Teachers head back to school tomorrow. Because we’re on a trimester system, the summers feel especially short to me. Ok, they might also feel that way because I tend to pack them full of work and travel.
The week and a half before students return is always a challenging time for me. One of the reasons I became a teacher was to avoid days full of meetings with adults 🙂 Despite knowing that kids learn best when adults work together, I sometimes find it hard to remain engaged and focused. It’s like wanting to garden, but sitting in a room looking at seed catalogs in early Spring. One has to balance the overwhelming desire to start digging already with the needed dreaming and planning. Planting season’s just around the corner though, and I’m sure when it does come, I’ll be grateful for much of the planning.
Teachers return to school in a week, and for me, a week out is usually the point in the summer when the panic hits. I’ve still got some summer work to finish up, and then there’s the small matter of getting ready to teach new preps. Rather than cave to the pressure to write a post that names all the challenges of the coming year or even my goals for it (although I’ll likely return to that), I’ve decided to list all the things I’m excited about in the coming year. (Note to the subconscious- this is a signal to stay the beginning of school nightmares for another couple days.)
I’m excited to be focusing my energies in one department rather than being split between English and History. I’ll be teaching two sections of 7th grade World History, two sections of 8th grade US History, and one blended learning section of 11th grade US History. This doesn’t mean that I’ll no longer be interested in interdisciplinary connections, but it will be easier to feel invested in a department, rather than running back and forth between two. It also means fewer meetings 🙂
I love American History. When I was in elementary school, I finished the entire set of middle grades biographies of famous Americans at the local library. So I’m so excited to be teaching both 8th and 11th grade US history. I’m looking forward to more opportunities for cross-divisional collaboration among my students, like the Supreme Court simulation last year.
I’m looking forward to weekly Tuesday night supper club. It’ll be nice to have a time mid-week that involves putting school work aside and being with friends. The group will rotate among folks’ houses. When it’s your turn to host/cook, you do the whole meal. For the other six weeks of the rotation, you get a great meal with no prep.
Because of my new class assignments, my schedule will also be changing. I’ll teach periods 1-4 and 8 on Mondays and Fridays (when my Upper School class meets) and periods 1-4 the other days of the week. Period 5 is lunch (teachers eat with students) and period 9 is advisory (study hall & team building). Practically that means that most days I’ll have at least two contiguous planning periods and some days I’ll have three (ah, the bliss!). I’m looking forward to the rhythm of teaching in the morning and meeting and planning in the afternoon.
Students in our history classes are working on creating exhibits for the Museum of World Cultures, which we hold on the last day of school. Each section will take one of the cultures we’ve studied and create a theme room with exhibits designed to teach visitors (parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and administrators) about the culture. We’ve spent a couple days brainstorming about what students already know about the cultures and what more they’d like to learn.
Today was the day where the rubber needed to meet the road, so students could be ready to begin creating their physical displays and digital interactives. Students had been divided into groups focusing on aspects of life which cross cultures, such as communications, government, and social structure. In general, I’d heard students discussing interesting and exciting ideas, but I had some concern about the logistical feasibility of several of the ideas. While I wanted to give the students the freedom to fail and experiment, I also wanted to help them think through their ideas as clearly as possible.
At the beginning of class, I decided to ask each of the groups to come up with a simple 1-2 minute “pitch” for their portion of the room display. After each group offered their ideas, the other members of the class would respond with promises the saw in the ideas and potential pitfalls. I had no idea if this would ferret out the ideas that I was pretty sure were going to be problematic, but I figured if it didn’t work, I could always “pull a teacher” and tell them that they needed to come up with something else.
The results were encouraging. Coming up with a pitch forced groups to clarify their thinking and their classmates added ideas to improve exhibits. Some groups agreed that they would toss out questions to the class as a way of settling disagreements they were having. I was really impressed by the thoughtful praise and respectful critiques students offered each other. Groups who had ideas that I’d been concerned about (for example, a nativity play for the Christianity exhibit in the World Religions room) came to the realization after hearing the concerns of their classmates that they should probably go in a different direction. I think some of them had a bit of a hard time letting go of their ideas, but it was nothing like the resistance students have put up in the past when I’ve told them they weren’t allowed to do something and ultimately, they were the ones who made the choice.
Today’s class has me thinking about feedback and critique and who we are best able to hear it from. Often, it’s not the person in charge.
A colleague and I sat in a room with no outside light, affectionately known as the fishbowl, for several days this summer. While this may sound like torture akin to the rubber room, it was actually quite a gift.
Because we had the gift of time to plan, we had the freedom to spend 30 minutes or an hour chasing an idea down a rabbit hole. Some of those explorations resulted in fantastic plans, while others were abandoned because we realized they were too complicated or didn’t accomplish what we’d hoped. This time was made possible by a grant from our school to revise, update, and expand the resources which make up the World Cultures East Asia unit. (If you’re interested, here’s are some of the resources we created/updated.)
Image by LeoReynolds
I find that the teaching life rarely offers this kind of time. School starts on Wednesday and time feels nothing like a gift right now. More like a wild beast in hot pursuit.
In Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, David Whyte quotes a poem by Ranier Maria Rilke containing the lines:
My life is not this steeply sloping hour
in which you see me hurrying….
I am the rest between the notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because Death’s notes want to climb over-
but in the dark interval, reconciled,
they stay there trembling,
And the song goes on, beautiful.
I love that image of being almost over swept by busyness, by Death, but those notes being reconciled in the silence. Here’s to the interval and the song.