Archive for the ‘SA’ Category

Baby steps

Returning to the blog to write, as Hemingway recommended, “one true sentence”:

This fall, I am not writing any college recommendations, and I am so glad.

It’s not that I suddenly feel I have loads of free time, of course. But I do remember that at about this time last year, I was spending at least one day every weekend writing college recs–and a significant number of prep periods, lunches and after-school hours. And this year I’m not.

It’s because I didn’t teach juniors last year.  I’m not teaching juniors this year, either; for the second year in a row, I have 10th and 12th grade.  So next year’s seniors will be students I had as sophomores, and a few of them might ask me to write for them if I also have them as seniors–but it won’t be an onerous number.

Juniors are very rewarding to teach, and I like the AP Lang class–in many ways I think it’s the class I’ve taught best at SA–but it’s also very nice not to be spending October weekends writing letters.  (The last two years, the additional hours of sitting really did seem to contribute to flare-ups of the hip problem, as well.)


The first day back after winter break was a bit of a shock to the system–one forgets how much energy it takes to be among so many people!  Lucinda wryly observed, “This is harder than sitting in my living room in sweatpants, playing with my two-year-old.”  Yeah, this was harder than lying around reading and occasionally going to a yoga class, writing poems, doing a bit of housework, and all the other things I did during the break.  But we’re up and running now.

The first summer application is nearly ready to go–it’s the paragraph about the current project that I’m not happy with, but I’ll get there.  I might have finished this evening except that I spent forty-five minutes on the phone talking down a worried relative who is a parent of a high-school senior who is freaking out over college stuff despite already having a couple of great acceptances to schools that are hard to get into.  Really feeling frustrated about the way that kids and parents get caught up in the college admissions frenzy.  Realistically, kids at this student’s school, like kids at SA, get good preparation and good advice, and they all get into multiple schools and have good choices–they are very fortunate by any measure.  But some of them–some of the very strongest students–define success as this or that Name School and in their minds everything rides on that.  This student could be happy with her acceptance to a school that rejects over 85% of its applicants, but she is in anguish over the possibility of not getting into a school that rejects over 90%.

It just seems like such a waste of emotion. But of course I am not 17.  I am much older and I have applied to so, so many things.  I’ll send this one off and I’ll dream about it a bit, but mostly I will focus on other things.  If I get it, I’ll be thrilled (and panicked about logistics).  If I don’t get it, I will sulk for a day and be done.

And I know that teachers at places like SA are somewhat complicit in the whole dynamic–but truly, I believe that kids should go where they will thrive, and I define college admissions success as finding the right fit that you can afford.  I try to hit the exact same notes of congratulation and excitement with the kids who tell me they got into Podunk College as with the kids who tell me they got into Fancypants U.  And in fact it comes naturally–I can see certain kids will blossom at PC who would be lost at FPU.

I hope that I look at this post in a year, when the Snork Maiden will be in the thick of it all, and feel the same…

An unsuitable job for a woman

When we signed up for duties at the beginning of the school year, I put mine off until after college recs and teacher observations were done, and now I’m supervising afternoon carpool until winter break. Actually, the real supervision is done by a member of the campus safety staff, but there’s supposed to be a teacher there, too.  It’s a pretty light duty as long as the weather is okay, which it has been.  And Dr. Tea is taking my duty on Friday so that I can leave for physical therapy (which of course I didn’t know I’d be having to make time for when I signed up).

Today I was chatting with the campus safety person, someone relatively new whom I only met a few days ago, and he said, “So how did you decide to become an English teacher, instead of some other subject?”

And I said, “It’s the only thing I can teach,” which seemed funny but is true.  Anyway, he laughed.

Yesterday he’d told me that he liked math in school for the definiteness of its answers, but as he got older, he came to appreciate English more.  He liked…well, he didn’t mean to be rude, he said, but he liked how you could kind of B.S. in English and get away with it, you know, make up your own answers.  He said this apologetically, like he felt he’d been getting away with something back then in high school.  (I don’t know how old he is.  He has gray hair, but it’s probably premature; his face is youthful, and I’d have said he was about thirty.)  And I said, actually, part of studying English is trying out what you think about a work, thinking aloud, and people often feel embarrassed about that, as if they are just making something up and this couldn’t possibly be real thinking.  And certainly there are moments when students say things that they think maybe sound “deep” but have little to do with the text at hand–but there are many more moments when someone says “what if…” or “could it be…” and there’s something real there, something they are noticing and feeling, even if they don’t quite know where it came from.

I’d never really thought that about “B.S.” before–that some people think they are because they don’t know that speculation is part of thinking, or that you don’t really know what you think until you see what you say (as Forster is supposed to have said).

(Of course, there are also people who, I’d argue, do it and don’t even know that’s what they’re doing.  They sit back with a look of satisfaction–“I Englished!” and you sigh inwardly and get to decide if you’re going to make them try to support the ridiculous thing they just said.)


So the trickle of early college results is widening to a stream. A couple of kids shared good news with me today.  Then, at the soccer game after school, I heard more news, some good, some bad.  This means there are going to be some weird undercurrents in my senior classes tomorrow and probably next week as well.


I also saw an alum who is attending GU (my graduate university, here in town, a pretty selective institution with an under 20% undergrad admit rate).  He told me that his freshman composition teacher said that his last paper was the strongest in the class.  I was perhaps just a bit surprised to hear it, but hey, okay, I’m certainly glad for him.




The Wednesday wars

The second through fourth weeks of school were all four-day weeks because of Labor Day, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur.  I was actually looking forward to the relative normality of last week, even though it looked to be a busy one–and then I decided to take last Friday off in order to attend a conference planning meeting. So another four-day week, except four of my classes actually met and I had to plan and grade what they did in my absence.

