Thursday, August 24, 2006

Summer Fall Follies

From Lady S:

Yesterday started the Sunday of summer.

June is Friday night, so much time ahead of you. You make lists of things you need to accomplish. You start to stay up later and dress more comfortably. You are still ready to get up for work and attack the day.

July is Saturday. All day long, nothing to do, getting stuff done, but wasting some time. Staying up late, getting up late. Wearing whatever you want, eating when you are hungry, not when the clock tells you you have time. Still a whole other day to spend getting things done. All thoughts of school sort of a blur.

August is Sunday. Just before you have to go back to school. You didn’t get everything done that you needed to. Rushing around to find something to wear. Thinking about what you are going to do tomorrow. Getting to bed earlier. Gathering stuff together.

God, is this all-too-true!

I feel like the summer has whizzed by without any input from me. I don't know how or why time keeps escaping me like this! First the year, then the summer!

I am completely in denial. I have placed all my teacherly resources in several large and messy piles on my floor, in hopes that it would encourage me to actually read and use them. So far? Outlook not so good.

I've made some notes. I've thought about which things must be covered before the dreaded exam in January. I've written a welcome-back newsletter, which includes a supply list and a classroom conduct contract, as well as my email address and homework website. I've contacted agencies for the big field trip this spring. I've talked through discipline and vocabulary strategies with my ex-teacher boyfriend and educator parents. I've been shopping, as I've mentioned. Most of my spoils are still in the car, figuring that I don't actually need it sitting in my apartment, making a bigger unused mess on the floor.

But the rigorous thirty-day planning that I did last summer, the fretting, the daily dreaming and nightmaring, I haven't done this year.

That's gonna have to change, as reality of time is setting in, no matter how much I ignore it.

I'll be at school either tomorrow or Saturday. In addition to my regular classroom duties this year, I'm going to be in charge of the book room. I actually volunteered for this, because I value having resources, and the state of the book room, well, it is pitiful and disgraceful at best. So I want to help myself and my colleagues by cleaning, organizing, sorting, identifying, and then eventually sharing the wealth of the secret book room.

As of today, it is one week until everyone is officially back in school.

Which brings me to this:

From Ms M:

This year I feel like I am starting all over. Not only am I going to a new school so I don't know entirely what to expect, but I plan on doing things a lot differently than last year. ...There is still so much to think about and plan though. And, I've never done writer's workshop so I am kind of worried about that.

Next week I hope to sketch out some ideas for routines, organization and planning. The week of the 28th I plan to be in my classroom getting set up the whole week. Then the next week school starts.

I am excited for Ms M, to get a new year started, a year that should be much better and more fulfilling. I think she'll do a great job, and it'll be a good adventure, and I can't wait to hear about it.

Unfortunately, instead of seeing similar excitement or luck wishing in the comments for this post, I saw bloggers that completely ignored the post itself and shamelessly politicked, jumping back on the boo-contract wagon that, hello!, should be OVER. Yes, parts of the new contract suck, I agree. But that fight is way over and done with. The contract was ratified and put into action, and now we have to deal with it.

So just deal with it already. I'm tired of the constant whining and the vindictive compaining. Many things suck about this job, yes, and sure, venting is necessary. But there's a time and place for that, and eventually you've gotta suck it up and deal.

The issue about going into school on one's own time is NOT political. It is personal. Simple as that.

No one, especially a still-new teacher like Ms M, gives a shit about her administration in August. She, and we all, are worried about ourselves and the upcoming year.

Teachers are not required to be in the classrooms in the summer. True. And believe me, I don't want to change that.

However! Teachers do not escape the classroom just because they're not inhabiting it at the moment. Teachers get to relax and do something else (whether it's a vacation, a second job, or what have you, is up to the individual's situation), but that doesn't mean that the brain doesn't jump back to school at least occasionally.

I know that I've been having first-day-nightmares on and off for nearly a month. Every time I go shopping I end up looking at things, and thinking about things, for school. I started planning units back in June. I attended a week-long workshop on literacy in July. I have bought several piles of books and supplies for school during August.

Is this required? Of course not. Do I still do it? Absolutely.

Do I do this for the administration? For the mayor or the chancellor, to prove what a dedicated educator I am? Don't be ridiculous.

I do it for my own peace of mind, because I'm interested in education for its own sake, and for the children. Would the kids like this novel? Would I be able to help the kids learn vocabulary with this book? If the answer is yes, then I'll do it, within reason of course.

