31 August 2010

The End of an Era?

almost adv. very nearly, all but; implies very little short of

teacher n. a person who teaches or instructs

The Almost Teacher. It's been my self-identity six years in the making. Five years of undergraduate study, one year of student teaching, four very long months of a tedious job search...and to what does this all add up?

A teaching job.

Well, actually a semester-long substitute job teaching English in a high school that I have wanted to work at forever. It's not exactly what I have been working towards for so many years, but it's one important step closer to that.

This development begs a couple of  new questions for me, though. Am I still The Almost Teacher? If I am, what does this mean to me? And if I'm not, how do I now identify myself?

My friend and colleague, Sarah, recently blogged about this very conflict. When she wrote this, my thoughts were:

"We're all going to spend a lot of time in the near future evolving into the teachers we want to be, striving to prove to ourselves and various others that we are what we want to say we are. And the next step in that for many of us is certainly that first permanent job, whether it's already set in contractual stone or not."

I expressed this to her from a position of joblessness. At the time, my next step was to find another new job posting and apply for it. Now, my next step is to embark on a long-term subbing position. It's not permanent. It's not "set in contractual stone." But it's mine.

I won't be "almost" teaching. I'll be teaching. I'm already doing the things teachers do--going through all of my materials from last year to choose and revise what I can for the units and texts that I will be teaching again, researching and gathering new materials for the units and texts that I have not taught, thinking about how I will get to know my new students, etc. In a couple of short weeks, I will be doing more of what teachers do--implementing all of the things I have planned, revising what I have planned yet again to be accessible for this new group of students, grading, assessing, etc.

And all of this will be regardless of how long I do it.

Am I still The Almost Teacher?  Honestly, at this point, I don't know. I highly doubt that I will feel like The Almost Teacher for much longer--at least, not in the same sense.  So what's my new definition of The Almost Teacher?

The Almost Teacher n. A teacher who is almost the teacher she wants to be and who, through reflection, revision, and hard work, will never stop striving to be the teacher her students need.

An imperfect and incomplete definition, but for now, that's my story.

26 August 2010

Rat Race

Countdown to the 2010-2011 school year:

T-minus NOW.  

How are jobs still becoming available?

I am overwhelmed.

24 August 2010

Nightly Attacks

My cat has a bad habit.

Well, really, he has a number of bad habits, but he has one in particular that is life-threatening.

He's always been an ankle-biter. When he was a kitten, he would follow my roommates and I around our apartment, practically tripping over himself in his efforts to latch on to our feet.  With so many moving targets, he quickly perfected his technique. His favorite time to do this is in the wee morning hours, when he knows that he has the advantage because you're bleary-eyed and barefoot. Or immediately after his prey has gotten out of the shower.  The modus operandi in such stealth attacks is precise and carefully calculated. He hides just out of sight, but within enough reach to curl his extremely dexterous paws  around your ankle, as the first foot comes into his cross hairs. He knows that you likely have enough momentum as you stumble to the coffee pot to shake him free quickly, so with a lightning-quick maneuver, he gator rolls his body so that it is curled tightly around the foot and sinks his back claws in for leverage, immobilizing his prey. The kill switch engages, and he nips his very-tiny-but-oh-so-painful fangs into whatever soft skin is in easiest reach.

Now, this is really more of a catch-and-release effort, as he is well-aware that the supply of feet is limited with no immediate chance of replenishment. After his prey acknowledges that they have been temporarily defeated, he leaps out of reach in a side-winding move, and runs away giggling.

When Milo moved from my apartment to my mother's house, he discovered a fresh supply of completely unsuspecting prey in my mother and my sister. This, however, was not the most exciting part of the move for him.

We have a dog.

I imagine that his thoughts upon discovering this were, "Oh. Mah. Gah. What is this perfect specimen?! Is that four legs I see? And a tail? Schwing!"

And last night, he tortured the dog until 5:00 in the morning.

Needless to say, after little sleep, this is how the Almost Teacher is feeling:

23 August 2010

Methinks I'll keep her...

Although I don't remember the exact date of the conversation, I'm thinking it probably occurred somewhere in the realm of 21 years ago. However, unless I made this up in my healthy-albeit-overactive imagination, I have the distinct recollection of a three-year-old Me asking my parents for a baby sister. What my mother and father said, I don't remember. 

But I received a couple of things for my 4th birthday:


I am relieved to see that I do not look so crazed in the picture with my baby sister as I do in the one with my new Barbie.

I remember the day she was born--twenty years ago today. I'm pretty sure someone must have explained to me where Mom and Dad went in the middle of the night (I was not one to stand by being uninformed. "Hi, my name is Rachel. I'm a recovering question-asker."). What I remember most, though, is my grandparents taking me to Burger King on the way to the hospital, and I was upset to tears about it because, let's face it, the Burger King Kid's Meal was no Happy Meal. I mean, they never, ever came with Disney toys.

