Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Substitute Teacher Am I

See, the thing is, substitute teaching freaks me out. Well, the idea of subbing freaks me out. Once I get to the school, and I see what I'm supposed to be doing, I can calm down, but going to each new subbing assignment is like the perpetual new first day of work - remember how frightening those are? You don't know the culture, or where anything is, or what anyone is like. Subbing is like a perpetual first day at the new job.

Tomorrow - which is to say, later this morning - I have a potential stint at an elementary school in the Bronx. I have no clue what the flow of a day in an elementary school is supposed to be like, not having been in one for more than 20 years. My recollection of being around small children is that they're supposed to be kept busy every minute of the day otherwise there's this thing called "havoc" that winds up happening. I could cancel, but there's no reason for "too scared to go." And I desperately need the money if I want to get my car fixed and inspected, and go to DMAC in June, and pay back Chris for the registration fee he loaned me.

I really, truly don't know why I'm so freaked out to go in. The kids themselves don't frighten me; it's the unknown. I dislike not knowing what's expected of me, and I dislike that it's such a long commute. I'm beginning to admit to myself that I don't want to teach at the secondary level - I've thought about this for awhile - but I don't know what else I would do. (Adjuncting would be worse.) I just can't connect to students at that age, so I worry about that, too, when I sub. The only rational thing to do is to go back to bed, calm myself down, and realize that the work could not possibly be as bad as I think it might.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Payroll Troubles

I still haven't received a paycheck for my first subbing gig, way back at the beginning of March. I've waited a bit, because I wasn't sure if the NYCDOE needed a bit of extra time to mail out first paychecks. However, I finally got in touch with the chief administrator in the Division of Financial Operations, who advised me to contact the payroll secretary at the school in which I worked to confirm whether those service hours were entered; or I could log on to the Payroll Portal to check to see if my hours were submitted and a paycheck submitted.

I put in a call to the school's payroll secretary, who said she's call me back. In the meantime, I called HR Connect (the help desk/customer service part of the Department of Ed.) to get my reference number (which is not the same as my Employee ID number) so I could log on to the Payroll Portal. However, for some reason that I could not quite understand, because of my status as a substitute, the woman with whom I spoke couldn't provide me with my number, which she told me would be available on my paycheck. So the problem was circular: I couldn't log on to see if my paycheck had been sent until I got a reference number, which I couldn't get until I received a paycheck.

Fortunately, the payroll secretary did find that she had forgotten to attach something when she submitted my service hours, so I should receive this paycheck in a couple weeks. This means, though, that I'll be paying my car insurance a few days late and I won't have money for my LIRR ticket.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Yesterday was the first real spring day we've had this season that I can remember, so we went for a walk in the park. It was actually much nicer than I thought it would be, since it's a converted landfill, but the nature preserve people did a good job and a lot of people were out taking advantage of the park and the good weather.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

School Updates

I've pushed back my thesis completion date again. I haven't had the discipline to work on it this semester, so I'm going to have to tackle it over the summer; my thesis advisor told me she'll be very busy over the summer, so my official graduation may be December 2009. I'm still planning on walking next month, though. I have new appreciation for the ABD folks, and my fellow grad students whose thesis languish (or so it feels that mine is languishing) for a few semesters. And I feel very humbled and knocked down a few pegs in thinking I would complete my thesis in one semester. And I once again am very thankful that my teaching certification is not hinged on any manner of timely completion of this degree. Currently I regret having voluntarily agreed to write this thesis - this is possibly the first time I rue the day I thought it would be a good idea - but I also suspect that I need to reevaluate my position on writing these sort of thing, and will appreciate the self-discipline and the required work needed for that elusive doctoral dissertation, should I ever get there.

Spring break this week in the secondary schools - no guilt about not subbing. Over the weekend I'll work on a draft for my research paper for this last official class I have for my M.A. Three more weeks of the semester! Time to focus on the research, indeed. Footnotes to complete, maps to find...I suspect there's much more to this research project, and I suspect that the research paper itself will be the difficult part of it. I have several weeks to write it, though, and Dr. McGarrity has agreed to read over a draft for me when I hand it in on Tuesday.

Chris and I are going to a Richard Cheese concert on Saturday; I had bought him tickets for Christmas. Stella and Dave are also going, so perhaps we'll meet up for drinks afterwards, if we find each other and aren't too tired. Got their wedding invitation in the mail yesterday; they're getting married on Stella's birthday, at the end of June.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Ciara's Visit, Part 2

Dropped Ciara off at Penn Station this afternoon for her train ride back upstate. The rest of our visit went well, I think (I hope). Yesterday we went to Mass - I didn't realize how absolutely jammed the church would be. (It's been a couple years since I've gone to Mass on Easter Sunday; usually I go to the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening - the very, very long one.)

