Saturday, August 27, 2011

Never a Dull Moment

Well this was my Friday. Except that, really, it wasn't. We didn't find out about this until sixth period, though it does explain some of the more bizarre things I noticed during my day, such as all the gates being locked what seemed randomly in the middle of second period and a higher than normal percentage of district office people roaming about. I just figured it was so that they could see for themselves that our kiddos are packed into their classrooms like little sardines. But they were there I guess essentially as security. Hopefully they did a little noticing of the situation, though ...

It is a little troubling to consider that despite being more than adequately practiced at dealing with tragedy on our campus, to the point where we seem to be getting pretty good at it (and what an awful thing to be good at), I'm not entirely convinced we are practiced enough at a disaster -- of any kind. I think about the hurricane happening on the East Coast and the earthquake that just happened in Virginia and about a myriad of other weird and disastrous and dangerous things that have and could happen on a school campus and really have to wonder whether our students -- and our staff, too, I guess -- really know what to do in a true disaster situation. Sure we do drills and practice walking out to the football field, but that's a drill. Nerves aren't rattled, death isn't imminent. I mean, I guess maybe you can never be actually prepared for an earthquake or any otherwise unsafe situation, but I just can't shake the feeling like we just really wouldn't know what to do.

But to change the subject, because dwelling on what may or may not happen is depressing ... I got up early this morning and got cracking at my summer assignment grading. I should probably be doing that instead of blogging, but I'm going to try to make a concerted effort to blog much more frequently, especially this year. But I worked from 8:00 until about 9:45 (I had to be somewhere at 10) and graded about 25. In the old days, this would have meant I would be almost done - I mean, if I'd had 32 kids, I would have only had 7 left. As it stands now, that left me with 17 more, which is going to be about an hour more work. I did grade a handful a few hours ago, while watching Lifetime's Dance Moms marathon (more about that later, perhaps) but now I really should probably get back to them. I want them done for Monday and I still haven't done anything for lesson planning or grading for my sophomores yet. A lot of the problem with grading, I think, is psychological. Granted, I do have almost 40 more students total through my day that I did when I first started, so that is more than a sixth class worth of work to grade, but in the grand scheme of things, it's not *that* many more ... okay, maybe that's me being in denial. But anyway, it's just ... psychologically demoralizing to look at a pile that seems to never get any smaller. When I had classes of 36, you could do half -- 18 -- and feel good and take a break and come back later and do the other 18. Now half is nearly 25 and it's insanity. And I don't really want to even talk about the 120 Writing Diagnostics I have from my sophomores.... but at least those I don't really need to write feedback on.

So anyway. I should probably get about the business of grading. I'll digress into my analysis of Dance Moms later, but for as snarky as I've been in my head lately about this show's existence, I accidentally ended up watching it and minus a few of her quirks, the dance teacher/studio owner lady may be my new hero. A post for another day...

Onward. And tomorrow, I shall discuss gamification. And my attempt to gamify English. ... Heh.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Notes on the First Day of School

Wow am I tired. And wow do my feet hurt. And so does my throat. I always forget how much you're on your feet when you teach and how much talking you do the first day. But I lived. And it actually went really pretty quickly. But holy moly am I tired.

First period was just about as bad as I was picturing it being: I ran out of space for students to sit and my poor but good spirited TA ended up sitting on the picnic blanket on the floor (I told you I wasn't kidding). But I even had one student at my teacher desk and five students on chairs. They were pretty good-natured about it but it was overwhelming.

Then my third period sophomore class is at 44, and I attempted to have them get up and move around in a Four Corner Debate, which worked *mostly* but oh my god, it's like when you're trying to pack a suitcase: when you first pack it before you leave, you can get everything to fit with room to spare when you pack it neatly, with everything folded and rolled, but when you've used and worn things and decide to just throw everything back in the suitcase willy-nilly, NOTHING fits. It's like that with students in a classroom, too: sitting in their desks, 44 fit fine, but trying to stand in groups in the four corners of my classroom was like being in the mosh pit at a concert. I had to climb onto the top of a desk to get above the fray because otherwise I end up having a giant panic attack.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful as things go: the kids are unsure about me, and I'm crazy, so they spend a lot of the period looking at me like I'm from outerspace, come to steal their binder paper, but I think I have a good group. Lots of girls in APEL and lots of boys in sophomore English. It's weird.

