Archive for August, 2013

Ladder of years

I wrote a long post about how much I like my job and how nice it is to go back to school and honestly, I bored myself and so I erased it.

Meetings start today with a full faculty meeting (K-12).  First department meeting is tomorrow.  I need to finish the agenda.

All of the moves are underway–I to the room Elinor and Dinah used to share, Dinah across the hallway to Gwendolen’s room, ABD Guy into my old room with Romola, the returning part-time colleague to Gamma’s room, and Ph.D. Guy into the room of Domitia, the older, chatty, underemployed Latin teacher.  Our total land grab, though we are adding a colleague and a half, amounts to half a room, but it’s something.  Penelope has a big chart of room usage, and it’s a very useful visual aid, as it shows that we are packed to the gills in our new building.

Enrollment is up, by the way–that’s one reason for the crowding.  The Snork Maiden’s grade is almost 150, in a school where the typical grade is 125.  This is, we’re told, the result of lower enrollment in the lower grades, fewer kids leaving SA after 8th grade, and a particularly strong applicant pool.

Part of the boring post was about how both Gwendolen and Domitia had been pretty classy about the news they’d have to share their rooms.  I think someone–the GGE?–must have intimated to Domitia that she couldn’t expect to occupy a huge (HUGE) room all by herself, with her classes of six to eight Latin students, forever*.  Or maybe she sussed that out herself.  I ended up breaking the news to both of them, even though technically it really should have been Penelope, and in retrospect, I’m glad, because it gave me an opportunity to have a good conversation with Gwendolen about her Upper- and Middle-School teaching, and how she wants to stay in the high school building even though most of her classes meet in the junior high.  (She’d been concerned that she would be moved to the other building–which she might be, at some point, but at least now we have the mutual goal of building up her involvement in the HS.) It also gave me a chance to tell Domitia how lucky we are that Ph.D. Guy will have the benefit of her presence this year–and actually I do think this is a very good pairing.

I am also so excited about the Snork Maiden coming up to the HS.  Trying to keep cool about it on the outside–it’s about her, not me–but really excited.  I’m sure there will be awful moments, but after watching other people’s kids change and grow and discover and all that for several years, now I get to watch her!  I’m also beyond tickled that she seems–in flashes–excited too.  She’s practicing for her jazz ensemble audition, she’s planning what school supplies she needs.  She’s gotten some clothes and accessories she feels good in (after three years of uniforms, they graduate to a dress code, and she had very little to wear to school).

The adventure begins…

The book of a thousand eyes

Dr. Tea gave me a really fantastic idea for an activity we can do together at the department meeting on Tuesday.  She suggested we take a poem that could conceivably be taught at all seven grade levels (6-12), read and discuss it together, and ask people to reflect on and share how they would use this poem in their specific classes.  What a great way to learn how we work with students at different stages and within the aims of our particular courses and grade levels, while having a concrete, specific discussion on a deeply pleasurable text.  Done well and in a way that supports the teachers who are less comfortable reading a poem “cold” and who might be a bit anxious about getting the “right” answer–yes, we do have those–I think this could be good socially, as well as professionally-developmentally.

We need to share Ph.D. Guy with the history department, and I also promised the film department chair that she could leave at a certain time to go meet with the film department, so we won’t use the whole two hours–which is fine, that’s a long time for a meeting.  (*Have I really not given him a pseudonym yet?  And ABD Guy as well.  I saw them both briefly on Friday during their second day of new faculty activities–the second day is mostly CPR training, I think.  I guess thinking up pseudonyms for them will be on my secret agenda for the meeting.)


The Icarus agenda

Today, in between working with students on their college application essay drafts, and seeing Gamma, who will be visiting campus with her almost-two-month-old baby, I’m going to meet with Dr. Tea to rough out a plan for the first department meeting, which is on Tuesday.  The school has blocked out two hours for this meeting, which makes it one of the longest department meetings of the year–certainly long enough to do some type of activity as well as the usual announcements and discussions.

Looking back over last year’s meeting minutes, I’m noticing that there are three types of business at our meetings:

  • Social–welcoming new colleagues, thanking colleagues for their service, sharing news (which might include professional development stuff or just what we did over the summer).  This is important in part because we don’t meet as a full (6th-12th) department very often, and we can miss big things.
  • Administrative–announcements, requests, distributing small duties.  Sometimes taken care of efficiently, sometimes requiring discussions.
  • Developmental–by this, I mean professional development, curriculum development, self-study, sharing of best lessons, etc.  We have often shared what we plan to do with summer reading and, by extension, our visions for the year in our courses.  It’s a chance to learn what’s going on in other grades than the ones we teach and also to catch glimpses of how it all fits together.  That’s important to me since I’m still working on understanding that myself, and have a strong sense that we could all improve our sense of the big picture and create better continuity in our classes.  That’s probably my biggest interest as department chair.

