Saturday, November 4, 2017

Midterm lessons

We are nine weeks into the semester, and as I'm working with my students to get their grades up, I can't help but spend some time reflecting myself on what I'VE learned so far this year at my new job:

  • Some things aren't different, between teaching online and teaching in person. Some students are still adorable and sweet and enjoy coming to class; some students will still either ignore you or fight you on everything (and then complain about how low their grade is).
  • It's hard to work from home because it's hard to draw the line as to when to STOP. I don't LEAVE at the end of the day, thus clearly delineating a boundary between my work life and my home life. I don't have bells signaling when it's officially lunch. I mean, teachers at in-person schools also spend tons of time after school and on the weekends working as well, so that part isn't so different, but I'm saying that not having a commute doesn't mean that I'm working any less. 
  • Having to spend all day online and answering emails has made me spend a little less time on my computer and phone for leisure. I'm not saying I don't still go on Facebook or whatever, but it's gotten a lot easier to just put away my phone and close my laptop because, dude, that's quite enough for today.
  • I really miss being able to talk to coworkers in person. Whenever I needed to get out of my classroom and clear my head, there was always the English department lounge where we could sit and chat and just decompress. I do talk to my coworkers every day, all day (hi Kate, Aaron, and Mark!), but it's not the same as getting to check in with each other visually on a day to day basis.
  • I touched upon this in my last blog post, but I've taken the approach of helping my students and relaxing the rules a little bit, and it's made a big difference in my stress level. I'm not saying work doesn't stress me out, but not ruling with an iron fist means that I'm dealing with a lot less tension.
  • That said, it doesn't mean that I don't worry about my kids. I know that a lot of them are there for a reason, and that that reason might be absolutely heartbreaking. All kids come to our classes with their own stories (that are sometimes sad), but you have to think that if these kids for some reason were unsuccessful in a traditional school setting, then maybe it's a sadder story than you might think. And my heart breaks for them, because I can't check in with them visually either. 
  • I'm glad not to have stacks of papers to grade. I mean, I still have lots to grade, but they don't take physical form anymore. That makes my life a little bit easier. 
  • Classroom management is a little bit different, in that they are all names in a chat room in our classroom software. I don't have to see them asleep or on their phones or rolling their eyes at my terrible jokes :P but the fact that I can't see them means that I don't know if they're ACTUALLY there or not. There are plenty of kids who just log in but are actually absent. I'm not going to say that I love this, but on the other hand... my old school just had a lock down because a kid brought a gun to school, sooooooo... I don't mind my problems at the moment.
So far, I like it. I really like my job. I feel like it suits me, and I don't know if it's also because I have the benefit of a decade of teaching under my belt (so like, would I still like this as much if I were brand new?), but I don't wake up with that feeling of dread about going to work, and on the whole, I feel a little more confident than I used to about my teaching. (Though, Impostor's Syndrome still strikes hard and true.) I'm really glad I found my way here, and I hope they let me stay a little while :)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The freedom in forgiveness

One of the constant struggles in teaching (one of the MANY constant struggles!) is coming up with a late work/make-up work policy and getting students to understand it, respect it, and stop asking for so many damn exceptions. Trust me, I've had MANY a conversation about the appalling entitlement of kids who keep ignoring the not-so-fine print (seriously! Boldfaced and underlined and caps-locked size 16 font!!!) and asking us to ignore the rules we've worked so hard to set out for them.

I've played around with how late to allow work to be turned in, and what percentage to dock. I've never allowed them to re-do or re-write. "Them's the rules, kid." I spell it out for them on the first day of school, and it's up to them to sort out their business out within my parameters. And I get frustrated when I have to constantly answer the same questions over and over.

Well, thing work differently at online school. At orientation and staff development, we were told that for SO many kids, we are probably the last resort in a long line of attempts at being successful at school. That if these kids couldn't make it with us, it's entirely possible that they might give up on school altogether. And therefore, we can't have the same kinds of rules that you might see at a traditional school.

I have to say, this made me nervous. Now I HAVE to allow rewrites? Now I CAN'T keep docking late points the later it gets? Now I HAVE to allow for flexibility in class attendance and deadlines?

I don't know if I was half-expecting that chaos would reign and I would be drowning in papers or what.

What I got instead... was this strange sense of freedom. When kids emailed me asking if they can have extra time, I said "Sure," and wrote their names down on a list. When I had to give kids low D's or F's because their work was not what I was asking of them, I wrote in my comments, "Please feel free to redo!" and I suddenly felt unburdened, like, at least now, it's up to them and they don't have to feel stuck with that grade. When I relaxed my grip and gave them more options, I ended up giving myself more options besides fielding angry/upset emails from students and parents as I tell them that there's nothing else they can do, SORRY.

