January 2009


Friday was satisfying for me, satisfying in a way Fridays normally aren’t (that is, satisfying not just because it’s the end of the week). I feel like I’m finally starting to pull everything together – for the most part – and Friday was a good example of this.

I went to school thinking about my thought of the day, and I decided at some point that I needed to address the elephant in the room with my seniors – the fact that my relative inexperience has been keeping us from progressing like we should be. I can’t explain why, but I felt like I needed to be honest about the situation that I – and by extension, all of my seniors – have found myself in with this course.

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Going into another day of school – thankfully, the last one of the week; I need time to think! – here’s what I’m going to be thinking about:

Today is another chance to do things right.

Sometimes I struggle for things to say here – well, no, I struggle as to what I should say here. I by no means want to have a breakdown of everything that happens, and I want to say something useful for my own cataloguing and for the reading of others.

I say this because I feel like I need to bypass any sort of discussion about one of my sections – the juniors – that is going exceptionally well. I feel like I know the literature we’re studying, and I’ve been relatively successful (I think) at finding ways to engage students. (Technology especially helped with that today.) I want to recognize that I am doing well, by my own assessment and by that of my co-op, but I need to focus on my problem course: AP.

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Today was another day, one that started off in sort of a frantic rush. We got a fair amount of snow overnight, and I was stuck clearing off two cars (the first car, which I drove over to pick up the car I would drive to school, which was also covered). This compounded the fact that I was running late, and the roads were bad enough that I was rather slowed down by other cars (I tend not to be too slowed down by snowy and icy roads, only by people being more cautious than I). Then I realized seven miles toward my destination (which is about 20 miles away) that I had left my lunch and my briefcase in the first car, so I turned around and went back. To my horror, I ended up making it to school about 10 minutes after school had begun.

Fortunately, I caught a break: today was our Mimio training, and the trainer hadn’t even made it in yet!

Which brings me to that imperative that I’ve so often told students but not remembered myself: Don’t panic! (It’s too bad that very few of my students get the reference – why isn’t Douglas Adams more appreciated?) I need to remember this a little more, even though I don’t consider myself a worrying person.

The training, though, was quite excellent, not to mention a lot of fun, and now I’m really hooked on the device. I will be using it tomorrow, trying to get students involved in its use. Hopefully, it will be something that I can keep doing – somewhat sparingly – in order to keep students a little more engaged. The more they can interact, the better, and the more of them that I can get to interact, the better.

Now I have some planning ahead for the seniors, who really need some direction. The real problem I’m having is not being assessment minded – there is a very tangible product of the unit – but in trying to teach skills rather than information. Everything is so individualized that it’s much more difficult to find ways to have every student doing work without doing it individually. I have some thinking to do – how do you deal with instruction like this that is so much less of a corporate affair?

Occasionally, in the midst of trying to plan lessons, an idea hits me that seems to be somewhat inspired. Sometimes those good ideas translate over from my head into the classroom, and today was – I think – one of those days in which something worked. So, for the benefit of other teachers (and for my own memory), I’m posting it here:

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Well, it took about four weeks, but the spell has been broken; indeed, the gauntlet has been thrown down (if I may be permitted to mix my metaphors a bit – sorry, Orwell).

They finally decided to push me.

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Despite being a Monday (which apparently are at least good for some), today was a pretty decent day. We moved through the rest of our Poetry Out Loud recitations, which turned out quite excellent (well, at least for the juniors; the seniors sort of phoned it in, with some notable exceptions). I’m really proud of a lot of our kids, many of whom didn’t like the idea but still put forth an effort as well as a good showing. I’ll be excited to see how our classroom winners do at the school contest later this week.

Now we get into the fun stuff: The seniors are moving very quickly into more research, and I’m going to have to push them pretty hard. The paper, which is 8-12 pages in length, will be due in a little over two weeks, and we’re very much in the initial stages right now. I have to keep telling myself that we need to keep moving because I’ve been very tempted to hold back, and I can’t do that.

The juniors, on the other hand, are continuing the unit on transcendentalism, and I have to get an assessment ready. I have really struggled with this unit despite being fairly familiar with the works we’ve studied, and I think this is because I haven’t been very assessment-minded. This needs to change, and quickly. I do sort of have a plan, though, and now I just need to implement it myself. (Isn’t that the tricky part?)

It really makes me wonder how other teachers handle planning and assessments. I seem to be thinking about discrete lessons rather than the big picture of units, and that is a serious problem. But nevertheless, I press on, and I’m confident that I can turn things around this week.

Let’s hope I’m right this time.

When you think you need summer, remember that your students need you more.

[inspired by a message on Facebook]

Like I said yesterday, things work in cycles. I’m back up now.

For one, I solved the problem with a few of my students, and I’m almost glad that it worked out this way because I got to talk to one in particular and know have a better understanding of his personal situation. I cannot forget that each student has their individual issues and struggles, and I need to be more aware of them – for every student.

The other really nice thing today is that I didn’t have to teach anything today: all four of my high school classes have been doing Poetry Out Loud today. The results have been impressive, especially the juniors, who have had some real standouts. (The funny thing is that most of them have never done this before, and the seniors have – but the seniors don’t care as much, I think, by virtue of being in their last semester of high school). Moreover, individual students – ones who I didn’t expect to put much work into the activity – have surprised me rather pleasantly.

Now I have the weekend to do more planning, for the end of our transcendentalism unit and for our continuing research unit. I also intend on changing seating charts – despite many of the students saying they don’t want new seats – because we need a change in at least a few of the classes. But at least I know I can keep my head up, prepare for another easy day on Monday (more poetry), and get ahead of the game. And I’m glad that things are looking up.

I think teaching is cyclical just like anything else: There are good days, and there are bad. Some days, you feel like you’ve accomplished a great deal; other days, you feel like you’ve failed to do your job for your students entirely. And on rarer days, you might feel both in spurts, which is precisely what I felt today.

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