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The Vagabond Teacher

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The teaching profession has changed. I remember when I first started teaching in 1992. There was a teacher shortage. At least that’s what I remember hearing. I had just finished my student teaching and moved up to Los Angeles, with a job teaching kindergarten at a Catholic school. I taught there for 4 years, until I quit for personal and professional reasons- the biggest of which was that I needed to go back to school to Clear my Credential. In those 4 years, I never worried that I’d lose my job.

After taking a year off and working at Universal Studios while finishing school, I  was fortunate enough to get a job working at a school that focused on the Arts. I was there for 4 years (seems to have been my magic number), until I had my first child. During that 4 years, again, I never worried about losing my job.

Almost 3 years ago, I got hired as a 5th grade teacher in our local district. During that year, I had 3 principals and 2 teaching partners (1 during the first semester, 1 during the second). I taught there for 2 years and then was “involuntarily transferred” to another school in the district. The enrollment was down, so they needed to get rid of a teacher. I was the lowest in seniority, so I left.

This year, our district laid off 111 teachers. There was a trial, a group of “provisional” lay-offs were rescinded, and then for 2.5 months 89 of us waited and worried and rewrote our resumes while we didn’t know if we were going to get called back by our district or not.

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If only all my school supplies fit in a bindle…

Thankfully, I was “called back” and was reassigned to another school in the district. Third school in 3 years. And thankfully my wonderful principal from my last school is allowing me to keep my boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff in the back room until I move again. However, I can’t help but wonder where I will be next year at this time…

Will I get to stay in one place? Will I be laid off again? Will I be relocated by way of involuntary transfer again? I have no idea. I can only hope that I’m ready for whichever it may be, and I can only hope that SOMETHING turns around in the near future that will keep teachers IN the classroom and not having to move around year after year.

**Edited to add: I don’t know if this is a phenomenon to Pasadena, to Los Angeles, to California, or if it’s all around the country. I’d like to hear from people in other parts of the US and hear if this seems to be the norm with public schools everywhere, or just in certain places.

~Genevieve

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Pink Slips Aren’t Just For Cars

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This year, I experienced the joy (sarcasm) of getting a pink slip. And that doesn’t mean the title to a cool car. (And by the way, it wasn’t actually PINK, which was disappointing.)

For anyone who doesn’t know, it means I was given a letter letting me know that the school district is not going to be needing my services next year.

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Now, some people whom I’ve told have said, “school districts do this all the time. I’m sure you’ll be hired back.” I’ve also been told, “I’m sure you’ll be back” by people at my school. Though not by my actual principal, so I’m guessing she knows the drill and the reality that IF my job is somehow saved, the likelihood of me keeping the actual job I have now is slim to none.

Not having been through this before EVER, it’s all new to me.

The first step is the letter itself. The second step was the meeting with the Union President and the lawyer who represents us in the hearing. (I’m still not 100% clear on what the hearing will or won’t accomplish and how it will or won’t help me keep my job.) Step 3 is another letter. Step 4 is the hearing. Step 5 is finding out if any teachers accepted the early retirement package, and Step 6 is getting a third letter which tells me a) Hey! We can keep you as a teacher for next year after all – here’s your assignment or b) Sorry, Charlie (see letters 1 and 2).  *There is a chance that if I get Option b, I could still get a call in August or September offering me a position, but I hope that if that’s the case, I’m already employed.

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At my school, most of the other teachers haven’t said anything to me about it, though a few have asked me what the latest is, and I appreciate that. Now that we’re at the end of the year, though, staff meetings are growing increasingly more uncomfortable for me. The teachers are making their choices for what grade they’d like to teach next year. Committees are being put together for next year. Retirement planners are coming to talk to teachers about their futures. We all need to complete hours of training so we can get shiny new touchscreen chrome books (which I won’t need if I’m not here).

Honestly? It’s downright depressing. Part of me wants to excuse myself when the conversation turns to things that don’t apply to me anymore, but I feel compelled to stay in my seat and just be bummed out. I try to smile when people ask me if there’s any news, but honestly? It’s not easy.

I know this seems to be fairly “normal” in some school districts, but I’ve worked for 3 and this is the first time I’ve been through this. There has GOT to be a better way to handle this. Teachers have to keep teaching the remaining 2.5 months of the school year, giving their all, doing their best, smiling at co-workers, students, and parents while inside they’re stressed and worried and sad. They have to keep working as if nothing’s wrong, and smiling on the outside when their students tell them, “I wish you could still be our teacher next year!”

