My side of the mountain

Dean Dad, getting ready to go on an accreditation visit, has a post up about the challenge of getting outside perspectives when you spend most of your career at one institution.  (I just counted up and, unless I’m forgetting something, I’ve taught full- or part-time at eight postsecondary institutions and SA–for as little as two semesters and as much as five years–and my level of involvement with each institution has varied from very casual to deeply engaged.)

As I continue at SA, which is the only high school I’ve taught in (not counting the concurrent-enrollment classes I taught at NCC, which consisted mostly of high school juniors), I find myself becoming more and more curious about the way other schools do things.  This is one of the reasons I love reading What Now?, although she’s such a good writer and interesting thinker that I’m sure I would enjoy reading her anyway.  Our schools are quite similar in some ways, but the ways in which they’re different are fascinating and often unpredictable.

Here are some of the things I’m most curious about:

Budgets.  I don’t even know yet what my department budget will be next year, nor do I have more than the most passing sense of how to think about managing this budget.  This is partly because it’s not that big a part of my job–most items that a university department might have to cover out of its budget are centralized here. For example, at NLNRU, which is pretty decentralized compared to other places I’ve been, department budgets include faculty salaries, facility-related costs (a piece of our budget goes to the university for the upkeep and repair of our space), and computers–all of which is handled centrally at SA.

We are actually seeing a shift toward moving a few costs which used to be handled centrally onto the departments, but these are more along the lines of special events rather than everyday costs like facilities and technology.  I assume that a supplies-intensive discipline like science has a larger budget, but I don’t know how much autonomy that department has over its purchases, or if the school just covers the purchase of all the regular stuff–slides, petri dishes, chemicals–and the department budget goes for discretionary items.  I guess I need to look over the budget with Dr. Tea, because my current experience is just that occasionally I go to her to ask whether we can pay $200 to a guest speaker or spend $40 for a book, and so far she has always said yes.

I have a friend at a school which is switching to department budgets from a model in which teachers have individual budgets, which seems kind of wild to me.  If I had an individual budget, I would absolutely spend every penny of it, probably mostly on books.

Duties.  In this post on the Freakonomics blog, a high-school economics teacher speculates on a better way to spread around the pain of chaperoning dances.  The post and the discussion in the comments seem unnecessarily baroque to me, but that may be because Hilda van Gleck has so cleverly set up a SignUpGenius-based system for us.  Each duty is worth a number of points, and we have to do a certain number of points’ worth each year.  The website also sends us reminders–fantastic.  This means that as long as you sign up on time, you never have to chaperone a dance if you hate them.

I know that WN? teaches at a school with a boarding program, and this adds another level of complication to the outside-of-class responsibilities, but I’m also interested in how schools very similar to SA assign duties–what duties are needed, whether the responsibility gets spread around equally, and how.

I have a homeroom now.  Normally, department chairs do not have homerooms.  However, department chairs, like other teachers without homerooms, are required to do carpool duty and lunch duty (walking around during lunch) more times per year than teachers with homerooms (I think five, versus two, but I’m not sure).  I’m tempted to just keep my homeroom until they graduate in 2015, unless there’s some reason I can’t.  I guess it would be nice to have those extra few minutes at the beginning of each day, and there might be chair-related reasons I’d want to.  Must ask about this.

Hiring.  I’m getting a sense of how this works at SA and some other schools, but I love to hear stories about it.

Teacher Assessment.  There are so many ways to do this, and at SA, it seems like we’re constantly revisiting the process.  I want to learn more about how other schools do it.

Teacher Mentoring. I’m serving as a peer mentor to a new teacher in another department, but I’m also seeing a push in our middle school for teachers to observe one another more and offer feedback.  I’d like to see a similar one in the high school–I think.  As I observe my colleagues–as chair, I’ll observe and assess everyone–I want to remember how effectively Dr. Tea peer-mentored me when I arrived.  Mostly, she kept telling me why my choices were working, which wasn’t just praise–she was actually helping me understand what I was doing and how to think about teaching in this new environment.  She did offer frequent suggestions–and gave occasional warnings, too, about possible consequences I couldn’t have foreseen because of my lack of familiarity with the environment.

There are lots of other things, too–I’d like to go and visit other schools, in fact, and see the whole environment at once.  A friend who teaches at a middle school in this area got a professional development day to go and visit a peer at another school, which I thought was a great idea for professional development.  Maybe I can do that next year somewhere in this area, and maybe I can manage to do it while traveling once in a while, too.


2 responses to this post.

  1. I love hearing about other schools too! WN and I teach at very similar schools, so I expect that you and I do as well. We have a teacher mentoring program in our upper school, for example, but not individual budgets– I would also spend EVERY penny of mine!!


  2. […] we signed up for duties at the beginning of the school year, I put mine off until after college recs and teacher […]


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