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, and part 7 here.
My 7th period students come in as soon as the bell rings. Unlike other classes, for an unknown reason, the students in my second to last period of the day burst into the room in a giant clump. By the time everyone is seated we still have 90 seconds before the bell rings. A mixed gaggle of boys and girls run up and ask to A) go get water, B) go to the bathroom, C) go to the counselor, or D) get something from their locker. I quickly scratch out passes for each student on the pad of sticky notes I keep in my front right pocket for just the purpose. I turn around to see most of the kids already working on their writing warm-up. Students in this period especially prefer the floor. Boys and girls sit side by side against opposing walls, hammering their index fingers and thumbs against the bruised screens of their iPads.
A second teacher comes into the room right as the bell rings. I get to co-teach my 7th period class.
I can be a frustrating teacher to work with. A big reason for this, in my opinion, is my proclivity towards tinkering. A lesson is rarely complete. I spend embarrassing amounts of time lining up text boxes on my daily Google Slides presentations. Every word of every slide has to be just right. I endlessly cycle through verbs, deleting and replacing until each slide crackles. Part of this is for students. I love being able to refer to the different slides at each step of the lesson. But it’s also for me.
I start by vomiting out words and ideas onto various pieces of paper. My backpack is heavy with half-full legal pads of lesson sequences and weekly outlines. Lessons typically begin with bursts of ideas and phrases hastily written down on sticky notes and shards of leftover lesson materials. After I’ve settled on the idea, I transfer it to a legal pad to figure out the proper sequence and make sure every component has a clear purpose. Once that looks right I write it out again. Only this time I try to script out any modelling I’ll be doing, any questions I’ll be asking, etc. After that I’m ready to commit the lesson to Google Slides. Every part of the lesson gets its own slide. I have to whittle away at the slides, hacking off all the instructional detritus (which there is a surprising amount of) before arriving at the essentials. The morning I give the lesson I make sure to run through it again, analyzing it step by step and looking for any places of possible student confusion. The lesson receives its final tweaks during and immediately after first period. Change a key word, raise/lower the amount of something I’m asking for, etc. It’s all about figuring out the core of the lesson and then pointing every task towards it.
Please understand that all of this isn’t meant to try and impress you. This lengthy process has much to do with my ADHD, perfectionism, OCD, and lack of a life outside work. Most teachers I know can produce lessons of higher quality in at least half the time. I mention all of this to help explain why I can be a frustrating to plan with. I’m constantly changing things up to the last second. My changes aren’t necessarily improvements, but they’re what feels right in the moment. And when I work with someone I like communication. A lot of it. Pretty much non-stop texting and emailing about what’s to come or what just happened. Often times it’s easier for me to just go it alone. Don’t get me wrong, I still bug people incessantly about my lessons. I just try to spread it around more so no single person gets the entire burden.
My lessons are like little comfy huts. I live inside them, arranging furniture, changing the color of lamps, and altering the floor plan. Once I head inside I don’t come out until the students have used the space. Then I hightail it to the next spot of land to quickly throw up the basic supports before building the next hut. Ideally over time the lessons add up and the lonely huts grow into neighborhoods bustling with student activity and purposeful revisiting. This creative process makes it tough to co-plan. I crave what I consider to be the meaningful co-construction of lessons. I just don’t think our district’s schedule makes that difficult.
All of this is to say that when my co-teacher came to me and said they’d like to do a different lesson on for our Tuesday class I immediately said yes. The lesson was what you might call a more traditional/typical English lesson. This designation has nothing to do with quality or ‘rigor.’ Perhaps it’s better to call it a more straightforward lesson. The lesson was skill-driven. The students were to read a news article about a current event and then answer five multiple-choice questions on the article. Each question required the student to make some sort of inference about the text.
The lesson went well. Students read the passage silently. They circled the appropriate answers for the multiple-choice questions and shared out their answers. I spent most of my time sitting with a student who frequently struggles. I helped him identify key words in the question and eliminate distractor answers before finally selecting an appropriate answer. The time I spent at a test-obsessed charter school trained me well for this type of work. The kids appeared to genuinely enjoy the lesson. Everyone shouted out the answers, giving fist-bumps to each other when they got the right answer.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a little jealous. The lesson was clean, contained, and, most importantly, full of the near instantaneous stimulus-response reactions I’ve spent the past fifteen months distancing myself from. Not necessarily because I think that sort of teaching is wrong, but because it no longer resonates with me. The bell rang and my students and co-teacher vanished without a trace. Since the lesson was entirely online, it was almost as if the period didn’t happen.
The kids in the last period of the day paraded into the room, boosted by that manic energy that only the end of a draining day can produce.