Reality, sort of
I'm not saying my job is easy street now, by any means. Teaching is teaching, and some things are the same no matter what format your classroom is. But emotionally, I'm feeling a lot better. I'm a lot less stressed out about "BUT THE RULES!" I'm not saying that I don't have deadlines or that I don't have a late penalty, but I can tell my kids "Hey, don't worry" and actually mean it because once it's late, it's late, and I won't dock any more than 10%, and you might as well take your time and make it good. And it's less pressure on them, but they still have to take the initiative to do it and talk to me about their late work or any rewrites they do, and I feel a little more like a partner than a taskmaster, and suddenly I'm working with my students instead of fighting them.

And I think that's how I've always wanted it to be anyway.

So in short... yes, work is hard. But it is going fairly well, and I'm happy to be doing it. I think for now, I have found where I am meant to be.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

This is what happens when you spend Saturday night at Target.

I miss running. I miss it with an ache that I feel deep in my chest.

Tonight at Target, I was walking past the activewear section (which is actually where I get all my workout clothes), and there was a huge display for running gear. "Keeps you cool while you run!", the tag said.

I don't run. Not anymore, I thought.

And there it was. That familiar ache and that stinging sensation behind my eyes. For a moment, I thought I might actually start tearing up, right there in front of the racerback tank tops made with wicking fabric.

If I miss it so much, why don't I just try to do it again, and start slow? My friend, I'm afraid at this point, my knee can't even handle a slow start; it hurts when I walk too much, sometimes. Or all I have to do is place my foot down wrong while I'm walking and I can feel a sharp pain that makes me catch my breath, and then I have to limp rather gingerly until it sort of works itself out.

At this point, I have to decide whether I really, really want to put my knee on the line, lose a ton of weight to take the pressure off of it (and we all know how easy THAT process is!), and risk giving up my powerlifting strength just so I can maybe do some 5k's or 10k's for another few years, possibly a half marathon if I'm lucky, and probably never another full marathon ever again. Note: there is nothing wrong with 5k's or 10k's, but you know that's not where my heart lies. I love the looooooooong run.

I envy 80 year olds that can still run, because I really think I've reached the end of the proverbial road in this sport. I could train to race-walk, I suppose, but again, that's just not where my heart is.

So I have to choose, right? And even though I haven't been consistently training this year, I do in fact choose powerlifting. With derby absolutely out of the question as well, it's kind of my only thing left that I can do, that I love. And knowing that I've reached a this-or-nothing-at-all point in my very short athletic life feels rather pressuring. Like, it took me so long to figure out the sports that I love to do, and now, I feel like I have precious little time left and I REALLY have to make it count this time. I'm in a situation where I feel like I have to double-down.

And I'm happy that I have powerlifting in my life. Again, I could definitely stand to show up more (or, at all, considering how hectic my life has gotten lately) and put in some consistent work, but in my heart of hearts, I feel like it's where I'm meant to be, the path I should be following.

But goddamn, if I don't miss running. I am stupidly sad watching other people run and hearing about other people's training these days.

Monday, August 28, 2017

"Even if it makes others uncomfortable I will love who I am." - Janelle Monae

My beauty blog has been on hiatus for quite a while now, and I'm undecided about when I'll get it going again (or even if). No, I haven't stopped loving makeup and makeup artistry-- I think what has changed most for me (aside from moving to an area where I don't feel the need to be so made up all the time, and not working full-time out of the house anymore) is that I've been feeling increasingly estranged from beauty blogging and social media.

Go ahead and check the Instagram page for any major beauty brand or retailer-- what do you notice about the models and influencers they regularly feature? You do get some racial diversity. You get some body diversity. You even get some gender diversity. You very rarely get all these things at the same time. And you almost never get anyone who looks like they're older than 30. (I mean, there probably are major influencers who are over 30, but they usually don't look it.)

I've said quite often that representation matters, and I see myself rarely enough. I feel like I'm seeing myself in the beauty world less and less. It hasn't changed my love for makeup, but it has changed my eagerness to be a part (however small) of beauty media. It's never very motivating for me to feel unwanted. Some people can take that as a challenge and run with it, muscling their way in and creating a space for themselves. Me, I want to slip quietly out the back door and go home, and change into some PJs, and watch some Poldark.

Besides, it's kinda nice buying some makeup and then enjoying it right away without worrying about getting some good product photographs before I get my grubby hands all over it. Or looking presentable for FOTD pictures (because sometimes I really just don't feel like being on camera!)

Anyway... this is but a small part of some more general thoughts I've been having about 1) my looks, 2) my age (I turn 35 soon), and 3) whether/how much I actually want to care about either of those things. I've never been afraid of getting older (but I guess I've always looked young for my age, so it's never been a concern), and for the most part, I've come to a good detente with my body about my shape and size. But every now and then, my insecurities rear their ugly heads (as I'm sure happens to everyone, right?)

