Saturday, September 02, 2006

Just Do It

It's Labor Day Weekend, and my in-laws have just come to town, so this will be my last post until after the official school year starts.
I'm actually getting nervous which bugs the holy hell out of me.
Oh well.
I was very surprised at the amount of responses I got to the
syllabus post. There is something, however, I would like to clarify. What I am not happy about is not that I have to make syllabi, but the fact that I now have these inserts that must be in them. Instead of a paper that covers just my expectations, I know have to also have all this legal mumbo-jumbo to, as was so perfectly put, "cover my ass," as well as the district. That's what I'm frustrated about more than anything. The world has changed SO much that we HAVE to put things in to cover our asses. It's all about not getting sued. So instead of a one page syllabus, which is just my expectations, I'm now giving a four page packet where most of it is district issues. That's the part that annoys me. There's not enough room for my stuff without handing out a small paperback book.
So here's the issue: in my last post, Tom asked me if I've "considered a new line of work," outside of teaching.
The answer is no. It's not teaching that drives me batty. Not even close. The problem is the bullshit that surrounds teaching.
What do I mean?
If you put me in a classroom with the kids, I will be quite happy to go through and explain Romeo and Juliet or to explain the importance of writing a good essay. That's not the problem.
A colleague of mine puts it best: "It's not the kids that frustrate me. It's the adults."
That's the crux of it. The kids are fine. They say and do stupid things at times, but that's what kids do.
The adults should know better. The parents, the administrators, and the other teachers.
The parents who blame the teacher when it's really about their parenting.
The administrators who should know better than to take away our time with political bullshit.
The other teachers who let such petty issues take over their relationships and their classrooms.
I'll give you an example.
On Thursday afternoon, our librarian went into crisis mode. We are tagging our textbooks so that they have to be scanned in order to let the students take them home (which is a great idea as it means that if a kid loses the book, it's on record).
She was told that students would show up to help her. The morning rolled by without a student showing up, but she didn't say anything.
You'll recall that I am now the chair of my department (also known as "The position no one else wanted") so she called me after lunch almost in tears. "Oh my God. We have an emergency."
"What's wrong?" I replied.
"Just come to the library."
We had 700 textbooks and paperbacks that needed to be tagged and then moved.
"The administration wants all these books out of the library by tonight. It's Freshman Orientation, and they want the library to be clear of these books."
So, I sent a message out over the PA for everyone in my department to show up to the library.
To their credit, almost all the teachers showed up. One, it turned out later, left early and left town.
However, once they were there and heard what we had to do, the kvetching started.
"Why do we have to do it?"
"I'm not using the textbooks, can't I just go?"
"I have better things to do with my time."
And on and on and on it went.
I had to explain to each person, almost one on one, why they needed to get to work.
"We have to do it, because the students didn't show up. It sucks, but it happens."
"You'll help because it's about the department being ready, not just you."
"Even if you aren't using the books, the rest of us need your help."
Even then some did the minimal work and left.
"I have practice in an hour, and I have to get ready."
"I'm pregnant, and this isn't good for me."
"I have to meet with (fill-in-the-blank teacher) in a few minutes."
Two hours. It tooks us two hours, and that's with the amazing recruiting job I did (I went to other departments and called in favors).
The coup de grace, however, was the football team. Those kids were lent to us for ten minutes, and they hauled almost all our books to the classrooms. They never questioned what I told them to do, they just took the orders and ran with it.
Once the books were in the rooms, however, the teachers bitched about having to put the books on the shelves.
That night, we had the parents in for Freshman Orientation. Some of the returning students' parents offered to come and help. One was the parent of a football player who had helped us out.
"Why did you make my son carry books today? He came home complaining about his legs. If he can't play tomorrow, you'll be sorry."
Huh? The kid also went to practice that day. Maybe that was made his legs hurt. This parent is banking heavily on her kid to become a superstar football player so he can "take care of her."
So let's review:
The parent complained that her kid did a good deed.
The administration, rather than say, "Hey, here are the books that your kids will get to study from this year," said, "Get those books out of sight of the parents...FAST!"
The teachers complained and came up with excuses to not have to work...then complained when the work wasn't done exactly how they wanted.
This is the bottom line for me (pay attention Tom):
The problem is that while I love my job, there are areas that I hate.
I hate the fact that the administration can't just let is work. They use us as political tools. I have seen my union president six times in the last four months, and she said the same thing every time.
I hate the fact that there are so many minor stipulations that I have to have in my syllabi and on my walls so that I won't get sued.
I hate the fact that so many of my colleagues are unwilling to stay and help students after school. I hate that they won't even stay to talk to students.
I hate the fact that I can't accept or give a hug to a student as it can be construed as sexual misconduct.
I hate the fact that many of my colleagues are so unwilling to share their curriculum with each other.
I hate the fact that parents are unwilling to understand that we just don't have the money to do certain things.
I hate the fact that I put in $400 of my own money last year in order to ensure that the kids had books, pencils and pens, paper, and such, and yet I'm still told that my school has too much money.
I hate the fact that a friend of mine teaches at a private school, and he gets everything he needs whenever he asks and his department has a much bigger budget than mine has.
I hate the fact that so many people think teaching is so easy and think teachers get too many breaks and such.
I hate the fact that there was a small amount of time that I thought to myself, "You know...maybe I should just be a stay at home dad until he's four."
I hate the fact that people think that teaching is, "a pink-collar job," which means it's just for women.
I hate the fact that my job is considered, "a fallback job," for so many people. I couldn't make it as a lawyer, so I'll teach. I couldn't be a journalist, so I'll teach.
But there is a great deal to love.
I love my job. I love it. I love explaining the English language to a student.
I love shooting the breeze with the students.
I love working with the kids to build sets.
I love watching a kid have the light bulb click on in his or her head.
I love that the kids that graduate tell me that I helped them in some way.
I love that I'll still talk to those kids now and still help them while they're in college.
I love my job...I just hate the bureaucratic bullshit associated with teaching now.
Have I considered another line of work? No, not since becoming a teacher. This is what I was meant to do.
Will I always be happy? No, but that's the point. Even if you get your dream job, there are always things that will bug you.
Professional sports stars deal with pain and losing.
Lawyers lose.
Doctors can't save every patient.
No matter what you do, there are days.
If work was meant to be fun, it would be called Super Action Fun Time. It's called work, because it takes effort, because you have to labor.
I have bad days, but I love what I do.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Syllabus Silliness

