Thursday, September 29, 2011

I Sound Like a Grown-up

School is going really well, much better than I would have expected a few weeks ago. I had my first observation a week ago and both the principal and vice principal were in the room taking copious notes. That usually would have made me extremely nervous, but I’ve been observed and critiqued by the subs for so long that being observed has become second nature. The other Spanish teachers had warned me that they always have to tell you something to work on and that I shouldn’t get down on myself because of their suggestions. I met with the vice principal on Tuesday to debrief and talk about the evaluation and he was overwhelmingly positive and the things he told me to work on were pretty small things. I was relieved. He even hinted that they will likely offer me the job for next year as well. No decisions can be made for some time, though. I felt pretty good about that. Mostly because four weeks ago they picked someone else for the job.

Today I had to stop by the district offices and I ran into the district’s sub coordinator who I’d never met before. She came right up to me and introduced herself. She told me that since I had had no time to prepare for the year she sent me the three best subs that the district has. She had asked them all how I was doing and they had told her that I was doing phenomenal things, that I had a good report with the kids and that they were really impressed with me. She ended by saying, “They all think you’re doing a great job and had nothing but great things to say.” Not only did this warm my heart, but I also got the sweet feeling of revenge. You see, I was a little disappointed and even a little more vengeful when the district didn’t hire me the first time. I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but when someone makes a decision that hurts me my reaction is usually to make them want to regret that decision. I feel like the best way to make them regret not hiring me is to do an awesome job just to show them what they could have missed. So take that, school district, I’m doing a great job!

I moved into my new home on Monday and it’s great. Morning Kris and her husband spend their winters in Arizona so I’m going to housesit for them with their nephew Jesse. I’d never met Jesse before and I was a little worried about living with a stranger. Especially someone that Kris had described as “froo froo.” Before I even met Jesse I walked into the bathroom that we’d be sharing and saw his retainers soaking in a denture cleaning solution. I know this sounds weird, but I clean my retainers the same way and knowing that we have that one thing in common put me slightly at ease. Jesse is really easy going, tall and thin and we get along great so far. A grown man that still wears his retainers can’t be that bad. His teeth are straight and so is he. On Tuesday I told one of my classes that I was moving into town from Everett and they were all unusually happy for me. One girl in particular, who I will call Lola, was worried that I’d never met Jesse before. Trying to be funny she wrote a letter for me to give to Jesse. This is what it said:
Dear Jessie,
Please be kind to Señor Schilaty. I like him and if you hurt his feelings he will get sad. Also, do not murder him, that would be kinda bad. Finally, don’t take his clothes, he is very stylish! Thank you! Please write back.

The next day she asked me if Jesse had written back and I said, “I’m not a mailman and I’m not going to help a 13 year old communicate with a grown man.”

Later that day we were reading a story in class about a boy and his girlfriend. During the story Lola did what all middle school students love to do: exclaim that their class last year was different from the current class. Every day I hear things like, “Señor Schilaty, we didn’t do this last year. Why are we doing it now?” “Señor Schilaty, we had class outside last year. Why don’t we have class outside?” “Señor Schilaty, our other teacher didn’t teach us this. Why are you?” Lola exclaimed, “Why do we always talk about boyfriends and girlfriends in this class? We didn’t do that last year.” She was right though, we do talk about novios a lot. I think it’s probably a lingering habit from teaching at BYU. I looked straight at Lola and in the most serious voice I could muster while making a joke I said, “Lola, as you get older you’re going to start seeing boys in a way that you haven’t before.” At this point another kid yelled out, “You sound just like my dad,” which was exactly the point. The class burst into laughter and I pulled a Jimmy Fallon and laughed a lot more than I should have in front of a large group.

Later that day another student was complaining about the group he’d been assigned to work with. He wasn’t being serious and was just trying to be funny. I feel very strongly that a silly comment deserves a silly response. So I said, “What?! You don’t like your group? But you have the best group! Look at Pedro, he is such a good student. And Victoria is so helpful and kind. And you’ve got Nadia who’s so small and adorable.” Nadia is a 7th grader, but she really is tiny. She looks like and reminds me of the young version of the old lady from Up. Once she realized what I had said she said, “Hey! That’s harassment.” Then she paused and said in a very matter of fact way, “No, it’s true, I am very small… and adorable,” and she flashed everyone a big, adorable smile.