Media (social or otherwise) has a lot to do with it. I can feel my self-esteem meter plummeting when I spend more time browsing makeup or fashion sites. Or seeing articles praising celebrities for their bodies, especially if they're super-busy moms/careerwomen who manage to DO IT ALL.

I Facebook-stalked stumbled upon the profile of someone I vaguely know through other people, and it was apparent from her profile (as my subsequent freakout on FB stated) that she and I were very similar in a bunch of different ways, but also she's younger, thinner, and prettier than I am, and though I don't really know her, I know that we have a lot of mutuals who really like her, and therefore, my brain also filled in that she must be more interesting, effortlessly cool, and likeable than I am too. (Brains are such awful things sometimes, aren't they?)

So yeah, that wasn't an especially fun moment of my weekend.

I gave myself some time to work through it (and thank you to all my FB friends who commented encouragingly! It really meant a lot!), and I ended up coming to a conclusion: So what?

So what if I'm not pretty, young, or thin? So what if I'm not effortlessly likeable and interesting? So what if I DO want to just put on PJs and watch Poldark instead of going to parties that I don't get invited to anyway?

I have a pretty great life regardless.

"Pretty" is subjective anyway.

"Young" is nothing I can do anything about.

"Thin" is nothing I care to do anything about.

And I don't think I'm an easy person to love, but I have a good amount of people who say they love me, so I must be worth it somehow.

I have never been, nor will I ever be, that perfect magazine girl who looks like she's got it all together. I mean, it's a farce anyway, right? Even the girls in magazines these days can't ever really be perfect magazine girls in real life (thanks, Photoshop!).

This is me. This is my reality:

I'm tired. Stressed out. Blemished. Scarred. I am flawed inside and out. I don't always do the right thing. I'm not always likeable or attractive. I definitely don't know how to be "hot." I don't know how to take perfect selfies, and I can't keep up with the beauty world anymore.

But you know what? I've got it pretty good anyway, even with all those things "wrong" with me. So I must be doing something right. And maybe I should just keep focusing on that.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Heading down new roads

Somewhere on OR-38. Gorgeous.
A lot has happened in the last few months (as you've probably read), and now I can add one more thing to the headlines: I'm returning to the classroom.

Well, sort of - I will be teaching full-time online. I'm not going to have a physical classroom, but rather, I'll be working from a home office, and teaching high school students from all over the state of Oregon through my computer screen.

The first order of business (besides doing all my HR paperwork online) was to head out to North Bend for our New Teacher Orientation.

Four hours away, in a part of the state that I've only heard of and never been to (Coos Bay), to spend three days as a new teacher who doesn't know anyone else learning about a new method of teaching that I've never done before.


(Though, I think the driving-far-away-all-by-myself part made me more nervous than anything else.)

I'm a creature of habit. I've spent all ten years of my teaching career at the same school. Sat through staff development in the same theater, looking out at (mostly) the same faces. Basically taught the same things from year to year. (Not always, but overall, I've stuck to the same books and activities.)

And even the school I taught at was in the city I GREW UP IN. So even before I spent ten years teaching at the same school, I spent my LIFE in the same community.

One of the Oregon dunes
In the days leading up to the training, I was texting my work wife/bestie and lamenting how I could not imagine having to sit through staff development without her by my side. I know I'm not the only new kid, but I haven't BEEN the new kid in a long time. (Well, I guess you can count my current retail job, in which I'm still the most recent hire, but retail is not the same.) And I would be a long way from home :/

I ended up having a great time. My introvert self even hung out in the hotel bar with a few of my new department members one evening. (It was Trivia Night and we took second place!) We met a lot of the leadership team and support staff and I got a good sense that the community that I'm walking into is a good one, with values that seem to line up with mine.

Online teaching is different, but not THAT different. I am still, in essence, teaching the same skills and concepts (and even some of the same books-- looks like Macbeth just seems to be my lot in life). The delivery is a little different-- I don't get to see the kids' faces while I teach, but I will still have to manage a bunch of them in a room (a chatroom, really), and I still get to be me and add my own personal stamp on things.

Coos Bay, right next to my hotel
The drive, by the way, wasn't so bad. It was long, but I thankfully missed any terrible traffic both ways, and it was spectacularly scenic. Oregon, you are a GORGEOUS thing. I kept getting distracted by the mountains and trees and various bodies of water (the Umpqua River, lakes, the bay). The temperature was a good thirty degrees cooler than what we've been getting here in Portland, so even though we were busy working each day that we were there, it still felt like a nice little vacation.

Next week is full-staff professional development (at a shorter distance away), and I'm feeling a lot better than I was a week ago at this time. I am excited. I feel refreshed and nervous and positive, in a way I haven't felt in a while, and even though I'm a little swamped with things to do in preparation for the school year, I am all abuzz with anticipation.

I guess taking a new road isn't necessarily anything to be afraid of after all. It might lead you somewhere wonderful.

(image source unknown)