Archive for October, 2013

A number

I’ve written 54 of my student report card comments and have 32 more to go.  This would be the term when I have the most students I’ve ever had at SA!  The good news: except for a couple of small tasks, I am ready to hand the AP Lang classes back to Gamma; the remaining comments should go fairly swiftly; Monday and Tuesday give me some time to write and revise before the comments are actually due.  We’ll get together on Monday to proofread one another’s comments, but if I’m not quite ready with one of my classes (which seems possible), I can probably snag a colleague to proof that for me on Tuesday.

The bad news, at least for my ability to get everything done, is that we have an outside visitor on Monday whom I’ll be showing around in my capacity as department chair.  She’s going to visit classes, so she’ll be occupied part of them time, but I would like to sit in on at least one of those with her.  That might just have to go by the wayside.  We’ll see.

Also, that MFA class. Enough said.

The Snork Maiden and I are slated to do a couple of fun things today–a late breakfast with Stubb’s parents and FLS’s Halloween party.  I’m glad I’m forcing myself to do something other than schoolwork.  The challenge will be not to be all antsy and worried about not doing schoolwork.

In responsibilities begin dreams?

I went to bed around 11 and slept until I woke up around 6 from a lovely flying dream in which I was accompanied by one of the Spanish teachers, with whom I’d spent some time talking on Friday at school.  She had a baby in the spring and returned to work in the fall, and I flagged her down to ask her what her most immediate thoughts were about how to support Gamma when she comes back on Monday.  (Gamma and I have already had some conversations about that, of course, but I was curious about what the newly returned teacher thought.  The answer mostly had to do with how difficult it is to get to the room where new mothers pump milk, pump and hurry back in time for class.  Fortunately, Gamma’s schedule looks fairly good for that: there’s one day when she might need someone to get her students started on something if she is running late.  I can actually do that, too, because it’s one of the classes I’ve been teaching up to now.  We’ll talk.)

In the dream, flying was almost effortless, although it did require some awareness.  We were apparently flying to Las Vegas, although we flew over some desert-looking areas first–more like the planet Dune, not so much like anything I know in the U.S.  And then we were over some lush green landscapes.  I felt joyful and free, flying.


Band dater (Photo: Amazon.)

Then I woke up and went back to sleep again and had a much more complicated dream in which SA had a satellite library that reminded me, in its freestanding, summer-cottage kind of way, rather a lot of the library at a writers’ conference in Vermont, although it was blond wood rather than painted white.  This was a dream about dealing inadequately with things and having trouble with time, as I was somehow serving as a temporary morning librarian, and members of the SA community were coming in before school, not so much to browse the shelves as to look at certain books, some of them having authors with the same last names, that were laid out on the wooden floor.

I had a box of yellowed cards that didn’t match the books, and an ancient rubber stamp set to some date in the 1960’s that I kept trying to adjust, but when I adjusted one band, the other numbers would change, too.  People, including one of the SA librarians, who is one of the longest-serving staff members at SA, would ask me to check things out and then wander off while I was struggling with the cards and the stamp and realizing that the old cards, which were mostly illegible, had to have their information crossed off so that they could be used to record the loans of the books, which didn’t have cards in them.  There was a student there with whom I’ve also struggled.  He’s a football player who doesn’t like football, but seems curiously unwilling to like much else about school; he likes to read, but he resists putting forth more than minimal effort to do well in class.  Often he does well in spite of himself (he usually aces reading quizzes), but I have to work on him to get him to produce more than a trickle of writing.  He wanted to check out a book, and I really wanted to check it out for him, but I couldn’t seem to make it happen.  And yet it was also quite a pleasant morning, and no one seemed upset by my incompetence; everyone wandered around patiently, chatting and looking at books, while I messed around with the cards and the stamp.


City of bones

The term ended yesterday; no classes today, but a day for teachers to wrap up and prepare report cards.  I’ll be going in to SA a little later, but the Snork Maiden is still sleeping, and I want to exercise and have breakfast in my own house, even if historically I get the most done when I start early.  I’ll probably start early tomorrow.

