28 August 2011

This is supposed to be fun, right?

There is an old, hackneyed saying that if you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life. Other versions include "Do what you LOVE what you do" or "When you have a job you love, your vocation becomes your vacation."

Being the fan of cliches that I am, I've been thinking about this one recently. Why? Well, if you follow the BlazeBlog, you'll know that I recently relocated to the Central Valley of California (which is a nice way of saying "Fresno"). You'll also be quite aware that it hasn't gone as well it might have. If you're not a regular follower then we say "welcome", and suggest that you go back and read that story, as well as some of the other, older posts here.

Anyway, since I've been struggling a little bit with the transition to being the "new guy" again, I began thinking about work, and pleasure. And by "began thinking about" I mean, bitched and complained to my wife. Again, for those of you just getting caught up on my saga, she's the main reason I've relocated. Naturally, I've harbored some bitterness towards her when I've been sad and/or angry. Normally, she's pretty receptive to my concerns, and feels bad when I have a hard day, since she feels more than a little responsible for my pain and suffering.

So, anyway, I was bitching to her that I wasn't having fun at work, what with the being in other people's rooms, the lack of being familiar with anything, the classes I didn't like, so on and so forth. She eventually got tired of hearing me whine about it and told me, basically "it's work, it's not supposed to be fun." Now, the irony in this is of course that I've told basically 10,000 (approximately) students to stop complaining because school isn't meant to be fun.

I've been pondering this question since the Mrs. felt the need to point out that work isn't supposed to be fun: "Should work be fun?"

I have certainly pondered work before . However, I've never really thought about the entertainment value of work before. I have been lucky (or perhaps I have an attitude that permits) to have had jobs that I found fun. Sure, mounting tires was hard work, but we had fun at it. Likewise, putting up tents and hauling trash and luggage don't seem like fun, but I've always found a way to smile while I'm at it. In fact, teaching has often been fun as well, but most of that fun has come once I knew people.

This job is getting better, and I'm sure it will be fun soon, but for right now it seems an awful lot like work. So, to have a fulfilled life, does your work need to be fun?

I'm not sure, but I do think that it helps. I know that if you work in a field where you put in massive time, or work at it very hard mentally, you'll be crushed if it's not fun. I suppose that isn't totally true. Perhaps if you can see that you're having an impact on people, then it's worth it without needing to be fun. I think that so many teachers quit so soon in their teaching careers because they aren't having fun. When you're not having fun, it's too hard to let the suffering overwhelm you.

How do we make it fun? I don't know, but I intend to check back in soon and let you know what I come up with.

18 August 2011

I can't get no.....

As I settle into my new job, I'm struck with a realization I was also struck with when I moved to Colorado Springs lo those many years ago. That realization is that most teachers, no matter where they are, are a lot like Mick Jagger. Before you spazz out, I'm not saying that we're all rock stars, or coked out of our brains, or sleeping with supermodels.

My reason for comparing myself and my coworkers to rock royalty is that we have the same problem: crowds of screaming women follow us everywhere we can't get no satisfaction.

I know what you're thinking. You're about to click away to another blog because you think this is going to be a rant about pay. It isn't. Ok, it'll be about the satisfaction that would come from beating a student. Nope. Adequate facilities? Not this time. Administrators who care about the same things we care about? Some other time.

Nope. We're never satisfied with our students. We always want them to do better. Hell, it's why we teach. We're never happy with the work they do. We always want more from them. I've never been in a meeting yet where teachers think that kids come to them prepared. The place I work now, every single freshman can and does take good Cornell-style notes. At my previous two schools this would have been a miracle. Here? Teachers are worried that the students don't know how to use those notes.

I'm thrilled by this revelation. It proves to me what I've been saying all along. Good teachers teach not for money, or prestige, or higher test scores. They teach to push kids. They teach to expand minds. They teach so that those kids can make a positive impact on the world.

