Sunday, January 22, 2012

"Goodnight, Sweet Princes"

Schools are great fonts of expertise.  We each have our own specialties and fields of interest.  Want to know about the evidence in the Gilgo Beach murders?  Ask Melissa, the forensics teacher.  Want someone to explain the electoral college to you yet once again?  Ask Chris, the AP Government teacher.  Have a leak in your sink?  Ask Brian, the tech teacher.  Want to know come your bowling ball always arcs to the right?  Ask Steve, the physics guy because as he says, "Everything is physics."  Each of us knows how to teach, but more than that, each of us LOVES his subject.  Get a teacher to talk about his subject, and you can't usually stop him.  And for me, it's my books, my characters.  And boy, am I going to miss them.

Of course, I will always be a lifetime reader, but I don't know how often I will actually pick up one of my "school" books since one thing I am absolutely looking forward to is to be able to read whatever I want, whenever I want.  I mean, I have literally read and re-read and re-read these books many, many times.  And because of that, I have become close friends with so many of my favorite characters, whom I have always known I could visit from year to year.

So it will indeed be time to say goodbye to Romeo and to Juliet and to all the beautiful poetry that Shakespeare has put into their young mouths. "It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich,  jewel in an Ethiop's ear-beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!"  I will have to bid farewell to Ethan Frome, forever stuck in that snowbound farmhouse with two carping women.  So long to Blanche DuBois, that delightfully demented faded Southern Belle.  And Hester Prynne, one of the gutsiest heroines ever, standing proudly on that scaffold with her illegitimate baby.  I'll have to leave the wonderful and resilient Joad family in that rain soaked barn, wondering if they'll ever find a home, Guy Montag with the old English professors marching toward the city to record their memorized books, Huck Finn "lighting out for the territories," and Jay Gatsby yearning for the green light at the end of Daisy's dock.  And I'll have to leave one of my favorites of all time, the doomed but oh so noble Sydney Carton as he goes to a "far, far better place."

All these and so many more, good friends who have helped me try to give the joy of reading to my students over the years.  I could receive no greater satisfaction than when a kid will say to me that he LOVED a book we read and that it has become his favorite.  That has been the greatest gift I feel I have given because as the poster in my room says, "A book is a present that you can open again and again."

So yes, I am so looking forward to my "free" reading, but saying "Goodnight, sweet prince" to Hamlet is going to be really hard.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Ten Things I Love about School

Since it has taken me so long to post my "good" list, I decided to do all ten on one post, so this one is going to be a little longer, but I suppose if they are the things I love, the list should really get special treatment.  It wasn't that difficult to come up with my list because contrary to posting the "hate it!" list first, I have truly loved this job and been very devoted to it over all these years.  Here is why:

1.  Great schedule: So let's just get that one out of the way because it is what everyone thinks is the number one reason we love our jobs. ( And yes, I am listing it as number one, but the important stuff comes last here.)  June 25, the big check--a feeling that cannot be duplicated--PRICELESS!! I am going to miss that.  Then again, every day will be June 25!

2.  I am my own boss:  I did work in business for a year, and one of the things that bothered me was having to rely on other people to get my work done.  In this job when I close the door, I am in control of my day.  Yeah, right!

3.  I love my subject:  I guess one of the best things about a school is that it is filled with all kinds of specialists who are really into their specialties. As an English teacher, I have found there is nothing like being able to "give the gift" of a great classic piece of literature to someone and to hear that that book has become a part of that person's life and will be a part of it forever.
4.  It has kept me young:  Get together with a bunch of high school teachers, and you'll soon come to realize that we are a lot like the kids we teach.  But those kids also allow us to sip from the Fountain of Youth.

5.  Kids are pretty funny:  You have no idea how funny kids are.  I have had times in the classroom where I have literally been rolling from some crazy funny thing some crazy funny kid has said.  And they are always so surprised to see me, the "Spadinator," lose it like that.  I once had a whole front row of "comedians" who would crack me up the entire period.

