Saturday, September 18, 2010

Still Trudging Along

A note arrived in my inbox from my beloved sister-in-law in Houston gently reminding me that this blog has lain fallow for nearly a month as I slog through school readjustment. So here's a very brief update for family and friends.

Teaching this year is so hard. Much harder than in any year since I started teaching -- and this, gang, is my 27th year of being an inner city classroom teacher. Physically, I'm so exhausted that I haven't seen a TV show or read anything other than a magazine with more depth than People in a month. I'm even too tired to eat. I'm so exhausted that a couple of cheese cubes satisfies me for lunch. A handful of grapes can be dinner. A bottle of diet sweet tea sustains me all afternoon. It's just too much effort to get the food into my mouth and chew it. This is creating problems for Hubby, who is the lunch-putter-upper but he's manfully trying to create something to give me a little energy and not have me just shrug off the meal (tuna fish seems to be the staple right now). I've quit trying to "look pretty" before I head out the door at 5:15 a.m. every morning -- it's just too wearying to figure out how to apply makeup when you're eyes are glued shut. Clean clothes seem to be my biggest fashion statement. I have meetings every single night after school -- even on Fridays. I also have a meeting on Monday morning at 6:30 and the onerous metal detector duty on Friday morning -- which means that on those mornings I get up half an hour earlier. Every night I'm in bed -- and asleep -- by 7 p.m. However, because I now can no longer sleep longer than three hours at the most at a stretch -- at midnight, I'm back up trying to figure out if I can eek out three more hours of sleep before I need to start dressing for the day. Did I say I was falling-down exhausted?

Sounds awful, doesn't it?

I'm having my most productive year of teaching since I started the college prep program back in 1984 (which ended with the demise of Paseo High School in 1990). I work with a fantastic cohort of junior English teachers and they are open and willing to use my ideas for curriculum development. Somehow, without even realizing how it came about, I turned myself into a really good lesson plan writer -- I can scaffold skill development so kids have a foundation on which to lay a solid build up of learning -- and they understand and retain my lessons. My cohorts are open to the process and we have, together, taken my basic lessons and turned them into really dynamic units for the new curriculum that our district is trying to implement. More than any other group in our city, my cohort is showing ease with the new processes and test scores reflecting our achievement. Everyone -- including me -- is astonished and delighted. The acclaim we are beginning to receive is even more amazing.

The collaborative teaching assignments that so worried me before school started have turned into dynamic, innovative, and wildly successful ventures. Both teachers have been open and welcoming. Both teachers have made accommodations for me, physically and intellectually. Both teachers have seem me as an equal teaching partner and made the students aware of my status. Both teachers share my love of kids and we have similar teaching styles. The English teacher (the one I worried about most) and I also share the same discipline style. I love working with her! We aren't best friends, but as equal professional educators we are so in sync! I love collaborating! And the kids love having me in the classrooms.

My social studies collaboration has not been as visible to the district, since I'm not part of the social studies professional meetings (I'm stuck with English) -- but my collab partner has been open to my creating our social studies teaching units and then he has been presenting them at the district meetings. We got a call this week from another high school asking to use my material at their school.

This week we had our first district mandated testing session to see how well we were implementing the new curriculum. The tests were written on ACT level and administered by computer. We were not permitted to see them before they were given. The process did not go smoothly and by week's end we had teachers in wild disarray and very angry -- all the teachers but the ones in my English cohort who showed some of the highest scores in the district. We came close to already meeting the high norm set for the district (80% passing). Okay -- our ESL students scored quite low. In our collab English classroom we have 31 students -- and 21 are ether SPED or ESL. The two students from Nepal with almost no English did quite poorly. But my SPED kids -- 60 to 70% scores for the most part. Now that's an achievement! And using my curriculum -- the gen ed students were scoring in the 80 to 90th percentile. WOW! Our principal stopped by to congratulate us on what is currently believed to be the highest scores in the district!

So -- the year is hard! So hard! So tiring! So much work! I'm writing curriculum for both World History and English 3 from the ground up. I'm working my butt off inside the classroom. I'm loving the kids -- and the kids are loving me back. I'm so impressed by the openness of my collab partners. I'm working with intelligent, professional colleagues in a mutually respectful environment. It's okay to be tired when you're actually accomplishing something wonderful.