Full Circle: Ruminations on Teaching

Many wonder what it would be like to walk in someone else’s shoes; this summer I’ve had the opportunity to walk in the shoes of a teacher.

Group of Multiethnic Hands Holding TeachingI am fortunate enough to have lucked-out on my first real, legitimate job by getting a job at a tutoring center where I instruct debate and English/English Writing. While the job is much different than I’d imagine it would be, it has proved to be a great and valuable experience that has exceeded my expectations but also changed my view on what those expectations were.

Since starting I have had a steep learning curve, specifically in English Writing. Having not known any background about my students I got to learn through reading their work and working with them exactly what it is I really need to be doing as a instructor/tutor, and found myself doing everything between School House Rock and worksheets on appositives and sentence fragments. I’ve understood the struggle of having multiple students all having separate needs and trying to bounce around and make sure everyone is getting help. But most importantly, I have felt what it’s like to teach kids who desperately wish they were doing literally anything else.

The largest struggle, by far, has been keeping students on track- especially with kids who reach for their iPhone, computer, tablet, and yes, once even my computer, every break or free second. While technology can be extremely helpful in classroom environments, as I had one student enjoying an educational spelling game so much they played it through their breaks, I have also seen it’s negative ramifications. I don’t want to bark at students using their technology, but it doesn’t seem to compute to them how annoying it is for them to be scrolling through Instagram or playing a game while I, or especially another student, is trying to speak or give a speech for debate. They say they are listening and explaining why multitasking in this situation doesn’t seem to… computer. There is a wonderful parallelism between how I am here to teach a communication game, debate, but am really learning about how to communicate with others along the way.

I now understand a teacher’s struggle to desperately need students to focus while simultaneously not wanting to come off as abrasive or mean. But, at the same time, I also now understand how great it is to see kids loving learning, getting excited for activities, and and being genuinely appreciative for your work. I always marvel at my teacher’s ability to muster enough patience and wisdom and tolerance to deal with kids when they are at their worst and would more than anything rather be anywhere but that classroom; I can only hope I have seen a glimpse of why teachers say it is all worth it.

I’ll be completely frank in saying that when I interviewed for this job I wasn’t even sure they needed to hire staff, or that they would want to hire a teenager, or that I would get the first job for which I had interviewed. After I’d been confirmed for the job and had a month or so before I’d begin, I was all but certain that there was no conceivable way I would be qualified for the job; I still worry parents will think a teenager is not fit for the job. Yet despite this, I’ve surprised myself with how qualified I have turned out to be for this job. My knowledge in grammar has far exceeded what I expected of myself, and perhaps that is the best sort of result in this experience. I am seeing myself grow as an educator but also get to look back to and at my teachers and reflect on those experiences after having to pry a student away from a computer to focus or try to get a student or try to get a loud class to lower the volume a bit. All I can hope is that from this experience I’ve grown and learned what it’s like to be on the other side of the student-teacher exchange, and perhaps when I go back to school in the fall I’ll be able to see education in a different light when I’ve come full circle and return to the role of student.

 

 

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365 Days, More or Less

I am starting to write this post at 12:05, meaning my 365 days has begun.

Exactly 365 days from 10 am this (yesterday) morning, the class of 2017 in my school, and many schools around the country (or just in EST), will be graduating high school.

Since I exempted many of my exams I have been off school for a couple of days and have started the process of getting rid of the mountain of papers strewn between all my binders and folders. I’m sure I share this sentiment with many other nerds and dorks, but I find it difficult to throw away many of the handouts, tests, and papers from my classes because I cannot begin to fathom the amount of hours it took to produce the amount of paper I am staring at in the pile on my floor- it’s hard to just, completely literally, physically throw away all my hard work. That these pieces of paper caused countless hours of stress, happiness, and plenty of other emotions, is baffling because come the end of the year when the classes are over they become functionally useless. Despite this, I often save some of my work for future reference in hope that someday further along in my studies I will need a refresher on something I had learned before, or in the more likely scenario, I like to just tell this to myself.

