08 April 2015

Becoming a teacher

Becoming a teacher is like becoming a new person. You have no idea what you are in for. You think you know what to expect, but I assure you, you do not. It’s hard work. It’s pretty much thankless. It’s constant and it changes. Teachers are scapegoats to society’s ills, but society really needs us, too. There’s a lot of bloodletting. Not literally, of course, but you are a giver, you have to give, your job is to give.

Sorry, I hope you weren’t expecting a pep talk.

When I decided to be a Waldorf teacher, I remember the exact moment, the out loud declaration at the wheel of my Nissan Sentra. And do you know what I did? I cried. Sitting in traffic, I sobbed, wiped my eyes, looked around and plodded home wondering why I cried. I suppose it was my future-self crying and that’s why my self-at-the-moment was so surprised. Little did I know what becoming a Waldorf teacher was going to really be like for me, but after I completed two years of teacher training, I did.

Waldorf education is based on the esoteric philosophies of Rudolf Steiner and claims to be the fastest growing private school in the world. It’s also very controversial. Its critics claim it’s a cult, that Steiner was a racist and that the schools do more harm than good. Its advocates believe Steiner was a genius and the school’s focus is on the imagination and working together. My experience involved me writing a whole book over it.

Currently, I’m teaching English overseas. I’ve been an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher for about 5 years. Most of my teaching has been in Thailand, although for 6 months I was in Ecuador. In many ways, teaching abroad is different than teaching in your passport country. At the same time, teaching is teaching anywhere in the world. Respect for the profession is dwindling and it seems all the students want to do is play on their phones.

Of course, there are wonderful students, too. Unfortuantely, they are not enough to balance out the bureaucracy and politics and negativity that have unhappily made its way into the classrooms. So, why do I still do it? Well, you could say, I feel a little stuck. That is, I don’t feel I have much of a choice, but I still like it, despite its problems. I don’t suppose that makes much sense to you, does it?

A colleague told me the other day that he feels like he’s acting in front of the classroom. I disagreed with him. I said I never felt like I was acting. But I do perform. Acting feels less authentic. Performing, on the other hand, is what teachers have to do to keep the students engaged. In many ways, teachers must weave spells and create magic.

When I first started teaching, I was attracted to the idea of working with children because I had such an fun experience working with them at a summer camp. This doesn’t mean that I was a natural though. I was surprised that I even liked them. Originally, I was hired to be the office manager, but I found myself wanting to spend more time with the campers and so I did.

There are natural teachers, but they are rare. Most of us have to really sweat and toil if we want to be any good at it. I’m rather matter-of-fact which can be a good or bad thing depending on how you like your teachers. Trust me, the profession is filled with the kind of criticism that cuts down to the marrow in the bone and you have to decide what to discard and what you can use. Not an easy task when you are fresh out of training and wide-eyed and dewy, but as the dewiness wears off and the eyes become tired, you learn to survive.

Becoming a teacher should make you a better person. But being a teacher can make you an angrier person.

I remember in high school I had a science teacher who wore sensible sandals with the panty hose toes cut off. And even though I was an extremely average student, I felt bad for her because the class was insane. The boys sat on the chair desks surrounding Debbie, the resident tart who wore spandex tight dresses to accentuate every bit of her Playboy bunny body. Someone threw a cherry bomb in our class so we didn’t have to attend. There was a lot of talking for talking’s sake and our teacher would sometimes slam her books on the table and scream, “Shut up!”

Now that I’ve been teaching for years, I get it. I would have loved to have done that, many, many times over. These days though a lot of the disrespect comes in the form of students endlessly playing on their phones. I’m an entertaining teacher, too. But perhaps all teachers think that way about themselves. You learn to care, less. You have to. You accept that you cannot control every moment. You learn that you have no real authority over the students. After all, learning is a relationship.

Bad teaching days and good teaching days, ideally, need to be swallowed with equanimity. If you end the week on a bad teaching day, my colleague believes that you won’t recover until you’ve had a good teaching day. There is a lot of truth in that, but it’s also one hellva way to live. Good teaching days help you remember why you got into this damn profession in the first place. Bad days make you feel like the stupidest person and an utter failure.

Teachers, by default, try their best and use up way too much personal time to get their job done. So, it is incredibly crushing to be blamed for not doing more. Yes, yes. There are lazy and bad teachers and they are the ones that make headline news, but I can assure you the better ones have great big hearts for your children.

I can’t tell you if becoming a teacher has made me a better person. Sometimes I feel like it’s making me bitter and crazy. Sometimes I wonder how much longer I can do this. Other times, I love making my students laugh and helping them along the way. If I could do it all over again, I don’t think I would have run down this road. It’s a thankless task with many problems with one too many 1%-ers telling us how to do our jobs. Although, if I hadn’t, perhaps I would have never realized that we’re all teachers.

Ultimately, becoming a teacher, getting fired, and becoming a teacher again made me understand that the task of teaching was something I always had within me. Because we are all teachers. Teaching through our words and actions. Teaching every day. Teaching is more than a profession: it’s our life’s journey, our heart’s work, and a job that everyone carries from the inside out.

04 March 2015

{the missing teacher} is an audiobook, too!

