Monday, July 13, 2009

Q&A #1: Teaching

Alrighty then. You asked for it.

Thanks for all the great questions you sent for this first go-round of Q&A. I'll try to keep this up as a regular thing. I decided for this first one to cull some questions from different people since they were on the same topic: teaching.

I didn't even consider teaching being one of the things you'd want to know about. I figured it was all soul-baring relationship stuff, all the time. I'm happy to answer about my job; I've been teaching full time at a high school since January of 2002. That's over seven years! Just so you know, I'm not really sure how I'm old enough to have been working at my career for that long already. I don't feel like a grownup yet.

On to the questions:

How did you decide teaching high school English was your calling?

There are several answers to this. The first is that my mom is a teacher, so I basically just grew up thinking I'd do it too. I have loved to read since I was really small--I'd get my book taken away at night because otherwise I'd stay up all night reading and never sleep. There was nothing better, when I was a kid, than finding a series of books (like The Babysitters Club, Nancy Drew, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Anne of Green Gables) that I could read almost endlessly. I loved playing school, and I loved school supplies. I loved reading my peers' papers for them when we did peer editing and felt like I understood how to construct a paper. I remember having lots of horrible, boring teachers who didn't seem like they cared very much about their students or the subject matter and thinking, "I could do that better."

I was also really blessed to have some amazing teachers who really made a difference in my life. I thought I might be able to make that kind of difference for some students. I remember the moment I decided I wanted to teach English, though. It was in 8th grade, and I was writing an essay on Uncle Tom's Cabin for my Language Arts class. It was really hard and I really tried to do a good job with it. It was the first time that I remember my writing getting me noticed. That continued in high school. My next milestone paper was in 10th grade, where I wrote about Mayella Ewell's red geraniums. Again, I felt that same sense of excitement about discovering something that was hidden in the book, and being able to describe it in words. I knew I wanted to be an English teacher. Tenth grade was a big year for me, and it really shaped how I think about teaching English to this day. I got my fist experience teaching at 15, when I started teaching dance classes. I did this through college.

The other part of this is that while I was a dancer all through high school, I was very sheltered, not really knowing that dance was a career option for me. My parents were against that, so I was encouraged to go to college and study English. I didn't realize that my "sheltering" didn't only cover dance--I was really very clueless to the world at large, colleges beyond the local border of the Sacramento area, and travel or new experiences. A lot of why I ended up teaching is that I did not have exposure to other options. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does make me want to show my kids more of the world and show them that I trust them so if they want to explore what the world has to offer, they will feel confident to do so.

The last part of this is that I don't know if teaching English is my calling, forever. I have high hopes that I will try a few more things before I kick the bucket. As a job, though, it's a good one.

Do you constantly fight the urge to judge people based on their grammatical errors?

I get asked this all the time! NO, NO, A THOUSAND TIMES, NO! Wanna know why? I am not a "details" kind of person. There might be people who want to teach English because they heart grammar and spelling, but that isn't me. I basically know how things are supposed to sound, but I can't stand grammar worksheets. I'm all about the archetypes, the patterns, the themes, the big ideas... I've taken some Linguistics classes, I've diagrammed my sentences, but I HATE THAT CRAP. I don't edit people when they email me. I don't judge them like that, just like I don't go around fixing people's shoulders and arm positions when I'm not teaching ballet. E finds mistakes on my blog all the time, and it kills me. When I email the entire English department at my school, I still get sweaty palms. I get why you would all think that I'm sitting here with a red pen ready, but you don't need to worry. If you could please learn the following words as a courtesy to the rest of the human race, that would be great: your/you're, they're/their/there, sequins/sequence. But if you get them (or anything else) wrong in an email, I'm not going to correct you, tell on you, or make fun of you. I'll politely ignore it, just like I hope you do for me. I never did learn how to spell "weird".

What's it like working at the high school where you went to school?

I like it. It's very different for me, now. I was so shy and uninvolved in high school. In a lot of ways, I live in Bizzarro World now. I like to do as much as I can for the school, and I've spent time doing lots of things for rallies, fund-raisers, and clubs. It looks the same, only I don't remember it being so run-down. I do hate that it is so old compared to other schools in the district. I can barely set foot on the new campuses, I get so depressed. But when I'm there, I don't mind it. I do miss there being grass in the quad, and I miss the cowboys in the "cowboy corner." A lot of what most people would see as change, I'm afraid I don't see anymore. It's like how you don't see your children growing because they're with you every day. To many of you, it would seem so different. To me it's the same school I've known for 12 years of my life. I like that I am one of the staff members who understands the traditions of a historic, small town high school, but one of the drawbacks of that has been that sometimes (like last year when the town wanted to cancel the homecoming parade) it can be pretty painful and/or frustrating for me.