I asked Ivanhoe for approval to use a personal day, and he pointed out that it could really be counted as a professional absence, which I greatly appreciate since I can hang onto those two personal days for future use.  I’m not sure how many of those we can accrue since I typically use both of them every year.  (We earn a sick day every month of the 10 we work, and can bank up to 20; I usually have 20 in the bank, knock wood.  And, of course, we get all the school holidays, so it’s not as though we’re short on holiday–it’s just flexibility we don’t have so much of.)

Anyway, this was the first five-day week since the beginning of school, and I have to say, it was actually a little bit less stressful than those four-day weeks.  I guess the volume of non-teaching stuff–meetings and discussions and other things like student conferences and writing recommendations–had to get compressed into four days and made those four-day weeks seem pretty crammed.

Still, it was plenty busy.  And those college recs are not getting done.  I’m setting myself the goal of four for this weekend–four finished drafts, anyway, even if I let them rest for a couple of days before revising and uploading them.  I do get PSAT Day off to write them, thank goodness, and will be trying to match my record of six letters.


The lone pilgrim

I don’t think I have ever directly refused to write a recommendation for a student.  Now, though, I have been asked for one by a student whom I don’t think I can recommend.  I’ve written for some very weak students and been able to squeeze out some appreciation for their hard work or the courage it took to speak up in class once in a while or their growth from point a to point b, even if that wasn’t a very great distance.  But about this student I have nothing to say.  He did most of the work and turned most of it in on time, although I had to chase him down for some of it.  Much of the time it was just the minimum necessary to fulfill the assignment’s requirements.  He rarely (maybe never) contributed to discussion unless I explicitly invited his comment, and tended to demur when I did, or give terse, unhelpful responses.  He almost never responded to another student’s idea.  At the same time, he was weirdly arrogant about his writing and his ideas, and would argue with me about my comments on his drafts.

Why is he even asking me? I always treated him kindly, but I was also clear with him about what he needed to do to improve as a writer, and he didn’t do it, and he didn’t take my class particularly seriously.

He was kind of sneaky about the ask, too, emailing me as though he had already asked, instead of hearing me tell another student to bring the appropriate form (“You told us we needed to bring X form; can I bring it tomorrow?”).

I don’t think he would be asking me if he thought he had a better choice, so I’m guessing that he doesn’t have one.  Which is sad.


Terrible dreams last night.  In one, Stubb had been diagnosed with leukemia, and I felt helpless and panicked and out of time.  This dream was mostly about my feelings, which is why it seems as though it might be a teaching dream–about the anxiety of not knowing what to do and feeling that whatever one does, something terrible will happen.

Well, that and the fact that it happened two nights before the first day of school.

In the other, I was on the last day of a visit to Hometown, and I realized I’d forgotten to visit my grandmother.  (In real life, she died in 2009.) I was trying to figure out how to see her and also do the other things that mattered to me, wondering if I could also stop by on the way to the airport the next day, thereby having two visits.  I was also horrified at myself for forgetting, but unwilling to give up any of the other plans I’d made.

This could easily be a dream about teaching and administration.  Or it could simply be the residue of having spent quite a lot of minutes this weekend trying to figure out how to use the weekend well.  I split yesterday among course prep (reread 1984), errands (restocking the fridge and pantry, laundry), yoga, and conferring with N. (my mom’s friend, who is extremely handy, retired, and always up for a project) about a broken faucet.  (He went to Home Depot to buy a new assembly and ended up coming back with a more plumbing-oriented handyman he’d met there, who installed it for $70.  A good use of $70–N. could certainly have done it, but he wouldn’t have done it as fast, and he’d have had to buy supplies that this man had in his truck.)

Today, Sunday, the big thing is going in to campus to finish prepping the things there that didn’t get done during the week of meetings and interruptions.  I tried to figure out how to go to yoga and to Costco before going to campus, but the hours of both put me on campus too late for my own comfort, so I’m going to school first, then my mom’s to pay N. for the faucet, then Costco, maybe to my in-laws’ for a quick visit (should also call to see if they need anything from Costco), and yoga tomorrow night.

Here’s to peaceful dreams tonight!

New leaf

Feeling better.  Stubb and I have tentative plans for a weekend getaway in a few weeks.  And my brain has been taken over by the excitement of going back to school.

I have never had so many meetings in one week!  Fortunately, they were generally worthwhile, and some of them were excellent, with actual decisions being made and positive actions being taken.  The new AHS doesn’t say a lot, but what he says is very much to the point.  The new Head of School is more voluble–no surprise there–but he is also pretty concise and extremely thoughtful.  They both seem to be making tremendous efforts to meet people and to understand the institution they’re now steering.  I invited them both to come to the English department meeting, and they did!  So now they can recognize the members of our department and they’ve gotten a sense of what kinds of things we are working on, individually and departmentally.

Dinah and I are on a faculty committee to advise the new HS on the transition–that was one of the better meetings this week.  I think we all agreed that it feels good so far.  We did raise a couple of the most prominent grumbles of the moment, which seem to us to be symptomatic of our ongoing challenges with internal communication.  So it’s not that everything is perfect, but that the right notes have been struck, both to reassure and to infuse with enthusiasm.  While there is definitely a sense that the leadership has changed, that leadership seems congruent with the direction in which the institution has been trying to move anyway.

This week of meetings is actually challenging in a way I don’t think I’ve noticed before.  It’s important and fun to spend time with adults and have lunch together and organize our classrooms and make plans for the year ahead, but it’s also a week in which we are not performing our core function of teaching–and are maybe suffering from opening-night jitters–and it’s therefore a week in which many of us are easily unsettled.  Within my department, I fielded a few overreactions–at least that’s how they seemed to me–and I am greatly looking forward to everyone getting busy with the main business of our jobs this week.



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.


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.