Posted in Book Reviews, My Teaching Journey

The Benefits of Being an Octopus – Review

Summary from Goodreads:

Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there’s Lenny, her mom’s boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer.

At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they’re in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it’s best if no one notices them.

Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.

Unfortunately, she’s not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia’s situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they’re better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she’s ever had?

My thoughts

This review has been sitting in drafts for almost a week. I keep coming back to it, and I keep putting it away because I don’t know what exactly to say.

The book made me pretty emotional. I work in a school where a lot of our students come from poverty, and I think it is pretty easy to forget that not every student has hours at home to do homework or study for a test. Then, my mind really started to wander to what I can do as a teacher to help this. There are so many standards and expectations placed upon us that it is almost a necessity to assign homework and force students to work outside of school time to complete projects, but most of the time, students simply cannot do work outside of school for one reason or another.

Then there are the grumps out there who will say, “Well, I did it when I was a kid. I had two hours of homework each night. These kids are soft!” But even when I was in school, a lot of my friends had one parent (100% of the time, the mom) who stayed at home, and I went to a pretty expensive private school. I grew up in a time when it was doable to survive on one income. We now live in a society where this is not possible. I have a BA, and two Master degrees, and after nine years of teaching, we are finally at a place where if we HAD to, we could survive on one income. It wouldn’t be comfortable, and we would definitely not be able to save any money for college for our girls, but our needs would be met.

What do we do for these students whose parents are working full time jobs, sometimes multiples, just to make ends meet? These students who have to fend for themselves and their younger siblings when they get home? Do we keep saying, “Well, this is how it worked when I was a kid?” Or do we start making changes?

Now, you see why this post has taken me so long.

The book was really well-written. The main character, Zoey, was someone I definitely was rooting for to succeed. Zoey and her three younger siblings live with her mom, her mom’s boyfriend (who I hated from the first time he was mentioned), and her boyfriend’s dad in a trailer. But it’s a nice trailer, and her mom reminds her many times that they should be thankful for the nice place to live.

I found myself frustrated, then extremely sympathetic with the mom. I can’t write too much about the mom because that will give away a lot of the story, and I don’t do spoilers.

I highly recommend this book, and I am hopeful that it makes the list of the top 12 for the Truman nominees. I think the middle school students will really enjoy reading about someone they can relate to.

(Sorry for the longer post, but you now have a glimpse into how my brain functions while reading.)

Posted in My Teaching Journey

Freaking Summer School

Just this year, I told a parent at conferences that I would NEVER teach summer school. He laughed, and we talked about how important it was to take a break,recharge, and get away. Then my teacher friends started asking if I would do it. Again, I said no, no way, nu-uh, never going to happen.

I’m writing this from my desk…at summer school…waiting for the kids to arrive.

It’s day 5 of 20, and I have had my patience tried more in these days then the entire school year, and this year was ROUGH.

However, as I sit here thinking about my classes, I smile. I like these kids. In our district, the middle school summer school doesn’t really count for anything. They don’t get grades or extra credit. It’s just an extended learning time. These kids are coming here either because they really like school or because their parents do not have any other options for them. They get free breakfast, free lunch, air conditioning, and security for 20 days.

I know about the lives of some of these students. This school is their safe place. I try to remember that when they’re refusing to do work, talking out , rolling their eyes, or just being so wonderfully weird.

There is a lot of grace given during these 20 days. I’m trying to pour out as much love and patience and understanding that I can for these kiddos, and I am trying not to count down the days but to live in the moment with them.

Posted in My Teaching Journey

Return to Public School Education

In June of 2018, I was still searching for a teaching position. My daughter, who I had homeschooled for 6 years, had decided in March that she wanted the adventure of public school, so I went to work on renewing my teaching certificate and immediately started looking for a job.

At first I thought it was going to be easy. There is always talk of teacher shortages, but high school English positions are obviously not in shortage. In our fairly large metro area, there were only 3 or 4 districts posting a need for an English position. I applied everywhere, except in a district I had worked in previously and had decided I did not want to go back to.

However, June rolled around and I still had not even been called for an interview…anywhere. I tentatively looked at the district I was avoiding, and there it was, a “High School English Teacher” vacancy. I applied, begrudgingly. A couple weeks passed, and I hadn’t heard anything. I knew that the school year was quickly approaching, and this position would have to be filled, so I did my least favorite thing and called HR.

The lady I spoke with informed me that the high school position had been filled, but they had left it on the website to drum up interest in a middle school position. I told her that I had middle school certification, and I wouldn’t mind interviewing for that role. She gave me the principal’s information, and I made contact.

I was asked to interview the next day.

When I arrived at the school ten minutes before my interview, there was just one person in the office, and it was not the principal. She told me they would be right with me. My interview time came and went. Fifteen or so minutes after my interview was supposed to start the principal and two assistant principals came into the office and told me they would be right with me. I was less than impressed.

The first words said to me after a brief introduction with the principal and the two assistant principals were, “So this job isn’t for an ELA position. It’s for a special education position.” The principal went on to explain the job, but I had mentally checked out. I had zero interest in teaching special education. I answered each question with 100% honesty and no sugar coating. My interview was between 30-45 minutes, and at the end, the principal asked if I would be willing to chat with the head of the special education department and get a better understanding of the position.

As not to be rude, I said sure.

I called my husband as I was leaving the building, complaining to him what a waste of time it had been, and there was absolutely no way I would be taking this position if they offered it to me.

Then, in all of his calm thoughtfulness, he said, “You might like it.”

The next day I chatted with the head of the department for about 20 minutes. She explained to me the role and what expectations there were for me. After speaking with her, I again called my husband and said, “I think I actually may like this position.”

I called the principal back and said I would be interested in the position if she was offering it to me. By the end of our conversation, I had a job.

Almost two years later, and I am a fully certified special education teacher with a Masters degree in the field as well. Needless to say, I have found my niche in education even if it was in the last place I was expecting.