Archive for the ‘SA’ Category

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.


Here comes everybody

  • All my library books have due dates in 2015.
  • Our city library buys extra copies of popular books and lends them for a nonrenewable 7-day loan period.  I was at the library today and saw several books on these shelves that I’d like to read, but contented myself with jotting down the titles and plotting to come back as soon as winter break starts.  If I get them now, I’ll never read them before they’re due.
  • I did pick up a few books I’d requested from other branches, but these are the normal three-week loans (due back the last Saturday of break, and also renewable).
  • Irritating me right now:
    • For rarely sending an email that doesn’t make work for me: the Librarian.  Two or three times a week, she sends me a link or forwards a post from her school librarians’ listserv with an inquiry about whether I think she/we could/should do something like this or with a more general request for my response.  I know she is only trying to be collegial–no, wait, scratch that: sometimes she’s just trying to be collegial; sometimes she is reaching out for support, because she is curiously averse to doing anything in her realm without consulting multiple people for advice or permission.  And yet the ideas she forwards are often really large projects that would take significant initiative and time to do.  I have gotten into a pattern where I respond promptly but briefly to about three out of four of them and let the fourth one slide.  That seems like the right ratio for not encouraging her too much.
    • Oddly, Romola, for being apparently helpless in a situation that she should have known how to handle, but we resolved it.  I am beginning to recognize a pattern in women who when they were children lacked good-enough mothering, in Winnicott’s phrase, and as adults seem to become helpless in the hopes of getting some caretaking from older women (even not-that-much-older women, in the case of the Librarian, who also enacts this dynamic; Romola, at least, is more than ten years younger than I am). I suspect this means that I am now old enough to be the older woman.
    • Finally, Penelope, for not thinking through a better way of introducing a newly  required task to the faculty, and instead insisting repeatedly that the task would be “easy,” thereby attempting, and failing, to erase people’s awareness that they are being asked to do an extra task (which might, conservatively, take an extra half hour a week).  The task itself is not at all unreasonable, I should point out, but trying to make teachers stop noticing that it is an extra task just makes us mad.  Some of my eleventh-grade composition and rhetoric students could have done a better job getting us on board.
    • Clearly it is time for a break.
  • I spent most of today at a family function, and have to go to a holiday party this evening, and a memorial service for an SA staffer tomorrow afternoon.  So Sunday morning and Sunday evening will have to contain all the work, errands, and Hanukkah preparations that are getting done this weekend.
  • A little grouchy.  Trying to decide whether the relief of ditching the holiday party would be worth disappointing Stubb and the hosts.  (Stubb and the Snork Maiden would still go, I think.  I probably should go too.)

nineteen days

lenaThree weeks to go until winter break.  It doesn’t feel like very much.  Lots to do in all four classes, plus various other things to wrap up before break, like the remaining (seven?  I think) teacher observations, submitting students’ work for the Scholastic Writing Awards, keeping the literary magazine moving along, and attending various events, including a big Open House for prospective applicants, the holiday concert (as a parent), and the winter book fair (also as a parent, actually–or we might give it a miss if the Snork Maiden isn’t into it).  I don’t like the tightly scheduled feeling I get contemplating this piece of time–in AP Lang in particular, any departure from the schedule would be problematic–but once we get rolling on Monday, I’ll probably feel better.

I am meeting with all my AP Lit students this week as they work on a paper, which is well timed after the intense Ferguson discussion we had right before the Thanksgiving break; I’ll be able to check in with them brainiacpbsmallindividually and hear what they have been thinking about since.  Thanks to those of you who read and commented on that post; it didn’t contain anything really shocking or revealing, but because I wrote about a personal conflict between two students, I decided to password it after it had been up for about 12 hours. You can email me at literatureshouldmeansomething at gmail if you would like the password.

I had a nice break, overall, with some work and some play and some lying around reading for fun, including the two titles you see on the right, both of which I’d recommend. I did some grading and some planning, wrote, exercised, dealt with some household stuff, played trivia (at a different place on Tuesday since our regular Thursday game was on holiday break–just Stubb, the Snork Maiden, a friend of hers, and me, and we won!), saw family. But I also had some episodes of poisonous worry, about money and the future and writing and school and and and and. I think I’m past them now, but it’s disconcerting when you suspect your mind is telling you that things are worse than they really are.  I talked about it with Stubb and I’m thinking that it’s that I’m still processing the really quite exposing and difficult experiences of the Committee Thing conclusion followed immediately by the Big Ferguson Discussions in school the very next day.  I am feeling more balanced at the moment, but also a bit tentative and perhaps in need of extra self-care the next few weeks.  It’s reminiscent of that period back in April when I had the sense that Morning Pages and exercise were the two things keeping me from crumbling from stress.   So I’m taking myself off to bed and setting the alarm early enough for both of those things tomorrow.

