March 2010


The bell rings to signal the end of the day, and the students in my last hour class frantically escape their academic chains for the day. I sit at my computer and try to do some work, until my visitor arrives.

And arrive he does, in grand style: the door swings furiously open, and the student furiously takes a seat in the front row of my classroom.

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I’m up late grading papers, about to quit for the night, and somehow in my distraction, I got to thinking aimlessly.

My thoughts for some reason turned back to my eighth graders last year from student teaching, many of whom I still think about and wonder how they’re doing in high school this year. And as I thought about that, I thought about the last day of student teaching and how my cooperating teacher for that group acted.

I admit that I am a little bitter still about being robbed of a final moment with a class that was a struggle to connect with. I think singing them a song they had talked about for the majority of the time I was there would have solidified the memory, and instead, the time was spent watching narcoleptic cats, which none of the students enjoyed as much as the co-op did. And the send-off that we got as a class was almost entirely provided by me, since the teacher bailed on bringing drinks as he had agreed to.

But I am a believer in learning what I teach, and this practice has affected me profoundly during the discussion I’ve had with my sophomores over To Kill a Mockingbird. The model of Atticus Finch and his saintly heuristic of “walking in someone else’s skin/shoes” provides a high moral standard, and the fact that he turns it to people in the novel that seem at first glance to be just bad people (Mrs. Dubose, for one; Bob Ewell, for another) demonstrates how difficult it is to hold it consistently.

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I generally don’t divulge many details about what is happening in my school, and I have tried to keep a modicum of anonymity (although I know that the curious reader could probably put the pieces together). That’s for my protection as well as my students, none of whom deserve to be dragged into blog posts by name (or even gender, where I can avoid it). I know as a first-year teacher that I am in somewhat of a precarious spot, despite the fact that my position itself is not anywhere close to being on the chopping block and that I have pleased administrators enough that I think I’ll be around next year. (It also helps that I’m the third high school English teacher in as many years; the position needs some consistency.)

But I have to write about something that is happening at my school right now. It’s simply too much for me to keep in.

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This week is going to be a long one: seniors turn in research papers tomorrow, for one. I have two out of a grand total of 19 that I’ll end up grading (hopefully, at least – not turning this assignment in will kill a 2nd semester grade in a hurry), and whereas I don’t expect to take the two weeks that it took last year for 50+, it will still be exhausting, I know.

I also start PSAE/ACT prep for my juniors this week, which will carry us through the last week in April. I have never done this before, and I’m going to be shooting from the hip in many regards. I have taught persuasion multiple times now, including once last year in preparation for the ACT Writing test, so that will be the relatively easy part. On the other hand, I haven’t taught much grammar this year, and now it will kick into serious gear. I fortunately think I have some good resources on this, so I’m hopeful.

Essentially, though, I’m navigating unknown waters, and it will be interesting to see how it works out. I’d say that I’ll get back to you all on that, but anyone who’s noticed my blogging habits lately will be rightfully suspicious of any promises to that regard.

We’ll just have to see, I guess.

Tonight was the opening night of our high school play, which is the delightful parody High School Non-Musical. I had been planning on seeing this for quite some time, since the cast are mostly students of mine. My wife happened to get into a conference this weekend, so I went alone, opting to stay after school until the show started.

It was nicer than I expected: a colleague invited me to go out with her husband and their 5 kids, and I enjoyed talking with them about family and teaching and numerous other things while we watched their kids interact.

When we got back to the school, it was basically time to grab a seat so we could get good ones, and it was a blast. The kids were funny (although the humor was very subtle and very much contingent on pop culture and literary references, from Monty Python to Shakespeare), and many of them really surprised me at just how good they were and how much they did during the play. It was a pretty decent performance, and I really had a good time.

But perhaps the best part was afterwards, where the students had congregated in a hallway to sign “autographs.” I went through and had the cast sign my program (even a few who aren’t students of mine), and some of the students told me that I was the only teacher who stuck around after the show, despite several teachers (and even one student teacher) having attended the performance. We had some laughs, and many photos were taken, including one of me and all of the senior cast members. I loved it.

And more importantly, I hope they loved it and will remember me in that moment.

As a teacher, I want my students to learn. I want them to grow, to explore, to expand their minds. But I also want them to know that I care about them, and I am grateful for extracurricular opportunities like this to share that with students.

So I can say with confidence: Yes, it was certainly worth the wait.

A professional development opportunity I’ve taken advantage of this year has been a reading/discussion group of teachers in our building covering Todd Whitaker’s What Great Teachers Do Differently. (If that name sounds familiar, you might be a regular reader: see here and here.) It’s been very interesting to hear other teachers’ opinions on Whitaker’s 14 points, and a lot of discussion about our own school and how to make these things work has happened, mostly in a productive manner.

One subject that has come up – unsurprisingly – is the teachers’ lounge. (Which has also been a topic of discussion around Docere.) For almost every school, the lounge seems to be one of those institutions that teachers cling to despite the fact that it almost always propagates the worst attitudes that we could possibly have. Whitaker even mentions that the most common reply he receives from teachers when he asks what advice they would give to student teachers about the teachers’ lounge is “Stay out!” – which is sad, since there probably is a degree to which it might be cathartic for us to share our struggles and triumphs with other people who are in the same boat.

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I hate politics.

Okay, that’s not true – I hate being involved in politics. Especially when it comes to my vocation.

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