New School – New School Year

This year was different. Instead of walking into the Bear Den, which has been my professional home for the last three years, I walked through the gates of the Hawk’s Nest. To say I was apprehensive about my first day back on a high school campus is an understatement. Imposter syndrome had hit me hard over the summer. I know the work my future students can create and, to be honest, that’s not how my brain works. 

I can edit breaking news until I am blue in the face, but that’s not what I was doing. I was now in charge of the junior and senior film students. My strength is writing, not production. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know how to correct people’s work. I am a manager at heart. I love training people and giving them the tools to succeed. 

Accepting my new role was a two month long mental process. In July, I headed to a new classroom with my co-teacher and mentor for the last twenty years. The room was a hot mess. The cabinets were filled with abandoned papers, folders, and work that had been in here since the school opened in 2005. I didn’t know where to start. I felt like I would never be ready with how much I had to purge and set up. But God sent angels in the form of two of my former students. They just were at school with their mom/aunt. I lost count of how many times I would receive a text from that asking if I was going to be on campus and even if I wasn’t, they would go into my room and clean. I don’t think my room would have been done by the first week of August without their help. 

My mentor helped me transform my boring room into something fun because my brain was broken. I was struggling to figure out how to take three classrooms’ worth of stuff and fit it into one room. But fortunately, I wasn’t alone. My mentor totally had not been planning what room I’d be taking over for the last ten months or more. If you didn’t read that with sarcasm, I don’t know what to tell you. Walking into a classroom with functioning equipment felt strange. Knowing there was a budget at my disposal made the situation even more peculiar. However, the hardest thing that I will have to get used to this year is not being alone. Finally, I had a colleague in my profession, someone to bounce ideas off of. Which I will be forever grateful because right now I’m just trying to keep my head above water.

As time crept closer for the students to return to campus, I faced an additional problem. I had to make sure that my first-year students would live up to my mentor’s expectations. Once more, the lifesaver that eluded me during my initial three years of teaching was present. Yes, my mentor helped me out with getting ideas for my middle school students. However, I created all my lectures and developed my curriculum. I wasn’t sure what I was doing was right. I just knew that the kids were learning and could create content that was unexpected for them at the middle school level. But this year I had everything in front of me. A part of me desired to change it, but I didn’t feel ready.

I wanted to see how my mentor taught his classes. It had been twenty-plus years since I had been face to face with what he teaches and I am not that arrogant to think I know better. His system works. Students from this program win awards, they get jobs; and they are admitted into amazing colleges. Students who graduate from this TV Production Academy have life skills and I am proof of that. 

However, I’m basically sunshine mixed with a little hurricane, so of course after I digest everything from this year I’ll have to put my spin on it. 

This week my TV 1 students are learning about basic camera shots and shot composition. When I opened the lecture, I legitimately laughed out loud. I came face to face with the same images that I used in my lecture that I created three years ago. It looks like we had the same sources. Undoubtedly because he gave me a bunch. But he threw so much information at me I wasn’t sure what he used and what was just given as a “here figure it out” source.  

As we went through the lecture, I noticed something. I went way more in-depth on certain subjects. When reviewing the rule of thirds, he only had one slide. I have an entire lecture dedicated to the rule of thirds. It’s just funny what people focus on. 

The apprehension that I had with my upper classmen has also begun to fade. When I introduced myself to my first class, four boys sat there, radiating a “too cool for school” vibe. They underestimated me when I didn’t call them out. Instead, I intended to let their work speak for itself, yet their first project contained silly errors that a 4th year student should not make. When I could point out their mistakes, the laughing stopped. The next day, when I was bringing up the new assignment, they were all ears. I explained to the class what I would be challenging them with and everyone had a look of challenge acceptance on their face. 

We’ve only been in school for two weeks and I can already see why my mentor kept saying he needs a female in the academy. Some of these girls are intense. We are an arts program and that means we get some exceptionally interesting students. I have one who is interested in being a writer, however she hyper fixates on things. I could spot this out before he ever warned me. Another girl thinks she’s quirky and can get away with her unlying rudeness by squeaking. That shit will not fly. And then there are typical issues that girls face. A freshman who is being vindictive to her ex-boyfriend. Another who has a crush on a guy who doesn’t know she’s alive. Gossip is already flowing and I can’t say I hate it. I think the gossip keeps the day entertaining. 

So do I miss my middle school, in a way yes. I miss the professional friends I made. But graduating simultaneously as the students who I have been with over the last three years has made the change easier. I don’t doubt myself as a teacher like I did when I came into this field. I know my shit. Now comes the hard part and ensuring students can produce content that far outshines what the adults expect them to do. 
I always enjoyed a good challenge. 