When I was in high school, my teachers NEVER gave me a syllabus. Our first day of class consisted of the teacher telling us (and we students would copy down) the pertinent information.
"Here's how I grade...write it down."
"Here's what I expect of you, write it down and KNOW IT!"
On and on it goes.
It was part of learning experience. Know the information and copy it down so you remember it.
Now? Well we have to have syllabi that the parents sign. It's not enough for me to tell the students and write the information down. I MUST have a piece of paper that eventually (and let's be honest here) the students will lose.
Last year I gave my Freshman English classes folders. Every kid got a folder that I went out and bought.
Each folder had:
a syllabus
a calendar
note paper
an assignment log (a grid where the students right down the assignments as I give them.)
Now I told my students, "If you lose the folder, I take points off."
What happened? Many folders were lost, the students never wrote their assignments down, AND (my favorite) though syllabi were signed, it was obvious students hadn't read what I wrote.
"What do you mean you have an attendance policy, Mr Leab? I never saw it!"
"'s in the syllabus...on page one. You know...the syllabus...which you read...and SIGNED!"
I bring this up, because I sat down at this computer at 7 PM tonight, and it wasn't until ten minutes ago that I actually finished my Senior English syllabus.
Overthinking is a dangerous thing. I found myself asking questions with every line I wrote.
"Hmmm. Does this make sense? Will it be clear enough?"
Yadda, yadda, yadda.
Why do we, as educators, throw SO much energy into the little things? Well, we say it's because that's what gets and helps the students, but I can't help thinking that these lessons and syllabi and such that I have been working on will be looked over...and tossed.
Am I overreacting?
When you, dear reader, were in school did you (or if you are still in school, do you) concentrate on the syllabi? Do you care?
Hey, that's life I it goes.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

To My Father on this Date

Today is my father's 70th birthday. He decided to take it easy, which I'm very happy about as his original plan was, and I quote, "To throw myself a surprise party." That's right, he was going to surprise everyone else by throwing a party (though I had this scenario in my head where people showed up at his place for what they thought was something else, and, SURPRISE, it's party time).
Happy birthday, Dad. I hope today was good for you.
I hope no one said, "Oh wow, you were born on the same day as Hurricane Katrina."
I hope you got presents that you wanted.
I hope that the next few years are happy ones.
I love you very much.
Ladies and Gentlemen: a round of applause for my father.

