After the ecstasy, the laundry

I hope you had a good Thanksgiving break, if you had one.  Mine was pleasant.  I spent about six hours on campus on Wednesday, getting things in order for the week ahead, which will include a big admissions event.  A nice change is that this year I’m not teaching brief sample classes at the event–I usually do, but the English numbers worked out so that we had enough teachers to do the classes and I will have more time to walk around and talk with prospective parents. I enjoy the classes, but I’m glad that this year I’ll probably have a calmer day–unless, of course, someone has a last-minute emergency and I need to step in.  On Wednesday, I also took some time to research summer residencies and made a tentative list of those I want to apply to.  There are some that don’t require letters of recommendation up front, but I think there is at least one that does that I want to apply for, so that’s probably the next step–ask for those.  As always when applying for stuff like this, there’s an awareness that time invested in these applications is time taken away from writing, and the hope that it will turn out to have been worthwhile.

On Thanksgiving morning, I enjoyed a hike with Stubb–I was a little achy, but the physical therapist advised me to get out and walk and move around as much as possible, so I could be confident I wasn’t actually doing anything bad to the muscle.  Dinner was at Stubb’s parents’.

Friday was a writing day!  I went to a yoga class and then (because all the public libraries were closed) moved between coffee shops and worked on my third book manuscript.  Dr. Tea and I had had tentative plans for a writing date, but something came up for her and that was fine–I had a very good time on my own with my book.

Saturday was more like an ordinary weekend day–yoga class, laundry, errands, reading.  I went to an SA basketball game in the evening, a very exciting game which we won.  I had been on the fence about going, but I’m glad I did.

And Sunday I wrote some more, did a tiny bit of schoolwork (I actually need to get up early and do 45 minutes of grading–I suppose I could have done it over the weekend and probably should have, but it was really nice not worrying about it, and I will zoom through it in the morning), went to yoga again (three days in a row!), and went to FLS’s tree-trimming party, where I ate way too much maple-bacon-flavored popcorn.

I have the sense that the glute area is really getting stretched and relaxed–I have been assiduously stretching and foam-rollering, not sitting too much, walking more.  Overall, the pain is less frequent and mostly less acute, although it starts to hurt after a few minutes in the car, and I’m still waking up from the ache–I’m guessing that lying too long in one position is the problem there.  Looking forward to seeing the PT again Wednesday.  The next three weeks will be a big swoosh to winter break, and I’ll need to make sure I don’t get so busy that I don’t make time to work on this.

They should be good weeks, though!  A lot of the big stuff is behind–college recs and teacher observations are all done (except for the parts I’ll need to do for the two English teachers, Lucinda and Dorothea, who volunteered to try out new evaluation processes–but even for them, I’ve already done one observation and writeup each).  Some fun things are ahead–school events and social events.  I’ve got some major papers coming in, but I think they’ll be spread out enough–it would be good to get them all back before winter break.  There’s always some tension about fitting it all in, but it should all be doable. Off to bed now, to wake up early again…


Oh, you guys. This glute thing is getting old. I have had pain significant enough to interfere with activity and sleep every day for a month.  I saw the physical therapist on Tuesday (had to wait a few weeks for an appointment) and went away feeling pretty optimistic because a) it seems clear that there’s no involvement of spine, discs, SI band, or anything else back-related, and b) with diligent stretching and exercise and minimizing sitting, it should get better.  The unfortunate bit, he said, is that, done properly, the stretches hurt.  And they do.  And I have been doing them diligently, which means that I have added a stretch-ache to the intermittent nerve pain.  In which I haven’t yet seen an improvement.

I know five days is not really a lot and that I need to give it time.  I have moved the lectern in my classroom (which I hardly ever use when teaching, but do stand at to grade or use the projector PC) to the side of my desk and am doing most of my prep, email and grading standing up.

I did go to a regular yoga class today and was able to do just about everything. I lucked out, actually, in that today’s class happened to put a lot of focus on opening this whole area–which might be why I’m feeling a bit worse tonight.  Maybe things will feel better in the morning!


