30 November 2010


As a first year teacher, I have a series of seminars to attend care of my district's human resources department.  We have already had our first three, and they have been much more helpful than I anticipated. We have subs for the day, and we learn new strategies, and we get to talk with other first year teachers at our grade level and just vent our frustrations.  It is amazing what a relief it can be to just vocalize what you are going through...in fact, talking to friends is one of the stress relievers that we learned at the last seminar.

During the unit on stress and anxiety, we all took a test to gauge our stress level over the last twelve months.  There is a long list of life events, each assigned a points value, and you add up your points to see what category you fall in.  I was reminded of the roller coaster of emotions that the last year has been filled with.  Wedding, moving cross-country, changing careers, and losing grandma were the big ones, of course. Then there are other things that I tend to forget count, like the health of family members, job security, a new work environment, and trying to make new friends.  By the end of the test, I was left unsure how to feel about my score that was quite literally, off the charts.

All of us first year teachers had to come up and paste dots on the bar graph to represent our score, and my dot was off the paper, up on the wall.  One comforting thing was that I was not alone, there were a handful of other dots joining me off the paper.  It reminded me that everyone checks the box yes for most of the things on that test at some point in their life.  We all go through good periods and not-so-good periods...maybe I should be looking forward to the positive period that has to be coming my way.  The other comforting thing was that I also scored pretty high for job satisfaction...so I am putting myself (and Joshua) through a period of mental anguish with my decision to switch careers via Texas, but I am enjoying it somewhat?

This brings me to another one of the stress-relievers from the seminar that I realized I already take advantage of whenever appropriate, laughing at yourself.  It's true, stepping back and realizing how ridiculous you are/life is can relieve some pent up anxieties.

Ok, it's after 10, way past Mrs. Fallin's bed time...

01 November 2010

The madness and mayhem

After a few hours of training, I began to get overwhelmed...after a few weeks, it was ridiculous.  I was simply keeping my head above water in the beginning, trying to find my bearings.  

A few months in to my first year as a teacher, I am getting a system down.  I know my responsibilities and I try to get them done a little better and faster every week.  Continuous improvement, a concept that Trek and John Burke taught me well.   It is the hardest and the longest that I have ever worked, though I wouldn't change any of the decisions which we made over the last year that got us here.  I love the challenge of teaching, and I find it invigorating to have a job that changes from day to day. 

So what does being a teacher entail?  Don't you get to leave at 3:25 every day with no worries?  Don't you get all those inservice days off?  Not a chance, I am working more hours than I ever have before...last week was my hardest yet, and I figure that I clocked 65-70 hours of work and commuting.  My current motivation is the week-long Thanksgiving break, when I can finally have time to clean my apartment and organize my life.

My responsibilities include creating lesson plans (each plan includes 12 categories to be filled out for each day of the week) for each of my three classes (ELA, French Explorers and French I).  I also have to create or photocopy or find any worksheets, rubrics, flashcards, games, tests, quizes or other materials necessary for each lesson.  Each class gets a new seating chart every grading period, or as needed if there are lots of problems.  Every 2-3 weeks (halfway through each grading period), progress reports are mailed out and report cards go out every grading period or 5-6 weeks, and it is my responsibility to get all grades entered, with comments, by the deadline for each of my 6 classes.  I am always checking my e-mail to keep up with messages from parents, teachers, and staff.  Students with behavior problems get phone calls or e-mails to their parent or guardian.  Every week, I have a meeting with my department, and a meeting with just my fellow 6th grade ELA teachers for planning future lessons.  Every other week, I have a meeting with the 6th grade teachers to discuss specific student issues.  Every grading period, I meet with the English department head, and my mentor.  Every month, there is a faculty meeting.  I have 6 professional development all-day meetings for first year teachers in my district spread throughout the school year.  There are also several other professional development days for all faculty throughout the year.

