Retirment Postponed

A few months ago I was absolutely giddy about the prospects of retirement.  And now, retirement is about the farthest thing from my mind.  What gives?

First of all, I’m not unhappy about my job.  It has, after 25 years finally turned into a daily adventure, where many of the kids just make my day, with their smiles, handshakes and sikes.  Others amaze me.  Some struggle so much, others are so gifted, and others are so sweet. There are some, but not many, who are hard to manage, are negative and give up easy in the face of challenges but it is my job to do my best to turn that around.  So why stay?

Due to my impusive nature and lack of information back in 1987, I withdrew the first six years of my retirement, convinced I would never teach again.  I was so miserable those years.  I blamed it on teaching.  In reality, I was unhappy with my life, my marriage, my lot in life, myself and I had no one else to blame, certainly not myself.  The only logical conclusion was teaching was the pits. That was something I could change.  I quit.

Eight years of working real jobs, e.g., construction, car sales, insurance sales, satelite dish sales, handyman work, and I was ready for a change.  An interest inventory and other surveys indicated the career that allowed me to share my interests and satisfy my values was…get ready…teaching industrial arts.  By the time I decided to go back into teaching, I picked up a couple of computer type classes at the local university, which proved invaluable.

But I digress.  As a result of withdrawing 6 years worth of retirement funds, I started over in the system in 1997, and with a year of sick leave thrown in, I will have 20 years in by the end of this year.  When you look at the numbers, the monthly pension at 20 years is a serious blow to the solar plexus and the wallet.  Social Security is severly reduced as well at age 62.

The end result is this.  I’d be taking about a $1500-2000 per month cut in my monthly income.  I’m not in the position to do without that income at the moment.  I’m afraid I’d have to make that up working anyway.  So why go look for a job making less money (by the hour) doing something I’m not that excited about, when I can do most of what I want right now and get paid reasonable wages and benefits.  I ask you, where else, can I teach kids the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in the last 61 years about life, technology and careers, and get paid to do it, and have my summer off, two weeks at christmas, and benefits as well?

One of the reasons I was excited about retirement was having more time to explore interests.  I finally came to the deduction that one never has enough time to learn all they want to learn, and it is a valuable life lesson to learn to prioritize.

As it turns out, I do have a lot of time on my hands to explore.  I enjoy gardening and learning more about it.  I hope to get a couple of pigs soon, and a bee hive or two.  And I learn a lot at school too.  The kids teach me things, the janitors teach me things, everyone has something to share, some insight, some technology, some wisdom. I learn something every day.

Sharing tidbits of wisdom with any that will listen is one of my favorite things to do with kids and the staff.  Here is an example of a “lesson” I taught with some 7th graders one day.  Based on a book I read called “Nonviolent Communication” I was explaing to the kids how to give a compliment.  It is a four step process. The formula for giving compliments as well as resolving conflict or sticky situation is only sharing four things.

  1. My observation
  2. My feeling
  3. My needs and wants as they relate to this observation
  4. Requests

Just then a fellow teacher name Steven walks in.  We often walk into each others rooms to share a word of encouragement or lighten up the atmosphere.  I asked him, “Steven, can I use you for an example?” He agreed.

I said “Steven, my observation is this.  I come into this school, and I’m only here part time and you always greet me with a big smile.  You genuinely seem happy to see me.  There are times when I walk into your room and you include me in the lesson.  The way that makes me feel is great.  You make me feel welcome, like I belong.  You often affirm for me that I’m doing s things with the kids that really matter.  You are like a cheer leader to me.  Thirdly, the reason this is important is that I travel to three different schools, two a day.  As a result, I don’t bond with the schools nor do I bond with very many teachers.  I’m in and out and on my way.  But you make me feel like I belong, which is a pretty big deal.  You make me feel like I’m doing a good job, which I don’t get very often. Finally, all I ask is that you continue to support me in my efforts.”

