Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Teachers can't resist bargains

So, most New York City public school teachers worth their sharpened pencils can tell you that August 1 is the date on which teachers may start purchasing supplies with their "teachers' choice" money. You spend every last penny of your $260, save all your receipts, and as long as they're dated after August 1, voila, you get your $260 check in, like, March.

Last year I didn't do such a great job of saving my receipts, and then in March I was scrambling to spend all the money I had left over. Which meant I got to buy a lot of neat stuff I wouldn't have otherwise bought, but I didn't get reimbursed for all the supplies I purchased earlier in the year. So this year I'm determined to itemize all my receipts -- starting on August 1. So I have purposefully been staying far, far away from teaching supplies of any kind until August 1. I went to Target and they had adorable and, more importantly, cheap supplies -- packs of 32 bookmarks that say "Reading...What a Bright Idea!" and "Color Your World With Books," packs of 24 certificates that say "I'm a Super Star Student!", and pink and blue hall passes -- and all of these things cost one dollar each. ONE DOLLAR! could I pass this up? Yes, I could have waited the two days until August 1 and then made a return trip to Target, but I went for broke and bought a whole bunch of stuff. I'm so excited to have fewer students this year -- less than 50 as opposed to 420! -- that I perked up at the thought that I could actually give away stuff without going broke on dinky "prizes" like I did last year.

I don't know if this is true of all teachers, but -- I. love. shopping. for school supplies. I always have, since the days when I was in elementary school and managed to convince my mother every year that I needed a newer, sharper, more colorful box of Crayola crayons. Being in the "Back to School" aisle at Target was like being let loose in a candy store after a long sugar drought: notebooks! folders! pencils! I had to remind myself very sternly that not only do I already have plenty of these types of supplies, but the woman whose desk I'm taking is a total pack rat who left me thirty years' worth of extra supplies. So I can't really begrudge myself the packs of bookmarks, can I? Shouldn't a reading teacher be giving away "Reading...What a Bright Idea!" bookmarks?

Now, if I could only find a planning book I like (unsurprisingly the Dollar Spot Target versions were unsatisfactory), I would be all set...I'm sure you can already guess exactly what I plan to do on August 1.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Knowledge is power

In one of the other teacher blogs I read, a second grade teacher revealed that she is spending her summer getting acquainted with the sorts of books her second graders will be reading in the coming year: Horrible Harry and his ilk, etc.

"What an excellent idea!" I thought. "The next time I hit the library, I'll make sure to check out a good number of those books!"

Then I remembered that as an AIS teacher, my second grade students won't exactly be at a second grade reading level. Based on what I know of them from this past year, the great majority of my students will be reading at a level F when I meet them; that's about an early-to-mid first grade reading level. And if my students ever do achieve grade level (yay for me!), they get switched out of my group and I get another low performer.

So I don't think I'll have to worry about pre-reading Poppleton anytime soon...which is somewhat of a bummer, as I love Poppleton, but at least it gives me something to strive for.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ain't no cure for the summertime blues

New year, new template...yes, I did say "new year."

This morning I was browsing for jobs, and I ran headfirst into the same conundrum I'd faced before I became a teacher: The jobs that sound the most enticing to me are usually looking for former teachers with two years or more of experience. And, as if I was in a dream, I foggily recalled my original plan: Teach for two years or more and then make the move into the non-profit education industry.

So the song remains the same -- "keeping my options open" -- but as we draw closer to August 1 (the date we can begin to spend our $260 in teacher's choice money and my self-appointed deadline to start doing some more concrete planning for the fall), I'm taking a deep breath and adjusting to the idea that I will probably find myself in a classroom in September.

Pros: If I could mold myself into an awesome writing cluster teacher with no direction whatsoever from my administration, I can certainly mold myself into an even more awesome reading teacher with the adminstration breathing down my neck as they tend to do with reading and math instruction; I'm kind of looking forward to going in with my teacher game face on from Day 1 and a behavior/discipline system so firmly established that I won't be taking any crap from any second graders anymore; I already have some ideas on how to incorporate my marathon training into my instruction as motivation for us all.

Cons: My administration could very well switch my job at the last minute, making me rue the day I was born. (In which case, will I suck it up and take the challenge or just quit?) I may not, in fact, have any idea what I'm doing at all, and my cheery optimism could come crashing down in an ugly mess.

