A Transitional Week

Socratic Seminar prepOur seniors have taken their finals and today was their last day as students at Owings Mills High School. I have two repeating 9th Grade English and seven in my 11th Grade class. I have watched them these last few weeks, the apathy towards their work growing as the temperature rose, replaced this week with a giddy countdown.

I marked their passage with food. Celebratory mini-cupcakes for my 9th graders and a full blown party with chips, pretzels, chocolate, and juice for the 11th graders. I made my kids work to the bitter end, ignoring their entreaties, not caring if other teachers let them slack off. As it was, one lingered after the final bell, not quite ready for freedom. He owed me an essay to pass the quarter and I held out. I got a pretty good one out of him at 2:30, shook his hand and released him.

To my surprise, I got some nice handshakes, hugs, and thanks from most of them. I was somewhat surprised when some of the seniors I only know through my lunch duty insisted on a picture and then got more hugs as they left the building.

Complicating matters was that the air conditioning in our wing was not functioning and it grew more and more stifling by the day. I am in a windowless room and even with both doors open meant minimal relief. We somehow managed to still get through the lessons.Lunchroom Seniors 2014

We’re finally wrapping up Romeo & Juliet and looking ahead at the schedule, we have little time for anything new so will extend our examination of the play mixed in with tons of grammar and prep for their finals.

I timed things so my departing seniors would finish either Shakespeare or, in 11th grade, August Wilson’s Fences. For the latter, I had them complete the play with a Socratic Seminar. Yesterday, I had them break into groups and compose questions. Then with color-coded post-its, sent them to read the questions and vote on them so we had a running order.  Today’s discussion was not the rich give and take I had hoped for but got more out of some than I expected. Maybe it was the chips and salsa as a bribe.

Next week our school will feel very different. Far fewer students coupled with a shift in schedule as we experiment with the block schedule we’re adopting next fall. Each day there will be a mix of standard 45-minute classes and 90 minute blocks. My fellow 9th grade teacher and I mapped out the remaining days, figuring out what to teach in a standard or block class and have begun preparing materials.

It would have been nice if the fates saw to it that my 11th grade class, the one I will repeat teaching next year, would have been a block so I could get some real practice in. Alas, it was not to be. Instead, we will spend the final three weeks on The Great Gatsby.

The other big change is that we received our HP Elite devices, which double as a laptop or tablet. I will spend the weekend getting accustomed to it and loading it with materials I need for school. This is our first major step forward to digital learning and it’ll be interesting to see how I can make it work best in the classroom.

I’m still struggling with the notion that we’re down to final four weeks of my first year.

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