Here goes my first post for the #MTBoS blogging initiative!
Will my door have a doorknob?
At 7:20 on Thursday morning, that’s the first thought I anxiously had as I walked to my classroom. Yeah, you read that right. My doorknob has been known to go missing between when I leave in the evening and when I return the following morning. I teach at Fairmont Heights High School in Prince George’s County, MD.
Built in 1950, Fairmont is old. We’re scheduled to move into a new school (currently under construction) in 2017. Until that time, we have to deal with all of the issues any old building has: uneven temperatures in different parts of the building, leaking pipes, collapsing ceiling tiles and doorknobs that fall off doors.
Fortunately, Thursday gets off to a good start when I get into my classroom without incident.
I wish I had more time.
My first of many instances when I wish for more time is at 7:25, as I try to finish planning for the day. In an ideal world, I’d have planned everything the night before. But I’ve found that after my wife and/or I fetch the kids from daycare, head home, make dinner, play with the kids, put them to bed, make lunches for the next day, make breakfast for the next day, etc., I rarely have the energy to plan.
Lesson planning is one of the best and worst parts of teaching. Like all creative acts, it can be energizing. It’s exciting when I hit that sweet spot where a lesson (1) makes me excited, (2) seems like it will engage my students and (3) offers a rigorous chance for students to learn the material. On the flip side, like all creative acts, lesson planning is also incredibly frustrating, particularly when I have the equivalent of writer’s block. It’s discouraging when I can’t hit that sweet spot of excitement, engagement and rigor.
By 8:30 or 9 pm, I usually don’t have the energy to plan. It’s labor and brain intensive, and I’m tired. So when I sit down to work at night, I try to use that time for other things (e.g. emailing parents, filling out IEP progress reports, writing my SLOs, etc.).
Hence, planning (often frantically) at 7:25 am.
Student X is quiet. I wish I knew more about him/her.
Ever been speed dating? No? Neither have I.
Nevertheless, imagine speed dating while also trying to build a car with whoever is sitting across from you. This is what teaching is like at times.
Thursday was a B-day. Officially I have 75 students on my rolls for my three 90-minute classes. Thursday was actually a light day and only 58 actual students made it to class, meaning I could spend about 4.5 minutes with each student.
During those 4 minutes each day, I want to know my students — what are they interested in, what music do they listen to, what teams do they root for?
I want to understand their thinking — are they actually using mathematical reasoning to work through a problem or are they merely following a pre-canned procedure that they hope will get them the right answer?
I want to know about their other classes — is Chemistry really as boring as I remember it? What are they reading in English class? What language are they using in their IT classes?
I really shouldn’t be reading 6 Things You Never Knew About Alan Rickman.
Finally, it’s 2 pm and I have an uninterrupted 90-minute planning period. The day is ostensibly over. Hurrah! Lots of teachers love having their planning period at the end of the day.
I hate it.
I’d like to meet someone who is legitimately productive during the mid-afternoon. By the time planning rolls around, I’m thirsty and hungry. I want quiet. I need to check email. I want to goof off and check my favorite websites. I want to see the sky and natural light.
Basically, all those things that people do at work that aren’t actually work happen during fourth-period planning because I don’t have the attention/energy to do real work.
On Thursday, I spend the first 15 minutes eating my lunch because I spent my 30-minute lunch period creating a quiz and making copies. After lunch, I read about Alan Rickman. I’m bummed about Alan. (Having watched Die Hard enough, I feel comfortable about calling him by his first name.) I discover that Benedict Cumberbatch does a pretty good Alan Rickman impression.
I feel guilty I’m not being more productive. I should plan or grade or call parents.
By 2:45, the guilt overwhelms me and I start grading.
By 3:15, the bell rings. The day is over. Except it isn’t. Thursday night is parent-teacher conference night, so I’m going to be in my classroom from 4–8 pm.
Oh, students are still here waiting for parents to pick them up.
It’s 4:06 pm, the school day is over and I’ve just helped a student (or at least I hope I’ve helped him) better understand the Pythagorean Theorem. I have two students in my classroom, basically hanging out until their parents come to parent-teacher conference night.
Based on past experience, I anticipated seeing 10 parents during the four hours I would be in my classroom. I was hoping to use that time to grade. I’m behind on grading and second quarter grades are due next week.
Instead, I have these two kids in my classroom. They keep talking to me. I go on listening auto-pilot, a skill I first developed as a husband and have since honed as a parent of a four-year-old. I can’t bring myself to chase the kids out of the classroom because (1) it’s kind of lonely sitting in my classroom at night with visits from only a handful of parents and (2) this is a good chance for me to learn about them.
So, I decide to stop grading and be fully present in the conversation. It’s refreshing. It’s easily the best part of my teaching day.