Reflection on Shame, Social Media, and RESA

It’s an open secret that when we post online to social media, we often do so to show our lives through a rose-colored lens. Look how solid my relationship is. Have I told you how good I am at my job? Look at me, I’ve reached another milestone in the game of Life. We carefully curate our self-presentation to put our best face forward online. We want the ‘likes,’ so we post things people can feel good about liking. We’re seeking out dopamine and oxytocin. And you know what? I’m okay with that.
 
Even when we share the bad, it’s the kind of bad that happens to us, not the kind of bad we bring on ourselves. Our illnesses, our grief – we’re calling out for support, and we often receive it on this platform. I’m sorry for your loss. You’re in my thoughts and my prayers. This is also very okay.
 
One thing that we don’t post about as much are the things that make us feel ashamed. The dissolution of relationships. A venture failing. Our insecurities. We want to put our best face forward, and a head hung in shame does not make a good impression. But sometimes it’s important to share, because we all, at some time or another, feel ashamed.
 
So I’m sharing something, not because I’m seeking sympathy or support, but because I want my friends to know I struggle, and that struggle is normal. Right now I’m struggling in my career, something that I consider very much a part of my personal identity. I feel shame about it. And, frankly, it sucks.
 
I have to do a five-part summative assessment in order to transition to a more permanent teaching license in the state of Ohio. I started doing this assessment in 2015, and have since passed four out of five of the parts. I should find out today if I have passed the last part, on my third and final try. If I pass, I can apply for a new teaching license. If I fail, then I can neither renew or advance my current license. I will also not be eligible for a one-year interim license. I would perhaps be able to be a long-term sub for my own job in my district while I did remedial coursework and experience, which would be a blow financially and also to my self-esteem. I’ve spent many hours reflecting on my teaching this year; while I believe I am a good-enough teacher, I am not sure I want to be in a classroom if the state of Ohio does not believe I am a good-enough teacher.
 
Failure was not a familiar feeling to me when I was a student. It took years for me to be okay with it, for myself, as a teacher. It still doesn’t feel good. But it is more instructive for me to confront and overcome obstacles than it is to never face obstacles at all. It allows me to relate better to, and be a good role model for, my students. It challenges my subconscious beliefs on the nature of learning and cognitive processes. It forces me to acknowledge what I truly value in learning experiences. It causes me to increase, or better manage, my effort.
 
I just wish the stakes, in this case, were not so high. Failure can be a constructive and even essential aspect of learning. Dead-end failure that results in loss of opportunity, stagnation, or regression? Not so much.

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Three

This week has been much better than the previous two, I think.

Lessons: This week I decided to give students an assignment that requires them to take snapshots to insert in their Google Slides. They already know how to Google search for images, and how to manipulate images, so I thought snapshots might be useful to them in the future.

I used another Christine Pinto template/lesson as the starting off point, but I didn’t follow her idea exactly. For example, I didn’t make the slides collaborative; I have done that before and it becomes hard to manage for certain amounts of students. (I would absolutely do it for students working in small groups.) I also upped my expectations of students since mine are older than hers.

Interestingly, students also challenged themselves. It was really obvious to me how different classes have different personalities. One class wanted to share their slideshows with their friends; no other class asked about that. Some students asked if they could use some of the items I have in the lab as props. One student asked if he could take a snapshot with his entire class in it. I said he had my permission, but I wasn’t going to arrange it for him. So towards the end of class, he had to wrangle and direct his own classmates (almost all of whom were willing to participate) in order to take the snapshot he wanted.

Some students asked things like, “Can I draw on the snapshot after I take it?”

I responded with, “Are you asking for my permission, or my instruction?”

The student would say, “Am I allowed?”

I would say, “Yes.”

Then the student would ask, “Can you show me how?”

And I would say, “I don’t know how.”

There are a lot of things you can do with GSuite apps where I’m pretty sure they’re possible, I just don’t know how to do it off the top of their head. And I don’t mind if students explore in a safe setting in order to answer their own questions.

