Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Marathon days

For the last couple of weeks, I've been arriving at school around 6:30 a.m. and leaving, on average, around 5:00 p.m. I've been planning, grading, organizing, messaging, filing, cleaning, e-mailing, calling, researching, tweaking, printing, copying, editing, recording, reserving, requesting, previewing, reading, and reflecting. I've also done some sighing, laughing, and talking, usually with others but sometimes just with myself.

There is SO much that goes into the planning and execution of a teacher's day. When students walk in it all seems so simple: there's an agenda on the board, a fresh handout to take, and a lesson to do. Students don't see the hours that go into the crafting of each day's plan. I sure do. I experience it at the end of each day when I come home feeling like I've been drained by Dracula. Yet somewhere I'm finding the reserve to go for a jog or lift some weights. One of my goals this year was to be active at least four days a week, hopefully more, but at least four days. So far I've been sticking to that plan, and it feels good.

Today for the first time I feel like I was actually able to do some advanced planning. I'm getting a better handle on where I'm going with all my classes, and it feels good. I'm starting to get to know the kids a bit more, and individual and class identities are starting to form. I like my students, and I love what I do. The thing is, there's just so much to do. And I want to do it all well, and as a result, I spend more time than I probably should on some things. Yet each year I become better and more efficient at older tasks, which gives me time to experiment and try new ideas.

The key is finding a balance between the new and the essential, keeping it fresh while also ensuring the foundation remains solid.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The The Impotence of Proofreading

If your in kneed of a laugh cheek this out. Samoa the languid is a bit risk knee, so proceeds at you're hone wrist.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Rolling along

It's hard to believe that midterm grades for first quarter close this Friday. I feel like it wasn't that long ago (because it wasn't) when I was introducing my students to my classroom and the expectations for the year. Fortunately, I have found some time to catch up, but I'm still working my way to a comfortable spot.

So far I've managed to tweak and improve a couple of my key handouts, including my Literature Circle Jobs sheet. Once I upload the new version I'll link to it here in this post and on my English Teaching Resources page. I've also made it a priority to be more explicit in my instruction and provide more silence and wait time than in the past to make sure all students understand what it is I want them to do and how I want them to do it. Adults speak at a faster rate than teenagers can process. As such, I'm trying to give kids enough time to digest what I say the first time, with the hope that this will reduce the number of times I need to repeat myself.

My 9th grade students are ready to dive into The Pearl. We'll read it in about a week, respond using literature circles, and wrap up with a Socratic seminar before writing an essay on value (what do you value, why do you value it, how is value determined, can you put a price tag on those things most valuable to you?).

My seniors will tear into Oedipus later this week, and my journalism students are already working on their second articles of the quarter. In two nights we'll have open house at my school, where I'll be able to explain to parents all the exciting things their children are doing. Open house certainly makes for a long day, but it's nice to make connections with parents and give them a little glimpse of the students' experience.

In October I'll observe an old colleague at his new high school, take a tour of the local newspaper with my Journalism class, and attend the New England Association of Teachers of English's Annual Conference. I've gone for the past five or six years. Each time, the conference ends up being one of the highlights of my year. It's a great opportunity to network, learn some new tricks and teaching ideas, and commiserate with other teachers of the trade.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I am still here

For some reason, it seems like the school year started at about 85 mph. Despite this being my sixth year in the classroom, I feel like I've been treading water since day one. My students are great, classes are going well, but I'm struggling to find momentum.

I suppose a large reason for this is it's still early. In the beginning of the year I spend more time than usual talking, directing, and explaining. I'm trying to teach my students a variety of systems, protocols, procedures, and expectations, all while trying to delve into content. It's a balancing act that's confounded by picture day, fire drills, standardized assessments, and assemblies.

And then there's technology. One of the first things I have students do is create individual class blogs where they will post writing over the course of the year. For a few, the blog setup is quick and painless. For most, though, it's fraught with login errors, buffer overruns, browser freezes, e-mail attachment failures, and Internet crashes.

The key is anticipating and adjusting to the learning curve required to get the most out of the school's older technological devices. It's figuring out how to print, where to print, when to print. It's knowing when to log off or shut down, it's remembering to hit "save," it's opening a Word 2007 document in Word 2003. It's transferring text from Word Perfect to AbiWord to Word to a blog. It's learning the difference between "Publish Post" and "Save Now." It's understanding what a URL is and how to e-mail a link.

It's skills, competencies, strategies, and ways to navigate, manipulate, move, and display. It's systems and procedures and a good way and a better way and the best way. It's all happening in 55 minutes. That and homework and vocabulary and literature and a warm up responding to a quote. It's following an agenda and taking out a planner and writing notes and finding the tissues. It's where do I sharpen my pencil and how do I leave for the bathroom and is there any scrap paper?

It's all of that and so much more. Every day. Questions and needs. Problems and solutions. It's "what did I miss yesterday?" and "can you repeat that?" And there's a lot of "wait." I notice students say "wait" a lot. Am I going too fast? Is this too much? Stimuli flying at 85 mph nonstop in every direction.

Finally, a bell. Pack it up, put it away, bundle it for a journey to the next room. A new routine. More stimuli. Different variety. Again. And again. And again. And again. And again. Then a short reprieve, followed by practice, or work, or both. Then homework. Late nights. Early mornings. The shuffle and cycle of students moving through the machine.