Hiring Season: You’re Never Too Old For A Bad Interview

Published 4/11/14 by:

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Quick Rant: To the Parents on the Plane

Published 2/22/14 by:

Parent Homework Comic


*Author’s note: I recently traveled to Florida over Massachusetts’ February school vacation to visit my snowbird parents. This is my excuse for not posting much this week, but also gives you a preface for today’s post.


Dear Parents on the Plane,

I applaud you trying to make your kids do school work on the plane on your way to your destination because it’s a good use of time. Here’s the thing though: you’re doing it wrong.


1. Homework is a pre-assessment tool for teachers – we use it to figure out where the gaps are for our students. If you micromanage homework, and make your kid correct it all the time, then it automatically becomes useless for us educators. I love that you’re making your kid do his/her homework, but your job is to manage work completion, not guarantee its accuracy. So Dad #1 on the plane with the Catholicism workbook? Lay off. Your son’s teacher needs to know that 1) you read the entire thing aloud to him (much to my dismay), and 2) your son had to re-do every single multiple choice answer after you told him it was wrong. When his teacher sees that homework in a week, she’s going to think he’s mastered the material, but in reality: you’ve mastered it. Congratulations: you just finished the catechism requirements of your third grader (and he still has no idea what’s going on).


2. Don’t reward your kid for completing his/her homework unless you plan on doing that for the next twenty years of their education. While I understand that some kids need a light at the end of the tunnel for work completion, you need to remember that they’re like puppies: they quickly grow accustomed to treats. So, Mom #2 on the plane with the lollipops?  Cut it out. Childhood obesity is for real, and you don’t want your daughter to think that every time she completes a vocabulary worksheet she gets candy (which seemed to unfortunately already be an established expectation).


3. When your son or daughter gets stuck or frustrated with a topic on a homework assignment there are options other than forcing them through it. You could have them move on to a different assignment and come back to the original problem later (when they’re fresher), or you could have them try it for five more minutes and then initial the homework letting the teacher know it was attempted. Here’s what you shouldn’t do: have your kid give up and leave it blank, or make them keep hammering at it until they have a meltdown. Please listen to me on this. It’s really valuable information.
Best Regards,

The Middle School Teacher on the Plane

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Quick Rant on Questioning Authority

Published 1/29/14 by:

Questioning Authority Comic

My apologies for not posting a lot this week – I’ve been sick, and absurdly busy. February will hopefully bring some reprieve (and more blogging)!


I’m a huge sports fan. I like sports of all types and at all levels. I attribute my desire to watch sports live (at the amateur level) to sitting through most of my younger brother’s wrestling tournaments when he was a kid. There’s just something really spectacular about watching kids compete at athletic events when the only motivation is to win, and not a hefty paycheck. So, I was watching a dozen of my former students at our middle school basketball game on Monday afternoon, thoroughly enjoying myself. I had been sitting with some of my colleagues, but they couldn’t stay for the entire game. Upon their departure some serious heckling started to occur from a group of sixth grade boys (none of them my current students). Some of these boys had siblings on the floor, and others were just school super fans. Their comments became progressively louder, more frequent and negative. After suffering patiently through their “kill ’em!” commentary for twenty minutes, and noticing that the moms of the opponents were not impressed, I turned around and told them to can it. I sternly addressed the group and said, “we’re at a school; we’re not killing anyone! Say ‘get ’em’, or something else, but lay off the killing comments.”


It died down for about five minutes. Then one of the boys inquired, “why can’t we say kill ’em? What’s the big deal?” I had to compose myself. I was mad because they were ruining the game for me, and bewildered by the fact that 1) they thought this behavior was acceptable, and 2) they were questioning a teacher’s request. I told them that it was aggressive commentary and that there are better ways to express yourself at school. They were (relatively) quiet for the rest of the game. When I was in sixth grade (just 17 years ago), not only would it not have crossed my mind to question authority, but I wouldn’t have been (publicly) heckling people. I may have made some choice middle schooler comments among my friends, but I never would’ve been shouting them from the stands. I knew better than that, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why these kids don’t. When relaying this story to some of my colleagues they said I was lucky that the boys’ parents (who were in the stands, but sitting far away) didn’t yell at me for reprimanding their kids in public (something that they unfortunately have had happen to them). It’s clear to me that this world of ours needs an upgrade in terms of young adult accountability. Otherwise, the adults of the future are not going to be anyone we want to deal with.