Mommy Blogs

D is for Depression not Demonic possession

Please excuse any errors. I wrote this at 3am when I couldn’t sleep.

I find it easy to believe that people once believed depression or other mental illnesses were considered a demonic possession. I mean, do you really want to take responsibility for the thoughts of wanting to drown yourself and wonder if anyone would miss you? No, it must be the devil messing with your head. But I didn’t blame any evil forces for those thoughts. I sought professional help. I probably should have also sought spiritual help, but that’s for other issues entirely.

Since being on summer break, I’ve really had the chance to reflect on some of the differences in my postnatal life with Bennett compared to Adelyn. The first and biggest was being emitted back into the hospital the day after being released and told I would be separated from my newborn son. My logical side knew how dangerous my condition was, but that didn’t mean my emotional side could process what I was going through. Instead of trusting the healing process and getting better, I was bitter. I was alone in a place I detest and fear. To make matters worse, I was about to spend my 36th birthday alone. I have issues with my birthday. My cousin died on my birthday. I’ve had multiple years of people being flaky and disappointing me that I would leave the state so no one could make me feel less on an already horrible day. Physically I was recovering, while mentally, I felt myself breaking and falling apart the longer I stayed in bed with wires attached.

When I came home, I didn’t trust myself to be alone. I knew something was wrong. I loved my children and husband but felt like a shell of myself. There were a lot of moments that I know were faked. Holidays were taxing. Finances were tight. I was only bringing home 60% of my paycheck, and the extra insurance I’d been paying for the last three years just told me my coverage didn’t cover C-sections. Apparently, to them, they were an elected surgery, and they didn’t pay out the hospital stay like they would have if I had a vaginal birth. So that was 600 dollars I had budgeted that disappeared along with three years’ worth of payments.

Instead of thoroughly enjoying the time with my family, I was bombarded with emails and text messages from my students. The person left in charge was less than a glorified babysitter. He didn’t assign the detailed work I left, and the chaos students shared made me feel like I failed them. I know I couldn’t pick their sub, but good Lord, it weighed on me.

For nearly two months, I was at my doctor’s office battling an infection in my incision. Apparently, a small part of my body was reflecting the stitches. There was a laundry list of other things my body was doing, but I don’t fully remember them. I remember thinking everything was happening so fast and slow all at once. I remember, at three weeks, I was sitting in my doctor’s office telling her about how I needed something. Something to help me heal the wounds that no one could see. She said I couldn’t take anything while breastfeeding. I guess my body knew this before I did because my milk had dried up two days before the appointment.

I was nervous about taking a daily antidepressant. I didn’t want to lose myself. But the little voice of my logical self reminded me I was already lost. The shell I was presenting to the world wasn’t me. She ordered me Zoloft. I was warned about weight gain, and it possibly blocking my ability to climax, but I should feel like myself again. I had to fight with the crazy person inside my head, telling her that I could return to normal. Things would just have to change.

Slowly the unexplainable tears stopped. I was more in control of myself. However, instead of weight gain, I had to remind myself to eat. I was dropping weight fast and waiting to the point where I would get dizzy and nearly pass out. Being an appetite suppressant is not one of the side effects; however, I got it. When my cycle finally returned, my PMDD was under much better control. I was far less of a bitch those few days before my period. But I started noticing something strange.

A girlfriend, who used to be a nurse and was prescribed this drug, warned me about a side effect that the doctor didn’t address. Or maybe I didn’t think it would be an issue. I was starting to forget words. I’ve always had small moments when I forgot a word or two. However, while on this little happy pill, I forgot far more than a word or two. It was slowly progressing and becoming more difficult for me to explain things because it felt like a block between my mind and my mouth. A few weeks ago, it went fast passed word. There were moments in my day gone.

That was it for me. It didn’t matter how stable the medication was making me. What was the point if I had no memory? I no longer wanted to kill myself, and I had picked up my house that my depressed state destroyed. I felt better. So I stopped taking the pill of happiness. I was on the lowest dose, so there was nothing to ween off from.

For the last few weeks, things were good until the other day. Adelyn and I were talking, and she told me how her feelings were hurt by someone she thought was her friend. The friend said some really nasty stuff. It reminded me of the fake people I’ve encountered in myself. Only I was much older than her. I had to hold back tears because I hurt so much for her. I never wanted her to feel that way, especially at six years old.

The over feeling of sadness for others’ pain was something new and definitely not something I felt while taking the medication. I’m not sure how I would have felt on the pill. That mental state already feels like years ago.