Three cups of tea

I walked into the faculty workroom earlier this week and New Spanish Teacher was drinking coffee out of MY mug.  We don’t have communal dishes, people.  I have my very own mug that I use every day; it’s a souvenir from this exhibition. Before I got it, I used a mug from the NLNRU book fair.  I didn’t say anything.

Later, I saw that he had washed it and left it in the dish drainer.

The next morning, I saw him drinking out of the History of Art mug that belongs to the history teacher mentioned in this post. And the same afternoon, I heard him mention to another teacher that he had used somebody’s mug by accident.  I have a feeling the history teacher said something.  So now I don’t have to.  (He hasn’t used my mug since–or anyone else’s that I know of.)

Which is good, because I’ve been busy making myself unpopular by pointing out lapses of communication to our communication people.  Since I started on the new committee, I seem to see lapses of communication everywhere at SA.  Internal and external.  It’s a problem.  I realize it’s not my problem, at least not in the sense of being able to fix it.  However, I am a school parent as well as a staff member, so I can see when the school isn’t informing parents about an event they probably should be informing parents about.  An event they want parents to attend!  But no one is going to attend if they don’t know it’s happening, or if they don’t know until a few days before the event.

The IT problem, such as it is, is a communication problem too, but things seem to have settled a lot now that all the new people and new devices are up and running.  Still, though. It’s more complicated than I would have realized to ensure that people are informed of the things of which they ought to be informed.

You might point out that I can’t criticize, considering that I couldn’t even tell an individual colleague not to drink out of my mug.  However, I might counter that my message got across just fine.  I waited not twenty-four hours and someone else delivered it for me.

Night shift

So I’m on this committee that is charged with making certain recommendations that will affect the future of the school.  Sorry to be so vague, but you know.  In no particular order, here are some of the observations I have made so far:

  1. I’m honored to be on this committee, proud to have been chosen for it.  As soon as I heard about it, I thought, “They should put me on that,” and it was a happy surprise when they actually did.  Or not a total surprise, because I did think I should be on it, not just that I would like to.  But great.
  2. It takes a lot of time.  And it doesn’t even have to take that much time to feel like a lot of time.  Of late, it’s been three to six hours a week of meetings, plus another couple of hours communicating and planning.  That doesn’t sound like much to me, but it’s got to come from somewhere.
  3. It’s a really good committee.  People bring different perspectives–faculty, staff, alumni, trustees–and they are good at listening to one another.
  4. At the same time, we have what are to me surprisingly large areas of agreement about what matters, though not necessarily about the exact order of priorities.
  5. Except for a young alum, everyone on the committee is, in addition to other roles, a parent of one or more current or past SA students, which gives a sense about how much parents’ views are being considered. (There’s just one person who is there as “a parent”–someone who has had a leadership role in the parents’ association.)
  6. I’m getting to know better some people I had previously known just in passing, including the parents of some past students and an elementary-grades teacher I didn’t know at all (although I knew this teacher’s children by sight when they were SA students).
  7. Big chunks of what we are doing are confidential, because we’re talking to people who are willing to talk with us only because we promise confidentiality.  This is difficult sometimes, because I have not only thoughts but also feelings about these conversations.  This is partly why #6 is happening.  Aside from the sheer volume of contact, there’s definitely some bonding going on.
  8. Because of #7, there are going to be situations in which we’re not going to be able to explain the committee’s decisions to the community without violating confidentiality.  So we won’t be able to explain some things.  I know I’m not going to enjoy this, but I’ll be able to deal with it.
  9. In some important parts, though, we will able to be pretty direct. People will be giving us feedback, too. I’m looking forward to that.  (I think.)

Frames 2

New Spanish Teacher thanked me for getting Coach to contact him, which was gracious, but he also mumbled something about being busy and not finding time to respond.  I wonder if he has done it yet.

