Summers Off

Sunday night sadness has plagued me since I was in middle school. The dread, the worry, the fear. And I’m not the only one. This very night many of you sit on the couch wondering where the weekend went and how much work will be thrown your way tomorrow. Work that is in addition to the to-do list you didn’t complete last week.

But on this glorious Sunday, I have very little angst for the week ahead. (I always have some angst; I am me after all.) Tonight the work demons rest because I am on summer break. Summer break is glorious, and I’m not afraid to say it.

Well, I’m a little afraid because it makes you hate me.

Summer break is the deal-breaker when people try to have sympathy for teachers. They get so close–low pay, no respect, being forced to teach to the test–but then they can’t shake that one perk–having all summer off. But it’s not really a full three months we yell! I do professional development during the summer! It’s not a time for me to put my feet up and chill!

Except it is.

But you know why I deserve it? I deserve it because every year I take on upwards of 130 new souls. Every year I meet over 130 new students. But it’s not just that I meet them. It is my sincere goal to get to know all of them. To give them as personalized an education as one woman can give 130 different minds. To give them chance after chance to do their best. To bring out the writer hiding inside them. To combat a previous teacher who told them they weren’t good enough. To show them how awesome the power of words is.

Yes, I chose this job, and yes, I knew it would be a lot of work. Having loved so many teachers in my school years, I knew what it would take to be a good one. What it takes is a passion for the subject. It takes expertise in the teacher’s chosen subject. The teachers who do the job with success want students to get just a small spark of the fire of knowledge. All it takes for a good teacher is a tiny flame. That teacher can turn that into a fire before the kid even knows what hits them. Real teachers want students to feel noticed. Their actions tell each and every kid, “I see you. You matter.”

And this kind of dedication takes its toll on a person. I feel the hearts of 130 kids join my heartbeat every year. I worry about them when I get home. I ask other teachers for advice on how to get through to them. I frantically change lesson plans before class starts knowing after grading yesterday’s work that they need something other than what I planned.

I don’t dump these kids after the school year either. I hold them in my heart, and they still take up space in my worry cabinet (okay, it’s a whole room, a room of worries). Once you’re one of my kids, you’re one of my kids.

Listen, I’m not saying my job is the hardest one in the world. I think what I face is a concern for anyone whose ‘product’ is people. (Remind me later to rant and cuss about people who compare business practices to teaching practices.) Caring for people requires so much energy that sometimes I don’t believe I can do it. Sometimes I want to just not care, but I can’t. It’s not who I am as a teacher.

Yeah, I get summers off, and tonight is the least stressful one I’ve had in months. But trust me, you want me to get this rest. You want me ready to take on the new souls who need me next year because every school year ends with me spent, empty of my gift.

But summer, glorious summer, fills me up again, makes me want to take on my new challenges. So please, let me have this time. It’s more important than you can ever know.

My Work Squad

My Work Squad

 

Give A Teacher Office Supplies, And She’s Yours Forever

You know what the favorite teacher in your life needs right this very minute? Tequila shots. But, since it’s the middle of the week, and he or she probably still has kids to educate, let’s try to think of something just as useful. For me, office supplies give the same buzz as liquor without the problematic legal and moral issues. Office supplies help you organize the chaos of six classes’ worth of papers and 127 important memos. And when they are stylish, they make you smile and have a positive attitude even when the football boys come to your class reeking of Axe and sweat.

With that in mind, I present to you two fabulous products to give the teachers you adore:

Galison File Tote – Henry Road – $20.00

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Teachers carry papers home to grade (or marinate overnight so as to be better by morning when they are hurriedly graded as the clock ticks down to the start of first period). Some teachers do this fun trick where they carry papers everywhere so they can grade whenever they have a spare minute. The trick comes in finding reasons not to grade. And of course, teachers need to carry papers to be prepared for meetings and conferences. This file folder? Perfect for all occasions.  The handle is easy to grip without being owie (fancy English teacher word). It has eight pockets and labels. As I carried this down the hall at the school where I tutor, I got appreciative oohs and ahhs from all my friends. They all said they would use this. (It comes in other patterns as well.)

Super Bonus Tip: If you are looking for a sweet way to make this personal for your children’s teacher, slip a handwritten note inside thanking him or her for all the hard work this year. Even better? Have your child write the note or draw a picture.

