Even without the students coming today, I was sleepless last night, wondering why I work in a job that fills me with so much anxiety. Curriculum on which I have little input (despite appearances to the contrary), possible schedule from hell, a sinus headache from non-Tropical Storm Hermine – all these gnawed at my brain despite my efforts to visit my ‘golden room’ in Vermont. We received an email from our principal that the morning will be spent on team building activities with ‘colleagues we may not know,’ and a promise of a prize for the team completes some unspecified set of tasks. Hmm- lesson in how to elicit appropriate motivation?
I got myself out of the house relatively on time, but managed to spill my oh-so-necessary Red Eye on the bus. Yes, I was THAT person. But as I neared school, a pleasant sense of anticipation took hold of me (especially after I was able to replace the coffee at a Brooklyn College cafe) as I thought of all the people I was looking forward to seeing after the restful summer. I stopped by the program office to say hi to former officemates who have become 40% administrators, checked in with my Assistant Principal, and made my way to the auditorium, ready to meet colleagues (in a school of 200 staff members, there are many people I don’t know well at all).
Although the morning passed pleasantly, our administration modeled how not to run an activity effectively, which was instructive. I’m really not being as sarcastic as this sounds; let me describe what happened:
The faculty was divided into 17 groups, whose members were posted on 5 successive screens of a powerpoint being shown in the auditorium. The groups were directed to stand in vague spots around the large room. We were then directed to one of four locations (not by group number, but rather by pointing and waving by the principal.
The four activities were as follows: rotating volleyball matches, egg-balancing relay races (with pingpong balls), a school-wide scavenger hunt, and a Trivial Pursuit game. And the announced prize for winning, by the way, was a Panera lunch, paid for out of the principal’s very own pocket (so he told us).
The success (or lack of failure) to this team-building exercise was due to the fact that the participants were teachers, and not students. The goal of the activity was that we would get to know teachers from other departments, but there were no name tags or activities to facilitate this, and the rooms (particularly the gyms) were so noisy that conversation and learning names was difficult. Still, it was a somewhat fun way to spend the morning, although I’m not sure what goal it accomplished. And I did enjoy Trivial Pursuit, especially when I gleefully shared the answer to “What was the proper Laugh-In response to: “Say goodnight, Dick”?
We moved from school-wide bonding to departmental meetings, the major portion of which was spent (in my department, anyway) discussing the new universal grading policies. The school is moving in a standards based grading direction, but the bulk of the language in the policies seems directed at allowing students to make up any work regardless of why it was missed. I am conflicted here; I believe in giving students the chance to show me what they have learned, but I also deal with a lot of class cutters and punctuality-defiers. Now, more than ever, I need to find ways to bring them into my classroom and keep them there.
We also covered the usual details: room assignments, technology (2 new Mac labs!!), reading IEPs, and observations.
The next hour was allocated to working on curriculum and alternative assessment tasks in subject teams, but the Algebra 2 team leader told us that she wasn’t going to work on anything today, and that she didn’t want to post her lesson plans in the department DropBox for fear of providing them to teachers who didn’t do any work. She then told the Algebra 1 team leader that she would work with her later on the Algebra 2 pacing calendar.
And herein lies my frustration with my school.
I work in a large school with high standards (for half of their students) and a noteworthy history. The school has a fairly efficient infrastructure which makes it easy for teachers to teach, and many teachers stay at the school through retirement. A reasonable percentage of the teachers are alumni, and many attended Brooklyn College (across the street). However, our top-heavy payroll results in large classes and few electives. And there is definitely an in-group which runs things.
So a couple of points to sum up:
- Despite my disappointment today, I know I have the respect of my Assistant Principal and many teachers in the department, and I have opportunity to push my teaching in the directions I think it needs to go.
- Working in the public school system in New York City (or anywhere) is never perfect, and in fact, can be extremely difficult. I’m lucky to work in the environment I do.
- I’m glad I got the best professional development available this summer at Exeter and Twitter Math Camp, and continue to nourish myself through the online community and Math for America.
Reflection (This is part of the Day in the Life blogging project, and will appear in each post.)
1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day. Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming. When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of? What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?
As this was a day of professional development, the moves I was making related to being a participant rather than teaching anyone. I was energetic and enthusiastic during the team-building activities (except for volleyball, during which I took on supportive role), and worked to keep everyone engaged and involved during Trivial Pursuit. I did my best to engage my content team leader despite her reluctance to work on our curriculum, asking questions and making suggestions. My overall attitude returning to school was not ideal; rather than viewing the year as an opportunity to effect change for me, my students, and my school community, I walked in with a case of the ‘same old, same olds.’ I’m happy to say that this mood was dispelled by day’s end.
2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows. Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher. What are you looking forward to? What has been a challenge for you lately?
I am looking forward to seeing former students – they grow so much over the summer! And I am excited to try some new instructional routines, like Number Talks and Contemplate then Calculate. I am already planning Desmos-based activities for two days next week. These same activities present challenges for me – I am nervous about executing them well, and continuing with them despite the beginning bumps I will definitely encounter. Also, filtering out some of the brilliance I encounter every time I go on line – it’s great to observe and read about it, but accepting that I can’t do it all – I have trouble with that. I have to keep remembering: You do you. Thanks, Annie.
3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is. As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students. Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.
I reconnected with one of my favorite people at school this morning – Ms. R. She is an English teacher, so we don’t interact professionally that often. But we have a kindred spirit kind of relationship – when we met, we instantly recognized something in each other that felt comfortable and familiar. As it happens, she is one of the Google Apps for Education Evangelists in our school (our principal just purchased a subscription), and in addition to post-summer catching up, we talked a lot of shop. She will definitely be my go-to resource as I begin training.
4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.
I wrote all about my goals in my last post. School begins tomorrow, but I am already planning specific steps for my first Contemplate then Calculate routine (#1TMCthing), and will incorporate a discussion of mindset and self-advocacy in my initial lessons. And yesterday, I was recruiting participants for the Restorative Justice training.
Tomorrow the school year really begins, and then I’ll have more to share. I’m hoping my new bullet journal keeps me well organized!