641: Counting the Days


Teachers count down the days left in the school year at least as assiduously as the students do.

And no teacher, EVER, counts the days they are required to report to work, when there are no students present, as work days.

‘Cause they just don’t count as work days.


568: Effort


As another school year winds to a close, I am forcibly reminded that many, many, many people have a ridiculous sense of entitlement. I posted in my classroom a few weeks ago (for exactly this time) the statement “Don’t be upset over the RESULTS you did not get from the EFFORT you did not invest.”

As a teacher, I provide students with multiple learning opportunities: assignments. I count (grade) most of them. Our school uses a continuous average grading system, which means we do not set in stone your grade as a student each reporting term. So, your final grade is not determined by the averages of your first, second, third, and fourth grading term results, but instead, the overall average at the end of the year.  This allows students who do poorly to bring up their averages and earn credit for the year.

It also means students who have done moderately to marginally well all year can fail the entire year (even posting a passing average for the first three quarters) by slacking off at the end – which is RICHLY coming to pass. It is amazing how seven or eight zeros at the tail end can drop a close to failing year-long average right over the cliff.

I have warned students in every class that if their averages are in the low 70’s, that they are in danger of failing the course for the entire year, and they are, as usual, ignoring me. Problem is, time is short for completing work, and I am not grading anything turned in late now at full credit, PLUS, I am not accepting work from FIRST,  SECOND, and THIRD TERMS at this late date. Seriously?? You even bothered to ask?

I watched you sit and do nothing for days and weeks, while I chivvied you and reminded you and redirected you countless times, and NOW you get concerned about course credit and passing averages? NOW you want me to provide you with “extra credit” work? Nope.

In twenty-six years of teaching, I have NEVER, EVER, not even ONCE, had a child fail a class I taught with low grades on work they submitted. Not once. Every single child (and I work mostly with high schoolers) who fails has done so on ZEROS: work they just chose not to complete and submit for scoring.

I can work with a student who shows me some effort, even if it is not up to standard. As an employer, I want someone to work every day at the tasks I have set for them to do. As a teacher, I want exactly the same thing. I can help you if you are working. You can ask questions, and we can fix your work on the spot to provide you with better scores. You can get feedback on where this work could be improved.

I do not “give” grades: you earn them and I post them. I can credit someone who is working, even when they do not possess the native ability to do it at A or B quality work. THAT is not required. It is wonderful and appreciated and celebrated, but so is the determined effort to get the work done and submitted on time when assigned. I cannot post credit for something that is not submitted.

And the time of reckoning is at hand.


550: Overwhelmed and undervalued

Teacher receiving an apple from student

The first year at a new job is generally more difficult than the succeeding years. You have the routine of the machine that is this particular organization (different one to the other) down to some manageable extent after the first year, and you somewhat know in advance what they are likely to dump into your already-busy lap, and know somewhat when they are likely to do it.

The reports that they wait (often) until the day they are due to tell you about (and sometimes the day after they are due) to tell you about. The routine processes that you need to know to perform your job on a daily basis, which they did not tell you in advance of performing that job, and left you to discover unpleasantly and then struggle to figure out on your own, or go crawling to someone who does know, confessing your ignorance and begging for a mini-lesson to get you up to speed.

The five different professional development courses, all running concurrently, that take up your 50 miserly minutes of precious planning time that you have each day – assuming there is not a parent conference scheduled, or an after-work meeting that you are required to attend, or an out-of-town meeting you are required to attend on what was supposed to be the time you have left over after work to actually live your life – assuming you actually have any such thing.

The planning you need to do so as not to appear a drooling, blithering idiot in the daily performance of your job (at least in the eyes of those observing, and YES, Virginia, they ARE observing).

All those things that were unwelcome surprises during the first year are familiar minor annoyances the second year, not panic-attack-times like they were that first hectic, far-too-busy, overloaded first year. The second year, you can look back on the chaos of the first and smile a little, knowing that you made it with your sanity largely (at least to casual observers) intact. So the second year is better. Somewhat.

None of that helps a whole lot while you are in the mentally and emotionally tense, gut-wrenching, hyper-ventilating maelstrom of the first year. *sigh*

518: Job Security

Teacher with a laptop

Most people feel pretty secure in their employment – or as much as you can in an uncertain economy that can cause even a well-established and well-managed company to have to downsize their staff. Most know, barring a major screw-up on their part, they will be employed right on, barring any major economic problems beyond everyone’s control. You get hired, you do your job, your job is pretty secure.

And, then there are teachers.

Teachers get a yearly contract. I know why school systems do this – they don’t want to have an employee walk out in the middle of the school year, leaving them with classes to cover, and little clear idea of where and how to proceed. To help prevent that, school systems in the USA offer teachers a yearly contract, that covers employment for the upcoming school year. And ONLY the upcoming school year.That means, every year, every stinking year, every teacher in the USA faces the possibility that their contract won’t be renewed, and they will be looking for a job, at the last minute.

