My annual “work week” begins in about 9 days so it’s time to actually start thinking about getting “back into the swing of things” as they say. I don’t know how much I actually am going to be doing this week, aside from doing what I can to enjoy my last week of summer break, but I am definitely going to have work on my mind while doing so.
I don’t know if I’ve grown cynical over these past few years or what, but as I read more and more posts and articles (and have to brave Target), I don’t get the rush of excitement that so many other teachers seem to get each year. Sure, I look forward to the new year, but every moment of enthusiasm seems to come with a sense of dread. Well, that’s a little dramatic. It’s this trepidation, I guess you could call it. And rather than drag this painful intro out any longer, here’s a rundown of sorts:
My class schedule
Enthusiasm: In what has to be extremely rare because it’s never, ever happened to be before, I have the exact same class schedule as last year. This includes planning, lunch, and duty periods. So it’s going to be easy to navigate the schedule and prep won’t be too hard, especially since I am not taking on a new course this year, like I was last year.
Trepidation: I honestly don’t have much worry about the class schedule, to be honest, except that I guess you could say that this means I run the risk of being stuck in some sort of rut. Then again, I tend to revise and revamp things all the time from year to year anyway so I’m not running the risk of being “captain worksheet.”
My classroom setup
Enthusiasm: There are so many ways to set up a classroom, at least based on all of the blog posts I’ve seen about classroom set up lately. I am not the type of teacher who gets rid of his desk; however, I do try and think of different ways to set up my room. When I walk in next Tuesday for the first day of the work week, the desks will be in rows because that’s how the custodial staff arranged them after they waxed the floor during the summer, but I know that I’ll think of how I can create a space that is a welcoming, comfortable learning environment.
Trepidation: Unfortunately, with upwards of 25-30 students per class and four classes using those desks each day the desks can’t always move around in an efficient manner. In fact, sometimes rows of desks work because it’s one of the few ways that people can sit down and move around the classroom without being trapped or feeling claustrophobic. In all honesty, I avoid anxiety about my room setup by not overthinking it. I figure that I have so many other things to worry about that whether or not the desks are arranged in a way to optimize learning isn’t that important. Plus, considering how much the furniture in my room “migrates” over the course of any given day, the effort to constantly rearrange furniture seems like a bit of a waste.
Enthusiasm: New year! New material! Better versions of old material! There’s so many ideas that run through my head at the beginning of the year, and even though quite a number don’t make it to the page or into lessons, I have to say that I love those times when it seems like there’s a feeling of raw creativity going on. I tend to focus a lot of my energy during the work week on lesson planning. It’s not that I’m trying to make everything “teacher centered” or “control” everything in my room, it’s just that I’ve always been more comfortable when I have done a decent amount of planning. In fact, I’d say that quite a number of my lessons are “over-planned” because when I over plan, I tend to go in with a little more confidence. Plus, I have to plan quite a bit because like many other people, I am juggling quite a bit and when everything comes together in a nightmare of deadlines and due dates, it’s nice to have the day-to-day plans complete because it’s one less thing to worry about.
Trepidation: The other thing about the wonderful energy of lesson planning is the wonderful energy suck that is knowing quite a number of my lessons are being crafted as contingency plans in case what I really would like to do completely falls apart. I’ve never been the greatest improvisationalist. I can think on my feet and all, but I’m better at thinking on my feet when I feel prepared to think on my feet, if that makes any sense. So, I have my backups ready. I also get a little nervous when planning this much in advance because quite frankly, it kind of makes me wonder if I’m being a bad teacher for doing so. I read so much about how students need to be put first and they need to be shown that they’re in control of their own learning that when I sit down and write up a lesson, I feel like I’m doing them some sort of disservice because I didn’t consult with them on the materials for the following week.
Enthusiasm: Virginia isn’t going with the common core because … well they say that their standards are just as good anyway; I say that they don’t want to do anything everyone else is doing as long as Barack Obama is POTUS. But the standards that were crafted a couple of years ago and are being rolled out aren’t too horrible. I sat down with colleagues a couple of weeks ago and looked through them and saw that there’s quite a bit that’s being covered that we all already did anyway. Plus, they seemed to trim the fat on a number of the 10th grade standards and I thought of quite a number of ways to creatively teach within them (or despite of them).
Trepidation: The tests changed. So test prep and benchmarks and the grades on benchmark tests are going to be emphasized to a maddening degree. Student engagement? Creative projects? Well, is it contributing to a rise in test scores?
Money and Budget
Enthusiasm: Last year, the community fought hard against the county Board of Supervisors to get them to fully fund the schools. While money is still tight, this was a solid victory that can help us progress, or at least prevent us from regressing …
Trepidation: … but what about the budget for next year? And the year after that? We probably pissed them off enough and they still hold the purse strings, so it’s very possible that they’ll drop the hammer again to spite us for what we did to them last year. I worry about these things in a way that I shouldn’t, but it’s hard to not keep money on your mind when you have to put food on the table.
Enthusiasm: I guess this one doesn’t need much explanation because I think we all get excited at the prospect of a new group of students and what we’re going to be teaching them this year. There’s so much potential for awesome when you start out in August …
Trepidation: … but I’m not a Pollyanna, which is why I write the contingency plans that I mentioned above. I know that we all give students the benefit of the doubt when they come in on the very first day, and I do that too, but I have found that you definitely have to be prepared for those who are just going to give you a hard time through no fault of your own. I had one student once who spent the entire class on the first day complaining that the a/c was too cold. The. Entire. Class. It started before I even opened my mouth. I’ve had others who just come in and “hold court” for the entire 45 minutes, regardless of who is speaking or what we’re doing. I try to plan for these things so that everyone in the class has a chance to feel comfortable right from the get go and they and I don’t have to feel like we’re fighting for space.
See, when you get a few years under your belt, this is the internal conflict of sorts that goes along with prepping for a new year. It’s my hope that as my career goes on, the enthusiasm of this moment will always trump the trepidation.*
*and maybe I’ll write better prose. Ugh.