Labor Day

I like the three-day weekend part; the part I’m less fond of is the four-day week that follows.  It always feels a bit crammed.  There are only four days’ worth of classes, true, but it seems as though there are still five days’ worth of conversations, decisions, meetings, etc.

I need to pop in and visit all three of my new teachers’ classes, for example.  And I need to try to do it at times when we will be able to speak for a few minutes afterwards.  Which means that one or two of them will almost certainly be at the end of the day, which isn’t most people’s best time–but then, I am not trying to see them at their best time, necessarily.  One reason for doing this, frankly, is to give them the impression that I am taking their evaluation seriously.  My demeanor tends to express “You’re great, everything is awesome,” so I probably need something as a corrective to that.  I would rather reassure them than worry them, but I also don’t want to come across as if my main concern at this moment is reassurance.  My main concern right now is see how they are teaching in this environment, and where necessary, to help them adjust their practices so that they will have the most success possible in the first year. So they need to see that I am looking to see how they are doing right now.

 

Showing up

The Saturday of the first week of classes was kind of an extension of the workweek, in that I had a breakfast meeting for a special committee and then spent 2.5 hours on campus, prepping for next week, answering emails, and working on some of the things that I couldn’t get done amid the unpredictable demands of the first week.  But now it’s Saturday evening and there are still two days left of Labor Day weekend.

I hope to blog more, but for now, I’ll leave you with this nice Edutopia article on the value of connective instruction for promoting student engagement.

Monkey hunting

Lord Rhoop came over this morning and dealt very competently with my IT issues.  I sympathized with the start-of-year craziness they are experiencing and thanked him profusely.  After one short conversation with two of the staff, I also managed to just leave the subject alone for most of the day.  I’m trying to keep What Now?’s new motto in mind and not try to take ownership of problems I simply don’t own.

And then I had a few hours to get stuff done.  I met with Orsino about our AP Language and Composition class.  He has three sections, I have two.  He, Sebastian, and I have all the juniors among us this year–Orsino and Sebastian are teaching the regular (non-AP) juniors.  I did some organizing in my room, which was necessary, although perhaps not quite as pressing as finishing all my planning and materials for the start of school.

I had lunch with Dr. Tea, Teacher Z, Orsino and all three of our new colleagues, upon whom I shall bestow pseudonyms from Shakespeare comedies (a tradition begun last year when I became chair and we hired Orsino and Sebastian).

  • The sixth-grade teacher, who is also Penelope’s oldest daughter: Miranda.  (Penelope has five children–the oldest two were adults by the time Penelope came to SA, her middle son graduated from SA, and her two youngest are a senior and a junior.  I have both of them in class this year.  I’m going to know the Penelope family really well by May!)
  • The man we hired to teach eighth and tenth grade: Orlando.
  • The woman we hired to teach primarily tenth grade: Olivia.

Then there was more administrative stuff and more conversations before a back-to-school event with the students.  A pleasure to see them all!  One more day of preparations–I really have to finish everything, because we’re going away for the weekend.

(Whose idea was that?)

Eye on the ball

Okay, so I have got to get over the total clusterfuck which is IT’s deeply sincere desire to foist excellent new machines on us with no communication and minimal support because they are completely overwhelmed by the results of their good intentions and bad planning.  I am meeting an IT person I will call Lord Rhoop in my classroom at 7:30 on Thursday and I will not say anything about the clusterfuck.  I will not even gently allude to the clusterfuck.  I will a) express gratitude and I will b) ask questions as necessary and I will c) express gratitude again.

And then I will shut up.

I will not even discuss it with my colleagues.  It is the forbidden subject for the next two days.  We have way too much work left to do before classes start and we have lost way too much time already.

Blessings

I didn’t absolutely have to go to school on Friday, but I went.  I didn’t have my computer because it was not waking up from sleep, as I gather they sometimes do, and Mr. Tumnus, one of the IT guys, kindly said he would look at it for me.  So I had a massage first (and got some wonderful work on the strained glute that has been bugging me for two weeks) and got to school roughly in time for lunch.

As in previous years, for the seven school days before the first day of classes, the school is providing a communal buffet lunch in the old gym for everyone who’s working on campus, and I walked over with Teacher Z and Akela.  Teacher Z was in a state of anxiety because when she got back after two months away, mostly in China, she found an unexpected new computer on her desk, but she couldn’t find any of the files she had saved on her old one.

Again: communication.

Akela and I both said that the files had surely been saved or moved for her, and as it happened, the first person we saw at lunch was the IT director, who assured her that any files saved on the local disk would have been migrated to her network folder (which is where we are supposed to save things anyway, but old habits sometimes die hard).  I should have stayed 100% out of this conversation, but unfortunately I was already percolating about the communication problem and I also couldn’t resist trying to help clarify (or “clarify,” since initially I think I mostly muddied the waters) what it was Teacher Z was trying to explain.  Bad impulse.  I could also see that the IT director was tired and harried–of course the beginning of the year is rough on them, and the communication problems cause them stress and confusion, too.  On the drive home, I found myself having an imaginary conversation with him about it, and thinking about whether I could have this conversation in real life, and also about whether I should.  He and I have a pretty good relationship–in part, I think, because I always try to appreciate what IT does and not only to tell him/them so, but also to do it in front of the GGE and other people involved in managing and coordinating with IT.

