Unmitigated Disaster and other Hyperbole

I went to the park today with my husband and daughters. It was my idea, even. For the last eight months or so, I’ve been fogged in like a San Francisco airport. Sometimes, the whole weekend would go by and I’d realize Monday morning that I didn’t even go outside. I’m back, baby. I feel myself healing from the shitfest that was this past school year.

Part of it was paper grading, which can be endless for an 11th grade rhetoric and comp teacher is she lets it be. Most of it was me cocooning myself in because getting from Monday to Friday took everything out of me.

I want to write about it all. I want to tell you every single degrading, terrifying, infuriating, stomach-lurching thing that happened this school year.

But I can’t. Don’t be mad. Let me explain.

Do I have to say it? Google “teacher fired blog” and see what comes up. I have. It’s infuriating. Every teacher I know has said something similar to what Natalie Munroe did about her students. Okay, maybe not “rat-like.” The First Amendment may protect us, but that’s still something decided in court. The article I read about Munroe says her principal “was forced to take her back.” How delightful. I’ve seen administrators in that position, but teacher tenure is a whole ‘nother Oprah.

This past school year, I found myself more frustrated than I’d ever been with the learned helplessness of my students. That’s not what drove me to anxiety and depression so bad that I considered (however temporarily) in-patient treatment.

The group I abandoned in 2009 mere days before the AP Exam for maternity leave was especially dear to me. My own baby is five and “graduating” from pre-school this summer, but my other babies are graduating from Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Bennington, and MIT among others. They post their Facebook pictures – smiling, capped and gowned – and I well up as if they were my blood.

My expectation that it would be the same when I went back was not unrealistic, but it ended up way off base. A comedian can do a hit show in Chicago then have the exact same set tank in Atlanta. Likewise I found that I don’t play well to every class I’m in. “Tough room” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Every class has its own personality. Contributing factors include the time of day, the class they just had, the position of Saturn in the heavens, and some mysterious whothefuckknows that together make up the energy of a group. Not only do individual classrooms have it, but whole classes (meaning the class of 2009 or ’10 for example). Every class has students I bond with and inspire, but this group did not click with me.

Once you’ve been in education for close to two decades or more, everything old is new again. When I started my career, our state had adopted new standards so everyone was in professional development prepping for the new new tests. As a wet-behind-the-ears noob, I was eager and enthusiastic (for me, anyway). The eye-rolling, world-weariness of veterans rubbed me the wrong way.

“Shoot me if I ever get that cynical!” I commanded my coworker Mary.

Thank God Mary doesn’t own a gun.

When our state adopted Common Core, I turned to Mary and whined, “Didn’t we just adopt new standards?”

So far, I’ve only looked at Common Core for the summer school class I’m teaching. It doesn’t look a whole lot different than the standards we already had, but I’m looking at 9-10 ELA. I trust the professionals at all levels who have concerns about the new tests. They’re the experts, so they can be trusted to know what is best for their kids. Imagine if legislators also believed that, what a wonderful world this could be!

I am still enough of that apple-polishing student who became the master underneath it all to believe that it can get better again. My first year of teaching AP a decade ago was a disaster. An unmitigated flop. The next several years were the opposite. By September, I will be ready to give them my best once again.

Which is unfortunate, because school starts in early August.

About Mrs Odie

Like you, only funnier.
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29 Responses to Unmitigated Disaster and other Hyperbole

  1. alounge says:

    I hear your frustration. I smell your fear. I know your terror. It is mine too. I could tell you stories, but they are most likely ones you already know by heart. I am still reeling from the news flash that the worst student in an on-level middle school English class can sign up for Honors in high school if he/she wants to. Which will require me to be “tutoring” for a level of English that shouldn’t require tutoring because STUDENTS SHOULD ALREADY HAVE THOSE SKILLS. AMMIRIGHT?? OR AMMICRAZY?

