The copier is working. The copier is not working. The kids feel like listening. The kids do not feel like listening. Your colleagues are productive. Your colleagues are not productive. Your administration appreciates you. Your administration does not appreciate you. The school's power is on. The school's power is off. Therefore there is no school tomorrow. Wait, just kidding, yes there is! (Wait, just kidding again, no the power's out again, so now that you and all students have arrived, school is canceled... true story in the life of PG County.)
No one day is like the other. Although we teachers follow a bell schedule, that is about the only consistency that we experience in our careers. Because we interact with so many people and machines throughout the course of a day (and we know machines are purposely temperamental sometimes!) and because those factors play a role in how our day is shaped, teaching is anything but a monotonous job. Which is not so great for me, as a slightly obsessive-compulsive, anal-retentive, mildly to moderately anxious person.
I love routine. I can't give it to myself so well, but I appreciate when I am in that type of environment. Predictability is my best friend.
In some ways, teaching is completely the wrong career for me because I can drive myself insane with my need for order and for following "process" to things. (What is the correct process to follow for lesson planning? Grading? I need a formula.) However, lucky for me, I am okay with sacrificing small bits of my sanity for my love of actually teaching and working with students.
But I can only sacrifice so much. This got me to thinking: what is the difference between how I want things to be and how they are? And how can I close that contentment gap? (Teaching is full of different kinds of gaps...)
Well, for one, I hate how powerless I feel about the state of education and my ability to improve it. I'm one teacher of six classes in a school of probably 200 staff. There are 200 schools in PG County. Thousands of schools in the state of Maryland. And tens of thousands (?) of schools in the country. I'm just one. I don't make the decisions on curriculum organization (I'm sorry, PG, but you all have no concept of flow of topics.), I don't get to have my say on how ridiculous NCLB is and I don't get to fail the students that need to repeat a grade or class so that they aren't the twelfth grader on the cusp of graduation who can't read past a sixth grade level and doesn't know how to add or subtract fractions. Teaching can be a lot of these I CAN'Ts. And the I CAN'Ts... well, they suck. We are little. We don't make the big decisions. Yet, we have the most important job of any person in the education field. We're in the trenches. We see the reality. We work, every day, with those who touch the future. And for some reason, the higher up's decide that they don't really need our input when making important decisions such as NCLB.
Which, brings me, briefly, to this: don't you think it'd be a good idea to have governments poll the general public on decisions prior to making them? For example, at grocery store check outs, where you can usually donate to a charity or something like that. Those screens should also say "NCLB - good idea or bad idea?" "Tax cuts for the wealthy: yes or no?" "Should we change the food pyramid to something that doesn't look utterly confusing?"
Anyway, so yes - we have a lot of "I see students every day, I am a teacher, and yet I can't make any of the decisions that help to govern our schools." This probably won't change anytime soon - but don't worry - in 2024, I can run for president. So, as a new teacher, you can either 1. give up because of the I CAN'Ts - which I want to, all the time or 2. you can focus on the I CANs.
Today, I'm choosing the latter. Tomorrow, who knows. Like I said: bipolar.
The U.S. is not going to be this orderly, utopian (...economically sound) society any time soon. I'm not going to be president any time soon. But for now, I'm president of my little classroom and that's a start. I can run my classroom as I so please (mostly) and that at least, can be to the level of order that I require. So let's discuss: what do I need to have the "utopian" classroom and how do I get my current classroom there?
In my opinion, the well-oiled teacher would:
- Have a year plan - simple, just unit names so you can identify connections and create flow between and among units
- Plan by units for a high level of cohesiveness and succinctness portrayed in lessons in order to increase student success
- Plan activities that engage most or all students on a regular basis
- Have all copies created at the start of the week
- Be animated and interesting to listen to
- Go over HW
- Properly close out every lesson to tie up loose ends
- Incorporate life skills and lessons into the class. I like to give my students weekly drills on math topics that they have covered before (all the way back to elementary school) to keep them sharp. The curriculum as includes SAT Questions of the Week, which I like. But, I also want to include discussions about songs that I think have good messages. And I've also been obsessed with Hey, Arnold and other cartoons from my childhood because they main characters are portrayed as elementary and middle schoolers, yet the characters act WAY beyond their years. My kids could really learn a thing or two from Ginger Foutley or TJ Detweiler.
- Grade papers in a timely manner and return them at least weekly - with proper feedback - all the while updating online grades or providing grade sheets
- Offer outside of class help
- Be open for student conversations, questions and concerns
And, the well-oiled students would:
- Come to class on time
- Come to class prepared
- Listen, attentively. Participate, productively
- Complete assignments in a timely manner
- Help and be kind to classmates
- Clean up before leaving class
- Complete HW, ask questions if necessary
- Be a productive member of society: help their parents or siblings at home, volunteer, recycle...
And, the well-oiled room of knowledge would:
- Be clean and organized
- Have helpful charts and posters posted
- Have Harry Potter paraphernalia
So, step 1 is to outline what you want. Step 2 is to outline how you get there. I'll have to get back to you on that. Step 3: just do it. (Thanks, Nike.)