Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Catching Up

The idea when I started this blog was that I would write every day. I haven't, obviously, but I have been getting a lot of other things done. Most of them haven't been related to work, because I'm trying to squeeze in all the life things that I don't have time for during the year, like visiting my family, helping a friend move, moving my father-in-law into our house, getting a new roof, and going to a lot of aikido classes. However, it's almost the end of July and I sat down with my calendars this morning to start getting organized for the coming month and the school year that will follow it. Here's my life right now:

By August 18th I needed to have finished:

  • Senior Seminar Semester 1 Course Map - Done
  • Senior Seminar Semester 2 Course Map - Done
  • Senior Seminar Q1 Performance Assessment - Done
  • Senior Seminar Q2 Performance Assessment - Done
  • Senior Seminar Q3 Performance Assessment
  • Senior Seminar Q4 Performance Assessment
  • Senior Seminar Q1 Unit Plans (including all daily lessons)
  • Drama I Semester 1 Course Map - Done
  • Drama I Semester 2 Course Map - Done
  • Drama I Q1 Performance Assessment - 1/2 done (maybe another hour's worth of work to go)
  • Drama I Q2 Performance Assessment - 1/3 done (2-3 hours left on this - I have to do research)
  • Drama I Q3 Performance Assessment
  • Drama I Q4 Performance Assessment
  • Drama I Q1 Unit Plans (including all daily lessons)
Some of these items I'm still having a hard time wrapping my brain around. I am hesitant to try to write my end-of-year exams because I honestly don't know what my kids are going to be like. I understand that I'm supposed to be teaching to an objective set of standards and that I should test the students on those once they've been established, but I don't want to be unrealistic in my expectations, and I would really like to know a few things like how many SPED students I'll have and what the overall grade levels of students in Drama I are. Those things affect the end game.

Also, I'm supposedly going to get feedback on everything I submit. That hasn't happened yet, and I submitted some things before school ended in June. I'm going to communicate with my administration about that, but it is possible that I'm going to end up with a major time crunch at the end as I try to make adjustments that I could have been making while I still had a lot of time to think about things.

As for today, I scanned in all the texts for the Q1 and Q2 Drama I exams, which took about 20 minutes. Then I had to format them all into GoogleDocs. That took another 20 - 30 minutes. Then I started my research for the Drama I Q2 exam, which I gave up on after about 20 minutes because I was distracted by all the pounding the roofers were doing. I took a break, and this afternoon I've spent about 20 minutes organizing my personal calendar with all the Drama-related PD that I know about, another 15 minutes registering for an unrelated PD.

The PD calendar goes something like this:
  • Aug. 11 & 12 - Student Orientation: I still haven't decided if I want to do this or not. I'll get paid, but it means giving up part of all of two days, and depending on how done I am with the to-do list, I might not be able to give up that time.
  • Aug 13 - PD for teacher-facilitators regarding teacher orientation
  • Aug 20, 21, & 22 - PD at school all day
  • Aug 27, 28, & 29 - PD at school all day
  • Sept 2 - Students Return
I'm beginning to feel the crunch. Time to get back to work.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Playing Catch-Up

Today's success - in spite of the fact that I feel like crap and have been for a while, I still came up with the structures for my 1st and 2nd quarter Drama I exams. I still need to find three short texts for the 2nd quarter exam, but I have all the scripts picked out and the formats determined.

I've been avoiding doing planning and work for a while now; every time I think about it I feel overwhelmed and I just want to go back to bed. I know that the best way to deal with that feeling is to get something done, so I am attempting to ignore my headache and finish at least some of the tasks on my To Do list.

I also lack the energy to write a thoughtful blog post. You'll just have to believe me when I say that even though I haven't got much to show for it, I've been ruminating on a lot of work-related stuff, specifically how I wanted to structure my Drama exams so that they would provide me with useful information about my students' skills.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

I *Actually* Got Work Done

I will confess to being lazy over the last few days. I've spent time celebrating my mother-in-law's birthday, working out, gardening, cooking, and playing Dominion, but I haven't gotten a lot of anything done since Sunday afternoon when I was reading in the car. I've opened my Google Drive several times and stared at the test I was trying to write, but I haven't successfully figured out what I was going to add to it in terms of exam questions.

Writing a good exam is a lot like writing a good poem - it has to be full enough of stuff to make people think, and not so all-over-the-place that it becomes a fruitless exercise in guessing at meaning. I wrote, deleted, and re-wrote the same test question about six times before I figured out how I needed to phrase them so that I could tell whether the students actually understood the reading or were just lucky guessers.

I have succeeded.

I am now essentially done with two of eight exams, though I still need to create rubrics for them, and I have a third one formulated in my head that I need to organize on paper. By the end of today, I hope to have another exam fairly well completed.

