Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Add Social Studies Teacher to My Title!

I love 6th graders! I love teaching them so much that this year, I am adding a Social Studies Authorization to my existing English credential to be able to work in a 6th-grade classroom. Why? In the school I started at this year, as is often the case, 6th graders split their time between two classrooms: Math/Science and English/Social Studies. So, their teachers must be double-certified, unlike regular secondary teachers who just have to be credentialed in one subject.

I won’t lie and say I wasn’t intimidated by the idea of starting in on a whole other subject area. But when I looked into it, it sounded simple enough to do. I just had to take one 3-unit course online at UCLA Extension, which I did over the summer, and also pass 3 History CSET Exams. The course was no sweat, and so far, I have passed two of the three CSETs — on my first try! (And the CSETs are notoriously difficult!) The ones I have taken were II, on US History and Geography, and III, on California History, Civics, and Economics. What’s left is I, which is on World History and Geography. I’m waiting until I have time to study for that one, which might not be until Spring Break… but I have until the end of the school year to complete all of the requirements, so that should be just fine!

In all, I am thrilled with how smoothly the process is going. And, one month into the school year, I can say that teaching 6th grade Social Studies is really fun! 6th grade Social Studies is Ancient History. So far we have covered Paleolithic and Neolithic man. We are about to move on to Mesopotamia, then Ancient Egypt! Coming up soon, we will take a 6th-grade field trip to the Natural History Museum (and the California Science Center next door.) Honestly, as much as I love teaching English, I am having a lot of fun with this new subject this year! And, I’m really proud of myself for taking on another certification.

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Why I was One of 4.5 Million who Quit Their Jobs in October

I was all set: Two years of teacher certification – done. Monthly observations and reflections for those two years – done. Passed the CSET. Passed the TPAs. I started this year as a fully credentialed teacher at a small charter in the San Fernando Valley. I loved my job, so why did I quit after only 3 months?

Teaching is a famously difficult profession. As teachers, we are asked to balance and manage an inordinate number of difficult tasks daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. You can work beyond your max, give up your personal life entirely, and yet there is always more to be done. This year, though, is when I believe things have gotten out of hand.

In the post- Distance Learning school, children are showing up grade levels behind even where they were before – which was typically below grade level. Add to that the fact that they have lost all of their social skills, don’t know how to relate to each other or how to behave in public after a year and a half at home, and you’ve got a storm brewing. The last time my 7th graders had a normal year, they were in 4th grade! They have new hormones, new concerns, new needs – and most have not been able to acheive the developmental milestones to bring them safely to this already challenging year.

Administrators, meanwhile, are behaving like this is a normal year. At least, they are attempting to manage the school and it’s teachers as if they are functioning under normal conditions. We have all been traumatized, and are all trying to adjust to new ways of being and doing. Yet the focus of schools continues to be on test results, and teachers are being reprimanded for their students lack of social know-how. School is supposed to be a safe place, and everyone’s home away from home. What we need is time and programming to re-adjust to being in the classroom and process what we’ve been through. We’re not getting it, not in the least.

Holding teachers to an impossible standard has never happened to such a degree. That is to say, administrators continue to hold teachers to the same impossible standards they did before COVID, but now, the circumstances are immeasurably more difficult. This is the reason teachers are quitting en masse. What we need is support, cooperation, and understanding. What we are facing is constance criticism in the face of an impossibly challenging situation.

After I quit my job in October, I began substitute teaching. I can take a day off when I need to, but I work just about every day. Working every day, I make the same salary I did when I was working a permanent job, but I don’t have to take any of the work or problems home. My weekends are mine again, and if I happen to be up at 5 am, it’s because I’m doing yoga, not frantically filling in plans for my day before my paid worktime has even begun.

The school system needs to be more fair to teachers. Too often, they are considered low-level and expendable. When really, they are the driving force in education, the ones who know the students, and plan, instruct, manage, and assess all of their work. I have never understood why “teachers are undervalued” so much that it is common knowledge. And maybe that will take time to change. What can change immediately is the school administrations attitude towards the people who do all the work of making learning happen.

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

New Year, New School, New Beginnings

In a few days I’ll be starting my first year as a fully credentialed teacher at a new school, the first year as a high school English teacher (instead of middle school.) So exciting!!!

I’m teaching 11th grade English and AP Language & Composition, plus Middle School ELD at Magnolia Science Academy in Reseda. This is totally a dream job – a newish, small school, a positive, productive environment, cool, interesting classes! I’m sure there is much more to look forward to, I just haven’t found out about it yet because I have yet to begin. 🙂

The summer has FLOWN by and I am starting to get busy with planning and purchasing/organizing things for my new classroom. I went to the campus yesterday to pick up some teaching materials and see the room! I am inheriting the former band room — perfect for me, a music lover — which means it has high ceilings and acoustic boards on all the walls. Maybe we should yell and sing in there, or maybe I should play lots of podcasts so we can appreciate the good sound quality? Lol.