Coach will probably follow up with the student regardless, but it seems to me it would be better if the two adults had a conversation about the kid first.  However, I’m clear that I’ve butted in to the maximum allowable extent, given that nobody seems to be in danger or anything.

But it makes me think about how much I rely on the other adults at school to help me figure out the kids–and how much of my happiness in the school has to do with having good working relationships with everyone with whom I can possibly manage to have a good working relationship.

The kids are SO GREAT, and being with them is an absolute tonic to the soul–most of the time.  They are idealistic, kind, funny.  They look at things with fresh eyes; helping them discover something new is not that unlike watching a baby eat blueberries or feel rain for the first time. Positive adult attention means so much to most of them, no matter how much positive adult attention they get at home.  I see this with the Snork Maiden: some of the high points of her year are the times when an unrelated adult entrusts her with a responsibility, or helps her acquire a new skill, or responds with genuine emotion to something she’s done.  (And I see over and over that different kids “click” with different teachers.  This is her second year with Teacher Z and also with Natasha, who switched from biology to chemistry–but the person whose desk she hangs around is Sebastian, her freshman English teacher, who was new last year–I haven’t written about him except in passing).

So, teenagers are great to spend time with, and goodness knows there are plenty of them, and it seems as though there are teachers who get all their school-related social-emotional needs met through contact with their students.  Which is not necessarily a creepy thing, as long as their more adult social-emotional needs are met elsewhere; for example, you shouldn’t be telling students about your dating problems, obviously.

It goes without saying that there’s always more work to do; if you’re prepared for the next class, you can prepare for the next day; if you’re prepared for the next day, you can prepare for the next week; if you’re prepared for the foreseeable future, you can do more long-range planning.  And there are always students who need more than the standard amount of attention, whatever that is.

And yet. I would say that it’s never a waste of time to get to know your colleagues.  Not just in your department, not just at your grade level; not just other teachers, but any and every staff member.  And maybe especially coaches, because they have so much direct contact with kids.

I hope New Spanish Teacher makes the call.  Or better yet, drops down to the sports office for a chat.

Monkey hunting

Lord Rhoop came over this morning and dealt very competently with my IT issues.  I sympathized with the start-of-year craziness they are experiencing and thanked him profusely.  After one short conversation with two of the staff, I also managed to just leave the subject alone for most of the day.  I’m trying to keep What Now?’s new motto in mind and not try to take ownership of problems I simply don’t own.

And then I had a few hours to get stuff done.  I met with Orsino about our AP Language and Composition class.  He has three sections, I have two.  He, Sebastian, and I have all the juniors among us this year–Orsino and Sebastian are teaching the regular (non-AP) juniors.  I did some organizing in my room, which was necessary, although perhaps not quite as pressing as finishing all my planning and materials for the start of school.

I had lunch with Dr. Tea, Teacher Z, Orsino and all three of our new colleagues, upon whom I shall bestow pseudonyms from Shakespeare comedies (a tradition begun last year when I became chair and we hired Orsino and Sebastian).

  • The sixth-grade teacher, who is also Penelope’s oldest daughter: Miranda.  (Penelope has five children–the oldest two were adults by the time Penelope came to SA, her middle son graduated from SA, and her two youngest are a senior and a junior.  I have both of them in class this year.  I’m going to know the Penelope family really well by May!)
  • The man we hired to teach eighth and tenth grade: Orlando.
  • The woman we hired to teach primarily tenth grade: Olivia.

Then there was more administrative stuff and more conversations before a back-to-school event with the students.  A pleasure to see them all!  One more day of preparations–I really have to finish everything, because we’re going away for the weekend.

(Whose idea was that?)

Eye on the ball

Okay, so I have got to get over the total clusterfuck which is IT’s deeply sincere desire to foist excellent new machines on us with no communication and minimal support because they are completely overwhelmed by the results of their good intentions and bad planning.  I am meeting an IT person I will call Lord Rhoop in my classroom at 7:30 on Thursday and I will not say anything about the clusterfuck.  I will not even gently allude to the clusterfuck.  I will a) express gratitude and I will b) ask questions as necessary and I will c) express gratitude again.

And then I will shut up.

I will not even discuss it with my colleagues.  It is the forbidden subject for the next two days.  We have way too much work left to do before classes start and we have lost way too much time already.