Collecting my School Thoughts
As I write this, I am finally having a break from school. Spring break came at a good time as everyone was feeling the weight of days gone by and the busy schedule ahead. Hard to believe three quarters are behind me and we’re already two weeks into the fourth.
I am feeling far more confident than I did even a few months back. Some of this has come from the comments I’ve been receiving from my peers, Consulting Teacher, and administration. All have remarked on the growth and tell me I have little to worry about as the year winds down and that year two will only get better.
But first, I have to complete year one and finish strong. My freshmen have finally started waking up to the reality of their situation and the looks on their faces when they received their report cards Thursday showed how severe things have gotten. Many saw that third E and realized they would have to repeat English 9 (and possibly other course). I was looking at quarterly GPAs as low as .26 and as high as 3.86.
Not that this has necessarily improved their overall behavior. Classes continue to provide challenges as we are now well into studying Romeo and Juliet. While I am billing it as a teen soap opera, they are still struggling to decipher Shakespeare’s torturous iambic pentameter. When certain phrases are decoded, they are astonished at how bawdy it can get. We’ve also started comparing interpretations from the Franco Zeffirelli classic and Baz Luhrman’s gangster edition. The girls swoon over Leonardo DiCaprio and compare Michael York to Zac Efron.
Meantime, my juniors are now into the 20th Century and we had a strong week with the Harlem Renaissance. A little earlier, though, we began Modernism and were looking at Ezra Pound poetry and they pretty much mentally checked out. Unfortunately, during one of those days, I had my fourth formal observation. My department chair watched me use a variety of tricks to get everyone engaged but other than my three dependable rock stars; the rest of the class was pretty listless. Thankfully, I got some good feedback and their behavior isn’t being held against me.
I do recognize I need to up my game for discussions, which will happen more often with the Honors classes next year. On Friday, after watching the film, I was casually observed working with the kids to discuss Zeffierlli’s Act I. Afterwards, it was suggested I needed to do some more scaffolding with the kids in order to get them ready to answer the questions, which he said were strong ones. Thankfully, there’s time to practice.
Practice appears to be the name of the game. Beginning in late May, we’re all going to get a taste of next year’s block schedule with a hybrid plan that has us mixing in normal 45 minute classes with two blocks alternating A and B days. Personally, I think it should be all or nothing but I will certainly appreciate the early practice in adjusting lesson plans for the 85 minute periods and sample how much more I really can teach in one 85 stretch versus two 45 minute classes. The hope is to work in the grammar the freshmen need for the finals.
I’ve also been part of an in-school professional development group that is looking at Open Mindsets and how to encourage the faculty and incoming freshmen next year to consider the sky’s the limit as opposed to feeling boxed in and trapped as either “smart”, “average”, or “dumb”. Those of us participating have been having some terrific online discussions about the reading and how to apply these lessons to the school community. Some of that will manifest itself in the new Freshmen Seminar we’re rolling out next year. The rest will have to come from word and deed.
I also got another taste of the future when I was presented with a lengthy list of kids who signed up for Creative Writing next year. The current teacher for the course suggested I cap it at 20 kids so my department peeps have been helping me winnow it down and starring the kids they knew would thrive in the setting. But there are still many unknowns including the incoming freshmen so this will still be a roll of the dice.
And finally, I’ve been involved in selecting the works my Honors 10 and Honors 11 students will read in addition to a single school-wide read over the summer. Being entrusted with such decision making is certainly making me feel far more a veteran and less of a newcomer.
So, I’ll be using the break to being personally creative. Whatever grading came home with me is down and tucked away. My lessons are planned for the week we return so nothing hangs over my head. Instead, I can mentally and physically recharge, ready for the final leg of the school year.