I’ve also started to dream again. My dreams stopped after having my son. I guess being trapped in a hospital for a week was a living nightmare that my imagination didn’t think it could do better. While on the pill, I’d have dreams but not remember them. They would fade away as soon as I would wake up. Now I’ve returned to the moves that fill my head. Only they are disjointed and not yet useful for me. I wonder, once my brain is fully detoxed, what weird shit it’ll come up with.

But being off the happy pill has brought back my PMDD. I was not prepared for the emotions to be so strong. The rage is the worst. Everyone is doing something wrong by existing. I’m trying my best not to lash out. The kids do not deserve it. It’s not their fault their mother is unstable. I guess that’s why God gave me Bennett.

He’s the happiest little chunk. However, the only time he truly cries and gets upset is when others raise their voice or cry. Bennett is pure innocence. He’s a baby who only knows love, and when others are upset, he doesn’t understand why and will cry too.

I’ve had a few small outbursts that have brought him to tears. It has broken my heart, but it has also quickly changed my mindset. I can’t stay in the negative space because I have to comfort him. And it has to be me because he’s a pure momma’s boy, and Dad just isn’t good enough. Even though his first word was daddy… Which he said clear as day, yelling at Tyler.

So now I’m learning how to be me again without the outside chemical change. It’s uncomfortable, but I no longer feel like I’m fighting a demon whose main goal was to take me to the underworld. The only monster is me, and learning how not to release the angry red panda on my kids or husband. I’ll get through it. I’ve already survived once I know I’ll do it again.

Lent, Teaching

Day 38: The danger of misinformation, especially with school safety

Today was a shit show and a half. But the chaos started the day before. 

We were in code red before the first period was over. Only this time, it wasn’t a drill. My students were outstanding. We all went to the secure location, and everyone was silent. While we waited for a clear, all I could think about were the students out filming. Not even five minutes after the code started, the all-clear was called. 

When my students returned to my class, I asked them where they had gone. Some entered other teachers’ rooms, some entered the bathrooms, and others headed to grade-level offices. Two students told me they left the camera rolling when they ran off. I said that’s fine; maybe you captured something interesting. However, a few told me they were worried about the equipment. I reminded them I could always buy new cameras. I couldn’t purchase their life back if the unthinkable happened. 

Finally, the last three students returned to class. And boy, did they have a story. They were recording as the incident began. A male student had become hostile and was verbally threatening a teacher. The girls were packing up. They didn’t want him to break the camera. He was punching the doors and shouting at any and all authority that came near him. Before that could return to class, the code red started. They left the gear and went to a secure location. They could still hear the student yelling and threatening as the Administration detained the hostile student. Two of the three girls said they were concerned about his behavior, and my third said she wanted to stay and get footage because it would be a good news story. I joked and said, “Well, we know who the future newscaster will be. But in all seriousness, your safety is the number one priority.” 

We all went about our day, and aside from thinking about how well our students handled the situation, I gave little thought to it. 

This morning we had our monthly faculty meeting, and we found out the teacher didn’t mean to activate the code red. Although I think it was good, who knows if the Hostile student could have lashed out at an unexpected student walking in the halls? We learned that pressing our emergency badges three times, pausing, and then pressing them three times again counts as six times. And if they were pressed after that, it activates a code red. We all assumed that pushing it three times would alert the administration that they were needed in the room, and if we waited a moment or two in between that, it would just reactivate the administration call. Most of our teachers didn’t realize that even if there were moments between the three punches, it would activate a code red, which is what happened. 

When we arrived at school today, there was more police activity on campus than usual. Most of them chalked it up to the code red. That was until the principal told us the suspended student had posted a threat on social media. The principal wasn’t even aware of the danger until he arrived on campus. We have an extremely good system where parents and students can report social media threats or any threat. However, our local police force was on our campus faster than the reporting system this time. Somebody had notified them about the student making a threat to our school. Our principal had just found out this information not too soon before our meeting started. Our principal is amazing and very transparent with the teachers, the students, and their parents. He composed a message to inform us that there was a report and that the police were already handling the situation, which he sent out once our meeting was completed. However, that wasn’t soon enough.

Students were already making their way to campus in the morning. Those who travel by bus leave insanely early, and many parents drop off their students before school hours because they have to go to work. So while we were in the meeting, students were already on social media sharing the post that the student had threatened the school. And they panicked without knowing that the situation was being handled. They did not give us a chance to calm the storm before it took place. The rumor mill had already begun. 

