Archive for January, 2015

A week in winter

It’s been a strange week so far, mostly because my comings and goings have been unorthodox.  Routines and habits are so much a part of my school life: my arrival with the Snork Maiden usually between 7:27 and 7:33; the way I push my purse into the bookshelf behind my desk, leave my cell phone on the windowsill, throw my jacket over the back of my chair, and turn on my computer within a minute of walking into my classroom; the many little routines of my classes; the pour-over cups of coffee I make two to four times a day.  I rarely leave before 4, and often stay until 5:30 or later when the Snork Maiden has rehearsal, as she often does.

But this week I’ve come in late (Monday, 10:00 after the doctor) and early (Wednesday, 7:15 so that the Snork Maiden could do some forgotten homework).  I left early on both those days, too, once because I didn’t feel well and once because I had other business to take care of. Tuesday I left late (after 6). In other ways, all is typical: I’ve taught eight classes, graded nineteen short answers, collected thirty-five in-class essays which I’ll grade tomorrow and Friday, produced a couple of handouts, updated a PowerPoint, hosted a literary-magazine meeting, had another meeting with a couple of student journalists and the journalism advisor, attended a faculty meeting, had a couple of confabs with Orsino and Dr. Tea. But the unusual arrivals and departures combine to make me not quite understand that it’s almost Thursday.  The weekend will be a busy one, with both school and family events; I’ll have to try to carve out some down time for myself.

At least, if my grading goes as planned, I won’t take any grading into the weekend with me.  By the middle of tomorrow, all of my AP students should have written a practice essay either at home or in class (I say “should” because a few of the Lit students didn’t turn theirs in today), and I’m hoping to turn those all back tomorrow afternoon and Friday.  I’ll have some planning to do–notably, the reading assignments for Crime and Punishment–but no grading that can’t wait until the beginning of the week.

Thanks for your good wishes on my thumb/wrist and arm!  The injection site is bothering me more than the thumb/wrist situation, which I guess is good, as it’s more likely to resolve itself without aftereffects.

Arms and the man

Today was the one in the rotation when I have only one class.  Usually it’s a day when I can get a bunch of stuff done, but I feel like I never quite got into gear.  For one thing, I wasn’t at school for the first three hours–I dropped the Snork Maiden off and went to a doctor appointment.  I’d booked online through the HMO website and then got a bit confused about what, exactly, I’d booked.  The nurse told me it was in the computer as an appointment “for a Pap smear,” for which I was indeed due, and because that’s preventative care, I wasn’t charged a co-pay.  I think–it’s been a while since I made the appointment–that the reason I went online to book the appointment was that I wanted to talk with her about the thumb thing, which hasn’t quite resolved, and the online system helpfully suggested I needed a Pap smear, so whatever.  I got the Pap smear, had the thumb conversation, checked on a couple of other concerns.  I have to go back at some point soon to fill a prescription and get a blood test.

I still like the HMO, I have to say.  My doctor seems smart and competent–I like talking with her.  The nurses are brisk but kind, and also competent.  One of them noticed that I was overdue for a Tdap booster, so that got done, too.

Then I went to school and taught my one class, had lunch with Dr. Tea, did a little prep work in my classroom (this day also includes a free period when my room isn’t in use), and, feeling a little under the weather (maybe from the shot–my arm is sore, too), left earlier than usual with the Snork Maiden.  I’ve been home for about six hours, and all I’ve done is read, try to nap, have dinner, watch Jeopardy!, and surf the Web.  Okay, I also spent about half an hour reading about a grant I’m planning to apply for, and figuring out where to send book ms. #2 next.

Now I have to decide whether to go to bed and get up early, or make a push to get at least minimally prepared for tomorrow.  Or maybe some compromise between the two.  Stubb is out of town and returning late, so I guess I’ll check in with the Snork Maiden and see how close she is to turning in for the night.

I can’t lie on the left side because of the sore arm, and the right is awkward because of the wrist brace, which the doctor recommended I wear at night, so there might be a restless night ahead.

The trivial round, the common task

So for one of a very few times in my entire teaching career, I have set myself a schedule for the completion of exam grading and I have stuck to it.  All my exams are graded.  I have some calculations to make, and have to record everything, finish prepping my classes for tomorrow, and the like, but the huge bolus of exam papers no longer blocks my path.

