Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Turning Up the Heat Part 1: When Life Puts You in Hot Water...

First, I want to extend my sincerest gratitude to all of my fine readers who supported me during my absence. Your emails were touching and restorative. I assure you that I will respond to each and every one of you.

I've been gone for a while, and I've been "gone" in multiple ways. Gone from the blog, gone from myself, gone from teaching... just gone. To say I was in "a funk" would be a gross understatement (ha... pun on "funk" and "gross" not originally intended, but my subconscious is a sly bastard, so I'll take it!).

I started this school year with a fire under my ass, and it was burning hot. That fire looked something like this.



Now understand this: this fire has been burning beneath me as long as I've been an educator. I graduated from college in 2010. From my understanding, that's about the time the fire started getting good and hot. For a while, I didn't really feel the burn. Or maybe I did feel the burn, but it was disguised as something else.

After the honeymoon period was over this year (I guess about four weeks into the school year), it started getting very, very hot. I started sweating under the collar a bit. After three years of sitting at a simmer, I finally felt myself coming to a boil.

Why was I feeling the heat all of a sudden? After much consideration, I believe that the heat got turned up in the following ways.

  • I was given the majority (and by no small percentage) of the high-pressure English 10 kids. The numbers were a bit more evenly distributed last year, so the weight was spread around better.
  • I'm just going to say it. Those high-pressure English 10 kids, for various reasons, aren't where they should be right now academically, mentally, or socially. They are a very challenging group. Now don't get me wrong... if you put them in my classroom, they are my kids and I will do my very best. I'm not angry that these students are mine. In the words of Helga Hufflepuff, "I'll teach the lot and treat them just the same."* But they do present their own unique challenges.
  • My "target class period" only consists of eleven students. That means that I have to ensure that eight of them pass the state assessment in order to be considered "effective." It's just not in me to be satisfied with "effective." I want to be "highly effective" and, damn it, I'm capable of that! I just can't quite wrap my brain around how their scores can be an absolute judgment of my abilities. I think every teacher in the world uses this mantra sometimes to help them sleep at night: you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.
  • I'm freaked out by this target class period business (known as our SLO class). I might have a small touch of PTSD after last year's SLO class disaster.
  • As a result of all of this stress about my English 10 classes, I started doing benchmarks and test prep right away. Anyone who tells you that they just love test prep is either a saint or a damned liar. Nothing will make a teacher (who loves her content matter and her students) go crazy faster than test prep. It is tedious, mindless, and outright boring for the teacher; it feels tedious, mindless, outright boring, and totally useless to students. Guess who's having fun? Not a damn one of us.
  • A friend and mentor of mine is a wonderful teacher. Her students like her, she's great with her content, and she is passionate about what she does. She is a born teacher. Her students generally score well on tests. As a punishment result, she now only teaches test prep classes all day long. And she's burning out. And I think she'll quit her profession within the next two years. I don't want this to happen to me! I don't want them to take away my favorite courses in favor of making me test prep all day. (NOTE: this has not been suggested to me in any way at all at this time... I was am prematurely panicking.)
  • Lately I feel like I'm just shouting into the wind. (There are lots of little things kind of like this that I'm just not at liberty to discuss in a public place like this.)
  • In a completely unrelated manner, my personal life got turned upside down a bit at this same time. (Everything is okay.) Home, which was normally a salve for my burns, wasn't quite the same and wasn't nearly so soothing.
By the middle of September, I found myself waking up with that old familiar stomach ache, the same one that plagued me at School #1 during my horrid first year of teaching. I started oversleeping again. I got out of the habit of keeping my prep work ahead of schedule. I found myself smiling less. I developed an absolutely God-awful ache in my TMJ (temporomandibular joint) from clenching my teeth (a very bad stress habit of mine). I was in an extremely unhealthy spiral. For the first time in my life, I wondered if I needed medical help. I am strictly against the flippant use of pharmaceuticals and I will always favor a natural remedy over putting some kind of drug in my body. But I just couldn't figure out how to make myself happy again.

The only thing that was keeping me sane was my motley crew of theatre kids. Those kids saved me and they don't even know it. More on them another time, perhaps.


Whether you just found this blog during your Pinterprising efforts or you've been a long-time reader, you should by now know this about me: I love teaching. I love my content area. I love my students. I love my grade level. I love my building (most of the time). I want to see my students succeed, not just on the test, but in life. I don't like to spread the negativity of teaching because it just seems so futile. We're all shouting, and we aren't getting anywhere fast with it.

So why in the world, you might ask, would I be sharing this with you? In a place that fosters passion, creative thinking, and devotion in teachers, why would I share with you how "turning up the heat" completely destroyed me over the last several weeks?

Because I need you to learn from where I've just been.

More to come.






*Why yes, I did just quote a fictitious deceased educator from the Harry Potter series that the readers never actually meet, didn't I?

4 comments:

  1. Oh Stephanie I wish I could just hug you through the computer screen. I know how you feel. I teach English in Ontario and my job is hard, but it is no where near as hard as American teachers whose worth and value are based on the results of a test score their students may or may not feel like writing that day. I can't imagine working in that system and I think it kills the passion in teachers. I am so sorry you are having a hard time. Please know I just LOVE your blog and learn so much from you. I implemented the Yellow Sheets this year and I'm crazy about them!! Hang in there. The students need a teacher who is passionate like you are, someone who cares.

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  2. Hang in there, Steph. I know your struggle because I've been there...literally...the same group of kids! This is one rough class, and then next year will be cake. This freshman class is so much more mature/productive/ambitious, next year will be a breeze. Just keep thinking in terms of time periods -- four more weeks to Thanksgiving break; three weeks to Christmas; only one semester left. You will survive this class. If I came out of them with my sanity in tact (and I'm already on medication), so can you. Keep your head up and know that I'm just next door.

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  3. I've been feeling the heat, too, dear. We will get through this, and we will continue to be the amazing teachers that we are.

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  4. This post makes me so incredibly sad. I found your blog back in the summer as I was preparing for my first year of teaching. Because I knew I'd have difficulty finding and English position immediately, I got special education certified and accepted a special ed English position. In this, I have to small group, self-contained, EBD classes, and I co-teach 3 English 10 classes. I have been floating through this year, and I have decided to rock it and not stress myself out. The children I work with daily are messes. Something crazy (arrests, fights, break-downs, getting cussed out) happens daily, and I just roll with the punches. The first two weeks, I stressed out. I came home every day and drank wine to calm my nerves. Then, I realized this year is going to suck if I let it suck. So, I took a deep breath and remembered that 10th graders do not have standardized tests like 9th and 11th (in my state). Now, I just kind if float through my days and don't take anything too seriously. I know that sounds terrible - but I have to, or I wouldn't make it through the year. I would bring work home and obsess over it. I'm not saying we have fun and party because we don't. I actually think my co-teachers in my EBD class (behavior improvement teachers) are pretty impressed with the rigor I bring into the classroom.

    I do know, though, that I would be able to do this if I had the standardized test looming above my head. I am so sorry you have to go through this. I think admin is just happy I keep the EBD kids settled and through every day while trying to teach English...and I am so blessed I don't feel the pressure you do. Now, after reading this and considering I want to switch counties next year, I fear ending up in this situation.
    Teaching is already such a thankless job, and to have to go through this on top of everything... I can't imagine.

    I know you'll get through this. And I hope very soon, you'll find happiness again. And by that, I don't mean you'll be okay. You're okay now. I mean true happiness.

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