Archive for September 15th, 2013

Cat’s cradle

Back from four well-spent hours at SA, mostly prepping and planning (planning, in my lexicon, being the long-term big picture, and prepping being the actual preparation and lesson planning for the actual classes I’ll be teaching), and feeling calmer about the whole thing. Yes, it’s a tough first quarter, but honestly, things are going about as well as they could go under the circumstances.

Also, I just read What Now?’s distressing update on her partner D’s new independent school job, and the vague feelings of appreciation I was experiencing while walking across the strangely quiet campus*, freely photocopying as many handouts as I needed**, emailing friendly colleagues, puttering around my classroom, using the computers, thinking about my students, and heck, even writing with my favorite kind of pen***–these vague feelings coalesced into a serious gratitude that I work at a place that values what I do and strives to give me the conditions and materials I need to do it well.

*Peaceful and well-kept, too.

**At 2YC, the two-year for-profit technical college where I adjuncted for a few years, we were required to turn in all our photocopying jobs to the copy center a week in advance, or pay for them ourselves at a self-serve copier.

***We get to order our own classroom supplies, and I always get a few dozen of these.

By the bog of cats

Three weeks into the school year, I am surprised and troubled by how much less focused on my teaching I am than in previous years.  People tell me that the split focus is a normal part of beginning to serve as department chair, that the kids don’t notice as much as I do, and that I am probably doing a better job than I think.

But still.

I’d probably be having a rough ride even if I weren’t department chair, because I am teaching five classes with three preps.  I have a total of 86 students, which isn’t terrible, but it’s certainly more than last year, when I taught four classes, two preps and had 63 students one semester and 56 the next.

So take five classes, three preps, 86 students, collaborating with co-teachers in three different courses (one of those as lead teacher with someone who hasn’t taught the course before) and add:

  • The need to be available and willing to listen and respond pretty much anytime someone in my department has a question or an issue (while starting to integrate my new role into my existing relationships with people–that is, being aware that I’m responding as a person with authority, not just as a colleague with empathy, and that people will hear my responses, suggestions, and now, directions differently than they used to).
  • A new availability/exposure to other departments and administrative units of the school: coming in on conversations I haven’t been privy to before, being asked to approve student placements; the meetings, oh the meetings.  I’m on three committees I wasn’t on before (curriculum, department chairs, instructional technology).
  • Laying the groundwork to conduct formal evaluations–having informal chats with people, observing a selection of classes to develop a sense of our range of teaching practices, reviewing past evaluations.
  • Sometimes-unexpected new tasks; some that are expected but not habitual yet (anticipating our next department meeting, planning it, sending out an agenda in time for people to think about it).
  • Helping one returning and two new teachers get settled, doing early informal observations of the new teachers, developing relationships with them.

It’s hard to express how much time and bandwidth these things consume.  On Friday, I forgot that my AP Lit class was having a quiz; it would have taken me about twenty minutes to write the quiz, but I only remembered it as we were waiting for Orsino’s* class to finish up and kids were arriving and asking me questions about the quiz material.  We went on and had a pretty good class for the last period on a Friday–I had prepared the right thing, just got caught up in doing that and overlooked the quiz part–but it was a pretty monumental thing to flake on.  (Of course, they loved it.)

What they won’t love, though, is if I can’t keep up with the grading, so I’m going in to campus today (Sunday) to prep and grade.  I haven’t done too badly so far, but the pile is growing fast.  It’s early in the year, I have given a lot of shorter writing assignments to my AP juniors and regular seniors, and I have a paper coming in Tuesday from my AP seniors–it would be great to have the decks cleared for that.  The Snork Maiden is going on her class retreat for two nights, which may give me just enough extra time to catch up on everything and grade the AP paper.

And in six weeks, Gamma will be back and I’ll hand two classes/one prep/41 students over to her!  My student load will plummet to 45, my teaching load to three classes, two preps–which is significantly lower than average and will give me considerably more time for all the new responsibilities.  Also for formal evaluations, which will need to start happening right away.  I’m going to give Gamma a new pseudonym, too–hers dates from this post almost five years ago, and Alpha has been gone for four–but out of superstition, I think I’ll wait until she returns.

*Orsino is Ph.D. Guy’s new pseudonym.