P is for Potty… or Poop.

If you have a quaint anecdote about how your child learned to use the bathroom in 24 minutes or some other fairytale bullshit, please keep it to yourself. No, really,…do not come at me with any of that crap. I won’t believe you, and we won’t be able to speak for a long time because I will harbor a deep and enduring resentment for you and your perfect potty-using child.
I need to vent. I need to unload my burden and hope that someone, anyone of my fellow parents (or caregivers) out there can relate to my problems and hold me while I cry and tell me everything is going to be okay. It will be okay. …right? 😦
My son will be 4 in just under two months. He will not use the potty.
Today, he went more than 8 hours without urinating because he will hold it as long as possible before he can’t anymore and then floods his pull-up or diaper and needs to be stripped, showered/bathed, and redressed. It gives him stomach cramps. His back hurts (his poor kidneys). I’m shocked he has not had a UTI.
I’m at my wits-end.
He does not care about “potty prizes:” sticker charts, toys, prizes, new undies, new clothing, unlimited tv shows while he sits, a BIG toy from the Learning Store {cough “up to $50 and it can’t make noise…} – NOTHING EXTRINSIC APPEALS TO HIM.
He will not go naked. He hates not wearing clothing and will scream and tantrum if we try and have him go “without pants,” but wearing undies, so he can feel when he needs to go.
He doesn’t give a fig for Daniel Tiger using the potty, or Elmo, or any other character or program that talks about using the potty. “If you have to go potty, stop and go right away…” Yeah, D.T., go find a trolly and *dingding* yourself.
He was closer to using the potty at 18 months than he is now, at nearly 4 years old, and I’m terrified. I’m scared that there is something wrong with my child. I’m scared that we’ve waited too long and now he’s not going to be able to learn how to go without some massive intervention and money that we do not have to get a “potty specialist” or some other new-fangled bullshit that no one ever needed before. I’m scared that our anxiety about his inability to use the potty is bleeding over and causing him to internalize it and make him not want to use the toilet even more. I’m scared that his bathroom avoidance will transfer to Z (my daughter) and that she’ll never use the bathroom either. I have nightmares that I’m suffocating in diapers and my children can never go to school or camp or anywhere far from home because they’re still in diapers and they won’t use the bathroom.
The rational part of my brain tries to assure me that he will learn, that he will be able to go to school and won’t need to call me or my husband from work because he pooped in his pull-up and the school isn’t allowed to change him. However, that part of my brain is being over-ruled by the anxious and over-worked parts of my gray matter that, while exhausted and over-taxed, still finds a way to have enough anxiety juice to fill me with existential dread and self-doubt.
I’m in touch with his pediatrician. I’m awaiting an e-mail reply that will assuredly tell me to relax, that my son is healthy and stubborn and will go when he’s ready. It doesn’t make the waiting or the situation any easier.
The only easy thing about parenting is loving your children;
the rest of it is incomprehensibly difficult.

