I am really jazzed about getting back into the classroom and have spent the last few days in Mom’s nursing home room putting together the plans for my first couple of classes, both at the charter school (CHS) and at Local U.
I’ve probably mentioned it here before, but I’m not much of a planner.
I interned with two different kinds of teachers. One of them was a serious planner. She had a whole book full of neatly arranged and carefully orchestrated plans. She printed out materials and had assignments all mapped out and she knew, every morning, exactly how each day would proceed. I admired her organization skills and her ability to plan her entire school year before September. She always had very clear sub plans and there wasn’t a moment of class time that wasn’t accounted for.
It was boring as hell.
The other teacher who mentored me during my last year of grad school was far more like the kind of teacher I wanted to be (or, more to the point, the kind of teacher I already was). She had a general idea of where she wanted to go with the students over the course of a unit. She’d gather up far more materials than she could ever use and she went in to the work with a goal in mind, but with no concrete demands about how she got there. As a result, she was able to take advantage of found experiences (when, for example, a student made a connection to something she hadn’t considered including, we were able to chase that connection down because we weren’t rigidly committed to a “plan”), we spent far more time thinking and talking and writing than filling out worksheets or answering comprehension questions at the end of a textbook chapter, and the class was far more relaxed and engaged than I think it otherwise would have been.
That’s the kind of teacher I am and, while that approach has its DEFINITE drawbacks (sub plans being the most obvious, but there are also occasions where the class fails to produce enough energy on its own to get through the day, and that’s when having a plan in place is advantageous), I find that I function much better if I allow the class the room to explore the material in ways that make sense to them.
So I’ve been mapping out – as much as I do, that is – the first couple of classes at CHS with the intent of finding out what they do – and, perhaps more importantly, what they don’t – know. I’ll have a better understanding of what I’m going to do with the semester once I know what the kids need in terms of foundational skills going forward. I’ll make sure that reinforcement of those skills (or, if necessary, introductions to them) are included in the work that we do with the materials I’ve chosen. Now, though, I don’t know what I’m getting, so I don’t know what they need.
Local U. is actually easier. I’ve taught the class before, and the University has very clear guidelines for what it wants every freshman to end the class having experienced in the way of the writing process. Again, how I get them there is entirely up to me, but having the milestones set up for me does take care of a lot of the planning work.
It seems, though, that along with my excitement, I’ve got some underlying anxiety. I and my first teacher nightmare in a very long time the other night. Okay, it wasn’t a nightmare, per se, but it was unpleasant. I was co-teaching a class with Carrie, the director of CHS, and I walked into our classroom to find her at the desk trying to listen to a phone call. She had the phone jammed against one ear and a finger shoved into the other trying to hear over the unruly noise the class was making. The kids were totally out of control; one student was flicking little balls of paper (I’m pretty sure this element came from the “Paper Toss” application we downloaded to our iPhones for the girls to play) and another was writing on her desk with lipstick (NO idea where that came from).
The upshot is that I handled the situation COMPLETELY wrong, and I knew it as I watched myself doing it. I yelled, I intimidated, I called out individual students. I wrote “courtesy” in big letters on the board and gave the students a pompous and entirely inappropriate lecture on classroom etiquette. It was a disaster.
I knew when I woke, however, that this was a good sign; it means that I’ve internalized that I really AM going to be back in the classroom, More to the point, I know how to appropriately handle a situation like that; I think that I was confirming for myself that I’m entirely up to the task.
17 more days….