Category Archives: Compelled Tribe

Summer Reading Recommendations

P1230259Summer time, and the reading’s easy. Isn’t that how the song goes? To my Compelled Blogger Tribe members, I apologize for the tardiness of this post. My house has been more project than home over the last two months, but things are finally (FINALLY!) coming together, so I’ve been able to put the paint brush down for these 20 minutes and write this blog. Full disclosure: I’m probably writing under the influence of paint fumes.

TOP TWO BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel. Yes, I admit, I’m partial to this one because it opens with actors performing a scene from King Lear, but people: buy this book. It is absolutely riveting and beautiful and terrifying and full of hope and humanity.

Seveneves by Neal StephensonI have no idea why I picked up this book at the library. Normally, I’m not drawn to sci-fi, and especially not sci-fi that is 800 pages long. But there was something about this book description that made me take a chance, and I’m so glad I did. First, Stephenson is a genius. I’m hoping he’s not a prophet, but he has definitely earned the job title “futurist.” (Which is really his job title.) Some sections got a liiiittle too technical for my attention span, so I freely admit to skipping a few chunks here and there, but most of it was fascinating. Best of all, I know read technology announcements and think, “Oh, I already know about that. It’s in Seveneves.” Not bad for an English dork!

PERIODICALS

Do people still use that word? Well, I do. Here’s my trifecta: The AtlanticThe New Yorker,The Washington Post. I just discovered a new, online publication called Guernica. The writing is to swoon for.

One article of the last few months stands out for my in hi-definition, and I would go so far as to use the cliche “must-read” for any teacher. You can find it here on The Atlantic’s web site, where Paul Tough has made it tough to ignore the importance of students feeling welcomed and valued in our classrooms and as agents of their own education.

WISH LIST

I’ve been fascinated with early childhood education ever since my daughter entered preschool. (I know, you’re thinking, what a crazy coincidence!) These are two books on my to-read list:

The Importance of Being Little by Erika Christiakis

Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children by Roberta Michnick Golinkoff PhD and and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek PhD .

Also on my to-read list is a book I’ve had sitting on my shelf for months: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.

I have a quotation from Maud Casey in my library that reads, “I was born with a reading list I will never finish.” It’s the damn truth, people. And I wouldn’t want it any other way!

Happy reading, and enjoy!

Don’t Just Appreciate Teachers, Pay Them

Teacher Appreciation Week kind of irks me.

Don’t get me wrong. I love being appreciated. I continue to treasure every single note and email from my students and their parents, and I still reread them regularly. Those words truly make me feel like I achieved my deepest desires as a high school teacher: to make a difference in young people’s lives.

I understand that Teacher Appreciation Week is a kind, genuine effort to publicly demonstrate and recognize the hard and influential work of our nation’s educators. Many thoughtful hours of parent planning go into celebrating a school’s teachers, and the week often serves as a way for teachers and parents to connect on a purely positive level, which is important for building and maintaining the relationship between two groups of people critically involved in students’ education.

I myself have now entered the stage of life where I’m a room parent cutting out paper hearts to show my kids’ preschool teachers how much they mean to my family – and  I absolutely mean it and am glad I have the opportunity to do so.

At the same time, I also think my kids’ educators, those from early childhood to college professors, should be paid more competitive salaries, worthy of their professionalism and craft.

According to The Teacher Salary Project, “teachers make 14% less than people in other professions that require similar levels of education” and the average starting salary is $39,000. Yet teachers work an average of ten hours a day and annual salaries increases are typically only a few hundred dollars. There are no bonuses or promotions, which is why the average salary after 25 years in the classroom is only $67,000.

In America, we want to hold educators accountable. I absolutely believe that’s an essential component of revising our profession, along with revising the recruitment and training of new teachers. But who wants to enter a profession known for being overworked and underpaid?

We – American citizens – shouldn’t show our appreciation during one given week in a year. Teacher Appreciation Week should be called Payday, and it should happen every two weeks of a school year.

What if, alongside our banners that say “We Love Our Teachers,” we also add, “And We Should Pay Them More”? What if, at the end of a thoughtful note, we also tell our teachers that we have written to our local school board members or state officials demanding an increase in their salary? What if, instead of hosting a breakfast, we host a community event to discuss how to take action on improving teacher pay?

Let’s make teachers know they are appreciated. We can tell them every two weeks, when they receive the paycheck worthy of their value.

Moments of Professional Growth

I consider the Compelled Tribe topic for the week: stories of professional growth. I place the concept in my mouth and chew it, slowly. Stories of professional growth. Stories of professional growth.

I’m in graduate school. I stand in front of my very first class on the very first day of my internship and realize, Oh shit. I still have 20 minutes left. Like an oven, I feel my face pre-heating to 500 degrees. I have no backup plan or experience on which to fall back. The students start talking amongst themselves, and I fade to the back of the room and try to look busy with whatever scraps of paper I find on my “desk.” At home, I cry. But then I plan. And plan. And by the end of the night, I have designed enough lessons to teach an extra two weeks before running out of things to do. Professional growth.

It’s my first year of teaching. I don’t know it at the time, but the experience is akin to being a first time mother. I want to be so much to those kids –  their inspiration, their educator, their role model. On that first day of school, my heart runneth over with the prospect of Changing People’s Lives. Fast forward to a Tuesday in month three and I’m sending two freshmen to the nurses’ office because they won’t stop farting in class. These are not the things for which graduate school prepares you. That year, I cry a lot. I cry because I’m tired. I cry because I’m overwhelmed. I cry because everyone else in my department is pushing 60, because I’m also the yearbook adviser, and because there’s no supply cabinet and I have to buy my own tape. But most of all I cry because I know – I know – I am not yet the teacher I aspire to be. Professional growth.

I’m in my fourth year of teaching. There’s a girl in my AP Lang class who radiates contempt for everything I teach, and it seems at times, for me personally. I can’t understand why, and sometimes her actions frustrate me to the point of – yep, you guessed it – crying. Because I have a modicum of self-restraint, I don’t cry at the school, but I’m sure the other students sense the tension between us. I ask her to stay after class so we can talk. She thwarts my efforts for an entire week – rushing out as quickly as she can – before I’m finally able to convince her to stay. We stand facing each other. The room is dimly lit by the overhead projector and the sounds of other students fade down the hallway as everyone leaves for the day. I ask, “What’s going on?” She tells me that her mom has brain cancer. I am momentarily stunned. She apologizes for her behavior toward me, but says she just can’t bring herself to care about articles concerning obesity in America. How can I blame her? I realize that it was never about me. We cry. We hug. Humility stares me in the face: it was never about me. Professional growth.

If life is like a box of chocolates, the tears I’ve cried as a teacher are like a box of crayons. Some represent the absolute joys of working with teenagers – the radical red and the electric lime. Some are the color of frustration and angst – raw umber and shadow. Some tears are just cerulean relief and others are hopeful mountain meadow.

Tears have often signaled watershed moments of my professional growth, and I guess I’m not surprised by this realization. All living things need water to grow, and teachers are the amazing living things who Change People’s Lives.