Emptying out one’s locker, binders, backpack, and often car, at the end of the school year serves as a reminder that an incredible quantity of stuff happens within one year. A year ago from today a large percentage of the stack of math handouts I have would most likely be complete gibberish, but now I’ve mastered the two binders-full worth of content. Even outside of my education there are pictures and keepsakes from throughout the years that just pile and pile up. Looking back on all of my work this past year just reminds me that while graduation is only 365 days, more or less, away, there is still much to be done- the Class of 2017 has not filled out our first college application, sent it in, received our first rejection or acceptance, had our last first day of school, taken our last final, sat through our last class, just to begin. It’ll be a fast year- if junior year went by quickly, senior year will only be shorter. But those piles of mine will simply continue to grow and, hopefully, the next more-or-less 365 days will be well spent. That those piles will mean more and be harder to part with because they mean I value what I’ve learned is all that I want. Simultaneously, though, I hope that those piles don’t define all I’ve done- the pictures, keepsakes, and more importantly, memories, are what we are all really after. So as I approach my more or less 365 day long existential crisis over who I am and what kind of future I want, I hope I can remind myself that what I do during those 365 days may be more important than thinking about what will happen when the clock is up at the end of those days. And to think, my time has already begun.

Gratified

“I have never taken the high road. But I tell other people to ’cause then there is more room for me on the low road,” says Tom Haverford of the TV show Parks and Recreation. I have always found this quote interesting because, despite Tom being depicted as a somewhat sleazy guy who consciously chooses to take the “low road,” we (the audience) still love him regardless. In reality though, outside of comedy television, I have found it impossible to take the low road, and ultimately, in my situation, difficult to take the high road.

Almost everyone is taught growing up to take the moral “high road,” to be the “bigger person,” advice that I have always found to be a cruel irony considering how short I am. Nevertheless, it is also common knowledge that this is easier said than done- there is nothing more tempting than to respond to criticism with equally low blows. I decided to write this with, as an astute reader may already be able to tell, a specific instance or situation in mind- the least gratifying experience of my high school career.

As I have grown as a person throughout high school I have come into my person, so to say, meaning that like every coming of age novel on the shelf I have realized high school is a time in which we start figuring out who we are and realizing what that means. Sometimes this gets criticized or attacked and that forces us to reflect on why we are the way we are and if we like who that is. I’ve experienced this criticism to what seemed to be taken to a logical extreme and it took me a while to believe, or even simply realize, that this is actually just called bullying. We are warned about bullying throughout grade school, we publicly denounce bullies and talk about how awful they are, but barring physical violence it seems to me that once we are older the notion of a “bully” goes away, and this may be for the worst. No longer are people who smack talk, condescend, and act poorly considered bullies for their actions because now we are at the age in which people will just argue they are right. They are justified in their actions, almost righteously so, and are now capable of defending their actions, which is maybe why we don’t see older kids who exhibit poor, negative, and demeaning behavior to be bullies- because they can explain and justify themselves, and why question if we believe they are right? Aren’t they just pessimists, or rude? Most people when listening to “bullying,” the talking behind other people’s back, the gossip, even if they don’t agree with it, won’t argue with the speaker because wouldn’t that just be awkward? Haven’t we all been in this situation in which we don’t want to argue with someone who believes they are so justified?

Without naming names, but also knowing the few people reading most likely know me well anyway and may be able to guess, I had this happen to me this year- after growing up in a small community in which I never really experienced much hate, it was disconcerting to have many people tell me how a person talks about how they hate me, make fun of my laugh, make rude comments about me, argue why I am bad at something, or put forth a slew of other criticisms. But, instead of doing the same I decided to take the high road because I have always been told that in the end this is what will be the most moral, the most ethical, the most logical- and I’m sad to say I highlight this to be the least gratifying experience of my high school career.

Being polite when having to constantly interact with someone acting in this fashion is difficult, not talking behind their back is near impossible, but in the end it seemed to just be a form of complacency- while a campaign amongst my peers was being waged with negative words about me as a person, taking the high road feels passive. Yet, I am also conscious I have probably failed in this endeavor to “take the high road.” Inevitably I caught myself telling a friend how angry this person made me or how I disapproved of their actions. This ethical dilemma that was posed to me in this situation is one I don’t think I’ll ever really come to terms with, except maybe learning to “rise above it,” a phrase I have come to disdain. All the sudden the people I knew who were friends with my bully seemed to be feigning friendship, classrooms feel hostile when I walk in, yet there seems to be no reason to try to combat any of this. Why? Because bullies don’t exist when we get older- they’re just “jerks,” or on the other hand, you are the jerk now that we are old enough to change perspectives and have more nuanced understandings of our social relations. This has been, in my opinion, the most difficult part of my experience- the paranoia one constantly wades around in, wandering if interactions with old friends are genuine or whether they feel the same way as the bully, who they are friends with? Every interaction becomes suspect, every action a perceived feigned nicety or illusion. You can go down the rabbit hole forever- what do other people truly think about you? And regardless of what the answer to that question is, does it even matter?

