Monday, November 30, 2015

The Hardest Days of Teaching

There are many, but I think I can generalize them enough to fit the days before a break and the day that we come back from a break.

It's also picture day today so the kids are just...on.

I find the easiest ways to get through days like today are to give them time to talk. They love telling you all about the good, the bad and the ugly that happened to them while we were off. Yes, your kids tell us teachers all about the drunk uncle and the crazy fight that happened between your 2nd cousin and your mom. It happens every year and it's always so detailed, that we can even feel like we were there.

It's all part of teaching middle school. :0)

The days before a break are nice in that I have usually spent a month of bribing them with a holiday treat if they behave and get everything done that they need to. This year, I let them pick a movie and I popped popcorn for them. They wanted to stay even after the bell rang.

As for my school picture? Hate it. But, it could be worse.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Another Year in the Capital City

Here I am, another year older and another year more experienced. This year completes my sixth year of teaching and my second year of teaching in the Capital City.

I went through a lot this year and if I could encapsulate this year into one word it would be: tired.

I sort of set myself up for it though, really. I wrote my thesis this year and finished my masters. Over the summer, Phil and I backpacked through Europe and didn't arrive home until a day before school started. We did eleven countries in a month. I also moved and then realized how much I hated living in an apartment.

So, I began the process of buying a house. I almost closed on one and then it fell apart and then I looked at a lot of houses and if nothing happens within the next few days, the second house will be mine as of Tuesday.

I'll be returning next year to the Capital City and like the crazy lady that I am, I'll be working on my PhD.

However, I have some big ideas for how I'm going to create my classroom for next year and have already been compiling my lists of things to make and what to get from Lakeshore. I'm excited for a new year and though I am running summer programming this year, I know I'll be more on top of next year's start because I'll have the summer to prepare. And fix up my house. And work. And take a class...and and and....

Such is life, though, right?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Becoming the "Urban Teacher"

Teaching was not originally what I sought out to do in college. I had plans to go to school, get my degree and go off into the art world, writing articles about artists and new art movements living a fabulous life filled with good wine and cheese.

Only I had graduated in 2008 with a degree in art history and journalism & media studies from Rutgers University. I had gotten into Sotheby's Institute of Art and was planning on completing my masters in art business. was 2008. The year everything had tanked everything from print journalism to my crazy loan to go.

Thus begins the several years of floating and feeling worthless, until one day I am working for the Girl Scouts and I am in an urban school. I'm making sit-upons in New Brunswick with a girl from Latin America who giggles every time the stitching is wrong. It is the first time that I am truly happy in over a year.

And like any 20-something, I of course ignore it. I pursue my bottomless dream of Brooklyn and the bohemian lifestyle. Only after six months of working for no money and for crappy people that don't appreciate me, I find myself crying for hours in my cramped apartment after a 16 hour long work day. For some reason, I think back to the summer before and the Girl Scouts...and the girl who giggled because I was screwing up her sit-upon.

Within two months I was back in New Jersey, enrolled in graduate school and pursuing two teaching certifications. I completed a three year program in a year and a half. I was subbing every day after that and before I knew it I was long-term subbing.

As a French teacher? That was probably the more surprising thing, but I did love having that experience in the end. I had some great kids over the years I was doing it and I got to be a French teacher for a little bit.

Which eventually led me to my current position as a language arts teacher, teaching middle school (hence "Kuzma in the Middle") in an urban school. I never thought I would be here. I never sought out to be a middle school teacher and I never thought I would find my joy as a teacher as in an urban district, but in reality, this is the best thing that has ever happened to me.

I work in New Jersey's capital city in a school that wikipedia describes as being "one of five persistently dangerous schools." My dad thought I was insane when I signed the contract and to this day will remind me all the time. I had also been hired the summer that was being called the city's most dangerous with something like 150 violent crimes having been committed. Many thought I had lost my mind.

And maybe in some way I had, but I pursued it, single-mindedly like I do with anything else I set my heart on.

In the end, I had one of the best years of my teaching career so far. I got to create such a strong bond to kids that really needed someone to half the time, just listen to what they needed to talk about. I got to try delicious foods from Thailand to El Salvador. I got to un an art club and see kids with such natural artistic talent come to life as we drew, sketched (erased) and eventually painted it. I got to learn about all different kinds of music and slang that I never would have learned elsewhere.

I also got to see what real hardship is like from the kids who didn't have clothes to wear to school to the ones struggling with gender identity and sexuality within a community that is not as open minded.

It was a hard year. There were many tears, mostly mine, but in the end, I got to meet and fall in love with 75 kids who all are unique, wonderful and who taught me a bit about different cultures and themselves, but who mostly taught me a lot about myself.

I am looking forward to another year in my school and am hoping that I can find some time to write about my experiences here and show my readers that sometimes, working to see beyond the image makes all the difference. And on Fridays? You get to have that good wine and cheese.