However, there is a dark side to this lack of satisfaction. The more subjects are standardized tested, and the more weight is put on those scores, the more the lack of satisfaction is about reaching higher scores. This would be great if the tests measured learning, but too often they do not. Too often they measure how effective the teacher has been at test prep. Or, in reformer Michelle Rhee's case, how effective they are at cheating

That's sad. But until the testing goes away, or the tests get better, I fear it's the direction we're headed. 

And I, for one, am not satisfied with that.

16 August 2011

The Administrator's Bill of Rights

Editor's note:

This post was written as a response to the "Inalienable rights" post from yesterday by someone else who sent it to me on facebook. It made me laugh, so I thought I'd share it with you, because it's probably the truest thing ever written.

Educational Administrator's Bill of Rights

1. We have the right to give you an evaluation full of grammatical mistakes rating your performance in a class you don't even teach and that we only observed for 5 minutes. It is a positive review subject to change if you complain.

2. We have the right to bear arms.

3. In the business world growth is progress. In the education world change is progress. With this in mind, we will change all the changes that were making a difference last year for the sake of change.

4. Take your attendance now, our statistics are WAY more important then the bell to bell instruction that is equally important, thank you. And please send Emma Nim, Tekila Bottle, Mercedes Christmas, and Precious Love to the office, they will be leaving. Also students bus 52 was late today so if you happen to be late for any reason, tell your teacher you rode bus 52 because your teacher has no way of knowing any different.

5. Here is the order of authority in a school district, BOE, Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, Curriculum superintendent, Angry guy ugly jacket, IT director, and oh wait, you are an angry parent? Yes, ok, uh hum… ok so now we changed things up a bit and the parent is right, plagiarism is ok, just this one time.

6. Administration can only hear the loud people. If there is something you need, ask a loud person to relate it to us.

7. We need more help in the halls. We also have no idea whatsoever that the pronoun we relates to the antecedent meaning all the staff that works here, including the administration. So basically all of you need to be in the halls, we will be in our offices where it is safe.

8. Bad administrators are like bad B movies. You keep watching to see if they get any better because, "how can they be this bad for so long and not get any better?"

15 August 2011

Some things just never change

As most of you know, I'm in the second week at my brand new school (which is not as new as my old school, since the new school was built in 1967 to replace the building from 1923 and the old school was built in 2008). You know what, let's call them my previous school and my current school.

Anyway, as I was teaching one of my freshman classes, I realized that this was the 10th year of teaching for me. That realization made me realize how little changes from place to place. And thus, I compiled a list of truths that I think are true across education.

I hold these truths to be self-evident: 

1. No single human is ever more scared than the smallest freshman boy, still waiting for that growth spurt, on the first day of high school.

2. Students all want to pass on the first day. It goes down hill from there.

3. Kids will look their best on the first day of school. 

4. It takes about a week for them to stop looking their best because it's too much work in the morning. 

5. Every year, kids will be confused about why the student parking lot is empty. They always wonder where all the cars that were there last year went. 

6. Every single kid will groan when you give them work on the first day.

7. Putting a parent signature line on a syllabus for Seniors is basically getting the forged signature ahead of time.

8. Putting a parent signature line on a syllabus for Freshmen is actually getting parent signatures.

9. Somebody is going to test you on the first or second day. Crush them.

10. If a freshman girl is *ahem* endowed  *ahem* she will do 1 of 2 things. Hide herself under rock and roll T-shirts or hang 'em out. There is no middle ground here.

11. Freshman boys will look. No matter what the girls wear. 

12. Nothing smells worse than a freshman boy after gym.

13. No kid will admit that they came to the wrong class. You will be forced to look at their schedule and see that, in fact, they came to the wrong class.

14. The smartest kids say the least, until they know you.

15. Every single person in a school, from janitors to kids to the principal is counting.

Got more to add? Put 'em in the comments!

12 August 2011

When a teacher cares too much

When I started this blog, I called the Blaze of Competence. I thought it was a funny play on "going out in a blaze of glory". I knew I was in my last year at my school and that I was leaving. I just wanted to go out in a blaze of competence. I wanted to have a great year in my last year. There was also the possibility that I would get fired for something that I wrote. All in all, it seemed like a good, witty title for a blog that I thought I would stop writing by Thanksgiving.

