What follows is an overview of my day from March 2nd, 2016. The impetus for this post came from my constant amazement at just how busy I (and every other teacher I know) appear to be pretty much all the time. I’ve decided to break it down roughly by school period. I’ve removed any and all identifying markers to specific students and/or adults without sacrificing the spirit of what transpired on March 2, 2016. See part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, part 5 here, part 6 here, part 7 here, part 8 here, and part 9 here.
My school day officially begins at 7:40 AM when we open the school doors to the children. Like most teachers, however, I get to work early in order to get a head start on the day. Today, like pretty much every day, I arrived at school at 6:30 AM. The bus I take in the morning hits its stops with a consistency that sets my heart aflutter.
The first thing I do upon entering my classroom, as always, is to check the walls to see what charts and examples of student work succumbed to gravity and drifted to the floor overnight. This morning I turned on one of the lights (activating more than one of the three light switches produces a blinding fluorescent glow that saturates the room in a creepy institutional gray), set down my backpack, and retaped a handful of sentence strips that had fallen while the building slept. After some general tidying up (forever trying to maneuver desks into the perfect tulip pattern, neatening my book shelves) it’s time to set up the classroom for the day. This means writing out my agenda, going through my Google Slides presentation for the umpteenth time (I make one per day. It helps me make sure I’ve sequenced the lesson to the best of my ability before the kids come), and making any needed copies of the day’s materials.
The building starts waking up around 7:00. At 7:20 one of my students walks into my room to play around on his phone, drink hot chocolate, and eat the pack of cookies he bought from 7-11. I can’t remember exactly when he started coming in, and I certainly don’t mind his presence. He’s one of those students that presents a drastically different persona when his friends are around. I try and use this quiet time to learn more about him in the hopes not that he’ll become more pliant during class, but that he’ll feel comfortable to share his considerable creative and analytic talents with his peers. The loudspeaker cuts our asymmetrical relationship building session short this morning with the announcement that the school is letting the kids in early. Whenever the temperature hits below freezing, the school mercifully lets everyone down into the cafeteria to mill about, get warm, and scarf down breakfast a little early. As with all school activities, an increase in student bodies requires a proportional increase in adult bodies, so the announcement also serves as a friendly request for additional teachers. I make sure everything is ready, grab my clipboard (containing daily lists, locker combinations, words of wisdom, etc.), and head downstairs to the cafeteria.
Since our district provides every elementary and middle school child with an iPad, walking into the cafeteria sort of looks like this:
Kids are either glued to their devices and silent or showing each other their devices and loud. I go to my customary spot next to some lockers and make smalltalk with the other teachers who always show up. These sort of interstitial conversational spaces always trip me up a little. I’ve never been one for small talk, so I use these moments to try and learn a little more about my colleagues. Instruction is my thing; I love hearing about what’s going on in math and what types of projects are happening in Geography. This is also a time when last year’s students come and give me the opportunity to listen to them gab.
Talking with students about non-academic matters is one of the most important components to being a teacher, I think. It’s also one of the hardest. While adolescents are certainly full of wonder and refreshingly frank observations, they’re also self-absorbed and pretty shallow (Although to be honest, I can easily level that same critique against myself and most of the adults I know). A good day is often defined by my ability to generate and display genuine interest in every student I speak with. This means pulling myself out of whatever solipsistic hole I’ve dug into and trying to actually listen and connect to what the student is saying. I don’t mean to come off as sanctimonious; being truly present with children is something I struggle with on a hourly basis. But it’s also where the real work of relationship building comes into focus. It’s what helps me see past deficits and assignments and petty conflict-struggles to get to the heart of the heart of the unique being in front of me.
At 7:40 the bell rings and children empty into the hallways like multicolored molasses. A slow-pour oozing irregularly towards the bright exit signs above the doorways. I always have to hurl myself forward to escape their inertia, and this morning is no different. I wade through the human soup until I arrive right outside my classroom door, my second informal post of the morning. The next post in this series will continue my day by picking up where this one left off: homeroom and into first period.