Thoughts on senior skip day

1. It would have been nice to know it was coming.

2. There are a few students who really should have shown up, like the ones whose teachers have bent over backwards to accommodate frequent absences (for real reasons, usually, but still).  A few students did show up, but not these.

3. Still, it’s hard to be annoyed when the sudden absence of all the seniors gives me two unexpected free blocks in my own room.  I got a lot done.

4. They were a little shy when they came back, and the last classes were pretty good–even the one with the cranky group.

Dinner at eight

There are so many things I keep thinking of writing about, but then I get busy with something else.  Short update: a few more days of classes remain, then exams, then the last day, then graduation.

Today the post that is escaping my brain and making it onto the blog is about the number of food-related events remaining in the school year–because, as you know, we are interested in food.  We have:

This week: The annual employee appreciation lunch, put on by the parents’ organization, catered by a local restaurant.  The lunch is scheduled 11-1 in the hope that everyone can manage to drop in.  There have been a couple of years when I either haven’t made it or had to do a flying visit to grab a plate as opposed to getting to sit down with faculty and staff, but I’m pretty sure, barring emergencies, that I’ll be able to sit down this year.  There is usually a giveaway of some SA-branded product like a water bottle, notepad or coffee mug, and you also receive a raffle ticket when you walk in and choose to drop it into the drawing for one of ten or twelve prizes (mostly gift cards).

Next week: A reception at a local restaurant for a college counselor who’s leaving–snacks and soft drinks provided, no-host bar for alcoholic beverages.  Also, the department lunch at a local restaurant.  Alcohol can be ordered at this–I checked on this last year.  You know it’s almost the end of the year when we start going off campus and drinking.

The week after school ends: Following the closing faculty meetings, we have the school-sponsored employee end-of-year lunch, which includes acknowledgments and of people’s employment milestones and people who are retiring or leaving for other jobs.  There will probably be a huge slideshow for the GGE, and I happen to know (because I was consulted) that the table themes are literary ones to acknowledge his years of teaching English (which he only stopped doing a few years ago when the job just got too big).  I postponed my jury duty to this week, and I’m hoping that I won’t get called in on the day of the lunch.  It seemed like a small risk when I made the decision (and I really didn’t want to do it any deeper into the summer), but as the day gets closer, it seems like a bigger one.  It is a nice celebration and I would be sorry to miss it this year.  (This one is also off campus and features a hosted bar.)

After a couple of pretty intense weeks, my workload is diminishing–I commented on 35 rough drafts for my juniors and now I just have final papers for all of my students.  No exams this spring for the first time in my SA experience, since we don’t do finals in AP classes as a rule, and all my classes were AP this year (not again next year, thank goodness).  Still wrapping up other things–distributing the literary magazine, placing students in classes, finalizing deployment.  I spent a couple of hours ordering desk copies, thanks to encouragement from What Now?, and saved the department $200 or so.  The next few days will be busy but not awful, and then there will be a bit of a lull during exams.  Stay tuned if you enjoy my obsessive summer planning mode–I feel it coming on!

The casual vacancy

We did make our hire, after seeing a total of four candidates for campus visits.  (I interviewed a few additional people on the phone and one on campus during spring break.)  We saw the spousal candidate, who wasn’t the fit we were looking for (after she had another offer, I broke this news to her on the phone, as warmly and gently as possible, because she will still be a part of the SA community and I want to be welcoming).

We saw a second candidate who was energetic and engaging, but about whom we had reservations: he was a bit erratic in his communication, somewhat haphazard in his sample class (some great moments, but also some slackness), and he showed some questionable judgment while he was here.  The thing that struck me the most was that he complained freely about a dean at his current job–and went on about it well past the point at which most people not on a job interview would have stopped.

The third candidate was a newly minted M.A.T. who gave a pretty dull sample class based on a lesson plan full of inscrutable acronyms (most of which Romola and Olivia explained to me).  She got an offer from another school about a week later, though, which let me gently release her.

