Friday, June 25, 2010

The New Girl

As the school year ends, I've said goodbye to a couple of colleagues who are moving on--one to begin a career and another to revel in retirement. As I said goodbye to the one I never got to know this year during her brief yet seemingly eternal stint at our school, I apologized for not being more outgoing--for not taking more of an initiative to help her out. This is a common problem for me: not taking the initiative. Most of my friends will tell you that I seemed "like a bitch" when they first met me. I was aloof and sarcastic, and probably acted like I thought I was better than everybody else.

Now that we're good friends, they think I'm a bitch for other reasons--but being on this side of my fence, they know that their original estimation of me was incorrect. I wasn't a bitch when we first met--I was scared. Guarded. Not shy--nobody could ever call me shy--but not open, that's for sure. I put more out there than anybody else is willing to, but that is just for show. I won't bother getting to know someone else, or really let someone know me, until I'm sure she likes me as much as I like her. See, the problem is that I am insecure. This is an unfortunate side effect of having been "the new girl."

I have a theory: no matter how old you are when your family moves, whether it is ten miles away or a hundred, if you are a school-aged little person, you will be scarred by the experience. (If you have a different experience with starting a new school anytime from K-12, please prove my theory incorrect.) No situation seems more terrifying and awful than trying to fit in with a group of kids who have known each other since kindergarten, whose social groups have already been formed, and whose extracurricular activities have already defined them. I have known no sense of insecurity so crippling as the uncertainty of finding a group of friends who are "like you." Especially when that you is part athlete, part bookworm, part Barbie-love/hating middle-schooler. In short: I was a bit of a nerd, but was one of the leaders at my school. Maybe not a "cool kid"--but in my experience, the kids defined as the "cool kids" are not actually that cool; even though they seem to be in charge of things, they are relatively few in number.

Very few kids are able to enter a new school and set their own standard of cool. Although there seems to be this concept of the new kid to whom everyone is drawn (maybe thanks to movies like Heathers?), most of us start at the bottom of the cool chain and work our way up--sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. I started at the bottom, with the few kids who would go out of their way to say hello to me. And why not? A new kid was a new chance for them to make a friend. However, I quickly realized that I didn't have much in common with the girl who lived with her alcoholic grandmother because her mother was a drug addict and her father was MIA. My next friend, a mousy girl with an ultra-religious right-wing family, wasn't quite the right fit either. Nor was the overweight video-gamer. Eventually, I found the soccer players and other part-time athletes, who were in my honors classes and had normal parents: fathers in business and stay-at-home moms.

The problem with this group, which was most like the group I'd grown up with, was that they had grown up faster than my old friends. I finished 7th grade still playing with Barbies and entered 8th grade with a group of kids who drank on the weekends, had already experimented with cigarettes, and had apparently started doing more with their boyfriends and girlfriends than just hide in a closet and kiss. I was flabbergasted. My mother was horrified. I was scarred, but fought to not show it.

Because I had to work so hard to make friends, I now wait too long to open up to people. I don't put myself out there because I am afraid I am too loud, too obnoxious, too bossy--but I refuse to change who I am. I don't put myself out there because I don't want to waste my time on people I don't click with--but that means waiting for people to find me. I don't seek people out because I never really liked most of the people I hung out with in high school, preferring instead the drama geeks, punk rockers, and newspaper kids--all people I had part-time friendships with in high school that grew into some of my best relationships to date. Funny, that the kids I hung out with in high school aren't even people I look up on Facebook--for the most part. I guess what I'm saying is, I don't trust myself. Whether I can chalk it all up to The New Girl Phenomenon or not, it's a psychological struggle I still grapple with. Bottom line is, if I seem like a bitch when I first meet you, it's probably because I like you.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day x 3

It's hard to believe that this is the third Father's Day we've celebrated, having missed the first one by just one day. Or that is has been two years since our precious daughter took these first brave and bold steps on the beach. Our baby so quickly became a little girl, and that little girl threatens to become a big girl with every day that passes. I am comforted knowing that my husband is as confident and secure in his role as a father as he has been as a husband. He has nurtured and challenged her every day of her brief three years on this earth, and will continue to do so for many more years to come. Happy Father's Day to a wonderful husband and father!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Annual Countdown

Although I have been too busy (Imagine that!) to officially keep track of how many days are left in this unremitting school year, I am all too aware that I have far too much work left to do and much to little time left to do it. I have spent more time than is healthy bent over my desk, cross-legged on the couch, or stretched out on the floor, grading papers. I have been the last one out of the school, save for the janitors, too many times to count. Usually at this point in the year, during final exams, I have nothing left to do but clear away the clutter, throw away the useless, and file away the meaningful. I am usually so busy being self-reflective that I find grading final exams a nuisance (honestly though, what teacher doesn't?)

This year, I have not even started grading my final exams yet, because thanks to numerous snow days and Nor'Easters, I am still digging out from under the pile of papers and projects that were dumped on my desk two weeks ago. So I have no luxury of reflecting on what worked and what didn't, no time to figure out what was meaningful, revise the lessons that could be more so, or get rid of what doesn't work. In fact, this year, I still have plastic crates full of CAPT tests and old projects and handouts squatting under my desk, not worthy of a permanent home but important enough that they need to stay. I refuse to add up the number of hours I have spent grading final projects and essays (not that I have the time to figure it out, anyway) because I think I would drink myself to next Tuesday if I knew. A friend said to me last week, maybe if you knew how many hours of work you had left, you could plan out how much you need to do every day until the due date (i.e. The Day Grades Are Due).

Sadly, one of the most unfortunate things about teaching (for me, anyway) is that I cannot do just that: manage my grading time. I must steal minutes and hours not when they are convenient, but when they are available. I'm not proud of this, but now that my daughter is a little older (and obsessed with Disney princesses), I can get a solid 90 minutes of grading done on Saturday and Sunday mornings or after school on a rainy (oh, who am I kidding--even on a sunny, gorgeous, we-should-be-outside-loving-nature) afternoon. This is compounded by my inability to "know" how long it takes me to grade one paper, portfolio, or class set of homework. It's always different, and it's not like I can say to myself: I have 30 minutes and 24 one-page essays; therefore, I can spend one minute reading each essay and six minutes entering grades in the gradebook. The problem is, those essays are an extension of my students, and my students are sensitive human beings (try as they might to act like they're not--they're fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds). So I have to think (somewhat) carefully about the grade I give the essay, relative to the person's past achievements, perceived effort, and, obviously, my expectations. It's not a science. I wouldn't deign to call teaching an art...but it's not a science.

Summer is usually my time to refresh, renew, rest, and yes, plan for the following year. I'll be honest, though: the last two weeks of the school year are usually when I do my best planning for the future. Once I leave the building, it's like I've got amnesia. Try as I might to remember how I taught something or what I taught, my brain insists on producing nothing more than static. This summer, I am charged with running a committee of 10th grade teachers who need to draft a curriculum revision that all of us can live with. Normally, this kind of project thrills me. I love curriculum. I love planning. I love knowing exactly what I should be teaching my students (at least, in an ideal world). This year, though, I am done. D-O-N-E. Done. My brain is fried, my body is worn out, and my daughter misses me. No matter what work I manage to accomplish this summer with regard to teaching, I know this: it will not be done with time stolen from my daughter, my husband, or myself.