It’s Friday January 3 and I’m in my classroom planning for second semester. This is the toughest part of my job and I really am not happy with the results from last semester, which makes it even harder. In a normal year the second semester is already planned for but when things aren’t going smoothly, change is necessary. Maybe it’s because all I want to do right now is rant and write and drink coffee and go paint in my art room and waste the day, but I know those activities will not serve me well in 68 hours when students shatter the quiet of this classroom.
2020 is year 20 for me in my little alternative school and you would think that by now I would have figured out the game. I have not. Not because of a lack of trying or innovation or work but because the game keeps changing. Also, I’m having the exact same problem students complain about on the daily. Namely, why am I sitting here?
And really, how tough is teaching? Take down the Christmas decorations, follow the SVHS curricular guides for Algebra and Geometry, Next Generation Science Standards for Biology… and Art, c’mon, how hard can that be?
The problem is that many of my students have failed Algebra, Geometry, Biology, and Art so to give them the same pacing guide with the same book and expect a different result is the definition of educational insanity. Plus, I hate not being on my game, which I definitely was not last semester.
Plus, plus, I have some personal challenges which I won’t bore you with but which are seriously cramping my optimism and faith in the world (Ex-students being deployed to the Middle East, War, Impeachment, Election, Hate, Separatism).
Then there’s all the other stuff, the net post I need to replace and the backboard wall I need to install on the SVHS tennis courts (not really a coaching duty but who else will do it?). The proposal for the SDC School I want to develop. The Don’t-Poop-In-Your-Nest tagging abatement team I want to create. The Ping-Pong fundraiser. The film class and preparation for SIFF 2020 (Kevin, do you really need 2 SONOMAWOOD signs again? Really?). Also, I need to figure out how to get Nic Sheff to come talk to the Creekside students next month when he’s in town.
And to top it all off, I don’t know if any of it really matters. I honestly think that just having students throw away their phones would help them more than all the stuff above. But that’s not much of a curricular plan is it?
And that’s not the real world, or at least not my real world. My real world is to supplement CPM Chapter 6, “Modeling Two-Variable Data” with something tangible students can understand and digest. I develop a list of weekly vocabulary words and use the “Evidence of Mathematical Proficiency” from the end of the chapter (this one is about the amount of arsenic in a toenail versus arsenic in drinking water and no, I’m not making that up) then play curricular Tetris with what I will teach each period (I have 9 periods to work with this grading block because of MLK day and pre and post tests). Then I do this for 4 other chapters, then Geometry then Biology. Much is already planned from the beginning of the year but like I said, I need to embrace change this semester.
Perfect system? No, but it works and students do learn and graduate and take responsibility for their lives and all that. But isn’t there a better way? Shouldn’t we have those temporal lobe attachments from “Stranger Things” so that I can just download Algebra 1 into student’s heads (Are you listening A1 tech companies)?
It would free up a lot more time for important things like becoming an influencer and living in a “Hype House”. Don’t know about the Hype House-Google it to see how the world ends.
Monday morning I’m glad for the preparation. We jump right into pre-tests in Algebra and Geometry plus vocabulary and an overview of the semester. Then students illustrate their goals for 2020 in Art class.
“What do you mean, what are my goals?” I get asked from 2 different people. Arrrghhhhh, am I speaking a different language? Why does this generation have such little interest in planning?
We talk briefly about apathy and the state of the world. This used to be big part of my curriculum but it became so overwhelming and upsetting that I now limit opening this very loaded box. Students all know that there is an 80 million dollar bounty on Trump’s head. They ask what I think of the killing of Soleimani.
“Well, what if our president was told by Mike Pompeo that you are a dangerous domestic terrorist and he ordered a drone strike on Creekside? Discuss…”
We debate for the length of the average attention span of the average teenager (around 3.2 minutes) then go back to illustrating goals.
In Geometry, I go over the pretests and determine a few problem areas. After class I jump into the Kahn Academy/TED talk wormhole, spending an hour finding alternative ways to explain LSRLs. No luck, so I create a lesson where students compare two variables in their lives (the example I use is calculating the amount of hours per day on their phones and the number of credits earned last semester-this example works on many levels).
By Wednesday the machine is back running smoothly. Most of the students are on their way to understanding “Modeling Two-Variable Data”. My Graffiti Abatement Crew is starting on Friday (meet in the El Verano parking lot at 3 if you want to join us), I sent a Facebook message to Nic but have yet to hear back, and I received a super nice email from Michael Schwartz, director of “Peanut Butter Falcon” about my last blog which is always nice (Screenwriting is one of my goals).
Life: 70% planning, 28% execution, 2% butterscotch ripple.