Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Speaking of enough time...

We've had students for two days now, but since we're on an A/B block schedule we really have two "first days" of school. The very first thing I have students do is fill out a short survey while I take the initial roll. The questions get at their attitudes to school, how they learn, what they think about history, and things like that. It finishes up by asking for three things that I can do as a teacher to help them learn and then three things they can do as a student. This year I'm using that to help lead into the discussion of classroom commitments.

I notice that many of my students (especially my sophomores) talk about time and pacing. Asking for me to not go too fast, give them enough time to understand or to complete work, things like that. This makes me sad. Sad because if I am overwhelmed by all the material in the 10th grade world history curriculum and how to "cover" it before May, I know it has to be worse for them. Sad because it makes me feel like I'm doomed from the start. I know it's a reasonable thing for them to say, just like I know that a reasonable pace with my material would involving cutting 1/3 of it out.

There has got to be a better way.  I'm pretty seriously thinking about using some examples, like the World History for us all curriculum and the Reading Like a Historian stuff, and completely reorganizing my first quarter. I didn't want to attempt that kind of structural change while prepping a new course this year, but I'm becoming more and more convinced that it's necessary. Once I get to the Industrial Revolution I feel more ok, since our pacing guide gives us more time on that material and students come to it with more prior knowledge. It's the beginning of the year where I feel so rushed and that needs to change.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What do you mean, I actually have time for that?

I have a million and one things I want to write about that I'm doing or thinking about this upcoming school year, but planning a new course (and my first AP one at that) has consumed my entire life. However, I wanted to say one thing: planning a course where I feel like I have plenty of time (maybe even too much?) is a very strange feeling. I took the AP units for US Gov't and laid them out on my calendar, adding the two VA required units (State&Local Gov, Financial Literacy) in the 4th quarter and I ended up with 11 extra blocks in the 3rd quarter based on my original ideas of how long I would have for each subject.

11 extra blocks! At 80 minutes per block, that's almost 15 hours of wiggle room in my planning. Last night as I was doing some reading in one of the AP study guides and starting to lay out my first unit, I looked at what I wanted to do in terms of introducing not only the content but some of the skills and strategies we'll be using throughout the year and felt like I needed more time to do all of that well, so I made the first unit an extra week long to allow time to properly set up the year. I was able to do this and not have to worry about running out of time. It was a strange and wonderful feeling.

Now, I understand that this course is often taught as a semester course (that's how I took it back in the day - 1st semester was US, 2nd comparative) and that's part of why I feel strangely free to stretch my wings here, but I don't care why. I'm loving the thought of actually having enough time to devote to building classroom community, teaching learning strategies and skills and reviewing without constantly hearing the tick-tock in my head from the curriculum.

I've long thought that most of our curricula try to squeeze too much into the school year, and now I'm convinced. This is what planning should be like.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Don't Let Me Forget This

"No technique will ever work equally well for all students, for all classes, and on all days, regardless of how brilliantly it is executed."
- Weimer, Learner-Centered Teaching, p.191

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Having an "Invisible" Disability while Teaching

I do have some things to say about the AP Institute I attended last week and the last few chapters of Awakening the Sleeping Giant, but those posts are still incubating and this is really on my mind right now.

Let me start by telling you a story:

Once upon a time, last weekend, there was a couple who bought a bed. They'd been sleeping on mattresses on the floor since forever and finally decided to put them on a bedframe. Since they bought the bed at Ikea it took most of a day of frustration to assemble, only to turn out not to fit the mattresses. The mattresses claimed to be queen sized and so did the bed, yet the bed was too big for the mattresses. After some frustration  the couple gave up on having a bed and started to disassemble that one to return to Ikea. It was late and they were tired and frustrated and at one point the wife dropped a large chunk of the bed on her right foot, breaking her big toe. It hurt a lot. A few days later she went to get groceries while wearing the ugly shoe the doctor gave her for her right foot and was relieved at how easy it was to ask for a riding cart when she had such an obvious reason for it.

