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.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

An Actual Weekend

Today is Saturday. I spent it doing martial arts, eating a hamburger, and walking around downtown in the rain. I wanted to spend my evening enjoying a nice fire, but it's still really wet outside, so that's not going to work as well as I wanted to. I did absolutely nothing work-related today, and that makes me happy.

Tomorrow I'll be back to it and I plan to finish my 2nd quarter Senior Seminar exam. Then I'll be switching gears to work on stuff for my Drama class throughout the week.

Friday, June 20, 2014

6:53pm and the Next Day

It's 6:53pm, and I'm going to save posting this for tomorrow, but I wanted to make a note for myself that I've spent the last 20 minutes responding to an e-mail from another Drama teacher at my school who wanted to know more about assessing students using process journals or processfolios.  These are sort of like a portfolio, but instead of containing only a student's best work, they contain examples of the student's works as they progress along with metacognitive/reflective writing about both the process and the product. As I think about assessing students in a Drama class, a processfolio makes a lot more sense than a single end grade, because I'm trying to teach the students both what high-quality theater-arts work looks like, as well as the processes that actors, directors, and designers use to get there.

Ok, I'm really, seriously taking my first day off today. No working on exams. No working on planning lessons. No thinking about my job... Oh wait. It's too late for that. I am (almost) always thinking about my job. For example, yesterday I was scrolling through my invitations and suggested events on MeetUp and I came across this interesting-sounding convention - MuseCon. (You can read all about it here.)  As I was looking at the offerings, I started to get really excited; there are classes about things I've always wanted to learn, like how to play the Celtic harp. But then I started thinking about whether those were the *best* classes for me to take, and my internal dialogue turned in to this:

MeA:  Oooooh! Celtic harp! I would love that! I could take the one in the basement and actually learn to play it!

MeB:  Damnit. That's at the same time as Renaissance Dance. Which one should I do?

MeA:  Harp! I've wanted to learn since college!

MeB:  Yeah, but I could probably use what I learn in the dance class for teaching Shakespeare, or in Drama I, or something.

MeA:  But... harp!

MeB:  Be a good teacher! Be a better teacher! Learn something you can teach your kids!



MeA: /le sigh

I should note that, if I do actually go to MuseCon, having now had this argument with myself, I'm going to do the harp class if there's still room in it, because it's something I've wanted to learn for a decade now. I even bought myself a small harp to try to teach myself, but I don't play it often enough (as in never) for that to be effective.

On a related -I always think about teaching- note, I went to the gym this morning. As I was resting between sets on the leg press, I had this thought:  I wonder if having stronger legs will give me more stamina for teaching on the block next year.

In short, there is no escaping my job. Even when I'm not working, I'm thinking about working.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Writing Exams Is Always A Challenge

In today's episode of "It's Summer!" I've spent the last hour finding and formatting the texts my students will read for their 2nd quarter benchmark exam in Senior Seminar. The standards they are being tested on have to do with being able to integrate information from multiple types of informational texts to answer questions and solve problems, the creation of questions to guide inquiry and research, and the ability to identify key information in texts.

In order to test whether these are skills my students have, I can't ask them questions about texts we've already studied in class; I'm striving to avoid "parrot syndrome". So, instead of asking them about the content we'll have been reading and writing about for ten weeks, I had to find a completely new set of texts on a completely new topic. They have to be complex enough to make the test challenging, but not so complex that students won't be able to understand the issue at hand. I have four texts right now, one of which is a graph, and the other three are semi-scientific articles. I still have to come up with all the questions and finish formatting the entire thing. Then I'll have to develop a rubric for the open-ended questions and determine how I'm going to assign points to the multiple-choice questions.

However, since it -is- summer, I'm going to give myself the rest of the day off to have lunch, go to the gym, and spend the evening at my martial arts class, something I don't get to do ten months out of the year because the class ends too late for me to get enough sleep. (Please note that the class ends at 9:30pm, which is not "too late" in most people's minds, but they don't have to be ready to deal with teenagers for a minimum of 7.5 hours, starting at 8am.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

First Day of Summer - Eight Hours!

Today is the first day of my summer break. I got up this morning at 7:00, got dressed, poured some coffee and made some breakfast, and went to work. I got to school just before 8:00am and wandered my way up to my classroom. I spent the first hour working on curriculum maps for my Drama I course.

