from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

A Teacher's life - four weeks 

Since I last wrote about the school year (see here for the versions posted at dailykos) it has been a struggle to find time to reflect or to post further. Perhaps this diary will give some sense to what the school year can be like for a teacher. While I would not expect my experiences to be universal, much of what I write will not be unique to me.

After two weeks one would hope that the patterns of the day would settle down, but such has not been the case. First, I start with the following proposition. Until soccer season ends I will leave arrive at school at or before 7 AM every morning and not depart back until sometime after 6, more often not until well after 7. Soccer practice will go until 5:45 or 6, and since I coach the JV we play after the varsity our games usually do not start until 5:30. After home games we have to break down the field and put away the equipment - i must check they we have 14 spikes, 14 straps, two next, four corner flags, a midfield flag, and assorted things to cover rain drains so that no players catches his spikes therein. At way games there is the bus ride back to our school (which can b e 45 minutes even within County) and then wait for all the players to be picked up. And I have not even begun to describe my teaching responsibilities.

Not everyone is a coach. In our building almost everyone is a sponsor of some kind of activity. About half of these offer no pay for service (unlike coaching, wherein my pay comes out to something like 7/hour by the end of the season). We do what we do not for the extra money, but because we may love the sport or the theater, but even more so because we want to enrich the lives of our students.

I teach 6 periods a day. I started the year with one class having only 11 students (now up to 16 as we get additional students and begin to level the size of our classes). And by the third week I was no longer having to call parents to introduce myself. But as students begin to turn in work, the days lengthen as I take the time to correct it (almost always overnight), to modify the plans made over the weekend as a result of what I see when I correct papers, or what I ascertain from what occurs in the class. There are tests to be made up and corrected. There are meetings and more meetings that chew up time before school and during planning periods. There are even meetings that require my absence from school, which means I have to do plans that are far more detailed for my substitute to do then the outlines that are, after 10+ years, sufficient to guide my own actions. In the past two weeks I have had meetings on students with Individual Education Plans (special education) for any modifications that might be necessary, based on what I have perceived about the students. I have had to prepare and present a workshop session that was presented to the high school government teachers. I am only one of four teacher in-county who has been formally trained for the AP Government course that is now giving in all 21 high schools. I was asked to present to all the government teachers - even those who do not teach AP - about how the AP exam is scored, and thus what is different in preparing students for that exam versus what they need for the state’s mandatory exam.

And by now there are many other tasks as well - phone calls with parents, emails with parents, emails with students, conferences before or after school with students, extra help sessions (at this point limited to before school), requests from students for college recommendations ...

This week was typical. Monday I arrived at school a bit before 7 to do copying, at 7:15 I was writing assignments on the board, at 7:30 I had 3 students for extra help. My lunch during 4th period is cut short by the requirement for 10 minutes of hall duty, which became 20 because a student misbehaved and had to be walked to her administrator and an immediate conference held. During the day I confiscated 3 cell phones improperly on during the day, which had to be labeled and locked in my room until the end of the day, with my making a record of who the students were (on a 2nd offense the phone is turned over to the appropriate administrator). During my planning I was able to set up the room for the next day. We had an away game, but the bus was 30 minutes late, which meant checking on its status and keeping my 9th and 10th graders together. We finished our game shortly after 7, got back to school at about 7:40, and I had to wait almost 20 minutes until all remaining students were picked up by parents. I then had to do some paperwork, set my room for the next day, answer several emails - from parents, from administrators. I also had to write a long email to our athletic director because the team we played had illegal used a player from the varsity game in our JV game. I had to give a detailed explanation of what had occurred (and that game will probably go into the books as a forfeit as a result of the cheating). I left for home at 8:30.

