A Year of Work

November 26, 2013

Regular readers will remember that I spent last school year working constantly on my National Board certification. Nation Boards are really hard. They’re kind of famously hard in the teaching community. The initial pass rate is only 48% and 25-30% of candidates never pass.

But I’d heard great things from people who’d been through the process and there was a substantial raise involved, so I went for it. On Saturday, I learned that I’d passed with some room to spare. Hooray for me.

What was really cool though, in looking at my scores, was what they said about my teaching. They weren’t perfect (of course not), but the things they said about my classroom work were pretty glowing. One of the things you have to get used to as a teacher is that you constantly feel as though you are failing. Teenagers can be a pain in the butt and they often don’t work as hard as you want them to and you always remember the ones who didn’t make it or didn’t turn in the assignment or whatever and you wonder what you could have done differently.

Anyway, the scores I got were a pretty big stamp of approval on how I handle the actual act of teaching (there are other things involved in the certification as well), and that made me feel wonderful. It may be the last time in my career that I get that kind of pat on the back from an independent entity.

I’ve lived enough of life to know that hardwork doesn’t always pay off. That sometimes, you work really hard and all anyone does is shrug their shoulders. But sometimes, it works out, and you can start thinking about buying a better house in a nicer neighborhood and for a few days, life doesn’t seem so arduous. It’s nice.

Practice

November 19, 2013

I don’t know what it is about English and writing. In math, it’s understood that the way you learn is to practice. Pay attention as a concept is explained and then practice it over and over. It’s the same in history and science. You study. Maybe you go visit a historical site or you do a lab experiment. Those are both practice.

But with reading and writing, people don’t quite seem to get that it works the same way. Even among educational materials, there are a whole lot of “new strategies” that seem to offer a magical formula for better understanding a text or writing better essays.

It filters down. A great many of my students want to believe there is a magic trick to understanding a poem or a story. But you can’t just punch numbers into a calulator. In order to properly understand metaphor, read closely lots of poems and stories that use it. In order to become a better writer, write often and revise constantly.

I teach several different classes. Today, in one, a writing class, they spent the entire class working on one paragraph they had already written with the directive that none of it should be merely “acceptable.” That’s a hard thing to do. Students don’t want to be told (over and over again) that they can do better. And they don’t want to spend 70 minutes working on a single paragraph. But let me tell you something, by the end of class, there were some really good paragraphs, and I think they got it. I think they understood the work of writing a little bit. Sometimes you have to struggle to get anything worth keeping.

In another class, we spent half an hour on a pretty simple ten line poem. We’re learning about metaphor and how it’s used to convey the theme of a poem. They can all spot metaphor, but they can’t usually tell you why it’s there. That’s my job. It takes time and they get frustrated, but if they try, they get better.

It’s practice. Everything is practice. If I teach my students anything, I hope it’s that.

Here We Go

November 12, 2013

I got an email today. It told me the National Board was about to release certification scores for last year’s candidates.

I’m not sure if you remember last year like I do. I won’t say it was miserable. I learned a lot. I became a better teacher. But it was stressful. I don’t really want to do that again.

If I’m reading the tea leaves right, I’ll get my scores next Saturday (right before Thanksgiving). And then the process will either be complete and I will celebrate or it will start all over again.

Stay tuned.

Lack of Expectations

November 1, 2013

Last night was Halloween and it sucked. There was a lot of rain and even more wind and it was, frankly, a pretty big washout where trick-or-treating was concerned. This doesn’t affect me personally because I am a grown up and do not trick-or-treat. However, this was Simone’s third go-round and James’ first.

They had fun.

Simone dressed as the sun (orange sweats and yellow fabric-painted sun). James was a kitty. They stomped in puddles. They got rained on a little (we went out a little early hoping to beat the weather, so it wasn’t too rainy). They got some candy, but not much. Very few people were handing any out. This turned into the story of the night as lots of people didn’t know what to do with the weather. It took us 45 minutes to go around the neighborhood and we found maybe five houses giving out candy. We were damp. Cate and I were very grumpy.

At her mom’s suggestion, Simone ended trick-or-treat by gathering leaves for a craft they’ll do this weekend. When we got home, she dumped out her bucket and counted her candy (she counted 22, but she skipped about five numbers in there). Eight-year-old Simone would probably have been pissed. Eight-year-old me certainly would have. But four-year-old Simone knows that she got to run around outside and jump in puddles and collect pretty leaves. All while dressed as the sun and getting occasional handfuls of free candy.

One of the nice things about having small children is that they don’t have expectations (okay, this is nice sometimes. It sucks when they wake up at 5:00 AM and think it’s time to get up). That means they will often enjoy things that we (their parents) are busy being grumpy about because it hasn’t gone how it normally does or how we planned. It doesn’t come close to our idea of perfect, so we get grumpy. But Simone and James don’t know what perfect Halloween is. They just know Halloween is fun.

I, personally, can be especially bad about rolling with the punches at times. I could certainly be a lot better, and I wonder how many fun times I’ve missed out on because it wasn’t the fun time I expected.