Saturday, September 15, 2012

Three Weeks in Surburbia

Hi, all!

I just wanted to post about how things are going and focus on what I've been teaching this school year.

Though I'm still not sure if teaching is for me, I have noticed that I have a lot more energy than I ever did in my two years working in PG. I do end the day feeling a little tired, but not like how I felt there. I would get home and just want to collapse on my bed, not wanting to do any more work - even though there was always a lot to do. While I never will think teachers get paid enough for what they/we do (I still am not sure I consider myself a "real" teacher), this year, I feel like what I do, I get paid for. (Whereas in PG, to be fair you'd need to pay a person 150% as much for the loveliness that they have to deal with.)

This year has felt very cleansing for me. Teaching in PG feels like a different life and I feel like I'm starting all over again. First of all, this is the first year that I have been allowed to teach inside the school! For my two years in PG, I taught in temporaries (portables) outside of the school and I didn't really feel like I was a part of the school community. I never knew what it was like to see kids transition between classes and I didn't make friends with the other teachers at my school (aside from the other fellows who I began this crazy journey with). In some ways, the latter is my fault, because I knew I wasn't going to stay in the area and generally speaking, I found it difficult to become friends with/respect teachers who taught in a county that was terrible, but didn't leave because they were comfortable with the terrible and didn't feel the drive to fix it.

Anyway, back to the now. My co-workers are good people. People at my new school pull their own weight. It's fabulous. I feel safe in communicating with them, we often work together and collaborate, and I feel like they support me (and vice versa) and try to make my job as easy as they can. In the bio department, we all work well together. We're probably not to be the best of friends, but I do feel quite lucky. I have a classroom in the school building and I enjoy watching the students transition from class to class. I am the only one who, in my hallway, cheers the kids on to move faster to class (it's the PG in me) and the kids definitely find that odd, but I like to think that it supplements my quirkiness as a teacher.

My current classroom theme is Harry Potter (year 3!) and while some of my students think that I'm obsessed with HP at an unhealthy level, I know that some enjoy it and think that it makes the class more fun. I began in middle school, so sometimes I do have a middle school flair to how I teach (stickers on "A" grade papers and exclamation points on worksheet directions), but I don't think that it's detrimental to my students. (If I ever came to feel that way, I would edit the way I run my class.) The biggest difference is that I feel like I spend the majority of my time doing teacher things. I no longer have to deal with the same ridiculousness that I used to. I focus on my teaching and my students, which is obviously the way it's supposed to be. I am still working on finding the balance between how I taught in PG and how I teach here. I don't want to forget that what I learned in PG is valuable and I don't want to let my kids now slide because they behave so much better than the kids I previously taught. They may be better, but they are certainly not where they should be.

Well, now, this post has been more focused on what I've been feeling about my new position, so I'll save another one to talk about my biology lessons :) Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

3 Ways to Integrate Character Education into your Classroom

It's no secret that I'm a fan of KIPP schools. I think that their approach to education is on the right track and I would love to practice a lot of the same things they do in my own classroom, but it can be boggling as to where I should start from. One of my favorite aspects of the KIPP classroom is character education. This year, I decided that I really wanted to try to begin integrating it into my daily teaching. Fast forward three weeks to the now and I have barely even acknowledged that it's on my radar. It's probably best to start small so I don't overwhelm myself and then give up, so below are the three (I originally said five, but then got frazzled!*) things that I would like to try doing in the next couple of weeks:

1. Having a class (45 minutes) focused on a character strength in between units.
2. Having a character-based open-ended question on our weekly quizzes.
3. Linking a character strength to our daily class objective.

* The thing about character education is, I think that it is super important. However, I feel that you have to have a sort of "cheese" factor to successfully integrate it into your classes. I'm kind of cheesy... but not enough yet. Basically, I can talk the talk, but I'm having trouble walking the walk. In my mind I believe that purposefully dialoging on the importance of character is a necessary addition to classrooms today, but I'm not sure if I am able to be the loud cheerleader that character education requires.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Compare & Contrast: PGCPS and MCPS

Ever since starting my new position in MCPS at the end of August, I've been mentally noting all the differences between PGCPS and MCPS. While the differences are the most striking, of course there's also similarities between the two. Below are just some of my notes!

Interview Process

("Interview" for PGCPS.) When I was interviewed in PGCPS, I was asked zero questions and asked the principal two questions. It was also a group interview, and none of us got asked any questions.