Educational Triage

10 steps to losing one’s mind and reaffirming one’s purpose as a high school teacher:
Step 1: You have written an educationally sound but also fun/entertaining activity based on a Viking webquest found on the internet to use as a pre-reading activity for Beowulf
Step 2: You have written a guiding handout for said activity, edited, revised, printed, and copied it – all of which take precious time, but you did it anyway because the results will be worth it.
Step 3: Present activity to students, getting them excited, only to find that the technology will not work in the classroom (not on my teacher computer, not on their Chromebooks) because of a missing FLASH plugin. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? WE CAN’T HAVE FLASH? And GOD FORBID we be allowed to download and install ANY programs without an administrator’s permission, password, and a pint of blood. What do you think we’re going to do? FIX SHIT TO MAKE IT WORK?!?!?!
[Deep breaths reminicient of The Muppet’s, Animal, after a freak-out]
Step 4: Nearly cry in front of students out of epic frustration that has been (and is still) building and building and building
Step 5: Abruptly leave the classroom full of students to go one door down and commiserate with a colleague instead of losing job for setting the place on fire (2 minutes – hopefully no one will notice)
Step 6: Go back to classroom and tell students, “I’m sorry things aren’t working here – you will have to find another way to complete the assignment outside of school hours.”
Step 7: Field student bitching because “it isn’t fair” that the technology at school doesn’t work
Step 8: Not so discreetly eat an entire chocolate bar that a colleague gave me this morning (On Monday a different colleague had given me the gift of chocolate, but that is long gone)
Step 9: Put on my “brave face” because there’s still several more periods before my prep
Step 10: Skip ahead two periods to relish in the AP Student’s Literature group discussions (only one more week before they turn in their group project on their first of seven novels and switch with another group to start reading a new one)
  1. King Lear group discussing nakedness (3.4 “Is man no more than this?”)
  2. Kite Runner group discussing wedding scene vs. death scene – what part does the life cycle play in humanity?
  3. Jane Eyre group discussing characterization of Jane and how one’s treatment shapes their personality
  4. The Road group discussing forgiveness and the purpose of prayer in an apocalyptic landscape – plus, “the old man”
  5. The Bluest Eye group discussing the reliability of the narrator (Who wrote stream-of-consciousness Chapter Titles? The narrator? If it’s Claudia does that make her an unrealible narrator? Are there other elements that make her an unreliable narrator?) and Junior’s introduction and the large number of events surrounding his introduction
  6. Gulliver’s Travels group struggling and arguing over who the people of Laputa represent (sooooo good, lots of fantastic discussion happening here)
  7. The Handmaid’s Tale group discussing surrender vs. rebellion and tying in current events re: the oppression of women
The little negative stuff piles up: it’s extremely frustrating and hard to get past when these “issues” are so routine and they stop your lessons in their tracks, causing you to shoot from the hip, again and again, in order to fill the time and meet the standards.
The occurrences that battle these negatives are also little, but far more powerful. It’s things like my AP English Literature class holding their own Literature Circles like bosses, holding themselves and each other accountable. I get to walk around that classroom during those discussions and feel like a goddess of pedagogy. The best part is that I’m not even doing anything; the students are. However, they are doing it because I showed them that it was possible and believed that they could do it. If the average person walked into my classroom during Lit. Circle discussions (every Friday), they would see 7 small groups in animated discussion, but may not understand how much work goes into them (both on my end front-loading and modeling for them and the students preparing discussion questions, reading and annotating, and drawing connections to their own lives).
Those who think that teachers are overpaid, or that teachers do not deserve to be paid as highly as other professions with equal educational requirements don’t understand just how much work a “good” teacher does. They might see my messy desk and think, “she isn’t even organized, how can she be an effective teacher?” Or, they might walk past and see my students all talking and think that they’re not working, but socializing. (Administrators have assumed this, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the public did too.)
I work my ass off, as do many of my colleagues, but we are beset on all sides by increasing educational and administrative (paper work) demands without an accompanying increase in time, supplies, resources, or monetary compensation.
Something has to change. My students deserve my best, but I can’t give them that when I have 5 different subjects in one day. I can’t. I’m only one person.
So, I triage and prioritize.
  • ELA 12 (1st and 2nd periods) typically gets second best. I enjoy the literature available to me to teach the required standards and they tend to be more mature than their younger counterparts. I’m pretty active in these two classes, but more subdued – gotta save my energy for AP.
  • AP (3rd period) gets my best, every day: no question. They get the most physical Mrs. Magy – up and everywhere around the room, in and out of small groups, lots of reading, discussion, and writing. I write exemplars for them and model reading and writing like what will be expected at the college level. And it’s my writing, so it’s damn good.
  • Then I have back-to-back hours of ESL students for two different purposes. I really struggle with these two periods. I specifically avoided elementary education because I dislike teaching basic concepts. It requires an intense amount of patience, and when you add in that these students are new to this country, you add in behavioral issues because the students have not acclimatized to the expectations and social norms of American culture yet.
    • In 4th period, I’m helping my ESL/ELL students build their basic reading and writing skills.
      • We are focusing on close reading strategies and annotating for non-fiction sources (they have a separate English Literature course where they focus on fiction).
      • Every single student receives individual reading comprehension work at their reading level (or just above it) to challenge them (from books that I purchased, with money that was not reimbursed despite the clear educational need for them).
      • I meet with students individually 2-3 times a week during this period to discuss their reading comprehension work (How does their annotation look?, can they identify main ideas, supporting details, organization, etc.).
      • The student’s reading levels range from pre-reading (they know their alphabet and can sound words out, but have very little vocabulary) all the way through 6th grade.
      • And there are 24 of them, all in the same classroom.
      • Two students are already making visual, measureable progress, but their SAT scores will still be low becuase they’re reading levels are so far below the readings on the standardized test.
    • In 5th period, I’m helping my ESL/ELL students prepare for the SAT.
      • All of us teachers that teach a semester long SAT Prep class (for either English or math) hate it. It’s drugery. I do not believe in standardized testing, yet I am held accountable as a teacher by how well my students perform on them (poorly, duh, they are mostly ESL/ELL and immigrants to this country – the tests are white-biased and do not measure what they claim to, but that’s another post for another day).
      • Since the students are far below grade level, I focus on writing during this period since we focus on reading during 4th period. It’s like a double-whammy of Mrs. Magy’s Magical English Elixir.
  • Finally, I have SAT Prep (7th period) for the highest achieving group of 11th graders (our students are tracked – it is what it is).
    • Obviously, I cannot use the same lesson plans that I use for the ESL/ELL students, but by this point I am so tapped out that I am using the Cambridge Preparing for the New SAT workbooks, that our school spent so much money on, and give them lots of time to practice reading the more complex text passage types found on the SAT. I have them do lots of pre/post tests, but do not grade based on their achievement so much as their improvement and effort.

I know teachers that would only plan for AP and phone in the rest with this schedule. I know teachers that would maybe plan for AP/ELA 12 and discount everything else.

But I can’t. It’s not who I am. I became a teacher to help students learn. Even on days when I “take it easy,” I’m still doing more than most, and yet, it’s never enough. I always feel like I’m not enough, and that I’m not doing enough. Part of that is my personal depression and anxiety (for which I do receive medical care and treatment), but part of it is the administration and the Charter company who constantly find ways to tell the educators that we aren’t doing enough.

In some areas, I honestly haven’t. For one thing, I haven’t been diligent about uploading my lesson plans each week in the multi-page Google Doc format required. Triage. I have outlines of my lesson plans hand-written on my desk calendar. I know what’s happening, why, and when. Come ask me or talk to me about it, but I don’t have time to write it all down in your ridiculous bureaucratic form that everyone knows you don’t read anyway. Yet, if they aren’t there, I will be marked down for being “ineffective at planning.” {eye-roll} If I was ineffective at planning, the students would run my classroom and they would never make progress. That simply isn’t true.