Do the kids need to see a pretty room the first day of school? Not really. Would it be nice for them to see a warm, print-rich room? Sure. So yeah, I'll do that too.

But more importantly than putting up colorful posters, I've got multiple shelves of classroom books, binders full of lessons and handouts and other resources, piles of previous good student work, odd/incomplete sets of decorations, stacks of teacher books, and bins and bags full of everyday supplies like overhead pens and paperclips.

Do the kids care about that? Decidedly not. Do I? Do I ever. I want to get that stuff unpacked and ready so that I concentrate on other, more important things.

Teachers have a billion things to do at the start of the school year. And meeting students and then teaching them is the last thing on that list. We all know that.

We have to do things like set up seating charts, prepare welcome letters, get copies made, decide on benchmark assessments, figure out our curriculum and the resources we'll use, balance the actual curriculum with the other pieces we want to get in (like spelling and vocabulary), fill out paperwork about each and every student if you're at my school, organize the classroom library, put up charts for reading, decide on a management plan and put up whatever materials that will require, organize the teacher desk and all the assorted materials in there, figure out the set up of the room, draw up conference forms, think about how in the world conferences will fit in with all the other parts of the curriculum we're supposed to have, start planning field trips and other extension activities, begin prepping gradebooks and grading programs, planning for bulletin boards, think about possible Do Now activities...

And then the students walk in the room. Suddenly we have to do or use all those other things, but now worry about memorizing names, separating problem students, effectively applying your discipline/management system, the timing of your lessons to the bell schedule, assigning and grading homework, grading classwork, contacting parents, updating homework web sites, getting to know the students as people, mediating conflict, easing student nerves, finding bandaids for recess scrapes, continuing to plan and modify lessons and curricula...

Who in the world would be crazy enough to not get that first list done with, or at least majorly started, before the second list began? Why would anyone start working before everything was all ready and neat?

Yes, teachers work hard. WE KNOW THAT. Yes, teachers don't get paid enough for their important work. WE KNOW THAT TOO. Yes, New York teachers don't "have" to be in the classroom until August 31. WE GET IT! Yes, that's earlier than ever before. Yes, that sucks. But it's time to move on!

Because what kind of teacher would we be if we didn't prepare ourselves, at home and at school? What kind of teacher doesn't prepare at all? What kind of teacher puts their irritation about the system above their actual job? What teacher ends up caring more about an abstract statement than their peace of mind and, oh, I don't know, actual students?

Come on, now.


Ms. M said...

Wow! Thanks for the support Julie. I couldn't have said it better myself. And you're right. The VERY LAST thing on my mind was what the administration might think about me coming in a few days early. In fact, that never even crossed my mind.

17 more years said...

That was rather a long, intolerant tirade for someone who claims to be so liberal. I can only attribute it to your youth and naïveté.

“Yes, parts of the new contract suck, I agree. But that fight is way over and done with.”
No, the fight is NOT over and done with. Our current contract runs out in a year’s time. There is already talk of contract negotiations beginning shortly. What a clever idea it is to show Bloomberg and Klein that we are willing to give up even more of our time for free. Perhaps you have nothing better to do with your time- but I do, and most educators do, as well. I truly have no desire to give up the entire last week of August- and make no mistake, that could very well be a giveback in our next contract if we all show a willingness to give, and give, and give some more. Sorry- I’m not as philanthropic as you claim to be.

“The issue about going into school on one's own time is NOT political. It is personal. Simple as that.” Believe that if you must, but most teachers do not agree. Teachers who willingly give up their free time send a powerful message to administration and the chancellor that our time doesn’t matter to us.

“What kind of teacher puts their irritation about the system above their actual job? What teacher ends up caring more about an abstract statement than their peace of mind and, oh, I don't know, actual students?”

Please don’t profess to know anything about me, the kind of teacher I am, or my dedication to my students. Wanting a contract that is fair and just does not mean I am cold and uncaring, and that I only went into teaching because of the time off. Don’t assume because I am angered about the time we sacrificed that I haven’t shopped, and planned, and concerned myself with how I can best serve my students this year.

You, and Ms. M, and all the other teachers like you can fool yourself into thinking that you don’t care about administration and their opinion of you. You can say to yourself over and over again, “I’m doing this for myself, and for the kids.” But somewhere, in the back of your mind, I bet you’re secretly hoping, whether you have admitted it to yourself, or not, that administration is looking at you and thinking, “Wow- what a fabulous, dedicated teacher she is.”

