Just checking in…

So the open call for questions didn’t work.  Small audiance, and I’m not really that interesting, anyway. So okay.

I finished the online Unit Design course I’ve been working on.  It required a lot of reading and prep, and then writing a four-week unit on Hamlet.  To begin with, I read Ben Crystal’s excellent Springboard Shakespeare: Hamlet and Shakespeare on Toast for ideas on how to get my teen students to realize Shakespeare wasn’t all high-brow, and the latter book was especially useful, having within it a lot of myth-busting stories and information.

I also refreshed my memory on designing units from my teacher education, by rereading my Understanding by Design textbook, some articles from the Globe Theatre Foundation on teaching Shakespeare via performance, and did a quick review of the California Common Core State Standards, marking which standards I could engage through teaching Hamlet.

I got an A on my unit design.  Well, technically I got 100/100; there aren’t any letter grades attached, but still.  That’s an A in my book.  Which gives me the units I needed to move over on the pay scale, so I’ll make more money next year, which is nice.

On the writing front, Seeking Home, book 1 of the Remembrance War, is still out to a couple of agents and one small press publisher I thought had already rejected it, but apparently hadn’t.  We’ll see how that all shakes out. In the meantime I’m working on a new project, which I’ve talked about a bit here, but which has changed in some pretty large ways since I first started talking about it.

I’m also working on an RPG world based on my WIP for a homebrew Traveler game I plan to run for wife and friends.  The story of the WIP will run in the background, the game characters will interact with it as they wish, but the novel will not be taking the game into account; the novel is already plotted.  No way am I changing that before the zeroth draft is done.

I’ve got a few other projects in various states of planning, including an epic fantasy and a one-shot Gaiman-esque fantasy that will stretch my abilities a fair bit.

Work is work.

Things I’m tired of: Teacher Edition

As an educator, I am really tired of both conservatives and liberals who try to tell me how to do my job, or who try to tell me what’s wrong in our schools.
Get your credential, spend a few years in the classroom, then you can tell me what’s going wrong. Until then, you’re just talking out your ass.
I’m also tired of people who want to generalize an entire profession based on one or two examples of their own past. It doesn’t work like that, Sparky. I’m sure Mr. Mosier was horrible to you, but that doesn’t mean all teachers are horrible. Stop assuming all teachers are like the worst examples you ever knew.
If you’ve never actually attended a public school, please just shut the hell up. You’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re not entitled to make me listen to it.
Finally, if you’re going to seriously try to tell me my job is “indoctrinating” kids in whatever direction you think is happening? Please, just save me the trouble and punch yourself in the face.

10 (mean) Things I Wish I Could Say In Essay Comments Today

Dear Students:

The following are the things I WISH I could say on your essays, but I can’t, because they are 1)mean and 2) not helpful.

  1. How is it that you’ve gotten through 11 years of education and you still can’t write a coherent sentence?
  2. You’re a senior.  Shouldn’t you have figured out commas by now?
  3. How can you be so arrogant when you make so many elementary errors?
  4. What is WRONG with you? What part of you thought that was okay to say in an essay for school?
  5. I feel like I could understand this sentence if I was drunk, but as I’m not, it makes no sense at all.
  6. When your professor next year asks who your English teacher was, please lie.
  7. Why do you hate me?
  8. I used to believe that most students were basically decent people.  Your story has convinced me I was wrong.
  9. You just crossed one of the “Things nobody has ever seen a student claim before” off my list.  That’s not a good thing.
  10. Your argument reads like a kindergarten fight.

Still Working; Still Hanging On to The Dream

The new school year has begun, and with it, a concomitant uptick in my stress levels. That said, I am continuing, in both my day job teaching and in my dream job writing, to continue the drafting of The Year of Rage.

When I was a college student, I referred to a lot of my posts on school and the goal of teaching as Secher Nbiw, the Golden Path of the Dune novels.  Now I apply that label to posts about writing.  I may have demoted “being a working writer” from “Definitely Going to Happen” to “I’m working towards it, but it’s still a pipe dream,” but I’m still working on it.