What standards am I covering? All of them, Bitch. I’m a master educator. I’m working my students up-down-and-sideways and your silly forms will not tell you that, only visiting my classroom and seeing my teaching first-hand could.

Every day teachers perform triage, and every day teachers are making the best educational decisions they can for their students based on that assessment. But what happens to the teachers who don’t add their own self-care into their triage? Burn-out.

I haven’t been able to spend quality time with my family like I’d like because of my work demands. Triage. I get some of that time back by NOT doing the multi-page lesson plans. It’s 2-4 hours of time, but I’ll take the hit on my educator effectiveness to be able to participate in bathtime and story time each night with my kids; to be able to sleep an extra 1-2 hours each night (so I actually get 6 hours of sleep instead of 4 hours); to be able to get home before 6pm each night.

Triage. Reclaiming my time. Today I will sit in 3.5 hours of pure meeting hell that administration calls “Professional Development,” but as educators who triage important educational and personal decisions every day, we all need to reclaim our time and demand that the excessive paperwork and meetings that do nothing to push forward academic progress need to stop.


Teachers shouldn’t be so conditioned that genuine gratitude and thank you notes take them by surprise, but they do.

I’m a good teacher – I know that. I know, in the abstract at least, that my job as a teacher is invaluable to my community, my country, and society as a whole. However, I also know that my career choice is consistently ridiculed, undervalued, underappreciated, overworked, and underpaid. I knew this going in to teacher preparatory courses, and I knew this entering the teaching workforce.

I wasn’t going in to it for the fame or the pay. Truly “famous” teachers only exist in the movies, and those doing the best and toughest work in their classrooms are only known by their colleagues and their students. Some teachers gain moderate fame throughout the teaching profession (Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, and Harvey Danielson, to name a few) because of their real-world contributions to pushing teaching forward and they tour professional development conferences in the hopes of sharing and spreading their ideas to other teachers in need of new strategies. Sure, they get paid too (for their books and speaking), but they are also taking time out of their own classrooms in order to attend these conferences and attempting to make the work easier for all of us along the way.

I went into teaching because as clichéd as it is, I was born to do it. Every adult role model and mentor in my life as I matured told me that I should be a teacher, and even after conversing with strangers I was often asked, “Are you a teacher?” When I answered in the negative that I was not, the other person would invariably say, “Well, you should be.”

One of the reasons I took so long to get into teaching is that it’s hard to know if you are a good teacher without adequate feedback, and the average feedback that teachers receive is negative. “You failed my child in English – why did you do that?”

“Your test scores are down this quarter – what are you doing wrong?”

“Your class is boring.”

“Your class has too much work.”

“Your class isn’t challenging me enough.”

“Your class is too easy.”

“Your class is the worst I’ve ever had.”

Think about it; how often do you actually write letters of thanks or give feedback when you have had a good experience? How often have you been moved to give immediate and scorching feedback when you feel wronged or ill-served? I would imagine that your number for the second scenario is far higher than the first.

Then there’s the issue of compensation. Yes, teachers are paid, but poorly when considering education and experience to pay ratios. “But you get summers off!” HA! No. Not in the slightest, and debating that is another post entirely. “But you get the everyday reward of helping to shape the future!” Well…kind of. The everyday rewards of teaching are more intangible.

It’s an excited “Good morning, Miss!” as a student sees you entering the building, and instead of dragging your feet to your classroom you look up, make eye-contact with the greeter, return their smile and salutation, and walk to your classroom feeling a little brighter than you were before.

It’s a knowing, “Oh! I get it!” exclaimed by a student who grasps a concept that they have been struggling with until that lightbulb turned on in their brain.

It’s a “Hey, Magy, thanks for the chat yesterday – it really helped me get my ideas straight,” from a colleague who sought you out and you stayed after school together brainstorming solutions to a teaching problem until well into rush hour.

It’s seeing mastery and proficiency increase as the year passes, however slowly it comes.

But mostly, we’re alone in these celebrations because they happen internally, behind the door to our individual classrooms. Sure, data gets discussed constantly in terms of standardized testing, but actual learning and deeper critical thought takes place outside of shaded ovals, and there’s rarely time to talk about it when data is all-important.

We’re alone in our celebrations because outside of education, no one cares if your first Socratic Circle of the year exceeded your highest expectations, discussion went off like popcorn in a kettle, and all you did was lay the foundation and the students did the rest. Outside of education, no one cares if W____, a chronically absent and tardy student, was present every single day, on time, for two weeks because “I love hearing you read the Odyssey, Miss, and I didn’t want to miss any part of it.” Outside of my classroom, no one cares that for the first time in over seven years of instructing students through the Capstone Project that every single one of my 75 senior students turned in their first assignment on or before the due date. Every. Single. One. These may seem like small potatoes, but teachers in the trenches understand the weight that these things carry.

Since these rewards for teaching are mostly intrinsic, when we receive extrinsic, positive feedback, it can be shocking. It can bring tears to our eyes and completely stop our day in that moment because of its intense gravity. This morning it was an e-mail from a student who graduated last spring, who I had the pleasure of having as a student in three of her four high school years.