Once we were able to visit my mother and new sister in the hospital, I clearly remember my mom being very nervous to allow me to hold the baby. I was allowed to sit on the hospital bed, though, and look at the baby. (Even after you had been forced to make due with a mediocre Burger King toy? you ask. Yes, 'tis true.)  I was still 9 days shy of 4, though, so I suppose I can't blame her. My biggest curiosity about the baby was what her "bungee" cord looked like. Now that I think about it, perhaps the bungee vs. umbilical cord misunderstanding is why I was disallowed from holding the baby...

Eventually, they did let me hold her, as is evidenced by the picture above. I believe that photo was taken a few days after she had come home, and if I'm not mistaken, it was the first time I was allowed to hold her.  She was so cool!

On sisters, Toni Morrison said, "A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves--a special kind of double." If there ever was a better way to express the relationship between my sister and I, I'd like to see it.  It can be guaranteed that, when my sister and I are together, we will not walk away from it without someone having said to the other, "You just always have to be right, don't you?" We're cut from the same cloth, but we are very different people. We're sisters, but she's the Leo (well, a Leo-Virgo cuspian actually, which throws a whole new wrench into the gears sometimes) to my Virgo. In the very dates of our births, it is cosmically determined that our relationship should be tumultuous, but that our personalities also serve to balance each other. When I'm freaking out about something, she's matter-of-factly telling me to chill the heck out before she smacks me. When I'm examining the minutiae of a situation or task, she's got a knack for realizing when enough is enough and it's time to adopt a "Whatev" attitude. We're not hesitant to point out to each other when the other one has done something wrong. But I will be the first to admit that my sister has so many enviable strengths. I wish that I had her self-confidence, her initiative, and her extroverted nature, without having to think so dang hard about it. So many things come naturally to her, and when something doesn't, she does everything she can to make it happen.  If I'm not good at something, I'm usually content to never do it again. We're both perfectionists, but we present it in very different ways. 

To be sisters " is probably the most competitive relationship within the family, but once sisters are grown, it becomes the strongest relationship," the anthropologist Margaret Mead noted. Though my sister and I have moments in our relationship at which even oil and vinegar would shake their heads in disbelief, I wouldn't trade her for anything.  My sister is the only person who will ever understand me fully, because she's been by my side for twenty years, when life has been great and when it's been heartbreaking.  I'm glad that she's been, and always will be, my sister. 

So here's to my sister on her birthday. Nicole, I hope you had a very happy one. Just know I haven't called yet because it took me all day to write this blog post.  I love you. 

The thought bubble here would surely say, "Nom nom nom nom!"

21 August 2010

Teacher to Teacher

One of the most useful resources I've discovered as a new teacher has been the English Companion Ning, created by the brilliant Jim Burke.  Now, I love the EC Ning for many reasons. Not just because Jim Burke was one of the first thinkers and doers in English education I was introduced to in college who

a) was still alive and/or a practicing educator, and
b) actually provided practical and useful knowledge to back up his ideas, answering that age-old teacher education question of "Okay, nice. But HOW?!"

Mainly, I love the EC Ning because it's teeming with helpful and creative ideas from almost 20,000 other educators that can actually be applied in a real classroom. It's teachers helping teachers (and pre-service teachers, which is invaluable) in very real ways. My favorite post recently, one that I go back to almost every day despite currently being unable to implement the ideas, is this one about how to spend the first day of school.  New ideas, old ideas, new ways to rethink those old ideas--I think this post is a perfect example of what the EC Ning is and can do for teachers.

20 August 2010

On Optimism

The school year is staring me down. And if I had to personify it, I would say that it's probably doing so with red, beady eyes and a taunting grin.

petrify v.t. to benumb or paralyze with astonishment, horror, or other strong emotion

This is almost the word I am looking for.

I can't say that I am not frightened by the prospect of not having a teaching job in two weeks.  I'm almost petrified. I say "almost petrified," because I'm terrified sometimes to the point that I want to give up. I want to let this job search reach a standstill. I want to stop scouring the postings, writing these carefully researched cover letters, and driving for hours to interview after interview. This usually happens after a phone call from an administrator letting me know that they're going forward with someone more experienced, albeit telling me that I was the other top candidate or that I interviewed "so well."  Thanks. That's awesome. I'm glad the 10 interviews (yep, you read that right. You left your chin on the floor back there.) worth of practice has...not paid off?

And then, when another job posting pops up, or I get another invitation to interview, I realize that attitude isn't going to get me anywhere. I've seen how much can happen in just a matter of hours in this endeavor. I see my former classmates land jobs, which means there are triumphs to be had out there. Plus, my mother starts in on me.

And if it's things out of my control, like experience or a second certification in another core subject that I don't have yet, that are holding me back--well, that's just it. These are things that are out of my control.

So, when I do have my own students, and when they're feeling like nothing is going their way or like their only option is to give up on something they want, I'm not going to hesitate to tell them often (i.e. pull my handy soapbox out from under my desk and climb up to the top of it) that you cannot give up on what is important to you.  In the end, it will be the things that we've felt challenged by that make our successes all the more sweet.

And it won't be as embarrassing when the Fresh Prince walks in on you doing this: