Third year – first semester – I think I like this

I THINK I ACTUALLY LIKE TEACHING

That first year in the Midwest was satisfying enough that I signed on to teach the next year. Over the summer I attended a conference on how to teach TPRS – Total Physical Response Storytelling.  I was so excited. It was even with the man from Bakersfield whose name I learned – Blaine Ray.  It’s such a great method. I still remember the German from his example at the conference so I know it works – you really learn and remember the foreign language. I was so excited to teach and use it the next year. I just wished there was some way to jazz up that world cultures class. So I tried, but I was burned, badly.

 

When school started it was a lot easier since I could use some lessons from the year before. I was amazed how much free time I had, especially since I still had relatively small classes.  My Spanish One class was pretty big for the school – almost thirty kids.  I was excited to use the TPRS method but the kids were so quiet and never got very animated, maybe because it was the first class of the day. Yet they did learn a lot of communicative Spanish and that impressed me.

My second class of the day was my favorite. Spanish Three which consisted of five students all of which were very animated and we did the TPRS stories and skits and had a lot of fun. I had a good rapport with them and never had any problems.

Yet, the last class of the day was the dreaded World Cultures.  I tried to make it interesting – feasts for every culture we studied where they could make a dish for extra credit.  We tried watching and dancing to a video of Middle Eastern dances but the kids were too shy to try.  I even put up photos of my travels but they didn’t like walking around the room looking at them and answering questions.  The seniors in the class really hated the question sheets I made for the movies we’d watch. I was stuck to think how else to get them to actually watch a film but I guess I should have dug deeper. They did watch the Hitler movie without needing any worksheet or study guide. 

 

By the end of the first semester, I was already getting tired of having to battle with kids about stupid things like bathroom passes and couldn’t stand it when they said “this is stupid” if you pass out a paper or something. I can’t imagine people at a business meeting and the CEO presents a PowerPoint and some employee yells out “This is stupid”.  Teaching must be the most criticized job in the world!  It’s you against thirty every hour on the hour!  No wonder people leave, it’s hard to find confidence amidst all the harsh criticism by kids, parents, and administrators in their evaluations but actually at this Midwest school the evaluations were always factual and pretty nice and not so nitpicking.

Back to the diary:

August 4th. 

The conference was great from the beginning.  I love this TPRS method and it’s even better than when I went to the other workshop. I even learned some German. And I met lots of nice people. Everyone cooed at my son.

We ate at a horrible Middle Eastern and I usually love humus.  But next door was a neat store where I bought cool African stuff to decorate the room of my World Cultures class.

September 1st

Well daycare and work went fine. Baby cries a lot in the morning but the daycare lady is catching on how to get him to nap by carrying him. I think he’ll do fine. And I’ve been so busy preparing for school.  I’m excited I’m gonna do my best to make the World Cultures class fun this year, at least I know some of the students are really good and academically inclined.

September 5th

I feel good about school but bad at home. I want more time with my baby. I only get to see him from 4:15/4:30 on and yesterday he fell asleep at six. I miss him!  Today I made sure to play with him a lot and make our time special.  Now I’m busy again with work. Spanish One so far is learning quickly with TPR commands (sit down, stand up, etc) but I don’t like just bossing them around so I’m happy to start the stories tomorrow. And World Cultures actually went well today too. The bunch seems a little older and better than last year. They wrote in their journals and they liked the story we made up about culture (birth, marriage, death). And they had good comments and questions about Native Americans plus they seemed to like the Native American legend stories. Let’s hope it keeps going well. At least I learned a lot of what didn’t go right last year. And I can’t wait for the weekend to spend with my baby who’s learning to stand!

September 12, 2001

Yesterday the world changed. I went into work listening to a CD and dropping my 9 month old at the lady’s house.  At 8:10 I was in my room preparing for class. At 8:30 class began and I told a funny story.  The students were quiet as usual. This first hour Spanish class is just so asleep still at that hour. But I was having fun telling my story.  Later I worried, did they think I knew because I had no idea and I wouldn’t have been laughing and carrying on if I did!

