Sunday, September 26, 2010

I’m not sure what week it is…

I was going to start this post with a title, “Week 2 in Teacher Land”, but then, I thought, maybe it’s week 3…or possibly week 4? The sad truth is I don’t have a calendar handy and I have no idea what the date is!

What do I want to say about being a teacher? Well. First, it’s the funnest job in the world. I am SO GLAD I made this career change. I feel like I’m making an important contribution to the world, rather than just laboring to make money for someone else making stuff that no-one really needs, wants or cares about.

That sound so cynical, and isn’t really fair. I spent many years making software when it was fun, and people did want what we were building. But the last project I did before I decided I was done was figure out how we could add an advertisement to all text messages using the space leftover after the message. Nobody wants ads on their text messages – except advertisers. What a waste of my life to make something so very unwanted.

Back to my new job…. It’s taken me a couple weeks (however many!) to figure out how not to have to spend every night doing prep until after 11 pm. The trick is to have a plan so you know what you’re teaching this week and this month. As I said in a previous entry, I didn’t even know what I was teaching when I arrived for my first day, and it’s taken some time to figure out what I’m doing. But I think I’m mostly there. My goal is to have my next whole units ready to go before I start teaching them. Then all I’ll have to do is worry about marking.

The kids are by far the best part of the job. Most are great. They are hilariously funny – although I don’t think they mean to be! They are also moody and sometimes difficult. I’ve only had one “incident” so far, and I’m pleased with how I handled it, and how I felt afterwards. Even though I was a little shaken up, I didn’t have any lasting bad feelings about the student or the incident. I think all the corporate nonsense I endured during my previous life has left me with a pretty thick skin.

I’ve taken on a couple responsibilities in addition to my teaching. As the English Teacher (I’m the only one teaching English full time. All other English classes are being taught by teachers who teach one English in addition to whatever else they teach), I was asked to take on the after-school literacy program. That’s an hour one night per week, so it isn’t too onerous. As well, the principal thinks I’m a good candidate for administration (becoming a principal) given my previous experience and has made some mentoring available. I have no idea whatsoever what direction my education career is going to go. Right now, I’m focused on doing a good job in the classroom and I’m finding that plenty interesting and challenging enough. But I don’t want to turn down now an opportunity I may want later, so I accepted her offer and joined the leadership program. For this year, all I am doing is helping out with the Parent Council, which is only 5 meetings this year and attending the monthly leadership program meetings. As time goes on, I’ll decide whether I want to build a resume filled with school, community and board level activities that might lead to an administration job. I’m not too keen at the moment, but I know myself, and I do get bored of the same job day in day out so I want to keep my options open.

I just checked the calendar and it’s the end of week three. It feels like three days have passed rather than three weeks!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

It’s back to school time!

I hardly know where to start. Everything is a blur. My current joke is that if a month from now someone asks me to tell them about my first week at school, I won’t be able to remember anything. I don’t have any big insights, so I’ll just stick to the facts.

I was lucky enough to get on the TDSB “eligible to hire” list back in May. I say “lucky” because I had no idea whatsoever what the criteria were when I applied, and after seeing who was accepted and who wasn’t, I still have no idea.  After spending a lot of thought wondering about it, I finally just decided to be thankful and let it go.

I went to a couple interviews in June. I think there was one job I might have gotten – but my reference didn’t call them back. My fault really, for not making sure I had the best phone number. I struggled a little with the interview process. First off, I cannot for the life of me understand how you could hire someone to literally mold the next generation of our society on the basis of a 20-30 minute, four-question interview. I struggled a little with learning how to do this kind of interview. I think I may have intimidated some of the principals!

There was another flurry of hiring and interviews the week before the school started.  I went to an interview on the Wednesday, got the offer late Thursday, and went to the board office to be “documented” on Friday. I called the school right after documentation and was told to show up Tuesday morning at 8:15 for a briefing. I didn’t even know what classes I would be teaching. Despite that, I wasn't nervous. I think I was so grateful that I actually had a job that it blotted out all other emotions.

I prepped some ice breakers, and hoped that first day administration would occupy the rest of each period! At the briefing I received my class lists and discovered I was teaching three English classes – Grade 10 and 11 Essential and a multi-grade Special Ed English class. I also received a policy book that doesn’t tell you anything relevant to your first day (like where to find the keys to your classroom) and a pile of agendas for the kids.

The first day was a short schedule. I only had the kids for 40 minutes for each class. My homeroom is grade 10. They are super nice kids – a little young for their ages and collectively reading at about grade 3-6 level. A couple have some attitude, but it’s the “I don’t care about this” attitude, rather than anything hostile. Although one did go to the bathroom on Friday and not return, so I have to deal with that on Monday. I kinda feel sorry for the kid. He and his tiny little girlfriend usually snuggle their way through class, but they either had a fight or broke up right before and clearly he needed to get away. Still, can’t let it pass.

My grade 11s are a much tougher class. There is a group of five boys who really should never be scheduled into the same class. I’ve come to an understanding with three of them, and they are behaving much better; two to go! Starting Monday I have an Education Assistant in the class, and I do think that will help. Another thing that helped was I asked them about their interests, compiled a list of 10 possible units we could do, and let them vote on which three. Letting them have some “say” in what they would be doing has opened them up to me a little.

Am I allowed to say which kids are my favourites? My Spec Ed class is a pure delight. There aer nine of them of various ages, all intellectually disabled. They are willing to try anything, they behave well and they are eager to learn and to gain my approval. I have a fantastic EA  in this class who is clear that it’s my class, but who is also ready to assist and lend his expertise (he has been an EA for 8 years). I like him and expect to have a good relationship with him.

So last week I did a bunch of diagnostic stuff – tried to figure out about how well they were writing and reading ( it isn’t pretty), and I now know what theme units I’m going to be teaching:
  • Grade 10s voted for “The Big Sell” (Advertising), “New World” (Immigrant experience in Canada), and “End of the World” (from prophecy to global warming to SciFi).
  • Grade 11s voted for “The Big Sell”, “The Contest” (sports, athletes and media) and “War” (International Conflict and Propaganda).

Fortunately, the “The Big Sell” is a unit I developed on one of my practica. It needs some tweaking, but is generally ready for use. I’m going to teach it first to both classes, which will give me some breathing space to come up with four more units. The upside is that next term, and next year, I’ll have some units in place!

My classroom is a mess. The same teacher taught in it for over 30 years, and I think every piece of paper he ever had is still in there! He retired unexpectedly the day before my interview, and never came in to clean his stuff out. I do a little every day at lunch.

My school seems a little underfunded to me, but I went to high school in the suburbs, so I may not have entirely realistic expectations. The staff has been very welcoming, and I am very impressed with the principal. She is smart, and ready to be a mentor. As well, a member of my “Tribe” from TES class at OISE has also joined the staff at my school. It really was nice to see a familiar face on my first day, and then later from time to time in the halls.

Now that it’s Saturday, and I’m through the first week and have a moment to reflect, I’m feeling good about this semester. I feel really energized and excited about this new career and am SO glad I decided to jump off the cliff and start fresh. It feels amazing to go to work thinking about having something real to offer. And even better, it’s reciprocal. I think the kids have a lot to teach me, as well.