Friday, September 26, 2008

work-- an excellent gig

I do see my job as an excellent gig. As many teachers stress through the first half of June counting days till graduation, my students and I are creating vegetable and flower gardens at the speed of sound. The summers I get paid to garden and cook. An excellent gig at an imperfect school. Sometimes while talking with Mosaic Woman I speak more of those imperfections than the joy that happens in my classroom.

As the years have moved on my part in that joy has grown and the wrath from my terseness has declined, but not been eliminated. so I am an imperfect teacher with a good gig at an imperfect school.

I could easily pass more of the tests that would certify me to teach science in public schools and leave special ed behind to search for a good gig elsewhere, but I am not one to think that jobs are perfect places and many have left to wonder why they left, except for the increase in pay and the state pension.

The enthusiasm for biology and geology has carried on through the first few weeks of school. I am doing more of what is expected of me as a teacher, and that almost always leads to better classes. I might be a bit of a character, and that may explain why even these special needs students enjoy my lectures. I had them laughing today as I was finally going over my classroom rules. Last year I was told all teachers should have rules posted so...

My rules include things such as: be hopeful, use anger to create positive solutions, be mindful, be joyful, leaves of three... leave them be, be compassionate to humans and plants... and feel free to wear good clothes, the dirt just might come out in the wash.

I was about to handout my first biology test the other day... I hate testing these guys and gals but I have been given the charge to teach the brightest and prepare them for college. Having them function in a classroom is the first step, passing science tests is not what all of them need at this point of their journey. And indeed one student chose to read the text instead.

So there I was with test in one hand and ringing my Tibetan prayer bowl to get their attention, when the not so unexpected anxiety attack came.

so I said this.... "In 11 years at this school I have only failed one student, and that was a horticulture student who was either throwing the potted plants to the ground or eating basil nonstop. Do you plan on doing anything like that?" They shake their heads. "So I will find a way for you to pass this class, trust me."

The student hit an easy question and moved on. Later he gave me a test with many blanks. I told him to set the test down, listen to his favorite tune on his I -Pod and then try to get something into blank spots. He got a B. On the day... one student in each class crashed and burned (later told that I could easily forget that grade if they and I learned from the experience and we became a better teacher and student) and a student in each class nearly aced what I had thrown at them. One expected, one a very pleasant surprise.


  1. Oh, you sound like a truly gifted teacher.

  2. GG-- just come over and see me at my worst moments. I have come a long way. thanks.

  3. GG-- I was struggling in my first response... once I realized what trauma had done to me, I decided the last thing in the world I desired from myself was to bring more trauma to my students. They have traveled some hard roads. another rule... BE QUIET, but only when I want silence.

  4. ...such gentle care you take of them! There is usually enough anxiety to go around, without us adding to it!

  5. This is a wonderful post. Your students are lucky to be in your classroom and I love the way you talk about them and reassure them.

    I love geology but have no enthusiasm for biology. Horticulture I could do because I garden, but nothing bigger than one cell when it comes to animals, thank you. In my college career, I took Cell Biology, Genetics, and Biochemistry - proof positive on my commitment to cellular Biology.

    I'll be in the public, urban schools and I am much looking forward to it.

  6. Michelle--- gentle care, hmmm, never thought of myself like that before. I once (13 years ago) scored a big fat zero in compassion on a deluxe Myers-Briggs test. I tried to tell folk that I had a different type of compassion. If I blog more about my past this all might make some sense.

    Kathryn--- Oh my, you are a cell smasher! brings back memories of social clicks in the biology dept. I guess I can still be friends with you?????

  7. LOL Of course,we can still be friends. We're both gardeners which is a bond beyond the sciences.

    It's a matter of being squeamish. I observed in a Bio classroom yesterday and could barely stand to look at the muscle model they had of the human body. My wonderful husband deals with all meat prep more complicated than ground beef or boneless chicken.

    Give me my nice clean glassware, distillation columns, stirrers, and fire - ahhh, chemistry.

  8. Kathryn-- my wife is a vegetarian so we don't do meat here. I eat just about anything these days when we eat out.

    yes some bonds are stronger, I have friends who vote for Republicans just because they happen to be good people, I say that because I know folk who wouldn't even consider liking someone or will stop liking someone if they vote the wrong way (in their minds).

    I've got a life size skeleton in my room, named George, who has made many a gesture over the years, most of which did not involve his middle finger.