My job normally does not involve very much time on the telephone.  On Friday, however, I had three pretty important phone calls:

  • I spoke with a high school director from the other side of town who is interviewing Viola for a mid-year replacement position and told him how great she is as a teacher and colleague.  After we hung up, I emailed her to say I thought it went well, and she emailed back to say that she has just been offered a maternity leave position at another school with a very good reputation.  I’m not sure what she’ll do–she had already been in touch to say she was going on the market this year and would I write a letter for her file, but these two positions came up before the real hiring season.  The school I spoke with is much, much more convenient for her (as SA is not) and I think in her position, not absolutely needing to go back to work in January, I would probably hold out for that one and if that one didn’t happen, do the regular job search for a job to start in August.  But we’ll see.
  • I also got a phone call from the IT director about a resource he’d gotten for us that the new AHS was asking about, and needed to talk him through what the AHS’s questions meant and reassure him that no one, least of all him, was in trouble.  The IT director is a good guy and highly capable, but he does sometimes see situations in an unexpected (to me) way and it often takes a lot of talking to construct some version of reality that we can both sign off on.
  • And the most important phone call was from my friend MW, who is spending the semester in Paris with her family, to say that they had gone to bed early and she had woken up in the middle of the night to a bunch of worried emails from friends.

Today I finished and uploaded my sixteenth and final 2015 college recommendation letter, just a few weeks before some of the early decisions will start being released.  We have seven more school days until Thanksgiving break.  How on earth did that happen?


I am taking advantage of the Veterans Day holiday to go and get an X-ray, as recommended by the doctor I saw for the hip/glute thing.  I’m just having trouble getting myself together and out of the house.  Even the enticement of maybe eventually getting to see an image of my own skeleton, or at least of my lower spine and pelvis, does not seem to be working.

(I’ve never had an X-ray except at the dentist, so I’m a little unclear on at what point I might get to see my skeleton. I’m guessing it’s going to be a digital image, rather than one of those films that the forensic pathologist slaps onto the light box in TV crime shows, and that my doctor will look at it on her computer on Thursday or Friday.  This is also a big HMO, so I will probably get some kind of message about it at some point.  I like to know these things in advance.)

The imaging center, like the lab, works on a drop-in basis (see: big HMO), so I don’t even have an appointment to get me out of the house.  I have been trying to get some work done, and also stretch and foam-roll at intervals, but it’s been a pudding-brain kind of day so far.  I think a lot of my energy has gone into either coping with pain or pursuing activities that might help me hurt less.  It’s good to have a day off from school to regroup.

Carry on

I realize you may not find it all that enthralling to read about the obsessive time tracking of a high-school teacher, and I further realize that this blog would be more interesting if I included more concrete detail, as I’m always urging my students to do.  I live in a reasonably interesting place, for example, but I mostly vagueblog about where I go and what I do there.  Sorry.

I was telling MW that I had planned an “indulgent” weekend, and she asked what I was going to do to indulge.  Get a massage, I said.  And some other stuff!  That I hadn’t planned yet!  But I’d been enjoying telling myself all week this was going to be a real weekend.  Maybe I would see a movie!  And if my hip/glute issue–which has flared up painfully of late–could settle down, some yoga!  And sleep and reading the books I needed to pick up from the library!

So it’s Saturday night, and here’s what’s happened so far:

  • At school until 5:30 on Friday for the Snork Maiden’s rehearsal, then home to a quiet evening of reading and websurfing.
  • Fantastic massage this morning which has really helped the hip/glute thing.  (I saw a doctor last week and she referred me for physical therapy, but the first appointment isn’t for another ten days or so.)  Hit the library and Target on the way back.
  • Took the Snork Maiden for a haircut.  She needs driving practice, so she drove us from there to SA, where she had three hours of rehearsal.
  • While she rehearsed, I went to my classroom and did some prep for the week ahead.  I also spent about an hour working on magazine submissions–I haven’t been sending poems out much, and I want to try to place some newer work.
  • Then she drove us to the diner where she was meeting her friends, and I popped into the bookstore to get a book for my sister, then I went home to read and chill out until time to pick her up.  I drove us home because it was dark and she’s not used to the highway, but felt hyper-aware that the time of her needing us to drive her everywhere is shortening–she can take the license test next month.  Also remembering so well the stage she has entered of being a junior and having more independence in her social life (even if she is still dependent on us for most transportation–I didn’t get my own license ’til the end of junior year) and also of feeling more settled in my high school life.  She is having a pretty good year so far, I think.  I am savoring it.
  • When we came home, I wrote an email to a poet friend who had asked for some feedback on a short manuscript.  I’d given her one deadline for getting the thing together and sent to me, and myself another for replying to her, and we both made our deadlines.
  • I had given myself another goal this fall, of drafting a new poem every week for twelve weeks, the draft being due to myself by 2 PM Saturday.  I have produced five drafts so far, but missed the deadline twice, the second time being this week.  There are five weeks left in the plan, though, and I think I would be very happy to go into winter break with ten drafts to work on.  (The plan started in late September and ends a week before break.)

