Don’t take your work home with you!

“Don’t take your work home with you.” This is an expression that we hear all of the time. Perhaps someone has written this on an advice card at your bridal shower. Maybe your mother-in-law has said it to you before. Somehow, someway, I’m sure you’ve heard it. “Don’t take your work home with you,” we’ve heard time and time again as an ongoing, lifelong suggestion that prevents you from arguing with your spouse, and encourages you to maintain a life of your own.

However, let’s take a moment to consider the teachers…While we’re at it, let’s take another moment to consider the English teachers, the ones who assign literary analysis papers, annotations, 4-5 page argumentative or persuasive essays, short stories, creative writing assignments, etc, etc, etc, etc. It literally never ends.

So, I invite you to consider how (English) teachers can refrain from taking their work home with them. Lord and administration both know that 1-2 prep periods a day are in no way, shape, or form, enough time to effectively grade and provide feedback for the students. It is impossible for us not to take our work home with us. This has proven to be so stressful. When my boyfriend wants to cuddle and watch a movie, I’m writing my own papers, grading their papers, shaking my head and becoming increasingly frustrated by some of the careless mistakes that I’ve cautioned against over and over. However, there are proud moments too, when you see the improvement, the progression, the surprises, the ah-has, when the students finally get it. It’s a beautiful job, but one that requires dedication outside of the normal work hours.

My question to fellow English teachers is this, how do you maintain your own life, your own sense of self as you become lost in the stacks and folders? How do you put time into your relationship when you’re consumed with work responsibilities during off-hours that are meant to be spent with the ones you love? We don’t have the luxury of taking our sweet time in returning graded work to the students. Returning work in a timely manner is something I really believe in, yet I’m struggling to find balance between my work life and personal life. Livelihood versus livelihood, think about that for a second.



Mission Accomplished?

The truly rewarding days are the ones when you feel like you’ve actually made a difference in a child’s life. I have a student who enjoys getting in trouble, plain and simple. Her words, not mine. Countless times, countless teachers explain to her that the older she gets, the less “fun” getting in trouble will be…

I’m going to assume that some pretty heavy 6th grade drama was cooking in a big ol’ crock pot… Last week, the student asked to sit with me during her independent work instead of with her friends. She sat with me the whole period, and diligently attended to her work. No spelling mistakes. Perfect punctuation. Textual evidence gallore. I was delighted by her ability and even adamantly expressed my amazement. When she finished, we had a really nice talk. She told me about some of her hopes and dreams, none of which consisted of getting in trouble for personal amusement. We talked about how to achieve goals in life, which starts by being a good student, and trying your best. The child asked me if a person needs to go to college in order to become “rich” some day. I responded with the truth, my truth. One that I believe with all my heart and soul.

“To be happy is to be rich,” I told her.

I expected a snicker or an eye roll, but she smiled and nodded. I can’t express the fullness that I felt in my heart at that moment. I was so glad that she was starting to see the connection between education and her definition of success. She told me she was going to try harder, that she was going to give her teachers and peers an easier time. Without my prompting, she even stuck out her little pinky and promised to produce her very best work.

I left the school that day and called my mom almost in tears. “I DID IT!” I screamed. “I fulfilled my mission in life.” I told her the whole story, sweet tears of joy streaming down my face. (I tend to be really emotional, you’ll start to notice this more and more.)

My mom, or should I say “Negative Nancy,” (just kidding, Ma) told me that while one chat with a chronically difficult child could potentially be a great start to progress, chances are… the conversation went in one of her ears and out the other.

“I hope you’re the one to get through to her, but she’ll likely need many, many, many more of these little chats throughout the year, Gwen.”

I disagreed. In that moment I truly believed that I was her sole inspiration, the one to influence what would become a huge change in her behavior. I told my boyfriend the story, too. He was so proud of me. Yes, I am literally as corny as I sound. I fell asleep with a smile on my face that night and literally couldn’t wait to go back to work. I was so eager to see my colleagues the following week to discuss what I would have sworn was an unbelievable transformation in the works.

My mom warned me. I don’t know why I was so shocked to find that her behavior had only gotten progressively worse. She didn’t turn in any assignments for the week, got kicked out of three classes, screamed at nearly every single one of her teachers; and even threw a stack of heavy books at one of them.

They don’t teach you about this in teacher-ed either. Sure, we all anticipate having difficult students, especially when teaching in urban, maybe even lower-income areas. We’ve seen it in real life, we’ve seen it on TV, we’ve been thoroughly warned. I don’t think there is a teacher alive that doesn’t foresee being disrespected at some point, probably even many points, throughout a career as a secondary educator. But they don’t teach us what to do when you’re the only adult in the school that takes a liking to such an immensely difficult child.

I believe in her and I wish I knew why. I have zero tolerance for bullying. ZERO and I mean that. Without an intervention, such a child could potentially turn into a bully, a really mean one too. Even without an ounce, or single shred of respect for authority,  I care about her. I’m really rooting for her because I know that deep down, she has a good heart.

