Sunday, August 31, 2008

Late Work and Zeros

This post got me thinking about my late policy again. Most teachers in my building think my late policy is naive and won't work, while my boss thinks it's great. I guess I won't really know which it is until the end of the quarter, but for right now and after reading Dr. Pezz's post I am again feeling better about it.

My late policy is this: Students may turn in late work up to a week before the quarter ends (though no late work will get an A).

Teachers seem to think I will get an avalanche of work at the end of the quarter, and maybe I will, but as I told the parents at parent night the other day, I want the students to do the work. I don't want them to know they will get a zero two days later and give up on it. If it's an assignment, it means it's practicing an important skill and showing me their skill level. I want them to do the work on time, yes, but I don't want them giving up on it because they are forgetful, uninterested, busy, lazy, etc. I expect all work to be done. If it happens to not come in until October, well it certainly won't be an A, but they'll have done something and possibly even (perhaps I am naive) retain something.

I told my students I shouldn't see any zeros in October. I know this is probably not going to be the case, but I gave them the chance. And if they don't take it, they get the zero.

However, the zero is still a piece of contention, one I am not comfortable with giving or not giving (unless cheating is involved). It can hurt hugely, but hasn't the student made that decision for him/herself?

I always figured I'd be a hard-nosed, traditional teacher--because I was the type of student that did as I was told and always turned in my work and did well on tests and so on, but I find myself agreeing more and more with progressive thinking--thinking that (in my opinion) puts the student's needs first.

Friday, August 29, 2008

British Literature

My main struggle with material right now is with British Literature. First of all, it is not my expertise. Second of all, I really - really don't know what to do with this early British stuff.

I've searched the web and not liked my results. Next week, I am thinking about working with an Arthur story and/or Letters of Margaret Paston, but as I sit here on a Friday night trying to get my work out of the way, I don't know what to do with these last pieces of this unit.

Each week, this class is my struggle. All the while wishing I could teach Night all year long.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Good Day

The days of a new teacher--whether new to the profession or new to the school--are a bit of a roller coaster as you work through trying to figure everything out.

Today was a bit of a zip up. My past two days have fared much better than the first week. I think it's a mix of getting into the material, setting clearer rules, and just trying to come at this from a new perspective a la If Bees Are Few.

I also found that my usual resistance to asking for help wasn't even present today. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that the English department at my school is really great as a whole, along with a majority of the faculty. There's only a small faction that seems to frown upon helping people. So, everyone is asking for help and ideas and sharing. It's very new to me, but I'm falling right into it and that collaboration brightens my mood.

Also, I had a class actually ASK QUESTIONS today. They wanted to know something! If that doesn't make for a teacher's high, I don't know what does.

I'm still struggling with a lot of things. One of the biggest things is building excitement over books and stories I just really don't care for. I thought I could do it, and I think I put up a good facade, but it's so much more fun and interesting when working with a piece of literature I feel good about. I think as I get through my first year I'll be able to weed out some of the less than stellar examples, but right now I'm still muddling and weeding through the literature and trying to work ways to make it accessible and important.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Ideal, It Doesn't Exist

This summer I was inspired by a class I took. Inspired to look at my classroom management in a new, softer light. Inspired to trust my students would respect the word respect and expectations.

I'm sorry. I tried. It doesn't work. Maybe a teacher with a bigger presence. Maybe a teacher who has the material down so pat they can do it all with out notes or pauses. Maybe a teacher that looks mean and nasty.

My juniors and seniors couldn't handle "respect" as a guiding principle. Perhaps respect is a foreign concept. Perhaps learning is. Whatever it is, it just didn't work.

So, today we got down to business. These are the rules, and this is what happens when you can't follow them. No 'I expect you to respect yourself, each other, blah, blah, blah.' I'm sorry, you'll have to put me down as a non-believer.

In the long list of things I'll already change about next year--this is one. There will be set, specific rules. And there will be set specific consequences with a clear plan of action on the first day of school.

To those who find they don't need rules, I think that is truly amazing. I envy you that kind of unspoken structure. For me, it does not exist. It must be spoken, written, and communicated through every possibly participant in the class.

