Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Hall Lot of Nothing

My four-day stint in special education is now over, and tomorrow I return to the same school as the librarian. I look forward to throwing the lesson plans out the window and forcing all classes to read The Velveteen Rabbit or Mr. Popper's Penguins. Or my all-time favorite, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

I think I will miss hallway duty the most. I had to man my post for 30 minutes each morning and again in the afternoon. That's an hour a day spent watching students coming and going. I loved how I could tell what day of the week it was based solely on how the kids were walking: Friday they pranced, Monday they trudged, Tuesday and Wednesday they were more alert and walked briskly. Tomorrow the prancing will return. And even though my main job was to make sure no one was running down the halls or swinging backpacks around, I loved (in my head at least) having the ability to start their day off on a positive note. When I was in elementary school, having a teacher give me a sincere, friendly greeting instantly put me in a good mood. (Note: I was very lame in elementary school.) I wanted to ensure that even if kids were tired or cranky or fought with their mom ten minutes earlier, that they felt welcome in school and knew that it could be a great day. I'm sure this would have been more effective if the kids actually knew who I was, but that was the plan.

One day I even had a friend join me for hall duty. A beetle was crawling around, and even when he looked like he was making a beeline (haha) for the adjacent corridor he always returned to my area. Since he was in the hall I named him Oates and decided that he would be my mascot. Then a second grader stepped on him. Needless to say, Oates was not the only one crushed that day. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

And three times one?

Hello again from Panera, the official* sponsor of this blog. 

I have a routine this week! It's an amazing feeling. Same school, same kids, same schedule. I'm working in special ed for kindergarten through 3rd grade, so I get to pop in and out of classrooms to monitor and observe and staple pots to children's heads in honor of Johnny Appleseed's birthday. (I <3 kindergarten.) 

It's strange being back in elementary school and trying to compare it to my childhood. I swear these kids are learning completely different things than I did in school. In 3rd grade today they were adding three different three-digit numbers together, and I'm just sitting there thinking, "Wait, didn't we start multiplication in 2nd grade? What happened to the times tables?" And the long vs. short vowel sounds... wow, they are very important these days. (My favorite part of yesterday was watching the teacher give a lesson on changing the vowel sound from a short /i/ to a long /i/ by adding an e to the end of the word. Rip becomes ripe, din becomes dine, slid becomes slide, etc. etc. But for some reason she only did the short /i/ sound when she wrote "win" on the board. Curious.) I was very much under the impression that these classes as a whole are not remedial in any way, which means either: 1. I was very wrong, and these are classes that receive some extra TLC, or 2. They did away with multiplication and division because no one uses them, anyway. I suppose other options could include: 3. I was a mega genius in elementary school and was advanced in ways that modern teachers can't even fathom (hint: it is not option 3), or 4. I am misremembering childhood (it is also not this option, because I have a very vivid recollection of my lightbulb moment in Ms. Fastige's class when I realized that multiplying just meant counting to one number so many times.) Can anyone with more experience in the schools offer some insight? I find it strange that teachers are expected to cram so much into these kids' heads while working from a slower-paced curriculum. Perhaps option 1 is the best explanation?

Tomorrow I'm looking forward to reading a story about a boy who dreams he's a wolf. I'll let you know how that goes.

*In the event that Panera rejects my offer of official sponsorship, I will also accept donations from my loyal reader(s) in the form of gift cards. Or maybe in the form of gym memberships since I have gotten fat and lazy since moving to Baltimore and consuming nothing but pumpkin spice lattes and Cheetos.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why I couldn't be in a union

Today was another instance where I had a half day TA position scheduled and was kind of bitter about it. TAs make about half as much as normal subs, and a half day means half of half as much as a normal sub, which is not a lot. However, when I arrived at the school I was told that they didn't actually need a sub for that teacher but it was too late to call me to cancel. (I didn't tell them that I had been at Panera ten minutes earlier doing homework and really it would have been a glorious surprise for me to have an extra three hours to learn about the psychoanalytic theorists or to watch whatever YouTube video struck my fancy at the time. But can I please get some grown up points for finally tricking my brain into thinking I had to work earlier than I actually did so I would wake up and accomplish something before noon? It's like I matured overnight!) But hey, I was there, they were paying me, and would I maybe mind doing some clerical work for them? And that is the story of how I got paid to cut folders in half. One of the administrators also had me sort through "What type of learner are you?" tests that the kids took and write their names on lists for the teachers. In three hours I received half a dozen compliments on how efficient and speedy I was (TWSS). All I could think about was the episode of The Office (2.15: Boys and Girls) where the Dunder Miff-men are loading a truck in the warehouse and Ryan suggests a relay system to make the process go faster, to which Stanley replies: 

"This here is a run-out-the-clock situation. Just like upstairs."