Support: The person who needed the most tech support this week happened to be myself. Snapshots didn’t work in Google Chrome until we changed some of the pop-up and Adobe Flash settings in the browser. Luckily, once I figured it out, it was a pretty quick (if repetitive) fix. When the activity wouldn’t work in Chrome at all, I had the student reopen it in Safari and it always worked just fine there, too.

Things I Did Well: I liked how I handled classroom management this week. But, students were out of seat taking creative snapshots, or taking snapshots with friends, or asking classmates for help because I was already helping someone else. At one point the principal looked in the open door and scolded a particular child for being out of his seat, because from the outside looking in I guess it might have appeared that he was off-task. (Also he has had some issues being on-task in my class in the past, it just wasn’t this particular week.) So I just shut the door for the future.

Things I Will Do Better: I think I am having some weird time management issues. Some of it is outside my control, but some of it is within my control. Especially since we only have like twenty days of school left; I think it’s really important to maintain order as we go into the summer. And that has to start with self-discipline.

Cold Prickly: Because of commitments outside the school day, I did not walk to school as much as I usually do. I drove so I could make it to after school meetings in different locations. Having my car at work led me to, er, have fast food for lunch way way way more often than is typical for me. Man, I am not impressed with my willpower (or lack thereof).

But at least now I have a Yoshi toy from McDonald’s.

Warm Fuzzy: My spouse’s semester is wrapping up (he is a college professor) so his schedule is different, with a lot more grading. But he has used some of his flexibility this week to make some things much, much easier for me. And I am very grateful to him for that.

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Two

Yikes. This was not a banner week to be me.

Lessons: I had to print interims this week, which in the past has been something a little more time-consuming and stressful than it has any business being. Plus, someone gave me a huge box of dot matrix printing paper. So, I linked students to Art Hub for Kids and let them choose what they wanted to draw and color. I swear, the computer lab has never been quieter. The kids grab paper and pencils, pop on their headphones, and follow along to whatever they want to draw. I also provided crayons so that students could color their drawings if they wanted to. I like the site because it has a lot of tutorial subjects that they probably don’t cover in art class, like Pokémon and Shopkins. They can’t simply trace from a desktop, either (which is how I created Lion King artwork I was so proud of when I was their age). They can pause and rewatch videos. Some students used the search engine to find what they wanted; others browsed the site until something caught their eye. Quite a few first graders clicked on ads, especially one that declared they could play Minecraft for free. Better they learn now, in a safe environment, that such claims can’t be trusted!

So yeah, it was a very self-directed week in the lab. So… of course my principal dropped in for an unannounced observation. Yikes. I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it yet.

Support: I spilled coffee on my own work laptop on Friday, despite being the person who should probably know better. Coffee also got on the interims I had already printed, a stack of pictures students had drawn during class, and my pants and chair. I guess it was good I was wearing black pants.

I was putting the lid on my coffee cup at the time.

Things I Did Well: I started doing the after-school program this quarter, and I think the classroom management from the school year up til now is really helping the “homework” portion of the program run more smoothly than before. (Plus, not going to lie, I’m relieved that we no longer assign math homework apart from simple facts practice. I had to use Khan Academy to refresh myself before subbing for a math lesson about fractions on a timeline.)

Things I Will Do Better: Spilling my coffee wasn’t my only bad moment this week. I’ve also spent the entire week with a nasty sunburn. I spent most of Saturday outside on a sunny day; I had purchased sunscreen specifically but left it behind when I actually went out. I got it on my face, neck, and chest (when I realized I had forgotten my sunscreen I made a point of keeping my jacket on, despite becoming very warm). My forehead and nose were particularly bad, especially in contrast to my eyes which had been covered with sunglasses. I call the look “reverse racoon.” Anyway, I couldn’t do much for my nose (especially when it started peeling – makeup would have made it look worse, not better), but I wore hats and headbands creatively this week to cover my forehead. It was a good plan, especially when I lifted my school logo ball cap on Tuesday to scratch my head, and a second grader cried out, “WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR FACE?!”

I also forgot my purse at a restaurant for almost 24 hours. Again, not a banner week for me.