It was a stressful few days grading and dealing with the end of the term.  A couple of meetings, too, just to make time a little tighter.  But the first two days of Hamlet with the AP kids went really well, surely because I was so jammed for time that I did in fact make them do a lot of individual and small group work, and we watched the first 25 minutes or so of the film with David Tennant.  My favorite activity turned out to be this: I stuck one of those larger lined sticky notes on each person’s desk before they came in (one way to get them focused right away) and put on the board a list of concrete images, phrases and allusions from the “O, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt” soliloquy–something like this:

a dew

“weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable”

unweeded garden







and told them to jot down the list on the big sticky note and quickly write down whatever they remembered about how Hamlet uses the word or phrase–what he says about it, how he uses it to express his feelings.  No peeking at the book.  (They’d seen this soliloquy the previous day.)

So interesting!  For some of them the list evoked nearly everything, some of them almost nothing; some of them made educated guesses that turned out to express the ideas of the speech quite well; almost all of them wrote either “incestuous sheets” or “sheets–incest”–it was by far the most widely remembered item.  We had a quick discussion about the soliloquy and I liked the way that the speech seemed to have become more concrete and fixed in their minds.  I think.  You don’t always know what’s going on in there.  But I have the sense that I’ll be able to refer back to the soliloquy next week and they’ll remember: Oh right, unweeded garden, Hyperion to a satyr, incestuous sheets.

Someone noticed that “a dew” sounds like “adieu,” which made me happy EXCEPT that I really hope this isn’t because they were reading SporkNates or some forbidden guide the night before (I think I might have to start reading those–we’ve had a couple of brushes with plagiarism in other classes recently and it’s making me wonder how many kids are consulting them.  Our library subscribes to Literature Resource Center and JSTOR, so I might need to remind them that there are approved ways of getting support with reading, and that we do expressly forbid their consulting guides that are meant to substitute for doing the reading and thinking on your own).

We use the Folger editions for classroom Shakespeare, by the way, though we keep other editions, with more extensive notes, around to consult.

That was a wonderful antidote to a difficult week, as was the Snork Maiden’s first concert of high school.  She played both her instruments (the band director let her switch to sax for the final number) and it all sounded good to me, although afterwards all they could talk about were some problems with one of the jazz numbers.  Possibly the very best part was chatting afterwards with one of her friends and his parents, and then with one of the new kids, who was waiting for his ride–we stuck around so he wouldn’t have to wait by himself. They just seemed so relieved and delighted and happy to be in high school.  I’m so glad she didn’t drop out of band!

School of hard knocks

Finished with my 20 letters for kids with November 1 application deadlines.  For college, that is–I actually still have a couple of grad-school recommendations to write for students from NLNRU.

Now I just have to do–well, everything else.  I’ll be finishing up the quarter grading for my five classes over the next, um, maybe four days?  The last major AP Lit paper is graded; they just have a small quiz that needs grading.  But I have 41 AP Lang papers (for Gamma’s students) and 25 World Lit papers–oh, and 10 portfolios that I somehow overlooked a while back.  And some quizzes.

If I didn’t have to teach during this time, it would all seem somewhat more doable, but alas…And anyway that’s the fun part.

Not that I’m doing such a hot job at that, of course.  Trying to go easy on myself about that–it’s not like the kids haven’t seen a frazzled teacher now and then.

Thinking that maybe on Wednesday morning I will have my AP Lit students work independently, with some kind of structure to keep things in place.  They are supposed to have read 1.1-1.2 of Hamlet.  Maybe put them in groups to work on some questions, get them to report back to the whole class, then watch those scenes?  Of course, I’d need to prep this–it’s not really a time saver for me; if I don’t prep at all, I can wing the first act of Hamlet, no problem, but their engagement will be better if I don’t.  I’d actually like to get them reading and working together in class more rather than going home to read and coming in to process/discuss.  (Flipped classroom?–sort of.)

Dr. Tea went to some AP Institute years ago where she heard a lecturer say, “High school is where young people go to watch old people work hard.”  We often say that to each other when figuring out ways to put the work back in their hands.  Sometimes it feels easier just to wing it and tell them a whole bunch of stuff they need to know in a lively and interactive way.  Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing; sometimes that’s just what teaching is.