By the end, he had tears in his eyes, and I did too.  He came over to me, and gave me a hug.  He then explained to the kids, he had no idea that he was having that kind of affect on me.  He didn’t know it meant anything.  He was just being himself.  It was quite a moment for both of us, and one for the kids too.

I’m supposed to teach about careers and technology.  In reality, I see my purpose much bigger and broader.  My goal is to teach kids about life; how to be happy; how to be successful; the career stuff and technology are just the tools through which I try to explain the life lessons.

On this December 23rd, 2015, I wish everyone that reads this a joyful holiday, and a year that brings insight and gratitude for the challenges and opportunities that life has offered them.

 

 

 

Keeping sane in the early years of teaching.

“Ok, I just graded 11 presentations out of 20 that were due Wednesday. Yeah, 9 kids haven’t even turned theirs in yet. This is the same class that was horsing around DURING A TEST. I am ready to give up. Is it any wonder I am having flash migraines that cause me to nearly pass out and vomit in class? Any wonder at all???”

This is written by a friend, in her first year of teaching, limited by the rule, both spoken and unspoken, to not flunk students, even if they don’t try.   Nonsense I say.  But I can’t change her system.

The hardest thing for me in the early years of teaching was to honor my effort, accept the things that were not perfect, in fact, lousy, and crowd management.

The first few years will definitely challenge one’s faith in self, human nature, the school system and the world.  I had to tell myself regularly, that despite appearances, everything is exactly as it should be.  I borrowed this from Cognitive Behavior Therapy or some such thing.  Also, I can’t fix it all, and what I can fix, I can’t fix overnight.

The only thing I could fix was my attitude.  I told myself, despite my imperfections, I was the best person for the job.  I mentioned that in a previous post, and won’t belabor the issue.

It took me a long time, to worry less about content and care more about kids.  Initially they scared the bejezus out of me.  They were also clear proof to anyone looking in that I was totally incompetent, especially when it came to classroom management.  I was barely holding on.  I threatened.  Insulted. Yelled.  I humiliated them.  I’ve had to apologize to many a kids later on when I bumped into them for the way I treated them.

Until I came up with really clear expectations about their work, and how it was to be graded, I gave easy A’s.  Teaching 200 kids per year, I still do.  For really important stuff, I make it super clear and give the grades earned.  Kids need to learn there are consequences for their not following through. As my mother would say, that’s a tough (or sometimes expensive) way to learn a lesson.

But there are times when the assignment is very clear, in other words, CYA, and I let the kids earn the grade they deserve.  I have a poster on my classroom wall at one school that says “Don’t be upset by the results you didn’t get for the work you didn’t do”.

One of my earliest parent meetings was over the C grade their precious daughter earned in my class but a straight A student in all others.  The mom was loaded for bear.  The dad, a local attorney, was a little more rational.  I explained the best I could what the daughter had not done, and the mother pointed out my teaching and communication wasn’t perfect, and in the end I said. “Look at all these grades.  Can you explain to me why 95% of my students are doing the work, and yours isn’t, with the very same instruction and communication?”  The mom wanted to continue to argue, but the dad said “I now understand where the problem is.  Thank you Mr. Tidyman.” and he pulled his wife out of the room.

My teaching isn’t perfect.  My expectations may not always be clear so I cut them quite a bit of slack, but when most are getting it, and the few that aren’t clearly are not being responsible, and I can prove it, and parents are complaining, generally, do what my brother used to say; “Kill’em with kindness”.

When I started really caring for the kids, everything changed.  Oh sure, there were some behaviors I had to change but to the degree that I communication overtly or subtly that I cared about them, things got better.  In fact the kids would really overlook my frailties because they started to care and accept me as a flawed human being as well.

Back in the late ’90s, I hung a poster on the back of the wall in the classroom for ME to see that read “Kids don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care” which is similar to “Kids won’t remember what they said but they will remember how you made them feel.”

So now, even when I have to stop behaviors in my classroom, I try to remember to do it kindly, without my previous method of threats, shame and humiliation.  That’s not to say that sometimes I don’t really get upset but most of the time, I’m trying to say something like “Kate, we’ve got work to do and I’ve asked you to stop a few times already.  I think the world of you but you just earned yourself a demerit and a trip to the principal’s office. Let’s do better tomorrow.”