Cold Prickly: So I had a weird week emotionally, I think, and it was affecting my performance in the classroom. Particularly, there were a few times when students’ behavior would have merited a stronger response from me. Instead of handling the issues myself, I got in touch with my principal or other teachers and sort of passed on the problems. It was like, I couldn’t escalate my own emotions, particularly anger, even when it was an appropriate response to a given situation. In fact, I felt like I couldn’t intensity of multiple emotions at work this week, even positive ones.

Then on Thursday I realized I had left my purse at a restaurant after spending significant time searching for it at both work and home. And I was so angry with myself. So angry. I berated myself in the car, and I came home and just laid in bed for thirty minutes, clenching my teeth, near tears. All the mistakes I was making were affecting me harshly, and they were no one’s fault but my own. So I think I was having a hard time being angry with other people because I was spending to much emotional energy being angry at myself.

And then on Friday I spilled coffee on my laptop.

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YOU HAVE BETRAYED ME, BITTER WAKEY DRINK

I really needed a weekend by that point.

Warm Fuzzy: I am looking forward to the March for Science this weekend. I see it as less of a political protest, more of a show of support for a spectrum of scientific issues. As an educator, I feel like it’s important to support scientific inquiry early in life; therefore it’s logical to support science across the board. Otherwise, what is the point? Understanding the scientific method can help us think critically about many things. Some people might believe it needs to remain politically neutral, and in a perfect world, it probably could. But we don’t live in a perfect world; we live in a world where scientific research needs funding, and policies that ignore its findings could have repercussions that affect our planet in ways we can’t even fully comprehend until we’re facing them.

So while I’m not super pleased that people felt strongly enough about this that a march had to happen, I’m happy it is, because I think it will feel nice to be around like-minded individuals en masse. My prediction, too, is that signs of cheesy STEM jokes will outnumber signs of politically vehement slogans, so yay.

And then on Sunday I have no plans whatsoever, and I intend to keep it that way.

Why Elementary Teachers Need to Be Intersectional Feminists

I am not the best at this kind of thing, that I will state off the bat. I am trying to be better. Please do not be afraid to confront me.

Feminism is simply the idea that people of different sexes are equal. Intersectionality is an overlapping, or intersecting, of social identities, creating a whole person (or community) different from its components. Someone’s experience is shaped by many things, such as:

  • race
  • gender
  • social class
  • nationality
  • sexual orientation
  • religion
  • age
  • mental disability
  • physical disability
  • mental illness
  • physical illness
  • incarceration
  • immigrant status

And probably more that I am not aware of yet.

So, my experience as a white woman has definitely shaped me. There have been times in my life where my gender has made me feel like a target, where I felt vulnerable or even scared. But, there have been other times when I have consciously used my white femininity as a shield in ways that I don’t think a black, Latina, or Asian female could have. So on one hand, I am part of a historically oppressed group, but on the other, I am also a member of a historically privileged group. This is completely by accident of birth, and not something I can change about myself; the least I can do is acknowledge it.


Having privilege has allowed me to “not see” some of the things that other people go through. It’s not that I’m completely blind, it’s just that I take for granted how different others experiences are. For example, I am a white person who was raised in a large Christian family. People demonstrated curiosity or confusion towards us sometimes, but I wouldn’t characterize that as negative. It didn’t occur to me until high school or college that my family would probably be perceived and treated very differently if you changed just one variable about us. What if we’d been a large black family? Or a large Muslim family? I can only imagine some of the things people might say, only because I have heard some of the things people say about black people and Muslims. What I can’t imagine is how it must feel to live through that every single day of my life.

My career — specifically, where I work now — has challenged me to be more observant of others’ lived experiences, especially in regards to children.

Children occupy a strange place in our society and culture. They are disenfranchised: they have no right to vote, and minimal other rights compared to adults. They are often ignored, forgotten, even dehumanized by many of the moving parts in our various systems. When they come up in discussions, we always want to do what’s best for them, but seldom consult them ourselves. There are reasons for that, sure, but I think it’s wrong for us to talk about them and over them with little talking with them (with genuine, actual listening).

