Reflections On The Newiest of New School Years (Days One & Two)

My pacing was off today.

It’s funny that that’s what I’m taking home with me and into the weekend. Tomorrow – Friday, Day Three – is  a logistics day. It’s all orientation, pictures, and other “have to” stuff. That’s fine, and I don’t have to prepare much. Maybe I can get to know some of my kids a bit better along the way.

But right now I’m mostly just frustrated with myself – somewhat unfairly, I might add.

I’ve never done 72 minute periods before. They’re an advantage, though. 15-ish additional minutes a day will add up quickly in terms of covering extensive content and some rather demanding skills before the almighty AP Exam. And I like having fewer students – not quite 100, at least in terms of those I’m directly teaching. I’ll learn names more quickly, and hopefully start to understand their academic strengths and weaknesses more completely… maybe even teach gooder as a result.

But as of right now, at the end of Day Two, all I can think about is that my pacing was off. You’d think I was a complete rookie – and not a particularly promising one.

I wrote last time about my plans for Day One. I decided to share my reflections partly to follow up, and partly to help me organize my own thoughts and perceptions. Besides, who knows? Someone may find these ramblings helpful or encouraging. We could all stand to be a bit more real with one another.

I scribbled a note to myself after school yesterday, “Reflections D1: 72 minutes is long, long period – glad I over-planned.”

Let’s count that as a win, shall we?

And the first day went fine. There were some scheduling snafus before school, and confused kids… It happens, no matter how well powers-that-be plan or what software they’re using. It’s the nature of a large organization with lots of moving parts. It was unwelcome reminder, however, of how many logistics and patterns and people I still don’t know in my new home – stuff kids needed me to know, and which I didn’t realize I didn’t know until that moment.

But those were hiccups, not real problems. You smile, you acknowledge that things seem to be a bit confused, and you figure out who to call. It’s not about blame; it’s making sure the kid knows they’re not just stupid or doing it all wrong. There’ll be plenty of time for crushing their self-esteem later, when it really counts.

The lesson worked. I don’t know that it was brilliant, but it was active and they all played along with varying degrees of success. I jotted down a few observations for future reference:

I forget how comfortable kids are on Day One. They all know one another, even if I don’t.

I made a conscious choice to dive right in to loud and active – before we’ve talked expectations, or behavior, or even looked at a syllabus. It’s inevitable that most groups, then, will be loud and active, and some of them will operate outside the desired boundaries, either to test them or just because they just don’t know.

My classroom A/C is out. Well, not OUT, but not working well. It’s muggy and hot and that makes everything more difficult. It colors my perceptions of events and it puts a warm moist drag on everything I’m asking students to think about or do. The right people are working to handle it – I don’t share this to complain and I realize this is another common reality of even the best public schools. But I should be honest and acknowledge that it’s a factor.

Some of my predictions about the activity were correct. I suspected there’d be a wealth of events associated with North America, and there were, although western Europe was almost as heavily filled. Many groups, though, had quite a range around the globe.

In fact, many students added events not listed in the initial discussion. I’m not sure if other ideas simply occurred to them as they worked and talked, or if they wanted more balanced maps. Some asked before they made this change to the assignment to fit their druthers; others just… did it. Interesting.

Most of the timelines had some “clumping,” as predicted – but not the past 200 years as I’d suspected. Far more common was the period between Columbus and the Civil War. That makes total sense, given that it’s the history class most of them took last year. Duh, Blue.

The activity did NOT take 72 minutes. Stretching it with extra discussions and some modifications on the fly, it was 45-50 meaningful minutes. I’m glad I anticipated that possibility and did the index cards.

The primary reason students listed for taking this class is weighted GPA or a transcript that looks good on college applications. A few were told by a trusted teacher or counselor that they WOULD take AP World whether they thought they wanted to or not. This seems to have been generally received as a sign of love and confidence in them rather than something oppressive or demanding. Relationships are very big here. 

Their primary fears were almost all about bad grades, being overwhelmed, or failing. No surprise there.

Today was Day Two. I had an introductory content lecture/discussion (and yes, I still use Powerpoint – go ahead and judge, I’m not apologizing) and then a variation of jigsaw reading I call “Did You Read What I Read?” The lecture/discussion was too long and not as well-organized as I’d hoped. I also had a few technological quirks that I’m 90% sure were a result of me doing something wrong. It wasn’t a disaster or anything – it went fine, other than when I couldn’t get the slides to advance or the video clips to show. I’d just had higher hopes for my first lecture. I’m generally engaging and energetic, and build in plenty of interaction and moments of small group discussion. This was my chance to…

Oh, wow. I just realize something.

I think I’d hoped to prove something today about my capabilities and whether or not I’m as good as the folks who hired me seem to think. I… (come on, Blue, you can edit this out before posting it live)… I wanted it to be engaging and meaningful and a good use of time for the kids, but I think I’d hoped it would help me feel better as well.

Go figure.

Then, because I talked too much and forced some of the conversations a bit, we didn’t have time to do the reading thing. Unsure how to manage the time late in the hour, I tried starting it with my 1st Period anyway, even though I knew we’d have to come back to it. Again, it went fine. I doubt they had any idea anything wasn’t going as I’d hoped. But it should have been better. 

I’ll regroup, now that I’ve met my kids and have a feel for the daily schedule, I’ll have a better plan for next week. Guess I should read up on some World History before then as well.

But there’s something else that’s impacted me already at this new school. Two small interactions – both similar, and both carrying more weight than I’d have ever guessed possible.

I mentioned above some paperwork confusion on Day One. The initial young man who’d come to me thinking he was in the right place but who wasn’t anywhere on my roster had been a bit rattled. It was his first day of High School, after all, and although he’d done the right things and followed the right instructions, he’d ended up in what seemed to be the wrong place. He played it off well, but it was not a great way to start the day. I eventually had to send him to the front office to get it straightened out.

He came by my class during passing period later that morning and told me they’d gotten his schedule fixed. He expressed disappointment he wouldn’t actually be in my class, but thanked me and wished me a great first day. He reached out unprompted and shook my hand, and I wished him the best as well.

A small thing, but not at all a small thing.

I’m across the hall from a teacher who’s clearly very popular with her former students. Both mornings kids are running up to her, hugging her and asking her questions and telling her about their summers or their schedules or their lives. One young man came by with two girls this morning and waited patiently, smiling a few steps back, as they embraced their former teacher and spoke to her excitedly. I made eye contact and joked, “Man, she’s this popular and I haven’t been hugged yet even though I’m in the same hallway!”

He laughed politely and said maybe my time would come, then reached out to shake my hand. He then told me he’d hug me if it would make me feel better. It was funny, but I decided not to push it and thanked him and wished him a successful day.

The kid yesterday was 14. The young man today, maybe 16 or 17. Neither know me at all, but look at them shine.

I hope I can live up to their examples.

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