling lazy about having to go to work the following Monday morning. Yeah, it'd be pretty awesome to get paid while being lazy and having an easy job. But the truth is, I like doing something that I believe matters. I love my coworkers and my students; I get to interact with inspirational people every day. I've always liked challenging myself. And well, sometimes the difficulty of the challenge bubbles over and I have to tap out for a quick second--like today and yesterday. I left school crying two days in a row. I start thinking about how I'm not cut out for this job if this is how I feel and how I react after tough days and how I'm a shitty teacher and that's why I have tough days.

And then I remember--nope. This is the reality of teaching where I do. It's tough. I'm not weak. I'm human. And I'm getting tougher. And people get tired, like I get tired. It's OK to feel run down. It's OK that things aren't going smoothly... it's normal that things aren't going smoothly. I show up and I do my best and I care. Seriously, kids, that's all I got. I'm not "enough" right now to fix everything, but fixing everything isn't my job.


I show up, and I do my best, and I care.

And my best is getting better. Little by little.

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