When I realized I was writing a book, I knew I was going to have to create an audio as well. I fell in love with audiobooks when I was in college around the time I started driving long distances.

For {the missing teacher} I used a friend's recorder and a free editing program called Audacity. Originally I wanted to upload it to ACX, part of the Amazon empire, but it was rejected due to the extraneous noises such as birds chirping and crickets in the background. These noises are actually in only a handful of chapters, but I didn't want to re-record and deal with another unforseen roadblock.

While I appreciate and understand ACX's need for quality control, I felt what I delivered was clear and sounded above par many popular podcasts, frankly. I didn't have access to a studio nor did I have the pocketbook for such an undertaking. I did this on the cheap, learning as I went and throwing in a lot of time to make it work.

I also read about another author's headache with constantly having to re-upload all of her files/chapters individually and waiting to see if they were accepted. This was not what I wanted to be doing with my time.

In addition, I was not happy about the high prices that ACX charges for its audiobooks. The pricing depends on how long your book is and mine is about 11 and a half hours. It would have been around $25 USD, if not more. I decided to find another way. After all, I self-published my memoir. Surely I could run a little longer to find a home for my audiobook.

I'm glad I did. Gumroad offers exactly what I wanted and I'm fairly certain I haven't even tapped into all that they can offer. I uploaded my chapters, was able to move them around (because I forgot Chapter 23) with no problem. Then I later decided to attach an opening letter to go with the purchase which I did and I'm pleased with Gumroad's flexibility with my own product. Makes sense.

And just as good, I can name my own price. This took some figuring out since I wanted to offer it for free to a few people who expressed interest in the audio version when I made my big annoucement that my book was now available in print and on Kindle. You simply enter "0" zero when it asks you to give and viola, you can have it for free.

Now if folks want to they can donate or purchase it for however much they can afford. It can be a "pay what you feel" product and I really love that. So, right now, I'm offering {the missing teacher} for free or pay what you want.

Also, I have my book on Gumroad as a zip file or as individual files depending on what works best for you.

If you are interested you can sample the audiobook on YouTube and let me know what you think.

Lastly, my book reviews on Amazon. A big thank you to those who took the time to read and write a thoughtful comment.

17 February 2015

Interviewing for a Waldorf teaching position

My first grade classroom.

When I interviewed for my Waldorf teaching position, I desperately wanted to stay in Oregon. And I really, really had my sights on Portland. So, I interviewed with a big strike against me. I knew what I wanted and I was blind to the warnings.

About a month ago, I was contacted by a lovely young woman (who I’ll call Nancy) about how to interview for Waldorf. Her inquiry made me wonder if there was much help out there as it appeared the school she was interviewing for didn’t give her much to go on. Her email also gave me this idea to write about it.

Specifically, Nancy wanted to know what the warning signs were. I think this can be difficult if you are anything like the younger/former me, full of enthusiasm, hope and naiveté. So, the best advice I can give is to ask questions.

The funny thing about interviews is we are usually so anxious to be appealing that we forget that the school (or employer) is also on interview. And while I was proud of my questions like, “What’s this school’s biggest challenge?” I should have slowed down and wrote out a list of what I liked and didn’t like and shopped around much longer.

But let’s get back to those questions because I think it’s worth reading what the critics say. After all, if you are truly going to enter the World of Waldorf, I say take those blinders off and visit argumentative territory. In training, we were not encouraged to do this. In fact, when I brought a list of challenging questions from one of my practicum teachers, most of the answers given were shaky and unsatisfactory.

Questions like: Is Waldorf a cult? One of the parents thinks lighting the candle is cultish and is concerned. How do you deal with faculty parents? How do you deal with bullies? and so on. He gave me quite a long list. Please don’t think that there aren’t Waldorf teachers who are aware of the problems and shortcomings of the educational philosophy.

In the end, since teacher training brushed off the questions, so did I.

Another interesting aspect of individual schools is: how much are they into Anthroposophy? When Nancy was sharing her experiences with a couple of schools, we both got the feeling that one school seemed very Anthroposphic and the other not so much. Now, I can’t tell you which is better or worst. Trembling Trees (where I worked) was confused by Steiner’s visions and beliefs - and it showed.

At the end of the day though, I think it comes down to taking a risk. As with any job, you just won’t know until you try. Of course, Waldorf is unlike any job out there…but that’s another story.

Interviewing for a teaching position help: http://waldorfinspirations.com/index.php/grades/6th-grade/16-how-tos

Job board: http://www.waldorftoday.com/

Critics' concerns: http://www.waldorfcritics.org/concerns.html


Have you ever interviewed for a Waldorf teaching position? What was your experience like?

22 January 2015

the missing teacher is published!

I'm proud to announce that my first book {the missing teacher} is published and available for print through Amazon and as an e-book through Kindle. And for a limited time, I'm offering my audiobook for free (just put in "0") or you can pay what you want. Download here at Gumroad.

To be honest, it's been such a long journey that I'm just relieved that it is finished. I hope, however, that you will find it useful, entertaining and interesting. Thank you to my long-time readers and those who have contacted me over the years. You probably have no idea how much your taking the time to reach out and share your story has helped me to realize that what I have to say matters, too. Much love from Thailand...