Wednesday, September 11, 2013

One for All, and No One for the Teacher

I'm a second year teacher. I've made my way around the block once and survived and am now on to round two. I wonder how I got here, and yet I know exactly how.

I graduated high school when I was 17. I graduated college with a 3.6 when I was 20, having worked 20 hours every semester but my first, and finished my student teaching and secured a teaching job when I was 21. Now I'm 23 and have a solid foothold in my career of choice. I am clearly a 'go-getter' type of person. I make goals for myself and I achieve them. I am an, albeit young, but responsible adult.

So why am I treated like a child who can't be trusted because I am a teacher?

Want to know what we're faced with right now? A new standardized test that we have virtually no information about, other than it's the basis of our merit pay. That's right folks, I'll make money based on how well my students do. Because the $1,800 a month I take home isn't enough of a slap in the face already. I have tried to research the test we're giving and you know what I find? Websites that have 'information coming soon' and FAQ sheets with one question on them. Awesome. We're taking the test this spring. So we have less than 180 days to teach everything in the common core. Not hard, right? Check them out online, at least that website is complete.

I'm being punished for something I have never done wrong. And I'm not the only teacher in this boat. I am not one that does the same thing year to year. I've been teaching one year and a three weeks and I have already completely reworked this entire year. I have taught the same thing twice ever. In fact I intend to teach the same thing the same way again; it's poetry and I made a boss, week long unit. It's effective and for the first time poetry is an outlet and a type of therapy rather than a stupid rhyming assignment. So yeah, when it's awesome, I'm going to keep teaching it.

Oh wait, not good enough. Cut funding, parents down our throats, administration stretched too thin and what feels like everyone blaming teachers for who even knows what anymore.

I am infuriated that we live in a world were a teacher can't see old students without having to wonder if a rumor is going to get started or without having to take precautions to make sure that nothing looks fishy. Because you know what that student is there for?

To tell me thank you.

Not to meet up. Not to get my phone number. Not to talk about inappropriate things. Not to do anything you hear about in the news.

I let them come see me after they are no longer at my school because it is the only time that I get to see the outcome of what I spent hours and days and months hoping would happen. It's the only time that it will ever come back to me. These kids carry a part of me. I shared horribly embarrassing high school love poetry I wrote with them. I'm a part of them. I saw them almost everyday of their awkward stage and I still accept and love them (in a completely platonic way, you creep), and that means something.

I am not an idiot and my record is clean. I love seeing my students succeed, and I hate knowing that there have been enough twisted minds out there and enough bad situations that that is hardly a reality anyway. I can barely have students in my classroom after school without administrators checking to make sure everything is ok. It is. They needed help with their homework. Or they're telling me that they've cleaned up their act. That they have a great boyfriend now and that things are going well, even though in their mixed up 9th grade year it never seemed like that would happen.

'You were right, it gets better'.

And when all we hear is how we're not good enough, it's those moments that keep us going.

But that's not all.

Why am I teaching both Language Arts and common sense? Why am I parenting these kids? Why am I the one reminding them to be decent to each other. Why do the students open up to me and tell me their struggles and triumphs, sharing their insecurities and tears. Why does the state insist on treating educators as lazy inferiors? Because all the teachers I know are kicking their trash to be the best that they can and we get rewarded by being told that we aren't good enough.

So next time you're having a hard day at work, be grateful that the greater part of the population doesn't pretend like they know how to do your job, with the people calling shots not having stepped foot in a classroom past high school graduation.

And then thank a teacher. It means more to us than you know.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Darwin Awards: Spelling Edition

I teach English. I spent nearly four years studying the ins and outs of language and literature and then turned right around to teach it to 'the future of America'. I do not profess to be perfect or know everything about English, in fact, I am well aware that there is still a mountain of things I don't know. But compared to the ninth graders I teach, I may as well be Shakespeare. Mainly because ninth graders still don't know who he is, bless their hearts.

The preciously oblivious 13-15 year olds I teach are great, don't get me wrong, but there is one thing that continuously kills small pieces of my soul without fail; their crappy pseudo-phonetic spelling. Thus, the Darwin Awards for my soul.

First off, a gold star for my kid who unintentionally combined both literary device and chemical element to make a new and improved version of sarcasm.

These guys have creativity on lock.

This cute little ditty is not to be construed as a slur, but rather just a terrible sounding out of the word 'figure'.

Now, this was in a book report. No joke. A giant thumbs up for the kid who thinks 'worth it' is one word. 

I literally had to read this out loud before I could figger, eh hmm, I mean figure out what this student was trying to say. Mad lib anyone? When it finally hit me, I laughed out right.

This gem isn't exactly a spelling error. When writing an argument essay, his supporting reason for a character being a 'bad guy' is that 'he is a bad mamma jamb'. I don't know what that means. I told him that doesn't count. During the next essay we were writing, completely unprovoked, he told me that he talks like a hick, seriously made me laugh really hard.

The true definition of 'tragedy': when students forget what they are spelling half way through the word.