I still haven’t really experienced my fantasy, which is finishing the daily grading quota early and then enjoying the sensation of liberty for the whole rest of the day.  Instead, I’ve broken the day’s quota up into several chunks and scattered them throughout the day.  This seems like less fun than getting it all done early, but for whatever reason, I’ve just been unable to lock myself in grading jail for that long.  Morning is a good time for me and I need it for other things, like exercise, stuff around the house, writing biz, maybe even writing (although I really prefer the evening for writing unless I am under nearly no time pressure for anything else).

I think I will have ended up spending 13-14 hours on grading over 5 days, which is really not too bad–an average of under 3 hours a day.  It averages out to 4-5 exams per hour, but the first couple of hours were just reading and norming with Orsino, and the last couple of hours I’ve been grading 3 exams in 20 minutes, if they’re all pretty much in the (large) middle of the pack.

I don’t unconditionally love semester exams as a measurement of student achievement, but since these are both AP classes, at least I can be satisfied that students have had a chance to show me their progress in responding to the AP-style essay prompts, and to get more practice doing them.  They’ll write papers or make presentations at the end of the year, so we won’t go through this again.  Actually, isn’t that weird?  I won’t have any exams to grade in June.  (Of course, I will have all those papers–but I like those better.)

Needles and pins

Orsino and I have both been teaching AP English Language this year, but our collaboration and checking-in have been somewhat haphazard.  This is partly, I think, because this course is right in his area of expertise (American lit/rhetoric and composition), and he augmented his expertise this summer by attending an AP Institute, which I still haven’t done.  So while I do share materials I already have, or things I create, as we go along, I have been doing it in an offhand, desultory way: “Here are some quizzes, use anything you want.”  He doesn’t tend to make “materials” in the way that I’ve learned to do since beginning to teach HS; he plans discussions and activities, but not usually around a handout or a reading quiz.   I think he realized he needed to get some smaller grades in the gradebook, though, so he seems to have been doing more of it lately.

Today we met to do a bit of norming for the exam essay (a practice AP), and several factors were in play:

  • His main source of information about how the essays are scored is the Institute he attended, while mine is reading the score analyses of sample essays on the AP website.
  • Perhaps because of this, he values hewing strongly to certain formal elements of the exam essay because one of his big takeaways from the Institute was that the grading is extremely formulaic; I am more swayed by a student whose writing and thinking are deft, even unconventional, if they make good points and demonstrate that they really get the text, say, for the rhetorical analysis essay.  (This is not to say that he doesn’t appreciate the latter kind of student, or that I don’t understand that the students need to meet the requirements of the prompt; it’s just that we’re reacting to different things as graders.)
  • We are more different as readers and teachers than I realized.  He is so smart about historical and cultural context; he’s a big-picture person; he’s interested in helping students grasp the whole phenomenon of American literature.  I am a close reader; I want the students to immerse; I’m a bit skeptical of periodization and literary “movements” (increasingly, I think, as I get older).
  • I have known for a while that it makes me a little anxious to talk with him, but I thought it was just that he is really smart and I am–well, I’m smart enough, and intellectual enough, but I know the real thing when I see it and he, like Dr. Tea, is the real thing.  Today I realized that it also makes him a little anxious to talk with me, and–piecing together comments he’s made in the past–I think it’s because he isn’t a writer, and he can see that I pick up on different things than he does; also, as he said today, close reading is not as natural to him as it is to me.  I said to him a while back that my class had spent the whole period on the first paragraph of The Great Gatsby, and looking back on our conversation, I think now that he truly could not imagine how–or, probably, why–we would do that.

I actually felt quite agitated at the end of our norming session, because we seemed so far apart and I doubted myself–but I thought about it on the way home (the meeting ran longer than we’d planned; I’d had to leave abruptly to meet the Snork Maiden, and we’d agreed to meet again in the morning) and I realized that we had finally figured out what we’d skirted all semester–that we are just two different models of English teacher, and that we do respect each other but were probably both a little freaked out at the realization of our difference.