I went to the bathroom between classes like I normally do. When I came back into class the boys in Spanish Two who I know from last year to be jokesters, had the TV on. I told them to knock it off, we never put the TV on. 

They said, “No. For real.  There is an airplane in the World Trade Center and bombs off on the Pentagon and the Washington Monument.”

I looked up at the screen and the news seemed to show something was going on.  I responded, “What?  Someone is destroying my city?”

I was confused. What was going on in my hometown of Washington? Was everyone alright?

We all looked up at the screen the whole 80 minute block.  The horrible events started to unfold.

Right before I had started Spanish One class, some of the student body had heard about a plane going into the World Trade Center. I didn’t listen to the news on my way in but ever since yesterday I have it on all the time now!

I thought it was an accident like the time an airplane flew into the Empire State Building when my grandmother was visiting in the city that day. No, it got worse. Another plane went into the next one and the news talked about terrorism.

I felt powerless just sitting there watching TV.  I tried not to show my fear so I wouldn’t scare these already scared 16 year olds.  So, I went to the Internet to see what happened in Isreal on this day.  The news mentioned Osama Bin Laden and I regret not keeping up with the news and knowing who he is.

As I figured out something happened in Isreal this day, one of my jokestars said “Spanish teacher in Minnesota figures out terrorism.”  That made us all breathe and laugh a minute.

Then the governor got on TV and that scared me more. What is he doing on there?  Why?  He told us to stay in school and be safe. Here I was feeling safe in the middle of nowhere Midwest till he said that. Are they going to attack here too?

Class ended and the rest of the day the TV just stayed on and no one taught. We were all shocked and saddened to see the towers go down. I can’t imagine what is going on there.  But after they kept repeating the image I could see the blazen look on the teens eyes- trying to protect themselves.  Reminds me how some in my high school didn’t care too much when the challenger exploded.  Is this a teen thing, sometimes?  Others were deeply upset of course.

The teachers were all talking and a wreck but we had to keep it together for the kids.  One teacher scared me when she said all the Jehovah Witness parents took their kids out of school since it’s the end of the world. Is it?

I just wanted to go home and hug my baby. I called the lady and she said he was peacefully asleep. When I picked him up her parents and in laws were there all watching the TV. I was jealous of the innocence of my little son not knowing what was going on.

I tried to drive up to see my husband whose working and staying overnight an hour away. But the baby cries something awful in the car and wouldn’t stop. I pulled over after 15 minutes to nurse him. On the radio they said there were bombs going off in Afghanistan. I started to cry. The world was ending. I thought they said it was Afghanistan who attacked us so why are they fighting there too? I don’t understand.  At least I finally got to cry but I felt so lonely, had to go home, alone.  Baby was fine and he went to sleep normal time. I was so alone in the house but put the TV news on and the Christian radio to hear other voices, comforting voices.

The next few days the horrors continued with the newspaper and news. I switched my World Cultures class to talk about the Middle East as soon as we finished the Native American unit.  I asked them to each report on a country there and answer the question – why do they hate us? It was a question on everyone’s minds those days.

The skies were empty, not even a crop duster. I still felt safer in the Midwest but changed, like everyone else.  I called all my friends back East and everyone was fine but had stories.  Two friends could see the Pentagon burning from their houses.  Friends called me from all over the world from my travels so in a way, the world grew smaller.

The students seemed to move on quicker than us adults.  One student was visiting a military base, thinking of her future after graduation. It had closed down so she had first hand accounts to the terrorism which she seemed to want to talk about in World Cultures.

I hope I served the students well that day but I know I forever felt like I never got the chance to mourn. Somethings are more important – like helping the teens feel safe in a scary world.

September 21st

The kids in Spanish One are so quiet that first hour. Makes me worry about doing TPRS since they are so unanimated.  I tried to motivate them today with lollipops that I’ve been harboring in my kitchen cubbord all summer.  They weren’t more alive until they started licking them and one kid, Ryan, yelled out “There are dead ants on here.”  I felt so bad. The ants must have found the sugary paradises and died in them. I didn’t mean to feed them insect infested treats.