I have been told lately there is an art to teaching paired with the science, and I am a firm believer in that. And part of that art is figuring out who you are as a teacher and what your personal style is. I don't believe there is a one-style-fits all.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Weekend: Getting It Together

After my last post, I got down to business about figuring out what to do with my disruptive students. The fact of the matter is that last year if I gave my students a talking-to, they listened for the rest of the class period. This class was quiet for all of ten minutes. So, I worked out a plan that evolved from a Harry Wong idea into something that would work in my classroom--involving "yellow cards" as warnings and a clear chain of consequence from one disruption to the next.

I refuse to yell "quiet" every five minutes.

However, there is also the issue of getting kids to shut up during Channel One and during announcements. That I am not so much sure about.

I was discussing my troubles with a good friend who is a fourth year teacher. We are very different in our personalities and teaching styles, but we often have the same frustrations (as I suppose most teachers do). We both discussed that, really, the first year teaching a new class is all about getting it together. It's about figuring it all out, the details and the nuance, and when you throw a new school into the mix--you're treading water for most of the first year. The first year you figure it all out, she said. The second year, you teach.

And I agree. I just can't foresee myself being an excellent teacher this year. Not that I'll be terrible, just that really I'll be getting it together and that's a huge and overwhelming task. I'll look back on this year and wish I had done 9 million things differently, but I will have learned from each and apply it to next year.

I've come to the conclusion, that in order to survive this year-- I need to have my sights set on next year. I need to remind myself that all this work will pay off, all this confusion and treading water and struggle will reward itself with a better run classroom and a better idea of teaching next year. This is a hard thing for me to do because I have never stayed at one job for more than a year. It seems unnatural to know I will be in the same place next year.

But that will be my saving grace: a place to return to and improve upon myself.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Is It Too Early To Give Up?

My first week hasn't been what I expected. I'm not sure what I expected, but this isn't it. I'm struggling--in a new way each day.

I thought coming in with a year under my belt would help me. This is so different from what I did last year that it hasn't.

I thought I might have one or two problem students, I have a plethora.

I thought I would be in control of my classroom. It's a power struggle and I am losing.

I thought I would avoid major embarrassment. I left my fly down.

Also, my house is a disaster.

I know that this is part of the journey. I know I'm on my way to figuring this group out. I know that I will improve with experience and knowledge and I know I CAN do all of those things. It's just increasingly difficult in the meantime.

Monday, August 18, 2008


As I bemoaned the upcoming school year and going back to work, my father told me, "it's the first day of the rest of your life."

That popped into my head today as I travelled home from school, weary, head-achey and overwhelmed.

What on Earth did I do???

It's not that I had a bad day. In fact, as days go, it was uneventful. I was wholly unprepared, not being used to such short passing periods and teaching a different class after each short passing period. I never once felt truly in control of the classroom situation. Things weren't wild by any means, but I felt like it was a first day courtesy.

I feel, all over again, like I don't know what the hell I'm doing and I never will.

Sometimes I wonder if I am really cut out for this.

And this is all with nothing bad happening. I shudder to think of my response to truly awful day.

I missed my old classroom today. It was easy and familiar. I'm tired of being the new kid on the block. I'm tired of feeling young (and being mistaken for a student).

Not an auspicious start, but I am determined to stick it through. I just may need to give up my caffeine ban to survive.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Next Few Days

Overwhelmed, in a lot of ways, my brain still finds time to wander--but never go blank. When it wanders, it practices my first day speech over and over and over again.

I have a feeling this will be par for the course the next few days. Mental dialog, internal practicing, all gearing up for the first day of classes.

All the while completely ignoring the fact I've let the house go to hell over the past two weeks.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Unit Issues

I finally got my syllabi completed and sent off for approval, so now I am working on my lesson plans. I'm really struggling on how to organize "units."

Traditionally, I would just consider the reading itself a unit, but I've come to realize the reading or literature, while part of the unit, is also only a means to an end. It's used to teach about theme or figurative language or so on and so forth.

But, I just don't know how to approach it. What to consider a unit, how to order it, and so on and so forth. I'm going to meet with some other teachers in the next few days who are also teaching the classes I am, so I know I'll get at least some guidance, but I am curious.

