Friday, May 23, 2014

Eleven Always Was My Favorite Number...

Eleven days.

That's how many teaching days remain in this school year, which was one of the best of my career.

This year also happens to be my last year in the classroom, for possibly at least four (and perhaps even more) years to come.

I've been accepted into Salisbury University's inaugural doctoral cohort in the Literacy Curriculum Theory and Instruction Ed.D. program.

But wait, there's more.

As of this week, I received notice that I'll be receiving a graduate research assistantship.  This means I'm blessed enough to get a full tuition waiver, and I'll earn a modest stipend in return for performing scholarly research.

I am overcome with gratitude at being offered this opportunity.  I'm praying that I'll find success and fulfillment in this next chapter of my professional life.

And, it was time for me to leave the classroom.  Though there are aspects of teaching that I'll always be in love with, I am not a career teacher.  I've always known that... it's not that I don't enjoy teaching.  It's the politics, the external factors, and many, many other contexts surrounding our profession that I can't stand.

I feel like this new opportunity will really offer me a chance to fully explore my talents and make a broader contribution to the field.  I don't want to add to the hoops teachers have to jump through.  I don't want to become someone so ingrained in theory that I forget what it is to actually put it into practice.

But I do know that I am a far better writer than I am a teacher.  I know I have the power to use words to make great things happen.  It's a gift from God that's not fully being used right now.  But I believe with all my heart that He is opening this door for me, and He has plans better for me than even I can imagine, plans that exceed my wildest dreams.

I want to revolutionize the way we teach writing.

One of the biggest compliments I ever received from a former student went something like this:

"Miss Meister!  You made writing click for me.  All of the sudden I could just write what I would say.  You're the bomb."

That's my end-of-year-teaching-brain trying to quote that reference, which is from the lovely and talented Rebecca Witzke, whom I had the pleasure of teaching several years ago.

And I have had other students reach out years after having taught them.  Students that I wouldn't have necessarily thought I had that great of an impact on.  Ones who told me how much I helped them, how much they appreciated me.  These students praised my teaching in some cases, but even more special to me, they valued the relationship we'd shared as teacher and student.  I was someone they trusted.  Someone who made them feel safe.  Someone who respected them and treasured them and gave them confidence that they deserved to own, because they were special and unique and wonderful.

This is the part of teaching I'll miss the most.

I have eleven days left with a group of kids that have really touched my heart.  Hands down, they're the best group of 7th graders I've ever had.  They've made me laugh.  They've made me cry (in a good way).  I've experienced that not-so-good crying throughout my teaching career, too.  And that's okay.

You can't hike through the mountains by staying on the peaks.  You gotta hit those low points, too.

So, in eleven days, this journey will be over.  The good.  The bad.  The precious.  The mistakes, the deadlines, the testing, the everything...

It will all be behind me.

I couldn't be more thrilled with my chance to learn, to grow, and then to make a huge difference.  But I'm also saddened when I think that this might be the last group of kids I work with face to face on a daily basis.

I'm relieved in a way.  No more grading.  No more disciplining.  No more nerve-racking parent phone calls.

But it's so bittersweet.

No more coffee mugs or homemade goodies at Christmas time.  No more high-fives or hugs for a job well done.  No more comforting someone who needs it, with a smile or an encouraging word.

Who knows?  Maybe I will end up back in the classroom.  Maybe I won't.  Either way, I will make these next eleven days count.  And to commemorate the end of an era (one decade of my life), I wouldn't be me if I didn't share a little Everyday Crazy, Classroom Edition to celebrate my exit/hiatus from public education.

And Yes, This is Going To Sound Like Fiction...

(But it's not)...


Why English Teachers Die Young

            I once received a chain email entitled “28 Reasons Why English Teachers Die Young.”  Supposedly, it contained actual similes and metaphors used in high school students’ essays and stories written for English classes.  I’m not sure of its authenticity, but I am sure that it was hilarious.  I was (I think) a freshman in college when I first received it, and I remember searching the internet on a couple different occasions in the later years to find comfort in its humor as the stresses of studying for the occupation and then actually performing the job on a daily basis began to wear on me.  I was so fond of it, I printed a copy and hung it on one of bulletin boards when I taught tenth grade, reading it to my honors class on the first day of school to give them an idea of what not to do (and to also show them that I wasn’t some grammar-correcting-Nazi-robot with no sense of humor).

            Some of my favorite snippets from said email include:

Reason #5: She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

Reason #14: Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

Reason #20: The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

The longer I’ve continued teaching, the stronger my conviction has become in believing that yes, English teachers are probably more inclined to die young than those who’ve chosen differing career paths.  I have read my share of laugh out loud, terribly poorly written analogies and explanations in my students’ papers, not to mention careless errors and typos that make me want to smack my forehead.  But what’s more likely to lead me to early graying isn’t so much what they say in writing as what my kids say out loud.  Particularly since making the switch to middle school, I’ve experienced this phenomenon.  So, I represent this irrefutable evidence:

Legitimate Reasons English Teachers Will Die Young:  Actual Conversations with Middle School Students

(Names other than my own have been changed to protect the innocent)

1.       Art:  “Ms. Meister, I don’t understand this question.”

Me:  “Let’s read it together, Art.”

