Catching my Breath


The last two weeks have been intense and I have been so preoccupied with things that this thing called leisure time feels ephemeral. Still, Deb is out at an event and I actually have an evening to clear the decks a bit and want to ruminate over what has been going on.

Things at school continue to be a never-ending assortment of amusing and maddening, stressful and enlightening. The classes have been chugging along with nary an interruption for a while now which has certainly helped. Our third quarter, already the shortest given the fewest breaks, is even shorter thanks to snow days so it feels compacted and already drawing to a close in two weeks.

My 9th graders have been working with To Kill a Mockingbird and I’ve begun giving quizzes because without them, many seem incapable of making reading the novel a priority. As a result, they are coming every few days as a quick check of understanding. This week it was clear they were reading it lightly, not taking the time to absorb the setting and characters. At their request, I produced a character chart for them to work with.

They continue to be eager to see the film but I am doling it out in chunks after we analyze and explore the prose first. Yesterday, I showed the second section and in many cases, I had to pause the film because they talked through it. One complained it was boring because there was no action to which I suggested he take the film appreciation elective and expand his thinking.

They have a set of 15 thoughtful prompts for journaling because I need them to focus on their writing a bit more. The last set of essays demonstrated a basic weakness in depth and clarity. We’ll see what happens when these flood in as we conclude the novel in the next two weeks.

My 11th graders put Frederick Douglass behind them and we briefly touched on Walt Whitman and Mark Twain before diving into Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. What’s interesting here is that we don’t have a curriculum or it. I am making it up on the fly, taking bits of pieces from online material so this is truly a unique unit. We began it this week and I am already frustrated because I am trying to tie their thinking from 11th grade social

studies to the time of the novel, 1899, and am getting way too many blank looks. Today’s discussion on the role of women at the time was a step in the right direction.

And we’re already looking ahead. This week I made recommendations for summer reading and we tweaked what I will likely be teaching in the fall. With Creative Writing, I need to determine what my material needs will be so they can go into the department budget. I’ve also had the sad duty of compiling the numbers on 9th graders likely to repeat English 9 next year. Mine match those of my fellow 9th grade teacher so I know it’s them and not me so that’s some comfort.

I’ve also continued to gain the trust of students as more confide in me and turn to me for help. In one case, during anti-bullying week, a girl came and showed me a series of nasty texts she was receiving from an anonymous source. We got it taken care of and she was relieved.

Planning from scratch, an abundance of professional development and a ton of tests, essays, and classwork have snowballed into a time-consuming monster that I am only now taming. My goal is to be planned out a unit at a time, then a week’s worth of lessons at a shot complete with handouts, then each day or two, I can refine and modify based on what’s been going on. With that handled, I am slowly taming the monstrous pile of papers so am just now beginning to feel atop of things.

No doubt that will change once I remember PD homework or something new creeps up and surprises me.


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