I’m not a guidance counselor and I’m not a therapist. I’m not even the lead teacher in the room. Fact is, there’s not much that I can do for her. I can only be in her corner, for now. I want to do something for her, though. There has to be a way to show her that this is no way to behave; a way to show her that her education is important; that being nice to others is a necessary life-skill. Maybe its that “new teacher bug,” but I refuse to accept that this beautiful child is a lost cause. Suggestions from fellow teachers are welcome and appreciated. :-*

Don’t ask me to go to the bathroom

8:12 AM, the music booms through the loudspeaker and the kids come flooding in. I hear hustling and bustling through the hallways; the sounds of laughter, locker jams, scurrying footsteps, and a whole lot of chatter echoing the hallways. Quite a few curses too. I stroll outside my room, trying to remember all of their names so I can greet them personally. They like that. I step back inside for homeroom and first period. The kids get settled by copying down the homework as the morning announcements come on. Period one begins at 8:20 and I swear, these kids time it to the minute. The second the bell rings, I’m flooded with bathroom, nurse, locker, and water break requests.

“You have literally been here for six minutes,” I think to myself. “Don’t they want to hear the directions?” “Can’t it wait, I mean seriously.” Then I remember, they are in sixth grade. So, I let them go. “Only two at a time,” I remind them, and as one returns, another goes. None of them care that they’re missing important instructions, and like clockwork, they stroll back in and ask us what they’re supposed to be doing. None of your professors tell you about stuff like this in Teacher-Ed programs. No one tells you that you will literally need to repeat yourself 30+ times a day. And I don’t mean repeating your lesson for four-five different class periods, I mean within each class period. Some, as I said, will miss the directions after jetting out to the restroom. Others simply just don’t listen; others simply can’t listen. The select few that do what they’re supposed to be doing, oh how I appreciate those few.

Don’t get me wrong, this is what I signed up for, and I love what I do, but it’s frustrating. I’m a student too, remember? I only leave class for a bathroom break if I’m sitting in my seat, dancing and squirming. But alas, with age comes such common sense and appreciation for education, nonetheless a free education; one that they wont still be paying for well into their 50s. Then again… before I was paying for my own way, I let the periods pass me by in the bathrooms too. I used the same material, and I’ll bet you did too. 😉 Anything to get out of class! It’s actually hilarious to see how some things never change, how kids never change. As annoying as the consecutive bathroom trips are, as much as I can’t stand acting like a parrot from 8:12-3:05 everyday , I wouldn’t trade the job for anything. I love learning about their different personalities, seeing their different qualities. Getting to know their tricks, letting them think that none of their teachers talk; that we don’t all sit together at lunch and laugh about how they liter-uhhhh-lyy go to the bathroom every.single.period. It’s hysterical. You’ve got to find the humor in the frustration to stay sane.

We learn about the different cognitive stages in Child Development, but constant bathroom breaks isn’t mentioned in that course’s textbook. Nope, never received the bathroom memo. That’s why student teaching is such an amazing experience. You get to learn about all of these little tricks of the trade, you get to see it, hear it, and feel it for yourself. Every career should have such a rewarding preview of the next 40 years. Teaching yourself what they don’t teach you. They don’t teach you about those little things in Teacher-Ed. They don’t teach you that you use so much of your patience during the day that by the time you get home at 5:00, your boyfriend better not say anything stupid if he wants to eat dinner 😀

About Me

Hey Ya’ll, as my Southern-born Mama would say 😉 I’m Gwen. New Jersey native and proud. Never have I ever called it “New Joisey.”  Yes, I say “caw-fee,” “dawg,” and “tawk.” Yes, my Mama hates it. Sometimes I still wonder how she ended up all the way over in NJ anyway, but when she came, she was here to stay. After forty years of living here though, occasionally I’ll catch her sounding like a Jersey girl, too 😉 I mention my mom first because she is my true inspiration in life! All throughout my childhood, I knew that I was the product of one too many cocktails at a Bat Mitzvah party. My mom always had such a sweet way of saying I was a Big Old Oopsie Daisy, though. She called me her “miracle,” told me about Divine Purpose, Providence, Trust in God, and said since I was a little girl, that I was sent here on a mission.

If you’ve ever met my mom and my dad, you would say all four of us are miracles. The thought of them ever together is mind-blowing and baffling, but somehow, it happened. Anyway, after being brainwashed into believing that I was “The Chosen One,” I spent years trying to figure out how I would handle this huge responsibility. I knew I never wanted to be around sick people, so becoming a doctor was off the list. I hated math and science, so that eliminated saving the world, the planet, or protecting the O-Zone layer. Bearing my mission in mind, my mom suggested that I become a teacher because of how much I loved kids! “But teachers don’t make a lot of money, Mom!” I whined. “Hey, I said you were supposed to carry out a mission, I never said you were supposed to be a millionaire,” she told me.

And that was that. I decided to get a Master’s in Instructional Design and Technology at a school where I could simultaneously earn a Teacher’s Certification. I’m in the process of completing my student teaching experience and am loving it. Each day I run into new students, experiences, and situations that astonish and challenge me. “This is it,” I said to myself on the first day, so I have decided to document my experiences as I carry out my mission in life.