Archive for the ‘administration’ Category

The little friend

Just a brief note to say that I ended up talking with the AHS for over two hours.  There was just so much to discuss!  He’s very eager to understand how things have been done in the past, and why.  We seem to have similar perspectives about some of the directions we need to go in.  For example, the faculty evaluation process we have is superficial and legalistic–it does a fine job of documenting problems with people who aren’t going to work out, but is pretty useless at describing and affirming what basically successful teachers are doing well and helping identify and focus on particular areas in which they can improve. Because I had been part of a committee that interviewed the new AHS, I’d heard about the process he used at his previous school, and I liked his approach–it was one of the things that made me think he’d be a good choice, and I also felt that he wasn’t someone who would come bursting in and upset everyone by changing the process around right away.  There’s a lot of change happening at SA right now, and while the people who’ve been on campus all summer seem pretty energized and upbeat, I’m expecting some anxiety and freakouts when the full faculty returns.

I felt like a fish trying to describe the water it swims in, but it was a great conversation and has been followed up by back-and-forth emails sharing documents and so forth.

We also talked about the current state of the department, and the somewhat fuzzy role of the department chair, which sounds like it’s going to be clarified in the direction of more authority and more responsibility.  This works for me, although I suspect it will not work for everyone.

Twenty-one stories

Oh, that last post was so many library books ago.  I’ve read the fourth volume of Knausgaard’s My Struggle, put the novel  Hausfrau aside after growing impatient with it, read some of the new Lydia Davis collection (her work is so concentrated, I can only read one or a few pieces at a time), a Sarah Manguso book, some of Ken Jennings’ Maphead, some of Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Can We Talk about Race?–a What Now? recommendation.  Still several very desirable books on my holds list–who knows how many of them I’ll get to (the reissue of Oreo by Fran Ross, the Oliver Sacks memoir, a different Sarah Manguso book, the Pierpont novel mentioned in the last post, Sarah Hepola’s Blackout).  Still need to get to those school readings, too.

Twenty-one days left of summer.  Or, rather, until the first day of school–of course there will be a rising babble of school-related noise over the next three weeks.  Murmurs begin tomorrow, as I meet with our new associate head of school, the man who’s taken the GGE’s position.  Most of it, that is; having been at SA so long, the GGE had become the person to whom one brought nearly everything, and it’s surely not possible (or desirable) for the new AHS to be that person right out of the gate.  Even in the waning months of the school year, I thought I was seeing greater autonomy from Ivanhoe and other senior administrators; they seemed to be making decisions that would previously have had to go up the line to the GGE or the then-Head of School.  A good development, too, I thought; the place has gotten too big to be overseen so closely by two people. I asked for this meeting to go over a few immediate questions about our department before the school year begins; it may be that some of these items are not things he can decide on, but he seems like the right place to start.

I’m anticipating a lot of much-needed growth and change in our organization and our processes, with a certain amount of accompanying confusion and uncertainty.  In some ways, I reflect, having two new bosses (for that’s what it is, really) is like starting a new job–one can’t count on being a known quantity.  I’m not nervous, but I am curious and excited.

So I’m preparing more carefully for this meeting than I otherwise might.  And yet I’m also aware that an important part of this meeting–arguably the most important part–is simply getting to know the new AHS and letting him get to know me.

Meanwhile, I’m plotting once again how to use this chunk of time, these three weeks, as school overtakes more of my time and energy, but before we’re well and truly immersed in the new school year.

The enchanted April

We have made our hire!   He’s a Ph.D. candidate who genuinely wants to teach high school.  He gave a strong sample class, but what convinced us wasn’t just the planning and execution–it was his classroom presence: engaged, kind, patient, flexible.  If I have to have two new department members during my first year as chair, I am glad that they’re Ph.D. Guy and ABD guy.  I just have to come up with better pseudonyms for both of them.

The colleague who left last spring to have a baby has stayed in touch with us, particularly with Elinor and when we were on the verge of despair about making this hire, Elinor suggested that we go back to her and see if she had any thoughts of returning, perhaps part-time.  The GGE really liked this idea, because Colleague (who also needs a pseudonym, I guess) is an excellent teacher.  And as I’ve mentioned, Gamma is going on maternity leave for a term, so a little extra help is even more welcome.  The upshot is that we get to have this Colleague back for next year, on a part-time basis.

