Saturday, August 31, 2013

Perspiration and Perseverance

Hi Everyone,

Gosh, it's been so long since I had some free time to type up some of my thoughts and general happenings in life, thank you Labor Day weekend. Thank you.

Teaching is kind of like sports in the sense that I feel like each school year is analogous to a season of basketball, baseball, or football (these just happen to be my favorite sports to watch in that precise order). Once the season starts, it's tough to make it onto the starting roster barring any injuries or unforeseen miracles. Similarly, with teaching, I'm discovering that there's a defined open window for hiring, and once the roster has been set, you better hope players are getting knocked out by injuries or better yet, getting knocked up. Seeing as to how tomorrow will mark the first day of September and most schools are in session, it goes without saying that for most teams, their seasons have already begun. Let the praying begin as I viciously keep up on any grumblings of teams wanting to make trades.

After my short bout of interviews last months, I hadn't recieved any full-time offers and was just about ready to come to terms with the fact that this year was going to end up being a wash. That's when I got a call from a principal offering me a long-term sub position in a fifth grade class. Is anyone else sensing the deja vu? That's right, last year I had intially battled with the idea of taking a long-term sub gig for a 5/6 GATE combo class, and after I decided to take it, it ended up leading me to my first year teaching contract. Will I be fortunate enough to be switched as a bench player to a starting pitcher again this year? The thought has certainly crossed my mind.

After numerous rounds of phone tag, my principal and I were finally able to get in touch and get the ball rolling on the hiring process. Why one has to run through so many tires to become a substitute is beyond me. I did not remember having to fill out so much paperwork when I was hired as a classroom teacher last year. Then again, it could have had something to do with the fact that I was entering a new district. New team, new rules. I also hear the tire drill is excellent for training you to stay on the balls of your feet.

Finally, the paperwork was done and I was cleared to start August 1. It's been exactly one month of teaching and my professional growth these past four weeks has been nothing short of sublime. The school I work at now is so different from the last school I worked at. There are coaches that help my team plan curriculum and help me, personally, to refine my craft as a teacher. This has been the single greatest perk of my new job.

On the other hand, going from a full-time salary to, let's be honest, working for pennies on the dollar has been the roughest part of this transition. I wonder if this is how Lamar Odom felt when he went from playing for the championship caliber Los Angeles Lakers to being demoted to the D-Leauge before his trade to the Mavericks (pfft, except for the fact that he made millions of dollars the previous year). As stressful as the financial burden has become, I've been trying to make an effort to be humbled by it rather than overwhelmed. I truly believe that there's something to be said for those who struggle through things in life rather than throw in the towel because of a little inconvenience, especially when I am working for a dream I want so bad and enjoy so much. To be frank, I had the opportunty to make a lot more off of unemployment benefits and do nothing rather than accept my current job and work my tail off for the next few months without any promise of more work.

This has single-handedly been one of the hardest lessons to teach my current group of fifth graders - perseverance. Too often, and this becomes particularly apparent during math, students will look at you and ask for help. "Well Walter, (No, I don't have any students named Walter this year. Yes, this is a nod to my recent obsession with Breaking Bad), have you read the problem?" I'll ask, to which the student replies, "No."

"Remember to read the problem before you ask me for help." I circulate the room and upon my return I'll notice the student and his pencil in the exact same position as when I first left them. "Did you read the problem?"

"Yeah, but I still don't get it." At this point I call all my students to the rug and they know what's coming.

"Boys and girls, is it wrong to not understand something. (No). I never get upset or sad if you don't understand something. That's why we come to school, to learn, but you know what? It does make me really sad when you just sit there and don't even try. What message are you sending me? The message you're sending me is that you don't care, you can't do it, and that you are giving up. These are all things that I don't believe about you. I know you all care. I know you can all do it. And I know that you are not the kind of students that give up. A fancy word for not giving up is perseverance. What is it? (Perseverance). When I dismiss you back to your tables, please show me what perseverance looks like." They go back to their seats and at least this time pencils are moving. Tomorrow during math I'll have to give them the same spiel.

Kids these days are so afraid to struggle with things, to try. I saw this a lot with my students last year in kindergarten, but heck, they were five-year olds. I was a little disheartened to see that my fifth-graders were acting the same way. I brought this issue up to my dad and brother while we were having lunch today and they both validated my concerns. With the accessibility of information these days, my students don't really need to understand how to solve an equation with parentheses, brackets, and braces. They could very easily punch it into a calculator or look it up on their smartphones, sure, but how are these kids ever going to learn to fight for anything later down the road? I can assure you, that no form of advanced technology will ever be able to teach kids that. Plenty of UC students in college ditch class and use the internet to supplement their $30,000 tuition. I'd rather my students know the value in persevering through things. I'd rather my students understand that it's ok to be uncomfortable with a math topic and sweat a little. In fact, most professional athletes do.

With that, have a wonderful three-day weekend and try not to perspire to much out in the sun and as always, thanks so much for reading.


  1. I agree with that last makes things much easier for us. Instead of calling a HR manager to follow up on an interview, you e-mail them. Can't find the answer to something? Google it. But it takes away from the struggle and the triumph that ensues when you finally achieve something you didn't achieve before, and as a result, we become content. I'm glad you're taking the rather "traditional" way and teaching them about perseverance early in their lives, and I hope that lesson will stick with them for the rest of their lives.

    1. I hope so too Viet! Our society is way too reliant on instant gratification.