And there goes another piece of my soul. Say what you want about it being my job to teach them how to spell, but this was a test and 'indirect' was spelled out in the question.

Expulsion, expedition, expository, expletive...explanation? Nope, they were shooting for 'exposition'. Anyway you look at it, still got the answer wrong.

The slang version of 'condition'. Basically I teach thugs... (shaking head).

Ok, now my two favorite word slaughters. It took me at least a minute to realize what either of these were getting at. Look at it.

If you are anything like me, your first thought was 'Where's Burt?' Oh no, this is THE most creative spelling of 'irony' you will probably ever see. Irony, people. I'm pretty one hundred percent positive I had it written on the board too. 

And finally, the piece de resistance:
I'm still not sure that was what they were trying to spell. At this point, your guess is as good as mine. 

So there you have it. The best of the worst. I am slowly but surely working to get our countries future to be able to spell. And be smart. It's clearly a work in progress. But it is a labor of love, which I love, and I will gladly let my soul act as a martyr so that you don't have to. Seeing as we live in a time and society where a colon has never has so much love, but not to introduce quotes, explanations or even series, rather as the eyes of smiley/frowny faces...we teachers have our work cut out for us! 

Colon apostrophe open parenthesis? Never a dull moment as a middle school teacher.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Life Lessons Midst Shoe Shopping

I have always believed that I was a friendly person. Ok, minus from about years 8-13 when my awkwardness trumped any friendly attempts, nevertheless, I would like to think that I am one who honestly appreciates when someone is nice to me and I sincerely try to pay the favor forward.

I have just moved into a new ward. A grand adventure that is proving to be just that. I fully intended to join and have insta-friends left and right and just get to have fun all the time. Now anyone can testify that making new friends takes effort. For better or for worse, it is rare that two people meet and then they are inseparable. Right? That is like one, maybe two, in a life time. Needless to say, making new friends is way more difficult than I remember. Not just the 'Oh hey!' from across the parking lot friends, but the late night, secret telling, blast music in the car and carb ingesting type of friends. It just takes time, which is great, but it has only been like two weeks in my new place. I believe I have started to make great friends in the ward, we just aren't on the call them over to veg together level yet. So, for an ultra social person like myself, I have started to get a little restless and maybe even started doubting my friend forging abilities.

This all leads to my story. Today I went to the mall with a long time friend. We went shoe shopping for me. We went into Journeys(z?) just to take a peek on what they had out. There, as usual, a salesman came up and started asking what we were looking for. Having just bought a pair of shoes elsewhere, I responded with a polite, 'We're just looking, thank you' to which he replied 'Looking is usually how you start shopping so you are on the right track!' This salesman was younger, stylishly dressed and had double nose studs, which I am still trying to figure out how it works. From there he went on to pitch 'no-show socks'. For YEARS I have worn my Costco ankle socks with whatever shoes I have on and not cared one bit if they showed. But this was the second time in one shopping trip that it had come up. Naturally I start to become painfully aware of my very visible socks. So being the forthright person I am, we start a friendly conversation about socks. It was lively and we got some other employees on it. We had a great time laughing and comparing socks and shoes, with mini discussions concerning the purpose of certain socks and the versatility of others. It was ridiculous, filled with jokes, stories, laughing and was completely refreshing.

This stranger (I don't even know his name) was so nice and charismatic that carrying on a conversation was barely even a conscious decision, all in the middle of a store, in the middle of the mall in the middle of a Saturday. I left just feeling good...and with a some new, no-show socks. (He totally convinced me!) I will probably never see that nice person again but I have a renewed sense of 'I can do this' attitude. So thanks friendly stranger just doing his job. You made my day and much more.

They have them for boys and in black too...if you are interested.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

How Do You Have Friends?

When we are watching a movie the last half of class after a week of testing and a student asks me in a semi pompous voice, 'Why are we watching this? What does it have to do with anything we are learning?' I would like to say, 'WHY DO YOU SUCK?  I'M DOING YOU A FAVOR DANG IT.'

Instead I say, 'We could list all the hyperboles that are said. Or we could just watch it.' To which she replies 'Let's just watch it.'

That's what I thought.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Teacher vs. Friend: A Balancing Act

I am a young and relatively 'hip' teacher. I like being on good terms with my students but I am not about to be walked all over. I am all for mutual respect. Mutual. So often student expect me to bend to their every whim, and I mostly will, on the condition they in turn make my life easy. If you are incessant, annoying or can't catch a hint, we gonna have a prollem.

The best compliment I have received to date was from a African American (this is a relavent detail) student named Josh. He is a big person with a bigger personality. I am constantly asking him to be quiet, or pay attention and I am often met with attitude. Attitude is something I don't do well with. Mostly because there is only enough room in my class for one attitude and that's reserved for mine. So when it is directed at me I call the student out on it. Well Josh can handle a little backlash and one day after finally getting him to submit to the class routine he said 'Ms. Kern. You're like a black lady. Like, sometimes I'm scared of you, like I am of black ladies'. No sarcasm, best day of my life. 

