Monthly Archives: May 2015

To My Students: What I Want You To Know

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rfornelli

Dear Students,

I am writing to explain a few things I feel you should know. I realize that it is sometimes hard for you to understand things from my perspective, so I hope this helps to make my views clearer.

I want you to know that I believe that my job is one of the most important in the world, but also one of the most difficult. It is mentally and physically taxing. It is often so stressful that it makes me an emotional wreck. Meetings with coworkers, administrators, community members, and parents, and even meetings with you, often make me feel like I could and should be doing more. I walk away feeling inadequate and unappreciated. I want you to know that I am doing the best that I can. I know how much your learning depends on my being adequate. I want you to know that I know…

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Why Teachers Get Burned Out

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In the fall, I will start my tenth year as a teacher, as unbelievable as I find that to be. I still remember the jitters I felt when my student teaching mentor told me she was going to have me take the reins at the end of September. I still remember the nervousness of starting my first job (in March — not exactly ideal) in a town I’d never heard of before, with only a few days’ notice. I still get that “first day of school” bubbly excitement and that “when will summer finally be here” longing. I still think about the mistakes I made early on, the struggles I’ve overcome, but also the victories and success stories that make my job worthwhile. I still love school, just as I always have since starting kindergarten at age four. But I am beginning to feel burned out.

We have, in America, a mindset that our educational system is failing our students, and, by extension, our teachers are failures. There are several widespread beliefs about teachers, none of which are flattering or even remotely accurate. The first is that teachers are exceptionally lazy — how hard can it be to be a full-time babysitter, right? Plus getting the summer off?! Some people think teachers are power-hungry dictators who like to throw their weight around or are only in it because they can’t make it in a “real” job. Everyone has heard the phrase, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”

Let me address these outlandish misconceptions. Admittedly, as with any profession, there are those who excel, those who are mediocre, and those who are ineffective. To paint all with the same negative brush is absurd. Did I have bad teachers when I was a student? Unfortunately. Did I have exceptional ones? Absolutely — and I feel blessed to be able to say so. But the majority of my teachers fell somewhere in the middle.

Most of the teachers I’ve known as coworkers are incredibly hard-working, dedicated, and selfless. Therein lies the problem. They are willing to come in far earlier and stay far later than is contractually obligated for meetings, for tutoring sessions, for correcting papers, for entering grades in the grade book, for writing improvement plans and newsletters for parents and reference letters for kids’ scholarship applications. They put in long hours of unpaid time, to spend their “summer free time” prepping and planning and taking extra classes and organizing their classrooms, because it is what is best for their students. They are willing to accept the criticism from outsiders who don’t know what occurs in their classes on a daily basis. They are willing to take phone calls right before bed from angry parents. They are willing to swallow the thinly-veiled insults on social media about how they are letting down America’s youth. They are willing to suffer personal attacks on their character or intelligence or ability level from strangers. They are willing to let go the insinuations of lawmakers that teachers don’t do enough to prepare students for the new world, the global economy, the military, college, or the workplace. They accept the blame that should be shared around.

Teachers are getting burned out because the expectations we have for ourselves and our students are already high enough without pressure from outside sources. We administer weeks of testing — state tests, national tests, tests that affect college and military entrance, tests in the form of surveys, tests that reflect the school’s “annual yearly progress.” Most of these tests don’t actually impact the students directly; if they don’t understand the tests’ relevance, many don’t take them seriously. But teachers do, because we have to.

Teachers are getting burned out because of all the other roles we play throughout the day. In addition to “educator,” I am supposed to be a mediator when there is an argument, or, more rarely, a physical altercation. I am a detective, searching for signs of abuse or neglect, and searching for “lost” homework and “misplaced” books. I am a counselor, discussing with students the many options for their futures. I have been a taxi, driving students to events I am chaperoning or coaching. I am a champion for encouraging new thoughts and ideas. I am a sympathizer for students and staff who are struggling. I am a cheerleader for those who lack self-esteem. I am an artist, coming up with new ways to teach that will keep students motivated, interested, and learning. I am a technology coordinator. I have been a nurse when students have been injured — one unfortunate nose-breaking incident far exceeding my first aid training. I am a guardian for children whose parents are, for whatever reason, unavailable physically or emotionally. I am a rock when I would rather be lax and laid-back, because I know that strength is what my students need. I am a role model, whether I wish to be or not.