I suspect that I will be teaching long after you have left the profession. Teacher burnout is a big reason behind why the attrition rate is so high. Striking a balance in your life is just as important to your success as a teacher as is planning, and attending workshops, and reading books on pedagogy. It will, in the long run, make you a happier, less stressed teacher.

Schoolgal said...

I really believe that teachers who voted against the contract will give up their time to set up their classrooms as they done in the past.

I have spent all my August Mondays doing so, but will only go in this Monday because my car trunk is overflowing with things I purchased. However, I plan only to leave these things in my room rather than spend the hours I did in the past setting up. But, I also understand why teachers need to do so. Many, many years ago we had extra days to set up our rooms without having to attend numerous meetings.

I also don't mind staying after school to work on things because it's quiet and I get more accomplished. I am however upset over the fact my Tuesday-Monday vacation plans that I have had with my family for so many years has come to an end. (Many non-teachers use that week as vacation because they get the extra day off.) I also feel bad for teachers who invested so much money on timeshares during the last week of August and now have to find a buyer. No one was warned about August until the details of the contract came out.

There unfortunately seems to be, at least on many blogs, a great divide between those who voted for and against this contract. The perception being that those who voted against it are not dedicated. That notion is not at all true because I know some very lazy teachers who voted YES just for the money.

I am proud to have voted against this contract.

Nancy said...

Amen, sister. I have spent nearly all summer preparing for the school year and I didn't have to do that. Some of it, I was paid for it, some of it my school paid for it and some of it, I'll see the pay-offs later in the year. As 17 More Years said, "Teachers who willingly give up their free time send a powerful message to administration and the chancellor that our time doesn’t matter to us." It's true, what he says, but I can't worry about it. I need to spend that time getting ready, for my own sanity. When else am I supposed to do it? Once school starts, I'm too wrapped up in the actual teaching and dealing with kids and parents, to do much in the way of hard-core planning. Really, I'm just like every other person with a job--I don't have the summer off, as far as I'm concerned. I just switch to work-from-home mode and I enjoy it. I like having the space and the time and the freedom to work at my pace, work out things for the year, read books, and so on.
I can't not get ready for the school year just beacuse I'm not getting paid extra for it, because in the end, I'm the one that suffers, along with my kids.

17 more years said...

nani- Please don't misunderstand me- I know all too well the insanity that goes with this job. I never said that I haven't spent a good portion of the summer planning for the upcoming year. BUT- that was my choice- and something I did in the privacy of my own home. I wasn't paid one red cent for that work. What I WON'T do, however, is step inside that building one second before August 31st. Schoolgal made a good point- a lot of traditional family vacations were ruined because of this new contract. And I resented the implication of the posting that being against this contract makes me a terrible teacher. I suppose it never occured to some that because we do work so hard, our down time is particularly precious.

Schoolgal said...

I do not think the actual issue of this post was planning during the summer as much as using the last week in August to set up on our own time.

The teachers in my school used B/Q Day to do planning for the year in all major subjects. Most "master" teachers know how to adjust or alter plans as well as make more adjustments during the school year to meet the needs of the students. In fact,planning changes after you meet your class and get to know their abilities because test scores are not the most acurate measure.

Setting up our rooms would not be a problem if both the DoE and UFT recognized the fact that we need this time. In fact, when I told Randi that I already give up a day in August, she used that as an excuse to vote for this contract stating that teachers already come in during the last week of August. The fact that there is a big difference between a few hours rather than 2 days in an overheated classroom did not seem to register with her. She also lied and told the teachers in my school that these 2 days were for setting up and preparing, that we had total control over our rooms and B-boards and will not be micromanaged. However we now know that meetings by the DoE have already been planned for Thursday and Friday and that the rest of her statements were spinned all to sell a contract ridden with givebacks that could have been improved under different leadership.

So, to say that the contract is over and move on is only true if you have no background in our union's history or give a damn about union rule violations.

If teachers decide to go in and set up before Thursday, that is their right. But if teachers who used to do it now take a stand against it, they should be supported too because their points are valid.

The question now is, how are we supposed to get a strong contract if we ourselves are split? Solidarity is not defined as having no interest in our students (unless you work for a charter school).