There isn’t much more to say on this, but I will leave you with this most likely incorrectly attributed Dr. Seuss quote: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Hurry Up and Wait

As a kid, adults always tell you “time flies,” or, if they are feeling humorous, “time flies like an arrow, and fruit flies like a banana.” As a child (although many would still consider me a child at the age of seventeen) this adage always bothered me- I was, in a gross understatement, a very impatient child. I can recall feeling that school days lasted an eternity and weekends seemed far apart, whereas now weeks rush by, days never have enough hours in them, and I can look at my schedule in November and think about how soon May will be upon us. Part of what makes life seem to be moving much faster, I believe, is simply having more stuff to do. Our lives get cluttered with this stuff, as if tasks, ideas, and plans all manifest themselves as physical objects creating barriers between ourselves and time to do as we please.

Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock has what is referred to as his “mind palace,” in which information is organized by association with physical objects in a hypothetical location in his mind as a strategy for remembering. All the things we “have to do” in our lives, in a way, show themselves to be like our attics and basements filled with boxes and bags we dare not look into because, who knows what has accumulated there over the past decade? In this case, we are all Sherlock Holmes, with our minds full of rooms full of tasks and information, and my math homework is a hideous armchair.

Throughout high school this feeling of being rushed has been present, yet this year I feel as if I, as well as my friends, teachers, peers, and others, have more acutely realized its presence. Whether it is “I haven’t seen you in so long, we never have classes together anymore,” “I have homework to do instead of lunch,” or “I have the SAT this weekend,” we seem to be replacing time with each other with time for our “stuff.” I’m sure these aren’t novel revelations, and it may just be something new to me because I’m young, but it seems worth pointing out from the hideous armchair I am currently sitting in.

As time whisks by it seems we are all trying to grab on to time and moments as they pass by, yet recognize we are failing dramatically at this. Simultaneously, though, I find most people my age are rushing to hurry up and graduate, or move out, or move on, or simply make a move to make their lives not as monotonous or mundane as it seems today. I realize how normal this is- most high schoolers are itching to go to college. It may be just the bit of Bilbo Baggins in me, not quite ready to leave Bag End, or if you fancy yourself plays a bit more, finding myself analogous to George not wanting to leave Grover’s Corners, but I guess I could say I’m not quite ready to leave yet. I watch my peers so ready to leave and get to their destination that we’re missing a lot of the trip on the way. These opportunities manifest themselves in many ways, whether it be trips, hanging out with friends, joining that club, doing that project, and possibly most importantly, the opportunity to have a different mindset. Sometimes when I see my peers holding this mindset of reckless abandon, just wanting to leave everything behind, we fail to realize there’s a lot going for us now, or opportunities we are failing to seize, and maybe if we pivoted just a little bit we could see the world entirely differently and see this time of our lives as an experience and an end in itself, not a mere means to an end- getting into college. While this is difficult, as we center much of our high school careers around trying to get into the best college for us, I don’t think its impossible, nor do I believe it precludes the aforementioned college search.

So, fellow high schoolers, hurry up and wait: for the class of 2017, that’s a year and a half, for the current freshman class, that’s a short eternity, and for the senior class, that’s the blink of an eye. Contrary to popular belief, the high schooler’s experience exists outside of the goal of getting to college with a perfect transcript and resumé, filled with clubs and accolades and projects. So empty out your storage room, and maybe move around some of the furniture cluttering your life (maybe like feng shui), and maybe we can find a way to de-clutter the rooms of our lives to live a little better, because a different lens may force us to go through life in a whole new, better way.

Persistence

Most people can agree starting a task is easy, thinking and planning out doing the task evens simpler, while actually following through is the most difficult part. As I have millions of ideas for blog posts, none seem to come out quite right or up-to-par with what I would like to post online, and sitting around on Netflix most likely will never help. But, today I took a large step in “following through”- I ran this morning. Anybody who knows me knows that there are many forms of exercise I enjoy, but one like myself who has been endowed with legs like a corgi and hate mornings, I abhor running. Between recent rains and the intense hills of my surrounding areas, running is not the most enticing at any time of day, yet I push myself to run. There are many reasons between health, keeping a metabolism, and the sports and activities I enjoy request I be a bit lighter on my feet, but overall it is a triumph over my rolling-out-of-bed-past-noon attitude that comes with the free time summer break has given me. While my days of late sleeping will draw to a close between school events, camps, et cetera, I hope to capitalize on the abundance of free time being handed to me.
With hundreds of pages of summer reading on top of literature to read preparing for debate next year, I find it hard to find the persistence to start these endeavors and avoid the tempting, yet time wasting, measures of planning and thinking about starting tasks. Heading into my junior year, I hope to be more persistent, because they say the first couple days or weeks are the hardest when trying to form habits.