6.  Long term relationships:  I have been working at the same place for  over 30 years.  That has made for some pretty long lasting and special relationships with my co-workers. We have seen each other get married, have children, and seen those children grow up and get married.

7.  Relationships with kids:  How rewarding it has been to form special relationships with those students over the years that you just "click" with. They come and ask you for advice on everything from trouble with parents, to trouble with boy or girlfriends, to which college to choose, to which dress to pick for the prom.  A colleague and I were even asked to mediate a fight between two best girlfriends once.

8. Relationships with families:  Because I teach in a small village, it has been such a pleasure to get to know so many wonderful families, teaching brothers and sisters, and yes, even students and their own children.  Let me tell you that is an eye opener the first time it happens.

9.  Thank you's over the years:  Better than any monetary bonus I could ever have gotten have been the times that former students have either called or sent letters or come to visit to let me know that I made a difference in their lives, helped them to grow and become better people.  I once had a young guy call me just to thank me for pushing him to succeed because he was about to fulfill a dream of entering the police academy.  And just last year a very special former student decided to make a donation to the district and made a point of telling the superintendent that I was one of the teachers that had really influenced him.

10.  And that brings me to my final thing but the most important thing.  When I worked at Allstate as a supervisor, I was doing very well in the short year that I was there.  I had even won an employee recognition award.  But I'd come home and think about the fact that at the end of the day all I was doing was helping a company to make more money.  I wasn't leaving anyone better through my actions, wasn't leaving my mark anywhere, and that is why I decided to go back to my real "calling."

So even though there have been frustrations and troubles, and yes, many tears,  throughout the years, I know that I have absolutely been in the right place.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I know my next post is supposed to be ten things I love about school, but I had to postpone that to write about "the soccer girls."

For the past two years I have been working the soccer season as a supervisor/timekeeper.  This has been something totally new to me because, frankly, sports and I have never had a decent relationship.  Not when I was a kid, not when I was a young adult, not ever.  So even though I have done a dozen different extracurricular jobs in my career, I have never coached, nor had I ever, before last year,  had anything to do with sports whatsoever.  It's not that I hate sports per se; it's just that I was never good at anything, so I had no interest or knowledge to coach anything.

But last year the opportunity arose to make a little extra money, and with my daughter away at school, I did have the extra time. Now, after having almost finished my second year, I have to say that it has been a great experience on so many levels.  No, the cold wind blowing across the field when it gets to be around 5:30 is not enjoyable, but the girls so make up for it.

I cannot overestimate how much these girls have impressed me with their tenacity, their fearlessness, their hard work, but most of all their dignity. When they are out on the field, they play their hearts out-really.  They don't think about their hair or their makeup or getting banged up or about falling down.  They simply jump back up and keep running, sometimes at top speed, up and down that field.  They help each other and cheer for each other and console one another if they make mistakes.  Sure, they play to win, but if they don't, there's no anger, no petulance among any of them.  They simply congratulate the other team ("Good game, good game, good game") and then huddle up with their arms around each other.

And so here I have been, the soccer neophyte, standing on the sidelines and being completely inspired by these young women who have accepted me with open arms.  They will often say,"Thank you for supervising us," or they will all look at me from the huddle after the game and call out in unison, "Thank you!!" No girls, thank you.  Thank you all for giving me the gift of seeing girl power in action.  YOU GO GIRLS!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ten Things I Hate about School--Part Two

Finally able to sit down and finish my "ten things" list.  I am finding that I am busier this year than I have been in quite some time-ironic, isn't it?  So the rest of the list is a little more serious than the beginning of it. I find that there are things about working in education that I have found really troubling.  Some of these things have been issues for years, others seem to have been magnified and exacerbated lately.