Right now, though, there’s stuff they can do themselves while I am doing more of the stuff they can’t usually do, like grading their papers.

The pastures of heaven

A day at school without classes.  Heavenly.  Three hours of PSAT this morning, during which Dr. Tea and I sat side-by-side at computers in the workroom and pegged away at college recs.  I wrote five in the morning, one in the afternoon, so I didn’t quite meet my goal of seven, but come on–six!  I also opened files for the ones I hadn’t yet begun and completed the Common App teacher evaluation in Naviance for each of those, so now I have at least something under way for each of my remaining eight recs, seven of which are supposed to be completed by Monday.  (Monday is one of my lighter teaching days, so I might leave one or two to complete then, and try to write five or six over the next four days, which seems doable.)

When I got back into my room (and fussily pushed desks back into my preferred three-sides-of-the-room arrangement and brushed the crumbs off my desk and adjusted the temperature), I wrote up an activity on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 56 (“Sweet love, renew thy force”) for my AP Lit kids for tomorrow–falling in love with the poem in the process–and graded a few papers, and took a walk with Dr. Tea, and answered some email, and wrote that one more recommendation and bits of others.  I still have a lot of items on my to-do list, but it felt like a really productive day.

And Thursday happens to be one of my lighter teaching days, so I should be able to keep cranking on the grading (AP Lit first, then Gamma’s AP Lang) and squeeze out one more rec without too much angst.  Of course, I also need to do some significant prep for Friday, which is one of the tough days.  But only a few more of those left until Gamma comes back!

Clock without hands

Today was a day of sucking less (hat tip to What Now?), but only a little bit less.  Today what I noticed was that my time management has gone all to hell–I’d look up at the clock and think, “Damn, I only have five minutes left,” and it wasn’t exactly that discussion had been so enthralling that we lost track of time–no, it was like I kept forgetting that I only had 90 minutes or 50 minutes or whatever for a class.

But in the name of sucking less, I worked on another recommendation so that it will take fifteen minutes or so to polish that one off during PSAT Day—I might even finish it before the PSAT starts and I have to vacate the room so that Orsino and one of the art teachers can proctor there.  I’ll probably grade papers during the exam itself, then come back when it’s over to work on college recs.  My goal for the day is seven recs, only because one of the college counselors estimated that she could probably write six in that amount of time, and I figure I should be able to beat that.  It’s good to have a goal, anyway.

The human factor

Couldn’t seem to do anything quite right today, and oh, there was a lot to do.  Hilda van Gleck asked me to step in for Dinah this morning and I didn’t realize that there weren’t enough quizzes to hand out to her class.  Was vague and spacy in my planning meeting with Sebastian (new pseudonym for ABD Guy).  Didn’t assign homework to my own first class.  Left the homework for my second class sitting on my desk in my own room (it’s one of Gamma’s classes and I teach it in her room).  Students in that class bombed a reading quiz.  Forgot that my class at the end of the day hadn’t gotten quite as far in Hamlet as I thought they had, and hence gave them a handout they don’t need yet.

Oh, I guess I did do a couple of things right: I had a good short meeting with a student who really struggles to write even the briefest of essays, and I went to a committee meeting at the end of the day and made one useful comment.  Okay.

I also had a conversation with Romola, who was stewing over a perceived slight from Dorothea–she’d flaked out on a ninth-grade meeting that she’d already rescheduled with Romola and Sebastian.  I had a hard time seeing this as a big deal, because Dorothea only teaches one ninth-grade class and Romola and Sebastian, who teach four each, don’t really need her there to plan.  And I am sympathetic because Dorothea is covering a Gamma class and I know she’s finding it a strain.  Also, with the Gamma class she has four preps, which is ridiculous.  But Romola was personalizing the flaking out, and seeking advice (she said, “Can I ask you something partly as a chair, and partly as a friend?”–on which more in a moment).  She seemed to feel she should have a heart-to-heart with Dorothea, but I really felt, why?  It will only make Dorothea–who is not, in general, flaky–feel that she is dropping balls.  I suggested that in Romola’s place, I would consider two approaches:

1. Say nothing for now, but reconfirm the next meeting with a clear agenda (“We’re meeting on Tuesday to finalize the test, right?”).  There is unlikely to be flaking, but if there is, deal with it: “You’ve missed the last two meetings.”

