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, and part 3 here.
As soon as the final students vanish from of my room I tear through my first set of snacks. I eat the same things at the same times everyday, and 9:50 is trail mix and cereal bar time. I sit down at my desk and open up my notes from last week’s team meeting. Like pretty much every middle school, each grade is divided into teams. Each team has a leader. I signed up to be a team lead this year. This means I attend leadership meetings every other Tuesday afternoon as well as run the twice-a-week grade level meetings. Although my team has eight teachers on it, complicated class scheduling means only four can show up. The ‘major’ content areas are all present: math, social studies, English, and science. Teachers filter in at 10:00 and we get started.
Today we have some logistics to talk about. First up is the end of the year trip. These sorts of trips are a middle school staple. Come mid June, adolescents across the county will be splashing around in wave pools, traveling to amusement parks, and visiting museums or aquariums. End of the year trips have a way of highlighting philosophical divides between teachers. Are such trips rewards? If so, does everyone get to go? If the answer to that question is ‘no,’ then what criteria do we use for deciding which kids get to go and which kids stay home? Academics? A certain GPA? Behavior?
But we’re not that far along in the deliberations yet; we’re still in the planning and scheduling phase. This year, the testing schedule and the placement of religious holidays are complicating the process. Since my state now allows expedited retakes (when a child doesn’t pass the high-stakes exam but still scores above a certain threshold the state allows them to retake the exam. The idea is that children who fall into this narrow band are able to spend a few days cramming test strategies and thinking about ‘grit’ and perseverance before retaking the test), there are only a few school days that are free of tests, expedited retakes, rolling retakes (for those who miss a test due to absences) and 8th grade graduation.
This stuff gets complicated quickly. I’ve realized that a) I don’t enjoy this sort of scheduling and b) I’m not particularly good at it, either. Whenever I tell someone this they immediately ask why I became a team leader. This is a puzzling question. To me it suggests that we think of leadership in primarily administrative terms: someone who deftly manages bureaucracy and knows how to ‘get things done.’ Leader as disseminator. Leader as conversational go-between. And maybe those are part of a general notion of leadership. But it’s not my definition of leadership, which is being able to create situations that allow others to come into their own. Building a stage for others to shine on. That’s also a definition, albeit a simplistic one, of what teaching means to me.
Regardless of what we decide to do, we have to raise money. To offset the cost of the annual trip, we’ve decided to sell popcorn as a fundraiser. Representatives from student government will setup tables and try to entice weary parents and strangely hyper children to buy the popcorn. One of the teachers on my team agrees to run this.
After discussing the end of the year trip, I ask if anyone has anything they want to talk about. No one makes a sound. Everyone in that room is thinking about at least twenty pressing things they have to get done before they leave for the day. And I get it. We all have parents to email, administrative forms to complete, and copies to make. In fact, sitting next to my laptop are three recommendation forms for students who are applying to a leadership program. They’re right on top of a set of half-completed seating charts which in turn rest on miscellaneous copies of lesson materials and random notes to myself. This is in addition to the meaningful work of planning lessons and reflecting on instruction.
The mood in our team meetings fluctuates just as widely as in my classes. Today is a mixed bag. Some of us have our laptops open and seem to be absentmindedly tapping away at the keyboard. Others stare at their phone. Although I asked everyone to please keep their devices closed a couple of months back, I don’t enforce it. I spend my day pushing children to read more, write more, and treat each other with kindness in a system that seems set up solely to provide negative feedback. This requires near unfathomable levels of energy. I need some time when I’m not actively monitoring someone, and the teachers in the room need time when they’re not reacting to something. Everyone on my team is great teacher, and great teaching is exhausting. We deserve this moment to just sit.
Besides, I’m sure I’ve done it.
Roughly forty minutes later the bell signaling the end of third period chimes. We normally end each meeting by mentioning something that’s made us happy. I typically have to initiate it. Most of the time I don’t mind; it’s fun to hear about everyone’s individual moments of joy. Teachers come alive when we get to discuss what we do in our classrooms. But this morning was difficult and I just don’t have it in me. No one else mentions it so I call the meeting to a close.