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Oct 1 2014

The Things I Learn Teaching English in Israel

By at 4:13 pm

Israel-relief-map

When I made aliyah from Montreal, I never planned to teach English in an Israeli classroom. Aliyah was about leaving Montreal to become Israeli, rather than bringing a piece of Canada here with me. I soon discovered, however, that since everyone wants to speak English, teaching English is a much sought-after profession. As it turns out, it’s also a great day job for a writer.

I began the new school year by writing vocabulary words on the white board. The day’s assignment was to define and use certain phrases: “What is a relief map?” I ask them, quite certain they will be unfamiliar with the three dimensional map that portrays the ups and downs, mountains and valleys, of a geographical terrain. A hand goes up. A boy in the back. It’s always the boys in the back who give me butterflies in my stomach those first few weeks of school. We haven’t had our meetings with their homeroom teacher so I don’t know the family history of each student, which child might have lost someone close during this summer war in Gaza, which child might be struggling through their parents’ divorce, or who might be trying to hide socio-economic issues under fake designer labels.

There is still so much I have to learn before I can become an effective teacher. For now, each student before me is a tabula rasa. I have to ask their name when they raise their hands; I still have not matched the wire-framed glasses, the dimpled cheeks, or the intense hazel-green gaze to the names on my list. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 2 2014

Hate Crime in the Classroom

By at 2:41 pm

hate crime in the classroom swastika

In the middle of an exhausting, first year of teaching in a public high school in southern Massachusetts, I, like most teachers who come in contact with hundreds of students every day, contracted a virus, and took my first sick day. In the middle of that sick day, I got a call from the gym teacher, who I hardly knew.

“Are you OK?” He sounded reluctant to ask. Something had happened in my classroom while I was out, but he wouldn’t say what. He was shocked that no other staff had called me. He wished me well and got off the phone quickly.

When I returned to school, I demanded to know what had happened. My department chair said it was “an unfortunate incident,” and that I should talk to the principal. I finally wrangled it out: a student had spray-painted a swastika on my classroom floor and etched another swastika on my chalkboard. Something about Jews had been scrawled but only partially erased, probably so that no one would be able to identify the handwriting.

Both the chalkboard and floor were scrubbed clean before I returned.  Read the rest of this entry →

May 28 2014

The Last Day of Preschool: The End of an Era

By at 10:09 am
last-day-of-preschool

Photo credit: Ellen Bortz

 

A few years ago I was that nursery school mom with a son in the 3’s class, a daughter in the 2’s class, and a new baby, born seven weeks into the school year. Whether that was a well-thought out plan or not didn’t really occur to me in those early years; it just was. I saw those other moms whose last child was going through nursery school and although logically I knew that they must have done this dance with their older ones as well, it was pretty impossible to imagine. Yet now, I have the luxury of walking my youngest daughter–my 5-year-old–to her pre-K class without carrying a crying baby, pushing a stroller, or feeling nauseous from morning sickness. Now I watch the other moms drop off their preschooler and come outside still holding another child (or two) and I’m sure they can’t imagine a day when they’ll walk out that door alone.

And now we approach the end of an era in my family. My children have spent a combined 10 years at one Jewish nursery school–as a family, we’ve been there for seven consecutive years. We’re not particularly unique, we haven’t set any kind of record, lots of families have come and gone. But for our family (or maybe just me!) it certainly feels like a milestone. At the very least, a time to take pause and appreciate what’s gone by.

Nobody in our house spits up anymore. Our days of diapers, sippy cups, pacifiers, strollers, and cribs are gone. Nobody says “baby suit” when she means “bathing suit.” Nobody tells us that “Purple Barney” is his favorite color, or says they “bless you’d” when what they did was sneezed. There’s no one left here who believes “tilapia chicken” isn’t fish. No more rear-facing car seats, or high chairs, or boosters, or even those cute plastic sectioned-off plates. Baby gates, infant tubs, pack-and-plays, and swaddle blankets are all a distant memory. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 25 2014

I Find Myself Defending Teachers at the Hair Salon (and Everywhere Else!)

By at 3:58 pm

hair-salon

The next time someone asks me what I do for a living, I plan to say that I’m a dental hygienist. Maybe a carpet salesman. A baker? Hmm… that’s an idea. Who doesn’t love cookies? It’s too bad that I’m a terrible liar.