I had e-mailed her at the start of the school year regarding the large anthology that we use for AP English Literature because the copy checked out in her name last year had never been returned. This was out of character for her, and also a blow to me in terms of lesson planning as I was four books short to start this school year. She had replied politely, but quite concisely, that she had returned the book to the office on a day when I was unavailable and hoped that it turned up. Well, last week, it did, in a stack of random stuff on the librarian’s desk. After I found it, I sent her a quick e-mail to let her know that the book was found and asked after her now that her first semester of college was underway. Usually, I don’t receive replies when I e-mail former students. I chalk it up to either dropping their old e-mail address or the general busyness of life and do not take it personally. Then, if I do receive a reply, I welcome it.


Hey Mrs. Magy,

Thanks for letting me know about the book. And thanks for asking about me, I am doing great. I’ve been really busy and had been meaning for a while to email you. I wanted to thank you for everything you’ve done for us. I really do appreciate you for everything you’ve done from teaching us how to annotate to writing research because it has made my classes much easier for me. So I’m taking this gender study class and the first day of class she reads “Girl”, and she tells us to interpret it. Me and Z___ looked at each other in class and remembered it. And because we read it in our AP class, excitingly I was able to engage myself in the discussion with these college students. It was a very cool experience, and it was your teaching that brought me to that level. Even though we didn’t pass the AP exam, it still was the most efficient English class I’ve taken. So I want to thank you again. Thank you for being patient all these years with Frontier, even though the students and staff don’t deserve you. Thanks you for teaching all of the English I’d ever need in two years. Thank you for guiding, helping, and inspiring us to be the best we can be. We love you and I love you!




Wow, thank you for such a touching and genuine message. I am having a really tough year (not with AP, that class is great, just like yours was), and it seems like the universe knows exactly what I need to hear and who I need to hear it from to remind me of my purpose. Your heartfelt message reaffirmed that my work here is important and that I am needed right where I am. Thank you for that. ❤

I am happy to hear that you are taking a gender studies class and even more excited to hear that you were able to engage in discussion with the rest of the class with the feisty confidence I know you possess. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall during that class to hear what ideas you and Z____ shared to be digested and considered by your classmates and professor. I’m sure that it was a productive and insightful discussion with both of you taking part in it.

Your e-mail defrosted my cold and distant mood and attitude this morning. It means so much to me to hear that my courses and instruction were meaningful and ultimately helpful to you. I wish all of the best for you, and am here to help you any way I can as you continue pushing forward toward your goals.


Mrs. Magy

Sometimes you cry out into the abyss and your words are swallowed by the darkness. Other times, your cries are heard, and answered.



When you feel like a camel with one too many straws on your back

Subtitle: Why budgets are important
You budgeted x amount cash for the St. Mary’s Polish Fair because it’s a family activity that you attend every year.
You spend y amount more than x on your debit card because food was more expensive than you planned for, and it’s okay, because you have enough to cover it in your account that wasn’t already earmarked for bills. Yay! You were able to do a thing with your family that you have looked forward to for months and it was a beautiful, wonderful day.
So you go about your life as normal until you receive a phone call from your apartment’s management office on rent day to let you know that your automatic withdrawal for the rent was unable to go through because of insufficient funds.
You are defensive because that isn’t possible under your budget, unless you somehow fucked up and your checking was overdrawn, causing the credit union to move money from your savings to your checking (and since you’re living paycheck to paycheck you only had rent +$25 in your savings to begin with).
Except it was possible, and you begin to panic at how much damage you may be facing.
When you log-in to your account and scroll through the myriad numbers your error comes to light and you remember that two weeks ago, you paid a medical bill by phone after receiving a collections call.
You also recall that you got interrupted on said call and had to leave the classroom, so that you forgot what you were doing. When you came back you neglected to move your paper notes into your electronic spreadsheet where you carefully monitor all of your bills and budget. You made a mistake, like all humans do, but this one cost you at a time when “one more thing” is one thing too many.
You are now z amount over budget: $4 in  instant transfer fees to cover the checking overdraft which auto-pulled from your savings, $30 auto-withdrawn in overdraft fees when the rent tried to pull from savings and there wasn’t enough there to cover it, owe $40 for NSF to the rental company, along with a $30 late rent fee, which they “may waive” if I can get them a “secured form of payment” (meaning bank check or money order) by 5pm today (which I cannot because of work commitments and an inability to prestidigitate money until my payroll hits tomorrow morning).
You begin mentally kicking yourself in the ass, beating yourself up over and over and over again, because that $30 bill, when unaccounted for, has cost you and your family over $100 in fees that aren’t in your budget, which will now have to come out of your grocery and gas money.
You try so hard not to compare yourself to others, but you see those around you succeeding and moving up in the world and you are doing everything in your power to do the same for yourself and your family but every little setback, every mistake, costs more and more time and money that you do not have.
You fall apart at your desk, in your classroom, with the door closed. It isn’t that you are embarrassed to be seen crying, but you question your ability to adequately answer questions about “what’s wrong?” without collapsing into more burning tears of shame and the accompanying spiral of depression.

Ultimately, you end up writing about it for nearly thirty minutes of your prep time because you still have to teach, and you cannot carry so much anger and resentment with you until 3:30pm. You put some music on. You stretch. You wipe your face with a baby wipe and walk around the room for a few minutes. You practice all the positive self-talk that you can muster given how shitty you currently feel.