When I was interviewed in MCPS, I received a sheet of five or six questions and I was interviewed by the principal, two assistant principals, and the department chair. This to me shows that the principal of the school makes decisions with others' opinions in mind and that s/he trusts his/her staff. I was also able to ask a lot of questions myself.

Both interview processes were pretty casual.

Being Hired

I was ecstatic to be hired in both situations (employment > unemployment), but there was a remarkable difference of others' reaction in my hiring/acceptance of the position.

In MCPS, the principal, the department chair, the front office secretaries, and the principal's secretary all told me that they were so excited that I was joining the team and that they were so happy that I was choosing to come to their school.

No such reaction from PGCPS, but in all fairness, as a fellow, you kind of accept the first job offer so it's not like you have other choices and are "choosing" that school.

Service Week

The first day of service week in MCPS, the school support staff and admin had set out a breakfast for teachers. At least five teachers approached me during the first thirty minutes of breakfast to welcome me to the school and introduce themselves. While this was happening, everyone else around me was greeting each other and catching up on what they did over the summer. My first thought was, "Why is everybody hugging each other?"

In PGCPS, not just during service week, it doesn't really seem like people like each other all that much. Teachers generally stick to their departments and there are clear cliques. So far this week, I have sat with a different group of people during every meeting and it seems that most people spread out as well.

Also, we've had a schedule of events and for the most part, we've really stuck to it. I honestly feel that the staff at my school are respectful of others' time. I haven't always felt that way in PGCPS.

What really strikes me the most, and this might just be my department, but a good amount of people in the department are really trying to help out the newbies. They meet with us, keep up with emails, answer questions... it feels like we are really working as a team. There's seven biology teachers, and three of us are new, which I like, because we're all very enthused about what we're about to embark on.


In PGCPS, I spent my first week cutting butcher paper to cover my bulletin boards and make other wall decorations. We also would get our box of paper that would have to last a semester (first school) or a quarter (second school). In SPED, we all got to get supplies that were ordered with Medicaid money from the previous year. In math, we got some content-related supplies (protractors and compasses), but no pencils, colored pencils, etc. It may be that I should have just asked.

In MCPS, there aren't rolls and rolls of butcher paper :( People don't use it here :( I was shocked, actually, to find out. I've seen teachers cover their boards with fabric or construction paper. Personally, in my lab room, I only have one bulletin board. The rest is cabinets or empty wall space, but it's hard to get much to stick to the cinderblock walls. Though I was sad about the lack of butcher paper, we do have unlimited copies at MCPS. We don't have to log in to print and we don't bring our own paper. I got some supplies from the business manager so far, but I mostly brought all my stuff in, from prior experience. AND THERE ARE STAPLES IN THE COPY MACHINE! It seems like such a minute detail, but stapling 100+ packets together can be time consuming.

...more to come as I wrap up this week and then the next!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

This Blog is About to Get Interesting.

I am very excited to announce that I have accepted a high school biology position in Montgomery County Public Schools for the 2012-2013 school year. Though I have been teaching mathematics for the past two years, my favorite subject in school has always been science and now I get to talk about how crazy it is that things we can't even see manage our very existence. What is even more crazy is that my new school is a mere ten miles away from my old school, but I expect the experience to be very different. No matter what is to come, I hope that I am able to learn and grow as a teacher (and person) from my interactions from my colleagues and students. I hope that I do not forget what I have learned from Prince George's County or why education reform and equity is of utmost importance. I know I won't forget the students I had the opportunity to work with and I wish them happy and fulfilling lives. Finally, I also hope that I can work towards becoming the type of teacher that inspires and influences students to work hard, be nice, think!, and rise above it.

I imagine that the content of this blog will be changing, but look forward to sharing all the crazy.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Rich Kids Need Good Teachers, Too.