In addition to all of these school and district requirements, I have to complete my teacher certification by attending meetings 2-3 evenings/month and completing regular homework assignments.  Every 6 weeks, I am observed by formal observers and my principal.  At the end of the year, I will present the portfolio that I am slowly building in order to earn my certification.

I am also taking on more work by teaching a homebound student 2 days/week after school (extra pay!) and next semester I will be the co-advisor for student council.  I really want to get to know some  students and be more of a role model.  It is actually hard do to this as much as I would like during class, simply too many students and too little time.

So you can see why I don't spend much of my down time keeping up with my blog. :)  I try to spend evenings enjoying time with Joshua, Geppetto, and even Loki and Bartleby.  Usually laundry or some housework is squeezed in, some mindless TV online, and some good food a la Joshua.  Sometimes we catch a football game at Conan's, our favorite pizza place where we often have the TV to ourselves.  Our weekends are spent relaxing as much as possible, exploring new parts of the city, talking long walks, doing errands, going to the farmer's market, and maybe seeing a good concert or movie.

We saw Dave Matthews Band on a Friday night in September.  The show was in Houston, so Joshua picked me up right after school and we ate dinner in the car.  We arrived just in time for the opening act, and we saw an amazing show.  I crashed on the way home (way after my usual 10:00 bedtime), and Joshua got us home safely.

Two weeks later was the Black Crows at Stubb's downtown...I had bought us tickets for Joshua's birthday, and we had a blast.  They even performed with a few local legends, including the keyboardist for the Rolling Stones. A few weekends later was Austin City Limits Festival, thousands of people were in town and it was nuts just trying to drive around.  We saw one of the bands, School of Seven Bells, perform at a club called The Mohawk.  We took the bus downtown, saw a great show outside under the stars, gawked at all the crazy hipsters, and then enjoyed a nice fall evening on our walk home through the UT campus.  The music scene in Austin is truly authentic, one of a kind, and, along with the cuisine, is our favorite part of the city.  After the show--how about a veggie dog with sauerkraut and a pickle or some popcorn tofu and homemade soy softserve?  It definitely feels like a musician/vegan foodie paradise to us sometimes...hope this isn't just the honeymoon phase.

1st quarter of middle school

Wow, how has it been nearly three months since my last post?  It feels like not that long ago I accepted my dream teaching job at a medium-sized middle school in Hays County, about 20 miles south of downtown Austin.  We were depressed and desperate after a summer of job applications and resumes with not so much as a returned phone call for a response.  On Joshua's birthday, I came home from my student teaching with a cake, determined to remain positive for our first birthday in our new city.  Around 12:30, I received a call asking me if I could be there at 3:00 for an interview.  I quickly absorbed the entire contents of the school's website, ate lunch, and practiced interview questions while Joshua drove.

After a very stressful 23 minutes with the assistant principal, the head of the English department, and the athletic director, it was over and my head was spinning, replaying all of my answers.  I was afraid to lift my arms too high when I shook their hands because I felt like I had been sweating enough to leave rings under my arms.  Another agonizing week passed before I heard back from the assistant principal--he had been working out some details with the HR department, and it was all taken care of, could I start training on Monday?!  It took getting my ID badge and signing up for my benefits a few weeks later to make it feel official, I was a 6th grade English teacher/6th-8th grade French teacher!  

I could not have asked for a position closer to what I wanted--French is great because it is an elective without an official course map to follow.  I have the liberty to make my own lesson plans, in the order that I see fit, following only an outline from my fellow Hays school district French Explorers and French I teachers.  I get to encourage kids to take an interest in the world outside of Texas and teach them about the diverse cultures of the French-speaking world.  English is also a great course because it is a core class (along with math, science and social studies) and it is the core of the core classes, reading and writing are the basis of learning, so it is a really important  course to teach.  It is also good to have an essential class like ELA on my resume because it shows that I can handle teaching the basics.  

After two weeks of training and lots of hours spent preparing my classroom, school started...students showed up in my classroom and listened to what I said!  It was nerve-wracking at first, but I quickly adapted and have been steadily improving for the last 10 weeks.