A Little Glimmer of Awesome!

I write a lot on here about the hard part of everything I find difficult or don’t understand – which is A LOT. Relationships, adjusting, work issues, artistic adventures – you name it and I have probably written about it. While I truly try to show as many sides of the issue(s) as possible, I tend to work through the negative.

I’ll just go ahead and blame that on the family philosophy of pessimism. Totally not JUST me….totally not…

Anyways, some light in a bit of the funk is in order, especially on this particularly cruddy day (weather wise – it is a mess out there).

I have had some amazing moments as a teacher lately. Moments where you say to yourself, “and that’s why it is worth it.” Today, I had a whole class that was like a dream. A “one in a million class periods” kind of class. Kids were excited about Art and working on their own. No whining about how they couldn’t do this, or why is he/she doing that, just Art. Kiddos were drawing and challenging themselves, others were watching me draw.Then – and this is the best part – they started asking questions, trying different approaches to their own work, and drawing for others.

How flippin’ great was that moment?! It was pretty flippin’ great!

If only every class could be that free form…at least it happened once.
And, if I have any say in it, it will happen again!

And Now For Something Completely Different?

“When I was in school…..”

“When I was in school, my parents would have NEVER come to Varney to jump on the teacher.”

“When I was in school, we were allowed to have recess all through elementary, kindergarten through 8th grade.”

“When I was in school, I never knew my grade until the report card came home.”

“When I was in school, even the “bad” kids weren’t THIS bad.”

“When I was in school, it was very, VERY, different.”

Going into Education as a profession was one of my best decisions by far. After floundering in the Electrical Engineering program at UK, taking a random Art class (you know, to balance out the science/math heavy course load) set me on a path that has been been rewarding and, at times, frustrating. Now in my 6th year as an Art teacher, I really can’t see myself in any other field and I’ve never really tried to see myself as anything but “Ms. G.”

After what I saw today, I’m becoming more willing to broaden my outlook.

While looking through my Facebook news feed, I came across a friend’s post defending teachers. Her post was in response to a video posted by a student/student’s parent of a teacher at a local school jumping on to her class. Being a teacher, I was immediately interested. I read her statement, agreed with her, and proceeded to read the comments. Among the comments was a link to the video itself.
Normally, I wouldn’t view it. If it’s not Star Wars/Doctor Who/Bradley recommended, I don’t watch it – mainly because I know I’ll get upset. Knowing this video had to be of a teacher I am friends with, I wanted to see what had caused all the fuss. All the teachers I worked with at that school are great, love their kiddos, and go above and beyond the call of duty – this teacher is no exception!
The video, really audio, of the teacher calling her students out for not working, is not the worse thing I’ve ever heard. Based on the comments, some people heard a woman, in their opinion, unjustly addressing her students for their poor scores. I heard a woman frustrated at her class and trying to find something, anything, to motivate them.

I’ve been there and I sympathize.

Part of me wants to rail against the world judging this woman. This woman I know works long hours, dedicates so much of her own time to helping kids, and, like many of us, tries to instill some sense of self-motivation in our students. I also recognize that my righteous indignation won’t matter to those too ignorant to see beyond the “no one talks to my baby that way” attitude that teachers see more often than not.

Teachers are, in fact, people. They have breaking points, frustrations, and bad days like everyone else. Except, unlike other people, we are expected not to have those days. If we have a bad day, we are somehow bad teachers/people. If you don’t believe teachers feel that way themselves when a day goes south, you are talking to the wrong teacher….or a teacher who has given everything only to be disheartened.

When I was in school….

I love my job. I love working with students and seeing them grow as artists and as people. Seeing a kiddo get excited about learning – glob! – nothing beats that. It’s amazing to watch and be a part of.

Daily I worry that I have not hit the right balance between understanding and stern. Some days are harder than others, and I have, at times, mentioned to students that their lack of effort is how they earn the grade they get, whether it’s an A or a F is all on them.