Wall Pops Vinyl Applique Whiteboard – Diamond – $20.00

file_42_28Some teachers have the gift of creativity; some do not. Some of us ‘artfully’ tilt every picture we staple to the wall so no one notices straight lines are so damn hard to make. This lovely gift gets rid of the pain and suffering created when a non-crafty teacher like myself tries to make a cute bulletin board with a border. (Why, yes, I have stapled my own finger in this process.) With this, you just peel and stick. I could probably still make that hard, but I’m pretty special. It’s also a great place to jot down daily notes to yourself or the students. The final piece of genius about this cute whiteboard is that it will stick to concrete which is what the walls are made of in many schools. I would use this on my door to list what books or assignments are needed in class. (This also comes in other designs.)

Super Bonus Tip: Give this as a gift by sneaking in and adhering it to the teacher’s door. Have your child or the whole class sign it.

It is already May. (I know; I was surprised too.) You are wasting valuable time just sitting there not ordering these for the teachers you love. Scoot! 

The lovelies at Office Candy sent me these items for review purposes. No other compensation was provided or needed because I love free office supplies more than Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (hint hint). All opinions and terrible jokes are my own.

America Needs Its Teachers, And I Won’t Give Up

Sundays are weird. They can be both rejuvenating and exhausting. On the one hand you have that rested feeling from some time off work and maybe even some spiritual vitamins pepping you up from going to church. On the other hand, you have the entire week’s tasks lined up in your brain, each with five-star importance. Sunday evenings are some of my most anxiety-filled for that reason. I go through the list of chores and errands and appointments and work needs, and it seems like I’d need at least three clones to make it all happen.

For those of us who care about education, the list of problems our current system faces is like staring down a busy week on Sunday night. There are not enough of us to complete all the work that needs to be done.

Photo credit: Village Vine Press

When we moved back to Texas, I was looking forward to getting back to teaching. I could feel my instincts and drive telling me it was time. I was very fortunate to get a tutoring job preparing seventh graders for their writing and reading STAAR tests at a school I love. I was so nervous about that first day. I picked just the right outfit. I lesson-planned well in advance. I even packed a lunch! And when one of the regular seventh grade English teachers told me that first day that I was a fun and educational, well, that was it. Teacher Stephanie was back baby.

I’m hoping to get a full-time position next year. I love being a teacher. This tutoring job has reminded me of all the great things about it. When a student gets a concept because of the way I explained it, it’s magic. Being able to cheer them on as they try things they thought were too hard before they met me is another benefit. I get to talk about words all day. And I really enjoy being around so many friends who are also teachers.

But the negativity is there waiting to bring me down. All teachers know the tough parts of our profession. It’s the teachers in the lounge complaining about a student they don’t like or a regulation that makes no sense. It’s the pressure to have students pass a standardized test we  didn’t help create. It’s the worry that retirement money won’t support us. It’s parents who expect greatness without cultivating it at home. It’s the parents who would love to cultivate greatness but are too busy working two or three jobs to supervise homework. It’s the pressure to have grades in the gradebook pushing up against your own feeling that too much homework only hurts. It’s the general perception that anyone can teach, and therefore, educators aren’t valued or supported as professionals.

And on and on the list goes like your busiest week in your worst nightmare.

And it’s not just the teachers who are getting burdened and burnt-out. We are failing our kids. There is no soft way to say that. We’re failing. I am not against testing. I am against it being the be-all-end-all. Passing a test means nothing if our students are incapable of surviving in the workplace. And, oh, how I mourn the loss of time to explore in great depth. My sons are really excited about space right now; they eat up every tidbit. It kills me that one day our school system will try to beat that love of learning out of them. And what are we doing for students who are not college-bound? How are we preparing them for life and work?

And on and on and on.

The list makes even the most dedicated teachers want out. I see teachers I respect and love wishing they could do something else. They see no hope for fixes and no point in what they do every day.

We cannot let this happen. We cannot lose anymore greats nor stop creating new teachers. And I’m telling you right now that I’m not giving up. I gave up teaching once, and it hurt. I was born to do this, and I will push through the crap to continue to do it. The kids need me. My fellow teachers need me to support and encourage them. Dude, grammar needs me to continue fighting for the Oxford comma.

Just like a week comes a day at a time, we must approach the needs of our education system one day at a time. We cannot change it all at once, and we can’t change anything if we stop fighting.

Do you have concerns about education in America? Are you worried for your kids’ futures? Please let me know what education topics you’d like to discuss. I hope to feature an education concern at least once a week.