Teaching isn’t perfect and I’m working more than 10 hours a day on a part-time job, but I’m enjoying it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Kris Cross Applesauce

The last two and a half weeks of teaching have been quite the whirlwind adventure. Since my teaching certificate is still being processed I have to have a sub with me in the room at all times. The subs just sit in the back and I do all the teaching. The kids seem to have forgotten that there is always an old lady sitting in the back of the room and have just accepted her presence as being normal. I have a morning sub at one school and an afternoon at the other school and they’re both named Kris. They’re both great, but very different. Morning Kris wears jeans, has pigtails and does crafts while she subs and afternoon Kris dresses up like a business woman, works part-time as a realtor and does work in the back of the room that the office people give her.

After class on the second day of school morning Kris came up to me and said, “Ben, as a veteran of 40 years of teaching I feel like I should tell you some things.” She quickly complimented me on the things I was doing well and then told me all of the things I was doing wrong and warned me that things would get bad really fast if I didn’t fix them in the beginning. When she was finished and left I collapsed into a chair and just felt like barfing. Not because I was mad or disgusted, but because she was right and I knew it. I felt overwhelmed with all that I had to do. I knew going into this that I wasn’t prepared and having morning Kris expose my fears was like a kick in the pants. I felt physically ill for most of the first week of school because I knew I was in over my head and I’d bitten off more than I could chew.

To her credit morning Kris kept giving me advice. Everyday she’d write up a page of notes about how I was teaching and discuss it with me at the end of the day. She could have just sat in the back of the room and done nothing, but she decided to help me. And luckily I was smart enough to listen and do what she said. My room went from being on the verge of out of control to being orderly and organized. She pointed out all kinds of things that I would have missed. Morning Kris saved me from a terrible year and gave my kids a good classroom and I’m so grateful for her.

Afternoon Kris is very different. Morning Kris is pleasant, but afternoon Kris is incredibly pleasant. Morning Kris spent years teaching high school math and afternoon Kris spent years teaching elementary school and their differing experiences are evident in their personalities. Afternoon Kris has a soft, soothing voice while morning Kris has a commanding, authoritative voice. I’d ask afternoon Kris for advice hoping that she would help me like morning Kris did, but typically she would just praise me for doing a great job. While I appreciated the boast of self-esteem, I didn’t need that so much as I needed honest feedback. My afternoon classes are going well, but not nearly as well as my morning classes because I haven’t had someone advising me on how to create a better classroom each day. So here’s what I’ve learned: even though it makes me want to vomit, I’d rather be told how to be better than just be told that I’m great.

I will now poke fun at my students. On the second day of class I had my students fill out some information cards so that I could get to know them a little bit better. Here’s what two of them wrote when I asked them to tell me a little about themselves:
“I’m Mexican. I have a dog. My dog is fat.”
“I am Chinese. I take gummybear vitamins.”

I asked my students why they wanted to study Spanish. Here’s what one kid said:
“Since my friends also take Spanish, I want a special way to communicate together without our parents being nosy and asking ‘who’s this? Whatcha’ talking about?’”

My students were supposed to write any fears or concerns they had about Spanish class, but they apparently didn’t read the part that said “Spanish class.” Here’s what a few of them said:
“biggest fear: creepy ppl, sharks.”
“highly terrified of spiders and slugs.”
“Sometimes I forget the forms of Spanish and like I’m bad at writing sentences so I always get docked off points on tests.”
“I’m allergic to peanuts, but not deathly allergic.”
“understandance of speech.”
“I hate being sick, so I try to stay away from sick people or ya know and yay.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Wright Decision

Please allow me to make a very long story condensed and readable because I know that no one wants to spend more than five minutes reading a blog post. In March my quickly approaching graduation started to weigh on my mind which prompted me to start looking for post graduation employment. I applied to a few universities and community colleges during my last semester at school, but it wasn’t until I got to Portugal and had loads of free time that I really started to get serious about finding a job. After hours of and hours of searching and filling out applications and dozens of emails with my résumé attached I still had no job. And then a high school teaching job in Washington became available. They seemed really excited to hire me and I was pumped to work with them. Unfortunately, just hours before my graduation from BYU they told that I didn’t get the job. It was a little upsetting, but mostly just surprising.