I have amassed a respectable library and I am currently looking for appealing ways to display the books. Hoping students are excited by what I have to offer!

Overall, I’m going in feeling really positive and excited about the year to come. When I became an English teacher, I mostly imagined teaching high school and never really even considered middle school, but that is where I landed. Once there, I stopped thinking about moving to high school, but life works in funny ways, and here I am, and I’m very much looking forward to it. 🙂

Here’s hoping this one lasts and I can stay with this place and these people for years to come!

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

It’s Called Spring Break for a Reason

Spring break is upon us. I know I am not alone in saying I couldn’t need the rest time more.

I am wrapped up in completing my Cycle 1 CalTPA, to be submitted by April 1st. This is a painstaking process involving planning a lesson, filming and editing a video of my lesson, and writing a ridiculously detailed report analyzing the lesson and video. I have been involved in this work for over a month now and can’t wait to be done with it. Almost there!

I was planning on jumping right into Cycle 2 next month, which promises even more difficult work, but considering I have literally developed stress-related eczema – which means uncontrollable itching any time I get the least bit worried – I have decided to put Cycle 2 off until next spring.

So, I really, really, really mean it when I say how much I am looking forward to two whole weeks of doing absolutely N-O-T-H-I-N-G. If I’m lucky, I may manage to squeeze in plenty of yoga time. And music time on my Sonos. And taking Juniper to the “p-a-r-k.”

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Self-Care and the Jewish New Year

At our last staff meeting, the Principal of my middle school encouraged all teachers and staff members to take personal wellness days off from work to rest and recover. We are all stressed/tired/overworked, she said. Make sure you take care of yourself. I could not believe my ears.

Last year, I’m pretty sure I lost my job for taking wellness days. I am someone who is very into self-care and wellness. I try to check in with myself often and do my best to make sure I am meeting my own needs before I become sick or run down. How can I hope to function in that shape? How can I possibly do a job?

My supervisor did not agree, last year, and consistently questioned me when I took time off. I ended up having to get a doctor’s note confirming that I required the time off that I was taking. They no longer said anything about it — they just didn’t renew my position at the end of the year!

So, this year, it is more than a welcome relief to see my colleagues take “personal days” when they need to. And to be outright encouraged to spend a day just taking care of my needs! More administrators should be this reasonable! We are human beings and we need rest, peace, and positivity!

After I requested my day off this week, I realized it would be Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. As a Jewish person, I look forward to this solemn day of reflection that comes once a year. Many people would not think of it as “fun” or “rest,” but I know I will feel truly revived come Tuesday, the start of the Jewish new year.

So, I guess, it worked out nicely for me. I will have a nice day, and a nice week because of it. I wish all the teachers out there a peaceful fall season. Give yourself permission to take the day off!

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

“From a distance/ we are instruments/ marching in a common band.” – Bette Midler

Ahh, distance learning. While it doesn’t conjure up song lyrics for many, this year it is inspiring me to hum a long ago tune from The Divine Ms. M.

“From a Distance.”

Ms. M’s song is about how all of our differences wash away when looked at from afar, and everything looks beautiful and harmonious when you get some perspective. These days, I can’t think of a better message. Indeed, “From a distance/ you look like my friend/ even though we are at war. / From a distance/ I just cannot comprehend/ what all this fighting’s for.”

I think there is no better symbol for this moment than all of our wonderful, faithful, earnest young students, plugging away at their Chromebooks in distance learning. They come from all corners, all races, religions, and classes. Some moonlight as amateur video editors and some have never looked at an email before. Their wi-fi is shakey, their voices shakier, and they all salivate over the moment when the teacher forgets to disable the chat function on Zoom. Every morning and afternoon, hundreds of home lives collide in a massive, chaotic mash-up of everyone trying to figure out what the f*** is going on. And it is stunningly beautiful.

From a distance, these many little faces, these hundreds of little voices, unite in a song of hope.

Bette Midler – From A Distance

From a distance the world looks blue and green
And the snow capped mountains white
From a distance the ocean meets the stream
And the eagle takes to flight

From a distance there is harmony
And it echoes through the land
It’s the voice of hope
It’s the voice of peace
It’s the voice of every man

From a distance we all have enough
And no one is in need
And there are no guns, no bombs and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed

From a distance we are instruments
Marching in a common band
Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They are the songs of every man

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us from a distance

From a distance you look like my friend
Even though we are at war
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
What all this fightings for
From a distance there is harmony
And it echoes through the land
And it’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
It’s the heart of every man
It’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
This is the song for every man

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us from a distance

God is watching us
God is watching
God is watching us from a distance

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Julie Gold

From a Distance lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, Songtrust Ave, A Side Music LLC D/B/A Modern Works Music Publishing

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Add Ethnic Studies as a Grad. Requirement?

