Mid-Autumn Check-in

In which I begin to find a balance between teaching and being a grad student.

I haven’t written as much as I’d have liked since the start of the school year, and I’m looking at a drafts folder littered with sentences and scraps of ideas that I hope to properly flush out during the month of November. We recently wrapped up the 1st marking period, and I feel like I’m finally starting to get a grip on everything.

Everyone talks about how stressful the first year of teaching is, and they weren’t exaggerating. I’ve never juggled so many things at one time, and these stressors are further compounded by going to grad school in the evenings. Thankfully, I only have to trek to Hunter once a week, and I find that much preferable to two separate trips or coming in for a Saturday class as some of my NYCTC cohort members are doing. My average Thursday afternoon routine consists of bolting out of my classroom right at the student bell, getting on the train, and practically inhaling a venti cold brew before going to class.

I consider myself fortunate to be working at a good school. I have great colleagues, supportive supervisors, wonderful students, and am fortunate to have a great working relationship with my algebra co-teacher.

I haven’t yet figured out how to get to a point where I can completely leave all work behind during my contracted hours. I don’t think it’s realistic at all for any early-career teacher to get to that point, to be honest. Maybe that’ll change once I have a year or two under my belt and feel more comfortable. For now, I’ll keep trying to set reasonable boundaries and making the most of my available work time.

One thing about teaching is that you’ve got to learn to take the bad along with the good. I’ve dealt with rude students who believe that they are entitled to have their demands met at the drop of a hat, and I’ve gotten to better know my students who have various needs and challenges, including some strategies that can help them be successful in my class. At the same time, students feel comfortable sharing their wins and challenges with me, and it’s been particularly satisfying to help students navigate their transition to high school. I was pleasantly surprised to find several of my students have an interest in speed cubing, and I’m excited to start a Tabletop Club for all things related to board games, tabletop RPGs, speed cubing, etc. We already have a popular e-sports team that’s known as the Gaming Club, so I shied away from using the word.

Outside of my day-to-day work, it’s an incredibly interesting time to follow along with union matters. Our contract expired in September, and the city unions are preparing for what is certain is to be a long, drawn-out contract negotiation process. I’ve been a member of the UFT for about two years now, and I’m not sure much how much more of the Unity caucus’s nonsense I can stomach.

Last month, I started going to the biweekly Executive Board meetings, largely to support the 7 HS executive board members and to stay abreast of the most recent updates from our union. Needless to say that I’ve left these meetings feeling a mix of frustration and disgust – largely due to the intentional efforts of Unity caucus to silence dissenting voices within our union. I’m sure I’ll have much more to say in the coming months as I witness more of this spectacle firsthand. For now, I’ll defer to more seasoned unionists and bloggers such as the folks at New Action and Norm Scott to provide insight into what’s going on.

Teaching is easily the most stressful job that I’ve ever had, but there’s something oddly enticing about the challenge. There’s always something to think about, whether that be curriculum pacing, student engagement, IEP data collection, and more. I love what I do, and am fortunate to work alongside great students, colleagues, and union comrades. I’m navigating my fair share of difficulties, but I don’t think I’m doing any worse than other new teachers who are in a similar position as me. The work will always be there, and I’m doing my best to set healthy boundaries along the way. At the same time, I like to think that I’m making a positive difference in my students’ lives.

The Summer Term Has Come and Gone

On finding a rhythm in grad school (again) and brushing the dust off of my impeccable APA citation skills.

As part of my first summer in the Teaching Collaborative, I began my graduate coursework for the M.S.Ed in adolescent special education at Hunter College. We seem to be hopefully in the waning stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, and our first term of coursework has been a decent mix of hybrid classes, meeting online, in-person, and sometimes working asynchronously for certain modules. Summer coursework at Hunter is broken up into 3 sessions, and each of my three classes so far have fallen under one of the five week sessions. Most of the Collaborative’s university partners begin graduate coursework in the summer, with a few exceptions (I know a colleague at Touro mentioned that they’re starting in the fall).

For this year’s Hunter College adolescent special education cohort, we took three courses: one on literacy and another on math methods during the first summer term, and a class on the study of learning disabilities during the last 5 week summer term. I thought I learned a good deal from these courses, especially given that they each happen in the span of 5 weeks. I can’t help but wonder what sacrifices have to be made when condensing a graduate level course down into 5 weeks, but my professors have been great. Our program intentionally sets a foundational knowledge base with the three classes that I mentioned above, and I’m feeling pretty ready to incorporate these tools and ideas into my teaching practice. Our faculty talk a lot about modeling strategies, tools, and other things that we can tangibly take into the classroom, and the faculty that I’ve worked with so far have all been great.

