Monday, November 18, 2013

Lessons I've Learned in Graduate School and Other Places

Okay, Confession: Rachel and I have been light on the posts this year. We are both feeling a little overwhelmed this year. I say this not as an excuse, but as an explanation and as an introduction for this post.

In addition to our full time teaching jobs (extended day in my case), both Rachel and I teach part time at an online school, are working on a new layout and pacing for said school, are in graduate school, work within our professional communities, and are planning on presenting and/or attending many conferences this year. What can I say? We like to keep busy. 

We knew what we were getting into when we signed up for all of these things, but I am not entirely sure either of us expected to feel so tired all the time. It has led to some serious thought on both of our parts as to what we can take away from this and how it is affecting our lives as teachers. So, I thought, what better way to consider these than with our professional learning network: you! So, below you will find some of the most common things I've thought or people have said to me and my reflections. I think you will find a little bit of personal reflection, professional growth, and political commentary. Happy Monday!
  • Wow you must be superwoman! How do you do it?
    • Large amounts of caffeine. Truth be told, I like to be busy. I like feeling organised and like I am bettering myself and my students. For anyone considering getting a higher degree or going to any conference or making any teaching career choice, I recommend these two questions below. I feel confident in my answers to these for the choices I've made and therefore, no matter how tired I feel, it is worth it. This being said, it is also important to have time for yourself. Both Rachel and I have been working together to ensure that neither of us goes until we crash and burn. We've been pretty good about being honest with each other and saying, "hey... um... you should take a break." No Superwomen here, just honest friends.
      • How will this help better me?
      • How will this help better my students?
  • So, do you want to go teach college or something?
    • No. There are some who want to teach at university, I am not one of those. I enjoy teaching high school and while I certainly would consider teaching at university if the opportunity presented itself, it is not the reason I'm getting a higher degree. I am choosing to do this, mainly, for my own mind. I really want to rebel against the idea that a higher degree is only useful at the university level. I like teaching high school and I feel like I can make more of a difference in a high school setting. Sure, it has its issues, and I know that most of my students will not go on to be Classics majors, but my job isn't to create Classics majors. My job is to teach Latin and having a higher degree helps teach and remind me of so many things! 
      • I am reminded of what it is like to be a student and the struggles that entails like being unsure if a teacher is being vague or if I wasn't listening carefully enough and, therefore, being hesitant to ask for help.
      • I am learning new techniques for teaching in general, but also teaching specific authors. I am going deeper into subjects that I may not have considered before. Even things that I think, "I'll never teach this" are giving me new perspectives. It is enjoyable.
      • I am learning about a new portion of my professional community. I am getting to know the people who will be making waves with me and who will be defending their ideas at the same time as me
      • I am reminded of and learning new techniques for studying and researching. I am being reminded of habits I had when I was in high school and it gives me new ways of reaching my students. 
  • You look exhausted. What's wrong?
    • Something one should never say to a person in grad school. Have a grad student? Know a grad student? Are a grad student? Then you know that we are always tired. We are always working and often, we look exhausted because we are, simple as that. I expect the same is true for our high school students - whether they were up playing games (and let's be honest, if Super Mario Bros came on our phones we'd probably have it and be up playing it all night long) or studying for their next test. Some days it is a blessing to be able to get the next thing on the list done. Others, I feel like I'm am more productive than I've ever been. It is the way it is. 
  • Why even bother with grad school? It isn't like it will affect your paycheck that much and you'll spend the rest of your life paying it off.
    • I've heard this more time than I care to think about. It is probably the one thing on this list guaranteed to fire me up enough to argue the point. The state in which I teach, Georgia, has placed severe limits on teachers who seek higher education. Not only have they lowered the amount of a raise you get for receiving a higher education degree, they have severely limited the types of degrees accepted and from where they accept them. What's the point if we're going to have to validate it time and time again anyways?
    • Furthermore, this is the only way to get a raise right now. I have 4 years teaching experience, but I am making a first year teacher's salary. Instead of keeping teachers from abusing the system, all this has done is turn teacher's against higher education and made them cynical about their own educational futures.Why should we if we can't afford it? 
    • I have looked into just about every grant and scholarship I could get. For Latin teachers, the list is already incredibly small. On top of that, most federal and state grants do not apply to us as we are not considered part of their "Modern language" or "language in need" category. So, that puts us in the category of people who take tens of thousands of dollars out to help support themselves while seeking higher education knowing full well that they will probably not get reimbursed and will be paying this off for quite a while. So... why do it?
The short answer for all of these questions and reflections is this: It makes us better teachers, better students, and better people. Rachel and I both love what we do, despite the massive amount of legislation brought against us. I believe that when a teacher stops being a student, (s)he stops being a good teacher. This is part of the reason why I try to be very active and why I decided to continue my education.

Despite all of the restrictions and difficulties put in my way, financially and legally, it is something I want to do. It is something that I know will help me and my students succeed and go further