Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What Not to Say to a Teacher

This is my sixth year teaching, and I'm loving it again. In a positive environment and with the right support, teaching can be one of the most rewarding careers out there. With that being said, there are still some things that I'd rather NOT hear on a regular basis. Here goes nothing...

1) "We will meet about it during your planning time." That time is precious and most likely I have about a million other things on my to-do list. Last year, I did not get a lunch break, so my only time away from my students all day was my 50 minute planning period. During that time, I always had a ton of grading to do, copies to make for the following day (who wants to wait in the long line at the copy machine in the morning??), e-mails to respond  to, and parents to call. Oh, and this was the only time during the day that I was technically free to use the bathroom, so of course I made a pit stop there. Unfortunately for me, we had our grade level meeting on Fridays, I had to meet with the district mentor on Tuesdays, and one of the other days was ALWAYS taken by one of the coaches. I was lucky to get 1-2 times a week free to actually plan. On days when our planning periods were taken away (so most days,) I seriously had not one moment alone. The sad thing was that I went in early and stayed late as well, so every day was a 10-11 hour day or more likely with no break! This year I am blessed with ample planning time, which is a rarity in the field of education. Amazingly, there are days when I finally feel "caught up," although I still stay over sometimes. When I do stay an hour or two over to work, I'm not bitter about it because some days I have extra time to just chat with my co-teacher, so it evens out. The extra planning time helps me prepare as a teacher and I know that I'm able to deliver better lessons!

2) "It's raining. You have to have indoor recess." Yes, hearing this is upsetting to many students, but it's really me as the teacher who is the most bummed out. Kids need time to run around, socialize, play, and work their large motor skills. While there are some quiet indoor games to play, this isn't an equal substitute for the time they miss when they should be outside. It is recommended that children in early childhood get at least one hour of exercise a day. It's hard to accomplish that when cooped up in a classroom with limited space.

3) "Miss K, this fell off the wall." I had to battle with classroom decorations falling off the wall all year last year. We were told that we weren't allowed to use hot glue gun because it would damage the paint on the wall, so we were only permitted to use masking tape. Of course that meant our decorations were falling down left and right, especially because of the humidity. Our air conditioner was turned off at night and over the weekends, so that didn't help. Every morning my students would hand me about 5 things that had fallen. It's still early in the year for me this time around, so I haven't had to deal much with this yet, but I'm sure it's coming.

4) "Just stay after school so that we can meet." Okay, I'd much rather meet after school than during my planning time (see #1), BUT I like to be asked and not told that I have to stay! I mean, what if (dare I say it??) I had plans. In the past, sometimes I did have places to be, and I just had to rearrange everything for a surprise meeting with a parent or colleague. I have no problem meeting anyone after school, but please be respectful and schedule a meeting with me instead of just assuming. Again, I don't really have this problem at my current school...Have I mentioned that I love it here?

5) "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." No one has ever said this to me directly, thank goodness, but what a terrible way to ignorantly slam an entire profession. Yes, I'm sure that there are some teachers who are only teaching because they can't do what they really want, but there are people like that in almost every field! I will say that before I ever taught, I thought it seemed like a stress-free job. While I always respected my teachers, I thought they had it easy because until I started teaching, I had no idea about all the behind-the-scenes action. Those hands-on lessons that my teachers delivered while they circulated the room and casually guided our learning must have required so much prep work. Now that I've done it myself, I really admire my childhood teachers so much more!

6) "Unfortunately ________ (insert name of favorite student here) will be moving away." Usually this is something that is told to me with not much notice and suddenly I'm without my favorite little angel that makes my day 100 times more tolerable with his/her cuteness. I totally get attached to my students! When I think about some of my past students, I even get heartache. Also, why does it always seem like the students with the less-than-stellar behavior stick around all year?!