Art:  “Select the word that doesn’t follow the rhyme scheme.”

Me:  “Okay, so what does that mean?”

Art:  “Um… pick the word that doesn’t rhyme?”

Me:  “Very good, Art.  So what are your choices?”

Art:  “Sun.  Flower.  Done.  Run.”

Me:  “So what do you think?”

Art:  “Well… I think maybe flower, because it doesn’t sound like the others.”

Me:  “Uh-huh…”

Art:  “But maybe sun, because a flower needs sun to survive?”

In my head: No, no, no, no, no, no, no!

2.       This one occurs on a daily basis.  It is the primary reason I am insane:

Me:  “Okay, guys, turn to page 23, and complete problems 1, 2, and 3.”

Random Student:  “What page do we turn to?”

Me:  “23.”

Another student:  “What problems do we do?”

Me:  “1,2, and 3.”

One minute later…

Yet another student: “What page?”

Me: “23.”

Other student, who, for the record, wasn’t talking, just staring off vacantly into space as all this was going on:  “What are we doing?”

Chorus of angry classmates: “Problems 1,2, and 3.”

Student:  “Oh, ok.  What page?”

3.       This lovely gem came from the joys I experienced assistant coaching the middle school track team:

Me:  “400!”

Richard:  “Coach, how far we running?”

Me:  “400, Richard.”

Richard:  “What’s a 400?”

Me:  “One lap.”

Whistle is blown.  One lap later, I get set to blow it again:  “800.”

Richard:  “Coach, how far we running?”

Me:  “800, Richard.”

Richard:  “What’s an 800?”

Me:  “Two laps, Richard.”

Two laps later:  “200.”

Richard:  “Coach, how far—”

Me:  “200, Richard.  Come on, this is the third month of track.  You should know how far a 200 is.”

Richard:  Blank stare.

Me:  “Half a lap, Richard.  We get math, right?  One lap is a 400.  Two laps is 400 plus 400, so that’s 800.  So if I ask you for a 200…”

Richard:  “How far we running, coach?”

4.       Kevin:  “Ms. Meister, he won’t give me my pencil back.”

Me:  “David, give him his pencil back.”

David:  “It’s my pencil.  Not his.”

Me:  “Kevin, whose pencil is it?”

Kevin:  “It’s mine.  I need him to give it back.”

Me:  “David, give him his pencil back.”

David:  “Ms. Meister, it’s mine.”

Me:  “Look, guys, I’m not your baby-sitter or the pencil police.  Work it out!”

Kevin:  “But Ms. Meister, we called you over here because we can’t work it out.”

5.       Shakima:  “Ms. Meister, is your daughter mixed?”

Me:  “Yes.  She’s bi-racial.”

Shakima:  “So her dad is black?”

Me:  “Yes.  He’s African-American.”

Shakima:  “Mmm!  Ms. Meister got her vibration on!!!”

…. I still don’t know what that means, but it makes my life sound a whole lot more interesting than it actually is.

6.       Me:  “Shaquir, what are you doing?”

Shaquir:  “I’m getting ready for the game.”

Me:  “The game isn’t for hours.  And you’re in English class.  Take your helmet off.”

Shaquir:  “I need to be ready.”

Me:  “No one is… um… trying to tackle you right now.”

Shaquir:  “I gotta get my mind right for the game.”

Me:  “And the helmet helps do that?”

Shaquir:  “Yep.”

Me:  “Take the helmet off.”
As always, thank you for reading.  If you are a teacher, thank you for what you do.  If you are a student, remember... your teachers are people too.  We do what we do because we love you.  We want so much for you.  More, sometimes, than you want for yourselves.  We are on your side, even when it doesn't feel like it.  Every time you were dissatisfied with a grade?  We gave it to you because you could do better.  Because we knew you would do better.  Because when you earned what you were after for the first time, we knew what that would mean.  How that would feel.

May you always find success in whatever it is you do.  Whatever your passion is... follow it.

And don't be discouraged when the crazy follows you around from time to time.

Because if crazy is finding you?

Well, that's a surefire sign that you're alive.  Because cray cray is everywhere.

And thus ends my homage to teaching.  Well, in this blog post, anyway.  May the work I attempt to do in this next chapter of my life live up to the quality of the people who give it their all each and everyday.  Thank you, teachers.  Thank you, co-workers.

And most especially, thank you students, particularly those of you whom I had the privilege of teaching.

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