This is where being chair mostly complicates things, because as chair, I have no qualms about Orsino at all.  He was a superb hire and he’s an excellent teacher.  I think I might actually need to say this to him very directly.  Of course I’ve said it before, but since we are experiencing our differences, it is worth saying again.  I want to be sure he understands how much I welcome his approach.  (Also, I know he has had some family trouble this year, and he’s had some days when he’s looked pretty down.  Just throwing that in there as I think about the ways in which we haven’t connected as well as we might have in first semester.)

Anyway, after I’d thought about it some more, I called him (he was still at school; I took the Snork Maiden home after her morning exam) and said that I’d found the discussion initially disorienting, but ultimately helpful, and that I understood our different tendencies better now, and wanted to learn more from his approach.  He said, “I feel exactly the same,” in a way that made me think we had probably been thinking along the same lines.

It’s weird to be on such different pages, so to speak, with someone I respect so much.  And it’s kind of annoying that we didn’t manage before this to get even to this place of partial understanding.

How much of a difference will it make to the students?  Oh, probably not very much.  Lucinda, with whom I’ve taught the course in the past, and I are pretty different, too.  Lucinda’s and my differences don’t bother me much, maybe because I see her as such a consummate high school teacher, even though she has English degrees from a top SLAC and a top M.A. program.  With Orsino–and also with Viola, who isn’t with us this year–it’s probably partly their experience in college comp./rhet. and lit. that makes me doubt my own instincts.  So actually it touches an insecurity in me–aha.  Yes, that sounds right.

It’s more that the students make a difference to us, really.  They give us a common ground, because we both have strong students and weak students, students who are responding vigorously to our coaching and students who aren’t, students who probably could have earned 5s in September and students who might earn a 3 on a good day.  The point is to help them all as much as possible.  And that’s a motivation to share more of our knowledge and techniques.

Also, our sections’ averages on the multiple choice section were exactly the same: 71%.  (That’s a pretty good multiple-choice score, in case you don’t have the context.  With three strong essays, you can still get a score of 5.  Look up AP scoring calculators if you’re interested.)

Unfortunately, we have no free periods in common this year (in part because half my load, and sixty percent of his, is the same course), so we will really have to work to make the time.


This post is brought to you by the seven minutes or so between that particular finicky load of laundry being too damp to take out of the dryer and being ready to be taken out and hung or blocked to dry.

My Seinfeld chains broke down on day 17, and I’m restarting today.  What a simple but effective device for developing or reinforcing habits. The 15-minute minimum seems to work for me because I can generally find 15 minutes, even if I can’t find more:

  • Writing: I am back on track with the third-book project. I have drafted some new poems and revisited previous drafts of others.  I would not say that any of these is absolutely finished, but they are mostly moving in the right direction.
  • Exercise: Even the busy first week back at school, I managed to get in walks and rides on the stationary bike. Today I ran. This week should be even better because we’ll be getting home earlier–no rehearsals during exams.
  • Cleaning: Doing 15 minutes’ worth of small tasks gives me a break from other things and usually results in some visible improvement somewhere.

Tonight the Snork Maiden and I have a couple hours’ worth of our respective work to do, and we’re both a little stressed about exams–I because I have grading to finish up and she, of course, because of exams. But we should be able to go to bed at 10 and not have too much trouble getting up tomorrow.

Laundry’s ready; see you later.

The lost princess of Oz

Pardon me for ignoring the wider world and its troubles in this space, for the most part. Everyone needs a place to natter, and this is mine.

So Dorothea got approached for, and is interviewing for, another job.  She’s happy at SA, but careerwise this would be a step up (department chair).  She has spoken to the GGE and me about whether there is a way for her to take a career step up at SA in the near future, and unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be, unless I get abducted by aliens–and actually, even if I did get abducted by aliens, I’m not sure she would be first in line to be chair: she is mostly in middle school, there are more senior people, more subject-matter experts, who come to mind as leaders of the 6th-12th grade English faculty.  I met with the GGE today to muse about it, and I think we’re on the same page–hoping we don’t lose her yet but not seeing a way to compete with this opportunity if it materializes and she decides to go for it.  I’ve wondered how we would accommodate her interest in taking on more leadership roles; I see opportunities for her to do more in her role as assistant chair for middle school English (which was created in part to give her a way to advance), and other ways she could become more of a player in the school, but I think it might be a couple of years, at least, before there’s a way to craft a new job and a title to go with it.  And she doesn’t want to leave the classroom altogether, or even mostly, nor do we want her to; she’s still more valuable to us as a teacher than in any other role.