School Gatherings...

Ok, this is going to be like an open letter.
Dear school district for which I work,
How can you not have learned? How? You wonder why teachers are so bitter? It's because you force us to give up our WHOLE morning in order to sit in a hot, hot, hot arena with no air as we listen to you tell us information that we either:
A. Already know, or
B. Don't need to hear right now.
(This will give it away slightly.)
Look, I'm sure that the pistol-packin' mayor is a great guy, but if I hear the word, "referendum," out of his mouth one more time, I may kill someone. Seriously. I'm a teacher in the district, Mr. Mayor. I already know what's going to happen if it doesn't pass: I may lose my job. You don't need to remind us when we're trying to gear up for school.
And another thing, sir: choose your wording VERY carefully. Here's what you said:
"I sent my kids to C and A, because those are the good schools!" (Hold for cheering.)
Here's what you meant:
"I sent my kids to those schools, because they are in the district that has the best schools!"
And here's what it sounded like to every teacher not at C and A:
"I sent my kids to C and A, because they are the ONLY good schools in the district!"
You may have meant that you love our district, but it sounded like all you cared about was the two schools. Then, after some glad handing in the crowd and attempting to start a cheer about the referendum (what the hell was that about?), you bolted out the door.
Now, back to you, district. Ok, there were seven speakers today. SEVEN! And all they talked about was the referendum. I get it, but don't tell US. We already know the issue.
Our union head? Referendum.
Our school board head? Referendum!
Our superintendent? OH MY GOD! REFERENDUM!
Sigh...let me compose here....
You showed us a video for thirty minutes celebrating our district's 150th year, but it was more of a "look what famous people graduated from our district."
Then our superintendent spoke...a woman who, though very energetic and personable (she glad-handed me before the whole thing started), showed why she has had been in six different educational positions since 1999. Warning, this is my honest opinion:
We played a game. We were all to shout out, "THAT'S ME!" when she said something that pertained to our lives.
She was not totally prepared. There were long moments of dead silence as she checked her notes to make sure she made all of her points.
She told us she wants 100% graduation rate, which is impossible, as my colleague told me, because it doesn't take into account kids who graduate late.
She told us we're good, but not good enough.
She talked, and talked, and talked for 40 minutes. That meant we went a half an hour late. She preached efficiency, and then didn't model it (to use a teaching term).
I'm not happy, district, because our future is tied to a woman who, on average, has spent less than a year at a job recently.
I'm not happy, because you made me give up classroom prep time in order to have our get together that was supposed to have us loving each other and our district, but left me yelling at other teachers to "Shut up," because their cheering made every speaker have to stop and wait.
I'm not happy, because it wasn't really productive. It was more of a political rally and that is not what we as teachers should be doing right now. Don't sell us accountability and then preach politics.
Did our new superintendent make some nice points? Sure, but she wasn't eloquent. You want your leader to have a sense of eloquence. Without getting overly political, she reminded me of President Bush at his press conferences. He may be smart, but he sounds like an idiot. She is obviously smart, but appeared very unprepared.
Let us do our jobs as educators. Next time, just send a memo and produce a video we can watch while in our rooms.
So here's the deal, dear district. You don't get to complain if I'm slightly behind at one point. I had to give up four hours today.
Don't preach anymore. Don't preach.
Of course what do I know? I'm a, "Cog in the wheel of Education." I could be wrong.
Oh, and I feel like an idiot, because many of my colleagues drove down to this gathering, got the piece of paper that was required...and left. I took the damn bus and had to wait to get back, because the district didn't order enough buses.
Still, I love my job.