One interesting, education-related development in all this civil unrest has been the potential addition of Ethnic Studies curriculum to CA public schools. Though I am not considered an ethnic minority, I made the choice to major in Ethnic Studies as an undergraduate at UC-Berkeley. To this day, people look at me crooked when I try to explain that choice. Perhaps now more people will be able to stretch their imaginations to understand what I was seeking to understand: What is racism? How/why am I/am I not racist? How can I help to fix things?

My choice of major ended up leading me down a path to a career in public education, where I felt I could make a huge difference in the world. And I would like to note that even though I studied these issues in college, I don’t really consider myself the number one choice of staff member to teach a hypothetical Ethnic Studies course. In my opinion, it is a subject best led by an instructor who has a lived experience that informs their knowledge of what is, ultimately, an “alternative” history class. I am half Yemini, which I do feel allows me to reflect and relate to certain issues on a deeper level. But since I am not part of a colonized group, my family has not been discriminated against and held back in the same way as the groups that Ethnic Studies focuses on.

For me, the Ethnic Studies major was majorly eye opening on a lot of issues. Issues that extended beyond social studies/colonialism and into questions about what literature we study and consider “classic” in English class. Questions of what kind of information is presented throughout the curriculum. Where does it come from? What other voices and perspectives are out there, not being heard?

I think I could write a short pamphlet on this, but to sum it all up:

An Ethnic Studies class for all public school students is definitely a GOOD idea. It would help people understand how we got “here.”

And while we’re at it, lets make Ethnic Studies training mandatory for all staff, who didn’t get to benefit from this requirement while they were still in school.

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Modeling Self-Respect

I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a chid’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized.

-Dr. Haim Ginott

This quote, from Ginott’s 1976 book Teacher and Child, is posted on many classroom walls and school entryways. There are some immediately obvious reasons for its popularity, and some other reasons that may take longer to uncover.

The most basic idea here is respect, starting with self-respect. You must respect yourself to accept that your actions have an effect on others. You must respect yourself to really know that others listen when you speak. As a teacher, you must also extend that respect to your students and consider their full humanity (“humanize or de-humanize”) in the rules you make and the ways you respond to them.

Ultimately, I think the beauty of Ginott’s quote is the acceptance that — in the words of Peter Parker — with great power comes great responsibility. A strong teacher takes responsibility for their effect on students’ mood, behavior, and learning. When the teacher is willing to think about how they are affecting their students — really reflect, and then adjust instruction as appropriate — how can a class not succeed? 

Simultaneously, we can’t forget that the teacher is always modeling positive, responsible behavior for her students. So, along with their coursework, students in this teacher’s class learn to self-reflect; to be responsible for their actions and aware of their effects on the whole group. This teacher might use small group instruction regularly to reinforce these ideas. Classroom norms, rules, and expectations would also reflect a sense of shared responsibility: ‘we sink or swim together.’ The teacher might bring in SEL themes about the power of choice (“I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal”) to reinforce students’ awareness that their choices are important. 

I’d like to close with two final reflections on the quote:

  1. Teachers must respect themselves enough to notice and reflect on how their choices affect students and others around them.
  2. Students should learn to respect themselves enough to notice and reflect on how their choices affect everyone around them. 

Posted in Teaching Diary/Blog

Classroom Cleanup

I went to campus today for the first time since March 10th! I went to clean out my classroom. Teachers I’d conferenced with who went earlier in the week said it was eerie, the school frozen in time, with students’ materials left behind and work samples still on the walls. I braced myself.

I found my room in a state of disarray. Clearly everyone had left in a rush, grabbing what they could, cleaning desks methodically and arranging as much as many things as possible before they left. I was absent for the last two days of school because I was sick with what my doctor diagnosed over the phone as “a virus” and was advised to stay home until I did not show symptoms.

Pulling my students work off the walls was difficult. I thought of their proud faces as they examined the evidence of their accomplishments when I first posted it on the wall. We worked painstakingly hard on a phonics and spelling program from September through March. My students learned to mark the phonetic sounds of words with symbols and codes, much like what you would find in a dictionary. I found the detail and dedication in their work extraordinary.

The last thing I did was take down the whiteboard covered in letters and sounds which is pictured above. This was my main teaching tool all year. Again, it was painful to pluck the magnets off the wall and store them back in their box. Those magnetic cards became an extension of my vocabulary, and it was a shared vocabulary between me and my first class of students. I will miss those students very much.