I've spent all summer unemployed, but pretty steadily optimistic at the prospect of employment in a school/district that, to put it bluntly, doesn't suck. And by that, I mean that I left PG quite selfishly. While I care about the kids - a lot - and what I was doing day to day - again, a lot - I was so incredibly unhappy. The only thing sustaining me was that I was glad that it was me, and not some teacher from the dance of the lemons/pass the trash, that was in that temporary teaching those nuggets. Had I not been at the school, things would, of course, have carried on as usual. And while I don't think that my presence was life-changing for anyone, but myself, I would like to think that I had a good influence on almost all of my kids, fostered positive relationships, and will be remembered fondly, if thought of, in the coming years. But when I made the decision to leave PG, I didn't care so much about the positive that had occurred during my stay. I left for me. I left despite coming into teaching with that typical TFA attitude that our schools needed teachers who weren't horrendous and that good education could change the world. I still feel this way. But, I didn't know how hard it would be to try to be a good teacher in a truly toxic system. I would venture to say that if I had stayed 10 years in PG, I would have little job satisfaction and I might have become one of those teachers who stops trying. I guess I will never know. In some ways, I don't want to know - especially if the outcome were positive and I could have become one of those kick butt teachers in PG (there are some, so that's a nice thing to say about PG, though PG definitely doesn't treat them well - work on that y'all - you need all the non-burnt out teachers you can get). That scenario would have been the ideal. New teacher goes into a low-performing school and inspires high achievement and positive attitudes. That's the stuff movies are made of. No one wants to make movies about the rich, well-to-do kids who get into college. There's no twist. And almost no plot, because you "know" the ending.

Which brings us to the now.

I've been offered a position at one of the most prestigious public high schools in the state, and in the country. The position is for ninth grade and AP biology - the dream. The majority of the student body is caucasian - about 60% - and the location of the school is in one of the most affluential cities in the state/county (think Forbes richest cities). I've been told that the school has virtually no discipline problems and that kids are constantly asking questions about the content they're learning about in class. The resource teacher I interviewed with told me that the staff is constantly collaborating. The admin team expressed that they felt that the school atmosphere was extremely positive. So basically almost the complete opposite of what I've experienced over the past two years. But, not to speak badly of my students. I feel lucky to have had some really great kids - I practically liked all of them - who tried in class and usually didn't steal my things. I was blessed to never be cursed out or yelled at by parents or students. In relative terms, I was treated very well by the kids in PG, and had the county not been an impossible mess, I probably would have stayed longer.

So, yes, great, fancy new school, biology position, what's the problem, you big whiner?

I feel like taking the job would make me a sell out. The problem with our education system is that we have schools that have students who don't have good teachers, administrators, etc. Most kids aren't born hating school, being purposefully disruptive, or with the intention of entering a life of crime (no kids for this last one). A good education is supposed to say, HEY! Stick with me and I can open you doors to places you want to go. Not places you have to go because all the other doors/windows are locked. A good education, in essence, is supposed to be the foundation to a high-functioning society. Kids go through school, learn about themselves and the world, and grow up to be able to contribute to it positively with the skills they have learned through their experiences and courses of study.

Sometimes, well, often, this whole educate the future process is too slow. Some kids don't have 12+ years to devote to study before they can get some tangible, concrete rewards. Some kids have horrible teachers, because they live in an area where those before them couldn't wait, didn't wait, etc. and no one wants to teach in an unsafe, crime-ridden town or city. Not forever, any way. And when no one wants to work there, there is a constant revolving door of people with good intentions, but no intentions to set down roots and really make an impact.

These kids at this school aren't likely to ever face the decision of entering a life of crime. Most will go to college and some will enter a profession after high school. They would likely be "alright" in life no matter what type of teacher they had in high school.

These kids are not the reason I felt so compelled to be involved in public school education. But I know that rich kids need good teachers, too. Everybody does. It's just that, when you know there's not enough, and I'm no Bill Nye or Ms. Frizzle (not yet, anyway), it becomes an issue of equity. Who needs the resources more? When this is your philosophy - and this is mine - you do have to give up the "shiny" sometimes. But, the hope is that the reward of being somewhere that really needs you makes you feel even more shiny on the inside.

And I understand, that not 100% of the students at this school are fulfilling their potential. While 95%+ of caucasian kids are passing the state tests for algebra, English, and biology, the minority students are performing as low as 72% (which is not low, really, cause I've seen low, but that is a notable gap  between white and non-white students). So in that way, I feel like I have a challenge - this is a great school, but it's not yet great for all students, or at least 90%+ of the students (perfect is impossible).

If I had only been offered this position, obviously, I'd take it. Employment trumps educational philosophy. I'd rather teach somewhere than teach no where, almost. But I also have been offered another awesome opportunity (cue the OH, boohoo, I have two job offers, my life is so hard) in Baltimore City. ( left PG for that?!) 1. It's a charter school. Really up and coming. On a totally awesome path. I'd be teaching 6th and 7th grade math (not the dream, but I can appreciate the importance of a good math education). 2. The kids are definitely not going to be as behaviorally challenged as "typical" Baltimore City students. I'm told that a minute percentage of kids got suspended last year (less than 5%).