This was probably the most dangerous part of the day. Teenagers gossiping. Students are not talking to adults but to each other, exaggerating and making the situation worse. Kids were already calling and texting their parents, asking to be picked up. Parents calling the school jammed the phone lines, limiting communication. 

But while there were kids that were worried and calling their parents, those who wanted to be sure the Administration saw every single post made. They wanted to ensure everyone was aware of the situation, and I was so proud of these things. They wanted to make sure that there was no possibility of anything wrong. Unfortunately, things became worse when rumors grew.

This was when I started getting emails from parents asking me what was happening. I told them everything was normal, and we were all fine. I asked where they heard things, and they said a teacher told their children the suspended student had returned to school. Which I knew was not true. I reassured them that everything was safe and that even though everything was safe, out of an abundance of caution, we had an excessive amount of police force on campus. Then some parents sent me screenshots of the local community input people were saying. Some parents didn’t even have children on our campus and were spreading lies. And then the thing that pissed me off the most happened. My former news station reported that we were in a code yellow. Code yellow is when teachers are still teaching but restrict the movement in the halls unless absolutely necessary. We were not in a code yellow. We were not in a code anything. It was a normal day being blown out of proportion by people spreading lies and rumors. This was ensuing chaos. One mother complained that it took an hour for her to pick up her child. Not only was there an excessive number of parents picking up their kids, but they must vet every single person who was picking up a student. The administration was not just going to allow anybody to come to pick up kids randomly. It always has to be checked, and there were parents complaining about that. 

Today was a fucking joke, and it wasn’t because of our administration. They were doing more than necessary to be open with all the parents. They did everything possible to ensure safety. And they were trying to keep the students on campus calm. Unfortunately, worried parents made the situation worse.

I fully understand the concern, but social media’s gossip mill made things awful. News stations reporting with false information made it even worse. Adults and students alike spreading lies and gossiping made things atrocious. Teachers were with the students all day. We were calming nerves dealing with those having panic attacks. This put us under a lot of stress and pressure to make sure all students were okay and safe. Not just physically but mentally as well. Some teachers taught while others, like myself, turned on a movie and tried to distract the students from thinking of anything negative.

Adults need to be smarter. They need to stop gossiping and spreading rumors, and inciting horrible comments about things they do not know what is going on. Some parents were saying how their students were telling them a different story than what the principal was saying and calling the principal a liar. Our principal is anything but a liar. The students’ safety is his number one priority, and today he took every precaution. Our administrative staff in the front office were dealing with hostile parents, who were making the situation worse than it needed to be. Parents need to remember these are middle schoolers. There is a total no chance that their precious little babies would exaggerate the situation. I heard them exaggerating the situation. There were rumors spreading that an administrator got into a fight with the suspended student and was in the hospital, and there were people that actually believed it. Which I found absolutely absurd, since the man was walking around campus unharmed and obviously not in a hospital.

I truly understand people being concerned and worried. But they need to be smart. They don’t need to make a situation worse. And that is all that happened today. Gossip, rumors, news stations sharing false information. All of this caused more chaos and is not helpful.

I can’t believe this is my second post in less than 40 days about the chaos in schools.

Lent, Teaching

Day 23: I like my classroom writing prompt

I didn’t know what to write today—I spent the first half in the hospital waiting for my husband to get his back injections and the second half trying to herd cats. Er, I mean, keep my students occupied before spring break when most didn’t attend school. 

I looked up writing prompts, and the one for today fit perfectly: I like my classroom because… 

Because it’s mine, it was the first professional space I didn’t have to share with a coworker. In every production company or newsroom, I have worked in, I’ve had to share a desk or office space with one or more coworkers but not this time. I could decorate my room to my liking without worrying about whether the person I shared my space with would care. 

What made the shared space even more challenging was that I usually shared it with males. I tended to bring girlie things to decorate my desk with, and they would tease me. Now it was never anything malicious, ever. I’ve been lucky to work with amazing men, but hearing “Alex the piggy? Really?” Yes, really, and over time they all loved the damn piggy. 

However, with teaching, I still have to be careful about what I bring in. I have to make sure it’s not something that a student can walk off with. Unfortunately, quite a few things gifted to me by students went missing while I was on maternity leave. 

I had my tissue box cover broken. Not sure how it happened, but the screws came out of the lid. Thankfully they fell under the tissue box, and I could fix it. But I was unable to fix what was stolen. 

Away from my primary classroom and heading towards my studio is a center room where students will go to work or decompress. They think I don’t know that sometimes when they go to the U table, I know they seek an escape. I don’t let students who I don’t trust sit in there. The room has blue lights thinking across the ceiling, and most of the time, the students only have them on. They love writing in the dark, but I don’t usually let them live out their vampire fantasies. 