“You can get through this.”

“You have been through worse than this.”
“You will get a pay raise in September with the start of the new school year and hopefully things will be better by then.”
“You have a healthy family and health insurance.”
“You have family and friends that love you.”
“If you are really hurting you do have at least one person you can ask for help.”
“You are not a failure.”

But that last one causes you to break into tears again. Because no matter how much you have in intangible wealth, or how many good deeds you have accomplished, you are still {pinches fingers} that close to losing what little stability (a roof over our heads) you have, and it terrifies you.

You dry your tears again, stretch one more time, and get back to work. What else is there to do when you’re a camel?


Burning the candle at both ends

I began writing this post on Thursday of last week, but life happened, and it got saved to drafts until I could pick up the torch and carry on.

January through late March/early April is the longest, break-free stretch of the school year for many teachers. The weather is gray and dreary. The students are feeling the pressure of the switch between first and second semester and some of them have begun to realize they are truly responsible for their grades. It’s no wonder that this is universally the time of year for teachers to feel burnt out.

But it’s more than the gloomy winter doldrums or the lack of mental breaks from the workload. There is an emotional toll to teaching that the average person completely overlooks.

First, there is all of the planning. My school has a 7 period school day that runs from 8am to 3:30pm. The class periods are 55 minutes with a 25 minute lunch. In theory, each teacher has a prep period, but in my case, it’s typically spent counseling seniors and/or calling home to parents, and fifty-five minutes flies by when you’re busy. Some teachers only teach one subject, all day, but I have five.

My current school day looks like this.

I wake up at 5:30am 6:00am 6:30am and struggle to get my rump out of the front door before 6:30am 7am to get to school by 7am 7:30am to have an extra 40 minutes of “quiet time” to work and get things prepared for the day in a leisurely manner while I enjoy my coffee or tea hurridly rush to be completely ready for the school day which begins at 8:00.

By the time that first bell rings, I must be prepared for at least 1st through 4th periods as my prep hour isn’t until 5th period.

In ELA 12 (1st and 3rd periods) we’re currently working through a unit on Public Speaking in order to prepare these students for their Capstone presentations as well as hopefully not embarassing themselves (and by extension me, as their teacher) when speaking to people on the job, at college, or in general. Over the next 6 weeks the students will each give an informative, demonstrative, and persuasive/argumentative speech along with a number of impromptu speeches to help them practice thinking and speaking on their feet. For exemplars and modeling, I give short speeches and use a mixture of videos from professional speakers (TED talks), slam poets (Taylor Mali, Sarah Kay, and others), and saved speeches from past students (who have given their consent for me to keep and use their work as models) to teach students how it’s done.

My 1st hour is mostly comprised of ESL students, so while the content of my lessons must be the same, I have to adjust my delivery and resources in order to ensure that the students are able to grasp and process the information presented. 3rd hour is an entirely different animal in that there are five seniors hell bent on not making it to graduation based on their delightfully maladjusted attitudes, another fifteen students overcome with apathy so intense it has enough form and shape to be another student in my room that I’d like to call “Huh?” and another five students who want to know what has gone so wrong with the educational system that they have to be in a classroom with the other twenty students.

Oh, and I should mention that both 1st and 3rd hour are made up entirely of male students. Needless to say, behavior management is an issue in both of those hours.

In AP English Literature & Composition (2nd period – mixed gender class), we’re busting through Of Mice and Men and The Odyssey in the remaining three weeks before Spring Break in order to a) cover content these students have never had, but should have had (Of Mice and Men) and b) cover deeper thematic analysis writing as it’s likely that the Free Response essay question will be a thematic prompt that can be answered by using either The Odyssey, Of Mice and Men, or Hamlet (which we covered in February, in four weeks, because I am a rockstar when it comes to teaching Shakespeare).

In SAT Prep (10th grade girls, in the average to low standardized test score group), I’m endeavouring to make non-fiction texts interesting and engaging by using the musical Hamilton as a hook (yes, I rap for my students), reading the non-fiction book Duel: The Parallel Lives of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr in class, while teaching non-fiction reading strategies before moving into excerpts from The Federalist Papers which is the sort of Primary Source Documents that students are expected to have engaged with prior to the SAT. I call my unit, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” (thank you, Lin Manuel-Miranda) and I will also be having my students write autobiographical raps or songs about themselves by the end.

At the same time, these students are given 15 vocabulary words a week using Barron’s Painless Vocabulary to learn how to teach themselves vocabulary in context without the usual drill/kill methods. Students earn credit by using the words correctly in class or on written assignments, or by instagramming a picture of the words found in their books or out in the world and using my hashtag for the week. ESL students and non-ESL students also complete non-linguistic representations of the words, weekly, and they are hung throughout my classroom in order to help students create deeper connections to the words.

In my other SAT Prep class, I have a “small” group of 21 ESL students whose average reading level is between that of a first or second grade student. I have to teach them the basics simply because they do not have them. So, currently I’m teaching them genres of literature and we are currently working on fiction with fairy tales, but the language barrier along with a cultural lack of story telling in their homes is making things difficult. I feel quite confident that they can identify most concepts of Fairy Tales if given a new story they haven’t read yet, but do not feel confident that they can identify the theme or the moral on their own. So far we have read and analyzed simple versions of The Frog Prince, The Three Little Pigs, Cinderella, and Little Red Riding Hood. Today we began watching The Princess Bride because not only am I so burnt out that I cannot continue to make lesson plans for 5 separate classes, but if I teach this group of 21 nothing else but to be able to quote this movie, I will have done a good thing.