What I love about charter schools is that they're known to be experimental in a positive manner and that they usually support their staff very well. Even more, I love that they serve the same population as the other public schools, but these students/their families have taken the additional step to provide their kids with a better education/future. Originally, I wanted to work with middle-class students, like myself, but kids in urban schools would be the second choice, if I had a ranking. I feel that taking the position here would be truer to my educational philosophy and goal.

But I have this nagging thought that I'm turning down this other really fantastic school. In both schools, I feel that I could learn and grow a lot. Both schools seem warm and very supportive (although I have terrible judgment based on first impressions - though with students - I know better). I probably wouldn't learn the same things from both schools, the experience would be very different, and I'm pondering if the impact will be, too. And then I think of those TFA teachers who leave the profession to do more lucrative, less mentally and emotionally exhausting, more thankful jobs. Going for the ranked public school makes me feel like I'm doing that. Like there was no point in me getting alternative certified, because I'm working with the same kids who have a steady flow of qualified teachers every year.

If I take this school's position, I will probably never leave to go back to an urban or charter school, because I probably won't be constantly reminded of our failing education system. If I take the charter school's position, I probably won't stay forever and then will probably move into a school in this county (although, the hope was somewhere less affluent. I wanted to make an okay school a good school, not a great school even better). I imagine that the job security at the county school will be nicer. I really don't want to school hop anymore. I want to put down some roots and really be a part of my school's community. I wouldn't ever be a part of the Baltimore City community, not the way it is now, anyway. If I ever have kids, we'd move to the suburbs, and that's the community I'd work to contribute to. But this is the time to not have any roots, if there was ever such a time... So as you can tell, I've ramble on for over an hour and still haven't come to a conclusion of what I'm going to do. Hmm, sounds like the usual.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Thought-Provoking, Inspiring Post

Another post in the same week? Wow, I'm really unemployed.

In my unemployment, with periods of the teasing possibility of employment, I have had a lot of time to think and make hypothetical decisions. What I mean by that is, at points this summer, I had two schools that were interviewing me and I would think about if I could potentially accept job offers and if both offered me a job, which I would take. (However, despite interviewing, none have offered me any jobs. This post is supposed to be inspiring so I won't dwell on that rejection.)

My first two schools were both charter schools, both for the 6th grade. At one, I would be the 6th grade science teacher. At the other, I would be the 6th grade math/science inclusion (SPED) teacher. Both schools seem great and on a good path, but I leaned towards the first because I didn't really want to be a co-teacher to anyone. I'm a little bit (a lot of bit) on the type A side and I have always had a very specific way of decorating and organizing (and running) my classroom. At the beginning of this summer, I really wanted to focus on working character development into my classroom. I thought of the characteristics most important to me that I envisioned all of my students working to embody and how they would be evaluated on those characteristics. It can be kind of difficult to explain that to another teacher who's had a different plan in their heads. After teaching in PG County, I've come to believe that character education is exceedingly important in schools. Few kids are going to remember how to find the area of a circle, but many more will learn how to properly interact with one another in a positive manner.

I digress - back to my main dilemma. I came into teaching for one reason: Alternative Breaks. As a quick summary, Alternative Breaks is a service organization (that I think is only in colleges) that organizes trips for students that focus on service and awareness of social issues. At my college, we had trips focused on issues such as the justice system, immigration, healthcare, environmental conservation, and urban/rural education. My first year of involvement, I participated in two trips (immigration/border awareness and environmental conservation). I had a lot of fun on these trips, learned a ton about the issues, as well as myself, and met many inspiring people. But, I couldn't get this itching feeling off of me. Alternative Breaks is great, but I couldn't stop thinking about how many social issues there were in the U.S. alone and how we could go about solving them (or at least approaching/formulating a feasible solution).

The following year, I participated in two trips focused on rural education. During these trips, I came to believe that  education was the "magic bullet" to a lot of these social problems. For example, our incarceration rate in the U.S. is pretty ridiculous. In Pennsylvania, 1 in 10 prisoners is a high school dropout. We also spend a lot more on prisoners annually than students. And students that seek more education are less likely to be involved in serious crimes. Because they have other options. Another example is with conservation - if people were properly taught about pollution and if our infrastructure was better integrated in sustainability, then maybe we wouldn't have experienced the hottest month (July 2012) on record.