We were still thinking and talking about the second candidate when candidate number four came in.  She taught a solid, engaging sample class with genuine warmth and humor, and connected well with everyone she met.  We made the offer pretty quickly, and sealed the deal this week.

I’ve just emailed candidate number two to let him know, as kindly as I could, that we have made our hire.  I do think he’s a pretty impressive guy, and I enjoyed our conversations, apart from the ranty bits.  With Ivanhoe‘s support–which we had–I would have been up for what felt like the slightly risky business of hiring him, knowing that this was a person who might not get all his grades in on time or who might disappear from email for a couple of days.  But I couldn’t pick him over number four.

I wasn’t happy to tell candidates one and two that we wouldn’t be hiring them, but I am satisfied with the way I handled both–and, indeed, with the communication with candidates in general.  I followed up with everyone with whom I had contact during the process, and let them know if we wouldn’t be moving forward with them.  I let the GGE do more of this (or not do it) last year because that’s the way it seemed to work, and I didn’t have any urge to challenge the process, but I recognize now that there might not have been follow-up with people who should have been followed up with.  This year, with more autonomy, I have stepped in and done what I thought needed to be done, usually without asking permission, but keeping people informed with cc’s and forwards.  Having the authority seems to give me the ability to disappoint people as kindly as possible.

Perhaps of interest to any job-seekers reading this: we had about 150 applications for this position–local, regional, national, and international–including many that were submitted to us by agencies, but also lots from NAIS and our own website posting.  I also got a couple by reaching out to two graduate programs in the area where I have contacts.  Of the four who came to campus for the full day experience, one (the young M.A.T.) was from one of the placement agencies; the spousal candidate came through the spouse, candidate number two applied via NAIS (which is not the prettiest format for an application, but it doesn’t really matter), and candidate number four responded to our website posting.  I tried to look closely at every application because one of my explicit goals was to have a diverse candidate pool, and we did: about half of the people I contacted, and two of the four campus visitors, were people of color, one of whom is the actual hire.  She is someone I overlooked on the first go-round, actually, in part because her resume highlighted her most recent jobs in residence life at local colleges rather than her teaching experience.  After candidate two, another pass through the still-expanding spreadsheet I’d been using to keep track of applications brought her name up again.  Orsino was reading over my shoulder, and actually it was his enthusiasm that made me reach out to her via email and then phone.  So thanks, Orsino, and welcome, as-yet-unpseudonymed colleague.  Glad it’s over for this year (we think), but even gladder that it feels like a success.

One for the money

The English department budget is about $3000 a year.  It mostly goes to books and teaching materials that aren’t normally provided by the school and events for students and faculty.  We didn’t spend it all last year, but this year I am hoping to get close to spending it all, on the use-it-or-lose-it principle.  I don’t want to spend it just for the sake of spending, but to use it to make our teaching more effective and our work lives more satisfying.

Here’s some of what we’ve done with our budget so far this year:

  • The veteran sixth-grade teacher, whom I’m about to mention several times and whom I’ll call Emilia, bought Miranda, the new sixth-grade teacher, a classroom startup set of posters, bulletin board decorations, and books.
  • Emilia also bought about $200 worth of new pleasure-reading books for her classroom library.
  • Emilia and Olivia went to the NCTE conference and bought some new classroom materials.  (The conference expenses came out of the general professional development fund, however.)
  • Olivia bought a few posters for her room.
  • We paid the submission fees for students who submitted to the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.
  • Dorothea and I provided Starbucks drinks and general refreshments for the meeting at which we proofread one another’s report card comments.
  • I usually provide some kind of snacks at department meetings.
  • More food–refreshments to follow the Quill and Scroll induction ceremony.
  • Prizes for a middle school writing contest.
  • Still more food–a department lunch at a restaurant at the end of the first semester.
  • Books for possible course adoption.
  • Expenses related to hiring that are charged to our department budget: candidate lunches and any special room setup (extra chairs for observers–I have been able to avoid that this year).
  • Romola had the idea that we each choose and inscribe a book to give the GGE when he leaves SA at the end of the school year, so I asked for selections and ordered the titles.  They run the gamut–Lucinda picked a cookbook, Dr. Tea chose this, Emilia asked for three titles from this series (I’m noticing that Emilia has spent more than her share of the department’s money this year!), Dorothea this, Sebastian this.

