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, and part 5 here.
At 35 minutes, middle school lunch is short. It’s the part of the day when children are under the least amount of duress from adults. That’s why I’m always surprised by how many students are willing to hang out and talk with teachers during lunch time. Although every child is different, some kids feel more comfortable talking with adults. They’re usually the kids who excel at traditional academics but struggle with the social aspects of school.
A handful of kids always stop by to drop off their binders on the way to the cafeteria. I don’t blame them. A typical middle schooler’s binder is at least a solid four inches thick. On top of the binder, kids often carry books and their iPad. Those kids who have me 6th period deposit their things at their desks (taking their iPads) before heading into the hormonal circus that is a junior high cafeteria. Five boys tumble in, playfully hitting one another and dishing on who said what to whom on Kik (a popular messaging service). Since I only teach one of them, the other four have made a habit out of quizzing me on their names. As soon as they see me sitting behind my laptop they start in.
“Hey, Mr. Anderson! Remember my name? Who am I?” the first one (Stephen) says. While of course I know their names (there are only four of them, and we’ve been doing this routine for about a month now), it wouldn’t be any fun if I just listed them.
“Hmm,” I say, narrowing my eyes and furrowing my brow in mock concentration. “Skip! No, wait, that’s Skip in the back.” Skip celebrates this by dropping the soccer ball he carried in and nudging it around with his feet.
“No,” Stephen replies, slapping his hands on his face and pulling his cheeks down. “You got the first letter right, though. Think about the basketball player, last name Curry.” He’s practically jumping as he says this.
“Mr. Anderson doesn’t like basketball. Remember? He went to museums instead of sports games or something,” Skip says after dribbling the soccer ball through one of the other boy’s legs.
Although this is fun, I also have some planning to do. “Stephen!” I announce triumphantly. Stephen gives me a conspiratorial nod. And then they leave, departing as quickly as they came. Except for Santiago, the kid I teach. He’s been bobbing up and down on the back of one of the remarkably pliant chair-desk combos that populate my room. I noticed him waiting while I played the name game with Skip and Stephen. Just as I’m about to say something two girls walk into the room.
“Hey, Mr. Anderson. Did you know that Maria here is in love with Josh? Do you know Josh? He’s a nice boy, but he’s in the 6th grade,” one of them says.
“I do NOT!” Maria says. The color of her cheeks mirrors the neon red Powerade she’s holding like a chalice. This is not a child who needs more sugar.
This conversation could go on forever, so I shoo the girls out of the room with a fake broom.
“Ok, Santiago. What’s up?” I ask after clearing out the room and sitting back down behind my desk. He proceeds to tell me about some trouble he’s in. One of his teachers has been getting on him for being too talkative in class. He thinks she unfairly targets him. Although there’s probably some truth to his story, there’s undoubtedly more to it. So piece by piece I try to tease out exactly what happened. It turns out that Santiago’s been struggling in the teacher’s class lately. Ever since his best friend was transferred in, in fact. He admits he talks more than he should, but complains that the teacher is just too strict. After a few more questions I learn that just last week one of the assistant principals spoke with Santiago about this exact same behavior. After finishing his story he stares at me expectantly.
Although I love to give advice (who doesn’t?), I’ve learned that often times my students aren’t looking for my explicit feedback. So I try to just listen and ask questions that help move their thinking along. If time allowed Santiago and I could sit and parse out the situation with his teacher all period. We could brainstorm things he might say to her in a discussion between the two of them. What points does he want to make? What feels unfair? What might the situation look like from her perspective? Instead I listen to him talk, trying to ask guiding questions to help him think through what happened.
All of a sudden he fixes his gaze on the window behind my head and says “Oh, look! They’re playing soccer outside!” He hops off the desk he’s been bouncing on and sprints out of the room. I write a note on my clipboard to follow up with him later. At this point it’s 11:45. Lunch ends and my next teaching period begins in fifteen minutes.
Every weekend I fully plan out Monday and Tuesday’s lessons. I also sketch out the rest of the week but refrain from actually creating the lessons. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday are always in constant flux. I’ve learned that making lessons that far ahead of time doesn’t do me any good as I’ll undoubtedly have to rework everything. So I try and do them at school, even though I usually find myself grinding them out after I get home in the afternoon. But I haven’t eaten yet, so I rush out of the room to microwave my lunch (a frozen burrito and yogurt). On the way to the teacher’s lounge I see the two girls from earlier meandering through the hallways. “Go to lunch!” I yell.
I begin thinking through the remaining lessons for this week as my burrito cooks for 2 minutes and 12 seconds (I arrived at this magic number through rigorous trial and error. This specific length cooks the burrito without scorching it, allowing me to eat it in the shortest time possible). By the end of today students will have written a number of Flash Fiction drafts. The next step is to have them pick one to begin working on in earnest. To me, helping students get past the “One and done” mentality of writing is one of the biggest challenges. We also have to see what Flash Fiction genre elements our drafts contain (and which we’ll have to add). The microwave dings and I speed walk back to my class.
I sketch out the next few days in one of my countless notebooks while cramming the burrito down my gullet. The goal here is sustenance, not enjoyment. By the time the 6th period bell chimes I’ve outlined Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Although I need to beef them up considerably, I’ve done enough to put the planning part of my mind on hold while the teaching part kicks back on. I wipe the last fleck of lukewarm bean mash from my mouth as kids from my most challenging period begin to stream into the room.