I have decent rapport with my students. They say hi in the halls, they aren't afraid to come ask for help or favors and they often tell me how much they like my class. This is awesome, but I am a firm believer that being friends with students in a convenience, not a necessity. So, I am not afraid to be the 'bad guy'. 

Example: sometimes I have students come crowd around my desk. Scratch that, I ALWAYS have students come crowd around my desk. Sometimes it's for homework help, or they were absent or they just want to talk and see what my opinion is and sometimes they just plain try to irritate me. Seventh period, there are about 4 boys who've made it their mission to accomplish the latter.  

Recently, right at the end of day, one of those students decided to allow his natural idiot to squelch whatever critical thinking skills he might have possessed. This is a common occurrence amongst ninth grade boys. This particular student shut off all mature thought to the point where I had to (through a series of events and poorly thought out actions on his part) end up writing him up to the VP and he had to have a talking to.

Yes. I'm one of those teachers. 

I don't want to incriminate this student and I am all for letting water flow right under that bridge, especially since he came and apologized before school the next day and I thought we were all good. 

Seventh period rolled around and all his little buddies came in and said 'MS. KERN. How could you?!' Then he came in and was all moody and didn't speak a word the entire time. All his little friends were super quiet too. They raised their hands when they had something to say and when I told them to sit down they did. It was heavenly. The boy in question was acting like we had just gone through some nasty break-up and he couldn't even bare to look at me. All I could think was 'HALLELUJAH'. This is the best they had been since I started teaching their class. Then once the bell rang for the end of school, they all left immediately. No hanging around messing with my stapler, no taking forever getting their stuff together, they were gone before I had a chance to tell them I would see them tomorrow. I have yet to feel bad about their reactions.

This is a lesson every teacher has to learn for themselves. There is a fine line between teacher and friend. Teachers care about their students more than I think they will ever realize. We notice when they are picked on, or struggling and we live to see them succeed (especially in our subject). Consequently, friends do all of those things too. The difference is one is an authority figure and has the right and duty to discipline as necessary. Being a young teacher, this is a hard balance to find let alone maintain and feelings are bound to get hurt in the process.

But dang it, I got 120 too-cool-to-show-emotion teenagers to write some incredible love poems only to have them follow up with equally awesome spoken word poems. Experiences like reading and responding to all of those makes being their teacher worth every minute.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Girl Code

Best Friends. We all have them. Someone who is our confidant and knows everything that has to do with our lives, whether it be what color your nail polish is or what you have been craving for the last three days. Best friends just tend to know everything about our lives. We all need a sounding board and a verbal disposal system which enables us to clear those petty and inconsequential thoughts without hesitation. This is known within the female community, or at least the female community I've always interacted with (albeit I am barely an 'adult' and still love knowing every detail of everybody's lives). I may be the exception, but I am pretty positive this is more the case than not. Regardless, this inevitability has not always been appreciated by those I have dated. 

Once upon a time I was a freshman in college and I started casually dating a 'preemie' (a boy who had yet to go a mission in BYUI lingo). This boy, I'll call him Larz for privacy reasons, was a nice, thoughtful boy who I had had a crush on but immediately after becoming 'exclusive' with him realized that I was not exactly as interested as I had perhaps made him perceive (I was a freshman, give me a break). Anyway Larz and I were having a conversation about three weeks into our relationship (the whole debacle lasted about five weeks, for soon to be obvious reasons) and I told him that my roommate knew everything about everything concerning me at the time, this included him. Our conversation went as follows:

Larz: No, something’s need to stay between the couple.

Me: Sure, when they're engaged or married, not when they're just dating.

Larz: No, even when they are dating, things should stay between them.

Me: Every girl does it, it's no big deal, it's not like it changes anything.

Larz: So you have told your roommate everything about us.

Me: Yeah, basically.

Larz: No! (Getting visibly upset) You can't tell her everything!

Me: Ok ok, I haven't told her everything...

Larz: K, good. 

A conversation change promptly ensued and it was never brought up again. I had in fact told my roommate everything (it was as juicy as a couple of dinner dates, an awkward first kiss and a rose with a note left for me while I was out of town) but he was satiated by my blatant fabrication of truth within one fleeting comment inserted in an entire conversation of actual truth. Which I told my roommate about the minute I got home.

I would be lying if I said I hadn't come from a date and immediately gave every last detail to at least two of my roommates and then called or texted at least one of my other friends to let them know what happened too. And I have been on the receiving end more times than I count as well. We eat this stuff up.

Point being, this happens. And it happens a lot. My dear gentleman readers, I apologize, though not very sincerely, for this annoyance concerning your personal life. Chances are, if you are in a relationship, you and your significant other are far from the only ones who know every detail.


But if it makes you feel any better, from a best friends perspective, we promise we won't tell.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

'Be My Horcursh'

And as usual, Harry Potter makes even the most dreaded holidays awesome.

(Compliments of