Pardon me for making this very broad characterization, but–the IT people are kind of characteristic of Myers-Briggs ST types: they like to identify problems and solve them.  They are less interested in narrating or interpreting.  So, for example, when Mr. Tumnus returned my laptop, he told me he hadn’t been able to replicate the sleep problem–he let it go to sleep and didn’t have any trouble waking it up.  I doubt he did what a non-techy person like me would do, which is to Google “thinkpad yoga sleep mode problem” and then to read through a bunch of forums filled with people fulminating and theorizing about it.  His view is probably that we should see if it keeps happening, and indeed that will be my approach as well.  From reading the forums, I now know the emergency workarounds if it just happens once in a while, and if it is a regular thing, I am pretty sure that if I take it back to Mr. Tumnus, he will take the problem-solving to the next level and follow it through to a solution of some kind. I just probably won’t get a very clear story or explanation about it.  There was someone in IT who was a good narrator and communicator, and who, unsurprisingly, everyone in the English Department liked a lot, but he was let go this summer, for reasons which remain obscure to me, although it seems very possible that he wasn’t a very good fit with the department…

By the way, except for the sleep issue, I am now quite excited about the new computer I didn’t know I was getting.  It seems like just the right machine for teachers who have to share classrooms as much as we do. (Yes, the room issue is back. Not as badly, but we’re just jammed.  Orsino will be teaching three classes in my room, and I will have just one free prep period in there.)  It’s small and light, easy to pick up and take along.  You can fold it in half and use it as a tablet; it has a touchscreen and stylus. I’m already plotting to keep all my meeting notes and teacher observation notes on it.  They gave me a full-size keyboard and mouse, and I’m keeping my big monitor (actually, they’re telling me I need a new one with better resolution and which will play better with the laptop).

I was planning to write about what it feels like to re-enter the year, especially all the conversations I am having with so many different people, and my thoughts about helping the new hires get settled, but I think this is enough for right now.  Off to work on class preparation in earnest.  More soon.

Rotten

I’m kind of a cranky, short-tempered person, or at least spending a few days back at school as the year is starting to creak into motion is making me notice that I am.  Maybe it’s just that these days are unstructured compared to the regular school year, and I don’t react well to the degree of unpredictability and the discovery of issues I didn’t know were issues.  I mean, on the surface I am polite, although sharp at times–measuring as a J on the Myers Briggs, I find my tension rises when people depart from a previously-agreed-on plan, particularly when they behave as though they don’t remember the original plan, or even that there was one!  So an event that turns out to be quite a good thing, really–a ThinkPad for me to use at my desk and also take home and use as a tablet if I want–is a series of small shocks.  (We agreed I was going to keep my old desktop. I particularly wanted to keep my nice large monitor. I didn’t realize that they were going to force me to run Windows 8–and why do they always make these big changes right before school begins?)  

In the end, it all works out fine.  The IT people are good, hardworking types, and we are so lucky to have access to resources like new hardware and software. All of these changes are essentially very good ones: I don’t need the old computer, they let me keep the large monitor–in fact, they are insisting on giving me a better one with sharper resolution–and Windows 8 is what people are running.  But those lovely people in IT are not good communicators, especially since the most communicative person in IT left this summer, and Tuesday was a comical sequence in which I kept leaving my desk, coming back and finding yet another change I didn’t know was happening (including being locked out of my machine twenty minutes before the kids in the college essay workshop showed up).  I’d also be willing to trade some of the great equipment for an actual instructional technology specialist, someone who has actually been, or is, a classroom teacher. 

Meanwhile, the college essay workshops are some of my favorite teaching experiences.  It’s fun to coach the kids without the pressure, on both sides, of grading, and to help them find topics and approaches that they feel passionate about.  I have 15 seniors, and I’ve taught everyone for at least one quarter except for a girl who was in my homeroom when I still had one, so I haven’t taught her but I’ve seen her at 7 A.M. five days a week after morning swim practice. Some amazing stories have come up so far, and as always when the kids write about their lives outside of the classroom, I’ve learned a lot–about quantum physics, cheerleading, kirtanadoption, the biomechanics of the knee.  I have to encourage them to tell us about the thing itself, not primarily about their emotional reactions to it (“I love it so much!”).  They never seem to believe in the power of detail in their own work–in other people’s work, sure, but not their own.  I told the girl who is writing about quantum physics that she should think about how she would explain the work she is doing to her grandma, and she said, “Actually, my grandma studied physics in college.”  I apologized for making an ageist/sexist remark, and she said, “It’s okay, I’ll just think about how I would explain it to my other grandma.”

Home again

I really liked Robin Williams and I’m sorry that he’s gone.

I think I need to take a break from Facebook, though, because all the Dead Poets Society homage is making me taste bile.

(There are two kinds of high school English teachers, and one of them LOVES Dead Poets Society.  I am the other kind.)

It’s good to be home.  Everything went fine–music camp, conference, Chicago.  I visited the Poetry Foundation for the first time and had a happy time browsing in the library.  Encountered some poetry books that meant something to me at one time or another.  (Never noticed, when borrowing Phyllis McGinley’s Times Three from my high school library, that Auden wrote the introduction.)

My return to school begins tomorrow, but there are still almost two weeks before classes start.

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