Teachers were all over the news last week for very upsetting reasons. Despite the light heartedness you’ll find here and there in my post, my heart has been very heavy. It was unsettling walking into my classroom each morning last week and locking the door I usually keep open for students and colleagues. I was nervous at the county’s first middle school track meet because it’s such an open setting. It was frustrated listening to politicians, the media, and acquaintances with zero expertise give their opinion on how the country should tackle the mass shooting problem in our schools.
I was completely numb to the news for about 36 hours after the event, and then I angry-cried myself to sleep. I was angry for my students, administrators, teachers, security guards, and secretaries who all must enter a school building each morning knowing that one of the worst possible scenarios could play out that day, and it would be completely normal and within the realm of our reality.
I don’t want to discuss whether the problem lies in mental health, gun policy, or a larger cultural concern. I just want to talk about teaching, both the large and small aspects of the profession. Some are serious, others are funny or light-hearted, and some are just about the daily reality of the school.
A – Apples, but not for the reason you think. So many of my students are hungry. They get free breakfast and lunch at school, but it’s not enough. At the end of the lunch period, my kids collect the uneaten fresh fruit (usually just apples) and place it in my lunch bag. I keep the fruit in my classroom for students who are hungry later in the day or the next morning.
B – Bells. Our new school is being built on the property, and the workers somehow screwed up the bell system. So now there are no homeroom, class change, or late bells. It’s driving me a little nuts!
C – Colleagues. I’ve had quite the variety of fellow educators on my team over the years. Many were incredible while others could be described as “quite the character.” This job would be impossible without my fellow teachers. To teach effectively in elementary and middle school requires a team effort, and I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with some of the most incredible human beings the world has to offer.
D – Duty. Morning duty, lunch duty, bus duty, hallway duty. Okay let me stop before my inner middle schooler starts laughing at the repetitive use of the word duty.
E – Early mornings. (Why is Atlanta always dark until like 7:30am???) I would love to work out in the mornings, because it’s nearly impossible in the evenings (especially during track season). But the workout class would have to start at 5am and last approximately 45 minutes. Who are these people who attend 7am workout classes? What job do you have? Are you hiring?
F – For the word I cannot say, no matter how absurd my daily interactions with middle schoolers may seem.
G – Georgia Studies. That’s what I teach all day every day. Georgia geography, Georgia government, Georgia history, and Georgia economics. Did you know that Button Gwinnett, a Georgia politician who signed the Declaration of Independence, has the most expensive signature? Collectors will pay an absurd amount of money for this little-known founding father’s signature. Why? Because he was actually not all that important and didn’t sign many documents. He sort of lucked into the situation – he didn’t even support colonial rights until 1775. He changed his tune just in time to join the Continental Congress as the Declaration of Independence was being written. He died two years later in a duel. Georgia’s current leaders in the Department of Education decided my students must memorize his name and two others (Lyman Hall and George Walton) because they were from Georgia and signed the Declaration…there’s your ‘fun’ fact for the day.
H – Hunger. This one thing affects so much of the school day. Students come to school hungry, and they willingly eat the terrible cafeteria meals. They don’t feel well after lunch, and they are still expected to work as hard (if not harder) as those who had two healthy, balanced, home-prepared meals.
I – Immigrants. I teach many immigrants and many first generation citizens. These kids are incredible, and our country is blessed to have them here. Many of these students have high aspirations (they want to be engineers, financial analysts, radiologists, lawyers, politicians, and business owners) and they are putting in the hard work required of them to get ahead. Even though they go home to babysit their siblings, clean the house, and do homework with half of the tools other students in the district have, they still do their best to focus on school. They want to be someone our our country values. They’ve been taught that they are not worthy of the “American Dream,” and yet they still fight for it. Our nation’s dialogue on immigration would be different if everyone could have this experience and take a look into our public school classrooms.
J – (Student’s name that begins with J.) I have a student whose name begins with a J who has made some incredible progress this year. J began the year reminiscing on her behavior problems the previous year (think of everything from talking back to a teacher to climbing out of classroom windows…). She was upset because this year wasn’t as much “fun” as last year. She was failing a few subjects and would get frequent phone calls home. Today, she currently has a B, and she’s one of the best students in class. She even got up on the desk one day to testify about how the other kids could be just like her if they just did what Mrs. Gravolet asked of them!
