Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Surprise! I left teaching.

I actually left several school years ago (end of the 2016-2017 school year), but I was looking through some of my files and wanted to share this letter I wrote to my last class of students as they graduated (class of 2018). I hope if you are still teaching, you take the time to write to your students. It doesn't have to be also long as this one, but just... talk to them. Talk to them about more than the subject you teach. Talk to them in a way that lets them know that you see them more than students - they're people - and that you are more than a teacher - you're a person, too.

Dear nuggets, (that's how I refer to y'all when I say nice things about you on Facebook; when I complain about you, I don't have a term, I just write I WANT TO POKE MYSELF IN THE EYE - all caps is necessary)

I wish it were possible for you all to know what an incredible experience it has been for me to be your teacher. It may seem strange for me to say that since I quit teaching, but teaching for 7 years, 3 of them with your class, is and will be one of the top three best things I will ever accomplish and has undoubtedly shaped me into who I am. There is really no better way to make an impact on the world than to work with the people who will build the future (I am imagine y'all as a little army that I have indoctrinated with science, recycling, sarcasm, and Harry Potterisms that will go forth and not be shitty* people) and there are few jobs that are as challenging. Even though teachers get paid pretty much nothing in most places throughout the U.S., and even though I don't advocate for drive-by teachers, even though I kind of was one, and even though it is so much work and I'm not really selling the job well right now, I really think you should consider teaching at some point in your life. There's a quote I put up in the girls' third floor bathroom one year that said, "some are lost in the fire, some are built from it." Well, teaching high school is like being on fire.

It can feel that way, because there are so many of you, all with different strengths and weaknesses, and there's this big sense of responsibility to help you become the best version of yourself, while also trying to teach you to read and do numbers and stuff. The great thing about it is that, even though it sounds cliche, it's true - you guys can become (almost) anything. You can become good things, bad things, or in-between things. This is both wonderful and terrifying to me. It's why I started teaching and why I stopped.

But back to you - you have your whole lives ahead of you to choose and build who you're going to be and a whole life behind you to support you in your choosing and building. I guess at most points in your life, you can find yourself at such a crossroad, but the end of high school really sets you up for a big one. I hope you feel like your parents, family, friends, teachers, peers, etc. have helped you gain and hone the tools necessary for going forward and I hope in time you'll gain and hone the ones you still need.

I'm only 12 years older than you (12 is my favorite number!) and probably also 12 inches shorter than you and a lot of you are more mature than I was at your age and I don't exactly know what I'm doing with my life as I am a rising senior in college... , but here are some things I have learned between the end of high school and now that might be useful to hear as you close one chapter and begin another, anyway:

1. Say what you mean and mean what you say. I'm not sure at what point in our lives we learn to respond to uncomfortable situations by word vomiting things we don't really mean ("Yes, long time no see - we should hang out sometime!"/"It's not you, it's me!"), but I've been spending the last half a decade trying to retrain myself to stop doing it. (Caveat: it does make people feel like I'm a lot less enthusiastic about things, because I'll say something is "good" rather than "really good;" well, most things -aren't- really good, but I'll let you know when I think they are!)

2. Figure out what you care about and speak up for those things. (I think I'm late on this one, because I feel like most of you guys are way better at this than I was at your age. Asians/women (?) are raised to avoid confrontation! (Unless you have a nuclear bomb facility, I guess.))

3. Don't take things/yourself too seriously. Few things that matter in the moment mean something the next year, or the next day, and most people are not scrutinizing you as much as you are scrutinizing you.

4. People need people. I like to spend time alone (it might have something to do with spending the last 7 years of my life with 150+ people/day and experiencing a mild third-life crisis) and there have been points in time where I became kind of a hermit, but everyone needs their people. It doesn't have to be a lot of people, and you should enjoy your me-time, but I don't think that people can go through life happily alone. It's just not in our biology - IB, AP, or otherwise. So find your people. As you go off to college, it's pretty much going to be the only time in your life when you're introduced to tons of new people who are also looking to meet new people. Take advantage of the opportunity to go out a bit of your comfort zone, but don't waste too much time on people you don't enjoy being around, doing things you don't really enjoy doing. And don't forget about the people you already have & like.

5. Relationships are harder after college. Those of you with international friends might already know this, but when everyone is out of school and on a different life schedule, you'll have to work harder to give relationships you care about the time they deserve. Take some time to think about which relationships you're willing to give that time (& energy) to.

6. Pay attention. Pay attention to how you feel after you've hung out with people, after you've gone somewhere, done something, or even after you've eaten something - if you feel good, keep doing it; if you don't, reconsider. Do the things that make you happy and feel good. As long as it's not hurting anyone and it's not bath salts or whatever new drugs are like bath salts.

7. Each year flies by faster than the previous. Don't rush, but don't dawdle either. You're going to probably spend the rest of your life trying to strike this balance. And every time you'll think you've gotten it down, life will prove you otherwise :) Don't worry. None of us know what we're doing & we're all just making it up as we go, whether we let people know it or not. But that's the fun, I guess, that we never get to peak & coast.

8. It's okay to live a normal life. You might feel like you should be doing "more" with your life, because it feels like other people are. You should be doing something with your life, but it doesn't have to be extravagant to be good.