My students are living a different experience than I am, day in and day out. Part of that is generational context; just thinking about the differences in technology makes my head spin. But it comes from other areas, as well. I have students who speak a different language at home than they do at school. I have students who live with a disability, or have family members with disabilities. I have students who are different races and nationalities. The teachers in my district used to be among some of the lowest paid teachers in the county, and yet our salaries as teachers were above the median income for families in our city. I have students who are affected by the incarceration of a parent, which is sometimes an extended or repeated experience. Some of my students challenge ideas about gender. I have had former students come out outside of the classroom, identifying as LGBTQ.

I am no good to my students if I cannot see past myself and empathize with their lives, however different from mine they might be. Children do not choose the circumstances of their birth, the color of their skin, the language they first learn, how much money their parents make, and on and on and on. There is so much out of their control. It is unfair for me to force them to pivot to me. And I have to accept that, while I am an authority in the context of my classroom, I am not the authority. There are things I do not know and will get wrong, and it is my responsibility to educate myself and do better. I have the maturity and the experience and the duty and obligation to pivot myself to students.

In the bridge of the song “Cold War,” Janelle Monáe sings, “Bring wings to the weak and bring grace to the strong.” As a teacher, I am a strong person in the educational setting; I have authority, and I have responsibility. I need the grace to supporrt my students through their challenges, wherever those challenges come from. I also need grace to accept and act on the criticism I need to be a better person. More importantly, I need to bring wings to my students, children. I need to empower them by sharing knowledge, developing their skills, and building them up. Once they have their wings, they will be able to fly on their own.

People Are Allowed to Talk About It, Yell About It

In fact, I hope they do. I’m glad many are doing so.

I have seen this attitude on social media, and I have overheard conversations in real life to this effect: the election is over, the people have spoken, end of story. Another key phrase includes, “What’s the point of protesting anyway?” It’s almost like folks are conflating activism with acting out.

So, I am not someone who has been to many protests or rallies. When I had the time I didn’t have the interest, and now that I have interest I also have a full-time job. I also try not to discuss the traditionally controversial topics of religion and politics in public online, though I am very comfortable discussing those topics with close friends.

But. My feelings started changing with this election.

I mentioned before that I did not get my wanted-for outcome, but I was feeling this way regardless.

I have a big concern with the ideas of civic duty and obligation. It takes a huge effort to get people to go to vote, so for many of us, that feels like the extent of it. Really, voting to make your opinion be heard? It’s not enough.

It’s like we vote, and then we expect our elected officials to know exactly how we would like them to govern by… reading our minds? Or keeping up with our individual vague, passive aggressive social media posts? Do we really think the conversation ends at the ballot box?

I had resolved, long before the outcome was known, that I wanted to stay engaged. I live a life shaped by politics and policy, so I may as well feel listened to about it. How do I make my voice heard?

I figure out where I stand on issues, through research and reflection, not all of it easy, not all of it comfortable.
I figure out what matters most to me.
I call and write my congresspeople and senators.
I take part in demonstrations, and communicate to others why.
I can volunteer and donate to causes I believe in.
I can support members of my community more directly affected by policy shifts.
I remain receptive to other ideas.

I think it’s worth noting that many of the protests I see reported are at high schools; perhaps that’s what I see because I spend so much time on the education side of Twitter. But, anyway, many high school students are not yet old enough to vote, yet many will be directly affected by changes in policy that originate in this election. They couldn’t use their vote as their voice, so they’re using their feet as they march.

And I really, really want to quash that pernicious “the people have spoken story over” narrative, especially when I hear it said in front of children by adults with authority. It’s true that not everything is up for debate. One candidate lost the election, and the other one. But there are bigger issues at stake. We need to hold our representatives accountable for their decisions, and large-scale demonstrations help them know that, while we elected them once, we may not do it again: they are beholden to us. We do what we can to keep them accountable.

I will be the check, and I will find my balance. And I hope that others will join me.

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Reflecting on Our School Mock Election Results

This past Tuesday, our school took part in a mock election run by Studies Weekly. We threw it together a little last minute, so instead of shoehorning it into classrooms where other instruction was already planned, we turned the computer lab into a polling place for students to vote after breakfast, during lunch, and during recess. I had classes vote while they were in the room for other reasons, like class (since it took only a minute or so, if I had computers at the ready). And, there were times when I visited classrooms juggling a couple Chromebooks and pulled kids to poll in pairs. (Alliteration proves it was fun.)

