Monday Notes: A Confession on My 25th Year of Teaching

Twenty-five years ago, I began my career in education as an English teacher. However, I didn’t enter the profession out of a profound sense of passion. Here’s what happened:

I began undergrad as a business major: business management, to be exact. However, there was an assessment everyone took to test out of remedial math (Math 109). I took and failed the test during orientation. Then, I took it again and failed at the beginning of Math 109. The university offered it again mid-semester. Failed. And again shortly after, which is when I passed.

That’s when I figured I needed to change my focus. How was I going to be a business major if I couldn’t do basic math?

I sought advice from one of my aunts, who suggested I become an English major. When I talked to the advisor, she said English education was a better option.

Fast forward twenty-five years, a masters, and doctorate degree later, and I’m still teaching.

I’ve thought about if this one choice was a “mistake.” I mean, clearly, I have a passion for reading and writing, but did I need to become an educator? Maybe I could’ve been an investigative journalist, as my blogging buddy Dr. D. recently observed. Or perhaps I could’ve just begun a writing career twenty years earlier.

I don’t know. Falling into an abyss of what ifs is not good. I do not recommend it.

Here’s what I’ve decided.

There are no mistakes. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we’re always making choices. But our choices are tied to who we are, our level of awareness at the time, and our self-imposed limitations.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, we’re always making choices.

At the time, I didn’t have a home to return to in Chicago, and I damn sure wasn’t going back to live with my grandparents. I just wanted to do whatever would afford me a salary and a ticket toward independence. An education degree did that.

However, I also didn’t know any writers. I’d only seen so-called safe and secure jobs: pharmacy technician, accountant, social worker. I couldn’t conceive of a career in writing, much less pursue a degree that may lead to one. My choices seemed limited.

I know what you may be thinking…why get more advanced degrees in the field? My answer is the same: lack of awareness and self-imposed limitations.

I had no idea I could’ve easily switched to an MFA or even a PhD in English, so I continued the same path I’d begun in 1991: Education.

So, here I am.

I don’t have regrets, though. No. That’s not what this is about. I’m writing this to encourage anyone out there who believes he, she, or they only have one path. Not to sound cliché, but there are infinite paths for living life. Infinite. Think about what you want to do. Research your options. Talk to people who are doing what you think you want to do. Then, make up your own way based on your informed decision.

If what you want to do isn’t reflected in your family or environment, then don’t be afraid to create a life based on what you want. Guess what? That’s what I’ve done over the past seven years.

Today, I own a successful business, with no business degree. I’m a successful writer, without having an English degree.

I’m convinced each of us can do what we want. All we have to do is first believe it is possible.



Notebooks, Pens and $5 for Incidentals: America’s School Supply Lists

IMG_3028

I hate school supply lists. As a former high school English teacher, my back to school list was pretty minimal. Students needed a journal, a three-ring notebook, some paper, pens, and an open mind. However, the last time I taught public school was ten years ago and I can tell a lot has changed.

It became noticeable when my own children began attending public school. At first, I figured it was because they were in elementary. Early elementary teachers asked for things like sleeping mats, crayons, safety scissors, and glue sticks. Upper elementary school teachers’ lists were contingent upon what the girls were required to do that year. For example, sometimes teachers asked for the basics: pens, mechanical pencils, and graphing paper. Other times, supplies such as tri-fold boards were required for special projects.

But when my youngest daughter began fifth grade and my oldest started eighth, the already expensive school supply list turned into the dreaded school supply list.

The first two-thirds of the list was the same. The girls needed paper, notebooks, three-ring binders, and different colored folders. Great. The last third of the list was odd though. It included items, such as a pack of dry erase markers, a ream of copy paper or a 68 oz bottle of hand sanitizer. What was happening was clear. Schools were (and are) severely underfunded, and as a result, teachers also needed supplies just to do their jobs at a minimal level. Consequently, some teachers put the costs of basic public education onto the parents.

I thought it was just my children and our public school system. But after talking to my friends, there seemed to be different variations across the country.

My Texas friend showed me a list where the teacher had requested a tablecloth and $5.00 for “miscellaneous expenses.” Miscellaneous expenses? To whom do I give the $5? The teacher?back_to_school

My North Carolina friend mentioned a request for a pack of glue sticks from each child. What if the teacher does receive one pack from each child? Won’t that be a few too many glue sticks?

My Illinois friend’s public school list includes lab and book fees that sometimes total $1000. And if they don’t pay it, then grades are withheld or students can’t register. Sounds like a public school with a private school mentality.

Again, I understand why the lists have changed. What I don’t understand is the delivery. So I thought maybe teachers needed a couple of suggestions: IMG_3027

  • Add a header that reads Here are things that I would like to receive to make my job easier. That one might be too long, so here’s another: Wish List. Or maybe in my Illinois friend’s situation, the school could have a header called Expense Report that outlines where $1000 from each child goes. Don’t underestimate the value of headers. Parents want to know how their money is allocated. With headers, it is clear that this is what you absolutely have to purchase for your child’s success and this is what’s extra for the teacher to do his or her job.
  • Another option is something I saw when I sent my oldest daughter to a charter school one year. Charter schools tell parents at the beginning of the school year that they are expected to “volunteer” a certain amount. Volunteering could either come in the form of time, money or products, such as extra supplies that were required to run a classroom. The expectation was universal, for all parents, not just the ones who would be driven by guilt, kindness or threats to spend extra money.

Most parents want to do what’s best for their children. And most parents value public education. But when you begin to combine the teacher’s wish list with the student’s required list, then you’re going to lose a little of the parents’ support and respect.

Are you a K-12 teacher? Please share how you ask for school supplies. If you’re a parent, do you have anything you’d add to this list of annoyances?