The last period of the day I monitor a group of 38 students (yes, you read that correctly: 38 students) in the library as they take various online classes. I do not understand the purpose of the online classes and do not feel that the program our school uses is particularly effective at teaching anything.

It’s mentally exhausting. By 3:30pm I feel like a wet rag that’s been wrung out so many times it’s too stiff to be able to do its job.

After the planning, there’s the students. I mentioned that I rarely get a prep hour in order to get things ready, to grade, or to merely shut the door and eat chocolate in the dark – in the quiet. They knock, bang, and nearly bust the door down. They have questions and late work. They have to take make-up quizzes and tests. They need to talk about problems with their Capstone. They need to talk about personal matters and they trust me to listen.

Sometimes I answer the door to find a former student who swung by to see me.

Sometimes I don’t answer the door, only to have it opened by an administrator with a master key in order to tell me “there’s a student who awnts to see you,” taking away my autonomy and privacy by ushering them into my room.

I’m humbled that many students find my room to be a safe place or consider me their mentor or confidant, but sometimes it’s too much responsibility to bear. I have learned to say “no,” and to set boundaries, but the interruptions don’t stop simply because I’ve turned a few students away.

There’s also e-mail, Remind.com, Edmodo, and countless other ways to be reached and harassed. I had to take two sick days on Monday and Tuesday this week and you’d think that the world ended by the amount of “emergency” messages I received from students asking me to clarify the assignment (that was posted to the class website as well as given to them in hard-copy and explained to the sub by my classroom neighbor Mr. T), asking me if I was coming back (like I’d quit and leave all of my supplies behind?!? I have a LAVA-LAMP on my desk, bitches! I wouldn’t leave that behind!), or complaining that “the work is too hard, Miss, we’ll just wait until you come back.” With 42 student messages by 3:30 on Tuesday afternoon while I’m still under the weather my flight or fight response kicks into high-gear. It’s sensory assault via e-communication.

Currently, I’m struggling to keep up the momentum to get me through Spreak Break, after which it’s a 9 week sprint to finals and summer vacation with my family.

The bottom line: I’m not only a teacher to 150+ teenagers in Detroit, but a mother of two children, one a toddler (3yo) and one still an infant (11mo). I deserve and desire to spend time with them, for more than the few hours of their presence that I eek out in the evenings before bedtime. On average, I see my children for three waking hours each day, Monday-Friday, between when I arrive home, and when both kids are safely tucked into bed.

I’m also a wife, and my husband and I struggle to connect given the hectic pace of my work week and the familial obligations of the weekends. I desire time with him to reconnect, to speak about topics that are not our beautiful children, and to remember why we are so important to each other.

Being a good teacher doesn’t afford me that time.

Last year, right before my daughter was born, a fellow teacher shared a link to Danielle’s blog, Someone’s Mum and her struggle with being both a mother and a teacher where she wrote:

“Teaching is not family-friendly at all, I say, sadly. Maybe it was, once. For me, teaching is constantly in conflict with my family life. There’s just no way to be a mother and a teacher and to feel successful at both. Every single day, I feel like I am letting someone down. I am stretched thin, like butter scraped over too much bread. I honestly don’t know how long I can sustain it. I still love my subject, enjoy sharing that love with students and watching them grow and achieve – but, ultimately, I love my own children more and letting them down makes me hate myself.

So why am I still in the profession, I hear you ask? It’s simple: I am a teacher. I don’t know how to be anything else. I am also a mother and I can’t be anything else. Unless we can make teaching family-friendly again, I am doomed to be in conflict with myself indefinitely, or to leave the profession. Whether I can manage the huge weight of my conflicting responsibilities and pressures remains to be seen.”

Her words struck right to the heart of me. I cried by the end of it, and my husband and I talked about the possibility of finding a way that I could stay home with the kids for a few years. We have yet to find a workable solution, but in the meantime, I plod on.

Like Danielle, I do not know how to be anything but a teacher, but I also do not know how to anything but a mother. Trying to do both, to the best of my ability, isn’t sustainable.My family deserves better, but my students don’t deserve less, and I’m scraping the well dry trying to serve them both.