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On the enthusiasm gap

I’ve been paying enough attention to this election to have heard about the enthusiasm gap. According to this September article from The Hill:

People who intend to vote for [Trump] are more enthusiastic about doing so than those planning to back Clinton, according to three major recent polls…

…a CNN/ORC poll indicated that more than 1 in 5 five would-be Clinton voters were “not at all enthusiastic” about backing her, almost twice as many as said the same about Trump. The poll found 58 percent of Trump supporters saying they felt either “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic about their choice, and only 46 percent in the Clinton camp feeling the same.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 46 percent of Trump backers were “very enthusiastic,” compared with only 33 percent of Clinton supporters. And a New York Times/CBS News poll saw Trump outperforming Clinton by the same metric, 45 percent to 36 percent.

I bring up the enthusiasm gap because, anecdotally, it seems to have reached the elementary set. At one point mid-day, I turned to Mr. Bob and said, “My prediction is that Trump will win.” I was not checking the mock election progress throughout the day (although I could have been). I was trying not to watch students as they cast their votes (except when they actually needed help). My prediction was made based on how many students proudly declared before, during, or after voting that they had chosen Donald Trump. However, more students actually voted for Hillary Clinton. Clinton won 48% of the vote; Trump got 34%. So, while students supporting Trump were perhaps more vocal about it, that did not mean there were more of them.

On look-alikes

I did have several students tell me that they had voted for “the girl,” but since Jill Stein was also offered as a choice, I wasn’t sure which “girl” they meant. In fact, I was concerned that some of them may have voted for the wrong “girl” – for Stein when they meant to vote for Clinton, or for Clinton when they meant to vote for Stein. Then I realized, if they didn’t know what the male candidates looked like, then they might have confused Johnson and Trump too. (The vote included photographs and names of candidates and their running mates, but a struggling reader may still have made a mistake.) The last time two times schools held mock presidential elections, it was probably much easier for students to tell the difference between the major party candidates, so long as photos were provided! I reflected back on voting in mock presidential elections as a student in the nineties. It doesn’t matter what year I refer to: our choices were always white men. I wonder whether any of my classmates at the time had trouble telling them apart.

On abstaining

One student abstained because: “My mom says no matter who you vote for, they’re gonna mess us up.”

Another hesitated to vote because he didn’t feel well-informed enough. “I wish I could listen to their speeches,” he told me. We did look up all the candidates on vote411.org and read through their statements and platforms together. Still, he did not feel like he could cast a vote, so I told him he didn’t have to.

Our other abstention came from a student who was upset that Obama couldn’t run for a third term. He was genuinely distraught. And then I realized — the oldest of my students were born in late 2007. Most of them are even younger. Obama has been president for their entire memory, if not their entire lives. Whoa.

On civility

I have not heard many students discuss political candidates at school directly. Part of this is because I am a specials teacher. Were I with the same kids all day, every day, I’m sure I would hear it more. I didn’t hear nothing, I just didn’t hear a lot.

Until Tuesday.

And even then, I probably wouldn’t have heard it, except another teacher invited the students specifically to share their insights. And by “insights,” I mean they parroted things they saw in political ads played on TV. The same student told me that Trump says mean things about women, and Hillary wants to take away everyone’s guns. No wonder over fifty students voted for third party candidates.

I did have to speak to some students about school-appropriate language. But very few.

The results

If you would like to see the results of the nationwide mock election, those results are here.  As I mentioned before, our school turned blue for Clinton, but our state turned red for Trump. Still, Clinton won the mock election over all.

What does it mean?

I don’t know. I imagine that, to some extent, the votes of children reflect the votes their parents plan to cast. I do remember bugging my parents about who they planned to vote for when I was a kid, especially when they were around other adults, that was totally my favorite. I think that was a huge factor in who I chose to vote for in mock elections. But, as this USA Today article on the Scholastic mock election states, students may misidentify their parents’ political leanings. Based on anecdotal evidence, too, I think many students have parents who are split themselves: one parent may support the Republican nominee, the other the Democratic candidate.