It’s hard to see students not care as much as you do. It is frustrating to say the least. Add on to that the threats to your career by angry kids/parents, the constant fear of having what you do in school twisted or taken out of context, and the fact that the standard you are held to as a teacher is so high, yet we are one of the least respected professions. It feels like you are always on the defensive and I can be a bit much.

All it takes is one word and that is it. Pitchforks out, set the torches alight, off with their head – let’s not ask the real question: why aren’t we concerned about students willfully bombing a class and not being shamed by the fact that they were called out on it?! Another question to address is why, if you felt the teacher was in the wrong (an opinion you are entitled to of course), why post this video on a social media site? Why not take it to the school, talk to the teacher and administration, and deal with the issue instead of posting it without the context of what brought it on – because, let’s be honest, something did. Why are we okay with a student taping a teacher when that student is obviously in class AND does not seem to be paying attention at all?

No wonder she is frustrated! She’s trying to strike some chord with them, and a student is more concerned with taping her with the obvious intention of hurting her career. Granted, I could be wrong about the intent , but posting the video to a social media site doesn’t really seem like the most legit way to deal with the situation if you didn’t want to embarrass/professionally harm the teacher in question.

This incident is just the latest of several that have made me worry about my choice of profession – something I never thought I’d be concerned about. I worry not because I think I made the wrong choice or because I think I’m a bad teacher. Completely the opposite! I KNOW teaching is what I should be doing. I KNOW that I’m good at what I do, but I’m always willing to learn and grow in my profession. I KNOW that I mess up, but, in my work and in my personal life, I can admit to, and learn, from my mistakes and move forward. I KNOW I’m exactly where I need to be, doing what I need to do.

I would just like to do my job to the best of my ability without constantly stepping on eggshells.

I can’t make people like me. I can’t force students to work. All I hope is that, at the end of the day, I make a positive impact on my students’ lives. That is it – that makes it all worth while and why, despite my fears, I will teach.
I will do my absolute best, and give it all I’ve got. I will do this because it is totally worth it for those kiddos that get something from it.

“You know, when I was in school, my teachers didn’t worry about the same things I have to.”

As a student, I am so thankful for that.

My Unemployed Teacher Dilemma

It’s 12:19am and I’m searching for ANY job opportunities.  Teaching abroad, US Foreign Service, the Department of Ed’s in the tri-state area – I’m looking…..and looking….and looking……


Still looking....never stopped looking I guess..

Sadly, a teacher highly qualified in Art Education isn’t really in demand right now, especially where I live: the Tug Valley region/Eastern Kentucky. Yeah, I could move – and I’m not totally opposed to that but that needs to be SOMEDAY, not TODAY.  I moved back for a reason and I’m not ready to leave just yet.

Still, there are opportunities coming up if I can just hold on for the next year.  There is the random Art job in Floyd County (not THAT bad of a drive) for this upcoming year.  That is, there is an opportunity that I may have missed in Floyd County because I wasn’t searching for a job because I thought I had one – but, hey, it is what it is right?!  Who knows, I may still have a chance there.  The position I really, really, REALLY want to get is the job of middle school pre-engineering, STEM teacher.  Will that be an option for the 2013-2014 school year?  No…no, it’s not…but if I can just hold on.

Just hold on another year – that has become my mantra.

My dilemma isn’t really the “not having a job currently” situation.  As a non-tenured Art teacher, I’m used to the non-hire letters. My dilemma is deciding whether or not to apply to unemployment.  It has been suggested to me by several colleagues over the years that, yes, apply and get unemployment over the summer when you are not tenured and are let go.  I have moments where I shake my head up and down and say “yes, I’m going tomorrow and doing this.  I paid into it, I should get something back from it!”  Insert my self righteous indignation and *boom!* I’m ready to roll out and do it.