I do have to say that I was relieved (and impressed) at how easygoing and relaxed Ciara was. After Mass we hung out and attempted to go for a walk, but the wind was a bit too blustery and it was pretty nippy in the shade. We went out for dinner at the Plattduetsche Park Restaurant - every Easter they have a special menu (which, I should note, doesn't seem to change from year to year) - and even better, Elizabeth took the train out from LIRR to join us. After Elizabeth left, we rented The Revenge of the Pink Panther (causing much giggling in Ciara and much chortling in Chris).

Yesterday was really nice: Sunny and even a bit warm. Chris toddled off to work, but Ciara and I had some lunch and tea at Tea & Sympathy in the Village, and wandered around Chelsea Market before heading over to Grand Central Station and then back over to Times Square. Busy day; I feel like I've walked over all over the lower part of Manhattan.

Back to the work week tomorrow. This week is spring break for the school kids, and for some of the local colleges, but not for us at LIU (although I have no class tomorrow). I really need to start working on my research; the semester ends in three weeks and I have a paper to research and write, as well as the research for the group project for class.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ciara's Visit, Part I

With a bit of prodding and after a fair amount of what my family calls dithering, Anne has agreed to let Ciara come visit for the weekend, which has delighted me no end, in large part because I think this is the first time Anne has allowed Ciara to go anywhere without her, and because I get to finally spend some time just hanging out with Ciara, who I think suspects her visit may be more exciting than I can provide. After innumerable e-mails, I called Anne yesterday morning to light a fire under her in terms of her making arrangements for Ciara to hop on Amtrak and determine just how long Ciara would be permitted to stay (Monday afternoon).

Chris and I retrieved Ciara at Penn Station this morning, in the midst of some normal rainy April weather. Ciara, however, is really fantastic; we traipsed all throughout Chinatown in the rain, got a bit damp, but survived. We stopped off for lunch at a Vietnamese place (although by that time Ciara had already had a strawberry smoothie and half of Chris' bubble tea, which I suspect rendered her too full for lunch) before heading back to the subway.

On our way back to the subway, though, I spotted the Mahayana Buddhist Temple, which, according to Google, is the largest Buddhist Temple in New York City. Ciara and I investigated, and I have to admit it was pretty cool. Just quiet, but not devoid of people and some quiet chatter. In walking in, we saw a couple people (one of whom was using incense sticks) praying to a Buddha, and in walking further in we saw the main chamber, which included an impressively large Buddha (which I now wished I had walked up closer to), chairs surrounding a long table, mats for people to sit on, and the story of the historical Buddha, and a rather decorated area surrounding the giant Buddha. I wish I could have been permitted some video footage, which was not permitted (although I certainly understand why). It was very peaceful, and I wished I understood more about what the correct behavior was, aside from the "noble silence" one of the signs requested. I haven't spent much time in other houses of worship - only one Protestant church that I can think of; an occasional synagogue; scores of Catholic churches - but this was so foreign to me as to make me unsure of proper behavior aside from the normal respect I would give it.

It's not a great day for being outside, so I think we're relegated inside for the rest of the day. Tomorrow is Easter Sunday Mass, of course, and we have dinner reservations at the Plattduetsche Park Restaurant for their annual Easter dinner; Elizabeth has agreed to come in from Brooklyn to have dinner with us. (I'm glad for that, this year; since we no longer have family gatherings for Easter, I find just how much I miss those parties.)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

I am currently in the process of feeling a bit over-churched: At noon I went to the outdoor Stations of the Cross (we got drizzled on during the 11th station, when Jesus is crucified, which was fitting); I went home for lunch and scurried back at 3 p.m. for the Celebration of the Passion, which included Veneration of the Cross and Confessions after Mass, so I didn't get out of church until about 5 p.m. My parish is holding a Good Friday evening prayer service, which includes our choir singing Dubois' "Seven Last Words of Jesus," but I think I'm just too tired, and I feel I've focused on the more important liturgical aspects so far, aside from Sunday's Mass. I'm curious to hear Dubois' work, which the choir I think performs yearly at the Good Friday service, but Ciara is coming for a visit tomorrow and I also need to tidy up a bit, go to the store, and get ourselves ready. 