I imagine this is what it must be like for actors when they find out their character on a TV show is being killed off and they can’t tell anyone, because they’re under contract not to spoil anything.

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I know I should just be going with the flow, but it’s not easy. I’m trying. We just had Open House and I smiled for 2 hours while chatting with parents and talking about their children and watching a slideshow of pictures I took throughout the year.

Next year, whether I’m at my current school district or a new one, I will have been at 3 schools in 3 years. I will have moved furniture and boxes out of my garage, into my classroom, into my living room, into my new classroom, into some place in my house (won’t be my living room this time, so I can actually have guests over) and hopefully back into another classroom.

Or, maybe I sell it all on eBay and change the trajectory of my career and my future completely. Honestly? It’s all up in the air right now. And I know I’m not the only one.  For any teacher out there who’s being “RIF”d or “Pink Slip”d this year, I’m sorry. That absolutely sucks.

~Genevieve

Teaching in Today’s World

IMG_2403Being a teacher TODAY in the social and political climate of today, in the broken district of today, in the social media nightmare of today, absolutely sucks. Everyone thinks they need to tell me how to teach. Right now my job is this – I not only teach my students how to read, write, do math, and be a good citizen. I also teach them how to cope with their own traumas. I feed them. I need to protect them from threats.
Every day on facebook I read posts from contacts who tell me that I (as a white teacher) shouldn’t be teaching black students. I have facebook friends who post articles telling me how to discipline (or not). I have facebook friends who tell their friends that the teachers in our district aren’t really doing the best for their kids. People in positions of power want to put a gun in my hand. When will this madness end?
Not only do I worry about how best to take care of and teach the 20 souls in my daily care, I am also a mother of three- one boy and 2 girls. Two high schoolers and one middle schooler. This week has been so incredibly sad and stressful. I shouldn’t have to talk to my children about what to do in the case of a shooter, or ask if they’ve noticed any kids who seem “off.” Nor should I have to think about what would happen at my own school in the same context.
I’m not here to debate why this is happening. I’ve done enough of that lately. I’m here to say give teachers a break. Give teachers your empathy. Give teachers you know a little kindness. As worried as you are about your own children at school, remember that there are many teachers worried about their own children AND yours.

Another School Year Over

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Another School Year Over

This past year brought a lot of events in our family. There were changes for some of us, challenges for some of us, and growth for all of us. Now that there are 3 of us who attend (well, okay, one of us teaches, but you get it) school daily, we measure things in years of 10 months at a time. Summer somehow seems like an entirely different entity.

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The 4 of us on our first day – August 2016

I came back to 5th grade this year. I got a new partner, and a new principal. We went on several field trips this year – more than last year.

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Soaking up local culture and Art

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Re-enacting the American Revolution at Riley’s Farm

This year had its challenges for me, but being in the classroom for the second year, teaching (mostly) the same content was much easier than last year. I had a much clearer picture and understanding of my expectations.

We raised money for another 3-day field trip to the Pali Institute this time. It was a great experience!

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Checking out wildlife in the pond at Pali

My son, the 16-year-old, was finally able to get his Comedy Troupe started. It was a struggle sometimes, and it took a LOT of strength for me to stay out and let him find his own wings and his own voice, but he did. He managed the team and ran the practices and at the end of the year was able to perform to a full house!

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the teams warming up before the show

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My son, with his winning “Karate Kid” move

He also managed to get himself into the “Top 10 of 2019” at his school, something he aimed for last year but JUST missed.

Our youngest daughter started middle school this year. Thought it seems like *just yesterday* that she started pre-school, now she is ready to take on 7th grade. She had a year of adjustments, but rose to the challenges that faced her. Last year, she was very involved in things like Math Field Day and her dance elective. This year, as she was adjusting to middle school, she decided to scale things back. Next year she’s hoping to be part of the performing arts elective. She did, however, attend all the dances.

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The youngest (right) ready for Mardi Gras

Our middle child had a full, busy year. She performed several times with her performing arts elective, and was in the Spring Musical. She also trained to be a Junior Docent for a historical building in town.  She auditioned for a new Arts high school and was accepted! And finally, she graduated 8th grade and is moving on to high school in the Fall.