Then I sit down, look through the employment opportunities, and just don’t feel right going.  At least not at this point in time.  The nice thing about teaching is that while the nine months you are working with students are very intensive, draining, rewarding, and very difficult at times (among other things), my salary is divided up so that I will still receive a paycheck over the summer months.  While I’m receiving my paycheck, I just don’t feel right going to sign up for unemployment.  Now, if it turns out that I cannot get gainful employment over the next month and a half, I’m stuck with no income at all, then I’ll revisit the unemployment question and will probably have very different feelings about it.  Like I said, this is just me and not a comment on anyone else who has made a different decision with this “dilemma.”  Honestly, it’s probably not the smart move.  If I had kids, a ton of outstanding debt, some other “x” factor then I wouldn’t be having the dilemma.  It would be a no-brainer in fact.
 I’d go over and sign up in a heartbeat.

This is just me though.  Well, it’s me, and my cat Ralphie.  I won’t get to go to Hawaii any time soon, but I’ll be fine for the next two months.  Decisions will have to be made sooner than later, and it’s not dire straits, but it’s been something weighing on my mind.  I don’t know if many of you out there have had this same type of dilemma or if I’m making this more than what it is, but it is a concern. Every summer, wondering if I’ll have a classroom in the fall, just causes anxiety. That’s how I react to things though: initial freak out, absorbed in the fear of what to do, then it passes (quickly I might add) and things get done.
So…where to start if going to the unemployment office isn’t an option just yet?

First things first, it would probably be a great idea if I’d just calm myself down, enjoy having some time to do the projects I want to do, and just keep searching…searching for all the things!!!

Field Trip Memories

I am currently monitoring students on a bus back home. All in all a good day at the Clay Center in Charleston, WV. With a few minor incidents, the occasional eye roll from a 6th grader, and the absolute wide-eyed amazement of children – not at the music or science discovery center of course, but at the prospect of buying *gasp!* pizza for lunch this trip has been successful.  Sure, I wanted to see the Art gallery, but like the Stones say “you can’t always get what you want.” Upon reflection, I think they were talking about teachers…..maybe not…..hmmmm

This trip has brought to mind some of the field trips I was able to go on when I was in elementary school.  Of all the ones we went on – a trip to Virgie for a play, Shelby Valley for track meets, Camden Park for the heck of it – the trip to Richmond, KY and the EKU Planetarium was by far my favorite.  I remember being so excited getting on the bus and sitting near my crush.  Having extra batteries ready for my Walkman and a few cassettes to jam to on the 5ish hour ride we were getting ready to take – it was awesome!  I loved being at the planetarium.  Even more, I loved that my crush sat with me on the way home instead of with someone else.  Sure, I was totally aware that he sat with me only because he was (and still is) my great friend, but…..it didn’t matter!  We sat together, had a great time, and I got to wear his jacket and so-and-so didn’t.  Win for me!

It’s the small victories right?

Not all field trips were school related.  I grew up a member of the Williamson Presbyterian Church’s youth group with some amazing young people.  Our revered, John Duncan, and his family were like a breeze floating in to a hot room.  Their arrival brought about what I think of as a golden age of church going for me.  We now had a large youth group and  a young family willing to take us places.  Heck, they were willing to put up with us both in their home and at events (Halloween parties, lock ins, etc) which was different from what we were used to: Sunday morning Sunday School, hanging out in the balcony, and going home with my grandmother.  Church is still what I consider time to spend more with my family and friends and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.  I am off track…sorry….  I truly loved church during the time of the Duncan’s and the memories I have of that time.  Sometimes those memories sneak up on me, but they always bring a smile.  A hand held tightly, a group sitting listening to records, painting on the classroom walls – and so many more great memories.

Back to field trips.  When I remember my past field trips, especially while watching the children I am responsible for, I wonder if they see these excursions as I did.  I wonder if the bigger world in which they now live has taken away the excitement of an adventure away from home to a place you don’t know much about.  For how many of them, will this trip be the one where they get to sit near their crush?  Hold their hand?  Share an adventure with their friends?  Do they even think like that?  I worry that in a world in which they grow up so fast – and trust me, for more than I’d like, they are growing up so very, very fast – that they don’t even see those small joys.