In short, a solid, well-rounded, holistic education is the closest thing to a societal magic bullet that we'll ever have. This is what, I believe, makes the difference between progress and decline. I left Prince George's County because I didn't feel that we provided our students a well-rounded education by any means. We stressed being able to pass a test and not learning the process and perseverance that it takes to learn the material. Students took the state standardized tests up to four times a year in an attempt to meet that expectation so that they could graduate. Students were pretty much taking the same test over and over and over again, and yet still failed. What does that say about our education system? Not good things. If students knew remotely how to reason, they'd be halfway to passing their tests.

I don't want to preach about the magic of education too much (and how I think that all teachers are magical - not saying myself, remember, I don't yet consider myself to be a "real" teacher), but I guess what I'm trying to say is that we have this powerful tool that if sculpted and supported properly, could alleviate many of our societal issues. But we're not sculpting or supporting. Education cuts are not a new thing. And everyone is running towards raising achievement scores and competition among states to do better than one another. It's really disconcerting. We can do better.

In my mind, if we took the time to sculpt a really good curriculum, filled with humanities, the arts, and character education, we have a powerful tool in our hands. We need to come together to provide our students more than how to calculate x or y. Students need to learn how to work with others, solve problems, think logically, formulate their own opinions, express those opinions clearly, and contribute to society (and that's the short list of life skills). So how do we integrate these components? I'm not sure yet but - I'm working on it - and what I do know is, somehow, we must.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Square One

So a couple months ago, I was all "In your face, PG, I'm outta here!" I submitted my resignation and took my certification and walked ran out of the county. Since then, I have not ventured into PG, with the exception of College Park, where I went to school and am currently camp counseling.

And now, here I am - August - almost wishing that I didn't leave that black hole of education and character.

I know what you're thinking. Geez, harsh words for PG.

Well, you try teaching there for two years.

But, still, it was better than unemployment. (As I type those words, I wonder if I'm telling the truth.) Due to my family infrastructure, unemployment doesn't mean homelessness (thank goodness), it means that I'll move back in with my parents as I make attempts to plot my course from here. It's still not plan A, though. Plan A was to find a good school that I could spend the next few years really learning and growing at, and rediscovering my belief that public education can be good and can mold students into positive forces of society. Plan A was to give teaching the chance that PG never did or could.

After applying to two public school systems and two charter schools, I have been rejected by both charters (though on a positive note, made it through to two interviews for both, which is better than last year - which begs the question, am I becoming a better teacher or a better actor?) and haven't yet heard anything from the public school systems. School for the masses starts in just under three weeks. Of course I'm trying to stay optimistic about the possibilities, but at my core, that's not really who I am. I'm an anxiety-ridden, obsessive compulsive mess. I'm about ready to take the first job offered to me.

On the one hand, I'm glad to have had the option of leaving a job that I was truly unhappy at. At times I was so unhappy that I think my feelings were borderline depressive and passive-suicidal. No one should ever work a job where they feel that unhappy. And yet, so many individuals out there, I'm sure, do for the sake of their family and the duties they must fulfill. On the other, I would have liked the option of living independently from my parents and all that comes with that. And of course, I had some fun plans for this school year on integrating science content and character development.

I still want to teach for at least the next couple of years and I will definitely spend the next weeks applying to more charters, but as of yet, it's looking like I will spend the next year deciding if I want to apply to teach again or completely abandoning the profession to re-explore career possibilities in the sciences. Finding life purpose is exhausting.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Someone Should Write a Book about PG County

I'm alive! They didn't riot and I was not trampled in a stampede!

Tomorrow is the last day of the 2011-2012 school year. It also marks the end of my two year commitment to the county as a teaching fellow. While this whole fiasco was going on, every day felt long and tough. However, looking back, I can't believe that I taught children for that long. (And that someone LET me.) There is so much I want to talk about; this whole year, something would happen and I would note, "I need to include this in my blog." But I never got around to blogging, because 1. I prefer sleep and 2. blogging always depresses me. I always feel inadequate afterwards, but a passion is also reignited.

So, here I am now, and hey, anonymous one person who reads my blog :) - I have a lot to say! And I shall do so in a question-answer format... in which I write both the question and the answer.