Today, a former coworker was dismissed (as head football coach) from my former school. I don't know all the details; in fact I only know the details in this news story. I feel like I need to say something about it.

Since this is my blog, I get to. Here goes:

I've never been an athletic coach at the high school level, but I know that it is a job where you get to make relationships with kids, mentor them in an area they often care about more than academics, and reach more at-risk kids than you often do in the classroom. I know that, even if you win championships, there's very little monetary reward. I know that you always are starting fresh. I know that (in season) coaches spend more time at school than anybody except the janitorial staff.

I know that coaches take more abuse from parents than they ever should. I know that parents and players often blame their own shortcomings on coaches. I know that they obsess over even the smallest things. I know that they fund-raise, fund-raise, and then sell suckers during passing period to get their teams the best equipment. 

I know that coaches care. They have to care more than a healthy amount to spend as much time as they do on a job that is a stipend position. They have to care too much to put up with the parents, the fans, and the general non-sense that surrounds them.

I also know Dean Huffman. If you didn't read that article, go back and read it. You can hear Coach Huffman's passion in his quotes to the newspaper. 

I don't know what predicated Dean's dismissal from coaching, so I'm speaking only on what I know of the man I worked with for the last four years. I'm not putting on my rose-colored glasses and whitewashing his record, but I do want to defend him.

Dean is a passionate man. Sometimes his emotions get the best of him. I have no doubt that he has said some mean things to kids. I have no doubt that he has cursed and yelled and called them out as individuals. I don't doubt that he made everyone run for something that one person did. I'm positive that players quit the team because of things he said to them.  I'm sure he's crossed the line at some point. But I'm also sure that he never did it out of hatred, or in-grown mean-ness. He did it because he wanted to get the best out of his players. Yeah, he wanted to win (some will undoubtedly say he wanted to win too much), but he really wanted his players to be the best they could be. 

Now, he was angry at times. He yelled. That's what the best coaches do. They don't do it because they want to belittle their players, they do it because they know it works as a motivational tool. You might not like it, but anybody with even a working knowledge of The Prince will tell you that it's better to be feared than loved. Every year when I talked about that book, his name came up. He was feared. The flip side of that is that he pushed kids to places they didn't know they could go. Hands down, kids would say that they were afraid, but that that fear helped them to do things they wouldn't have done otherwise.

Over the next few days, stories about Dean Huffman will undoubtedly fly around the Internets. 16, 17 and 18 year-olds will fill facebook, twitter and the comments sections of news stories with tales of his transgressions. Many of the stories will even be true. I'm not here to call Coach an angel. I am here to tell the other side of that story. 

Here're some stories that you probably won't hear:

1. When VRHS had only freshmen and sophomores, he led a fundraiser in which the 9th graders battled the 10th graders in shovelling cow turds from stalls at the fairgrounds. It was the first trophy ever in the trophy case. 

2. He once competed against me in a dance contest at a pep assembly. He won when he took off his shirt to reveal a bikini top. I'm nuts and do stupid things for spirit, but that's really impressive.

3. He volunteered to chapperone every dance we ever hosted at Vista.

4. He calls everyone coach. It's endearing.

5. The first year we were open, zero football players were ever academically inelligible. They have a study table right after school, and the entire team runs if one kid has a D or F. He holds students accountable. 

6. He understood that a new school needed to have something to rally around. His team was that thing. 

7. I never had a discipline problem with a football player if I told him about it.

Listen, he may have done something unforgivable. Then again, this may just be a power-grab by a new administration. (I actually doubt both of those things). I know there are people who read this blog who don't like Dean or the way he did things. That's fine. You have your reasons, I have mine for feeling exactly the opposite.