Tuesday is one of the longest days of the year, for that evening was back to school night. I got to school at 6:45, did some tutoring before school. Practice at the end of the day was cut short to give me time to clean up and change. My planning period (which because of coaching is the final period) had been used to clean up the room and set up the handouts for the first group of classes. Officially my last group of parents left my room just after 9, but I had several others who came back for individual conversations. Normally we try to avoid these at back to School night, but in both cases it is almost impossible for parents to come to school during the day, and there were issues that they needed addressed. I also had another teacher arrive with the parents of a boy who had just joined school and wanted to know if it was too late to come out for soccer (in general yes, but in this case we will make an exception if he is able to report by Monday). Then I had to check for emails and phone messages and set my room for the next morning. I left for home at 9:45 PM, having been on the grounds for 15 hours.

Wednesday was somewhat better. I actually left school by 6:10 pm, enabling to be home in time for the 7 PM conference call with Gov. Tom Vilsack and another educational blogger about which I posted here (that’s the dailykos version - similar versions at several other sites). I then had papers from 3 classes that had to be read an corrected, and I got to bed around 11:30 PM. I did manage to squeeze in one brief meeting before practice with the newly elected freshman class officers (I am one of two cosponsors).

Thursday was a test day for 2 classes. That meant that during my 4th period lunch I had to rearrange the room so that it was properly set for test conditions. I was fortunately able to correct 6th period’s exams while 7th period was taking their test, and 7th period is the small class, and they were easily corrected during my 8th period planning. My JV was playing (our arch-rival) at home at 4 PM (the varsity was away) so I had to use some of 8th period to ensure that the field was properly set up, get the game balls and check the pressure. I did not have time to enter grades into the computer nor to check on emails. After we won the game, it was time to break down the field. I talked with parents of several of my players. I put all equipment in the varsity coach’s room. I then returned to my room to enter grades and check emails. I left for home a bit after 8. When I got home I had about 2 hours to spend on correcting papers from my other classes, and to make some notes about adjustments I needed to make.

Yesterday, Friday, was my shortest day this year. I didn’t get to school until 7:15, and I cut practice short by 5 PM. For one thing, a number of my players were banged up from the game, an since it hasn’t rained in over a week our practice field has the give (or lack therefor) of concrete, and I did not wish to risk further injuries. Besides, I really wanted to get to DC to spend time with the various Kossacks who were coming into town for the events this weekend (and I finally got to meet people like Maryscott, Booman, and others). I did NO schoolwork last night, and will not again begin school work until mid afternoon.

So there it is - a glance at one week of my life as a teacher, not including all I will do this weekend. Back to School night was extreme. The other days were not. After soccer is over shortly before Thanksgiving, while it might seem that things will get easier, they do not. I will begin to take more of the responsibility as freshman class cosponsor. I will be helping to mentor several of the teachers new to our building. I will assume responsibilities for teacher interns who will be in our building on occasion, as preparation for when they arrive full time in January - one I will share with another teacher. And after soccer I will be meeting probably 2 days a week after school with those juniors and seniors who also want to sit for the AP Comparative government exam in May, helping to prepare them without a formal course. The amount of extra help that my other students will need will go up. And by then I may have another dozen or so letters of recommendation to write for seniors. In some cases I have to create multiple versions for the same students, because I have connections with one or more of the institutions to which they are applying, so I want the letter to such colleges to be appropriately customized. Were I regularly teaching seniors (most of my students this year are in 10th grade) I am sure I would have many more letters to write.

So in case readers were wondering why I do not post more in the blogosphere, you will hopefully have a better understanding after reading this drivel. I allow NOTHING to undercut helping my students - that is my greatest priority. Blogging, talking with governors, writing op eds -- all these have the importance, but the single most important thing in my life is working with young people. How I spend my waking hours is one illustration of this. And the picture I present should also serve as a window into the lives of other teachers. Their hours may be spent differently, but the time expenditures and level of commitment is probably similar. I try to keep some time for myself, for being with my wife (we make sure to spend at least 30-45 minutes together in the evening sharing, and when possible I touch base by phone several times a day).

If you have read this far, perhaps my choice of screen identity will now be more comprehensible.

Everyone have a nice weekend.
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