My studio is probably my favorite of the three classrooms. It’s where I can truly see how much my students have learned. They have to set the lights and cameras. Students also keep the room organized and clean. It’s their space as much as it is mine. I’m so proud to see them troubleshoot technical problems and work as a team, even when things may not always go smoothly. 

Soon I’ll be taking everything off the walls of my classroom. I’m going to be moving from the middle school level to the high school level. I will no longer fully control my program and will work with my former t.v production teacher and mentor. I won’t have the same space I do now; however, my new classroom will be just as special. I won’t have a planning room or a studio attached to my main room. It’ll be down the hall. I won’t be the only person teaching the TV students how to use the equipment. It’ll now be teamwork. It’ll be a new adventure, and I’m sure I’ll have a thing to be my favorite in the classroom. 

Lent, Teaching

Day 22: There’s no room for your opinion on my newscast

There is a disturbing joke that is all too real that describes the modern journalistic world: “never let the truth get in the way of a good news story.” And doing the opposite of this is something that I stress to my news students. I constantly tell them your opinion has no place in the newsroom. We are there to present facts. It doesn’t matter if the on-air talent enjoys the story or not because they are not there to sway the audience one way or another. We are conducting a newscast, not a talk show, and even though this is lost upon many professionals, as of late, I’m doing my part in instilling it into my students. 

This week all my students were put to the test. We indeed had to practice what I preach. There is a new club starting on campus, one that not everyone agrees with. Quite a few of my students were very vocal in opposition to the club, while others did support it. I made a quick announcement before all hell broke loose. 

I asked my anchors what the point of the news is? They said to present the facts. I asked them whether they liked the club, a fact or their opinion. Quickly they answered with an opinion. I said good, because your opinions have no place in my studio. I told them all opinions are kept outside my classroom walls. Just like their discussion of their latest boy/girl friend has no place in my class, neither does their attitude toward a story we’ve been asked to cover 

This is where I reminded them that we have two religious clubs on campus. I asked my students if they knew my feelings about those two clubs, and everyone in my class said no. And I said good because my opinion on those clubs or any club does not matter, nor does my opinion on this new colorful, open to all safe space club matter. Because I’m there to teach just like they are there to report on what is happening at the school. Everyone nodded in agreement. 

When my anchors read the story about the new club, you could not tell how they felt about it.  Could they have had more personality in the newscast… Sure, of course, they could have, but I just chewed out the whole class for getting an attitude with each other. I swear World War three was about to go down over a rainbow club, and I was not about to have that. 

My students know that I believe in the freedom of the press and how important it is to have journalists. But I have also taught them how to look at a new story and break down whether the reporter is presenting facts or facts with a bias. My eighth graders have gotten good at pointing out opinions in a news story and my seventh graders are getting there. If my students never progress more in their TV Production career, I hope they learn one thing: how to analyze a story, discover what the facts are, and break them away from the on-air talents’ opinions. 

Lent, Teaching

Day 17: Controlled Chaos in the control room

When I asked one of my students what I should write about today, she said, “write about us!” I told her that I had before. However, I didn’t think today would turn out to be such controlled chaos.

Today was a hot mess express. Actually, the whole week has been a shit show and a half. Students are losing their damn minds with the full moon. If you don’t think the moon controls the kids, you haven’t spent enough time around hundreds of students on campus. But today was probably the most hilarious of them all. Usually, my students run the newscast by themselves without any assistance. But since the computer that usually does graphics died, and the replacement needs to have my profile on it, they can no longer do their job adult free. Not that I don’t fully trust them not to change their grades, but I’m not giving them the opportunity. 

Today’s class that handled the newscast has nine very vocal females and one far less vocal male. We had a guest classmate come in and add some testosterone to the room. It didn’t help much. The girls are still in complete control of the chaos. We did a few run-throughs of the script before recording. This gives everyone in the control room a chance to get familiar with what graphics will be coming up, who is tossing to weather, and setting the audio levels. Well, today wasn’t our smoothest rehearsal. 

First, we had audio issues. For some reason, the student running the board thought she should start the show with the volume faders all the way up. The moment the anchors’ mics came on, it sounded like our speakers were blown. Everything was overmodulated. She started screaming, confused about why everything was so loud. I told her to look at her levels and bring them down. Instead of bringing them down, she kept yelling over the anchors. Finally, the line producer leaned over and dropped their audio to a manageable level. 

