Sunday, July 23, 2006


Putting a Show Together

"There is nothing you can do to make it easy that also won't make it bad."

I read this quote yesterday and immediately thought about my work as a teacher. This was said by Aaron Sorkin, a writer for television about the grueling schedule involved in making a weekly series. I have often thought that the only profession that might remotely feel like teaching is acting live on stage. There are major differences...stage actors do not perform all day long, and they are not responsible for controlling the behavior of their audience! They also do not have new material to prepare and present every day to the same audience. I realize that I have the freedom to re-do my lines if I mess them up, and I am allowed to use notes. I am a one-woman show, so I do not have to rehearse my part with anyone else. If I change the script, it doesn't disturb the flow of the show. But...

Teaching is not easy! I have struggled with this concept for years. I see other teachers who make it all look easier than it feels to me. They are (for the most part) good teachers. I have often wondered if the difficulty of teaching for me is an indication that I would be better suited for another profession. I'm one of those teachers who stays late and still takes home a backbreaking load of work every night. I finally bought a rolling cart to carry my school stuff, and I pack it full just about every night. Once I get my kids to bed, I am working on schoolwork until way past my bedtime. I still return papers to students later than I would like. No matter how organized I try to be, my classroom is a mess, I'm making copies and turning in lesson plans at the last minute, and I appear stressed out all the time.
Then someone out of the blue reminds me that teaching is not supposed to be easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is easy.

Sometimes I think it would be great to have a job where I spend most of the day working quietly in an office. I would have a telephone at my fingertips, a door I could shut when I am busy, and there wouldn't be 30 new people coming in every hour to mess things up. I actually had an office one year, and it was great! I was only there one day a week, and I loved those days. The rest of the time I was out in schools working with students and teachers. But do you know what? I missed having "my kids." I missed that relationship with the students. I missed seeing their progress over the course of the year. I missed the excitement of lightbulbs going off in students' brains and hearing them say, "Oh, I get it!"

Everyone is saying, "Summer's almost over. Are you ready to go back to school?" I am! I love back-to-school time. I can identify with this quote from the movie, You've Got Mail:

Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly-sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.
I love to buy school supplies and back-to-school clothes. I get just as excited about seeing my class lists as I did when I was a student. I love getting a fresh start every year...a chance to do things better than last year. I love going to football games and hearing the band and cheering for my team. I wish it were getting cooler, but that will come soon enough!

Teaching is not easy. But it is exciting, rewarding, fun, and worth every minute of extra work I put into it!

I hope you have had a great summer. Enjoy your school year!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Late Work

I was catching up on my blog reading tonight and ran across several blogs I had not read before. The Daily Grind intrigued me enough that I left an extremely long comment on late work that I decided to post here as well.

I have been teaching math for 17 years. Math homework is assigned practically every night, and it is a monumental task to grade. I accepted late work the first few years of teaching, and I found myself getting further and further behind. At the end of my third year, I spent about 6 hours one day grading only late assignments. I promised myself I would never do that again. It is much easier to grade 30 of the same paper than 30 different papers.

The following year I went to a no-late-work policy. I was surprised to see that my homework grades went up! When I accepted late work, the students would procrastinate and leave more than they could finish by the end of the grading period. When I didn't accept late work, students would move into high gear once they knew they had a couple of zeroes and do all of the rest of their work.

This past year I changed my policy slightly to match the other 7th grade math teacher at my school. Students began procrastinating again, and I was once again overwhelmed by late work. Their test scores were also affected when they waited until after the test to do the accompanying work. I switched back to my old policy at the end of the year, and I will never change it again!

I do have one exception...If there is some type of emergency or illness that prevents a child from having time to do their work, I will accept late work if accompanied by a note from a parent. I probably get 3 or 4 of these notes per year. I save the notes and warn the children I will thank their parents for writing the notes if I ever have a conference with them. I will also call to see if there is any way the school can help if there has been a rash of deaths in the family. This has eliminated forgeries. When I explain this policy to parents, they seem to appreciate the opportunity for their child to learn to meet deadlines and do their work when it is most beneficial to their learning.

If I were teaching a subject in which I did not make 40 assignments per grading period, I would probably have a different philosophy. One zero in my class will not hurt a child's grade much at all. All of my assignment are weighted equally. I am planning to assign projects each grading period this year, and I will probably accept them late.

Thursday, July 13, 2006



I officially go back to work three weeks from tomorrow. I will be going back to the classroom, and I am looking forward to it! I did go ahead and apply for the technology coaching job, but someone else was chosen. I am okay with that. I prayed a lot about it, and I believe my place must still be in the classroom for at least a little while longer.

I am excited about using all of my new cool tools in the classroom this year. I have my very own digital projector to connect to my laptop. I have an Interwrite School Pad to run the laptop and write on the board wirelessly from anywhere in the room. I write the entire time I am teaching. I am no longer tethered to the front of the room!

I have a Personal Response System that includes "clickers" for every student to respond to questions. It will grade quizzes and tests for me. Oh...I just had a great idea! I can give tests with the clickers and not have to grade them manually! Hmm...I just realized this! The tests can be multiple choice or short-answer. They can enter numbers (including decimals). I don't think there are any other symbols like fractions or negatives. Timed multiplication drills! The time I save giving tests and quizzes with the clickers can be spent grading open-ended questions.

I want to plan some major technology integration this year worthy of IB's standards. Maybe one per quarter? I also want to do some more interdisciplinary activities. I know that the other teachers on my team will be willing to work together on this.

I would like to differentiate instruction using technology. I can pretest with the clickers and get immediate feedback. I want to set up learning centers with hands-on activities.

I have a new custom-made bookshelf. I was really sad about having to leave it behind, and now I don't! I also have a new filing cabinet, and I want to streamline my files and filing system so I can find things when I need them. I have a wealth of resources at my fingertips that are buried under mountains of paperwork.

Can I be ready in three weeks? I am recovering from surgery that I had day before yesterday, and I can't lift anything heavy for a couple of weeks. However, I can do the online planning with my wiki that I have been intending to do all summer. Both of my big kids are going to camp the week before I go to work. I will send the little one to daycare and start working on my classroom a week early. Surely that should be enough time, and I should be fully recovered by then, according to the doctor!

Before school starts I also want to read all the blogging and listen to all the podcasts coming from NECC. There is so much information from NECC on the web, that I feel like I can almost experience being there!

Tomorrow I need to finish up my part of a presentation that my principal and I are giving Monday at the Samford Summer Institute for Teaching Excellence. I worked a lot on it today and was pleased with what I accomplished.

If I am going to get this all done, I need a good night's rest!

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