I suppose I'm just not a run-out-the-clock type of girl, no matter how much I'm getting paid.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Can I help you?

This has been the longest week ever. Not bad, just long. Classes started this week, which means that I now officially work two jobs and take two classes and sleep about two hours per night. Why thank you, I would love a cup of coffee!

Over the past two weeks I've spent a lot of time in the various Functional Skills classes at a local high school. My first day there made me feel helpless and miserable. The kids were forced to spend most of the day (as in the 6 hour school day) making a list of their favorite foods. Most of them finished in 20 minutes, but the aide kept making them write. I'm a sub, I understand dragging things out and filling time, but this was ridiculous. In subsequent days all of the classes I've visited have had more activities to fill the day, but it still makes you wonder how many "functional skills" the students actually leave with. I know the schools are in a tough spot with budgets and bureaucracy and the pressure of getting these students to perform on standardized tests that they don't necessarily have the skills to pass. But I would feel so much better if I did something besides craft projects and spelling words with students. How much can we reasonably expect the schools to do? No really, someone please tell me because this question has been driving me crazy for a long time. This us where my lack of experience in the system makes me nervous for my chosen career path. Am I missing something?

On a happier (and braggier) note: Yesterday I got paid to watch Sesame Street. It was amazing. I was teaching music and it was the episode with the cast of Stomp. If I were on an actual computer right now I would try to find a clip on YouTube and post it here, but I'm not skilled enough on my iPod so you'll have to google it yourself to experience the delights of Telly's tuba troubles. For now I am off to work at job number two.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Bubble

I'm sitting in Panera right now (boy this takes me back) doing some homework in between jobs. Okay, so technically it isn't homework since the semester doesn't start until Wednesday. But is it really so weird to want to get ahead on my readings? I didn't think so.

This morning I was a media TA, which basically consisted of me doing aforementioned homework with a ten minute interruption to read to some kindergarteners. At first I was bummed that it was the only job available for today because I get half as much money being a TA compared to being a regular teacher. However, getting paid any amount to do homework is a great deal regardless of the sum. And I love working in the media, so hopefully today will lead to future sub jobs.

Friday was an exhausting day in third grade. It was Friday, it had been raining all week, the kids were tired of being indoors, and I was the lucky sub who got to navigate it. Sweet kids, but they would not listen at all. They did, however, give me a little exposure to a topic that kept coming up in my classes last semester: working with students from all backgrounds. Multicultural counseling is a topic that I consider highly important, but I hated talking about it in class because we went over it so quickly that it felt like a waste. In a way, I thought my talk with these kids was more helpful.

As part of our pre-reading for the day, we talked about citizenship: what it is, how to be a good citizen, and why it's important. By the time we got to this last one I was really into the rhythm of the lesson and couldn't wait to hear the kids' thoughts. I was practically bouncing around the room, carried by my ideas on how to guide the conversation. To foster a sense of community! To help meet the needs of the community! To be a part of something bigger than yourself! Totally inspiring stuff, right? Except when I called on a student to tell me why it's important to be a good citizen, his response was, "So you don't have to go to jail." The next student elaborated on it by saying you could also avoid juvy. And at least four or five others gave answers along those lines. There I was in my Mary Poppins world of sunshine, and suddenly it hit me that for some of those kids citizenship, maybe even success, is exemplified in a life without legal conflict. These kids live about 15 minutes away from where I grew up, but their goals and motivations were completely foreign to me. I don't want to overgeneralize and assume that this is the only idea these kids have for the future; I'm only with them for one day, after all. But the fact that this concept of jail or juvy enters into their schema of the world and isn't just something on TV makes me reconsider how "typical" of an upbringing I really had. And it makes me wonder how good I'll be at relating to these kids in order to foster a positive therapeutic relationship.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hello out there?