Enough third person. I've used the riding cart before, and probably should have more often, but normally I feel incredibly awkward asking for it. See, I'm dealing with the acute and temporary mobility issue of a broken toe right now but I also have a chronic issue: rheumatoid arthritis. If you're not familiar with the term invisible disability, I think it can be easily summed up by the image of apparently-healthy-looking me feeling awkward asking for a riding cart at the grocery store because I don't obviously need it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

AtSG Ch. 4

 The book we are reading for the summer for the Teacher Leadership Academy is Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Helping Teachers Develop as Leaders by Marilyn Katzenmeyer and Gayle Moller. I'm blogging chapter by chapter my thoughts and impressions. 

Chapter 4: Understanding Myself and Others as Teachers and Leaders
The title nicely sums up the point of the chapter. Going to do this one a different way, with some quotes from the chapter and then my thoughts about them.

p. 69: "It is difficult for them [teachers] to think differently about schools when traditional education served them so well."

I find this to be very true, even as someone whose education to be a teacher focused on non-traditional methods and ideas from the start (Gettysburg was all about constructivism, George Mason focused on progressive and social justice education, with a nice dose of action-research and collaboration). I know that many things work better than the traditional education I got in much (not all!) of my schooling, I know that how I learn is unusual, but I still find myself seeing it as the default. It's what I do when I'm out of interesting ideas - and anything else still counts in my head as an interesting idea.

p.70: "Inviting teachers to compare what they say they believe with their actions can also test their assumptions." "The focus of the school may be proclaimed through a lofty mission statement, but the actual practice in the school may violate the expressed mission and supporting values."

Yes and yes! I had a huge crisis of faith in myself as a teacher when I realized how far my teaching style had strayed from what I truly believe is important due to the pressure to conform to the state standards and have students succeed on the state test. Grad school helped me start to find ways to do both, but it is still hard. I doubt it will ever be easy since the educational philosophy that the whole idea of standardized testing is based on is opposed to much of what I believe about education. As for schools, it often feels like the mission statement of most should actually be "our mission is to make AYP." As a teacher I've learned that what you assess is what students focus on and put more effort into. The same holds true for schools. Nobody assesses us on "preparing digital citizens" or "creating lifelong learners" or whatever other buzzwords we've stuffed into our mission statements, so most of our effort actually goes to the things we do get judged on.

p. 71 "The balance between the needs of different generations is a major factor in today's schools."

I often tend to discount a lot of generational politics and generalization. I feel like a lot of it is silliness drummed up to make news. Also, people have been complaining about people younger than them being lazy, selfish good-for-nothings since there have been people older than other people. ("I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint." - Hesiod, 8th century BC).

However, I do give some credit to their discussion of generational differences in context of their later discussion of the fact that teachers will be at different stages of adult development and have different life responsibilities that may be affecting their willingness to step forward as a leader or get involved in change. Certainly someone who has young children is going to have a different perspective on work than someone who is old enough to be my parent and already done raising their kids. I like the reminders that they give to realize that your colleagues who you might want to diss for not participating may have other priorities or issues you don't know about.

p. 77 Disillusioned: "Teachers may have begun their careers with an idealistic view, but after years of disappointment in frequently shifting innovations, they may protect themselves by refusing to accept change."

This is incredibly common. I know it is one of the major factors discouraging change among many teachers that I know - why put effort into something that you will be told to stop doing in a year or two? It's also completely understandable - how are they to know that this change will actually be supported and given a chance to mature? Also, teachers are so often taught some new strategy that we have to use without being shown any justification behind it. Often there is no valid scientific basis for all sorts of educational fads.

p. 79 "A first step may be to facilitate activities that focus teachers' attention on the diversity of educational philosophies in a specific school."

This would be really interesting to do in my building - I'm very curious to see the results and discuss it! I went ahead and did the educational philosophy assessment in the back of the book that they refer to, but I'm still organizing my thoughts about it.