I just hate that this guy, who gave his life, love, and passion to this school for 4 years can be dismissed because "they want to go in a different direction". They don't want to go in a different direction. He undoubtedly yelled at some kid who's parents then complained enough to get him removed. I know that the yelling was because he cared. He knew the kid could do better. And so he's lost his favorite part of his job.  He deserves more than that. I know people will point out that Dean isn't going to win teacher-of-the-year awards, but there are kids out there who like him as a teacher, and I never walked by his room and saw him watching film during class, unlike almost every other football coach I've worked with. He did that outside of class.

Moreover, it makes me angry that if the tables were reversed, and the kid had sworn at coach, and been thrown off of the team, the administrators would have bent over backwards to try and find a way to let the kid back on the team. They would have tried to find a compromise so that the kid could have a second chance. Maybe Dean's had his second chances, but this reeks of a double standard between teachers and students and discipline. However, that's a post for another day.

I like Dean Huffman, and I know that this is breaking his heart. I hope that there can be some resolution where he can get back on the sidelines. Kids deserve someone dedicated to them to be their coach, and whatever else he was, Dean Huffman is dedicated to his teams. 

It just looks like that dedication came with too much passion.

08 August 2011

The first days of school

Today I went back to school for the first time in 6 years. 

Ok, that's not totally true. I didn't go back as a student. I went back as a teacher.

Now you're really confused. Most of you have known me as a teacher at some point over the last 6 years. Since you know that I've taught in the last 6 years, you are thinking that I've been going back to school for the last decade. Yes, but when you return to a school you've already taught at, it's not like going back to school, it's more like waking up from a really great nap; you don't want to do it, but you are really just re-entering a world you know and are comfortable with.

Today, I started at a new school. Now, when I was working at my previous employer, they employed enough new people every year that they ran a two day workshop for their new hires. My current employer chooses not to do that. Which means today I reported to the school (where I knew a grand total of 1 people) with everyone else. 

It's just as nerve-wracking as going back to school as a student. What clothes should I wear? Should I dress up? Dress down? Where do I go? Do I have a classroom, or am I on a cart?

Today was made worse by the fact that this school hasn't yet told me how to log onto the gradebook, the attendance or my email. This would be ok, except I have a vice-principal who answered most of the questions addressed to her with "it's in the email I sent". Not being able to see those emails does not make me feel more comfortable.

Also, due to my general incompetence in interviewing, I'm teaching 6 classes, spread over 5 rooms at 2 campuses. This is my 10th year in education as a teacher, and for the first time ever, I don't have a home. Sure, I have a shelf that I get to share with a microwave in a room with no outside windows or doors, but that's not home. I guess my stuff will have to live in my garage for another year. 
This is hard for me. I left a school that I helped to plan and open. I knew where everything was, who was who, and how to get things. I was a department chair. I taught AP classes. I collaborated with people. I had two rooms, and a desk in an office for Pete's Sake! I was comfortable.

I'm not a modest person, and I've become accustomed to getting my own way. I think that this job will work out, and that I'll end up liking it (since that's happened everywhere I've worked), but I'm not sure that will happen. I've been brought low, and that's hard for me to accept.  I have become, in some bizarre twist of karma and fate, a freshman all over again.

I have a schedule that I don't like. I have to be on a cart, at the mercy of other people's whims, invading their classrooms. I have to drive between two campuses, all but guaranteeing that I'll be a bit of an outcast at both buildings. I don't know where things are or who does what. (there's a map and organizational chart in that email I can't open).

Please don't take this to be ingratitude. I know I'm fortunate to have been given a chance at a teaching job in general. I know that recent graduates in California have been told it might take 3 years to get an interview and that I got a job on my third try. Believe me, I'm happy. However, it hurts that I may wander the campus for 5 years before I get my own room. It hurts that I have to teach 4 sections of freshmen. It hurts that I have to teach everyone to say my last name again. 

I suppose there's good news in all of this, though: I will get through it. I'll grind this year out from my storage-closet of an "office". I'll get a cart and deck it out. I'll find a way to engage extra-curricularly. I'll still get to work with high school kids. 

But tonight, 2 days before kids show up at someone else's door and find me there to teach class, I'm just as nervous as those freshmen who are sitting on their couch, worrying about how high school is going to go. 

I guess we'll all find out together.