Monday, August 28, 2006

First Day 2006...Sans Students

The school smelled the same. I mean down to that is-it-cleaning-fluid-or-lighter-fluid in the hallway smell.
The first thing I noticed, however, wasn't the smell. It was the heat. The damn heat that's always present in a school without air conditioning and covered with material that eats up heat like Kobayashi eating hot dogs. When I lived in St. Louis, I would walk outside my house and immediately be covered in sweat because of the humidity. Imagine passing your hand under a running faucet. There's always some residual water left over. That's what it was like in St. Louis in the Summer, and that's what it was like today in the building. I walked from the first floor up to my office, and by the time I was there, I was covered in sweat. We tested the temperature, and it was 20 degrees hotter in the school than outside. 20 degrees.
Leaving my son was difficult. Really difficult. He looked so happy asleep there in bed next to my wife, and I really wanted to stay with them. The car ride to St. Paul saw me in a bad mood...until I parkd and entered the building.
The first real shock of the day came when I entered into my office. I'm now sharing the room with eleven other people. My stuff was back in the room, and my desk was uncovered, but there were still a large group of people standing in this small space.
"Oh good," one of my colleagues says, "you're here. We can have our meeting now."
"Meeting?" I reply with a tinge of anxiousness in my voice. "What meeting is that?"
"Well...we need to figure out who is going to be where, and who is going to be in here when."
A fifteen minute meeting was needed to work it all out. Most of the time was spent watching as the people new to the room attempted to destroy each other in order to get what was thought to be the "Best Desk" catty corner to mine (that is across the room and near the door).
After that, I was called to the office. There's something disconcerting about hearing your name on the PA less than thirty minutes after walking through the door.
My schedule changed...again. This was the good part of my day. I now start the day with two senior English classes. That's right...TWO! The upside? They need the grade to graduate and get into college. The downside? Wait until Spring.
After that, it's one regular and then two IB Freshman English classes. It's a pretty easy schedule. And then I got my room assignments. That "s" isn't a typo. I still don't have my own room. You see one of the teachers who assured the department of an imminent departure...didn't leave, then took an open classroom. But, this same teacher is now telling us that a job somewhere else has opened up, and we should now have an imminent departure. If that's true, I want the room. No such luck.
Back to the point. With my cart, I'll be traveling between floors...twice. I start on the second floor, then go to the third floor, then back to two, and finish the day on three. At one point, I was on the second floor until my prep and then went to the third floor, but that changed when a teacher complained and pulled a card that no man can ever use: Pregnancy. As the year goes on it will become harder for this teacher to "travel between floors."
Now I teach in a Chemistry lab and a Spanish room...but I can't store books in either room as the teachers who claim those rooms don't want to have to make space. Awesome.
As for the rest of our first day back? I ended up arguing with the custodian as he STILL doesn't know my name, but he knows he doesn't like me.
It started with him bitching at me about the state of the theatre:
"It's filthy. Why didn't your seniors clean before they left?"
I was already annoyed by my schedule, but I did not explode like I wanted to. No, I instead said the first thing that came to my mind in a calm manner.
"Isn't it your job and your staff's job to take out the trash? Plus...couldn't you have said that in a calm manner instead of jumping down my throat?"
Now our custodial head is a large guy. Likes to work out and such, and he enjoys staring at and talking to his muscles while he works out. He started to flex and look bigger as he talked to me next.
"What did you say?"
"Don't flex at me," I responded. "Look, either ask me to clean or do it yourself. Don't try to frighten me. You can go complain to the principal like you always do, or you can just ask me, but if you threaten me, I'm not going to work harder. You already won't help me whenever I ask you for it, so how much worse can you make my life here when it comes to custodial help?"
He wasn't prepared for this. He just stared back at me.
Of course he went to the principal, and she didn't do anything. Why? Because he treats EVERYONE like garbage, and he tries to intimidate people. Still, he's right. The class of 2006 left a mess that I now have to clean up over the next few days. The booth? It was a pigsty. So was the girl's dressing room. Thanks alot gang.
The end of day had me counting my department's books. Why? Because they couldn't figure out a system for doing it. That and the same pregnant teacher felt that she couldn't move the books and deal with the heat in the library. Here's a hint for you boys and girls: make stacks of ten. That's it. After that, you count the stacks. So not hard, but here were grown adults fretting over how to do it.
"Should we just count each book individually?"
"How will we get through this before 2, then?"