So I’m thinking about how to use the time (though probably not all of it), and what tone I want to set, and also kind of seeing it through the eyes of our new colleagues–what do I want to show them about who we are and where we’re going?

A new life

Here’s an innovation: on the SurveyMonkey form we fill out to let the events coordinator know which faculty lunches we’ll be attending during meetings week, there are now menu details about the lunches, so we know what’s being served!  Unfortunately, my favorite among the meals (grilled chicken and vegetables, including Portobello mushrooms) is being served on the day when I have to dash off and get my own and the Snork Maiden’s hair cut, but I appreciate the information anyway.  The lunches are one of my favorite parts about meetings week, because we get to sit down together without the usual pressures of the school year, and I often get to talk with people I don’t see enough during the rest of the year.  We’re all busy, of course, but most events are scheduled in the mornings, with after-lunch time for setting up rooms and having course team meetings and the like, so lunch really feels like a reward and a respite.  (And 75 minutes are set aside for lunch, as compared to the 45 minutes we have during the school year.)

Another fun thing about the beginning of the year is looking at one’s schedule and rosters.  My teaching schedule is the most balanced it’s ever been, in that no day is particularly difficult and no day is particularly easy–this is first semester; second semester I’ll only be teaching three courses, so I will have ordinary days and easy days, but no hard ones.  In past years, my courses have been bunched together in the rotating block schedule, so that I would have days that went TEACH TEACH TEACH break and then days that went BREAK BREAK BREAK teach teach.  The only drawback to this schedule is that it will be harder to find big chunks of time to leave early or come in late for appointments and errands; on the other hand, without NLNRU I won’t have as much need to leave early!

First quarter is going to be challenging, with five classes (since I’m covering two of Gamma’s classes while she is on maternity leave) and starting to be chair; second quarter will be easier teaching-wise, but that’s when I’ll do most of my teaching observations.

The rosters need a little tweaking, if possible–I have nine students currently enrolled in my AP Lit whom I taught in AP Lang all last year, and it would be great if I could swap some of them for students in Dr. Tea’s sections, schedules permitting.  I’m thinking particularly of two whom I personally like just fine, but who could probably use a break from me.

The silence now

The low rumble of the approaching school year: things are shifting, some creatures are awakening, little clouds of dust are appearing on the horizon.

This summer has had a very different rhythm from others.  For one thing, we’ve been away for much of it, and often on the move.  Stubb and I got home, the Snork Maiden returned from her summer program (which she enjoyed, but doesn’t seem to be pining for), and we all went to my annual conference.  Then came another annual tradition, the beach week with Stubb’s family, which–as has often happened–mostly lacked Stubb, who is back with his out-of-town gig (but will be home in another ten days, and then at home for almost a month before going out on the road again for most of the next four months.  After that, though, likely an end to this particular job).

I’m writing this as the beach week comes to an end.  I think I’ve kvetched about this trip before, as taking nine people (ranging over 70+ years in age) on vacation involves a number of logistical challenges which are only compounded by the Stubb family’s tendency to cheerfully ignore (or, if raised, dismiss) those challenges until they are impossible to ignore.  And, of course, that situation is itself compounded by my irritation when we run up against obstacles that I foresaw and attempted to avoid.  (These are folks who go to brunch on Mother’s Day without a reservation and then are cheerfully bemused when they have to wait an hour and a half for a table: My goodness, can you believe that so many people decided to come to the Waffle House?  Why yes, I can!  At least they generally have a sunny attitude about it, which is helpful.)

My sister-in-law is, like me, a planner and anticipator, so to some extent we can band together to force the Stubbs to be a bit more practical (and to commiserate when this doesn’t work), but I also find it stressful that she and my brother-in-law get into conflict during the week, so she’s not always a refuge.  Every year I think about not doing this, and I almost always end up doing at least some of it–this year, for example, I skipped a couple of days, which is much more possible now that the Snork Maiden is older.  She, by the way, clings to the tradition of the beach week, even though she also requires some respite from the chaos and confusion of it all.

Anyway, it’s not really a very relaxing way to end the summer.  But it does make the returning-to-school process something of a relief–it will be so nice to go to meetings where people show up on time.  Next week will be about setting up classrooms–I think I might be about to get my own room, even though there will certainly be other people teaching in it–and about doing college essay workshops with the seniors (and getting paid for it), and about officially starting the department-chair stuff.  And the following week are most of our back-to-school meetings and the Snork Maiden’s freshman orientation, and we start the last week of August.

So hooray.  I have work to do for my own classes, and chair stuff, and house things and things for the Snork Maiden, and writing plans to make for the fall.  I’m hoping to be back to blogging with more regularity, not least so that I have a place to organize these thoughts.  We’ll see if that happens!