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Holy Thursday

Another Holy Thursday has rolled by. I went to Mass this evening, although I left right after Communion to make sure Chris and I got dinner before it became impossible to find anything. I went back for the Night Prayer, though, which was just...nice. I stayed for the last half an hour or so, but once I got there I wished I had arrived earlier. It felt calm and restful, like sitting with a very comfortable friend with whom you don't need to speak; you could just sit there companionably - I felt like I could sit there for awhile, and just clear my head.

Tomorrow I'll probably attend the
Stations of the Cross, the Celebration of the Passion, and the Good Friday evening prayer, which includes our church choir singing Dubois' "Seven Last Words of Christ." I agreed to be a Eucharistic Minister at one of the Sunday Masses, which means no Easter Vigil this year.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

NEWCA 2009 Video

I'm surprised I was able to upload this video at all; it's such a long one, and a big file to boot. But I'm having trouble with iMovie and can't do any more editing in terms of saving it in smaller clips (the opening remarks, the keynote, the lunch talk), but perhaps I'll figure that out at a later date.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

NEWCA 2009 - Day 2

I led my first SIG this morning - Tutoring in the Disciplines. Last year was the first year that SIGs were introduced into the program; they were held on Sunday morning and each SIG was held twice, at 10 a.m. and again at 11 a.m., so that if interested attendees could visit more than one SIG. We repeated that model this year, and I was pleased that people actually showed up at both sessions. I attempted to put something together so I could have a handout, a bibliography or "suggested reading" or something of the sort, but couldn't really find anything that would have been too helpful, and in a sense I'm glad it worked out that way because "tutoring in the disciplines" had meant something else to me than it did those who attended my SIG. I was thinking that tutoring in the disciplines was more along the lines of tutoring across the disciplines, while others were more concerned with tutoring writing in various fields, which is the other part of tutoring in the disciplines that I had been thinking of.

I realized in the first hour just how concerned tutors are in terms of tutoring writing in disciplines about which they know very little - any field that isn't directly in their major or about a topic they know something about - but there was equal concern and interest in that line between tutoring and outright teaching, being directive vs. being non-directive; in essence, determining when you have to teach or re-teach concepts directly vs. leading the student through her basic understanding of the material in order for her to understand the higher level material. We-the-tutors can still address the writing itself in terms of clarity or format (a lab report vs. a legal brief vs. a research paper, etc.), but there was a distinct line about what we
do allow ourselves to do as tutors, and what we feel we should not do. Most of that concern boils down to not wanting to take over the session or doing the students' work for them, and keeping those "best practices" in mind also, but learning to distinguish when it might be acceptable, and even needed, to do within the confines of a tutoring session, and when we're crossing boundaries. These were most of the issues that came up in the SIGs, and I'm really glad I got the chance to lead that particular one. And if I get the chance to lead that SIG again, I'll have an idea of the types of resources I might be able to bring.

The drive home was much smoother than Friday's drive. No rain whatsoever, and I was home by mid-afternoon. I have a video that I edited together but it's such a large one - almost 1G, an hour and 19 minutes long - that I can't quite figure out where I can upload it yet. And I'm having trouble editing it back into manageable portions (dividing it between the opening remarks, the keynote speech, and the talk given at lunch), which is what I should have done to begin with. My harddrive is nearly full, and I suspect that's affecting my ability to do much with iMovie.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

NEWCA 2009 - Day 1

I've been enjoying this year's NEWCA conference, here in beautiful, cloudy, drizzly Hartford. (I've come to realize that no matter how nice a city might be, it always looks industrial in the right type of weather.) The drive up on Friday was really pretty awful; for at least 90 minutes the rain was torrential - so heavy that I could barely seen more than a few feet in front of my car. I stopped off at a rest stop outside Brewster, and when I emerged the rain had let up, although there were still periods of heavy rain, but not as bad as it had been until that point. The drive was unilaterally bad for everyone; everyone got caught in the downpour. In January, when I drove up to the University of Hartford for a steering committee meeting, the drive took me about 2 ½ - 3 hours; Friday's drive took more than 3 ½ hours. But be that as it may, the reset of the conference has been going very well. Joining the steering committee was actually a very good move.

I arrived Friday at the hotel, had the chance to dry off and clean up, and meet a hoard of steering committee folks for dinner at the in-hotel restaurant, which was pretty good. (No meat on Fridays during Lent? Decidedly not a problem for a happy sushi eater.)

