Thursday, March 22, 2012

Stuff to love about high school

It's been 12 long years since I taught high school, so I have been working hard every day to get back in the game. In spite of all the work, there's a lot to love about this new job. First, I get to go to school a half hour later. This is a very big deal. I've always worked late into the day, and I am not a morning person so getting that extra half hour in the morning is huge! Next, no duties: no lunch duty (my least favorite), no break duty, no after school duty... love this too! Then staff meetings are once a month instead of once a week. There is nothing more frustrating that sitting through irrelevant meetings. Most of the all-staff meetings at the prior school dealt with elementary issues, but junior high staffers had to sit through those meetings anyway. Last, far fewer discipline issues. High schoolers aren't perfect, but they have learned quite a bit more self-control than junior highers. I don't have anywhere near as much missing or late work, no issues of disrespect (so far), and a much quieter work environment. When I'm speaking, students are listening. Wow! That's an odd experience after all my little chatterboxes! I must say, however, I miss the effervescence of junior high. When students were happy, they radiated, bounced off the walls, and hugged everyone in sight, and when they weren't, oh my goodness -- we certainly all knew it! However, I have to say, the very best, most excellent part about teaching at the high school is working with my new principal. I do love my hubby!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Chosen

My students are currently reading The Chosen by Chaim Potok. Although the book is about much more than the irritation that arises between various Jewish persuasions, that discord certainly comes into play. Given our study, this photo on MSNBC hit me as hilarious this morning. Look at that little clown! Normally I don't care for clowns but this one was too cute for words. What a statement about progress within a religious body.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Staff Meeting

I've been teaching school for a while... since the mid-70s; yes, I am that old. Anyway, I've been to my share of staff meetings. Most meetings during my public school days dealt with policy, why we had to do this and couldn't do that. I think that's a pretty fair statement for most public schools since I've taught in a wide variety of those institutions, including rural communities with migrant populations of students who were in school for a while then gone forever, suburban areas with parents who were total defenders of their kids - no matter what, and the inner city where few of my students even lived with their own parents.

Living overseas and being a part of an ex-pat community made school a really big deal. It was the center of our world. The most important aspect of ex-pat life overseas is making sure our kids aren't traumatized or forever damaged by not living in the same town as grandma. Now that I'm that grandma, I'm worried about myself not the babes. They'll be fine; I know this because my boys turned out just right, regardless of all the cultural differences they faced that I thought would mess them up forever. Teaching in that school was completely different from anywhere I'd ever been. Our staff meetings dealt with coup d'├ętat plans and other never-before-thought-of scenarios.

Moving back to the states and into private school teaching - junior high - was quite a change. For many years I brought student work to grade during staff meetings. Being in a K-8 school stateside is quite different. It didn't take long to realize that primary teachers love staff meetings because they get to talk to adult-type people. The junior high teachers just wanted to go home and lick their wounds, but those poor primary teachers and their need to speak to grown-ups made those meetings drag on forever!

And then I moved across the parking lot to the high school. For years my complaints about staff meetings have been central to dinner table conversation. When the hubby took on the principal job at ye old private high school, he faced the realization that he would now be the one to create those much-talked-about, waste-of-my-time meetings. The man does like a challenge, and I have to say, he can rise to one as well. In the first place, staff meetings at ye old high school are monthly. Yeah, I know, cry your hearts out all of you who have to sit through the same thing week after week. We meet on the first Wednesday of each month, and we are told ahead of time what one thing to prepare for discussion. During February's meeting (my first), our core issue was meeting the needs of our international students. This month was about teaching creatively, and we were supposed to bring examples of what we do. My example was of what another teacher did! I felt so stodgy and dull. I couldn't think of a thing - other than my table contest - that was creative about my classroom. In my defense, having very little time to prepare classroom and curriculum had me focused on getting through the basics and personal survival. I am just now at the place of planning more than a few days ahead. But that meeting... it really pushed me. We watched a Sir Ken Robinson clip and discussed creative teaching techniques in small groups, then came back together for a quick wrap-up. Afterward, the hubby asked me if I was mad or if he had said something irritating. I guess my face reflected the storm raging inside. I apologized and let him know that for the first time in a very long time, I felt professionally challenged because of a staff meeting. And then I did something about it.

I am the queen of power point but after a while, that can become routine. I'm also the biggest google freak around. If I don't know an answer to anything, google is my go-to guy. So I did what I do best and started googling for ideas and found some pretty cool things. Yesterday I used one of my new-found ideas in Brit Lit, where my students are working on creating poetry anthologies based on a single poet. Within the anthology, students must also thoroughly analyze one poem. Just one... they can choose and decorate and respond to the rest to their hearts' content, but that one poem has to provide layers of analysis. I gave them a hand-out that thoroughly described the process with an example, presented a colorful power point detailing analyzing a poem, and yesterday we had stations of analysis. First I found a reading on you-tube, a very British guy with a deep, scholarly voice read the poem (while eagles soared overhead - a bit lame); then in groups of three or four, students moved on to the stations. One station had dictionaries piled on the table so students could look up unusual words. Another had thesauruses for descriptive words. I found an article on the web that dealt with a big historical event that may have been the trigger for Yeats writing the poem in the first place and used that for a station. I put a big tablet at the front of the class with a couple thinking questions and students had to answer one question then post a question of their own. Directly across the hall in the computer lab, lap-tops were ready with a website that explained the allusions within the poem, and at another table, colored pencils, markers, and crayons were ready for students to create an artistic rendition. I had eight separate stations in all, and students spent six minutes at each one. It was fast-paced, fun, and hit a bunch of different levels of analysis. Yes, it took a while to prepare, but I'll use this idea again in other classes. I wonder what the next staff meeting will push me to do.