K – Kinetic. (Okay, so I had to look up positive words that begin with K because I’m out of ideas.) Kinetic is a great word to describe a middle school classroom. Students find any and all reasons to be in constant motion. It’s understandable AND incredibly annoying at times. I have some students who leave their backpacks on one side of the room and sit on the opposite side. Then, each time they need something, they get up and walk across the room. What?! Stop.
L – Lesson Plans. This definitely accounts for about 5-10 of those extra hours every week. I work really hard on creating quality plans and the materials that go with them (textbooks are quickly becoming a thing of the past).
M – McNair. Our school is named after Dr. Ronald E. McNair, who died on the Challenger. McNair was also a talented saxophonist, and he would have played the first concert in space had things gone as planned.
N – Nap time. Why is this not a regular practice? Our adolescents are tired. Let them sleep. Let me have 20 minutes to myself.
O – Once. Definitely not the number of times I have to give instructions.
P – Pens and Pencils. Always missing. Where do they go?
Q – “Quality over quantity.” Didn’t we all hate when our teachers said it? I try to phrase the concept a little differently, but the students still hear it the same way. Usually, when I return work students need to revise, their first question is “How many more sentences do I need?” I tell them, “I truly don’t care, just answer the whole question.” Then they respond, “So like 3 sentences?” I take a few deep breathes and try again to explain that paragraphs and essays don’t actually have set numbers of sentences, lines, or whatever. Just answer the question with the information you have, and use some decent punctuation. There’s a reason why I’m a stronger social studies teacher than English teacher!
R – Recess. We don’t have it, and my students desperately need it.
S – Standardized State Testing. Sadly, it rules just about everything we do. (If you know my teaching style well, then you know S also stands for Sarcasm. As a middle school teacher, you must be able to both give and take your fair share of sarcasm. I love it. I think it’s hilarious!)
T – Track. I haven’t coached before, but I have always been interested in Track & Field. This year I walked up to the head coach and asked to be the assistant. This guy is incredible…he has middle school, high school, and college records in the region. He played for the Saints. He’s always a positive leader. I am super excited to be working with him. I also really enjoy coaching track! It’s a lot of fun, and our students get so much out of it. The boys and girls won their first meet last weekend!
U – Undeterred. We have setbacks. Kids have bad days. I have bad days. The country has
far too many bad days. We have to keep going and moving forward. Whether it’s a small incident like a teacher-student argument or a larger concern like school safety, teachers must still teach and students must still learn. No matter what happened the day before, we must still boldly walk into the classroom the next day and be the best people we can be.
V – Versatile. We have to be ready for anything. For example, we lost power in the school around 7:15am on Wednesday morning due to construction. The generators wouldn’t even stay on. With 650 students heading our way, we had to figure out a game plan quickly. My classroom still has chalkboards (yes, chalkboards and a smart board…no white boards for some reason), so I spent the morning doing an impromptu review of Georgia’s state government. The kids thought it was ridiculous that we would work with no power…even though I never even turn on the lights because the sun blasts through my back wall of windows. We then bused the kids to the high school so they could get lunch. We had four classes sitting in the chorus room working on an article that I prepared a couple days early, thank goodness. Then we sat in the auditorium for two hours waiting for available buses to get us back to school! It was a ridiculous day, but we made it work!
W – Water Fountains. The cool place to be when you’re thirteen.
X – Xerox Machine. The most frustrating, rage-inducing piece of technology that has ever entered an educational setting.
Y – Youth. I love teaching middle school because the students have such high hopes and aspirations. They’re like short adults (or 6’5″ for no reason at all) whose emotions drive most of their decisions, but they can think for themselves and are really interested in global matters. The other day we were reviewing causes of the American Revolution, and a student asked me if colonists’ protesting over being taxed without representation was the same as Puerto Ricans being subjected to certain American laws while not enjoying full rights of citizenship. Wow what a great question! (From a thirteen year old who missed the last month of school!) We spoke at length about the similarities and differences in the situation, and he went home with some questions he intended to research. Awesome.
Z – Zombie. How I look and feel on Fridays.
I could talk about this job all day long, so it’s a good thing the alphabet limits me to 26 items. I still don’t have an answer for our current state of affairs, but I do believe the conversation would be entirely different if it weren’t being commandeered by political parties. Can we get a committee of active public school teachers, perhaps?
Thanks for reading!