Monday, February 28, 2011

2 Weeks and Counting

March 14 is the day that many Doctors-to-be are looking forward to with a mix of excitement and anxiety. It is the day we find out about Residency - whether we Matched (and in fact, the day is called "Match Day") to a hospital program or whether we are stuck scrambling for a position (and in fact, the rest of the week is called "The Scramble"). Most of the folks waiting are 4th year medical students who will graduate in May and then a short few weeks later, start the grueling process of on the job training that is so unique to our profession.

I am a bit more unique in this respect, as I graduated last year in August - too late to start residency last year, so I have been working as a teacher in a beautiful public high school while I applied for residency this year. It has been an incredible ride and as AA (not the airline or the program) likes to say, I have been "exactly where you are meant to be."

In two weeks when I wake up, I will open up an email that doesn't change who I am as a person, but does help guide where I will be going in the near future. Will I be staying in Fresno or going to New York? If I go to New York, will I go to the city or upstate to Buffalo? There are so many questions that I have started somewhat avoiding folks so I don't have to repeat the same answer 1,352,938 times - "I don't know." Nothing is certain right now. I have no control over where I go other than a "rank list" that a computer uses in its complex algorithm to ultimately assign me a position somewhere.

So, with that in mind, I beg all of you - please stop asking. I don't know starts sounding really annoying to a person who doesn't like saying it. I promise all of you that as soon as I know, I will let you know, so that we will all be in the know. Wow, that was a lot of "know" in one sentence.

Stay tuned this week: in an upcoming blog post, I will share all the dates that important information will be arriving about this that all of you will know exactly what I know, right now. Know what I mean?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Flashback Friday - The First Month of the First Year

While working as a Teach for America teacher in Baltimore, I kept a journal of my experiences during my first year teaching. We didn't have blogs "back then" so I used to email the journal entries to a lengthy list of folks. As a blast from the past, I will repost some of my more humorous journal entries here on this blog on Flashback Fridays. Some of you will remember some of them and I hope you enjoy it as much the second time as you did the first. What follows is an entry from the first month of my first year teaching.

September 29, 2004:
       Today was out of control. With one section, they became so unruly that I found myself saying, in a very quiet voice, that I would teach the lesson in that voice and people who wanted to listen but couldn’t hear, were allowed to move to the front. (AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION – how many people moved?) Correct - Nobody moved. (AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION – how many people stopped talking?) Correct - Everyone kept talking with the exception of about three. I kept teaching. It took every ounce of energy I could muster not to lose my cool.
       And that was only the first period.
Today was supposed to be a wrap-up day on the “Egg-speriment” that we were conducting to explore cell membranes. We were going to organize our data in nice graphs in order to better analyze it. Quick and efficient, right? Rather, it turned into part graphing and part lets-watch-Mr.-Artinian-as-he-goes-around-the-room-shaking-his-hands-and-repeating-in-a-flight-attendant-voice-stop talking-stop talking-stop talking-stop talking-DAY.
       Icing on the cake: University supervisor observing one class and my assistant principal giving me my first official observation in another. What am I doing here? I am nothing more than a behaviorist – an underpaid, under-resourced, under-appreciated, baby-sitter who spends more time trying, fruitlessly, to get students focused instead of on the exciting exploration of science.
Get me outta here!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Good Enough

I often joke that my mom has forever tainted my thinking about what is "good enough". When my students are excited about earning an A, I ask why not A+? When they earn a 44 out of 45 on a difficult exam, I ask why it wasn't a 45 out of 45. It is a disease - but one based on love and jest (well, only half jest).

But when we read about what some of our nation's children are going through in some of the most challenging situations for a child to grow up in, we can see what a lack of hope can do to a child's psyche. I was recently reading an article in the Huffington Post (click here for the article) about Chicago Public School students for whom a new school was built but then due to a change of plans, the kids at the old dilapidated building were not allowed to move into the brand new school - across the street. What was the change of plans? I'm not even quite sure myself but I think it had something to do with not wanting the "poor-performing" kids from the old school at the new building and to use the new building as some sort of magnet school.

Here is a letter one of the students wrote, asking the so poignant and heart-wrenching question: "when will we ever be good enough."

In Baltimore, I used to remind the kids that they chose to come to school. They could have been the idiots who ditch, who go sell drugs and do illegal things because it is "more fun" than school - but that whatever comes easily can go easily. And whatever is earned through difficulty can't be taken away - like a college degree. Despite the challenges they faced, they came to school. And in a final desperate plea, I used to say "so PLEASE work with me and let's get you closer to a college degree."

And don't worry - if you are accepted to Yale, I won't ask, "why not Harvard?"

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Blessed...But Still Stressed?

My mind has been moving a mile a minute lately, juggling between lesson planning, grading, reteaching, offering Coach Class for students who need extra help, coaching Science Olympiad, coaching Volleyball, running to meetings for special ed students, and going to games and special events for the students who tell me about their band performances, basketball games, swim meets, and debate tournaments.

My schedule is hectic, it's true, but none of it is stressful. In fact, this is all fun (well, maybe not the special education meetings, but the rest is a blast!) The best blessing of all is having students who are nice, care about the world, and mostly work hard.

But, as at every school, there are some students who seem not to care. I can't get them to do their homework. I can't get them to participate in group projects. I can't get them to break out of their shell and join in discussions, much less lead them. And some of them complain incessantly - Dr. A gives too much homework, Dr. A assigns too much classwork, Dr. A this isn't math class, Dr. A how do you expect me to do all that in 3 days (assignment: outline 6 pages from a textbook and answer the 5 questions). I stress "seem" above because deep down I know there is a way to reach even the seemingly most unreachable. I just haven't discovered it yet - but I will! I still have a couple months left to reach them!

But while trying to reach even the seemingly most unreachable, I'm frustrated by the lack of acknowledgment of how good it actually is at this school. Almost none of my students here deal with the same challenges as my students in Baltimore once did. I know "challenge" is a subjective term and we should be so thankful that not every child is going through the same struggles as the majority of my Baltimore kids went through. But when you have seen both sides of the coin - the blessed and the truly stressed - you can't help but remind the blessed that they truly are "too blessed to be stressed."