I counted the books for them, because it wasn't hard to do it. Took me ten minutes once they brought all the books down.
Oh, the other highlight of the day? Yeah...I might be chairing my department. I'm not the right choice, but when everyone else said no, that meant the lowest guy on the totem pole would have to do it. Oh yeah, that would be me. Do I get a bump in pay? No. Do I get extra paperwork, meetings, and such? You betcha.
The first day is done. That's the hard part.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Ramblings for the Evening (08/27/06)

I have to go back to work tomorrow. Yes, I know: most of you have been at work all Summer, but I have to tell you...the reason I'm not happy isn't because of the work. No, it's because I don't want to leave my son.
Oh well.
On a side note, my son's grandparents need to get more with it. My wife and I bought you web cameras so you could talk to us and see your grandson. That way I wouldn't have to hear, "Oh...I never get to see him...blah, blah, blah."
Then, once I've set the camera up for you, you refuse to use it.
The outcome? I get a spiel about how you never see your grandson.
Oh, and to my sister...your mission (and the reason I called) is to setup our mother's camera for her, because she won't do it herself.
Let's just get to it before I get really angry....
So, without further ado: SKIPPER!
Changing Toons:
Look, I understand that our modern world is scary, and many people feel that we have to "protect the children," but so many changes have been made to what we watch, read, and say that it's starting to feel very constricting. When the infamous Janet Jackson "boob reveal" happened, I really didn't think it was that big of a deal. Granted, it raised the stock of Tivo as many people with the DVR realized, "Hey, I can rewind and watch it over...and over...and over."
Still, it was nothing, but the world overreacted. The boob meant that children all over the world would grow up totally craving sex and desperate to do horrible things. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
I understand that there are certain things that kids shouldn't see until they are old enough, and I sympathize that it's getting harder, but I REALLY feel that the latest issue is insane. The original Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, and other cartoons are being cut, because parents feel that they out bad ideas in kids' heads.
Ok. When Tom and Jerry were first made, they had the occasional smoke. That's how it was back then. Hell, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and other celebrities used to pimp cigarettes on the air. Yet, parent groups are calling for the scenes of the cat and mouse smoking to be cut. This was done, but it has gone further: the duo are now thought of as too violent and could give kids bad ideas. These parents are trying to get the show permanently pulled. As in never to be shown on TV again. Sigh.
What angers me more, however, is the attacks now being put on Bugs and company. In short, these parents feel that the show is too violent.
I mean GET THIS! Ok, a few parents feel that Elmer Fudd getting shot in the face and living means that kids will think THEY can get shot in the face and live. What?!
I used to watch those cartoons. I never thought to myself, "Hey, if I jump off a cliff, I'll survive like the Coyote."
See, there's this magic thing, folks. It's called PARENTING! This is where you talk to your kids about it. You don't shelter and tell them not to watch. That leads to trouble. If I tell you not to look to your left, what's your first reaction? More often than not...YOU LOOK TO YOUR LEFT! Ignorance may be bliss, but it also means that kids are missing out on being kids. Daffy Duck as Robin Hood is a classic. Don't take that away from them because it's not (and I wish I was kidding), "Not historically accurate." That's just cruel.
Scooby-Doo may not be allowed anymore. Yogi Bear? Haven't seen him in a while. What's going on with our world that parents think these cartoons hold more power than them? You want proof? I can tell you that most kids care more about what their parents and friends think over what I tell them. It works the same for the cartoons. You want your kids to not act a certain way? Talk to them about it. DO your job as a parent.
A Stroke of Luck:
Life has a been tough lately. However, I did get some good luck today. My sunglasses exploded. The hinges fell apart...while I was driving. I'd only had these glasses since May, so I was frustrated. These glasses were purchased at Marshall Fields (now Macy's...oh wait...that's Sept 1st), so I went to the source first.
The Brookdale Mall has a Sunglass Hut in the Marshall Fields, so I talked to the manager there. She took one look at the glasses and said, "Hmm. Ok, let's just replace them."
How great is that? That was probably the best part of my day.
And finally?
How School SHOULD Be:
Done? Good.
That's what should happen in our schools. I know parents will freak out and say, "My kid won't get into (fill in the blank college) because of this."
Good. Remember that whole "Parenting" thing? This is your chance. I'm getting tired of having to be the parent to your kid.
Ten percent of that school's student population were suspended. Even better is the fact that it will only be removed from their records if they don't do anything else wrong.
The modern student is truly slipping. It's not because of the teachers (who most people are ready to blame). Are some teachers just going through the motions? Sure, and that sucks, but a lot of kids are doing it too.
I would love to see my school do something like this. Does that make me uncool? I don't care. The kids need to understand that there will be rules in life you must follow. Start now.
My son is calling. It's time to sleep.