Tikkun Olam – reflecting on another’s words

This post by Peter Holtzman is something that really resonates with me given some of the hypocrisy I am seeing from MOTs in my various social media feeds.
You are not for human rights if you are only outraged when it affects you.
You are not for true social justice if you are only active when it affects you.
You are not really awake to the problems of this world if you do not notice them until they are affecting you.
When I converted to Judaism, the rabbis at my beit din (loosely meaning “house of judgment”) asked me if I was prepared to be different. Specifically, they wanted to know if I was prepared to carry the often unspoken mantle of being “Jewish” or “other.” They wanted to know if I was prepared for anti-semitism that I may never have noticed before, or if I would shy away from my “Jewishness” if it meant that I would be open to more scrutiny and attacks in this regard.
I do not recall my specific answer, but I do know that it had something to do with being strong and strong-willed, and that I have always been willing to stand up for myself as well as the “little guy,” and that if being Jewish meant that I had to step into that role more frequently that I was unafraid.
I admitted in a recent conversation with my husband that I had been unwilling to believe that the sort of widespread organization and proliferation of anti-semitic attacks could happen here, now. I admitted in a recent conversation with my best friend that until recently, I didn’t really and truly understand what the rabbis had been asking me until now.
But the truth is this: I’m white. I’m a woman. I’m a third generation American. These three things grant me a helluva lot of privilege that, as Holtzman points out in his post, has granted me a freedom of “whiteness” that was never under threat. Until now.
Despite that, it is also true that these types of hateful acts (vandalizing cemeteries, defacing houses of worship, bomb threats to social centers) are not new. They have been happening for decades not just to Jews, but to every other minority group one could list with the only difference being that it hasn’t been happening in the quantity or the quickness to our group lately as it has in times past or to other groups. Now that it is, and our privilege is threatened, our hackles are up. We’re rankled. We’re pissed. We’re upset.
…but we should have never stopped being upset because our “freedom” was just a cover, and there were still others being oppressed.
Tikkun Olam means to “repair the world,” and is one of the reasons why I believe that I have always been called to be a teacher.
“The phrase “tikkun olam” was first used to refer to social action work in the 1950s. In subsequent decades, many other organizations and thinkers have used the term to refer to social action programs; tzedakah (charitable giving) and gemilut hasadim (acts of kindness); and progressive Jewish approaches to social issues. It eventually became re-associated with kabbalah, and thus for some with deeper theological meaning.” (http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/tikkun-olam-repairing-the-world/)
When we turn our eyes from the suffering of others, for whatever reason, we are turning our eyes from HaShem, from the goodness that we aspire to, and from the very core of Judaism, which I believe is to “do good and be good” in every possible form.
I retain the position that I asserted at my beit din. I am not afraid to stand up for myself, I am not afraid to stand up for the “little guy,” even if he/she is outside of my group.
I am unafraid.

Sami Strikes – a birthday surprise

img_0367My birthday is February 19th, and as such tends to fall near President’s day when many schools also have their mid-winter break. This year, our school didn’t have an extended break, but a half-day on Friday the 17th for students, followed by the remaining half-day spent in professional development (PD) for staff, and then Monday (President’s day) off for all.
It is no secret that my students love parties, surprises, and cake. Yet, it was a surprise to me that despite hearing my students planning “something” all week, nothing had happened. Every time I was called from my room for something unexpected, I braced myself for the “surprise,” but it had not come.
That is, until Friday.
The Youtuber starring in the video is Sami. I love Sami, but he will tell you that when I met him as a 9th grader over six years ago he was a pain in my side during class. He was often off-task, would talk to anyone I sat him next to (and even those he wasn’t next to), forgot his work, and was a bit of a class clown (the good kind, but still). I had him again as a 10th grader in composition class, where I watched him mature and grow as a student and an individual; he came to visit me as an 11th grader, then a young man whom I sadly did not have in my English class; and by 12th grade, he had become one of my favorite students.
A picture of us together after his Capstone presentation hangs proudly behind my desk, and when I talk about how much I love teaching “my kids,” I am definitely talking about Sami and students like him. 
I pranked Sami earlier this school year when his sister, K, (a current junior) asked to call home during class to ask for his help. When Sami answered she covered the receiver and told me to “Tell him I’m in trouble! Prank him!” So I obliged, telling him that I needed to speak with him about his sister’s behavior because they are so close I was hoping he could help me.
For several long minutes, I led him on with horror stories about her behavior in class while the girls in the classroom giggled silently. I told him things like K is always tardy to class, she’s been acting out and being rude to her classmates and verbally bullying others. Then I dropped the biggest bomb – that she had recently started cussing in class. He was aghast. He was shocked. Then he got angry and defended his sister mightily. But before he got too incensed, I let him know that it was all false, and of course his sister wasn’t doing any of those things and that she just wanted to ask him about video editing software for a class project. We laughed about, but he vowed that he would get me back.
Back to Friday, when our PD got paused for a stretch and a bathroom break, a staff member, Mr. Gus poked his head into the library and told me that I had a “phone call downstairs – an angry parent who was pissed off.” My gut told me that “something” was up, but I didn’t know what.
The staff member that was in on the prank, Mr. Gus, is not a member of the regular disciplinary admin staff, so the fact that he was speaking to a parent on my behalf was suspect, and since I knew myself to be innocent of any wrong-doing with any student, I wasn’t worried; I was confused. I had a feeling that the entire thing may have been an excuse to prepare something for my birthday, but I couldn’t be sure. The fact that Mr. Gus wouldn’t tell me whose parent it was, or what the call was about was the biggest clue in my favor.

Mr. Gus took me into his office and all along the way I asked “whose parent is it?” but he wouldn’t answer me directly or kept saying that “he didn’t know.” I could hear a loud and angry voice on the other end of the line, but could only hear one side of the conversation, and what I could hear didn’t make any sense. When he finally let me have the phone, I asked “Who is this?”