Now, you’d think that we were well and truly overstaffed for next year, but for various reasons this isn’t the case: Gamma will teach a little less when she returns, Ph.D. Guy is promised to history for (probably) two classes, we have Gamma’s leave to cover, and we are experiencing a bit of a surge in enrollment in the high school and will need to offer additional sections in at least two grades.  Also: the film teacher who usually teaches two English classes is probably not going to be able to teach more than one next year.  It’s all shaking down as I write this, and these and other factors are in flux, so Dr. Tea and I are having quite the merry-go-round on planning for next year.

Also: remember the Room Situation?  It still exists, damnit, and obviously adding teachers and courses is only going to make it worse–unless we can make what I am referring to (in private) as a “land grab.”  I spent upwards of an hour with Penelope today with a map of the school, trying to figure out where we could move people.  The upshot was that she is going to go speak with the GGE and we’ll take it from there.

Other things that have been going on: Summer plans are getting clearer, and I’ve made some of the necessary reservations.  The Snork Maiden was offered a partial scholarship to her summer program–hooray!–and that gave me the clarity I needed to plan  travel.

I want to write about finishing up at NLNRU, and about other SA stuff, and family and life and writing, but I have papers to grade and prepping to do, so more soon!

About a boy

Today I spoke with the fellow who has the offer from us.  He had a few questions, but I had the distinct sense that they weren’t really dealbreakers one way or the other.  He told me that he has another offer, from a school that is somewhat more geographically desirable for him, but I got the impression that the school itself is less appealing than SA is.  He sounded pretty impressed by our school and department, which was nice to hear, of course.  I told him that it sounds like he has two good choices and it’s going to be a question of which one feels right (or right-er).

And for us, I think that this is a good situation to be in.  If he’d really rather be at the other place, he can pick it, and we won’t have a colleague who wishes he were somewhere else.  If he picks us, well, it’s human nature to get behind the decisions we make until we’re proven otherwise, right?  So we should benefit from the effect of his having chosen us over the other place.

This fellow, by the way, is just coming off the second of two one-year replacement positions, so I’m guessing he will try to stay in one place for a few years before trying to move again–at least, I think this would be a good idea.  One is in a stronger position if one has been successful somewhere for a stretch.  Elinor, last I heard, had a verbal offer from a school in her new location, and had two more campus visits lined up–can’t wait to catch up with her next week.

The GGE has a couple of other candidates lined up if this one decides on the other school, and he’ll move on those quickly if he doesn’t get a yes fairly soon.  I pretty much expect to hear something on Monday–either that we’re getting a new colleague or that we’re getting a new candidate.

A group of noble dames

Continuing to think about this “kitchen cabinet” of mine (thanks, What Now?, for the apt phrase).  Also thinking of asking a colleague whose main role is elsewhere in the school, but who was originally an English teacher and continues to teach one or two classes in the English department.  Actually, this is a little disingenuous as I am not entirely sure of the quality of this person’s advice, but I am thinking that to go and ask explicitly for help and advice would be a politic thing to do–perhaps might actually help me “manage” this person better, to the extent that “managing people” describes what I am actually going to be doing.  Is this too conniving, I wonder?

In other news, we’re going to be hiring someone else, apparently, because we are a little bit understaffed: we’re losing Elinor, who has a full load, and her nominal replacement, Ph.D. Guy, will probably teach at least one history course, so we’re down 20-25% of a teacher right there; also, Gamma is taking a slightly lighter schedule when she comes back from maternity leave, so we’re down another 10%; plus, if we’re covering Gamma’s four courses in-house, that means a diversion of essentially another 20-25% of a load.  Add in having an English teacher do the journalism course (which hasn’t been the case in recent years, but will soon be the case again, apparently), and you’ve got pretty much a whole new teacher right there.  And there’s always a chance that Gamma won’t be able or willing to come back after maternity leave, so it’s not a bad year to be a bit overstaffed, if possible.

This will give me the opportunity to shadow Dr. Tea through the hiring process, although as with the other issues I’ve come in on recently, it will take up about as much time as if I were already the chair myself, without actually sparing Dr. Tea any work.  Oh well–at least it will be worth the time spent if we wind up with a really good hire.

The group

This week I’ve sunk a startling amount of time into my future chairship of the department–two meetings with Dr. Tea and the GGE, sitting in on a meeting of the tenth-grade teachers about next year’s booklist, and multiple conversations with department members.  All of this is important, of course, and will affect my experience as actual chair next year–but it’s also sucking up a lot of time I actually need to grade and prep!