 

October 2nd

Yesterday the principal informed me that Leonard  from my study hall hour, was in the cafeteria and not in the library where I thought he was since he had me write him a

pass to go to the library.  So today I informed him that I would not let him out of study hall since he abused the pass privilege.

He did ask to go to the office and I agreed since I figured he wanted to talk to the principal about this.  I wrote the pass and once he left I called the office to tell them he was on his way.  Later I learned he did not show up at all.  Again he wrote a pass and did not go where he was supposed to go.

He came back from wherever he went and soon asked for another pass to go to the library.  I said, “No, I won’t let you get passes anymore.”

Immediately he asked for a pass to the bathroom instead.  I said no.  He started to say he really had to take a “shit” and I told him I would write him up for cursing.  He said the “s” word two more times and the “f” word since he was upset about not getting a pass to the bathroom. 

He said he really had to go and when did the school not allow students to go to the bathroom. He rallied up some other students with his argument.  So I said I would write him a pass to go at the end of study hall and then that would allow him to go, even if he ended up late to his 3rd hour class. He liked that idea until he realized it wasn’t a pass for right then, that he would have to wait until the end of class.  So, he started to

walk out.  I asked, “Where are you going, Leonard?”

He said he was going to the bathroom and walked out.  I called the principal and explained the situation.

I’m getting tired of being a policewoman, especially at the ridiculous study hall period where the students never study!  The school offers study hall just so they can divide up the crowd in the cafeteria for lunch.  I guess since they never do homework in my classes, even the more academic students in Spanish 2 and 3, the other teachers don’t give homework either.  Maybe they are right about the Midwest, it’s not as motivated as the Coasts.

October 16th

That Spanish One class is dead whenever we try to act out stories but there is one kid, Ryan, who is animated. Sometimes a little too much. I gave him “pagames” (point deductions) for talking during a story. He kept talking and being loud and interrupting the story. He even yelled out “this story is stupid,” I told him to talk to me after class. I told him I was giving him a major.   Another student who I call Future Lawyer yelled out that I always pick on Ryan so I said I wouldn’t use him for stories and examples anymore. Tomorrow I’ll tell Ryan that I gave him a break – a minor instead of a major but I’ll kick him out of the room next time he disrupts and then give him a major.

Pagames are “pay me”s meaning if a student talks or disrupts the Spanish story, they lose participation points, but they can make them up by writing a note in Spanish saying they are sorry. It is part of the TPRS method but it never really worked for me, since nothing discipline wise ever did work for me.

Oct 23rd

Dear World Cultures teacher;

I don’t mean to be different but I was quite frustrated when my daughter and I went to get the ingredients for this recipe. We went to a grocery store and I spent at least a ½ hour looking for these ingredients – I found the pomegranates, the blanched almonds and the almond extract. By this time the total for just these 3 items was already $12.00. I could not find any rice flour. I had no idea how many pomegranates I needed to get 1 tablespoon of seeds. By this time I was getting quite frustrated so I did not continue with it any further. To me, this recipe was not cheap nor easy to find what I needed. We are on a very limited income and I cannot afford to be spending money like this. I do not like being a poor sport about this; I’m just being honest with you. And if I have to run around searching for the ingredients from store to store I get even more frustrated. If you would like to supply the ingredients we would gladly attempt to make this. I have discussed this with a few people just to see if I was maybe being unreasonable, but not one of these people felt any differently about this than I do. Once again, I apologize if this sounds like I’m unwilling to participate with this – I just have to be honest with you.  I also work full time and work a lot of overtime so I don’t have a lot of extra time to run around trying to get all this stuff if it can’t be found in a local grocery story for a reasonable price. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to call me. And I hope this does not affect my daughter negatively – it’s not her fault.