9. It's okay to quit. I quit education grad school, because it killed my brain cells. Then I quit teaching, because I needed to not stay awake until 2 in the morning editing my PowerPoints (/wondering which of you I wasn't doing enough for/which of you were engaging in illegal activities). Don't keep investing time into stuff just because you've spent time investing time and know when it's time for a change/break.

10. It's okay to not be okay. It will probably be okay. Put in some effort, give things some time, you & the universe will work it out. But maybe if it feels not okay consistently for 2-3 weeks at a time, talk to someone about it.

11. Try to be nice to people. It's rough out here. People kind of expect kids to be jerks; your brains are still developing, your life is constantly in flux, and you might feel like you don't have as much control of as many things as you want, & that's fair, but adult jerks are 100% the worst and... you guys are kind of adults now, or you will be soon.

12. Speaking of, don't litter. Only terrible people litter.

Okay, so there's some sentiments from me for your next steps. I don't know if any of it is helpful, but you are my last students for a while and possibly forever, so I wanted to quickly gather some thoughts together.

Finally, this is probably the more important part of this email - I want to thank you guys for last few years. You might feel like B-CC shaped you, you might not feel like that. I didn't really go far out of my comfort zone when I was in high school or college; it's my time at B-CC that really shaped me. It's through teaching you guys that I became more patient, less of a control freak, and more open-minded. As much as I set out to teach you things, I learned a lot, too. While I am so ready for you guys to graduate so I can stop living a a double life as a nursing student and former teacher that seems to keep popping up at B-CC, I will always look fondly back on our time in the classroom: wapping you guys on the head for being on your phones, not grading potato labs three years in a row, listening to your kind of ridiculous hypothetical questions, wondering why so many teenagers can't spell nucleus, playing quidditch on days I didn't feel like doing anything, making you record DNA replication videos that you didn't want to do (but did anyway, thank you), lying on the floor when no one was listening to my lectures, worrying that someone might vomit at junior banquet (but no one did!), watching you attempt to design & execute experiments (one of which involved burning pineapples & many that involved breaking test tubes), and so on. While I've said that teaching is an incredibly difficult job, there's also few jobs where you get to laugh as much. I hope you guys enjoyed biology class as much as I did. It's really been a privilege to meet you as freshmen or juniors and to see you off now as soon-to-be college freshmen. You guys have accomplished a lot - both big & small, both individually & as a group - and have made a big impact on me. So thank you.

I'm proud to have been a part of your journeys & wish you the best with your next steps,

Ms. Le

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

I am Dying - A Rant

It's year 7. I'm supposed to know what I'm doing. spoiler alert: I don't.

I have been treading water every single school day for the last two years.

Last year, I took on a new prep and a new course - IB Biology. We previously taught it with AP Biology (wrong! - Donald Trump) and finally separated the two, so I started a new IB Biology course. It's a two-year class, but in the transition, we had to offer one section as a double-period course and another section as a single-period, two-year course. Then I also was teaching mixed-level Freshmen Biology (honors and on-level) with a new curriculum that was supposed to be project-based. Because the IB Biology course was only now getting separated from the AP course and we had never really done IB Biology correctly, I pretty much started from scratch and worked my way through it.

I should mention that I personally like starting from scratch. I'm a burn it all down, build it back up type of person. I love that my mark is on our IB Bio course. However, teaching the same course at two different speeds really messed up my mind. Also, while I was building this course, I had no time to learn the how the county wanted to run the Honors/On-level Biology course. I thought I could just go through day by day and read someone else's plan (they laid it out almost by script) and solely worry about IB Biology.

spoiler alert: I couldn't.

Actors can't act if they're only reading the script for the first time, so I'm not sure why I thought I could teach that way.

Oh, I also forgot to mention I started graduate school to pursue a master's in education last year.

So put all of that together, and you get someone who barely held it together. I asked to go part-time mid-year, at the semester break. Then I shed Freshmen Biology and was able to focus on IB Biology and grad school. Things felt doable. But then two months later, my school needed me to be a long-term sub for another teacher and I not only went back to teaching two IB Biologies and Freshmen Biology, I also added on Anatomy and Physiology, which I had never taught before.

Let me tell you, it was an absolute shit show and nobody learned anything, but everyone survived.

This year, I was slated to teach IB Biology 1 and IB Biology 2 (taught the correct way, with some incorrectness of the previous year carrying over). I was also slated to teach Freshmen Biology or Anatomy, but then our AP Biology teacher decided to stop teaching that course and I was asked to pick that up. And so I returned to this never-ending cycle of new courses. People act like it's great to have teachers cycle in and out of teaching classes so we don't get lazy or complacent or bored. I haven't been bored. Teaching something three years in a row isn't boring. It's an opportunity to hone and get better. I think it takes about 3-5 years to get really good at teaching a certain course. I haven't been afforded that luxury.

So this year, I am dying. There isn't enough time or energy in the world to properly plan for three classes and they're all lab sciences which add to the preparation load a more. I'm not doing a good job. I'm barely surviving day to day. Literally 4 out of 5 days of the week, for the last three months, has been a sprint. I want to do better than survive, but at the end of the day, there's not much time or energy for reflection and change of approach. I feel exhausted just describing the situation!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Year 7

First day of school tomorrow. In Year 7, Harry didn't go back to school. He went to war! #samedifference #deathlyhallows