This story is stubborn, though.  Seeking Home took about two years, post Viable Paradise, to complete–I attended VP in 2013, and the novel was completed in August of 2015.  This book is going much slower.  I’ve barely begun, and it’s not working.  I know what needs to happen, I just have a hard time making it work.  I think it’s because a ton of my energy this year has gone to mental and physical health, and not much has remained for creativity.

On the health front, I’m getting used to the new reality in which I have to take four pills every morning.  It’s not that bad, just a tiny bit demoralizing when I realize that this is the reality I live in now.  But since it comes with it a reduced risk of a heart attack, frankly, I’ll take it.

Still, there’s fallout from the scare of a few weeks back.  If I stub my toe and yell out, my family has a momentary panic and wants to make sure I’m okay.  I try to remember it’s just concern and deal with the annoyance, but I’m not always able to let it roll off.

Onward and upward!

 

My Wasted Day, and the Fury it Spawned

I am so completely and utterly furious at my school administration and the district.

At 9:15am, my classroom door was opened by security, who said we had to evacuate to the gym. The teachers of D wing did our best to ensure the students moved to the gym as orderly as possible.

Fifteen minutes later, a school monitor walked into the gym and, without saying anything to the teachers, told students on one end of the gym to move out to the main building. Since we didn’t see him, we tried to stop the students from moving until he finally told us what was going on.

We then sat in lockdown for four hours while Sac PD did their thing. We were told a “suspicious object” had been found.

For the next four hours, the only way teachers knew anything about what was going on was by checking the news on our phones. Three hours in we got an update on our “emergency text” system; it said only “Thanks for your patience; we’ll update as soon as possible.”

BULLSHIT. They’re telling me that in those three hours, there was NOTHING they could tell us? Do these people not get that it’s ridiculously hard to keep students calm when we don’t know anything? As one student asked me, “Why are teachers LESS informed about this than the Sacramento Bee?”

We should have been told the “suspicious package” was a possible bomb. We should have been told when SacPD arrived on scene, when they deployed their little robot, and when they decided to detonate the object on school grounds. We were told NOTHING.

This administrative team is constantly blowing smoke up our asses about how much they respect our professionalism. And yet they treat us little better than they treat students. They have little to no actual respect for us.

Not related to today, but related to the problem: A colleague in my department caught one of her classes cheating on their final exams. She had proof. The five ringleaders got five hours of community service rather than the prescribed consequences from our student handbook. Yesterday one of them called the teacher a “fucking bitch” (to her face, in front of an admin) and only got a one-day suspension.

Similar things have been happening to me. I’ve got a kid who attended 19 of the 90 days of school in semester 1. She’s still enrolled despite our policies saying she should not be. She’s also an attitude with legs who told me this morning to “go fuck yourself” because I told her to stop cussing at another student and posturing to fight. Nothing was done about it.

I’ve got another kid who hasn’t turned in a single page of work all semester; he walks in and out of all his classes at whim, and has cussed out not only me, but all his other teachers AND the administrator who tried to deal with him. And NOTHING is being done about it.

And people wonder why I’m stressed out.

Career Bullshit

I have given thought, in recent years, to leaving teaching.  It’s not that I hate working with teens, or hate the job itself, but I do hate a lot of the nonsense that goes with teaching:

  • Administrators who are more concerned with looking effective than they are with actually doing anything to improve the school.
  • The tendency these days to let kids get away with murder, but slam teachers for the slightest issue or mistake (hasn’t happened to me yet, but to colleagues, yes).
  • The social scapegoating of teachers as the problem in American Education, rather than focus on actual issues.  Do you have any idea how demoralizing it is to see people shit all over you and your coworkers day in and day out?
  • The relative low pay (sure, I get paid ok, but seriously, for the education I’m required to maintain, and the stress-level of the work, it’s not great).*

The last few years, I’ve had awful classes, which piled more and more stress on top of the usual job-related load.  This year, my classes aren’t so bad, but for other reasons I can’t get into in a public place with my name attached, the job isn’t going great for me.

So I’ve tried to look at other job possibilities, and you know what?  They’re terrible.