6. Parents:  I have always had trouble dealing with difficult parents.  I have experienced the full gamut of problems, from parents lying for their kids, to blaming me when the kid didn't do his work, to blaming me for the kid not wanting to take an accelerated class (I should have forced him to stay), to a parent screaming a me on the phone, to a parent coming to a conference drunk.  Unfortunately I have had a couple of occasions when I literally had to hang up and say, "I'm sorry, but this conversation has come to an end." But I have also had many great and supportive parents.  Look for them on the Ten Things I Love List.

7.  Grading Essays:  An English teacher's job is literally never done, REALLY.  Until June 25 or so you always feel that weight of papers hanging over your head.  You never finish grading because as soon as you finish one pile, another comes in.  And believe me, it is not easy to grade some of those essays.  Sometimes the writing is so confusing, my only comment can be, "HUH?"

8.  Those who "know better" : Then there are all of those administrators, professors, lecturers, consultants, who either have never been in a classroom or haven't been in one in 20 years or have been in one for only two or three years, telling you the best way to do your job.  "Have them write every day." "Have them read 40 pages a night."  "Have them do more homework-less homework." "It's all about portfolios."  "It's all about the standards."  How bout you spend even one period in my eighth grade writing class and see just how enthusiastic you'd be about the new "Common Core Standards?"

9.  "There is just no money for that" :  For over thirty years I've been hearing the same "No Money" story.  Will people ever come around to realize that we need to invest as much as we can, not as little as we can, on education?  Apparently not soon because the latest, greatest idea to reform education is the 2% tax cap that New York State has imposed on its school districts, which brings me to my final and most disturbing thing.

10.  The worsening lack of respect for the profession I have loved:  I have always talked about being "called" to do this job.  I have wanted to be a teacher since I was a very little girl, and even when I left the profession to take a job in business, I realized I had to go back because the classroom was where I belonged.  To me it has always been a noble profession worthy of the utmost respect.  I have seen tremendous dedication of my colleagues over the years, teachers who have given their souls to their students.  And these teachers deserve so much more than being the latest scapegoat of society.  When I first started and people would ask me what I did for a living, they would be impressed and thankful.  These days I even have to deal with my own family's disdain for the job that I have given so much to.

Okay, I've gotten it out of my system.  It does feel a lot better! Whew!  Next time The Ten Things I Love.  :)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ten Things I Hate about School-Part One

Well, before you think I am that cynical, let me preface this blog by saying that the one that will follow is, "Ten Things I Love about School."  So I sat down, in this year of sitting down and taking inventory, and came up with a list of things that I surely will not miss about school (And weirdly, I hardly ever call my job "work."  It is always "school," just as I never go by calendar year, always school year).  The list is simply in the order in which they occurred to me.

1.  You have to start teaching at "the crack of ass" (sorry, just think that is the funniest expression).  At 7:45 a.m., when most people are just getting ready to leave for work, we are already up in front of the classroom, trying to get 25 comatose teenagers to pay attention to us.

2.  Which brings me to another item.  I once had a colleague call the teenagers we teach, "unfinished persons."  And I have always thought that to be such an apt description.  Kids will say anything that occurs to them, at any time, anywhere, with practically no filters.  And those little devils notice EVERYTHING!! God forbid they pay attention to what you are teaching.  Nuh-uh!! Last week I had a kid in my eighth grade class tell me that there was a map on the bottom of my shoe.  I had had those shoes for six months and never knew about any map.

3.  You never really know what sort of day you are going to have.  Sometimes you can get up and be in a pretty good mood when you get to school, actually ready to have a good day, with some interesting lessons planned that you are totally prepared for BUT -the copy machine is down, the internet is down, your door lock is jammed with pencil lead, "Johnny" throws a tantrum, you get an unexpected drop-in by the principal, some kid poops on your floor!! (all true events)

4.  You can't hide.  When you are not feeing well, either physically or emotionally, you have to hide it  and still perform.  That room filled with 25 little (big) bodies is not going to sit quietly by while you gather yourself together.

5.  And you'd sure better develop strong control of any bodily functions. The bathroom can call only on a free period or within the three minute between classes.  And certainly not while you have a group of foreign exchange students from France as guest speakers.

