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, March 25, 2006

A diary completely lacking in profundity 

and probably in insight as well.  But it is Saturday morning, and many expect me to write about education, as in my normal practice.  And I was told that the only way to improve as a writer is to write, to subject one's efforts to the vicissitudes of criticism.  And as my far to many prolix and meandering efforts in the blogosphere have demonstrated, my writing is much in need of improvement, so that if you choose to subject yourself to my efforts you are hereby licensed to criticize as you deem appropriate.

Today I will reflect on the approaching end of school.  What, you say, it is only late March, how can you say the end of school is approaching.   But we know it is.  Yesterday's morning announcements gave a clear indication, when one of the seniors made the first of what will be a descending series, that there were only 40 days of school left for the class of 2006.

There are other indicators, which serve to indicate the approaching end as much as the first robin seeking a worm on my lawn or the batch of daffodils thrusting out or the corner remind me of the onset of this vernal season.  Yesterday the two of us who are teaching AP U.S. Government (for the first time) set the schedule for review sessions for the AP examination (on May 9).  For the non-AP kids, we are beginning to work in bits and pieces of review of earlier material for the state exam for which they must sit on May 24.  I have received an invitation May 10 to a celebration of the completion of student teaching by the many interns in our school from Maryland-College Park, including the one I share with the other AP teacher.  We have received the school system calendar for next year.  And yesterday was Class Night, the culmination of Spring Spirit Week.

We know it is Spring.   We can see it in the behavior of our students -- and in ourselves.   Spirit week is an opportunity to burn off a bit of energy, build school and class spirit, raise some money for the graduation efforts of each class, and have a great deal of fun.   I am the sponsor of the Class of 2009, the freshmen.  I was the co-sponsor, but my partner quit because one of our officers is impossible and for a variety of reasons I cannot herein discuss (there are privacy issues) it was impossible to remove her.  During the week the students dress according to a different theme each day, on Thursday afternoon there is a girls' flag football tournament, and on Friday we decorate the gym and have a variety of competitions -- banners, decorations, boys' cheerleading / dance routines, tug of war, pyramid building, and so on.  We cram around 1,000 students in the gym, the noise level is impossible, and for over 3 hours the students go nuts.  

My freshmen have had real trouble getting organized.  That is not unusual.   But there was a core group that begin to understand how to work together.  They learned upon whom they could depend, and whom they should simply ignore.  Normally the freshmen finish last overall (we do not yet know the final score, and we may have), and rarely do better than 3rd in any individual competition.  Yesterday we took 3 seconds, almost winning tow of the events.   This was after the disaster of not even scoring in the football tournament.  The students who participated, who spent several days a week in my small temporary classroom working on decorations, or outside on the pavement practicing their dance routine, or the pyramid and other events, are justifiably proud, and now want to have a celebration.   I had planned to end my service yesterday (doing musical theater as well as soccer does not give me enough time to do this role), but I cannot reject their desire to end the year on a positive note.  And maybe now they are prepared to take on the responsibility of other tasks, such as fundraising.  Still, my service in this role is coming to an end, and that reminds me of the onrushing approach of more significant milestones  -- the tests.

I cannot avoid the impact outside tests have on my teaching efforts.  While I will never teach to the test, I have a responsibility to prepare my students so that they can approach the tests without panic.  After all, some of my AP students will be in College next year, and would really like to earn the 1/2 credit available from the course.   And our school will be evaluated by how all of my students do on the mandatory state test in government.  We as a school are given great latitude in doing things differently than the other high schools, and I as a teacher am subject to almost no restrictions in how I approach my instruction.  In each case this flexibility is granted at least in part because of the high level of performance our students demonstrate on such external tests.  Thus we cannot ignore them even as we do not wish to have what we do be dominated by them.

Regular readers know that I often write about how we as a society misuse tests.  It is nice to know that some of what I write can be of value to others.  I have been informed that a chunk of a diary I wrote here recently will probably appear at least on the website of a major publication in the near future.  I will , if and when that happens, do the concomitant bragging, or whatever it is we call it when we offer for public consumption our successes, perhaps in the hope that we will receive back affirmation that can serve to ensure we do not believe it is merely an hallucination borne of our own insecurity.