The technical director rolled on our first take with the audio crisis averted. It should have been our only take since everything was going smoothly. That was until the audio operator forgot to unmute the weather anchor. Everyone in the back started yelling at her because we were only a story and a half away from being done with the newscast. My students pride themselves on being able to record in one take. They do their best to record live to tape and try not to leave anything for me to edit. They also know that the moment they mess up something, the ball starts rolling, and so many other things start to mess up.

And that is precisely what happened. 

The anchors flubbed their lines a few times, and I threatened to fire them. They quickly switched roles, so the other was now reading the names from the basketball game. Things seemed to be going great until our audio person became distracted and forgot to mute everyone while the weather opening played. The recording started over, and anchor one sounded dead while anchor two sounded like he took speed. I told them they were both about to lose their jobs, and they promised they’d do better. 

The line producer called standby and began the countdown. Then all hell broke loose. The floor director was in her own world and forgot to count the anchors in. So we just had the boys staring at the screen while the lounge producer started shouting in the head seat. Anchor one lost his shit, and my director ran out, nearly jumping up and down. She told him, “now read the announcements with that energy,” and he did. We were almost done with a great take until my audio operator squealed so loudly and threw up her arms that my weather anchor thought she had done something wrong. Everything was lost in the moment. We tried to pick up the take from the weather opening, but it was lost. We had to start over. 

At this point, we had fifteen minutes left of our fifty-minute class. The new floor director counted in the on-air talent, and Anchor one sounded like he could pass for a zombie while anchor two, well, he could read the names, so we just had to roll with it. 

I think I was ready to give up on the day. Everyone was out of sorts and making careless mistakes. We didn’t have time to switch, and the two that usually were my go-to on-air talent decided that today they were protesting because “like we always do it.” 

We finally got a passable take. There were some graphic errors because the right arrow became stuck. That problem was the only one that could be fixed in post, so we kept it. 

I really can’t be too frustrated. The kids did great. Repeating the script, punching the show, and rolling with tech issues with a fair amount of emotional control. I worked long enough in the professional world to know that not many adults could keep their composure as my 12 & 13-year-olds did. 

Lent, Teaching

Day 16: deep dive into mythical creatures, folklore, and urban legends

The end of the third nine weeks has brought the end of getting my students back to working order. While I was away on maternity leave, things were lax, to say the least. So to get them used to working again, I let our big project stretch out longer than usual. As I talked with those who finished their project, we discussed the topic for the next news package. I really wanted to have them create a news package on their favorite book or comic, but the students didn’t seem as interested in the idea as I was. 

As two students were talking, I overheard them discussing Bloody Mary. Student A explained to Student B the urban legend, and most of it sounded like the legend I heard of when I was their age. However, what I didn’t hear was the origin story, and when I asked them if they knew who Bloody Mary was based on, they said no. That slightly aggravated me. I was and still am an inquisitive person. If I hear about an urban legend, myth, or magical thing, I look it up. Sadly my access to information was far more limited than theirs. So while I rattled off her back story, I made my decision. My students would do a deep dive into the backstory of their favorite mythical creatures, folklore, or urban legends. 

The next day, as my students edited, I had them stop so they could begin thinking about their next project. I decided to tease them with the idea of using their favorite book for their news package. The number of groans I received was hilarious. Even my students who loved reading complained this wasn’t their Ela class. So I gave them all a minute to calm down and asked them how they would feel about doing a project on their favorite mythical creature. This time the sound that erupted from my students was excitement and shouting over who would do what. But after three years of working with me, my eighth graders knew it would be a little more than that. I told them to avoid having ten projects on unicorns. They would have to select five different options and a summary of their topic. 

Everyone stopped editing and started googling what they were going to pick. I regretted telling them so early, but when they get excited about a project, they wrap up the old one fast. My students know that I’m not too fond of bare-bones information. Even if they were creating a one to two-minute news package, they needed enough research to answer any follow-up questions I might have. 

The point of the extra information is not just for my benefit. It’s also to help my students learn how to research, find multiple sources, and summarize their knowledge in an informative and exciting manner. This skill isn’t something they would only use in my class but throughout the rest of their academic and possibly personal life as well. My goal with my class has always been to encourage my students to be curious. If they hear about something interesting, my biggest hope is they want to learn more and, because of my class, will know how to find it and compare all sides. 

Student C, knowing I hate clowns, asked if she could research Pennywise. I asked her if she meant the character from IT. And she nodded with a ridiculous smile. I told her the only way she could prove the character was based on something that came before the novel. Of course, I already knew that it was based on John Wayne Gacy, but I wanted to see what she would come up with. The next morning she came running into my class telling me a giant laundry list of what she learned and all the rabbit holes it sent her on. She hadn’t even started the project and had already learned more about her favorite character than she had known for the last two years. 