7) "The Promethean board isn't working." (Feel free to replace the Promethean board with any other kind of technology you might use for a lesson.) Just hearing those words would make me break out into a sweat. At most schools, technology is used throughout the day to enhance the lesson, but last year our lesson plans for 1st grade WERE our flip charts for the Promethean board. In my lessons, I tried to make them hands-on and interactive and also tried to include music and short videos. Without the technology working, I had to improvise by using just a regular old whiteboard for everything. It never kept the students engaged that long. Plus, your students can tell when you aren't as prepared! We do not have a Promethean board to use at the school I'm currently at, but students will start using their i-Pads in the class next week. I've never used i-Pads with students just because I haven't had the opportunity. Students have to type in a long username before they can log on. It's harder than it sounds when you have 25 five and six year olds. Also, our school's internet is not reliable and frequently cuts out. I am always going to have a back up plan, but the students are SO excited about using their i-Pads, so I'm sure they will be equally frustrated if we can't log on. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

8) "I threw up this morning, but my mom said I had to come to school." I'm such a germophobe, so this is never what I want to hear. Like most teachers out there, I have gotten sick from my students. Preparing for a sub is work in itself, and when I have to miss a day, I always worry. Seeing as how at my current school we get zero sick days, I want to try to avoid illness as much as possible. 

9) "In three weeks, little Johnny will be going away for a week. Can I have all the make up work for him now?" If you want the honest truth, I have never planned that far ahead. Last year I had to make a lot from scratch or at least find a ton of stuff on Teachers Pay Teachers. I didn't feel like there was much available at my school in terms of resources, so no, I never had all the materials ready that far in advance. Right now I am waiting on the English lead to give me some workbooks so that I can base my plans for the following week off of them. Even if I wanted to plan right now, I couldn't really do it without the materials I'm waiting on. Also, lesson plans change so much and good teachers adjust them accordingly based on the needs of their students. I find myself planning for a whole week and revising nightly--that's what works the best for me. We have meetings with our grade level and the content might have to change because of what the other teachers say, so that's another reason why planning way far in advance does not work best for time management in my experience. 

10) "I don't understand. He doesn't act this way at home." I get why parents get frustrated if their child has behavior problems at school but is fine at home, but school is a completely different environment. At home there aren't about 20 other kids with one adult in the room. Plus, school has a whole set of demands that aren't placed on the child at home. Luckily, this also works in my favor. I've had many parents tell me things like, "Chrissy (yes, that's a made up name!) throws fits at home and hits me. I can't believe she is so good at school and doesn't cause any problems."

What do people say about your profession that bothers you? Would you be interested in reading a "What to Say to a Teacher" post? 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What Surprised me About China

This isn't my first time in China and it's not my first time living in Asia, so I didn't expect to be shocked by much. However, I still find myself surprised and sometimes even bewildered. I love discovering cultural idiosyncrasies at the most unexpected times. I've highlighted a few of them below. 

* Mooncake- I probably shouldn't start out with this one because it's going to make me look like an idiot, but I thought all mooncake was the same. (In fairness, I discovered that it wasn't very quickly after moving here!) Back in 2004, I went to China for the first time and tried mooncake during the Mid-Autumn Festival. I thought it was delicious--it had red bean paste inside. This time around, I went to the grocery store, bought some moon cake, and took a large bite thinking it was going to be the same delectable treat that I had years ago. Wrong. Inside the mooncake I picked was an egg yolk right in the center. It wasn't hard boiled, either. I was told that this was most likely a salted duck egg. This type of moon cake is just not for me, but there are so many other kinds that I do like and didn't even know existed until recently. For example, I tried chocolate mooncake just the other day! Even the types of crusts can vary.

While on the subject of mooncake, my students had to color and decorate "baby mooncake." It was basically a mooncake personified with a face and body. I don't know why I think that is so hilarious, but I laugh to myself every time I hear my co-teacher ask my students about how their "baby mooncake" looks.

* "The parents don't like it when you change your hairstyle, so you should try to keep it the same." I've heard this from a few people now. If this is true, good thing my hair was tied up the first time I met my students' parents so that they couldn't see I just got a ton of it chopped off. I am probably going to keep my hair the same color for awhile, so this shouldn't be an issue. I'm not really sure why this matters that much, but might ask my co-teacher. She has worked with a lot of Westerners and is not easily offended. She will often ask me about American culture, so I hope she can shed some light on this one for me.