1. Would you recommend Alternative Certification routes to other aspiring educators?

First thought: HECK, NO! After thought: Well, maybe, but there's A LOT to take into consideration. As a education minor in college, I would say that I mostly feel like the major/minor as it exists in colleges today is not very useful. Teaching is not an exact science and it can be really difficult to properly prepare someone to teach students. There's a lot of theory and thinking about teaching that is discussed, but the single-most important factor to teacher preparation is actually teaching. Few can read a book about teaching and then go do it well. Personally, I feel that alt-cert is nice in that you can major in another field and still become a teacher, in the same time that ed majors get into the profession. In some ways, ed majors have advantages - they have been exposed to techniques and such - but really, teaching is common sense to those who can teach. You don't need to spend a semester studying differentiation or multiple intelligences in order to know that some kids will need different work than others and some kids learn visually vs. others kinesthetically. As someone who thinks scientifically, I feel that teaching is an art of guess and check and experimentation.

The big drawback to alt-cert, though, is that a lot of the programs are a lot more non-sense than going through the required classes of an ed major/minor. I can honestly say that nothing I learned in ANY of my four alt-cert classes was applied to my classroom. Those classes were designed to completely ignore the realistic, struggling classrooms that achievement gaps offer. They assume that you have students who give a damn, don't come high to class, that you have a co-teacher to collaborate with, and that you have all the time in the world to teach a kid how to read when you're teaching upper-level math and the kid still needs to add one-digit numbers on their fingers. The classes were incredibly frustrating, because I knew that I had better things to be doing for the three hours every other week.

Coming out as an alt-cert teacher, though, I feel as competent as someone who was an ed major also teaching full-time for two years. Nothing can teach you more than actually being in the trenches and though alt-cert programs toss you in and shut the door, you come out feeling like you can do anything, because you had such a challenging start to your career. And if you survive these two years and still want to teach, you can rest assured that you are making this decision off of a solid foundation of crazy experiences. Just note though - as a teaching fellow - you're paying a couple of thousand dollars for people to pretend that your class loads are idyllic and for you to report that things are "going well and I'm confident in my abilities as a teacher," when you're secretly wondering what those felons* (I love my students, so I am allowed to call them as such) have stolen from your room today and if anyone actually learned anything while the ADHD student with no respect for education ran around that room throwing paper balls at their peers. It never felt like I got my money's worth - cause P.S. a month after being thrown into the classroom, we got an email from PGCTF to say that this branch of The New Teacher Project had been dissolved and therefore we got none of the support we were promised when we signed on - and felt like I was simply paying the county to be able to teach students despite my very limited experience in classroom teaching.

I've certainly met some fantastic people through this program and learned A TON by teaching in the trenches (imagine trying to win a war fighting with paperclips... you've got to be innovative and quickly so). I'm thankful for the experience, but I think in retrospect, I should have just gone for my master's in education.

2. Is PG County as bad as you thought it would be?

Before I was hired by PG County, I had shadowed two high school teachers (at different high schools), tutored elementary schoolers after school and taught a science workshop for kids grades 3 - 5. I wrote blogs on how I could see the problem with PG County: the teachers. The lazy, unhelpful, uninteresting teachers. If they had only tried, their students would have learned so much and there would be no problems in the entire county!

I had no idea.

While poor teachers are a rampant issue throughout the county (I have worked with teachers who leave their students outside of their classroom for upwards of 20 minutes while they are wandering the school, teachers who sit at their computers for the entire 85 minute period while their students youtube and tweet, and teachers who tell future students not to sign up for their class, because they are not going to teach the class well), they are not the only issue.

PG County's problems are worse than I could have ever imagined. The politicians are corrupt (e.g. Johnson and Alston) and county funds appear to be allocated very poorly. Schools are literally falling apart without the money or attention to repair them. Students in my geometry classes are unable to complete a 12x12 multiplication table on their own abilities. Students (several) who failed algebra were enrolled in my geometry class. Some students have taken their HSAs repeatedly and still fail to pass them. Not to mention, the disorganization of staff and faculty is at a ridiculous level. I honestly expected some days to drive into work and see that the school had spontaneously combusted from being such an honest disgrace. WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE EDUCATING THE FUTURE! There are no prepared bell schedules for early dismissal or two-hour delays! There are no teachers on hall-duty! There are students late to class, wandering in the hallways and administrators passing them by with not even a nod of acknowledgement! It constantly feels like every year the school has just been formed and routines and procedures have not yet been thought of or put into place. Consistency and leadership is lacking in the county. And because the adults are a poor example of molding a place of learning, the students follow suit.