Dear student’s mother;

I am so sorry the food assignment caused you such frustration. I think she asked for an easy and cheap recipe and when I briefly looked over the recipe I wrongly assumed it was. I completely understand you giving up the effort and she would not have been nor will be punished for it. The recipes were given out for the students to try different foods from the cultures we are studying. If the department had more money I would gladly fund all the food but that isn’t possible this year. Next year I will try to get more money for these efforts. The next food day I will prepare the food and ask the students to bring three dollars if they can afford to help with the ingredients since I too understand we have very limited to spend after paying our bills each month. And the food for Africa will only be one dish prepared between four students so they can choose one person to make it or divide the costs, it is up to them. I planned the class this way so the students, and parents, would not have to constantly cook or pay for the new foods. I still think it is a great way to experience new cultures by having our food days. I want the students to go away from the class getting an idea of what the world is like, not just by studying the dry textbook.

Thank you for your note,

It was an extra credit assignment and they had more than one day to do it so the teen choose the last minute (typical) and to blame the teacher instead of her own delay.  Also a culture shock for me – in affluent neighborhoods this would not have even been a problem, like where I grew up, so I was still not used to small towns.  It was hard for them since there wasn’t even a grocery store in the town (just gas stations.) The whole class was a waste anyways and trying to do anything creative back fired. At least this mom was brave enough to talk to me and didn’t go to the principal first.

October 26th

I don’t know why I’m so depressed? Is it the change – not being with my son every day all day like in the summer and missing him so much?  Eating junk food and not exercising and hating my body? But what kept me up last night is work. Spanish One really irks me.  It feels like my first year in California again and that horrible class right in the morning.  I just feel like they all hate me. I hate them. They hate Spanish. I’m a horrible teacher. And I had such high hopes after the TPRS conference. I feel like an idiot trying to do the stories. And it’s more depressing seeing the posts from the Internet Listserv of Second Language teachers who are saying how great their classes are. I just feel like crying all the time.

October 30th

My study hall is from hell!  It is a bunch of seniors who never do homework and just want to leave the room.  And we have the computer room so its not like they can’t have fun checking their email or whatever.  But today Leonard got mad when I told them to stop talking. He said, “Why don’t you go back to Mexico.”  I gave him a major for his attitude and racism.  I’m from the US but everyone thinks that because I teach Spanish I was born elsewhere but either way it doesn’t matter. He said it meaning a racist remark so he deserves whatever they give him.

November 10th

Maybe we should move this summer. I’m getting tired of work and starting to hate the kids again. I need an extra-curricular, extra-carreercular life, a cosmopolitan life.

 

November 20th

 

I must be a loser. I can’t stand a job for more than nine months. I’ve always been a traveler and a free spirit and I don’t like feeling trapped or controlled. And this small backwards town is really getting to me. I want to move, tomorrow. The latest issue is the play. I took the job because the superintendent asked me to since last year’s director didn’t know what she was doing.  And for the money, but now I don’t want it. The kids already are a pain or at least one is a big pain – Drama Queen.  I’d rather go home and be with my son than stay after school working with her.  We barely get any quality time together as it is now. 

 

So Drama Queen first tells me that she wants to do a full-length play, not one acts like they usually do in the fall.  Then she says the play we all choose from the catalogue is too risqué and won’t be good if I take out some of the risqué lines and she says we have time to choose another. I really don’t feel like casting her. I hope she does a bad job on her audition but I’ll judge her by her abilities, not her attitude. Of course I heard all this through rumors but I confronted her and she just said her opinion. Earlier the principal came in saying that the Superintendent has to approve all plays. So rumors grow fast and make me look dumb again. I should’ve read the play before ordering so many copies. I edited it and it’s fine and still funny. Talking to the teacher who directed last year’s play helped. I guess kids are just pushy and you gotta show them you’re boss but I’m tired of beating heads with this backward part of the world. The countryside has lost its charm.

 

The Superintendent vetoed the play even with the edits I made.  I found a one-act that was 100% innocent and with fewer cast since I also learned that in small towns kids drop out of the play, especially to be on the basketball team instead.  The next year I wrote a one-act play specifically innocent and with few cast members that could play multiple parts since it was hard to find material for this small town community.

