Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Daily Affirmation (via Washington Irving?)

I had this thought this week, one among many--most of which I spare you (like the one about unmoored epiphanies--when you feel like you've made some momentous realization about life, but you have know idea what it is or what it is about...ever had that happen to ya?)--in which I realized that I am a living example of an original American icon. I sat at my desk, completely frustrated by a couple of my young charges, and realized that I was no different than any Norman Rockwell-one-room-schoolhouse-teacher frustrated by some over-active child with a frog in his overalls. It was actually a comforting thought.

Granted, the modern world has worked its magic on the school room, altering into a subject-specific, grade-specific, high stakes, wired, "scientifically"-conducted marketplace of instruction. We have tests to prepare for, legal obligations to meet, federal-, state- and district-determined mandates to achieve. We have industrially-oriented schools, churning students through hour by hour on a bell system, churning students through year by year with a nail-bitingly scrutinized graduation rate to meet. We have funding that is determined by attendance, achievement, economics, and a host of other governmentally-concocted variables. So, a school room of the 21st Century is nothing like its early-20th Century counterpart.

However, people don't really change that much, no matter how many bells and whistles you attach to them. Much of the time, the classroom dynamic is determined by a passel of kiddos trying to get out of working and a teacher trying to convince those kiddos to get something done. There are fewer frogs involved, fewer switches involved (both improvements), and chalk boards have mostly become white boards, but in the end, some days I feel like Ichabod Crane surrounded by a bunch of wild little Dutchmen playing crack the whip.

So, why is this a good thing? Because, it makes me feel like a part of something so much larger than myself, or my school, or even my city or country. It makes feel a part of history. Even as a small part, a part that will most likely have no real space in the historical record, I feel comfort in the perpetuation of, perhaps, the greatest development of American democracy, the public school.

I will spare you the political blah, blah, blah. I hate it when schools are turned into political tools by the political tools. I just wanted to tell you that this week, I know exactly why I get out of bed to go to work every morning.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Overcommitted. Is There Another Way to Be?

Recently, I was offered the opportunity to write curriculum for an online learning company. It sounded like a good gig, and they asked me during the summer, so I agreed to contract on for a unit or two. Of course, by the time the ball really got rolling on this project, we were into the school year. Needless to say, it has been hard to find time to get the extra work done.

I am not really worried about it, yet. I have about 9% of the work done, and about eight weeks to do it. As far as my regular school work, I am staying out in front of my planning by about a week, and I have a back log of only three days on my grading (really, that is nothing). So, right now, I am managing.

However, in two weeks, it's time for mid-quarter grades, already! This means I have to make sure that I have some meaningful grades in my grade book by then. Perhaps meaningful is the wrong word. What I mean is, I need to make sure that I have assigned and graded an adequate amount of student work to show a true reflection of student achievement (or lack thereof). Really, this just means I have to assign one more writing assignment in one more class. But, that one assignment might be the tipping point.

The way I figure this, I need to create a topic and a quarter per week for the online folks, and grade at least five sections of writing assignments per week as well. This is extremely doable, and will not add any real extra time to my school work load (which is already 60-plus hours a week). It will add time to my workload, in general, as I steal hours from somewhere to work on the online stuff.

And here is where the problems begin to start, since tomorrow ushers in another season of NFL football. Will I be stealing hours in front of the TV, in order to generate contracted curriculum? Maybe. More likely, I will be in the basement, tapping away at my laptop, while the games play on the TV. Unfortunately, that means the only place for me to steal some time from somewhere is to put a moratorium on yard work. As long as the grass stays brown and the leaves don't fall, I guess that will work out.