Today is Sunday and I am up at 9; I tried to get up earlier, but it’s oh-so-delicious to sleep. It is a lovely quiet late May Sunday morning. The cats have been fed — for once I am not the first one awake – and are wrestling one another while I make my weekend breakfast. The kittens (10 months old) actually get into their play-fighting a bit too much and need to be separated, which results in mournful yodeling by Ollie, my wiry little aggressor. The furor finally subsides, and I settle down to my crossword puzzle and food.
We’ve got 14 instructional days left until Regents exams begin, and this upcoming week is the last 5 day week of the year. I feel the end of the term beckoning, and am struggling to keep up my planning with enthusiasm for a couple of reasons. First of all, I suspect I am burnt out from a very intense year – lots of work at Math for America
, new curriculum in Algebra 2, trying to shepherd one of my twenty-somethings towards independence while living at home (while worrying about the other twenty-something NOT at home). I know I need to do some serious restoration work on my teaching soul over the summer. But back to the new curriculum in Algebra 2 – the second reason for my planning apathy – the last unit of the year, Statistics, is proving to be a bear. On some levels the content goes deep into new topics – sampling, population proportions, confidence intervals, margin of error – deeper than my content comfort level. My department (we have been planning ‘cooperatively’ this year, which means each of us has taken a unit to plan; my assignment was the probability unit) has not planned this unit in advance, and the lessons are being sent out piecemeal, without a unit plan. So I am feeling like (a) I don’t fully understand the topics, (b) the unit is not cohesive, and (c) from an expediency point of view, necessitated by the 14 remaining days, the students do not need to get into a lot of the nitty gritty detail suggested by some of the lessons.
Expediency – not a word I would ever want to use to describe my teaching or planning. But here’s the reality – and I’m sure I’ve written about this before – my students will live with the Regents grade on their transcripts. I too will live with this grade as part of my evaluation, although that bothers me far less (if at all, at this point in my life and career) than the impact this exam has on their record, their egos, their future options and motivation. It behooves me, thus, to prepare them for the test to the best of my ability. And I feel myself making a judgement call here – that I can teach the kiddies these very big ideas overriding these very specific topics WELL ENOUGH so that they have an understanding of the underlying logic of a confidence interval of 95%, and what a quantifiable margin of error signifies, and can answer the superficial questions that will most likely be asked of them on June 16.
Just thinking this way depresses me, and saps my energy – because instead of thinking about how to make my classroom a place of life and learning and excitement, I’m thinking about expediency. I keep thinking about Megan Schmidt’s 12 Steps for Teachers
, and know they are in my very near future. But I’ve got to let myself off the hook for now and get through the end of the year, readying all 168 of my students for an exam in either Algebra 2 or Geometry.
The other elephant in the room, or at my school, is a very sad one. On April 26, one of our students – a sophomore – suffered a cerebral hemorrhage at school. The school went into lockdown mode so that the EMTs could attend to her, and sadly, she died three days later. Children are not supposed to die, and certainly not supposed to suffer mortal illnesses in school. The entire school has been in mourning, and since the bulk of my Algebra 2 students are sophomores, I’ve felt the effect in my classroom quite directly. We’ve talked as whole classes, and I’ve opened my door to the kids, as well as made resources for support. There are two girls in particular who were close friends with the girl who died, and one of them hasn’t been back to class yet (she’s been working at home and down in the guidance office, but can’t seem to make it up to the classroom). The other girl has been coming to class, but is frequently late and distracted. My heart goes out to these children.
I have a private student this morning – he goes to Stuyvesant High School, and is bright and thoughtful. His math teacher favors long exams which require quick calculation and answers, but M. is a ponderous kind of mathematician, and his grade, thus, occasionally suffers. Our work together is always pleasant – he likes to discuss alternative strategies and sense-making. I wish his teacher would lighten up a little on the speed requirement. He is preparing for an exam on the statistics unit this week, and our session helps me clarify my own planning as well as helps him review and sharpen his understanding. M. is such a nice kid that I don’t mind giving up an hour on a Sunday morning for him.
The afternoon is spent planning for my geometry class – we are beginning (better late than never) the Circles unit, and expediency rears its ugly head again. I have so little time left, and I need to get the most bang for my buck so to speak. I analyze the Common Core Regents exams thus far in Geometry (there have been five of them) for the frequency of topics related to this unit and use this to guide my planning. I’m fairly certain I can keep the class together through inscribed angles, but I know that when we get to finding segment lengths of chords and secants, I will most likely lose many of those students with less than solid geometric understanding. Despite my relief at the end of the year approaching, I wish I had a couple more weeks to work through these ideas with my classes. Next year….
When I finish planning, it’s back to grading and the eternal late Sunday task, folding laundry. My child Geo finishes their Sunday afternoon shift at the local diner, and we take a lovely evening walk along the park. I know Geo needs to become independent and move out of the house, but I love our talks. They are a truly creative thinker – intelligent, snarky and innocent all at once.
We get home, and I make my final preparations for the week to come – back up my computer, update my flash drive, upload my lessons to Google Classroom and PupilPath. And I try to get to bed before 11 – the alarm goes off at 5:23 a.m. I’m moderately successful – but I am reading The Hate U Give
, and that keeps me up past my bedtime. Well worth it – an engrossing and important read.
And I’m ready for the next week to begin.
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 I have written in this post, I am not happy with the decisions I am making about how to teach for the remaining few weeks of the school year. I love to teach for deep understanding, and not for expediency and test preparation. I am, however, comfortable with the decision I have made because I think the students want to do well on the Regents, and it behooves me to help them do so to the best of my ability.
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?
My new favorite hashtag is #notiredliketeachertired. I get to this point in the year where getting up before 6 am is only possible because I can count the number of times I have to do it until vacation. I am feeling like I need to restore my teaching enthusiasm this summer; I have spent the year focusing on how to best teach my students for simultaneous engagement and performance on the high-stakes summative [debatable, actually] Regents exam, and have gotten away from infusing my classroom with delight and discovery.
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 have done my best to reach out to the students that are grieving. One of these students sent me a pain-filled email about the pointlessness of high school life – the continual striving for good grades only to be randomly struck down at 15. I wrote back to her, and acknowledged her pain, and without being falsely cheerful, tried to share just a little life wisdom about living while we are alive. I also forwarded her email to guidance; although her words were within the ‘normal’ range of grief, I did not want to err on the side of complacency about how desperate this child was. Her family, grateful for the information, has gotten her into some short-term counseling to get her through this difficult period.
4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What have you been doing to work toward your goal? How do you feel you are doing?
As the year draws to a close, I am pleased with the relationships I have built with my students, and am committed to doing even more next year to know them and provide space for their voices in the classroom. I am working on this goal by continually examining my reactions to my students – trying to make the tacit more explicit, so to speak. What unconscious biases and emotions are influencing my behavior with them? It’s a never-ending, and occasionally exhausting, process.
5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?
It’s my birthday today! (I’m posting on May 27.) Birthdays are celebrations, every year, and I treasure them. I’m celebrating by having brunch with a dear friend who moved to California, and dinner with Geo and one of their good buddies. You would think the universe would let me win the Hamilton ticket lottery today…