Glossophobia: Worst Fears, Confronted

The Reader’s Digest is one of my favorite magazines- it has short snippets of all sorts of different news, stories, tidbits, and intellectual jokes. In their latest issue there was a spread dedicated to comedian Jerry Seinfeld, a collection or funny, thought provoking, and witty quotes he had said on shows, interviews, in writing, et cetera.
Sidebar- Recently I have been tinkering with what some may call the “elevator pitch,” the one minute explanation of a project, endeavor, thing-to-sell, and the list goes on. My elevator pitch has been about my middle school debate program I am coaching, but also about my school’s debate program in general. One of the ideas I had come across was, of course, public speaking skills and how many people are terrified of public speaking. So, while flipping through Reader’s Digest, I saw this Jerry Seinfeld quote and it caught my eye, reminding me of that elevator pitch:

“I read that the number one fear of the average person is [public] speaking … Number two was death. To me, that means that, to the average person, if you were going to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

I immediately circled this quote in my copy and chuckled, because while I had thought about fears of public speaking before, this quote illustrates well how the general public feels about speaking to the rest of the general public: terrified.
The fear of public speaking is called “glossophobia,” a fear so strong apparently more people would prefer to be in a casket than talking about someone else in a casket. I, being a debater, a speaker, a debate coach, a debate student, and a scholar, obviously am a fan of speech and debate/forensics and am very adamant as to why it is good for students and education. I had one guy, who didn’t know anything about debate, ask me “what’s the point? It [debate] seems pretty useless, especially if you can just do the research and learn it all for yourself.”
While they didn’t care to hear my explanation, I can sleep soundly knowing there are a plethora of reasons as to why that statement was, to be blunt, just poor. Anyhow, I write this post about one main advantage to speech and debate activities: public speaking skills. Debaters, while probably not the most popular kids on the block, do what most people fear more than death for fun. Not everybody who suffers from public speaking anxiety will do debate, or enjoy debate, nor should they all do debate, but it, along with other speech and debate/forensics activities, are avenues by which people who are afraid of public speaking can gain their bearings and understand the art of communication. By practicing speaking, adapting to different judges and audiences, conforming or flexing to different ideas or strategies or settings, students can become better at speaking, which is an invaluable life skill.
So, whether Jerry Seinfeld knows it or not, his satirical take on the public’s attitude toward public speaking shines a light on a problem that is best to be confronted: speaking is an important skill to be developed that sometimes we choose to ignore if, and when, it scares us.

Satire for News

Last Week Tonight, hosted by the fabulous John Oliver, is a show that approaches the news through a (very) satirical lens. Targeted for younger demographics, John Oliver delivers important messages about society, politics, current events, and more, while also delivering jokes. Articles like this Time article commend Oliver for the impact his show is having on culture- making citizens more conscious of what is at play in the world. His show has prompted increases in donations for scholarship programs, an outcry for government transparency, shed light on ridiculous laws like civil forfeiture, and given America a harsh look at our prison system.

The advantages of satire as a mechanism to inform is that, in my general opinion, my peers (teenagers) are more likely to watch a news/informative program if it is funny. A moment in my AP World class brought up the discussion of “why should teenagers care about current global and domestic events?” Many students admitted to feeling that they didn’t care, or know, nearly as much as they should. Being a policy debater, I obviously had opinions about why it is important that even teenagers be engaged in the discussions about news but also aware of the world around them (this rant was then followed by a slow-clap).  So, if comedy is proving to be a way to inform younger audiences about important news, by all means Last Week Tonight has been successful in informing the world.

In addition to reaching younger audiences, satire allows people to critically discuss events, situations, and topics at their barest, most fundamental levels- the underlying assumptions, the realities, and the facts on both sides (hopefully on that last one).

Last Week Tonight is hilarious, informative, and realistic- I was (obviously) extremely excited to see if come back for a second season this past Sunday. It is not only a hilarious show, but also becoming an increasingly more powerful force for global discussion and action.