But right now? It's summer, and I have some hard-core relaxing to do.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


The other day I applied for a job -- a non-teaching job, still in the field of education. I don't really expect anything to come out of it, and even if something does, I'm fairly sure it pays less than I make now.

Yesterday I went to Fire Island with my parents, and on the way back I stuck my head out of the ferry window (much like a dog riding in a car), and I thought about my decision. What made me go browsing around for other jobs? Would starting all over in a new job be preferable to my second year at my school? Or should I stick it out another year, gain the experience that many jobs are looking for, and then cast my net wider for the kind of job I eventually think I want to do -- something in curriculum development or literacy or media?

There was a time for much of this year when I would have said that there was no way in heaven or on earth that I'd be returning next year, but teaching gets you. It's not because I miss my students or even because I feel a sense of obligation to return to them, but because I know that this is a job at which I could do so much better, a job at which I could improve a lot in the next year. It's a job I know I can be better at, if given the time and the chance.

But I'm still feeling that pull toward other jobs, other paths. I went to graduate school to cultivate a career in children's media -- working for companies like Nickelodeon or Walden Media -- and I feel an unmistakable twinge of envy every time I hear about a fellow alumnus who's gone down that road, while I'm "just" a lowly elementary school teacher.

So we'll see. Right now I'm telling inquisitive acquaintances that I'm "keeping my options open," and of course if my Dream Job makes me an offer over the summer, I would take them up on it in a heartbeat. But at least I'm not feeling the same sense of desperation that I was in the beginning and middle of the year, when I would have taken any job just to get out.

Fortunately, we have a lot of summer left to go.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Food for thought

Growing up, every year on the evening of the last day of school, I would have a dream that it was the first day of school, causing me to wake up in a panic. This year, it's taken a few weeks, but dreams about school have started up in earnest. So far I've dreamt that I have to teach eighth grade algebra and that my schedule has changed to include not one grade but three. All of my teacher dreams have been mixed with student dreams in which I'm trying to get to class but something is preventing me from arriving on time. Last night I had two of these dreams in quick succession: It was the first day of school and I was attempting to track down my students, only then suddenly it was my first day of class and I was horribly late.

Anyway, while on vacation last week I met up with a friend of mine from graduate school who now teaches at a private school in a wealthy suburb. She teaches for only two and a half hours a day, so the rest of her day is free for planning and grading, which means she never takes work home with her. She has no more than fifteen students in each class. She has an office with a computer provided to her by her school, which also paid for her to fly cross-country to national educator conferences. Her last day of school was at the beginning of June and she doesn't go back until after Labor Day, which means she gets a full three months off. And, most jaw-dropping of all, there is a chef at her school who cooks a delicious lunch for the staff every day!

And to think, the teachers at my school are practically foaming at the mouth when we get a bagel breakfast twice a year. I was nearly salivating just listening to her describe those working conditions. When I told her that I'd had 420 students on my roster this past year, she exclaimed, "That's a school, Miss Brave! You were in charge of a whole school!" At one point, I inquired as to whether her school had a security guard; in response, she laughed at me.

Practical acquaintances have pointed out that she probably earns less than I do, but I think you could make the case that her job makes up for that in preferable working conditions. (A chef?!) Just something to think about.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Summertime and the living is easy

Summer vacation rocks my socks! Am I allowed to tell people I became a teacher for the summers off, or will that give us teachers a bad name?

Now that I've had some time to reflect on my first year of teaching, I'm ready to say something I don't say very often: I am tremendously proud of what I accomplished this year. When I look back over my lesson plan book to the lessons I was writing in September, it's painfully obvious just how far I've come -- from having no idea what I was doing to scheduling my curriculum with ease. As incredible as it seems to me now, my school created a brand new position, filled it with a brand new teacher -- and never gave that teacher (me) any idea or guidance about what on earth she was supposed to be teaching. I came up with my curriculum all on my own, without an outline or a mentor or professional development or even common planning sessions with any other teachers.

I made a lot of mistakes. But I learned from each and every one of them. And now that it's summer, I'm grateful for the opportunity to bask in my tiny successes: the day one of my second graders said, "Miss Brave, I like writing now"; every time a student reported a new Flat Stanley sighting; the praise I got from other teachers at our end of year planning sessions. I've grown enormously as a teacher this year. And no matter where I go from here, it will have been quite an experience.