  9. Skeletons I like. I could be friends with George too.

  10. hey there, wayne! long post but last night was revealing in many ways.

    we spent a few laugh-filled hours with mariel last evening and listened to her speak of teaching first graders at a charter school in camden. the attitude you have -- i'll do whatever i can to help you succeed -- is one she has embraced as well. her exhaustion and frustration were palpable when we all first sat down to dinner, but as she worked thru those emotions by sharing them with us, she returned to the parts of her day that bring her joy.

    her frustration is universal: how could these kids be allowed to get passed thru to first grade without having the basics? when they don't know their alphabet or letter sounds, reading is just flat out of the question for now.

    her roommates both teach fifth grade in the same charter system and one was going over "what are the five characteristics of a living organism?" in her science class (which happened to be the very same lesson plan mariel was executing in her first grade class. says something about how far behind these poor kids are . . . ) anyway, after presenting the lesson for a few days and then doing the pre-test, one of roxy's students, after correctly identifying the 5 characteristics, declared that a book is a living organism. gotta love it! (roxy gave the student partial credit b/c it was a great answer and she DID know the all important 5!)

    teaching the "challenging" kids seems to be what tests one's dedication to the profession. i admire both you and our daughter for having made that choice. it hurts to see mariel so very frustrated at how far behind "her kids" are already and they're only in first grade but i know she can make the difference she's working so hard to see happen for them.

    mariel operates from a basic principle: no child is stupid and every child deserves a great education. her committment to TFA's founding principles is now replaced by her determination to bring "her kids" up to speed while sharing life with them.

  11. CS-- It is all challenging. The idea that someone would go into a room with 20-30 6 year olds just blows my mind.

    a car does everything we do, except reproduce. that is what truly separates us from books.

    my students have been told they are failures by the system enough, including folk I work with, that I see no point of adding on to the garbage. For some it is just a success to be in class and turn the other cheek when annoyed with a peer. That will get them farther in life than explaining evolution of resistant bacteria. However, hopefully they will only ask for an antibiotic when they need it, and then take the whole prescription.

    Mr K and I stayed on the porch and avoided the nonsense on TV. We tried but failed to watch the Phillies from a huge screen across the street from the porch.

    Tell Mariel, if she wants to chat with one who only went back for a second year of teaching to prove he could do it better, that she should give me a call when she is in town.

  12. What a delight this post is Statoz. I didn't realize you were a chef and a gardener!

    Sounds like trauma has released a well of compassion within you. Lucky students. We fail, we recognize those failures, we learn what failure has to teach us and we understand what it means to be human.

  13. Beryl-- the well of compassion emerges as a kind of goof-ass loving sarcasm, but can be quieted when listening is required. I often wonder how us teachers would respond if we were treated as we treat our students. doesn't take much of an imagination.

    I am self taught at gardening and cooking. my home garden is way neglected right now. I was out gathering flowers and veggies and I need to do so much weeding.

    as for cooking... I am in the process of making two pizzas right now.... one I made the sauce by roasting tomatoes, onion, and pepper. The other is new for me... a leek, broccoli raab and potato combo will be topped by local goat cheese.

    all the veggies come from my work garden (the raab) or home garden (onions,tomatoes, leeks, basil, pepper) or organic farm (potatoes and a few very cool orange tomatoes that caught my eye) between here and work. This is a good thing!

    good food, good drink, good friends, and good jazz in the background.

    sometimes it amazes me how good life can be. tis a rollercoaster (that should be one of my rules)

  14. I suppose that by now, dinner is over. ;(

  15. Kathryn.... you blew it with that assumption!!! Our friends didn't get here till after 7pm, so we were eating, and as we have leftovers of both pizzas and the apple pie (still warm when they arrived with it), I guess we could have fed one more.

  16. Thanks for the touching post and the inspiration that comes on a day when I would just like to quit teaching - not because of the kids but because of the unrealistic expectations that are put on "special" kids to be like everyone else and the ridiculous test!!! All anyone cares about is if I teach them strategies for tests - even if the content has no meaning to them. I always thought my job was to teach them things to prepare them for life - not tests.

  17. Diane--I bored a class silly today in my Geology class. Thursday I am handing out shovels and tell them to try to reach bedrock. The biology class was enthused about slime molds, but the enthusiasm was too much for one student who thinks classrooms should be quieter. oh well. I will be perfect another day.


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