For those that are curious about how we ended up at our respective graduate programs, NYCTC Partner Teachers are able to rank their top 2-3 graduate school preferences based on the universities that partner with the DOE for each subject area. The program says that most participants get their first choice of grad program, and that seems to track pretty well with what I’ve observed and heard from others in my cohort. I don’t think I knew of anyone who got their third choice based on the grad school preference survey.

I’ve enjoyed the feeling of being back on a college campus again. Before the pandemic, I was finishing up my first masters degree in higher education and student affairs at Indiana University. As an undergrad and graduate student, I held various roles on multiple campuses, with almost all of my responsibilities falling under the umbrella of residential life and working in university residence halls. It does feel somewhat strange to be back on campus as only a student and to have no other responsibilities. One nice thing about being at Hunter is that I appreciate having access to facilities like lounges and study areas whenever I’m on campus. It’s nice to know that while I’m on the Upper East Side there’s always at least two places I can go to without an expectation of spending my money (the other being a New York Public Library branch).

As I wind down my last of the three summer classes (study of learning disabilities), I’m putting my finishing touches on an IEP group project, working my way through the NYSED autism workshop curriculum, and completing a course reflection assignment. On one hand, I’m excited for a short break between grad school and the start of the school year. Once the school year starts I’ll see how I do balancing teaching full time and going to grad school at night. On the other hand, I find myself ruminative. I find myself thinking about the aspects of my journey that have lead me to this point, and I find myself thinking about the students that I’ll be meeting and teaching in just over a month.

I’m under no delusion that my first year in the classroom is going to be flawless. If anything, I’ve heard that the first year is the hardest part of one’s teaching career. Whatever comes my way, I’m going to do my very best and take it all in stride.

Shaking the Dust Off of Emacs

Who wouldn’t want to compose most of their text in a program from the 1970’s?

It’s been a while since I’ve messed around with emacs, an extensible, customizable text editor that can literally do anything under the sun.

The summer term at Hunter College began about two weeks ago, marking the beginning of my return to grad school. With it being the start of a new chapter in my academic journey, I thought it would be a great time to revisit my productivity tools.

I’ve previously used Google Drive, which is a great all-around tool for notes. The interface is good enough, generally easy to use, and Drive makes files pretty easy to edit and share. Google Drive is an amazing collaborative tool, and I expect most of my teaching work in the fall will be based around Drive, including lesson plans, lesson slide decks for students, etc.

A few years ago, I dabbled in statistics and computer science when I was a graduate student at Indiana University. In the process, I learned enough Python and R to rekindle a long-forgotten love that I had developed for technology.

My stats coursework was a watershed moment for my productivity, because it was during an introductory statistics course that I discovered R Markdown, a fantastic tool for gathering notes, data, code, etc. all in one place.

R Markdown is a type of markdown language, meaning that plain text can be converted to a number of elements, such as bold or italicized text, links, and more. The beauty of markdown languages lies in their simplicity. Without wading through GUI menus in Word or Google Docs to implement various types of formatted texts, I find it much easier to get my notes and thoughts directly from my head into a digital file. Markdown streamlines the writing process exponentially for those who take the time to learn it, although I recognize it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Many will prefer the familiar GUI’s of Microsoft Office or Google Drive, and that’s completely fine.

Using R Markdown in RStudio was a huge step in the right direction for my productivity, but it still was bogged down by some of the same problems as other GUI editors — it wasn’t always clear how to do certain things, and every time I move my right hand to move the mouse or tap the touchpad I lose just a bit of my efficiency. I know it seems trivial, but the time needed to move a mouse, click on the screen, and return to a typing position really do add up. I later realized that .rmd files could be prepared in plain text files– perhaps I will try experimenting more with the format one day. I sometimes suffer from being enticed by multiple options to get a task done, that I’ve sometimes stopped myself from getting any work done at all. I’ve used emacs these last few weeks, and I’m committed to this workflow, at least for now.

I wanted a text editor that can be whatever I need it to be, and that can also grow with me over time as I learn more about it’s features and the myriad of ways to customize it. I was never a power user by any means, but I worked through the emacs tutorial a couple of times and looked over a cheat sheet enough to realize how powerful of a tool it can be.

As I settle into the term, I’m going to use this summer to experiment with a note taking workflow based on org mode, an emacs mode that streamlines a lot of organizational tasks, such as note-taking, various documents, to-do lists, and more. I largely use org mode as a note-taking system, but there are plenty of other awesome things that I hope to learn over time.

Unfortunately, I’m fairly certain that I’ll never get to share my interest in emacs with future coworkers — teachers who live pretty happily in Microsoft Office and Google Suite tools. Not everyone wants to work inside of a program that looks like a terminal shell from the 1970’s, and that’s totally fine. In the meantime, I’ll likely use emacs for my own use, copying and pasting text wherever it needs to go.