Finally, get involved with other teachers teaching the same thing.  Join the professional organization for your area.  Go to their conference.  The first time I went, I was ready to quit teaching.  I looked around at 40+ teachers, ranging from bumps on a log to three piece suites and it dawned on me, these guys were just like me one day, and if they figured it out, I can figure it out.  And with their help and encouragement, I can figure it out a lot faster.

How to survive the early years?

  1. Practice self-worth and self-appreciation and cut yourself some slack.
  2. Accept your imperfections and do the best you can without detriment to yourself.
  3. Make friends with others in the same profession and get support; logistical, practical, emotional, etc.
  4. Care about the kids more than test scores. When they know you care, they will care.  If they think you don’t care, they not only won’t care but will find ways to make your life in the classroom miserable.
  5. Have a life outside of teaching. Make new friends.  Join a club.  Get involved outside of school. Go to church.  Join a gym.  Because if the teacher ain’t happy, ain’t nobody gonna be happy.tidymanwinner

From a conference in the late 90’s or early 2000s.

 

First years of teaching

A friend of mine, who I’ll refer to as “K” posted on her facebook how she anticipated having her ass handed to her today.  I’m not sure if she means this is an evaluation, or she said or did something that is frowned upon by higher ups or what.  I hope to find out later.  Maybe my reflection on teacher evaluations and how I survived the first few years might encourage her.

I know, let me tell you, I know very well the anticipation, no the FEAR of evaluations.  I was convinced the first several eyars that I was not good enough.  I didn’t know enough.  Didn’t have the skills.  Couldn’t control the classroom.  Was out of my leagure.  Convinced my four year degree was a waste of time and money.

In reality, I didn’t have the skills YET.  I didn’t have control of my classroom YET. I was a pretty lousy teacher.  I lost my temper regularly.  I wanted them to learn stuff.   The truth was though, and I had to remeind myself daily, if not minute by minute that despite my failings and imperfections, my fear, my near panic attacks, I WAS GOOD ENOUGH.  In fact, they hired me.  Despite my incompetence, the available experts considered me the best person for the job. I AM THE BEST PERSON FOR THE JOB. At least until told otherwise.

As for evaluations, or having an administrator hand me my ass on a platter, it has happened.  Oh boy, it has happened.  I’ve learned this though.  In most cases, even though I expencted a reprimand, the admin’s goal was to simply help me be better.  Even when I knowlingly took the risk of violating a minor policy…well, minor to me, and I got busted, it was for my own good.

A good administrator has the goal of making you the best eacher possible.  That comes in the form of correcting us when we go down a path that is hazardous.  As long as I keep that in mind, I can look forward to the prospect of becoming a better teacher with their input.

Are there administrative types and I’ll add mentors that are harsh, unsympathetic, insulting, humiliating, and shaming.  Heck yeah.  And they are in the wrong job.  They have not evolved.  Anyone who thinks they can influence other sto change through shame and humiliation is clueless.  they themselves are probably job scared themselves, or have such a fledgling ego, they need to make others feel inferior through intimidation and verbal beat downs.  Just smile and say thanks for your input.

On the rare occasions when I felt like someone was really riding roughshod over me, in my mind I’m thinking “This is more about them than it is about me.”  “I’m the best person for the job.” “This too shall pass.”  “Thank God there is Karma.” “This person hasn’t been supported they way they should have, or they wouldn’t be acting like this.” Just smile and say thanks for the input.

After 25 years of teaching, I can now say I have absolutely no fear over an administrator walking in unexpectedly or for a planned evaluation.  I tell myself, they are here not to insult me, but to help me, to build me up, to make me a better teacher.  And if they find something not to their liking, I’ll try to improve  if I agree with them, and if it fits into my schedule.  There is only so much time in a day you know.  And there is more to life than one’s career.