November 26th

 

For Thanksgiving in World Cultures class I tried an activity I had heard about to teach about world hunger and how the world’s resources are distributed.  For homework, I had them each bring in a bag of M&Ms. Then, they picked a piece of paper with a continent name on it.  All the Africans went to one side of the room together, all the Europeans, all the North Americans, all the Middle Easterners, etc.  Then I gave them M&Ms according to how the world’s food is distributed – Europeans got 7 M&Ms each, North Americans got 5, Middle Eastern people and Latin Americans got two and Africans got half an M&M. We discussed the fairness of this. Then I decided not to give them back their M&Ms to prove the point more, that I was from Europe and I’m keeping the world resources. They were very upset, how they had spent their money buying the candy, and how it was their M&Ms. They even went and got the Superintendent (the principal must have been out that day) and I told him what I was doing and to go along with it.  So he said to the students that he’d support whatever the teacher thought to do. They must not have seen my smile and how I was using it as a lesson and they didn’t seem that happy when I said of course I would give them their M&Ms back. They grabbed them in a huff and gave me horrible looks.  I didn’t realize how much they didn’t trust me. 

 

I was so naïve. That just made them hate me more and not trust me.  Most students are so used to dry worksheets and textbooks that anything different is scary. I would pay, dearly.

December 3rd

I found yet another reason to leave this job – too many long hours now with directing the play too. I miss being home with my son. Maybe I should move.

 

December 10th

 

My Spanish One class is so dead that two weeks ago I tried to have a very simple Spanish story where they could add a lot of words and ideas to the story. I was hoping it would give some CPR to this dead class.

 

I had one student come up and put a bandana on his head like he was a baby. I said the baby was sad and asked them why.  They said, all in Spanish, that his mother was bad and hit him.  So we went on and the story was good, all in Spanish and animated.  But somewhere in the story I mentioned that since the mother hit the child that “child protection services”(that one phrase was in English) took the mother.  My blood was pumping, my brain was functioning on adrenaline and I was just too into the story at the moment and didn’t think anything of it. I forgot how sensitive teenagers are.

Lately I noticed one student has been acting out. Not doing her work, yelling about how stupid everything is in my class.  So I asked the counselor to talk to her, to find out what is going on with her life that it’s effecting her schoolwork. When I asked the counselor today about it in the lunch lounge, she said, in front of everyone, that the student was upset because I mentioned child protection services. I didn’t know that her family had had issues with them.  I feel stupid.

 

December 16th

 

Yesterday was the staff holiday party. It was fun especially with the white elephant gift giving. The principal had given the worse gift!

I asked the math teacher (30 years of teaching experience) for advice. I think I can survive and I like all the teacher travel opportunities and summers off.

December 19th

Is anything right?

How did I get here?  My life used to be so exciting and different. Now I’m a schmuck, a boring teacher in a boring town. I want out!  I need to get out!  I hate work.  I don’t know why I ever considered teaching again?  I’m too carefree to handle a room of rebellious teens who want to regurgitate information and they do not want to think. They’ve been trained for nine to twelve years to just fill in the blanks and not to think. I want to home school. I don’t want my son to be programmed and lied to. Or that he’ll become lazy like most of these kids.

I guess I should explain the latest crisis.  They had a student “bitch” forum. Some crazy thing I’d never heard about until today.  It’s with the student government run by the history teacher and they discuss issues about the school. At this one meeting my World Cultures class came up, and then my Spanish One class. The worse part about it is that some of the school board members just happened to be there to see how this organization works. So I feel like it was completely unfair to not even warn the teacher that her class and methods would be discussed. And do you know who brought this all up – Drama Queen! First she causes problems for the after school play and now she’s mad that I gave her a small part, which she refused and quit the production.  She did an awful audition plus I knew she’d cause problems. She’s taking it all out on my class instead. And she can with this horrible forum.