So, on this bus, watching students who have spent a day in Charleston, I am reminded of how great those simple pleasures can be and how fleeting those times are.  I really hope these children can have those moments and enjoy them.

It’s been a while…

Shirt I'm using for new artwork

Well, it’s been quite a while since I’ve sat down to write or do anything beyond go to school, teach, coach, come home, but I’m trying to get back on track.  Hopefully, if I can get my mind to where I want to be my life will get back to where I want it to be (I hope that makes sense to you reader…sometimes I believe I’m making perfect sense when really, I’m not).  But I’m getting off topic….

I really want to work with the idea of using t-shirts as a base for paintings that don’t reflect my family or friends, like most of my art does.  I’m starting off with a Darth Vader shirt with the words “The Empire Wants You” written in red across the front.  My goal is to use gesso to attach the shirt to a piece of plywood (instead of canvas) and then paint a scene around it based on the t-shirt used.  Now, this isn’t a one-off deal – I have many t-shirts that I can use for some pretty neat paintings.  Yes, I have a confession to make: I’m a t-shirt junkie.

I LOVE fun t-shirts.  Comic shirts, Star Wars shirts, Monty Python shirts, University of Kentucky shirts, movie shirts – I LOVE LOVE LOVE them.  I wear them under my “work” shirts (aka: button up).  Being an Art teacher, I get a little leeway.  It also doesn’t hurt that the most awesome principal ever, Mark Leet, is a Star Wars fan and doesn’t think my Boba Fett hoodie is a problem.  ANYWAYS….

I’m using the t-shirts that I know I need to clean out of my closet BUT can’t really give away.  I’m sorry to those of you who wait knowing I’ll eventually clean out my closet – I’M KEEPING THEM ALL!!!! hahahahahahaha!

This is ONE of my shirts

Sorry.  That wasn’t very mature.  I’m just excited about this new project – a new start on something.  Now, despite my depression about things beyond my control, I haven’t been completely out of the loop or trapped in my Dark Hole of Questioning My Future.”  Besides time with family, friends, and good, quality time with Doug, I’ve been coaching a 6th grade boys basketball team AND patiently waiting for The Muppets.

If you are not aware that there is a new Muppet movie out there in the world – THERE IS A NEW MUPPET MOVIEOUT NOW!!!

To be Amy Adams in this film....*sigh*

It is a blast!  Written by Jason Segel (who also stars as Gary) and Nicholas Stoller, the movie is, in brief, about a young Muppet Walter who, with his brother Gary and Gary’s girlfriend Mary, go to L.A., discover an evil plot to destroy the Muppet studios, and help round-up the original Muppet lineup to do a telethon to save the studios.  There are many cameos (Jack Black’s is awesome but Dave Grohl’s is my favorite) and the story is very self-aware.  I love the fact that while the film acknowledges that the Muppets are popular with an older generation (the now 30 year olds of while I’m included) and that television is not as wholesome as it once was, it shows that funny is funny.  The Muppets are FUNNY and this movie is well worth the watch for ANY generation.  It would probably be great for as many younger children to watch it as well.  Still, that’s only my opinion and while I’m not an expert….it’s the Muppets! (PS: Chris Cooper is AWESOME as the villain)

Thank you all for your patience and understanding with the lack of posting on my part.  I’m trying to swim out of my pool of self-pity and doing some art for myself and not for teaching or the hallways (Christmas decorations for the main hallway is KILLING ME!) is my life saver.  Still, I appreciate the support of my family, friends, and Doug.  No matter what, I know I’m loved and at the end of the day, that’s good enough for me – and more than I ever expect.

Now, GO WATCH THE MUPPETS and if you see Jason Segel out there somewhere in the world please tell him Staci Gilliam said “hi.”