I really do regret agreeing to let her choose pennywise however her seeking out the information was precisely the point of this exercise. I guess I’ll have to watch her project from behind my hands when it comes time to grade it. 

Lent, Teaching

Day 15: Fire (not a drill)

In the last ten to fifteen minutes of school today, my building had to evacuate. When the fire alarm went off, all the students froze and looked at me. We weren’t sure if it was a drill, especially with how close it was to dismissal.

My class is usually organized chaos. My TV production students tend to be all over campus recording projects and being a little boisterous because they’re acting in their films. So for them to automatically stop what they were doing and look at me for guidance made me proud. As the alarm drilled over our heads, I picked up my walkie and listened. This was clearly not a drill.

At our last staff meeting, they made it very clear that if we were ever to evacuate our building or had to leave campus Because of an event, all students in staff members should have their cell phones. They even told women to grab our purses just in case we wouldn’t be allowed back on campus or into the building to get our keys. So I told all my students to grab their phones and throw them into their back pockets, and we waited for the announcement to dismiss us. South Florida schools no longer automatically run out of their classrooms when the fire alarm is pulled. We remain until our building is dismissed because we want to be sure it is a real fire or a drill, not someone who has decided to play a prank and pull the alarm or something more horrendous.

While we waited, there was a knock on my door. I looked through the gap, and it was two of my three students who were out filming. I asked where student C was, and they said he went to the building two office. Usually, that is not a wrong decision on his part, but today that was the wrong choice. That office, which is over the classrooms next time mine, is where they suspected the mechanical fire was coming from.

When they dismissed us to our location, there were only three classrooms who are dismissed. I watch students who usually constantly misbehave and act out, walking single-file lines and listening to their teacher without having to be told multiple times to behave. I cannot say how proud I am of each and every student that was at my school that took the situation seriously.

Students usually complain about the fire drills and ask why we do them. But today shows why they were important. Every student knew precisely where they needed to go. Every student knew how to handle themselves appropriately and listened when the teachers called roll to ensure we were all accounted for and present.

As we waited, my students asked if this was why I always asked them to create a schedule breakdown with their locations. I said besides that, it was an industry standard, but it also helped me locate them in case of an emergency like today.


Day 14: School Guidance Counselors

I think guidance counselors are one of the most underused tools at school. Wait, let me rephrase that I think guidance counselors are one of the tools incorrectly overused.  

When I look back at my school career, I can say I remember my elementary guidance counselor. She was tall with brown hair and a kind voice. No clue who the guidance counselors were at middle school. I’m almost sure that I didn’t know they even existed. And for high school, I would invade my guidance counselor’s office for nearly four years, asking her to help me find a college that had a degree in oceanography or something close to it. But not once do I remember my guidance counselors being as present as the fantastic staff at my school. 

If parents were to walk the campus of the middle school I work at, I promise you over half of them would be astonished by how present our guidance counselors and behavioral health specialists are. Students of all grade levels know their names, most of whom know where their offices are. The repore the students have with these professionals is impressive. For the most part, they feel comfortable talking about their issues with the staff and even will seek out help. And those students who kept their problems closer to the vest don’t usually fight the extra push in the right direction. I’ve heard from many of my students that after speaking with a guidance counselor, they don’t feel judged but actually heard for the first time. And I agree entirely with them. 

I don’t know how often I have found myself in one of the guidance counselors’ offices asking for advice. Sometimes it’s for assistance handling a student with a 504 or IEP. However, I’ve found myself in their offices more often than not with personal questions, sometimes self-care because my students have stressed me the fuck out, sometimes about my kids, and a few times about my postpartum mindset. I’m unsure if this is like that at all schools or if we are just blessed with an and staff. 

I think all companies should have guidance counselors. Not HR people because you can’t talk to the person in control of hiring and firing freely. No, a guidance counselor, psychologist, whatever you want to call the person, someone impartial to your career should be available to talk to. I think that could help avoid workplace burnout. 

As much as I sing the praises of our counselors, there is something that I disagree with that is done across the county when it comes to them. Guidance counselors are used in so many other areas that are well outside the realm of counselors that I wonder how they can do their actual job. 

The district requires them to present Social Emotional Learning (SEL) lessons to each grade level several times throughout the year. They also have to present to each grade level these mental health suite 360 lessons as well. The one coming up is about the Prevention of Suicide. And while yes, the topic is tough to present, they don’t have control over how to discuss the issue. 

