Thursday, September 8, 2011

Back to School / At Your Inservice

I'm a teacher, and if you gave me an hour I could totally fill it with complaints about how the public education system is broken. But there's one thing I can't complain about:

Getting the summer off is AWESOME!

 Every middle of June through the end of August I get time with my kids, time to write, and  time to stay up in the evening with my husband because I don't have to worry about going to bed early enough to face a classroom full of surly teenagers the next day... it's so, so, wonderful.

But then the summer ends and my life returns to normal. Is normal so bad? No, not really. But returning to normal can be. Before school starts most teachers have a week of "inservice." In theory this is a great idea, because teachers receive the chance to prepare for the coming semester and to talk amongst each other and refine their craft. But it doesn't always work out that way...

I had already been to school twice the prior week to get my classroom ready and prepare. So I wasn't too bothered by the idea of being in a workshop all day to learn about Avid teaching techniques, which is the latest attempt by my school district to improve student performance.
The techniques themselves are pretty cool, our instructor was great, and it was fun to catch up with all the friends I hadn't seen since June. All in all, not a bad day. Plus, we had a whole hour for lunch, which never happens during a normal school day.

Another full day of Avid training, only now the adreniline rush of being back was gone, and I was anxious to start working on lesson plans, make copies, and talk with the principal about our new hires for the year. Being stuck in a classroom all day felt frustrating (probably how my students often feel.)

I got to school early so I could make copies. Miracle of miracles, the machine actually worked and there wasn't a line! Making copies at the beginning of the school year is quite the task, especially if you have over 150 students, and several packets or worksheets to copy for each class. Add to that the frustration of a long line or the machine breaking down, which happens more often than not, and making copies can take well over an hour. I was out of the copy room in thirty minutes. Triumph!

After checking in with one of our new teachers and making some phone calls I went down to the district convocation, where we spent two hours hearing about all the wonderful accomplishments our district is achieving. After that was lunch. In the afternoon I had to attend a two hour meeting about tenured teacher evaluations. Don't ask me what was said because I've honestly blocked it all out. Then I met with the principal, because I was desperate to get some answers about staffing and scheduling.

At the end of the day I still hadn't had any time to work in my classroom.

We started the day with a three hour staff meeting, where subjects like the new student handbook, hall pass systems, food in the classroom, state test scores, and parent communication were discussed.
Then we had lunch.
Then - gasp! - we had time to work in our classrooms!
I put together some cardboard shelves (bought with my own money) and I was working on a homework agenda system when my phone range. It was the school secretary, telling me that our second new English teacher's background check had cleared, and she was on her way to start working. So I put aside what I was doing so I could show her around.
After getting her acclimated and introducing her to the other English teachers (all of whom helped get her set up) I returned to my classroom to find that the curriculum for the new ACT Prep class had arrived. This is a class I've never taught, and being faced with mountains of reading felt like a mixed blessing.

We had all day to work in our classrooms! I spent a large part of the morning trying to find information about the logistics of a college level writing class that one of our new teachers is teaching and..blah, blah, blah. Let me just say that everything took longer than it should have.

But by 3:00 my syllabi were typed, printed and ready, my seating charts were done, and my first day power points were reviewed. All that needed to be done was to check my ceiling proxima - which is like a projector - and I'd be all set.
Only my proxima didn't work. That meant that I couldn't show my powerpoints, and if I want to show movies in my film studies class, I'd be out of luck.
I put in a work order, called down to the tech department, but I heard nothing.
So I said something to the vice principal, and he said, "Oh, don't worry. All the proximas will be fixed between September 19th and October 4th."
After a stunned moment of silence I replied, "I teach film studies. I can't wait that long."
He said he'd do something about it, walked out, and I made alternative plans using an overhead projector for the first couple of days.

I checked one more time that everything was ready, grabbed my ACT Prep materials, including a practice test that I'm planning to take over the weekend, and headed home.

So yes, returning to school can be rough. Every year there are obstacles to overcome, and some years there are more than others. The next time your child has a day off from school because of a teachers' inservice day, and you find yourself wondering what the teachers do with that time, just remember - the teachers are probably wondering the same thing!

Epilogue -
School started on the 6th, and my classes went well. Also, my friend/fellow English teacher Jill fixed my proxima. Film Studies lives on!

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