The sessions today were good. I chaired a session called "Record, Reflect, Renew: Using iPods to Understand Writing Center Work," in which students/tutors were using iPods to record tutor sessions for analysis and tutor training purposes. The second session I attended, "Decentering the Center: Taking the Writing Center Pedagogy into the Community," was co-presented by two Teaching Fellow from St. John's Univ. in Queens; they discussed taking writing center pedagogy into the community - Meridith into a church-based group; Kerri into her former high school - both of which I found extremely interesting. Hearing them talk about the community outreach being done and supported by the St. John's folks finally got me to see what (I think) a few folks had been trying to tell me about applying to doctoral programs. I only talked very briefly to Meridith about her tenure at St. John's Univ., but she really seemed to love it, and after two years she's done with her coursework (or will be in May), and has a couple years to work on her dissertation. I realized that I really enjoy those outreach movements and am really developing an interest in building community outreach between university writing centers and secondary schools. I finally got the point of possibly applying to a Ph.D. program. One of my hesitancies was that I wasn't sure in what capacity I'd study or have use for the degree, but I'm beginning to see the possibilities now. I still need to teach at the secondary level to gain some street cred, but still, I have an idea. I also saw my friend Lauren, who was co-leading a workshop ("
Mandatory Tutoring Sessions: How Writing Center Tutors Can Squash the Combative Nature of Mandated FYW Tutoring Sessions") on combating the negative nature of required tutoring sessions, which I sat in on. Both she and Meridith had high praise for the doctoral program at S.J.U., which is something I've filed away for future use.

Tonight: Dinner, again, with some steering committee folks. I was surprised at the number of people who only stayed a day, but I was glad to have dinner buddies to hang out with. Everyone is extremely amenable and really made me feel welcome. I have to remember to brand myself a teacher; I keep labeling myself a grad student - which I am - but I'm also a teacher, just like everyone else on the steering committee.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Self-Inflicted Frustration

This post is partly based on the conversation I had with my father last night, but isn't directed specifically at him; I've been getting these questions from other people as well, and the more I get asked, the more I get frustrated, but I can't direct my frustration at anyone in particular because people mean well and are simply curious.

Two questions have been frustrating me lately:
1.) How's the thesis going?
2.) What are your plans after graduation?

Question number one isn't unreasonable. I wrote my 50-page thesis over about 10 days in early January, during the winter break. It was terrible. Well, perhaps not terrible, but not great. My writing process is such that my first drafts tend to extremely rough, but I need to get everything out there on paper, and then I revise and my subsequent drafts are a lot better. My thesis advisor is head of the LIU Writing Program, and having been in one of her classes before she remembered that about my writing. But between my current class, tutoring, and the very occasional subbing, I haven't even read her comments yet. (And she was extremely thorough in her feedback.) However, I don't want to read her comments because I'll be inclined to just focus on the thesis, and I can't
just focus on my thesis right now. But in any case, the thesis is a thorn in my side, and I don't want to be asked about it. When it's done, and everyone has signed off on it, I'll be proclaiming it from the mountains. I've tried to say as nicely as I can to those who have asked, "Please don't ask; I don't want to talk about it." Yet no matter how I say it people get offended. I don't mean to offend anyone but I really wish people would just leave it alone until I bring it up.

Question number two is a bit more irritating. I've been certified teacher since 2007, and I've been looking for teaching gigs ever since, so my MA will not make me any more certified; it's just one step on the way to permanent certification (I need those two years of full time teaching experience as well). The absence of a degree hasn't been an inhibitor in my getting a teaching job, requirement-wise. But I'm not a 22-year-old who's just completing her BA and doesn't have any idea what to do after graduation; my plans after graduation have been the same now for two years, and will continue to be the same until, you know,
I get a teaching job. I wish people would recognize that there's a lot of competition for English teaching positions; the teacher shortage in NYC doesn't apply to English teachers. I guess one way to look at that question of what I'll do after graduation is, "When are you going to give up looking for a teaching gig and just scramble for anything you can find?"

I'm frustrated with these questions because I'm frustrated by things I can't control, like the job market or the competition. I'm frustrated because I hate not being employed. I'm frustrated because I'm a drain on Chris' resources and I'm tired of being so poor I have to ask for money for every damned thing. Yes, this is a lot of complaining, but I'm finally able to articulate that every time I get asked these questions, my own professional insecurities and unhappiness get brought to the surface again. I wonder why it is I can't get a job and even though it's never entirely personal it always is somewhat personal, and it's really been taking a toll on my self-confidence (what little of it I ever had).

I think about school from the moment I get up to the moment I go to sleep. I would really welcome conversation about anything else at this point. It gets tiring being asked the same questions ad infinitum.