So imagine my surprise when I log into my blogger account (after several failed attempts, naturally) and see that I haven't posted anything in almost a year. I mean, it's not like I assumed there were dozens of posts over the past few months that I had forgotten about... but a year, really? I don't like to think about that much time elapsing without me noticing.

I started this blog because I thought it would be a fun way to document my admissions traveling, and it was. The problem, however, with starting a blog based on a temporary position that ends in three months is that I'm now left taking up space on the internet when I'm no longer roadrunning or confessing. Once I moved to Pittsburgh I had very little to write about that couldn't be better served in a facebook status, so my postings became more forced and infrequent until I finally gave up altogether.

When I last posted, I decided to move to Maryland/D.C. to start my masters in school counseling at GWU in January. Keri had decided not to apply for the American studies program, which meant she was staying in Pittsburgh and I was alone in the world. But hey, at least I was leaving a job that made me feel physically ill and morally reprehensible! So what wound up happening? I gleefully left my job, ambivalently left Pittsburgh, and wound up crashing in my childhood bedroom for eight months feeling like a total loser. (At least my parents let me repaint.) I was totally set to go to GWU, but a funny thing happened when I filled out the loan application for the first semester: I had a panic attack. My previous eight months of employment revolved around me coaxing students into a fake school by telling them, "School is expensive, but it's an investment. It's totally worth it!" And I knew going in that GWU was an expensive school. But something about seeing those numbers on the page made it click that I was going to be in debt forever (Maybe hyperbole? Maybe not.) for a degree that would lead me to a $40,000/year job. And that the cost of tuition for that one semester would equal the cost of the entire program at, say, the college right down the street in Baltimore that is extremely well-known in Maryland and has an excellent placement rate for graduates of their school counseling program. You know, the place I completely overlooked before because of whatever caprices were dominating my mood that day. The place whose spring application deadline lapsed a few days before I came to this conclusion. Yup. I am the world's best planner.

Needless the say, the first few months back in Maryland I was feeling frazzled and lost and stupid and lonely and like a huge failure. But no worries, it all has a happy ending. Somewhere around February I finally started feeling like I had my shit together. I was accepted to Loyola for the summer semester, I started substitute teaching in local schools, and I began my plans to stop imposing on my parents and let them have their sewing room back. In August I wound up moving to Baltimore city with my beloved Pittsburgh roommate.

So why am I filling you in on all this? I suppose I've thought that the robots running the blogger server have been curious. Okay, not really. Public schools are back in session now, and I've been subbing a few times a week already. (Within the next month I'll be getting jobs every day.) During my first few days back I've worked in a lot of special ed classrooms, and I realized that (don't worry, I realize this is a "well, duh" revelation) I've been learning so much about the education system and myself as an educator by being a "guest teacher." But here's the thing: what have I been doing with this knowledge? I thought it might be a nice exercise for me to write (type) my experiences explicitly to help me collect my thoughts and piece things together. And really I'm doing the same thing I was doing when I started this blog: visiting different schools, meeting different kids, and trying to have some sort of impact and avoid injury. The only difference is that now I have less down time in between. And fewer historical sites to visit. And much less contact with high schoolers, since I'm pretty sure they're evil when they're not actively trying to get into college. (Hello there, Future Employers! Don't worry, I'm very prone to hyperbole. I would gladly work with students of any age! But please give me kindergarteners. Please.) So that's the goal. This is my way of "unpacking" my experiences (to borrow a phrase from one of my professors) in order to make sense of them. If you'd like to join me on my journey through the schools, you're more than welcome! There will probably be a lot of coloring and maybe some Junie B. Jones.

I do have to end on this completely Hallmark note: I felt like a total failure in Pittsburgh for having the job that I did. I hated it, I didn't believe in it, and (possibly the worst part?) I was terrible at it. I felt like lot of people on my team wrote me off completely because I wasn't good at it, even though I suspect that telemarketing is not necessarily a litmus test for human accomplishment. So even though the first few months back in Maryland were difficult for me, I finally feel like (excuse the Demi Lovato moment) I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. I'm good at my job. I'm not perfect by any means, but I'm learning and I'm developing a reputation as a sub who is not completely useless. And even on days when I'm really frustrated by a demon class, I still walk away with a sense of accomplishment, several hilarious anecdotes, and a lot of affection for the kids as individuals. This makes me suspect that I'm on the right path here. And that feeling is everything I ever wanted in a career.