I was mid-haircut the last time the question was posed to me. “I’m a guidance counselor,” I said, with a smile. I glanced around the salon and waited for the inevitable commentary to come. That train is never late.

“Well, you scored an easy gig!”

“Teachers have such nice hours. It’s like working part-time!”

“You have your own office, right?” Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 10 2013

Surviving Divorce, from Aleph to Tav

By at 4:25 pm

hebrew letters tiles

While browsing through old college journals, I recently caught a glimpse of a younger, happier, more confident woman. The bubbly writing belonged to an idealist who hitchhiked around the Middle East, worked at archaeological sites, and attended graduate school overseas.

Today, our children are my greatest joy, but the past few years of struggling with my husband and the divorce process are taking a heavy toll. I do not want my self-esteem to be contingent on my past accomplishments, nor do I want my happiest memories to be of previous decades.

I am proud of myself for getting out of an unhealthy relationship. Nowadays I am plunging the toilet myself, installing batteries and removing bugs and trash from the house. I am raising three very young children, working a full-time job, and teaching on Saturdays to stay afloat, all while far from extended family. I am persevering and finding inspiration and assistance where I can. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 1 2013

Life as a Summertime Stay-at-Home Mom

By at 11:53 am

stay at home summertime momBeing a teacher is one of those jobs that is SUPER-challenging from September to May, and then SUPER-easy from June through August–because having the summer off is a huge perk! In the past, I haven’t been the biggest fan of this unpaid vacation, because I like to keep busy and this two and a half month break tends to lag after the first few weeks. In the past, I’ve taught summer school or gotten a summer job doing something full time, anything I could do to make money during the break.

However, this is my first summer off being a mommy; it’s super-busy, super-fun, and it’s a whole new world! Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 20 2012

The Power of Women–In Newtown & Beyond

By at 1:30 pm

female teacher and studentDo you ever read something online and get really mad, almost to the point of fury? That’s how I felt when I read a piece posted on Facebook by friends from the National Review Online which alleged that the Newtown massacre was so terrible because there were no men around to stop it.

No, really. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 19 2012

A Crime Alleged, A Community in Shock

By at 11:11 am

A second grade teacher in our town has just been arrested for allegedly possessing and producing child pornography, among other charges. The evidence, as described in the press, is incredibly upsetting and appears to be quite damning.

We know this man. He went to elementary school, to Schechter no less, with my husband. They grew up together. I met him recently at a school reunion, and he was so kind, so funny, and so thoughtful that I even considered setting him up with one of my best friends. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 26 2011

In Loco Parentis: Why Teachers Rule

By at 10:20 am
amadeus

Mozart probably never dreaded the parent-teacher conference.

In wine, truth (in vino veritas); and in parents, madness (in loco parentis). At least that’s what we teachers would joke as the season for parent-teacher (and sometimes parent-student-teacher) conferences hove into sight. Having gone from being a teacher with no kids of my own to being a parent with no teaching duties in the course of five short years, I can safely say that teachers are much healthier for children.

The truth is, parents have no perspective. And that is good and proper. Parents are hopelessly vertical, teachers hopefully horizontal. Parents are rightly obsessed with their kids and all their friends are seen through that prism. Ninth grade biology teachers see a lot of ninth grade students and, when they do their job well, as they often do, they can provide a lot of context about life as a ninth grader to parents as well as biological knowledge to students.

Parents and teachers are the adult representatives of the two great worlds of a child’s life: home and school. Being able to navigate each individually and between the two fluently is part of growing up and is just one of the reasons why homeschooling is, in principle, an extremely poor alternative. The intersection of those two worlds — the coming together of matter and anti-matter — is why older students dread the conference time of year and why parents and teachers alike greet it with fascination, hope, and dread in equal measure.
Parents give love and support but often our expectations are unmanageable. My own parents were wonderfully supportive over 20 years of education but I remember watching “Amadeus” as a teenager with my own father and him turning to me in partial jest and saying, “By the time he was your age, Mozart had written an opera and transcribed the Vatican’s secret mass, what have you done?”

Thankfully I had some ninth grade teachers who could tell him.

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