So at the beginning of Spanish Three a student who was there at this student government thing told me about Drama Queen and her rant, even talking in front of the superintendent and the board who were all there!  She told them how horrible my teaching is in World Cultures class. Then some student from Spanish said I teach words too fast. At least the history teacher stood up for me and asked if they study their words.  When this nice Spanish Three student told me about this I started to say, “I work so hard and this is the reward I get” but I just started crying.

I ran away from the shocked class looking at me and ran into the teacher’s lounge.  I must have been sobbing pretty loudly because the Superintendent came in and talked to me. I told him how I felt and he said that I must care and that makes me a good teacher, otherwise I wouldn’t be crying about it.  That made me feel better.

I went back to class but the kids were gone.  Didn’t really matter since we were only doing holiday stuff since it’s the last day before winter break. I found them in the art room watching a holiday movie so they were smart juniors and seniors and found a way to take care of themselves. I’m lucky I didn’t get fired but I think the Superintendent understands what happened.  Plus it’s a small class with only six students.

Since my students were in another room, I went and talked to the music teacher who directed the play last year. I didn’t know that she and the other music teacher have problems with this administration. They even told me that this school is so backwards that they fired a really good music and drama teacher because he acted “gay”, not even necessarily was really gay.  What a horrible town!

I cried it all out but I still feel upset.  Here we go again like in California, everything I put into this job and I only get grief back. In other jobs it’d be considered abuse. I just feel like I need a change. My bills are almost paid. I should do something different and fun again. Here I feel so alone. I’m not even like people around here – reserved, quiet, mid westerners.  I’m a loud east coaster!  I just want to live my normal life again and write books. I think it’s time to take risks again and live life to it’s fullest!

 

January 7th

I arranged a meeting after school to talk to World Cultures class about their concerns. The Superintendent agreed to come.  I was disappointed that Drama Queen didn’t show up – only preferred to go behind my back at that stupid forum. Only one girl showed up, and she was very mature and had good ideas. She said they didn’t like looking at pictures on the bulletin boards and answering questions about them – especially since some of the photos were in black and white and it asked what color the widow was wearing. I assumed, wrongly, that they could tell it was black.  Just technical errors really. Very fixable. I admired her for speaking up but I was mad that Drama Queen caused this whole crisis and didn’t have the nerves to come to the meeting so I went and spoke to her at her after school job. I told her that I was disappointed in her for not coming to the meeting and that she didn’t have the courage to talk to me face to face and instead went and talked to other teachers, the board, and superintendent. I don’t even care if she gets mad at me and makes a fuss about what I said to her today.  She deserved the truth!

 

January 18th

Final exam times.  The Spanish One class was so dead all semester but they really did learn.  I took each student out of the room and had them describe a picture to me and answer questions in Spanish. I’m amazed at how much they know. I wish I had done more of this all semester. And I liked talking to them one on one.

 

I became a teacher because I truly do like teenagers, just not in a group viciousious mentality setting. They are delights one on one.  I should have done like good teachers do, stand at the door and welcome each one into your room, but my excuse was I’m always too busy moving to another room or getting the paperwork ready for the next class. Stupid excuses.

 

January 19th

I had the World Cultures class do a review so I could get some real criticism to work with for the next time I have to give the class. I was amazed how one person said “I learned that you went to this, that, and other country” They thought it was all about me. Obviously I have a hard time connecting to kids and teaching them in a way that it’s not about me or my experiences. I wanted to share with them my experiences and get them to appreciate other cultures.  Obviously, that failed.  I think teaching is all about the razzle-dazzle and making it look like real learning is taking place through worksheets and exams. At least in traditional classrooms where kids stop caring about real learning. 

 

What was even sadder was all the seniors that complained in that class ended up just staying in town, working at the same jobs they did in high school or for their parent’s businesses. I just felt like what a waste. Here I tired to teach them, help them get a degree and they chose to do nothing with their lives. But that’s my upbringing snobberies coming into play.

 

About CJ

I was a Spanish teacher for 5 years in the Public School system in 3 different states. I homeschooled and taught at a democratic free school. I heard about cohousing in 2010 and wanted to move in right away. I met a group building one in 2018 and got to move in the summer of 2019. It only took a year to want out.
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