And the question of how to serve effectively as chair while also teaching effectively is on my mind, especially as it looks like I will have five classes, three preps at the beginning of the year.  This is only for the quarter that Gamma is on leave–it makes sense for me to cover two of her AP Lang classes and mentor Ph.D. Guy in his first quarter of teaching that course–and when she comes back, I’ll drop down to three classes and get some breathing room again, just in time to observe and evaluate everyone’s teaching.

When you’re an administrator, of course, crises arise at inconvenient times.  When someone pops in, Dr. Tea only very rarely says she can’t talk.  Of course, I can be different–I can choose to say “I’m teaching next period and I have to finish this, can we talk at 1?”–but I have noticed that it’s very reassuring to feel you can have your chair’s ear when you need it.  I think I would like to emulate her in this, and that probably means working a little bit farther ahead than I usually do, so that I can be interrupted without disastrous results to my teaching.

I might add that it will be easier to work ahead when I have my own damn room and can be in it most of the time.

I have been toying with the idea of asking a few people to serve as a sort of informal advisory board for me (off the idea of a personal board of directors)–that is, people I can go to with chair-related issues who will keep my confidences and give me good advice.  I’ve already told the history department chair that I expect to be coming to her for help–she understands our department, is already a confidante of Dr. Tea’s, and is a smart and balanced person. And of course I will be soliciting advice from Dr. Tea.  I’m also thinking, though, that I might ask one of the Spanish teachers, who seems to understand the dynamics of the place, and who can help me keep in mind what communications from the chair will look like from the teacher’s perspective.  I don’t know that I would actually present each of these people with the idea of a board, but I would specifically ask if I can come to that person for advice as I adjust to the new role.  (A formality, as we are all pretty generous with the advice, but who doesn’t like being asked for advice?)

What do you think?  Is this collegial?  Crafty?  Or weird?

All quiet on the western front

So today Dr. Tea and I met to try to work out a deployment plan for next year–who will teach what and when, including how we would propose to cover the first quarter of each of the four year-long courses that Gamma is slated to teach next year.

I really like the plan we came up with, although it will probably go through some changes.  I like that we were able to keep everyone at a reasonable number of preps (usually two, although in this plan Dr. Tea would do three–but no new preps), and to offer a couple of people a chance to teach things they’ve wanted–an honors class for Dinah, and a chance to teach Gamma’s creative writing class for Romola.

Unfortunately, this project spilled over into two of my prep periods, and I had a meeting at lunch, so now I’m trying to figure out what I can reasonably accomplish in the next three hours of consciousness before I either hit the sack or watch the re-airing of the Downton Abbey episode I missed on Sunday.  Laundry, dishes, and a run to the store have to be involved, too, so what I’m realizing is that I can’t grade everything I thought I’d have graded by Thursday.  Darn.


The fellowship of the ring

It’s happened: the Snork Maiden has become a Tolkien fan.  She is on the third book now and able to enjoy, with Stubb, conversations with lots of made-up words in them.

Meanwhile, speaking of made-up words, it’s Farch–a portmanteau word for that terrible frame of mind that descends in February and March.  The assistant head of the Upper School–I haven’t mentioned her before, but I will call her Hilda van Gleck, after the kindly rich girl in Hans Brinker–introduced me to this term on Thursday after I complained to her about the sudden descent of malaise, right on schedule, on February 1.

Actually, for me the shadows lifted quite a lot on Friday the 10th, perhaps just because of the giddiness of having made it through the week.  What with one thing and another–three trips to NLNRU and a special event one night at SA–I only got home before 10:30 one night all week.  This week involves meetings and deadlines and all manner of nonsense to cope with, but I’ve been able to get away with only going to NLNRU for my class and not on another day.

The other graduate teaching observations were much better, by the way.  Both classes were well conducted, had clear objectives, kept students fully engaged and challenged, and just generally made me feel good about our program.