 

Nail Cutting is An Existential Activity

My dear friend Anya wrote a blog post about cutting her nails about two days ago (it was much more interesting than it sounds: promise). But this post sparked a conversation that made us, as in her, myself, and our friends, re-evaluate the idea that everyone approaches the trivial tasks of every day life differently.
To summarize a long discussion, I can’t really tell how Anya has been cutting her nails for her entire life, but I am fairly certain it is wrong.
You see, nail clippers have a curvature to the “cutty” parts- one that arches the way your nail does. I may be incorrect, (I am considering bringing in nail clippers tomorrow just to see our different nail-cutting methods) but the, what Anya calls “wiggle side,” should be on the bottom- not the top.
Anyhow, it led to the text I sent to the group chat: “Nail clipping is a very existential activity.” While it may sound absurd, we had an interesting conversation around the fact that everyone has their own ways of going about day to day life- and, judging by our normal-looking nails, it’ll work out just fine.
We tie our shoes differently, cut our nails differently, put on our shoes left-then-right or right-then-left (or, if you are particularly odd, one sock, that shoe, then the other sock, and other shoe), but nonetheless finding out about different people’s ways and walks of life can be interesting, which is why diversity and learning about others is something to be promoted and looked into.

Room Challenge

My friend Anya, a part of the Innovation Diploma group at my school, challenged me to complete a writing challenge for her. The prompt is “Pick an object in your room, and give it a story.” As I have mentioned in earlier posts, there’s a lot of random stuff in my room, but it all has a specific purpose or meaning. Around the time when I re-did my room a couple years ago, my grandparents were also redecorating their house, so a lot of the stuff in my room came from their house. I considered the chair I’m sitting in to be the object in this post, a tan recliner that resided in my grandparent’s basement before it replaced a desk in my room. Instead, I will discuss the purpose behind a carved, wooden sign.

Monasterio de San Mario

By the entryway of my room hangs a sign that says “Monasterio de San Mario,” or in English, “The Monastery of Mario,” or “Mario’s Monastery.” (It is worth mentioning, my mother’s family all come from Cuba, which is why the sign is in Spanish.) My mother’s grandpa, or my great grandfather, Mario, whom I never met, was, to say the least, not the most talkative. So when he and my greatgrandmother were at an art festival she had this wooden sign made as a joke, because she would always say their house was as quiet as a monastery. This sign was passed down to my grandparent’s because my grandfather, also named Mario, like my mother’s grandfather, was also rather quiet. This sign hung in the entryway to my grandparent’s house for as long as I could remember, and once my grandfather passed away and my grandmother moved out of the house they lived in most of my childhood, this sign was passed down to me. I am not too quiet, but comparatively I’m much more of a thinker than a chatterbox than my siblings, so my grandmother gave it to me for my room.

 

 

Society Doesn’t Dictate My Worth: But This Sketchy Website Might

A couple months ago by some luck a friend of mine stumbled across a website that would give you a ballpark estimate as to how much your corpse would be worth (pretty dark, but there’s a logic to it). I was disgruntled to discover my corpse was the least profitable out of my friend group of 8 and was determined to find out why my perfectly healthy corpse was inferior to that of my friends’ (who find my recent discovery of the picture later mentioned in this blogpost hysterical).
First, how tall are you? My question to this would be, what is the difference between “short” and “below average height?” I obviously do not fall under the category of “dwarfism,” but I am not nearly “average height,” so I must be one of these two, but I believe they are pretty much the same.
Second, let’s think about the name of this website. “Cadaver for Sale.” If this is not slightly troubling, I don’t know what is considering it will, to a rough estimate, calculate the worth of a dead body. If Criminal Minds taught anybody anything, is that some people have crazy minds that will do just about anything (including whoever writes that show…).
Long story short, my dead body was worth only $4,620. The questions I have for this website would be around, how does one calculate the cost of a dead body? How does inflation affect the cost of cadavers? Is there really a market for cadavers? If so, why? (I probably don’t want the answer to that question).
The prompt for this post came from scrolling through my Pinterest, where I saw this writing prompt:
At its current exchange rate, this 18,350 euro cadaver would be worth 22,441.13 U.S. dollars. Why is this cadaver so outrageously pricey in comparison to my measly $4,620 cadaver? Even if you were to factor in the weight differentiations, my corpse would still be much, much cheaper than this fictional, plastic-wrapped, chicken-packed, human.
In the end I still end up with the same result: wondering why anyone would want a (most likely highly inaccurate) calculation of their cadaver’s worth, why this website exists, what creepy people are lurking under the tag “cadavers” on this website, and whether or not being short is the only reason my cadaver couldn’t buy a decent, used sedan.