The night of graduation my mom and I immediately started looking for other job possibilities. My mom found a middle school position available in a city in the Seattle area. I called the district offices, told them that I was awesome, but wasn’t certified to teach and the kind lady on the other end told me that I had very little chance of being hired, but that she’d patch me through to someone else’s voicemail. The old “don’t call us, we’ll call you” routine. I expected never to her from that lady. Three weeks later I’m in Washington and I get a call from a number I don’t recognize. I answer and the lady on the other end said, “Hi, this is Jackie returning your call from a few weeks ago regarding the Spanish position we have available.” I was then expecting her to say, “Thank you for your interest in this position, but you’re not qualified for it so how dare you waste my time?!” What she really said was, “We’ve had trouble filling the position and were wondering if you would still like to apply.” I was shocked, stunned and nearly speechless. I told her I’d apply.

The position was to teach two periods of Spanish at two different middle schools. Later that day one of the vice principals called me in for an interview for the following day and I accepted. As I pulled in to the parking lot for the interview my phone rang and it was someone from the MTC calling me in for an interview for a job I’d applied for there. They wanted me to come in the next day, but I told them I was in Washington and they kindly agreed to let me come in the day after Labor Day. I was mostly stalling the MTC people because I wanted the teaching job in Washington more and was actually qualified for it. You see, the MTC job required being fluent in Portuguese. Am I fluent in Portuguese? Well… that depends on your definition of “fluent” and I wasn’t sure what the MTC’s was. So the MTC job became a backup plan if I didn’t get the teaching job in Washington.

The interview was the Wednesday before Labor Day and it went well. Later that day the school district started calling my references which is a VERY good sign so I was confident that I’d get the job. School started the next Tuesday so I was expecting to hear from the district really soon so that I could get to work preparing. Thursday passed in agony as I waited for a phone call that never came. On Friday I started to get really worried because if I didn’t get this job I’d have to go to Utah and I just wanted to know what their decision was. Friday afternoon around 2:00 pm I got a call from the vice principal informing me that there had been four applicants, I was one of the final two, but they picked the other guy because he was certified and I wasn’t. He went on say that blah blah blah I was awesome and that blah blah blah I should apply in the future and that blah blah blah they were impressed with me. I didn’t really want to hear it. I thanked him for his consideration and hung up. Once again I was stunned that I hadn’t gotten a job that I was sure I would get. However, my disappointment didn’t last long because I was thrilled to be going back to Utah.

I made plans to stay with my friends the Wrights when I got to Utah and I was pumped to see them. I was also pumped to see my grad student friends, friends from former wards and just to be in Utah again. I was sure that things would work out they way they were supposed to. So Labor Day morning I packed all of my belongings into my car yet again and started on the 14 hour drive to Provo. As I was ascending the Blue Mountains in eastern Oregon I got a phone call from Jackie the HR lady informing me that the guy they offered the teaching position to ended up not being certified either and they would like to offer the position to me instead. Once again I was stunned. I said, “Can I call you back?” and she said, “Of course.” I then entered the mountains and for 40 agonizing minutes I didn’t have cell phone service. I really had to talk this decision over with my parents and yet they were unreachable.

I really didn’t know what to do. I had wanted the Spanish teaching job, but I was already over it and had moved on. It’s like how you really want to eat chocolate after eating Mexico food, but if you wait for an hour the craving goes away. I didn’t really crave the job anymore and I was set on going to Utah. I finally entered a place with cell phone service and stopped at a McDonald’s in La Grande, Oregon to call people for advice. Everyone gave me the same advice: take the job, you dummy! I called Jackie back and accepted the position. I then got in my car and drove back to Washington.

This decision was tough to make because I knew it meant that I wouldn’t see my Utah friends for a long time. I was going to spend that night in Orem at the Wrights’ house and I was particularly bummed to not be able to see them. You see, when I left Utah for the pie party I was fully intending on returning to Utah. The Wrights were the last people I saw and I said something to them like, “Goodbye! I’ll see you in a few days.” Jackie had told me that I could continue driving to Utah and start work a few days late. That seemed really tempting. I was then faced with two decisions: the right decision and the Wright decision. On the one hand, it would have been great to see everyone in Utah, if only for a day. But I knew that they right thing to do was to head straight home so that I could be there for the first day of school the following day. It was the right thing to do.

After 30 minutes of internal conflict at a McDonald’s in La Grande, Oregon I got back in my car. I looked at the odometer and I had traveled exactly 360 miles from my home in Washington. It seemed like the perfect mileage to turn around. On Labor Day I drove about 720 miles to end up where I started, I gassed up twice at the same gas pump in Prosser, WA and I finally got a job. To all my Utah friends, I’m sorry that I didn’t make the Wright decision because I would have loved to see you, but I did make the right decision.

Oh, and thank you for indulging my love of puns. And that’s the story of how Ben got dental insurance.