There are other indications of the approaching end of the school year.  Yesterday we selected one (out of over 50 nominated from a class of about 750) junior for an award as a student of character.  As it happens the winner was a student I nominated.  At some point I will explain why, after she has received her award (she does not yet know), but she is also a terrific student academically, which is a plus.   This week those juniors who were selected for National Honor Society received roses in their first period classes and on Friday they will be honored for their selection.  Admissions notices from prestigious colleges should, even as I write this, be in the mail for delivery to students next week.  We will see and hear the results.  We have a board outside our guidance office where students can put up stars for admissions, for scholarship awards.  Some students will unfortunately have long faces if they did not get into a preferred institution, others will be dazed that their "reach" schools admitted them, and some will agonize as they choose among varied options.  On April 7 I will participate in this process in yet another way, as those in the DC area admitted to Haverford (my lama mater) are invited with their parents to a reception (with several well-known alumni) at the Cosmos Club.  We hope this "yield" party will result in a significant number of those accepted deciding to come.  Last year there were three students from our high school admitted, but none came.  We will have one or two admitted this year.  I do not know of either will decide on my alma mater -- both have been my students, and I'd be delighted if either chose Haverford, but they will make that choice without undue pressure from me.  

The title warned you that this diary would lack profundity.  And yet I do not think it entirely lacking in value.  What I have described is the inexorable process of the school year moving on.   Soon students I have known for four years will no longer be part of our community.  Class night and preparation for exams reminds me that the students have milestones of their own to achieve, and that these can also indicate - to me as well as to them - how far they have come in the few months during which i get to help them grow up.  And even as I must work on completing the tasks of this academic year  -- including the four inch stack of papers from my 70+ AP kids that I must correct this weekend - we already being the process of planning for next year.   What courses will I teach?  What non-academic responsibilities will I have?  The latter is certainly in limbo (and limbo was another event in which the students competed yesterday), because our girls varsity soccer coach might be moving up to a job as an administrator, in which case he cannot coach.  I would then have to decide if I want to move up to a position as a head coach.  The positive is that I prefer coaching girls to boys because they are more coachable,  The negative is that the additional work and responsibility as a head coach is several multiples greater than the increase in pay I would receive moving up from coaching JV.

And I must begin to plan my summer.   To what workshops will I go to improve my skills?  When, if at all, will I be able to allow myself downtime?   What will be my tasks for maintaining and improving my house, my yard, things to which I cannot get during the school year?  What books will I read merely because I want to?

This year end of the school year is complicated because of Yearlykos, for which I have responsibility -- for the education panel.  I will spend several hours related to that this weekend, and you may in the near future see the results of today's efforts.   My writing has brought me pleasure -- that others occasionally find what I offer of some utility.   It has also brought additional responsibility  --  Yearlykos is one example.  Being asked to write more, or having people seek permission to reprint is another.  And when I write, the responses of others often force me to rethink or to think more deeply on key issues.  Having initiated a process by my words, I cannot abrogate the concomitant responsibility of continuing the dialog.  

At some point my career will wind down.  This is my 11th end of school, after a long career mainly in data processing.  It is also a milestone for me, because in less than 60 days I will turn 60.  Because of that significant event I have perhaps been more reflective, more self-aware (or is it self-indulgent and self-obsessed) than had been my practice in recent years.  Some of what I have written has undoubtedly demonstrated been shaped at least in part by this self-reflection.  Yet as an educator I always have to be reflective,  because my task is not to  pour knowledge into skulls, but to inspire adolescents to believe in themselves, their own possibilities.  I am dealing with persons who differ greatly among themselves and who when aggregated into classrooms form new and possibly totally unique possibilities of mutual exploration.  Were I not to reflect upon what I was doing, were I to merely follow a script or a pacing guide for instruction, not only would I be greatly frustrated by how I spent my time, I would shame the great privilege I have of participating in the lives of these young people as I do.  

It is now approaching mid-morning.  One indication of Springtime is the sound of birds and insects, which arouses our five felines to a high degree of attention, and because they cannot go outside to chase causes periodic frantic dashes from window to window.  In the process they cause mild disarray to the accumulated detritus of the week, the piles of mail and periodicals to which I cannot attend with regularity during the school week.  They remind me that there are other cycles in my life which do not involve my students, and that these cycles also include sentient beings worthy of my attention.

I hope I have not bored you to much.  But now, before I embark on that stack of papers, before I attend to my responsibilities for Yearlykos, and even before I pick up the items just dislodged by energetic cat endeavors, I am going to play with my cats.

Have a nice day.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

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