So.  We could lose Dorothea.  I said to the GGE that if this particular job doesn’t happen, we are probably safe for a year or two, since she has a wedding to plan, plus possibly other life decisions like house-buying and so on, and might not be up for a full-bore job search as well.  But eventually she will probably decide to let her ambition take her somewhere else.

I filled out an online recommendation thing for her prospective employer, and I was appropriately effusive, even as I was aware that I was flooding them with reasons to hire her.  Sigh.  I said to the GGE that I had been hoping we wouldn’t have to hire this year, and he said, “Oh, you should always assume you’re going to have to hire.”  I suppose there’s wisdom in that–and if it ever turns out we don’t have to hire, that will probably be a pleasant surprise.  Actually, after this year, hiring fewer than three would be a relief.  One would feel like a vacation.

To begin again

Pretty good first day back, although I didn’t pace my AP Lit classes well and have to tie up some loose ends when I see them again on Wednesday.  Not used to watching the clock or thinking about wrapping things up neatly at the 50-minute mark.

Dr. Tea and I did get to take our walk, and three 2014 alums stopped by.  They all loved their first semester of college.  One is already planning to major in comp lit and is starting German next semester (he got up to a year post-AP Spanish at SA).  One is a business major in Boston, but she spent her first semester abroad. One is in the UK studying English literature.  They all managed to come at fairly convenient times, too!

When I got home, I had a jury duty summons–haven’t had one of those in a while: actually, not for more than four years.  Now you can request a postponement online, which I did, so now I know that I’ll be on call for the first week of spring break.

I kept my Seinfeld chains going by taking the walk with Dr. Tea (exercise) and writing for a while after school.  Now I’m going to do the third one, cleaning, by clearing out a couple of shelves in a kitchen cabinet. I should probably grade for an hour, but I might go to sleep early and get up early instead.  It was hard getting up this morning, but once I was out of bed, I remembered how much I actually like being up in the early hours.

Zig zag

So here we go again, back to school, into the end of the semester–it’s so weird to go back for a few days of classes, a few days of review, exams and then start all over again. I should be used to it by now–this is my seventh January at SA–but it still strikes me as odd.

Dorothea got engaged over the break, I saw on Facebook–and then I also saw her at Elinor’s baby shower and got to hear more about it.  Romola was there, too–and drinking champagne, so I’m guessing she’s not pregnant yet. (When I think about next year’s staffing, I wonder whether Romola is going to be on maternity leave. She’s been very open that she and her new husband want to have a baby sooner rather than later.  I hope it happens for them soon!)

Dr. Tea and I are planning to go for a walk during the last period on Monday, which we both have free. It’s nice to have that to look forward to, especially since going back to school is usually pretty intense.

I heard from a couple of recent grads that they might be dropping in tomorrow, which would be nice if well timed and a bit disruptive if not. Hoping for well timed.


The clock struck one

Much better overall, and mentally, doing a fairly good job of taming the school-starts-again-soon panic* that begins as soon as I wake up.  I think it’s worse because I’ve been staying up, and therefore waking up, much later than usual. I’m planning to go to bed at close to my normal school-year time the next three nights and, on Saturday and Sunday (and, of course, Monday), wake up closer to my normal school-year time (5:30 or 5:45, but I’ll probably aim for something like 7 on Saturday).

My Seinfeld chains are ten days long, and that feels great.

*Why panic? It’s not totally clear to me, honestly.  I like my job, and I’m not particularly behind in anything.  I think it might be a byproduct of the fantasy that two weeks of winter break is long enough to get ahead in everything–for example, this item on my list: “Create rough drafts of first-semester exams for the juniors and seniors.”  It’s a great idea, but it’s not going to get done this break, and it really doesn’t matter: I can do it when we’re back, and in fact it is a good task to do after school this week, when I have my room to myself and few interruptions.

I do wish we had exams before winter break.  I don’t really think this schedule serves anyone.  I suspect we are due for a reexamination of the high-school schedule sometime in the next couple of years anyway, so this might be on the table.  We’d probably have to start a week or two earlier in August, but that would put us more in line with the public schools and some of our independent peers, so it probably doesn’t matter much.  And we’d finish earlier in June.