Thursday, August 6, 2009

Back to School Back to School (to prove to dad I'm not a fool).

This week has been exhausting and exciting, all at once. We started back on Monday at school and have been having all sorts of teacher fun ever since. When you're a kid, you think the school revolves around you - you never would think that the teachers would be at school a week before you and on scattered days during the school year. Yet it is true - although I like to this that this is the weaning process from summer break for me. I've been getting up at about oh... noon most days in July (after an exhausting June) and staying awake until about midnight or later. Now suddenly I am waking up at 7, meaning I need to go to bed at 10. Next week, I'll wake up at 6 - so a 9pm bedtie I suppose. I need my sleep, after all.

This school year is going to be interesting. We're changing to block schedule. Now, I've taught on block but it was a bit different then. We had four classes in the fall and four in the spring. I didn't like that style for AP kids but for others it was fine. Here, we're doing an "AB" block (as opposed to a 4X4). The kids have A days (MW schedule) and B days (TR schedule) with four classes each. Fridays alternate - you could have an ABABA week then an ABABB week. If you don't think that kids are going to be wandering around trying to figure out where to go for the first few weeks, you haven't been to my school! Personally for me, trying to adapt to figuring out teaching on different days should be hard enough - because, for example, I could get two days ahead with my A kids because we'd meet Wednesday, Friday, and Monday. My B kids would get the information that my A kids got Friday on Tuesday, putting them behind. They'd catch up with the next Friday but still.

Another challenge is that instead of having a 50 minute planning period every day, now we have a 90 minute one every other day. I have planning on MW2 so I'll have planning three days one week and then two the next. While the planning is longer, you're getting less time per week and you have days you don't get a break at all. I don't want to seem like I am complaining because I know that we're lucky to get what we get but I get to school at 6:45- kids start coming into the classroom at 7. I get 20 minutes for lunch and if I don't plan that day, my lunch will be my only break until 2:30 (maybe 3:30 if I am tutoring that day or having a meeting). During my "lunch" period, I'll have to go to the bathroom (always a long line) and run whatever errands have been accrued for the day. The days without planning will be stressful to say the least. I don't know any other profession where someone with a Master's degree has to hold their bladder until their lunch break. Oh and also the other interesting part is that on those days we DO have planning, odds are, we'll get asked to cover a portion of someone else's class who had to leave and couldn't get a sub. So even less time. Or our planning will be used for meetings (every monday for me). Our union rep. says that it is legal in TN though, that we're meeting the basic requirements for planning period time per week.

The highlight of my week, though, was seeing my students on Tuesday. We had registration and many of them came by to see me. They are big bad sophomores now and so many of them looked so grown up! They were all so sweet, coming in to say hi. I really am going to miss that first batch of "my kids" and am nervous about having to get to know another group all over again. Even the student that was runner up for most pain in the butt came by and made me smile.

As I get deeper and deeper into the world of education, the more intrigued I am about educational policymaking. I feel that there are many things wrong with our educational system, included but definitely not limited to a lack of support from the public (at least in Memphis), a barrage of reforms that are not given the time to actually make a difference before the next reform comes rolling in, the amount of paperwork and mundane tasks given to teachers, taking away from their real job - the students, a "one size fits all" outlook on education... I could go on.

One initiative I am very excited about that has come from Memphis City Schools this year is increased Pre-K opportunities for our students. Many of our students start on a much lower playing field than others coming into kindergarten simply because their home life was not conducive to intellectual growth. Research is showing that most of the brain growth for children is done in the first years of their lives - by 4, 80% of their brain will be developed. By 5, 90 % will be developed. If those connections are not utilized, they die off. So while a student with a support network at home, with parents who are educated and motivated, is being read to, is playing with building blocks, is putting the shapes in the right hole, a student with a poor home life might be sitting in a dark room with the TV as a babysitter - or worse. This isn't a race thing for us, I believe it is an economic thing. While most of the students who come into schools in Memphis underprepared are African American, if you look at the patterns, the ones who come in underprepared are impoverished. I have white kids that come just as unprepared and are just as poor. I have African American students who could read at 4. I believe it is all about the economic status.

With these Pre-K programs opening (there are new ones all over the city), students below the poverty line qualify for these free programs that will give them a chance to catch up to their peers. I feel that if we want to improve test scores and literacy rates, this is the place to start. Get them while they are young and invest in them.

I'm always glad to share the GOOD of Memphis City Schools. It is easy to get caught up in the bad, the negative, the frustrating. I've got to remember to see the bigger picture.

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