Unofficial Twin Day

Teaching is all about building relationships. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. So, when you realize you own the same shirt as one of your students and it’s suggested to have a twin day… why not go for it. It certainly was a fun day in class.

And the teacher becomes the student…

Even though this was posed, one of us didn’t know where to be looking.

In case you were wondering; this did not help my case as a teacher looking so young. It’s probably a good thing I’m the only one in a tie most other days. But today, can you guess who’s who?

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A Future Worth Fighting For

My goal for my blog has always been to put out positive thoughts, ideas and experiences I have had as an educator. I focus on the positive and move beyond the negativity. However, there are somethings I can’t move beyond. My mind has been rolling over my thoughts, letting them fester for the past 5 days and it seems the only way to move on is to voice my outrage and support my colleague, my friend.

One of my best friends  has been working towards earning his teaching license tirelessly for the past 2.5 to 3 years. He has run into hurdle after hurdle. From having a program he was enrolled in cut, to finding out the program he enrolled in as an alternative would not actually lead to him receiving his preliminary license. Through these hurdles, among many smaller I’m sure he did not share with me, he has remained positive, dedicated, enthusiastic, and passionate in his desire to help make the education and lives of his students better.

He had figured out a plan, had flexed and went out on every limb, so that he could be working with students, taking classes, working a second job, and student teaching this spring. All in the hopes of that his hard work would soon pay off receiving his teaching endorsement in time to apply for jobs for next school year.

Last Friday he was given the option to resign from his position as a para-educator or be fired. His principal told him that he was not ‘contractually obligated’ to provide a reason. These were his choices.

Via online messages and status updates I knew something was wrong, but didn’t know what at the time. I was already going to Boston to visit him and other friends and found out from a third-party about the situation later Friday night.

When I saw my friend Saturday I could tell he was crushed. It was more than just losing a job. It shattered his dream, a house of cards he had worked so hard to build, all tumbling down. Just sitting with him, having him talk through what happened, I could physically feel the horrible feeling weighing down inside him building within my own stomach.

The only idea he had about any cause for the cut was that his supervising special educator had complained previously about lack of communication, but he was under the impression they had talked and come to common ground. *Note the two people working under this supervisor last year were also let go at the end of last school year. (Maybe a leadership issue…)

I have known this guy for 7 years. The entire portion of my life when I’ve had a well-developed frontal lobe, the part of the brain involved in judgement and good decision-making. Trust me, my life has only been better from the second I made the judgement to stick around this guy. Since his decision to become an educator having conversations with him about the students we work with, our passion, and our goals has becoming a common conversation every time we are together. Providing another thread that has strengthened our friendship. I would vouch for my friend in a second and know that all of his actions in the classroom are based on improving student learning.

I do not know all of the details. I do not work in his school. Still the idea that such a smart, passionate and hard-working individual could be put through what he has experience outrages me. In a field that is filled with aging professionals, on the verge of retirement when 401Ks rebound, many of whom are willing to change with the times, but some that are not so willing, how can we treat young professionals like this.

We need to foster a professional field that helps an individual succeed. A baseball team wouldn’t cut one of the best players in their farm league without due process and a good reason. So, why in education would we cut someone who is on the verge of moving from being a para to a licensed teacher, especially without a reasons. How can that person learn from a mistake, if there was one, if he doesn’t know what it is. To me it seems like bullshit (apologies) school politics that he was at the wrong end of. Maybe there is not legitimate reason, maybe his hard work makes someone  higher on the food chain look bad and they don’t like it. So, administration hides behind the contract, to soothe the squeaky wheel and making my friend the collateral.

I can’t help. I can’t change a thing. I wish I could, he deserves better. All I can say is buddy, get back on your horse and clear this hurdle and your time will come, it’s not our way of life to give up without a fight.

Another Face of Ambition

I’ve been part of a few conversations lately regarding professional ambition. Most of  these conversations have been from the business perspective. In business someone puts in long hours, works hard to impress the ‘powers that be’ and hopefully you get a new, better job, a dream job. Better because it’s more interesting, engaging, exciting, or pays you more money. This person would probably be labeled as ambitious.  In the business would it’s a lot easier to see ambition, and see goals as they are achieved and new goals are made. You climb the corporate ladder, beating out the other man or woman, and you become more and more successful; the goal of the ambitious.

I believe that because this same ladder climbing doesn’t occur in education people have the misconception that teacher’s aren’t ambitious. Especially when they are portrayed in the media and then in peoples’ minds as simply wanting to find a good school to teach in and ride it out until retirement. This is false. Just because in education we as teachers are not pitted against each other (hopefully) to get ‘better’ jobs, or to compete for success in the same way as the business world, does not mean that we are not ambitious.