    • Mrs Odie says:

      I noticed you have a brand new untouched blog called “Apathy Lounge.” I might read it, I might not. You probably don’t care.

  2. Rosemary S. says:

    Being as we live in different Countries, it is as close to impossible, as impossible can ever be, I suppose – that my grandson will never be in a class of yours. But, I hope that he encounters teachers who are just like you – dedicated, involved, inspiring, prodding, even a little bit stern and scary!
    I’m sorry you’ve had a crappy year. Those kids don’t realize just how blessed they’ve been to be your students. Perhaps, it will be many years before they do! I hope the next school year is a much improved one for you.
    Here in my Province of British Columbia, our teachers have just voted 85% to strike. As of Tuesday, they will be on an all-out strike. Of course, school is almost done for this year – and we are all hoping that by September, the contract issues will have been settled. The ‘issues’, I’m sure, are all too familiar to you. Wages, (they haven’t had a salary increase in 4 years), class-size, trying to teach ESL and special-needs students in the all-inclusive classrooms – while trying to create a dailing positive learning experience for each of their students.
    As far as I am concerned, there is not enough money in this world, to ever have enticed me into the profession of teacher. In my opinion, you, who do enter the field, should hold an exalted position in our society – luxury apartments, tax breaks, always seated at the best table in the house – whatever you want – it should be yours! You’re leading and educating the minds of our future citizens, tax payers, politicians, labourers, soldiers, doctors and nurses. Why that is lost on our Countries’ people in power, I will never understand!
    I hope that you are able to get some R&R this Summer, enjoy your family, have at least some ‘vacation-fun’, and return to a much more positive environment, in August! Blessings on ya for all that you do!

    PS – Are you proud of me, teacher?? A post, with – count’ em – not one series of ‘………….’, joining one sentence to another!……………….well, except for this one – just so you know for sure that it’s me! :)
    Rosemary

    • Mrs Odie says:

      You flatter me. I think I could improve so much. I get too easily frustrated. I need to relax and have more fun with it. My summer school class is dwindling down to the kids who are willing to work, so that’s something. When it’s only like 17 of them, it will be kind of awesome! We’ll finish the first “semester” (if you can call 12 days a semester) with The Old Man and the Sea. I’m really looking forward to next semester where we tackle Much Ado About Nothing for the first time in my career. Exciting stuff.

      Thanks, Rosemary! And yes, I’m…….. proud of you. When our teachers have gone on strike, it backfires on them every time. As a result, it hasn’t happened in the 15 years I’ve been teaching. I’d have a hard time. Crossing a picket line and walking out of my classroom are both unthinkable to me.

      • Summer says:

        I try not to be one of those old eye rolling old teachers, but the teachers that have taught less than 5 years or so really bug ME and rub me the wrong way. I can’t necessarily pinpoint why (except one is all out rude and selfish). What’s old is new again. Maybe that is bugging me. I am developing curriculum this week for CCSS and very grumpy about it. I am glad to hear you are enjoying the literature you are teaching this summer. I hope it continues to go smoothly for you.

        • Mrs Odie says:

          I remember BEING that new teacher and I wince inwardly remembering my annoying self. I’m grateful that my experienced teacher colleagues, many now retired 14 years later, were willing to befriend me and put up with me anyway!

          I have to do a week-long training in July. Very grumpy.

  3. Grace says:

    Yes, I agree, it IS unthinkable! I can tell you are one of those teachers that takes personal responsibility! I understand how you feel about the last school year. Sometimes it’s just like that, no matter what you do. So, here is hoping that you will go back in August(!) and things will be different. Not perfect, of course, but better! Also, I think it’s interesting and funny to read Rosemary’s comments about how she views teachers in comparison to Lisa Morguess’ comments about teacher bashing! Anyway, I feel bad for you that you have to teach summer school, but I remember that I also spent a few summers in the classroom because it was just plain necessary! Love your blog!!