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Quick Rant: Establishing A Culture of Effort

Published 1/15/14 by:

Calvin & Hobbes Butt Kicking Comic Strip


The school district I teach in uses the term “a culture of effort” on a regular basis. It was a major selling point for me when I started teaching there in September 2011, because I don’t consider myself one of these “naturally smart” people.  I worked hard for every grade I received, every school I got into, every degree I earned.  I can honestly say that my effort has been the deciding factor for every opportunity or rejection I’ve encountered. So how did my culture of effort get instilled in me?  I grew up in a household where effort grades were held in higher regard than actual academic grades. In middle school, my mom didn’t care if I got a C in science if my effort grade was A- or better. “Did you do your best?” was a phrase repeated at every meal, every bedtime tuck in, and during every trip to the softball field. The  middle school I teach in doesn’t have effort grades, because they’re not easily measurable. I’m not completely convinced of that because homework, notes taken, and participation could be indicators of daily effort. Some of my students (if I were to give homework grades) would be at a 10% for the trimester, which started immediately after Thanksgiving. It’s this general lack of commitment to academia that is holding quite a few of my students back. They listen to my lessons, my demonstrations, and my general instructions, but they don’t follow through with doing the daily practice. The most essential part of learning is practicing skills. I often tell my students, “I didn’t wake up one day and know my multiplication tables. It was a labor of love.” To which they say, “what do you mean by labor?” Herein lies my most difficult work: motivating students to complete the practice so that they can eventually master a skill. Everything is so instantaneous for them in their personal lives, that putting in leg-work day in and day out seems ridiculous to them, and I’m not sure how to begin fixing that.

Oftentimes when I give my students feedback on rough drafts of their writing they’ll actually moan and complain to their classmates about having to fix things. It’s a nuisance to them that I told them they needed to add, elaborate or completely follow the directions. I’ve actually had to say to students, “I could just collect it the way it is, but you wouldn’t like the grade you’d receive. I’m giving you a second chance here. Take advantage.” It’s pathetic. Part of effort is showing up with the right stuff, being responsible for your things, and taking ownership of your mistakes. All of those things exhibit good daily effort. My students, and probably a lot of the students of 2014, have no interest in progressing in their daily effort levels. While society’s instantaneous nature that I alluded to may play a factor in this lazy mindset, I think a lot of it is at home culture and environment. Making excuses for your kid, blaming the teacher for lack of motivation, and bailing your kid out when he/she leaves is unprepared does not cultivate a work ethic which is essential (in my opinion) for leading a successful life. Hold your kids, students, neighbors, relatives et. al. accountable. You’re not doing them any favors by teaching them that tenacity, persistence, and the good ol’ college try aren’t necessities.



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Quick Rant: Snow Days and Winter Vacation

Published 1/5/14 by:

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 12.46.46 PM


Background information:

I teach sixth grade English (or language arts, or language & literacy – it’s all the same) at a middle school. We don’t call ourselves a junior high because we encompass grades 5-8 (10-14 year old people), and so we’re really “the middle”. Most public schools have a full day of school on December 23rd (it’s torture for both adults and children), and then the winter break begins on December 24th. This year a miracle happened: Christmas was on a Wednesday, so the scheduling gods made the brilliant decision to not have school on Monday December 23rd because they assumed most families would travel to their destinations over the weekend, and attendance would be very low. On the other end of the vacation is New Year’s Day. This year January 1st was a Wednesday, so it meant that not only did we get almost two full weeks off, but when we returned, it was to a two day work week!

I don’t want to hear all of your boos about how teachers have the easiest schedule of all time, because honestly: homeroom starts at 7:30am at my school, and the amount of (unpaid) overtime I do creating (dynamic) lesson plans, grading essays or quizzes, and pre-reading novels that I may want to teach our youth would make you weep for me. Loudly. In Massachusetts a funny thing happened at the end of our break. As teachers (and students) prepared to head back to school on Thursday the 2nd, it was announced that we were going to have a 48 hour Nor’Easter which could plop anywhere between 8 and 30 inches of snow in our yards. The snow day buzz started early on this one, folks. In the end, my school (smartly) toughed it out on Thursday and had a full day of school, and we had Friday off. I went back to a one day work week, which wasn’t very productive, or well-attended. Over 200 schools in Massachusetts canceled school on Thursday, and some schools (mostly private) had finagled their schedule so that students weren’t returning to campus until Monday January 6th. Teachers have been spoiled, as have the kids., but according to multiple media feeds, parents have been “suffering” through this long break.

Quick Rant

Full disclosure: I’m not a parent. I have nannied, taught swim lessons, been a camp counselor, and taught elementary and middle school (combined) for over a decade. I get that kids make you weary. I understand that kids have meltdowns. What I can’t understand is parents moaning and groaning about the opportunity to spend two weeks with their kids. Parents are jokingly threatening to kill their kids if we don’t head back to school for a full five day week on Monday. The parents have had it. They’re at their wit’s end. So here’s the rub: I’m with your kids ALL.THE.TIME. I spend more (awake) hours per week with your kid than you do. It’s a fact. Numbers don’t lie. So when you (parents) start complaining about being blessed with a two week vacation with your kids I have a problem. And don’t even get me started on the fact that you think your kids are such a burden, but you didn’t even have them write their teacher(s) a holiday note saying, “thanks for being my teacher”. Wake up, folks. As the great Coach Taylor (of “Friday Night Lights”) once said, “These kids of ours? It’s a one time deal.”

End of rant.

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