It's weird seeing so much of campus empty, though. There are empty classrooms gathering dust. One of the science teachers today, after school, was saying that there is an entire ROW of science classrooms empty, with equipment just moldering in it. And though our school population is smaller, it's not THAT much smaller. Classes are bigger and thus you need fewer teachers. Ideally, there would be teachers in those classrooms with classes of 28-30. And the staff is dinky now, too -- there used to be over 100 teachers, possibly closer to 120, and I think now we're down in the 70s or 80s (I could be COMPLETELY wrong about this, but for perspective: when I first started to work at my school, there were nearly 30 English teachers. We filled up the department chair's classroom. Now there are 12 of us. That's it. 12. With not really THAT many fewer students spread out between us.

So at this point, I should probably plow into the summer assignments I collected today. I guess the silver lining is that even though my classes are PACKED to the gills, I still actually have fewer APEL students total than I did last year, so that's nice. I think I've got 90? Last year I had 115 or so. Yay. I think?

The other silver lining: some of our buildings were without air conditioning today (and our classrooms are essentially designed for AC ... there are no functioning/opening windows in any classroom that I can think of) but mine was not one of them. So there was that...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

And tomorrow, it all starts again.

It's 9:20 pm the night before the first day of the new school year and I am freaking out.


Normally, I'm pretty good at hiding my anxiety because it's silly but also fairly normal -- I mean, teachers get anxious just like the kids do before the first day of school. But this year ... oh boy, is this year going to be different. And it's got me terrified.

See, there's this little budget problem. Don't know if you, dear reader out there roaming about the Interwebs, are familiar with California's bit of a money problem, but this wee little problem (... if you haven't caught the sarcasm yet, shall I hit you with a stick?) has translated into a huge problem and that is class size.

Now, for some reason, people seem to not really be taking this problem seriously. After all, our test scores have stayed pretty consistently high. Our ELA test scores were mostly the same as the year before, with smaller classes and slightly more resources. Obviously we didn't need those resources in the first place! We can do WAY MORE with WAY LESS!

Except, that at some point, we're not going to be able to. And I have a feeling that "some point" is going to arrive tomorrow. Or at least, the dawn of the "some point" day will break tomorrow.

I have 46 junior APEL students slated to arrive in my first period classroom tomorrow morning -- my classroom that currently holds (barely) 40 desks and 4 chairs. I might teach English, but I can also do math, and that says there's room for 44 students. Those other two? ... I'm contemplating a picnic blanket on the floor. And I wish I were kidding. My room just isn't built for this size of a class, and I'm SURE this has GOT to be a fire hazard somehow. My room is teeny tiny, and I love it, and I don't want to move, but holy crap, the thought of having 46 bodies, plus me, plus 46 backpacks in my classroom is enough to send my already-jittery nerves into a full-tilt panic attack. ::breathes:: You CANNOT effectively teach 46 high schoolers at a time.


I am good. I don't toot my own horn much, really, because I know how much there is still left for me to learn about teaching and organization and planning, and I always see the flaws in what I do, but I'm good. Really good. And though I know I can ATTEMPT to teach 46 with the best of them, and I will do a hell of a job trying to engage all of them and rally all of them and wrangle all of them, but honestly, the quality of their education -- the quality of our classroom relationship, the quality of my feedback to them, the quality of the depth and breadth of the work they'll do for me -- is going to suffer perilously. I cannot physically assign the same amount of things as I used to. I cannot physically counsel, guide, and support them each individually any more. Thankfully, I've embraced things like Facebook and Google Voice and this blog to at least help me get to know my students better, but it's hard. I feel like I learned less about last year's students than any group I've yet had, and that makes me sad. And it helps me recognize that we're doing a huge disservice to these kids by cramming them like sardines into classrooms meant for 30 students. There's no room for anything else. I've already jettisoned furniture. It's just sad and disheartening. It makes me want to scream and cry and teach my ass off.

I guess the only redeeming thing, if you could call it that, is that it seems like everyone is feeling the same way. Teachers are wandering around campus looking completely panic-stricken (... or, perhaps, I'm just projecting my own neurotic fears onto their faces, who knows). But I had at least four conversations today with four different teachers and all of them said echoes of the same thing: "We're so freaked out about how many kids we have on our caseload that we're shutting down and becoming incapable of doing anything productive today." Granted, we all eventually made copies of our syllabi and our first day of school activities, like the good little diligent planners that we are, but what about days 2-175? I can't even fathom. I've got my sophomore curriculum KIND of planned out, but I'm also about to embark on this grand gamification experiment and I really didn't do as much work as I should have this summer to get that up and running, but it's really going to be a lot of trial and error, and I'm going to be really honest with my students about it. After all, it's all about them and their success anyway.

So there you have it. My lunch is packed, clothes laid out, and my copies are sitting in a neat little stack in my classroom. But I'm so terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought about getting back in the saddle tomorrow and having to take the same ride as last year, with less support, less money, less time, and less physical space. I guess it will take some adjusting, but if I run screaming for the hills, mail me care packages, okay?