Some time this weekend I'll be getting together with a colleague to help her with some exam writing for her classes.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Car Time

One of my favorite parts of road trips is being able to read and daydream uninterrupted. Today's in-car reading was a bunch of essays that I'm thinking about using in my Senior Seminar class next year. I read three essays and then sat and pondered how I was going to integrate them into my class, what the linking ideas were across the texts, and how I was going to help the students see the connections among them. I ended up with a list of four essay of varying lengths and difficulties for my students to read, but I'm still working on how, exactly, I'm going to guide them to linking all these ideas together. I'm also debating whether or not I want to have the students start looking at text structure and organization so early in the year. All told, I think I worked for about 40 minutes (I read really fast).

Additionally, my morning was spent having a discussion-debate with my family about other issues in education - funding, magnets, bussing for racial diversity, and local school councils. It was a good conversation, but definitely highlighted why a one-size-fits-all model is a bad idea. What works for Akron, OH is not necessarily going to work for Chicago, IL; the experiences and expectations of the people in those two places are just too different.

Dear world, please let educators educate and doctors doc and lawyers law and stop trying to tell people how to do their jobs!

On another note, over 500 CPS teachers are being laid off. So far neither my partner or I are on the list, but it's only June 27th.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

I Come By It Honestly

One of the best things about being a teacher is that I am not the only one in my family. My partner is a teacher, my grandmother was a teacher, my Bubby was a teacher, my aunt was a school social worker, my other aunt is a docent, and my mom was a girl scout leader and did train-the-trainer stuff. So there are plenty of people in my family who understand how challenging it is to get a large group of people doing the same activity at the same time and actually getting something out of it rather than just occupying themselves with busy work.

So when I was visiting my grandmother today, I was talking with her about some of the changes that are coming to the standardized testing that my students will be experiencing in this coming year. We were talking about how I have to go back and re-design all the exams I'd written in previous years and create new ones in order to help students become familiar with the style of the PARCC exam. After I explained, very energetically, for about 10 minutes, my grandmother smiled at me and told me how wonderful it was that I love my job so much.

I am never not a teacher. Even when I'm talking to my family, I'm teaching them about teaching.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Things There Isn't Time For In The Year

One of the things that sets teaching apart as a profession (although I think cops, firefighters, EMTs, and various other professions would say something similar) is that it is a job which requires one's active and involved presence all the time.  While it is true that I can request a substitute to cover my class when I'm sick, the likelihood of my students learning anything that day is slim to none, and the possibility of coming back to a classroom which is littered with graffiti and random pieces of paper quite high. One of the reasons that summer is so precious to teachers is that we can't take vacations during the year.

I remember when I was a kid that my dad, who is an electrical engineer, had to request vacations from work. I remember my mom and him discussing when I had projects he had to be there for and when he was traveling and how many days he thought he'd be able to take off when so that we could take a family vacation.  And we did - we went to almost every continental state (I'm missing Oregon and Washington), camping, visiting family, and seeing a lot of amazing natural wonders and historical sites.  It was wonderful and I always wanted to take my own kids on trips like that. I still don't have bio-leg-ical children, but I love giving my students opportunities to broaden their horizons.

But beyond those summer trips, this last year of my life has highlighted for me how important summer break is. Right now I'm sitting at my parents' house, talking with my mother about why and when we watching the news after having spent much of the afternoon at a rehab center where my grandmother is continuing to recover from a surgery. Having lost my Bubby earlier this year and needing to take days off of work to travel for the funeral, I have been thinking a lot about the problem of taking time off from work. It's a hard thing to realize that I can't just request days off. I get time off only on vacations unless I take sick days. I do get two personal business days, which I used near the beginning of the year because I was in a friend's wedding, and two bereavement days, which I used for Bubby's funeral, but once those are gone, I have to put everything else on hold until the summer.

Summer is when I get to not work Mon. - Fri. 7am - 7pm and Sat./Sun. afternoons for at least a couple hours a day. Summer is when I get to see my family. Summer is when I get time to be healthy and actually work out. Summer is when I get to read books and practice piano and restore my soul because you can't pour water from a dry well. Summer is a necessity for teachers. Either that or teachers should be granted sabbaticals.

Monday, June 23, 2014

We Interrupt This Blog For My Regularly Scheduled Birthday

I wasn't planning on doing anything yesterday for my birthday, so I was expecting to get to do some work. That is not what happened. Now my to-do list is filling up with uncompleted tasks. I still have to finish that 2nd quarter Senior Seminar exam along with starting to think about exams and rubrics for Drama I.

This is very similar to what happens during the school year with grading papers. A small pile that looks like it can be put off for a day or two while I do something else, like spend an evening at a friend's birthday dinner or go to see a play, ends up growing and growing until I have way too much paper to get through in the course of an evening, but I have to, because my students need their work back to look over, correct, and use to move forward.

Off to work I go.