Some may say that part of climbing the ladder in education is getting seniority so that you can teach the ‘good’ classes, the honors or the AP. For some teachers this may be their ambition, but for me it isn’t. I currently teach students that have a huge variety of learning styles and academic skills, and that’s what I love about teaching: the variation. I love the challenge of finding ways to reach out to, connect with, and teach all students because all students deserve to have their lives enriched by science, by Biology.

Though it sounds corny and cliché this is my ambition: to make as many students lives better, as I can. To know that I played a role in providing them with knowledge and opportunities that would not have had otherwise. As I have thought about writing this post for the past few weeks, I’ve rolled my thoughts over and over in my head and realized it is not a ladder I wish to climb that marks my ambition, but a web I hope to build; a web of people. People, who I have taught, connected with and had an impact on their lives.

Being in my forth year this web has begun to form. In June, 2011, the sophomores I taught during my first year graduated, some moved on to college, other to careers. The seniors I taught in my first year of teaching are now juniors in college or into their third year of their job, volunteering or other post-high school options. In this short time my ambition has started to bear fruit, as I have several instances that I mark as achievements.

  1. December 2010: A ’09 graduate came back to visit me after completing her first semester at Maine Maritime Academy, where she is studying Marine Biology. She thanked me for everything she learned in my Marine Biology class, and told me it solidified her desire to be a Marine Biologist.
  2. October 2011: A ’11 graduate stopped by, just say ‘Hi’. He graduated last June and has been working at a heavy machinery repair shop. He was excited to tell me about all the different jobs and responsibilities he has in that job and reminisce about the class he took with me two years ago.
  3. October 2011: Two students, ’10 and ’11 graduates saw me from across the mall and came over to fill me in about the apartment hunt they were on, as well as the classes and nursing program they are enrolled in at UVM.
  4. November 2011: A ’10 grad, sophomore in college now, sent me a message wondering if I could send her a couple of the articles we had read in Marine Biology about the great Pacific Garbage Patch. She was studying it in one of her college courses and remember we had used to informative articles and websites.
  5. November 2011: I ran into a student who is now a freshman in college. She thanked me for making her work so hard in Human Biology because her Anatomy & Physiology class is a lot easier in college because she knows a lot of it already.

Each of these small occasions, plus many more, which occur day to day, mark times where I knew that I had impacted these people. My ambition to build a web of those who I have helped, taught, or made a difference to is progressing. At these times I am equally excited to hear specifically what the individual took from the class content, as I am to know that they have a connection with me that makes them want to share their life successes.

I invite educators to think about the web they are building and what qualities are you being remembered for. Is that the web you hope to leave behind? Finally, I urge non-educators to remember that just because our ambition has a different face, it is still there, and just as valuable.

Be The Light

As some of my more consistent readers may have noticed, it’s been a while since I’ve last put my thoughts to paper, or keyboard as it may be.

There are two main reasons for this. First, the end of the school year as any teacher will tell you is crazy, a fury of trying to wrap up final units, review, give and grade exams, and clean up a classroom that has a years worth of materials piled up.

Second, with the plethora of initiatives presented by our administration to conclude our year and begin preparations for next, as well as reductions in force there has been a lot of turbulence within the faculty.

Factions of sorts have formed based on positive and negative reactions to these changes. Factions that do not necessarily agree, get along, or are always as nice as they could be to others with different perspectives.

I choose to live my life being nice to people (a ground breaking philosophy I know). I do my best everyday to be as consistently nice as I can. However, I discovered an unfortunate side effect of this philosophy.

I am nice to and spend time with people on both sides of the fence. Which means I often experienced, we will say, less than nice discussion, gossip even, of members in other divisions of the faculty, people who I also spend time with. The oppoiste would then occur when spending time with the other group of people.

Needless to say, I found myself consistently being surrounded by negativity, no matter where or with whom I spent time with at school. As anyone who has experienced such constant negativity could tell you, it’s draining, and makes it hard to find the positive. Even when it is there.

Thus, due to my cynical and frustrated mindset towards the end of the year I took a break from writing until I could adequately present the positive and successful stories of the conclusion of my third year teaching.

Summer vacation has come just in time, allowing me the opportunity to surround myself with the positive and good aspects of my life and in a way recharge my deflector shields for next year. I do have positive words, thoughts and insights from the end of the year and I will share them with you over the next weeks of summer.

Finally, to anyone out there experiencing a similar overwhelming and what seems at times to be all encompassing negativity; do your best to find positive outlets. Exercise, read, listen to music. Do something for you to help stay in the positive mind set you want to be in. Do not succumb to the darkness, be a light for positive thought.