Stay tuned for Part Two!!

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Are you sure?"

A couple of days ago, when the topic of my impending retirement came up, one of my colleagues said to me, "You don't sound so sure that you are going." Of course I'm not sure.  When are we ever completely sure about major life changes?

Are you completely sure that you are picking the right college or job or husband or house or time for parenthood?  Major change is such a dreadfully difficult experience that it freezes most people to the bone. Why do you think they invented Xanax?  So here I am on the verge of leaving a place that I have gone to for 183 days a year for the past 33 years of my life, certainly my longest relationship with anyone or anything if you look at it that way, and it has, to say the least, given me pause.

Sometimes I literally walk through the hallways of school and hear echoes of all of my footsteps of most of my adult life.  The colleagues that have come and gone, certainly the thousands of kids that have walked in and out of my classroom, the dances and parties, the pictures with Santa, the days of the championship games.  So many, many memories, mostly sweet, some sort of quiet and sad.

I think of all these things as I am confronted (mostly on a daily basis) about my impending departure.  Remember that there are no bonuses in teaching.  No one will ever put more money your  paycheck because a kid of yours just got accepted to Harvard (and rightly so). You just do it every day and wait for those few and far between times when someone writes you a heartfelt letter or calls or shows up at your door long after he has graduated to tell you how much you did for him and to thank you for pushing him to excel and for believing in him.  And to be completely honest, to me, those rewards have meant more to me than the biggest Wall Street bonus ever could.

I had one of those moments just this week.  I was working the clock at the boys' soccer game, the senior game, where each senior's parents were called up to receive a bouquet of flowers from their son.  Here I was at the timekeeper's table on the sidelines of the field watching the ceremony when one of my students from last year was called to present his bouquet, but he did not have any parents at the game. So the next thing I know is he is walking directly toward me with his flowers and says, "These are for you."

Will I miss those bonuses? Of that I am most definitely sure!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"To toss or not to toss?"

As I sit here after just completing the first week of school, I am reflecting on the thoughts that I have had this week.  Firstly, I am wondering just how I plan to make it through a whole 5 days starting next week.  I am simply exhausted.  Maybe it's my age, but I did notice that my younger Facebook friends have all been posting that they are "pooped" as well.  I know, I know, all my non-teacher friends are now shaking their heads in disgust, but believe me, it is pretty hard to put on those shoes and perform in a non-air conditioned room when you've been at the beach for two months.

However, what I really want to focus on in this blog is how much I have been thinking about throwing things out, about casting off. Unfortunately, I have a serious problem with the act of the casting. One of my department colleagues has actually called me a "classroom hoarder," saying that he fully expects to see me on A&E someday. My husband cringes every time we attempt to clean out the garage or the shed or the closets, as I continually cry out, "No, I need that!"  I must admit that I do indeed have several "mild" hoarding characteristics.  But who says it isn't it normal to keep real ditto masters from thirty-two years ago?  Or my favorite peasant shirt from junior high?  You never know when you might want to use those things!!

Actually, there have been many, many occasions when my fellow department members will come by to see if I have a certain book or handout or exam, knowing full well that I most certainly do. (They have already planned to raid my stuff as soon as I decide I am definitely leaving.)  Education just lends itself to hoarding.  Everything old is ALWAYS new again in my profession.  Skills good, skills bad, portfolios good, portfolios bad, testing good, testing bad, hands on learning good and so on and so on and so on, for the past thirty years.  Just last year I was happy to know that I had saved all the old, old English Regents materials because the new, new English Regents has very similar aspects to the old, old English Regents, and I HAD ALL THE OLD, OLD STUFF!

So this week I have been feeling so strange every time I finish a lesson.  I just don't know what to do about all the things I know I will have to clean out by June.  I know that I may never have to use my "Get Acquainted" stack of handouts again, but I just can't bring myself to toss the folder, seems so wasteful, so final.  Then again, I sure wouldn't mind tossing those four sets of summer reading essays I got on Friday.