A Week of Changes

There are some weeks where you feel on a treadmill, routine carrying you through the days. Other weeks are so jam-packed with a variety of events; you never know what will happen next. This was obviously the latter and hence worth a look back.

Monday began with my third formal observation, postponed from the previous week thanks to snow-related delays and a change in lessons. This was a gallery walk as we prepared the ninth graders to read To Kill a Mockingbird so they were looking at images from the Great Depression and Civil Rights era. It’s been a little tricky teaching two time periods at once but it certainly is rich with content. My second period class is my strongest academically and also my quietest so I expected this to go well. What I didn’t expect was for almost half of them to be absent for ESOL testing. It changed the environment a bit and made the room feel very empty. Thankfully, most did the work and did it well so I was pleased.

The following day I had the post-ob conference and we agreed I needed to model more before unleashing them and that moving a word web for “context” should have come before the gallery walk but overall they were pleased and I was rated Effective which was good news.

Meantime, the collective wisdom is that the 11th grade curriculum is too broad and not at all deep so my department chair has begun encouraging us to slow down, go deeper, dropping lessons at our discretion to accomplish this. While I embrace this decision, it poses new complications for me as I now have to do a little more work without the support of the curriculum guide. Thankfully, there are five of us dealing with this so I have plenty of guidance and support. My first decision was to drop Thoreau’s “Nature” in favor of his “Civil Disobedience” which then allowed me to work in the wonderful “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. I largely followed my peers who were doing the same, although I spent more time on making my kids understand the letter’s allusions than the rhetorical arguments. To me, he drew from his experience and knowledge to craft this letter on scraps of paper; an amazing accomplishment. Between that and the content, I figured the class would glom on to it but alas, they were as vaguely interested in this as with everything else.

Since they need to do more writing in preparation for the SATs, I determined this past week’s readings would form a writing prompt and my colleague liked the notion and is using it, too.

Collaboration has been the theme of the week. All the pre-teaching for the 9th graders was to culminate in their first big project of the quarter, a research project in the library starting on Friday. By Wednesday, though, it became apparent the various snow delays, including one that morning that I didn’t know about until after I arrived, the project snuck up on us and we didn’t have the materials ready. As a result, my fellow 9th grade teacher (and my Sherpa) and I jammed out stuff Wednesday evening and first thing Thursday so we could introduce the project that day. Meantime, scheduling snafus resulted in us being notified we didn’t have the library booked on Friday as planned meaning a topic-related lesson was needed, stat. Some searching online resulted in a good lesson from The New York Times so yesterday went pretty well all things considered and now we’re ready for the project.

There have been larger issues going on as well with one of the department’s teachers saying she needs surgery and will be out 4-6 weeks while another has tendered her resignation effective in two weeks both of which require long-term subs which will alter the department’s fun chemistry. We also have been invaded by four student teachers, young, bright-eyed and eager to get from the lecture hall and into the classroom. They’ve been fun to have around.

Finally, after a lot of debate, the school has decided to shift to block scheduling next fall. We’re adding an eighth class to the schedule and going to 80-90 minute lessons which mean rethinking everything we’re doing. There are definitely positives to this along with the challenge of keeping the kids engaged for a longer class. The kids just got their scheduling packets yesterday so over the next two weeks we’ll be pimping our electives to bolster enrollment.

Here’s the thing. I’m not as panicked as I might have been had this occurred in September. I have some experience and have come to cherish the support I have from around the school. Hearing of these challenges this week, it was really a matter of nodded, rolling up our sleeves and making it work. Looking back, that feels really good.

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