I really did not feel supported in either of my positions. My classes were very large (my largest in high school at 40 students at one point) and I taught in a temporary/portable which students often express "isn't a good place to learning and it doesn't feel like [they're] in school." Most of the time I was outside with 30-some other students (some of which were two or three years younger than I) alone. I had 35 desks, some which were already broken. I had no phone to call for help if necessary (I had a PA, but in the case that things got out of hand, who could hear me over the chaos? I never called the office to ask for help, either, though. I knew that this was a beast I had to tame on my own.). I had no internet for the first three months of school and was teaching students via an old overhead (older than when I was in high school, at least). How would you expect success to come out of a place you prepared so poorly to educate students who were already struggling? I taught a very difficult demographic this year - ESOL, SPED (which made up more than 50% of my co-taught classes - sizes of 30+, sans co-teacher), and chronic repeaters/grade failers. Yet, I was placed outside of the school - alone - in a class too small with none of the resources provided to other classrooms. Whatever adult thought this was a good idea - shame on you.

And then come the students. There is a disproportionate amount of students who couldn't care less about getting an education. They walk the halls everyday, disrespect the adults in the school, and litter all over the building. Of course not one of these fine young people want to do us all a favor and stay home so the rest of us can work towards productivity. They come to school to socialize and get their free lunches. Yet most probably couldn't even spell "socialize". At my high school, we had a group of targeted "at-risk" students, who were supposed to be given extra support in order to achieve more. This group of students walked the halls more so than any other group and absolutely nothing appeared to be done about it.

During my first week of school, some students broke into my temp and sprayed the room down with the fire extinguisher. During one of the last weeks 2011, a student stole my cell phone. Over the course of the school year, students have broken my classroom blinds and torn down my window screens. Honestly, there is very little respect for the place where they are supposed to be learning. It can be very disheartening at times and I often felt like I was trying to teach a group of freshly released convicts math.

These kids have had this attitude forever, I'm sure, and those who are new to it are quickly influenced and infected by this attitude of apathy and entitlement. Sweet, hard-working ninth graders at the beginning of the year came in mid-year playing with electronics during class instead of listening or working on assignments. My experiences have been a huge advocate for the separation of grade levels. Anyway, this was a long rant, but YES. PG County has got serious issues - worse than you would imagine - and it's because the leadership in the county is poor and because many parents either 1. don't know how to involve themselves in supporting their students or 2. don't give a damn. Which is also why I'm coming away from this experience understanding the importance of contraception. GOP - women need access to contraceptives. Otherwise, people end up having unplanned children that they don't support into responsible, productive adults. Sometimes I just want to scream this off the mountaintops.

3. But... there were some good times... right?

Absolutely. Despite the fact that I was reduced to tears several times over the course of these two years and spent at least a year feeling unstable and slightly suicidal (don't worry about me, it's over now), I really have a soft-spot for the wide majority of my students. I feel bad for them. They have been taught that being dumb and not caring about their education is not only okay, but sometimes it's "cool." They have families that don't spend time with one another. Students have told me on several occasions that they don't speak to their siblings at home or in school. One day, I brought in board games to a class before winter break and a student asked me if I ran a daycare because I had so many games. I told him that my family liked to play games and he found it odd. Many of my students were very funny and even when I was angry with them, someone would make a comment that would make me lose my serious face and burst out in laughter. Some of my pre-cal students bought me a birthday present and sang happy birthday to me, to my embarrassment. And though I was overwhelmingly inadequate as a teacher for the high-needs demographic, and that's why I'm leaving PG, I had some really good lessons and activities that I hope reduced the negative effects that I brought onto my students by being their teacher.

This has been, without a doubt, the hardest thing I have ever done in my life - and I'm sure it will always be the most difficult thing I will ever do. The level of "brokeness" of the education system is daunting.