* Fire drills in China- The middle school already had their fire drill and I heard that there was actual smoke everywhere. At a staff meeting, we went over the procedure for the fire drill and we have to dampen all of these towels/give each student one to hold over their mouths as they exit the building. We have a fire drill coming up this week and I'm dreading it. My students are so young--I don't want any of them to be scared or cry, although I might! I hope it is not too intense for them. I'm going to prep them ahead of time so that they aren't panicking.

* Getting a taxi- I've never been turned down for a cab so many times in my entire life. It appears to me that taxi drivers are wary of foreigners because a group of us will often get passed by for a Chinese person down the street. I've been told to get out of taxis before. I don't know if it was because the driver did not want to take me and was discriminating or if he just didn't want to take me because he did not like my destination. When I have to go somewhere, I try to allot extra time since I never know exactly how long getting a taxi will take.

* The concept of guanxi- I didn't know at all about guanxi until our orientation, but it helped explain a lot about working closely with a Chinese staff. In a nutshell, if someone asks you to do a favor for them, you should try really hard to say yes. This will not go unnoticed and your "guanxi bank" will fill up so that when you need something, you will most likely get what you ask for in return.

* Cupping Therapy- I saw a few people with these strange reddish-purplish marks on them and was wondering about it. No, there are not boatloads of people with weird birthmarks all over their bodies. The marks are actually from cupping therapy, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine to promote blood flow. In cupping therapy, suction cups are placed on the body in an attempt to draw out toxins and impurities. Hollywood celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow have tried it. There is also the "wet" version of this that involves being sliced with a cupping scalpel and bleeding into the cups...I think I'll pass on that one. 

* Our water and power usage was posted in our building. I did read in our contracts that if we don't use all of our monthly water allowance that we can get some money back. We are also expected to pay if we go over, so I knew it was being monitored. What I did not expect was for how much water and power we used to be posted in our building. It was kind of embarrassing because I accidentally left a light on one day when I was at work and so my power usage was on the higher end of the spectrum. Even though our names aren't posted, our room numbers are so Scott was sure to look at mine and tease me. It has made me more conscious of conserving energy, so I guess that's a good thing.

* I really dislike my Chinese lessons. (I feel guilty for admitting this.) This is surprising for me because I have always loved studying a new language, but learning Mandarin is stressing me out. I expected that it would be hard, but the pronunciation is killing me. A few days ago our instructor gave me and Scott a quiz that we both failed. I just wanted to take it for fun and not in a serious way because I don't plan on becoming fluent. That would take years of study and more time than I have in the day. All I wanted to do was learn some phrases that might help me out in my day-to-day life. Right now I am going twice a week, which is not a good amount for me. I'd really like to go once a week so that I have more time to study the vocabulary for the next session. I paid for ten sessions in advance, so I'm going to see how I feel at the end of the last session. I also think I'd really prefer to work with the teacher alone because all I focus on now is getting called on and I can't even fully concentrate.

* I was told,"The subway system in Shanghai is terrible, you'll never get a seat, and it's filthy." I've ridden the subway about 5 times now, got a seat more than half of the time, and don't find what was said to me to be the case at all. I heard that mothers will just let their kids pee on the train, but thankfully that is something I've yet to witness. Maybe I've just been lucky so far, but I don't mind taking the subway in Shanghai.

* It takes forever to get mail! This is my sixth year living abroad, so I'm familiar with the waiting game, but I don't think I've ever had to wait THIS long. My dad air mailed me a package over a month ago and it hasn't arrived. A letter got sent out to me about three weeks ago and it's still not here. I'm getting really worried that both items will never come. Scott and I both mailed our parents a postcard, and my parents got the one I sent about a week ago, but Scott's parents and his grandma are still waiting to receive theirs. 

* The popcorn is all sweet. Okay, this would have surprised me except that my Chinese co-teacher from last year told me about this. While I do love some kettle corn, I did work at a movie theater for almost ten years, so I'm going to miss the salty, buttery popcorn I'm used to.

* The parents of my students are meeting in a public place to talk about my co-teacher and me. When my co-teacher first told me this, my heart sank and I got extremely worried! Were they mad at us? Did we do something wrong? My co-teacher told me to relax because "this type of thing is very common in China." Today I also got three VERY nice e-mails from the students' parents, so that's reassuring!  

What has been surprising to you on one of your trips?