The truth of the matter is that teachers do leave awful schools in the middle of a contract – it is called breaking your contract, and every school I have ever applied to tried very, very hard to discover if I had ever done such a heinous thing, ever before, to any other school. It is severely frowned upon – you broke your word not to leave them in the lurch, regardless of what they did to you as an employee.  They don’t want teachers who are willing to leave the school if the job sucks. And sometimes the job sucks. Sometimes any job sucks.

I got through an awful year at my second school by promising myself three times a day I would quit. I said I would quit when I got there, first thing. Once I was there, I said I’d quit at lunchtime. Once I made it to lunch, I promised I’d quit at the end of the day. At the end of the day, I got out of there and went home. I finished that miserable year. Without breaking my contract. It was miserable.

In twenty-five years of teaching, I have never had a secure job. When school systems dithered too long to offer contracts for the next year, I usually applied to another school who was looking. I have to be employed. I cannot wait and hope. At least as an international teacher, most contracts are for two years, so I get to do the whole searching thing only every OTHER year, instead of EVERY year, like in the USA.



487: Scratching That Itch

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People get itchy. There are things we want to do, and when we can’t get them done, we get itchy about it. It is like the physical itch we get when something tickles, or irritates, and all you want to do it scratch it. Nothing is more satisfying than scratching an annoying itch. Nothing. What is particularly frustrating about annoying places that are itching,  which are begging, clamoring, demanding to be scratched, is that most of them are tantalizingly, just barely, just so close, but just out of reach.

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This is true both with physical itches, and other overwhelming, non-physical desires as well. The physical itches are overwhelming enough, believe me. This includes places on the surface of the skin that demand scratching, and other physical demands, such as sex and food cravings, among other things which are based on the body. My ex-husband sometimes would get this intense expression of near panic on his face, and he would look at me and with a note of utter desperation in his voice, he would ask/demand, “Scratch my back, PLEASE!!” There would ensue a period of intense random back-scratching, following commands of higher – lower, to the left, down – until I hit the spot and an expression of pure bliss would appear, along with a heart-felt AAAAHHHhhhhhhh. It was nearly sexual, that itch-scratching. Seriously. Including the involuntary utterance at the climax.

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Artists, musicians and other creative types who are driven to create are familiar with the itch of inspiration, too. When the muse strikes (attacks), there is this itch to create that just.will.not.go.away until the beleaguered artiste gives in and does it. It is an act of surrender to scratch this creative itch. It is an overwhelming itch that cannot be ignored, and indeed, it is ignored at the artist’s peril. You might cut your ear off, you just don’t know.

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There is an idiom about the seven-year itch that happens in marriages. It actually refers to the restlessness that happens often in marriages when the two partners have failed to be diligent in maintaining the quality of their marital relationship – regardless of the year of marriage in which that state is reached. That is a frustrated itch for the relationship you thought marriage was going to be for you, but were not willing to invest and work for to achieve – and that is just childishness. In that case, scratch your own itch, and get off your lazy butt and re-romance your partner. Duh.

Not every itch deserves to be scratched.


407: Ruminations on the Start of a New School Year

The start of a new school year is rather like the start of a regular year: New Year’s Eve, only without the party. And with a great deal more trepidation. The two occasions do have one thing in common, though…the resolutions.

Many people start out a new calendar year with resolutions to improve themselves and their situations, and the start of a new school year is no exception. This year, I resolve to think FAR more positively. That should not be difficult. Some days, a single positive thought will put me ahead of last year’s game……..!

As a precursor to positive thinking, I resolved to pay far more attention to my spiritual life, which was neglected during the years I spent in Morocco, and spent unsatisfactorily last year in Panama. The first church I tried had a pastor who was determined that HIS church would be formed in HIS image…not exactly what God, and I, had in mind. The second church had a much more positive Spirit, but contemporary worship. I have an issue with projecting only the words to songs on the wall, and not including music. I understand that many modern people do not read music, but some of us do. I don’t sing when I don’t know the music, because when I make a mistake, my voice takes others off with me, and that is a problem, especially since I LIKE to sing. And I like hymns…not the new stuff. Some of that new stuff is OK, in the same way that some rap is OK (when the lyrics are profound, and that does not happen often). The latest church (I hope the last one) is much more traditional, and I like it, in spite of the fact(s) that it takes two hours to get there, and that I am the only light-skinned face there. I don’t think skin color matters to God, and it certainly does not matter to me, so I hope I have found a home. I just have to get over minding that I have to get up at 5:30 a.m. to go there.

The second resolve is to salt away some actual savings this year. Once again, that should not be hard to improve over last year. Breaking even will be an improvement over last year, much less actually saving anything!

Finally is the resolve to kick back and enjoy life a little. That one will be difficult. Not to accomplish it, because I did little last year but go to work and come home to work some more. Therefore, some time spent constructively in relaxation and personal enjoyment will be an instant success on the personal home front. The trouble will be figuring out how to do it. I am not good at relaxation, and it is high time I learned how to do it.

It is clear to me that nearly every teenager on the face of this planet has mastered the art of complete and total relaxation, and if they can do it, surely I can manage it one or two days a week (end). So there. Maybe I can take lessons??