Thursday, July 5, 2007

Early return

The Shays Rebellion monument, one of many intriguing spots along the 2,157-mile Appalachian Trail.

I am back from four days of hiking on the Appalachian Trail, and despite a mild head cold, my body feels great.

My old roommate and I hiked about 35 miles, and decided to call off the second leg of our excursion due to my congestion and his achy knees and ankles. While I missed many of the creature comforts of civilized life (ice cream, sandwiches on toasted rolls, the Red Sox on my 46-inch HD DLP TV), I appreciated the calmness of nature.

On our first night we camped under a full moon. The site we stayed at had an incredible view into a pine valley. As we watched the moon rise through the clouds we could hear the eerie call of an owl in search of a mate. In the morning we awoke to the sound of birds chirping and chipmunks skittering.

While it was difficult - and at times strenuous - carrying my 45-pound pack up and down the Berkshire mountains, it was also exhilarating and sustaining, as I could tell my body was grateful not to be sedentary.

I definitely plan to go out again this summer, perhaps with two additional friends. Now is the time to do it. In a few months I'll once again be wrapped up in the duties and trappings of my profession. Hopefully, by the time summer ends, I'll have devised a way to schedule sufficient time for myself during the school year. I know that living a well-rounded, healthy life will make me a stronger, clearer, more satisfied, more effective teacher.

If any of you have a story about how you've been able to strike a balance (or not) between career, family, and personal well-being, please feel free to share.


Miss B said...

Still working on the personal/professional balance thing. Last year was especially tough with student teaching, but I'm hoping this year will be easier. I'll let you know if I figure it out.

When we began student teaching, one of the advisers actually told us to kiss any semblance of a life goodbye from January to April (in my case, June), and he was absolutely right.

I'm definitely enjoying the slow, relaxed pace of summer. Sounds as if you are, too. Did you catch the game tonight? 15-4! Woo hoo!

On another note, seeing as you've hiked the Appalachian Trail, have you read Bill Bryson's (often humorous) account of this feat? It's a wonderful book, you should check it out :)

Mr. B-G said...

Oh yes, I have checked out Bryson's book - it partially inspired me to hike the AT. My initial goal was to make it as far as he did.

So far I've logged about 1,100 miles, a little more than half the trail.

I know that new teachers are told to kiss any semblance of a life goodbye, but next year will be my 4th year teaching high school students, and, frankly, I am going to demand that I take time for me too.

It is no wonder that half of all new teachers leave the profession after five years. Think about that statistic. HALF. There are clearly many reasons for this figure, but one of them is the idea that teachers must be superheros in order to succeed.

I certainly enjoyed Freedom Writers, but 99 percent of teachers would burn out and quit before they had a chance to duplicate some of Erin Gruwell's successes.

The notion that we're supposed to work second or third jobs to raise $ to buy the things we need for our classrooms is, for example, absurd. By the time I get home at 6 p.m. after working a 12-hour day I barely have enough energy to order takeout from the pizza joint directly across from my house!

Rita said...

I'm a 6th year Eng. teacher. I think I struck a better balance last year, but I didn't have any new preps, and I only introduced one or two new novels. My class sizes were also particularly reasonable, which helps with the paper grading (thank you scheduling principal!). This coming year I have a new prep (AP no less), so I expect it to be crazier. I'm going to experiment with some of ways of cutting paper load I've been reading in the English Journal, but I don't expect it to have much impact. There's only so much you can do when you have three sections of 7-page full process research papers to deal with. Good luck! The ride is even more fun when you have a family :).
PS I had a 1st year teacher sharing my classroom last year and she screened that Freedom Writers film. She didn't understand why I thought it was a comedy.

Mr. B-G said...

Ha ha. Good stuff. Glad to hear you've been able to manage. Feel free to share how those English Journal essay reading tips work out.

While there are many ways to read and assess writing, the bottom line is that even if you devise a terse feedback system, you still have to actually read everything.

And some students really love feedback, while others just want the grade and throw the paper with your long-labored comments in the recycle bin on their way out the door.

It's definitely a balancing act, and it depends on the students, the assignment, your goals and expectations, and the feedback that they need.

Good luck with AP.

Rita said...

AP will be fun... I hope. I'll have the only section, which is a lot of pressure in my district (lots of parents who are faculty at Wash U., etc. -- ever taught the kids of English professors... YOUR former English professors? yikes!). I expect to do much of my experimenting on them.

It pisses me off when I think my comments are ignored, so I make them fix stuff. I found an idea called Glossing in an issue EJ a few years ago that I really like. That way the little darlings must pay attention to all my slaving over their essays.

I think it also helps that I do absolutely as much prep work as I can over the summer, so it's really just grading I'm dealing with during the year (and paperwork and parents and pd...).

Let me know if you find the magic balancing bullet. The fact that NCTE publishes so much stuff about cutting the essay grading load probably speaks to it being the holy grail of English teachers :).

Mr. B-G said...

One way to provide more feedback on students' writing is to teach them to respond to the things we, as their English teachers, respond to.

This isn't easy, and it takes a lot of modeling to move them beyond saying "this was good" and fixing only minor grammar mistakes.

Some of my students last year were really able to "get it," and did a wonderful job offering each other thoughtful comments that they could apply to future writing assignments too.

If I do discover a "magic balancing bullet" I will be sure to give you one to load in your chamber!