And coming up by the end of the fiscal year in June:

  • Sets of desk copies for our new hire (this was a big expense last year, with three new hires).
  • Emilia and Miranda want a set of classroom copies of the sixth-grade vocabulary book (to the tune of about $850, so a big expense, but worthwhile).
  • Refreshments (again) for a bridal shower for Dorothea.
  • An end-of-year department lunch, during exam week.

I’m going to look at the numbers for the last two years and see if I can make a more definite plan for next year.  I’d like to be able to bring in a visiting writer on the department budget, for example, and it will be easier to plan for if I know what we typically spend on what items.

It’s wonderful to have this money at our disposal.  I know we all spend extra on things like treats for our classes, supplies we don’t bother to get reimbursed for, and books that enrich our teaching but which we perhaps feel don’t rise to the level of being reimbursement-worthy.  Some people are more forthright about asking, which is perhaps another reason to be more methodical about our budget–we spent a lot on sixth grade this year, but almost nothing on eleventh or twelfth–what could we do with our funds that would enrich the experiences of more students?

The night manager

May isn’t very old yet, but so far it has been a month of secrets.  First, Sebastian; then another English teacher came up with a Situation that we have to work around, and that I hope will work itself out in the best way possible; we’re doing a search for a major administrative position; and, most distressingly, a colleague has recently been diagnosed with cancer–treatable but life-changing nonetheless.  I feel like I’m carrying around a number of invisible burdens.

At least we finally got the art and literary magazine off to the printer.  I really would like to hand this responsibility off to someone else.  I would throw it into the lap of the art department (since they have been known to complain about how we do it–although they haven’t volunteered to take it on, and the only one who offers to help is so vague and spacey that I don’t think I could deal with working with him–I can barely manage a short conversation), but I worry about what would happen to the literary component.  The department is getting a new chair, though, and I get along well with her, so maybe we can put our heads together.

One AP done, the other coming up this week.  Glad I won’t repeat the AP-only courseload of this year.  Looks like next year I’ll need to take two tenth-grade classes and two senior AP Lit.  That seems like a good spread to me.

I’ve got to get AP and honors approvals done.  That’s the next big project.  Somehow the teaching is still getting done, but some days I have no idea how.

Fever pitch

I am weak and a little tearful with relief to receive an email from Sebastian.  He isn’t going to pursue the other opportunity.  He said he had a sick feeling about the prospect of leaving and realized he didn’t have to.  I think perhaps he also feels that both of them at one school or the other could happen in the future, but it doesn’t have to happen right now.

He said that they sat down and made lists of pros and cons about both schools, and that I was at the top of both of their lists of pros for SA.  I think that is the part that made me cry.

I’d been feeling so sad all morning.  I went to yoga class and that helped, but at both the beginning and at the end, lying quietly on my mat, I acknowledged to myself how bad I felt about the prospect of Sebastian leaving and the Snork Maiden being so sad, and tears rolled out of my eyes and down the sides of my face and into my ears.

Now I can dry my eyes, and my ears, and go back to all the other end-of-year stuff.  Very, very glad.  I feel as if I’ve won a prize.  I think maybe I have.

Waiting

Meanwhile, I’m waiting to hear on two things for myself–a grant I applied for (should hear this month) and a book prize for which I’m a finalist.  This is the second time this has happened with this manuscript, so I know there are no guarantees, but I do think one should celebrate these things.

This is going to be another weekend that’s mostly about the Snork Maiden’s things and about catching up on work, plus attending a performance of Stubb’s, so the celebration probably has to wait, but I definitely wanted to mark it here.

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