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Heading into the audition

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My girl and I on her promotion day.

 

While I am glad to be back in the classroom, the worst part is that I don’t get to volunteer in the kids’ classrooms or go on field trips like I used to. (Though, admittedly, now that they’re older there are less opportunities to do this.) Luckily I was able to take a few personal days and chaperone the 8th grade field trip to Catalina. I did it for my son, and now my daughter. (Hopefully in 2 years I’ll get to go with my youngest.

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My daughter, ready to try snorkeling at Catalina

Somewhere in there, we also managed to go on a trip during Spring Break. (Now that one child will be on a different schedule next year, this may be our last Spring vacation in awhile…)

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Salt Creek in Death Valley

Next year will bring even more changes for us. Not only is my daughter starting high school in another district, I’m changing schools (and grades! I’m going from 5th to 1st grade). We’re back to having 3 kids at 3 schools for a few years. Luckily my husband’s schedule is flexible enough that we can tag-team with all the kids!

For now, we’re on Summer vacation. We began our summer by saying good-bye to my Granny. She was a fabulous, loving woman with a great laugh. She is missed.

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Granny and I, 2 years ago

Two kids are taking summer school classes, both Mom AND Dad are taking classes this summer, and everyone will be busy. In there somewhere, we’ll be headed on a trip, and attend Comic-Con. I worry this summer will go by in the blink of an eye, but we will make the very most of it.

Happy Summer, everyone!!

~Genevieve

The Uncertainty of Life

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

                                       Courage to change the things I can,

                                      And wisdom to know the difference.

My husband often tells me that worrying about things I have no control of isn’t going to help anything. He may have a point, but honestly? That’s precisely why I’m worried… because I HAVE NO CONTROL!!

Life is uncertain right now. I know I’m not the only one for whom it’s uncertain, but it’s no fun, and it’s weighing over me no matter how much I’m not “supposed” to worry about it.

We have a new administration that seems unpredictable. We have a new Education Secretary that has me really worried for the future of public education. People I love are dealing with medical issues that worry me. And last, but not least, I have no idea where I’ll be working next year.

What can I do about any of these things?

Well, for the first, I can join friends and family in activism. I can be more informed on issues and contact my representatives.

For the second thing? I can do my best at my job and fight back against crazy changes that might be coming up the pike. Those are things that might help me feel INVOLVED, although when push comes to shove, I just don’t know how much we can do.

For the third? Pray, I suppose. I don’t know that there’s much else I can do in that department.

And lastly? I honestly have no idea. Get my name “out there”? Cross my fingers that I land somewhere? I’ve been told that we currently have 10 teachers at my school, but we will only have room for 8 next year, unless our enrollment drastically changes. I find out my fate – at least whether or not I’ll get laid off or transferred – by March 15th. Supposedly. It seems an awfully long ways away from here.

Re-reading these things makes me feel a bit petty. I have a roof over my head. My children, husband, and I are healthy. We are well-fed. We are doing well. So many more things could be worrying us, that it makes my worries seem small. But still, they are my worries, and no matter what, it’s how I’m wired.

I think I need to take up Yoga.

 

A Night Off

Sometimes you just need a night off.

I had my first formal observation yesterday.

How’d it go? Well, two of my students got into a fight in the middle of class, I had to leave my group to redirect another group, and the plans I was going to do got thrown out the window and I ended up improvising. I’m dreading my review.

Today, our 5th graders took a field trip to the Griffith Observatory.

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It is a great program they have for 5th graders. We got to see a fun scientist make a “comet,” got to see the planetarium show, explore the planets, and more. It was a great experience, but it was also stressful.

Our bus was supposed to leave as close to 8 as possible, as we had to be there by 9. We got on the bus at 8:10. One of my aides ran up to the playground to find one of our students. She brought him back and he didn’t want to go, so she took him back to the office, and the nurse requested to see one of the girls, as it was “urgent.” So, my aide brought him back, brought the girl to the nurse, and then brought her back to the bus. We pulled out at 8:20.

We pulled in at 9:02. Whew! Except that we were stuck behind all the buses unloading, so we didn’t get into the building until almost 9:15, and were late to the show.