I don’t think it’s fair that schools are given those extremely difficult and triggering topics, and all schools are expected to teach them the same way. I believe each school should be able to take the issue and tailor it to the school’s location. Because I seriously doubt that the discussions going on at the middle schools in Boca Raton are the same as Belle Glade and Pahokee. Also, our guidance counselors may know what emotional level to present these topics with better than one size fits all. If the guidance counselors weren’t busy being testing monitors or filling in for teacher duties, they could target groups of kids and have a more personal discussion with them. 

I know many of these duties that guidance counselors go through now are because of what happened in Parkland. We don’t want another student to slip through the cracks, but I’m not sure if we keep adding more tasks to their plates, they will be able to see the students. We will have all these fantastic PowerPoint and well-thought-out plans but no students left to save because those who are meant to help are bogged down with the extra work of the School Board bureaucracy. 


Day 13: Classroom Assault

I was working on blog post 11 and 12 but stopped.

I hear endlessly that people don’t understand why there’s a teacher shortage, but the answer is simple. We don’t get paid enough. I’m not talking about being paid enough to cover supplies and random things we’d like to decorate our classrooms with. No, we do not get paid enough to put up with mental abuse from students, which some teachers deal with daily; more disturbing is the fear of being physically assaulted by a student.

In the last few months, the national news has been paying attention to two different attacks that happened to teachers. One was a six-year-old who shot his teacher, and the other was a fairly large ESE student who beat the living shit out of his para. If you have seen the attack video, you know there is no other way to describe what happened. While both incidents are horrible in their own right, they are not that unique. 

I have no answer, but reading over and over again that the schools failed is taking the easy way out. As a teacher who sees students of all learning abilities and ages, there is not one answer for why students in the public school system have become so toxic. Just as the mainstream media likes to blame the schools, I could easily blame the parents of these students. However, that’s unfair. I have been a part of parent-teacher conferences where parents do not understand why their children are cussing out the teachers or threatening them. At the same time, I’ve been a part of conferences where the parents are hostile and blame the teachers for their children’s behavior. 

An assault happened to one of my co-workers today, and while I can not openly discuss what happened with the teacher, if there had been a video, I’m sure it would have made the news. I don’t know how to handle discussing assaults on teachers. Yes, the public needs to be aware of the fucked up situations. However, I’m nervous that airing these incidents will cause copycats. 

Even if we never show or name another student in an assault case, students will still act out, and there need to be more severe consequences. I don’t know what other consequences are required, but suspensions aren’t enough. There are students who have told me they would rather get a two-day out-of-school suspension because they will watch Netflix the moment their parents leave. How is that a punishment for verbally assaulting an adult? How is that punishment for assaulting another student? How is out of out-of-school or in-school suspension a punishment for being late to class repeatedly? It isn’t. The students actively seek these out. I have a student that, the moment her boyfriend gets I.S.S or O.S.S. she tries to get whatever suspension he has so they can spend time with each other. 

While venting my frustrations, I suggested we should hold the parents more accountable. Maybe that might make those parents who ignore their children’s toxic behavior to become more aware. Maybe instead of I.S.S or O.S.S, the parents have to pay a fee after a student has received a certain amount of disciplinary referrals. It might make people more aware of the situation.

A lot of these assaults are perpetrated by students who can be classified as EBD. The mainstream media tend not to talk about students with disabilities. This is where a big Catch-22 comes in because we are now discussing disabilities.

A student with an emotional/behavioral disability has persistent (is not sufficiently responsive to implemented evidence-based interventions) and consistent emotional or behavioral responses that adversely affect performance in the educational environment that cannot be attributed to age, culture, gender, or ethnicity.  

Basically, once these students get the EBD label, they act as if they are invincible. Yes,some of these students actually have a disability where they cannot control their temper and outburst, and other things along those lines may happen. However, some students will cause harm and say, oh, I can’t help it because of whatever label they’ve been given.

I believe every child should receive an education and their best education.However, there has to be a line. I don’t think that students should return if they have already been to juvie for assaulting a police officer at the school. We need to establish a clear boundary. When do we put other students at risk because we want to ensure that everything is inclusive?

Not all behavior issues are attributed to disabilities. Some students are outright a*holes. It doesn’t matter their socioeconomic background or how good or bad their parents are. They’re just not good people. And it’s extremely unfortunate because no matter how hard their parents try, the students do not care.

So I am at a loss for what to do. Teachers shouldn’t have to worry about being verbally or physically assaulted by their students. Everybody deserves an education. But how many chances do students deserve before they are hindering everyone’s ability classroom? How many chances before the student causes disturbances that disrupt an entire school? What is the answer? I don’t know, maybe you do.