    • Mrs Odie says:

      Thanks! I despise having to teach summer school, but I did rack up some debt this past year. Such an American vice: living beyond one’s means. I fell victim. It’s not too bad, just bad enough to make me feel like an ass and to motivate me to pay it off and get my credit score back out of the “just out of prison” levels.

      As it turns out, summer school is a blessing in disguise for me, but more on that in the next blog post. I appreciate your comment. I have to go look at Lisa’s post. I haven’t read it.

      • Summer says:

        You should skip it.

        • Mrs Odie says:

          I would, but they’re paying me $1000 to go.

          • Michael says:

            I like you a lot. I am also in one of the supposedly noble professions. Or at least it was once thought to be: I’m an attorney. Surely you have heard this joke: “What you do you call a busload of attorneys at the bottom of the sea? A good start.” Or, “How do you know an attorney is lying? His (or her) lips are moving.” No one complains about any of these; especially not attorneys, and certainly not teachers. Yet, we defend the innocent (obviously not all the time) and work to improve laws for citizens. Sure, some attorneys are in it for the money, but no one defends the good guys.

            I try to tread carefully if I post any reply or comment related to a post by Lisa Morguess. The easy response by some people is “look, she had to have her husband come to her rescue” or some other comment that seeks to automatically invalidate what I may have to say simply because it’s related to a discussion she initiates. But, in all honesty, 99.9 percent of the time, I only respond out of the pure intellectual interest it has to me. I married the chick, so some at least some of what she talks about is intellectually interesting to me, even if sometimes or, even often, I don’t agree. Agreeing is not the point. But, honestly, I enjoy the discussions–and they are just that–so keep that in mind.

            Everyone is coming from somewhere, and obviously, this includes you. This particular post of yours, and many like it pertaining to your profession as a teacher, express your utter disdain for students and their parents who expect more than they should. And those students and parents definitely exist, and everyone gets that you’re probably not talking about every student. There is a fairly popular meme going around now, with a picture of Gene Wilder as Willa Wonka, saying something to the effect of “you want extra credit, when you haven’t even done regular credit?”

            Yet, despite the “hilarity” of this meme, I don’t see teachers saying “hey, wait a second why are you bashing students,” and I don’t see any of your commenters saying “why are you bashing students; maybe they are this or that . . .”

            So, as parents, parents are coming from somewhere. When we received the report card from our kid’s teacher saying what Lisa posted (which specifically did not include the student’s or teacher’s name) I actually said “hey did you see where the teacher wrote your, instead of you’re.” Is there irony in that? Sure, and that was the point of the post. Just like an attorney who might break the law (or forget to show up for jury duty, as I did about 16 years ago); or a police officer going through a red light (or eating a donut, I suppose–no one defends against that stereotype); or a congressman/woman who fails to pay taxes. The list goes on. This was a simple post about irony on Facebook of all places: Facebook, where I read over and over about how Obama is a liar and communist, and coming to take away everyone’s guns just like Hitler–you know, that Facebook post. The Facebook that started the “grow a farm” thing.

            And it was coming from a place of having sent our first child to private school with the thought at the time that private schools, because there is some competition and thinking outside the box, would be better than public schools, and we were willing to pay extra for it. Yet, nearly every, and I mean nearly every, memorandum or notice we received had such basic grammatical and spelling errors in it, that we would highlight them just for fun.

            So, a teacher made some grammatical mistake that has truly become a sign of these texting and email times–and it no doubt and truly was a mistake–on a report card of all things. That was worthy of a lousy Facebook post that kept the teacher’s anonymity. But is that teacher bashing?

            Your sincere blog friend,

            Michael

        • Mrs Odie says:

          Hahaha! I responded to this as if it were about the CCSS training I have to do this summer. Now I don’t know if you meant summer school, professional development, or Lisa’s blog post.

          • Michael says:

            Actually , I can’t remember. I’ve moved on to something else.