2. If you really want to say something, use the “This isn’t like you” approach: “I can’t remember the last time you had to cancel a meeting.  Just wanted to check in and see how you’re doing with things.”

But damn, I would not go there right now.  I hope I was able to convey this to Romola without sounding dismissive.  I also tried to reinforce her authority as the lead teacher in the course, and to reassure her that she doesn’t need Dorothea there to make decisions.  Thinking back, the only thing I wish I’d done a little differently was label the parts of my advice: “As your chair, I hear your concern…As your friend, I would advise…”  Something to think about, especially as I’m still figuring out how to inhabit this role.

Green thoughts

What would my Sunday evenings look like if they were not anxious and fretful?  Actually, I haven’t had an attack of the Sunday-evening blues for a while; I think this particular spell might have more to do with being overtired, as homecoming weekend featured late nights and early mornings.  Tonight, though–yuck.

I did spend several hours at school while the Snork Maiden was on the community service project, and got quite a bit done–though it’s never as much as I think it should be.  I wrote two more recommendations, quite difficult ones for opposite reasons.  One was for a puzzling student who is quite difficult to characterize (musically and linguistically talented, socially somewhat odd–no idea what an interviewer would make of him, and yet probably seeing him in person will help the whole application make sense).  The other for Ed, who is a terrific student whom any college should be thrilled to have–and because he’s applying to some extremely competitive schools, I really wanted to make his letter great.  Together, they took almost three hours.  I estimate I’ve spent about eight hours so far to write seven letters–it never takes less than 45 minutes a letter–and there are still thirteen more to go.

Funny thing–the Snork Maiden noticed Ed during the homecoming assembly on Friday.  He and Gus and another member of the robotics team were in the corner fussing over the robot they were going to use to send out the trophy for the class level that had won a contest.  She asked me, “Who is that robotics guy who looks a little like James McAvoy?”  Ed bears only a very slight resemblance to McAvoy, who has been her favorite actor since he played Mr. Tumnus in the Narnia movies.  This was her way of indicating that she thinks he’s cute.  Yikes.

Dance dance dance

Waiting to go pick up the Snork Maiden and two other girls from the homecoming dance.  I wonder how the dance was.  I wonder how long it will take them to settle down and go to sleep.  I wonder how hard it will be to get them up in the morning to meet the 7:30 bus for the community service project.  And I wonder if I’ll get enough sleep to be reasonably productive while they are away?


Homecoming was tremendous fun.  There was a performance by the elementary school chorus, and the high school chorus sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” after which a few of my favorite geeky seniors climbed up to sit with me at the top of the bleachers.  We sat next to one of the younger history teachers and pestered him with questions about football, the fundamentals of which none of us really grasped, but he was good-natured about it and seemed to enjoy explaining.  The Snork Maiden was busy with the band almost the whole time–they sounded good!  I saw a lot of my students, and a couple of alumni, including the first boy mentioned in this post–the one who got the unexpected 5 on the AP.  He’s putting off college (very unusual in our population, but his family is unusual*) and working at an aerospace manufacturing company.  He seems to be doing a lot of engineer-y things, so he’ll probably return for an engineering degree at some point.

(*His dad is one of my colleagues, and unlike nearly all of our parents, has what I would describe as my paternal grandparents’ attitude toward college–that it’s not an entitlement, that if you really want it, you will find a way to go.  I view this attitude with some concern, because it’s not the 1930s anymore.  His younger son is working and in community college, and my fingers are crossed for him to keep going.)

There were a lot of parents there, which is nice when I know them and a little weird when I don’t–when someone smiles broadly at me and I know it must be the parent of a kid I’ve taught, but I can’t place them. Of course, this has also improved over the last few years, as I’ve met more parents and taught multiple children in the same family.

In a few minutes, I have to wake up the Snork Maiden.  She has a very busy weekend, which means that I am doing a certain amount of driving her around, but also that I should have some chunks of time when I can work at school.  Today is a little more fragmented than I would prefer, but tomorrow I have to take her early to school and she’ll be gone about six hours on a community service project.  So: college recs and grading!