4. Any last thoughts for PG County?

Strive to be better. When your motto is "Children Come First," make it true. Work tirelessly to prepare an environment that is geared towards student achievement and growth. That is number 1. We don't need the best and newest technology. We need desks that our oddly tall students can all fit in and rooms that allow the students to spread out so that they're not sitting atop one another. We need smaller teacher to student ratios. We need to enforce rules that are important to the smooth operation of our school. We need to be positive by having all school members get involved in school events. We need to have our teachers work together to collaborate on lessons and issues. We need more accountability of students, teachers, administrators, and parents. We need to teach students content and character. We need to not dumb down the material or pass students along. But these changes will not come from "with out," through teachers like myself. I can't teach here. I'm not good enough. Not yet, anyway. This is not my best demographic. This is not my "forever community." The changes need to be fueled within, by people who live here and want to see improvements. They will need to start small. They will need to remediate instead of pushing kids into honors and AP classes for the sake of saying that there are kids in those classes. They need to stop lying to themselves first, though. Children don't come first in the county and it is not a livable community. Students here are being given a diploma when they read at the middle school level. There is a high crime and poverty rate. We stop those rates from growing when we properly educate our students and they attain the skills necessary to work jobs that are satisfying and will support their needs.

Education and the lack of it's reform devastates me on a regular basis. I became a teacher, because I felt that it was the single-most important contributing factor to the positive progression of our society. I honestly feel that many of the world's problems can be solved by having more students receive a proper, holistic education in academics and character. I feel incredibly guilty for abandoning PG County, but I know I would have never been able to dedicate myself to making things better here. I have no desire to be a member of the community here. There is too much opposition to my beliefs here and I cannot allow myself to live somewhere where I don't agree with the majority of the population on key issues, unless I work to affect opinions and change. I don't believe in being an idle member of a community, so I had to leave. I don't want to sound high and mighty, but you have to choose between 1. being a "martyr" and working to change a place that makes you want to physically bring harm to yourself and doesn't show much appreciation for your efforts or 2. happiness and affecting change in a community that you want to be apart of.

By no means am I giving up on public schools, though. I believe that they can do fantastic things and yield the power and innovation to turn around our school system. I hope that I can continue to affect change and I hope the same for all other teachers in the country.

I told my students that I don't consider myself a teacher. This isn't my forever job, though it is one of my biggest passions. I feel like an undercover spy sometimes in this job. So, when I say the following, I'm not talking about myself. Teaching the most valuable, respectable profession a person can hold. Teachers have so much power to influence ripples of change. It is a shame that the profession has difficulty attracting more qualified individuals, because unfortunately, some teachers are not qualified to hold their positions and they are damaging their students every day. Like I have before. Until we as a country accept the importance of the educator, we will continue to at the bottom of the ranks of the developed countries and we will continue to graduate students not ready to lead us into tomorrow. More thoughts to come as my grades are due tomorrow! :)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

i'm still alive

don't worry, i haven't dropped dead yet! will update this weekend :)

Friday, February 10, 2012

ESOL, SPED, Math, Science...

Oh, and I teach World History, too:

Student: "I don't consider myself black, because I don't have any baby daddy issues. I'm African. Asian people don't either."

Me: "Oh, that's because we get beaten back at home."

Student: "You guys get beat?!"

Me: "Have you never heard of North Korea?"

Student: "They beat people there?!"

Other student: "(jokingly) Haha, yeah, they send you to concentration camps!"

Me: "Yeah, they do."


Me: "...not in North Korea...?"

Student: "Well, I'm going to visit North Korea, then!"

Me: "You can't go there... They don't let foreigners in."

Students: "WHAT?! How they gonna tell me I can't go there?! I would bomb them."

Oh, just an average day in Pre-Calculus on a Friday.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Half Time is Over

"Okay, so you need 240% total to pass a course. So, let's say, for quarter 1, you got a 70%, for quarter 2, you got an 80%, and for quarter 3, you got a 70%. In order to pass the course, you just need at least a 20% fourth quarter. But let's say you got 10% for quarter 1, 20% for quarter 2, and 10% for quarter 3..."

"Yeah, that's what I got."

" you would need a 200% for quarter 4."

(no response)

"...which is impossible..."

(confused student look)

"...because grades are out of 100%?"

(look of sadness, but don't feel too bad for him, because he'll forget about it in ten minutes)

"But it's okay, because we're in quarter 3 now, so you don't have to get an impossible percent in your last quarter."

(look improved with some relief, but the reality is that this kid, like many of his peers, need to step it up by A LOT in order to repair quarter 1 and 2 damage.)

The magic of quarter three. Let's turn it around kids.