If you've taught a general lit class (World, American, British, so on), did you just go chronologically through the reading and teach whatever the reading reflected, or did you take a more specific skills driven approach?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Brain Overload

Our week of training has come to a close, and my brain could not be more thankful. It's on information overload. My mind is abuzz with all the things I'll need to keep track of, all the activities and meetings I'll need to attend/be involved in, and the fact that I've got a life to lead outside all of it.

I'm overwhelmed, yes. However, on the flip side, I like what I saw this week. I felt the administration and staff are in this for the kids. They really want to see them learn. And it seems that being in the private sector allows them to do that with a little bit more efficiency. Not that it's perfect by any means, but there's a genuine desire to do good--not just scrape by. I didn't see that as much in the public school I was in last year.

Still, I know there's going to be a lot of adjustment, and a lot I won't like. But, I think the people around will be willing to help and advise.

I actually think the thing I am most worried about is simply understanding the Catholic side of things. Should I cross myself even though we don't do that in my religion? Do I need to memorize the prayers? What exactly IS mass and what does it entail? And I think I worry most about this because while there are a handful of new teachers, they're all catholic and familiar with the structure of the religious side of things. I think it's assumed, in a way, that we know what we're doing when it comes to that. And, one of my flaws that I always need to work on is asking for help.

It's definitely going to be a difficult and stressful year, but I also feel like it will be positive and that I will learn a lot.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Difference A Book Makes

Friday as I begin to get those jitters and nerves running through me, I sat down with the textbooks and novels I'll be teaching. It's an overwhelming amount, but I have come to realize that if you jump in little piece by little piece it becomes manageable.

The first novel I'll be teaching is Night. I have never read this--and yes, I know this is a travesty. I figured, I'll start with the first chapter, take some notes, jot down some lesson ideas, then move to the first reading in the next class and piece by piece start this daunting task. As I opened the book, I started with the prologue instead of the first chapter.

As I read, my excitement that had been dimmed by intimidation began to sparkle again. Here are the notes I took on Night's prologue:

-"Why we write"
-Language as a barrier
-known vs. understood
-written vs. edited (connect to writing)
-"Books no longer have the power they once did."
-What is "collective memory"?

Sometimes, I get so bogged down in the "teaching" of things, that I forget what drew me to this career. I've been coached to say that I want to be a teacher to help students learn and grow. And, I do. But I want my students to learn and grow in the realm of the English language. I want them to read literature--whether old or new--and learn things about life and expression. I want them to be armored with the skills to express themselves, defend their beliefs, and for God's sake HAVE some beliefs. I want them to have a collective memory of the literature that shapes the world. I want to bring some of that power back to books, and I want my students to see that power.

Just this one little prologue reminded me of that, because Wiesel discusses all of those things in his prologue: believing in something; writing as communication and even somewhat as therapy, as testimony, as tribute, as truth; he discusses the writing process and the decision of what to keep and what to toss by the wayside. And in the end, he accesses the very heart of why books matter and need to continue to matter.

Sometimes when bogged down in teaching mode, I forget how much literature means to me, how much it's shaped me, how much I love it. I don't expect all of my students to love it in the way I do, but I truly believe that words are powerful--even in today's society. I want my students to walk away from my classroom and see that truth.

And that, that is what gets me excited about this year all over again.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Difference A Week Makes

Let's compare/contrast, shall we?

Last Week
-Excited about upcoming school year
-Ready to be on a normal schedule
-Excited about all the new challenges
-Excited to delve into the reading, plan, and try my best!

This Week
-Freaking out about upcoming school year
-Enjoying staying up late and sleeping in sans alarm
-Intimidated by all the new challenges
-Overwhelmed by the reading and planning

Where's the change? Last week, it still seemed far off and unreal and intangible. I was still in denial about having to plan and work. This week was my last week before training starts--so I'm actually having to work on my syllabus and plan out the semester in general. I'm elbows deep in the material and starting to doubt my abilities to do this.

Though it will be my second year of teaching, my first year was so unorthodox and unique I can't help like this is first year part two. Plus, I am prepping three different classes instead of two and having to sponsor a yet-to-be-named club of some kind.

I think next week once I get into meeting people and working with other English teachers I will once again be excited and inspired, but right now I've got the pre-school year jitters.