So maybe not a hugely indulgent weekend, especially since I spent a chunk of today on school work and will probably spend another chunk tomorrow (and tomorrow has family obligations as well).  But also not a weekend completely dominated by school things, as some have been and more will yet be (we’ve got that annual admissions open house on an upcoming weekend, and there’s the fall play, too).  A missing piece is spending time with Stubb–he’s working nearly all weekend.  We’ve got plans for next Saturday.

The Saturdays

I wish I were doing a better job teaching this semester.  I’m not doing a bad job, exactly–and I am doing some things quite well and almost everything at least adequately–but I don’t feel on top of things.  Both the new prep and the extra course are drains on my time.  This week I had over 23 hours of scheduled face time with students and colleagues–18 of which were teaching, the others observations and meetings–and also prepped, graded at least one thing for 57 of my 68 students, finished writing report card comments, proofed other people’s comments, wrote 60+ emails (there are over 60 threads in my “sent” folder for the week, some of them containing multiple emails from me), to say nothing of all the informal conversations with students, faculty, and staff.  I had one-on-ones of varying length and intensity with Sebastian and Dinah (both of whom I observed this week), Orlando, Orsino, Dr. Tea, and our new faculty member, to whom I think I haven’t yet given a pseudonym.

The good news is that with college recs and report cards, I think the peak of the fall workload may actually have passed.  I’ve done the bulk of the teacher observations–I think I’ve done 11, and have 4 remaining to complete before Thanksgiving.  I will have papers coming in, but should be able to spread them out.

This weekend is going to be about taking care of life stuff and relaxing.  I will be at SA for three hours on Saturday while the Snork Maiden has rehearsal, and that should be just right for getting ready for the week ahead.  My easiest day of the rotation falls on Monday (though of course I’ve also got an observation of Sebastian and a meeting scheduled), so that helps me keep the weekend free.

How to write college recommendation letters–next year

This is what you should have done a year ago, but you can do it now for next year!

If you knew at the beginning of the junior year which students would be asking you for letters at the beginning of the senior year, you could do this even more effectively, but what it boils down to is: SAVE THE EVIDENCE.

  • Write your report card comments in a Word document, if you don’t already, and save the Word document.
  • Give at least some feedback electronically and save that, too.  The last couple of times I’ve taught the junior AP English Language course, I used a long, complex rubric for the summer reading essay and typed my comments into a comment section at the end.  Last year, I also gave typed feedback on a mid-year essay draft.  These comments are useful for tracking progress, as well (and for noticing whether a student is actually working on the areas you’ve suggested).
  • Have them turn in at least some work electronically so that you can look at it later.  I had students email me the final paper of the year, so this fall I could actually look at their final paper while writing their comments.  Otherwise, I don’t think I would have remembered most students’ final papers.
  • Have them run at least some discussions (I have some Shared Inquiry fans in my department) while you sit back and take notes.  You can take notes on the discussion itself, but you can also make notes about how people function in discussion.  I have sometimes been surprised by how a student who isn’t perhaps that perceptive on her own can nonetheless facilitate a productive discussion by asking good questions or by successfully inviting other people in. Save these notes.
  • Portfolios are good too, but ideally you want the students to keep those.  You could certainly tell your juniors that if they ask you for a recommendation, you’re going to require them to bring back the portfolio they assembled with you.
  • Save it all in whatever form is easiest for you.
  • When you start writing the rec, cut and paste useful chunks of text into the rec letter.  This year, I dumped several chunks into each person’s document before starting to write–a report card comment, a paper comment, and a few stray impressions.  The Common Application teacher form asks for words that come to mind when you think of the student.  I toss those in, too.  I wrote about 90% of the words in each rec this fall, but I got the major themes of each recommendation and a number of useful phrases from the paper comments, report card comments, and discussion notes.
  • Our school requires students to fill out the Teacher Snapshot form on Naviance, but if you don’t use Naviance, you can make your own form and have students fill it out.  The Snapshot asks for memorable papers or projects, favorite parts of the course, related activities outside of class (for example, an English teacher might not know that a student volunteers at the library or keeps a blog), future plans related to the subject, and any areas the student hopes the teacher will highlight in the recommendation.  You only get out of this what the student puts into it, but if the student does a good job, you have more to say.

Unfortunately, I can’t use any of my own advice this year, because I’m not teaching juniors (since the Snork Maiden is a junior) and next year I will have either no letters to write, or one or two letters for students who for some reason can’t ask anyone else.  (This year, for example, I have one for a new senior.)  However, I have just finished my first fourteen letters and I feel the need to share this knowledge with you.

I have two left, but those students have mid-November deadlines and I can take another week or two to write for them.


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