            • Mrs Odie says:

              No, I meant that to Summer, who had written “Skip it” and the last thing I remembered saying to her was that I had a Common Core training I was dreading.

          • Summer says:

            Haha. I meant her post but didn’t care that much to correct it. I read Lisa’s post (not a regular reader of her blog but loved an old post of hers I think about often). I would love to have a mature discussion about it. It went so much further than the irony of the alleged typo in her comments to her readers that bothered me. In fact, I kept a very open mind about her post and how many children you have and how you’ve probably had to brave the school system more than once and it’s hard. But it just got ugly, fast, and sorry but I have kids at home trying to put their heads through the tv and have to go now. :-) ..omg literally they just tried to.

            • Summer says:

              I guess what I’m trying to say is that teachers make real mistakes they should be called out on. This just wasn’t one of them. And now on to something else as well.

              • Michael says:

                But she wasn’t call out on it. It was just, as even you recognized, a simple irony. It was a simple Facebook post that said “look at this.” It had one sentence, with the name, and our kid’s name, omitted.

                Damn, Summer; I’m gonna start calling you Winter.

                • Summer says:

                  I never saw the facebook post so don’t have that context. Damn lawyers trying to twist my words around. ;)

                  I only read the blog post and I think she made some grave errors in the way she handled her readers. Like I said, I kept an open mind with the blog post but it didn’t come across as a cute and funny remark see the irony haha the further I read.

                  I recently had to pack and move back to my remodeled school. Within my files I found two letters I kept along with other nice notes from a student that committed suicide in high school. I taught him in fifth grade. To this day, I still wonder if there was something I could have done to prevent it as his teacher. He killed himself a decade or so ago. Teachers are very hard on themselves. Unfortunately (fortunately), the growth of a teacher lasts until retirement (grammatical errors and all).

                  • Mrs Odie says:

                    One of the best pieces of advice I got from a mentor teacher was to keep a “Feel good file.” In it, I keep all of the notes, cards, and letters from students telling me I’m a good teacher or that I touched their lives in some way. When I get really down or think about walking away or compromising and just saying “fuck it” and giving them all A grades, I look at that file. I’m sorry for that student who killed himself. We always feel, “If only I…” don’t we?

            • Michael says:

              Why not just let them? Especially if it’s a flat screen; how much could that hurt?

              • Summer says:

                Nah, we have the old tube type tv. But you sound like the voice of experience here. :-) Good to know it’s ok.

  4. Most of this school year has been a terrible disappointment.

  5. The stress dreams have already started.

  6. Lisa J. says:

    I’m scheduled to teach Lang for the first time this year, and I am petrified. I was fortunate enough to attend a really good APSI, but I know I’m in for a struggle. It always makes me smile to know that there are people out there that understand this crazy life I chose. You inspire me.

    • Mrs Odie says:

      When I wanted to be an actress, my dad told me, “If you can do anything else, anything at all, do it. If that sounds absurd, then you know you’re doing what you’re meant to do.” I realized I wanted to write. Good thing, too, because I’m a terrible actress. I feel like teaching chose me. Do you ever feel like that? The first year teaching Lang is terrifying and wonderful. Pick a few things you do well and do them. Try a few new things. Don’t expect to do everything well. It takes a minimum of three years to have an AP program.

  7. LaurenR says:

    Mrs. O,

    Please know I check in with your blog on a regular basis (have been doing so for more than a year now); I read because I love your voice, your perspective, the way you transition one thought to another….. I am a fellow English teacher, though a newbie with very little classroom experience, so I also read to get the low down on life inside the classroom…..

    I miss your posts. I tell you this not to add creepy pressure, but to encourage you — you have an audience that wants to read what you have to say! Likely many more readers than you realize.

    I’ve shared your blog with fellow English teachers, as well as other friends who like to think, and we are all looking forward to your next installment….

    Sending happy, positive, and supportive vibes from the opposite coast (Gaithersburg, MD to be exact),

    Lauren

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