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After the comet show (which was HILARIOUS), we headed to the planetarium, where I was scolded by the tour guide for having students who weren’t as quiet as the smaller schools across the aisle. During the entire program in the planetarium, I paced back and forth, making sure that everyone was in their seats and listening. When I let a few girls use the restroom at 11 (3 hours after they last used the bathroom), I was scolded by a woman who worked there that I should have let them use the restroom AFTER their program. (I understand her frustration, but frankly, she didn’t tell us there’d be “free time” later, and I wasn’t going to make them hold it for another hour.

As we walked up the staircase to look out at binoculars and see the view, one of the docents said, “Wouldn’t you rather be here than at school?” One of my students complained that he’d rather be home.

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We got back, we had lunch and finished out our day.

My head was killing me.

I picked up my son, went home, and collapsed on the couch, lying down and hoping my headache went away.

I took some ibuprofin and picked up some yarn and needles and “Once Upon A Knit” and cast on to knit for the first time in a year.

I watched the Goldbergs with my kids and husband. I watched “This is Us” and cried. And I’m headed to bed in a few minutes.

I didn’t do any schoolwork. I didn’t do any grading, or organizing, or ANYTHING.

I had ice cream.

My head is finally feeling better, and I’m going to bed.

I didn’t do ANY schoolwork and am 100% Totally okay this. Sometimes you need a night off.

Tomorrow’s a new day.

~Genevieve

A New Year, A New Outlook

A New Year, A New Outlook

School has been in session for two weeks and my team, the students, and I are all trying to get in the swing of things. Routine takes time, and we’re trying to get it right. Overall, things are going well. I have a very chatty but overall good group of kids. It’s a big class (34 students in one and 33 in the other), but so far they’re manageable. I like my new partner, and working together is going well.

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Me by my tree, that changes with the seasons just like me.

I am really trying to keep in a good headspace this year. It’s so easy to get mired in the negative. Last year, I had a lot to mire myself in – including inconsistent leadership and kids that I was pretty sure were trying to get me to quit. Add to that  going back to teaching after 14 years off, seeing less of my kids, losing the daily support of my “mommy friends,” moving homes (and all the stress that goes with it)… it was a bit crazy, erratic, unstable, and sometimes I just felt ridiculously under pressure.

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This hammock saved my sanity on numerous occasions last year.

This year, I actually started out under a lot of stress. I was (am) taking online classes for a CLAD certification. At one point, I was taking three classes at once, while planning for the first week of school. It was very stressful, but thankfully I managed to eek out 2 A+s and am almost done with my 3rd class and so far so good. I’m still not getting enough sleep, and its something I’m working on.

What’s different about this year? Well, for one I’ve got one year under my belt. Instead of starting work 3 days after I got hired, I had a whole summer to think about things, and relax. I knew what I was teaching. I was somewhat familiar with my students and I knew who my partner was going to be, which is so helpful. I’ve also got a big support staff in my corner. Not only do I have two amazing aides in my classroom, but I’ve got my husband cheering me on, my girls telling me I’m doing a good job, my own parents supporting me, and my son who inspires me every day to be positive. He reminds me of the good things when I’m in a bad mood in the morning. The other day I was ready to snap and I was just getting in the car. He reminded me of a time a few weeks before when we ran into a friend who stopped her car when she saw us walking and literally told me that I inspire her. If that didn’t snap me out of my mood, I don’t know what would have! As my son got out of the car when I dropped him off at high school that day, I told him that HE inspires me.

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This kid… meditating at Vasquez Rocks.

I’ve found one last thing that makes me happy and helps me destress, which was completely unexpected. Last week, my husband brought home Coldplay tickets. He likes them and wanted to go. I admit, I was coming down with a cold and wasn’t sure I wanted to go, but I did. We hadn’t been on a date in ages, and we haven’t been to a concert (not at the Hollywood Bowl) in years. (Probably the Police reunion concert or Flight of the Concords) Anyway…

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I’m just going to say it. That concert made a fan out of me. I’ve been listening to their music every day for the last week and it just makes me… HAPPY. I want to dance (and do) and I have to say, Coldplay may just get me through the stress of being a student and teacher at the same time. I’ve also been watching interviews with Chris Martin (or rather of Chris Martin… sadly he’s not sitting here with me 😉 ) and he is just SO positive. I have to remind myself to be positive and grateful, and thanks to not just Mr. Martin but my son, my daughters, my husband, my parents, and my teammates at work, I think this year can be a great one.