Other big influences on children include the media (TV and Internet, primarily) and, well, each other.

Overall, in the mock election we participated in, Ohio the bellwether state votes for the candidate who loses. Perhaps that’s something we can expect next Tuesday? I hesitate to make a solid prediction, having already been wrong about this! (Also, if you look at the Scholastic results linked above, Ohio turned blue for them.)

Ultimately

On November 9th, we will all still be Americans, diverse and divided we may be. And whoever gets elected president will have to lead us, diverse and divided, starting in January. It will be a tough job, harder than herding cats. But I hope it’s a job done well, regardless of who’s in that position.

My Thoughts on Bathrooms (That Nobody Asked For)

When I feel fear about using a public restroom, it’s fear that the last person didn’t flush. Or fear that others may hear embarrassing sounds come out of my stall. Fear that the line is longer than I can deal with. Fear that there’s germs everywhere. The only time I have ever been afraid in a public restroom, and that fear was of other people, it was because it was crowded and it occurred to me how easily someone could snag my purse if I wasn’t careful.

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That’s largely because I’m privileged. I’m a cis woman who looks like a woman, so nobody blinks an eye when I go into the women’s restroom. (A “cis” or “cisgender” person is someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned with at birth.) It’s interesting to me that this privilege is afforded to me based on how I look and not how I behave, act, or otherwise exist in the world, but that’s a thought I’ll expound on another time.

Anyway. I don’t know how it feels to be truly afraid of others in the bathroom — afraid of being harassed, afraid of being assaulted. I can only imagine how that feels. And I imagine that it is quite scary.

Here’s the thing, though: I do not believe I have anything to fear from transgender people in the restroom with me. I know this because I have shared restrooms with transgender people, knowingly and probably unknowingly too. We were all just in there to do our business. So I have a hard time understanding why anyone might be afraid of a using the same restroom as a transgender person (unless you’re afraid of people in the restroom in general). I think someone who is transgender — or appears to be transgender — probably has more to fear from others in the restroom than the other way around.

As an elementary school teacher, I have had to deal with bathroom issues before. Sometimes you have kids who, it turns out, skip the part where you’re supposed to wash your hands. Sometimes you get huge puddles or piles of paper towels. One time I saw a sink become separated from the wall. I won’t get into “Tales of the Mad Pooper,” but the epithet “Mad Pooper” has been used in my school career over multiple years and in multiple buildings.

Sharing restrooms is not the biggest bathroom issue facing the grade levels I teach. Everyone at this age is learning about respecting privacy, and establishing and enforcing personal boundaries. The biggest difference between elementary school restrooms is the urinals, which I don’t think are necessary. (They also attract other issues, like Mad Poopers.) (Then again, as a woman, I might not be aware of the full pros/cons of urinals.) I think we could probably switch to unisex restrooms for the most part — maintain some that are for one user at a time, for people who require more privacy.

I can understand why people might need to revisit their guidelines for older students, especially once adolescence becomes a bigger part of school life, and if students change in a locker room on school premises. But I think people are forgetting what bathrooms are actually for. They’re places for us to poop and pee and change out used menstrual products. We can wash our hands in there! Mirrors are a bonus if we want to check something about our appearances. Why can’t we just let people peacefully use the bathroom they are comfortable using? There’s always a chance that someone could take advantage of restrooms, sure, but being transgender does not make a person more likely to be an attacker. Harassment and assault are already illegal anyway, regardless of where they occur. I suspect we only worry more about bathrooms because we already feel vulnerable in them. If anything, bathroom bills seem to seek to protect members of the majority from experiencing discomfort rather than experiencing harassment or assault. And they do so at the expense of people who do not appear to be clearly one gender or another (some transgender people “pass,” and some cis or androgynous people may not). Ultimately, I do not believe my comfort is above anyone else’s safety and dignity.

Additionally, I do not understand how a bathroom bill can be consistently enforced. We never even caught the Mad Pooper, after all.