I’m 45 years old, and I’ve been a teacher for eleven years.  I’m qualified for a great deal of jobs who won’t even give me the time of day, because they don’t want to consider that eleven years of teaching writing is pretty much equivalent to three years of writing low-level brochure text.  Or they don’t want a middle-aged guy when what they’re really looking for is a twenty-something who will devote 99% of his time to the job.

Added to this, I can’t really take a job where my pay would be less than I earn now without causing my family a great deal of stress.  And we’d like to move in the next few years; upgrade to a better place in a better location.  Not going to happen if I leave for even worse pay.

So, option two: Sell some books.  Except that isn’t working out so well, and may never change.

Anyway, this is why I’m pretty unable to seem upbeat lately.  I feel like I’m carrying too many loads.

*If you’re tempted to get all high-and-mighty and inform me that I do get paid well considering I “only” work ten months, let me point out that I have a BA and three years of post-grad work, and I get paid half of what my wife makes with no college degree.  If it were just because I don’t work for two months of the year, I’d make more.  Also, quite frankly, what I do is much more important to our society than what most people do. Why are we paid so little?

The Good Side of Teaching: A Real Note From a Student

Most of the time, teaching in the US is one of those thankless jobs where everyone pretends to respect you, but the prevailing cultural attitude is one of derision and disrespect.  I’ve written about that side of it a lot.

But sometimes there’s the other side of it.

On Thursday, the last day of school, in the final moments of one of my classes, a student, Ethan (not his real name), slipped a sealed envelope addressed to me onto my desk as I was talking to a colleague, and then quickly scuttled out of the room.

Ethan’s one of those kids who is super quiet, but a smart kid.  He’s always been respectful, and we’ve only occasionally talked outside of lessons or when he needed something explained. A ton of my energy in that class went to trying to keep the peace; it was a very difficult class to teach thanks to behavioral issues–my 48 year old, nearly seven foot tall and very large instructional aide had to leave class often to rein in his anger, and he often asked me how I can cope with that level of disrespect.  So it’s a hard room to deal with.

Anyway, during fourth period, I had a chance to read Ethan’s note. Here’s what it said:

Hey Mr. Johnston!  I know you probably couldn’t care about this stupid, arrogant letter from me to you so I won’t make it long, you’ll probably just tear it up or throw it away anyways, but I just wanted to tell you that I really really appreciate what you did and what you taught us, especially me, throughout this tough year, and I’m sorry for it being tough, for the both of us.  But you helped me a lot through this year, and even though I didn’t, I want to let you know that I felt like I could tell you anything.

I’m choking up a little while I write this, because you’re the hardest teacher to say goodbye to, even though we didn’t talk to each other a lot.  I want to thank you for making my first year in public school so memorable and valuable to me!  I appreciate what you did and what you do so so much Mr. Johnston!  You taught me a lot and not just in the English academic field but in life.

You are the best English teacher and I wish with all my heart I can be your T.A. someday.  I don’t want to say goodbye but hopefully I’ll see you around next year.  I hope we can be friends someday!  😀

Oh, Ethan.  That note is going into my desk drawer–the one at home, not in the classroom–and whenever I need to remember why I am still teaching in these days of slashed budgets, disrespectful classes, and right-wing hatred of what we do, I’m going to pull that letter out, along with a few others like it I’ve received over the years, and I’m going to read it.

And “Ethan,” just in case you find this post: If you’d said all this to my face, here’s what I would have told you:

Thank you. That was one of the nicest notes I’ve ever gotten. Know that you are one of the kids in that class that I looked forward to seeing every day.  Your quiet, stoic demeanor in a class full of (let’s call it like it is) idiotic posturing was a breath of fresh air, and Mr. McLaren (the instructional aide) and I talked often about how you were one of the good ones.

If you ever find room in your schedule to be a TA, you will be more than welcome in my classroom.  For that matter, kid, you stop in any time if you need anything.  Even if you just want to say hi at lunch, or talk about things that are bugging you, you’ll always be welcome.

And despite what you wrote on the other side of the note, you were NOT a bad student.  You did your best, and it paid off: you earned a B in the class.  Now work that hard in your other classes; I can see you’re having trouble.  Come talk to me next year and I’ll help you out.