Farch is definitely in full swing, though, because even when I’m feeling okay myself, I find myself spending time talking other people down from the ledge.  One of the SA office people had a tiny freakout the other day, and I had a long talk with Romola this afternoon about the difficulty of scheduling special events (in this case a movie screening) at SA.  She came to SA from a charter school where there was a lot of independence with minimal oversight, and at SA we have a very different culture.  We have a lot of independence in the actual classroom, but when it comes to anything outside the regular schedule, there tends to be a lot of consulting going on.  I’ve acclimated to this, but Romola takes it personally and feels that it signals lack of confidence in her judgement.  And since it’s Farch, she is getting testy about it.

Grape & grain

I’ve never been much of a drinker, but the past few years, I’ve come to appreciate the assistance in winding down that a nice glass of wine or whiskey can provide.  I did eventually get to sleep last night, and I’m planning to hit the hay fairly soon tonight–but I was at NLNRU again this evening reading applications, and then meeting about fellowship offers.  We had birthday cake for our chair but not anything you would call dinner, so when I came home it was snacks and cracking open the one-large-glass serving-size pinot grigio I bought at the drugstore a few weeks ago (yeah, right behind the lady with the giant plastic bottle of no-name vodka)–and now I’m admiring the rosy glow that seems to have settled over everything.

Tomorrow is my light teaching day at SA, just one big double block in the morning, and then the rest of the morning for prepping and recordkeeping and a lovely relaxed lunch punctuated by a yearbook photo for one of the clubs I help advise.  I’m also meeting with Dr. Tea for a discussion of submitting work to magazines, and in the afternoon I’ll read through a slew of promotion documents for a committee I’m serving on at NLNRU.  Finally, a phone conference with said committee and heading down to an NLNRU reading.

In the end it will probably be about as busy as any other day in the week, except that I’ll only be teaching and “on” full blast for about an hour and a half, so I’ll have a splendid autonomy over most of the day.  I can eat or pee whenever I want to!

Winding down

Back from class, and still awake.  My NLNRU class is on Wednesdays this semester.  It’s been on Thursdays for the last couple of semesters, and I thought I wanted a change.  By Thursday, I’m tired.  I get up at 5:45 most mornings–earlier if I have work or writing to do before school–and it’s hard to get into bed early enough for an eight-hour stretch on weeknights.  On Mondays, though, I’m still pretty fresh–I’ve got the weekend behind me, after all.  And if I can flog myself into bed early on Tuesday, I have a chance of finishing out the week reasonably well rested.

So this semester, we scheduled my class for Mondays.

And yet it’s on Wednesdays.  How did this happen?  Well, about three months ago, as students were preregistering for the spring, one course looked to be in danger of not filling.  We particularly wanted to be able to run this class, and one problem seemed to be that it was on Mondays, directly opposite the course I’m teaching.  But my class hadn’t started preregistration yet, since it’s for people in the first year of the program, and they preregister last.  We thought–and I was on board with this–that if we moved my class, the people already in the endangered class could stay in it, and some of my students could register for it as well.

You see where this is going, right?  The course still didn’t fill, and was canceled.  My class filled just fine.  And is on Wednesdays.

I have to admit that Wednesdays are a little better than Thursdays.  I am less fatigued–not as fresh as I’d be on Mondays, sure, but still better after three days of SA teaching than four.

Also, the NLNRU campus is calmer and quieter on Wednesday evenings when we get out of class–much less drinking and partying going on, more students going to and from libraries.

And on Thursday evening, instead of going to class, I’m going to bed early after doing the minimum necessary to prepare for Friday.

So it’s better than it has been, just not as good as I thought it was going to be.  In the fall, however, we are scheduled for Mondays.  Hooray.  And I’m not going to switch it.  I’m fabulous, remember?  And I deserve to have the class on the night I want to teach it.

Meanwhile, the Year of Being Fabulous is going okay.  I finished collecting rejections from 2011, and now I’m gearing up for a fabulous series of submissions.  Stubb has been working out of town more, but now that’s coming to an end (for now) and he should be around again so that I can get more chunks of time for writing and submitting.

One effect of the year’s theme is that I am being more protective of my time and energy.  I am doing better with “not my problem” and “now is time for me to take a break.”  It’s a small shift, but I can feel it, and that’s what counts.

It looks like we’re going to be able to rearrange teaching assignments at SA so that I will move to teaching mostly juniors, which seems like a good plan.  I’ll miss the freshmen, but this will get me out of the freshman year before the Snork Maiden turns up in the high school, and last year’s fantastic freshman class will be next year’s juniors, so I get to teach a bunch of them again.

Now if I could only wind down enough to go to sleep!