Teachers get burned out because we are only human, but we are expected to be the perfect blend of the best qualities of all people. We are forgiving and compassionate. We are consistent and fair. We are adequate disciplinarians. We are experts in our fields, but we are knowledgeable about potentially “teachable” topics. We are “hip.” We are extroverts, who make new students and staff feel instantly welcome and cared for. We are in tune with our emotions and capable of reading others’. We are decision-makers and trust-earners and skills-builders. We are motivators. We are inspiring and memorable. And we do it all for some of the lowest paid salaries offered for professional careers.

But we do it because we love it. Or, at least, we used to. Please don’t make us regret it.

Peace and love.11058377_10205556576209564_1109540006035127487_n

Ode to Pinkie Toes

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Ode to Pinkie Toes

Renee Fornelli

You help me with balance.
You give my feet shape.
And when you are broken,
I heal you with tape.

The wee little piggy,
The smallest of all.
Why is it YOUR job
To locate each wall?

The first line of defence,
You spring back with strength.
But I’m sure each new break
Has affected your length.

You’ve been squished til you’re calloused
In uncomfortable shoes.
You’ve been blistered and banged
Til you’re one giant bruise.

You’re all sacrificed freely —
Take one for your teams.
Girls need you to round out
Our sandals, it seems.

I was inspired by an unfortunate incident this morning. Peace and love.

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Success Series Part 2: Drive

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Check out part 1 here.

We have all been asked the question, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”. I have a difficult time with this question. I guess I don’t even know why people bother asking, since they don’t truly expect honesty or answers like, “I’m incredibly lazy and won’t do anything productive without prodding” or “I often stay out unbelievably late at night gambling and drinking, so I will frequently show up late — if at all.” The expectation of future employers or college entrance officers is that we will effortlessly spin our flaws into benefits, like, “I’m a perfectionist so I spend way too much time getting everything exactly right” or “I often become so consumed with tasks that I bring work home with me — I just can’t stop thinking about it, even in my free time” or “I take on too much because I am overly eager and a real go-getter.”

My conscience is far too inconsiderate to allow me to ignore my true failings. My answer when posed this question often goes a little something like this: “One of my best qualities is my determination. I am tenacious. I am headstrong. And, fine, I will admit it: I am bordering on stubborn. One might even call me obstinate. If I feel I am justified, I dig in my heels — admittedly, being inflexible is possibly my worst quality.” And then I blush. I’ve never really learned to quit when I’m ahead.

So, let me see if I can spin this quality back into a positive.

I am proud of my ability to set a goal and work to reach it single-mindedly. It is my perseverance that has enabled me to get good grades, graduate from college, pay off most of my student loans, quit smoking, and lose a considerable amount of weight. (I am not discussing the impact of having a loving family or strong support system here — while those, too, are keys to success, they are so important that they will be in a separate blog post.)

Even though it hurts to acknowledge that being strong is often seen as unattractive or undesirable, I can’t allow that to intimidate me into being weak. I am a principled person, and when I am relentless or tough, it’s because I feel I must be. I stand firm when I believe it is not just the right thing, but the only thing, to do.

Despite being called “unyielding” and “unreasonable” by both loved ones and strangers, I find that it is my rigidity that has enabled me to survive hardship, bullying, and many new beginnings. I don’t let obstacles prevent me from doing what I need to do to find happiness. I go over, under, or around whatever is blocking my path to success.

Sometimes, that blockade was put in place by me. Sometimes, it was left by others. But it is my willpower, my unwavering desire, my belief that I CAN, which has allowed me to clear those hurdles one by one. It is my steadfastness that has let me heal from rejection, unfairness, and tragedy.

It is my dedication, my diligence, my drive that has led me to the life I have today. How can that possibly be a negative?

Peace and love.4332_1149745819631_369708_n