Then from 9 - 10, we met as a department to review all the Common Core standards and make sure that we're covering all of them across the sequence of English classes our students take. We had some good conversations about the standards, how to teach them, how to assess them, and what will be expected of our students when they take the PARCC.

[For those who are interested, the Common Core standards can be found here and sample PARCC assessments can be found here.]

From 10 - 11, I had some varied conversations with teachers of other English classes about how they're going to assess their students' learning, and specifically brainstormed some ideas about how to engage students with reading and comprehending issues of race in Othello. I also had a meeting with the curriculum coordinator about the need to differentiate the assessments in Drama I, which is a performing arts class, from the assessments in Senior Seminar, which is a college prep reading/writing class.

From 11 - 12 I tweaked my 1st quarter benchmark assessment for Senior Seminar and had some pizza with my colleagues.

After 12 I spent an hour on cleaning my classroom and packing everything up for the summer. I had to label all my furniture, figure out which books I needed to take home and which ones I could leave in the building, and put away all the exemplar work I'm keeping for next year.

From 1 - 2 I worked on adjusting the curriculum maps for Senior Seminar because I was still not happy with the sequencing of my units.

From 2 - 3 I spent time brainstorming with the Drama II teacher about how we're going to assess the students in Drama I and Drama II. Then I spent some time helping her think about how she's going to assess students in her Topics in Literature class.

After 3, I did a bit more organizing and started working on my 2nd quarter benchmark assessment for Senior Seminar, signed my time sheet, took the last load of stuff down to my car, turned in my computer, said goodbye to the office staff, and headed out the door.

At this point, this list is what I need to finish in the next two months:

  1. Drama semester 2 curriculum map
  2. Senior Seminar benchmark assessments for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarters
  3. Drama benchmark assessments for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarters
  4. Rubrics for all of those assessments.
  5. Daily lesson plans for Drama and Senior Seminar quarter 1 (including finding all texts, creating all activities and developing all formative assessments)
  6. Performance tasks and rubrics for Drama and Senior Seminar quarter 1

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The "Last" Day

Today is the last day of the school year for me. It seems like I should be celebrating, but instead I've just finished setting up the coffee maker to auto-brew at 5:30 tomorrow morning, because even though I'm technically on summer break, I'm going in to work from 8:00am - 4:00pm. Between now and then, I'm working on some planning for next year.

I know that it seems crazy to non-teachers that I'm already thinking about next school year, but the fact of the matter is, that teachers don't actually get summers off. The students come back on Sept. 2nd, but I have to turn in curriculum maps, learning plans, assessments, rubrics, and other bits and bobs some time around Aug. 18th. Then, I'm back at work for three days of training from Aug. 20 - 22, and again from Aug. 27 - 29. So yes, while technically after tomorrow is over, I don't have to go back into the building until August, I still have a lot of work I have to finish. I should also point out that, because I teach two classes, I have to do all this planning and organizing twice. Furthermore, while most people teach as part of a team where there are multiple teachers who teach the same class, which makes it easier to get all the work done since the load is shared, I don't have teams for either of my courses. While I appreciate the autonomy this gives me, I am doing all the planning and preparation completely on my own.

To be fair, I will be getting paid for my work tomorrow and my work in August. However, the amount of planning I need to do is not going to get completed in one eight-hour day, and all the rest of it that I have to finish is work I'll be doing without compensation. Exactly how much I'll have to finish and how long it will take me will depend on how much I get done tomorrow, and that will depend on how much time I spend sitting in meetings and how much time I get to spend actually working.

Welcome to my summer "off".

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Funniest Phrase I've Ever Head: "Teachers Get Summers Off"

It's almost time for summer break, and I've been thinking that the first day off of school would be the perfect time to reboot this blog as well.  As the national conversation about education continues to center around teacher pay, test scores, charter schools, standards, and various bits of legislation, it is clear that teachers' voices are still not an equal part of the dialogue, let alone driving the conversation.  Furthermore, most of the public seems to be perfectly content with this fact, as the pervasive perspective seems to be that anyone who went to school must be as much of an expert on it as those people who have studied teaching and learning and have experience doing and refining, day-in and day-out, what they studied.  And so, in the process of adding my voice as a teacher into the conversation, I want to address some of the perceptions and misconceptions that often come up in conversations about teaching and learning. To do this, I want to paint a realistic picture of what teaching looks like on a day-to-day basis, both the successes and the challenges, and especially what it really means when people say that teachers are so lucky that we "get the summers off".