Is it weird seeing and working with all your old teachers?

Oddly enough, this is the other question I get asked all the time. No, absolutely not. Many of the teachers who taught me are no longer at the school. Those who are (the ones that I am close to) I was close to, even when I was in college and newly married, so I've been in contact with them for a long time. Many of my close friends were teachers when I was there, but I didn't have them as my teachers. Luckily, I wasn't a screwup in high school, so I don't have anything to be embarrassed about. But, as I said, I'm very different now than I was in high school. I love the people I work with--I believe that I teach with the best staff in the district. When I was student teaching, it made me nervous for about a month to go into the Staff Lounge, but I got over it. Teachers are people too, and teaching (and teaching with them) has just allowed me to see that students have a completely warped sense of what teachers truly are. I don't think there's anything to be done about that, but it makes me realize I was kind of closed-minded when I was young, just like everyone is.

Do you ever have horrid flashbacks to your HS days?

No, not really. I'm glad. High school was boring and socially awkward for me. The only time I have flashbacks is when the drumline plays the Terminator thing or when the band marches by playing Fire It Up. I find it hard not to smile or to dance around when I hear that song. That song is my high school, and it takes me back.

Why do you like teaching HS? Did you just take a position at a high school because it was open, or was it what you really wanted?

I have to admit that I spent some time thinking when I went into the credential program. It was a hard choice for me, deciding if I wanted to teach Elementary or Secondary. I really like teaching little kids, and I miss that interaction with all ages that I had when I was teaching dance for so long. Kids aren't jaded or mean like teenagers. But I ultimately decided that I wanted to teach writing at a higher level and I didn't know what I'd do with the same kids all day long, so I decided on high school. Actually, I spent a summer observing at a Junior High and that was enough to cure me of any delusions I might have had about that age level. I am never teaching Junior High. There's a special place in Heaven for those people.

I made it my mission in life to get hired at the high school where I am now. I was lucky--I got hired at the beginning of a hiring boom, so there was choice. I liked the tradition and history of the school. I looked at my student teaching year like a year-long job interview. I decided I was going to be Wonder Woman. I almost never missed a day of observation, and I observed all day long when I did observe. Because of that, when a teacher in the department went on maternity leave, I was able to take her position as a long term sub, and get paid for my student teaching. I volunteered for everything I could think of and had as many people in the department observe me as possible and give me feedback. I was hired that summer even though I was six months pregnant with Miss Roo and was going to give birth in November of my first year teaching. All that hard work paid off. I am glad I got the job where I did; this school has been good to me. I have only now let go of that "job interview" mentality because I realized that I'm seven years in and I don't have to prove myself anymore.

I like high school and I don't like it. I have to say that there are many things about the job that I couldn't have known before I started. Two of the hardest things for me are how genuinely mean and rude kids can be, and how difficult the parents are. I definitely didn't see those two things coming, and I really struggle with them. I get my feelings hurt easily, and unfortunately high school kids don't just misbehave the way younger kids do--they try to be as negative and mean as they can sometimes. And they're not very grateful. For example, last year I didn't hear "thank you" from one kid following the school dance show, even though I had given hours and hours of my life to it. It's just hard when you feel like it would be worth it, if only they'd realize what it took out of you. [See, I just used the "generic you," which is totally against the rules.] But I think I still like high school for a career. There are some students that make everything worth it. I have been blessed with some very special people who don't realize the impact they make on me; they make me so proud to do what I do.

High school kids are so different between 9th and 12th grade. 9th graders are so rowdy and can't sit still. They still need a lot of hand-holding, and many of them are scared. 10th grade is probably my favorite age, but they take a lot of energy. They're ripe to learn things. 11th graders are a headache because they're just starting to feel important, and they seem to take it out on each other. 11th graders are usually really funny, though. I like 12th grade probably second best, because they really start to realize that they need to get into college so they need your help, but just as you've got them, they check out and get senioritis. They're all good ages, and it's kind of neat to see how much kids grow up in front of you. I think one of the hard things about the job is that you aren't around for that moment maybe five or ten years down the road, where they grow up and realize they need to stop acting like goons. Maybe they're thankful then, but you never know what they remember or not.

I am convinced that it isn't the serious stuff they remember anyway, but things like me running into my bookshelf while I talk and give a serious lecture, or how I always fall off of the chair I'm standing on while I put up posters on the wall. It's me, in gaucho pants, a summer dress, and tap shoes, showing them a time step on the last day of school. That's the stuff that sticks.


So, how did I do? Any burning questions, yet to be asked? Any topic. Email them to me for the next Q&A:

1 comment:

  1. Having spent my four years of high school in the "Cowboy Corner," I really miss it too! How sad that there are no more cowboys...