The voice on the other end said “I am coming right now, bye!”
Still miffed and wondering what the real reason for my having been brought downstairs was, Mr. Gus opened the door and there was Sami, with my birthday surprises: sign, balloon, cake, and stuffed elephant. 
To say that I am honored or touched cheapens the depth of feeling I have because it is so much more. When a student comes back to visit, it means everything. It is humbling to know that you have touched a life in a way that has lasting impact.
It has been said that teaching is like planting a seed that you will never see grow to bear fruit. That isn’t true. I’ve planted, nurtured, and tended many seeds in my time in the classroom, and not only have I seen them bear fruit, but some of my students are now planting their own orchards.
FIA students (class of 2010 – 2017 and on) – I’m proud to have been your teacher
Northwest High School students (class of 2010, 2011, and 2012) that I student taught in 2008-2009 – I’m proud to have been your teacher

Pride and Posture

One of last year’s graduates came back to see me today. He has completed bootcamp and is preparing to ship out to South Korea.
This is one of those students who is a genuinely good kid, but who is not prepared for or interested in college. This is one of those students who could fall through the cracks, who could drop out and/or disappear because the current public and charter public school system isn’t designed to help him.
Last year, he barely passed. He drug his feet on everything. I had to constantly kick him in the ass about completing his Capstone requirements. All of his teachers kicked him in the ass because he was a good kid that we didn’t want to see lost.
In January last year, when the various military recruiters started coming around to give their spiels, several teachers (myself included) pushed him into considering the Army. The biggest obstacle to his recruitment was whether or not he would finish and get his diploma. Thankfully, that became the carrot that he needed to reach the finish line.

I asked him to keep in touch. I gave him a few blank cards with self-addressed, stamped envelopes, and he already knew my e-mail. Unsurprisingly, I never heard from him, but I thought of him from time to time, particularly when seeing recruiting advertisements.

So today, when he knocked on the door (a respectful, mature knock – not the frantic, overly loud, knocking of hurried, entitled, discourteous students) and I opened the door to see him standing in the hall in his full Army Combat Uniform, my eyes teared up.

I exclaimed, “Look at you!” as if I were a grandmother seeing a long distance child relative for the first time in years, and as I asked his permission I opened my arms to give him a hug which he happily accepted and returned in kind.

“Hey, Mrs. Magy.”
“You look taller – it’s your posture.”
He blushes and smiles the same wide, genuine smile that he’s always possessed, “Everyone keeps telling me that.”
“I heard that you are going to be stationed in Korea. Are you excited?”
“Aw man, who told you?”
“A____ told me – he came by on Friday. He’s in town before going back to base in Missouri; I’m sorry that he stepped on your good news to share.”
He shrugs, “It’s okay. And yes, I’m excited. I’m getting out of the country for a while, and at a good time, if you know what I mean.”
I nod.We continue this way for several minutes, my asking him questions to allow him to share about himself in a way that makes him feel like he’s answering questions and not bragging, but it’s clear that my class is no longer engaged in their activity and are intently eavesdropping.”I’ve got to get back to my students, but I am so very glad that you came to see me today. Will you forward me your address once you’re settled so that I can send you goodies from home?”
“Sure, Miss, I still have your e-mail.”

I give him another hug, and as I turn to go he calls my attention again.
As I look back, he snaps me a proper hand salute, executes an about face, and walks toward the office.

Reentering my room, my tears will not be withheld any longer, and I go to my desk to grab some tissues.

Finally, a beginning

In its heyday, I was extremely active in keeping an unfiltered and uncensored LiveJournal. (I was young and headstrong, so emphasis on the uncensored part…) There, I catalogued my personal ups and downs and mainly used it as a safe space for therapeutic journalling. For professional reasons, I removed it from the public sphere once I began my journey to becoming a teacher and as other social media websites gained popularity I abandoned my LJ entirely.

After that, Facebook became my writing outlet, mostly in the form of short posts, and when the mood struck, longer notes, but it was never well-organized or purposeful in terms of presenting an ongoing narrative or memoir. And once again, over time, I began limiting my audience and removing myself from the public eye in order to maintain a professional appearance for the sake of my occupation and the scrutiny that comes with such a public responsibility.

The one constant among all of my online rantings, ravings, and musings is the encouragement from family and friends to make it more public, to share it with more people who might find it amusing or helpful in some way. (And, if I’m being honest, I’m far more likely to write when I know that I’m being read and when I feel like I’m being heard.) It’s time to come out of my cave and present my stone tablets for others to read and discuss.

So who am I? Why should you read my blog and why should you come back? 
I’m an educator working at a Charter high school in Detroit. My day-to-day in the classroom is a combination of every made-for-television special about urban schools with suburban teachers and National Geographic’s Wild Kingdom, crossed with the love child of The Office and Parks and Rec. No, I’m not exaggerating.

I’m a working mom trying to balance the insane emotional, mental, and physical requirements of both my teaching life and my parental life while simultaneously finding time for my partner and our marriage. It’s a lot like juggling raw eggs – when I’m in a rhythm it seems effortless and everything flows together, but if I stumble even a little bit, it’s a stinky mess.

I’m a Jewish convert still learning about what being Jewish means to me and trying to raise two children with love and respect for all faiths while instilling in them a strong foundation of Jewish ideals and spiritual rituals. The most important to me being the concept of tikkun olam, which loosely translates from Hebrew to English as “repair the world” and is rooted in the concepts of social justice and human compassion and kindness.

I’m a woman possessed with making her mark in a positive and lasting way and I can’t do that without reaching out to more people and in more ways. I need you to help fulfill my mission.

So there it is: a beginning. I’m looking forward to responding to comments and meeting new people through this blog, and I hope that you enjoy reading my posts as much as I enjoy writing them.