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on his first term back in the classroom.

Yesterday was the last day of classes.  

We are on an A-day B-day schedule, with 4 90 minute periods a day.

Students with a full load have 8 classes  (I had 5 in high school).

Next week, each day, there will be 2 two-hour exams, beginning Tuesday, running through Friday (assuming we are not closed for weather, which is actually possible for Friday).  The last class meeting was devoted to a review.

Three of my six classes are AP US Government & Politics, and they will have to take an exam sent out from the System-wide Social Studies office (with the addition of two released Free Response Questions selected by me).  

My other three classes are project-based learning classes in our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program, where they have not yet seen a test this year.  I told our Assistant Superintendent that this was a bit silly, but I will have them write a self-evaluation in lieu of a "test"  - the semester "exam" is a separate grade which does not actually affect their quarter grade directly.

So after half a year, I have some thoughts to share, as I both look back and look forward.

I usually leave my home on school days at around 5 AM to drive the 45 miles between Arlington VA where I live, just SSW of Washington DC, to Glen Burnie MD, just SSE of the Baltimore Beltway.  I get to school around 6, students comes in starting at 6:55, and classes begin at 7:17, finishing at 2:05.  

On Wednesday I had a very full day, being observed by my principal in the 2nd period (AP Government), immediately followed a notable guest speaker 3rd period for my STEM Policy class, an event for which several people came from the central office, including the Assistant Superintendent who oversees both AP and STEM.   The following day I had a post-observation review, where I again thanked my principal for the honor of teaching at North County High School.

My current school does not have the national reputation of Eleanor Roosevelt, where I taught for 13 years.  But I have some outstanding students, some of whom come from working class and lower middle class families, for whom I am in some ways the most unusual teacher they have ever experienced.

it is not just my bad puns, or dressing up in costume.

I am not alone in being simultaneously demanding and the same time providing scaffolding to help them achieve at levels they had not previously imagined.

Several things make me different.

I have apologized to individual students publicly - most of my students have never heard a teacher apologize to students.

I make it clear how well I know them.  Part of this is observation, but some is simply intuitive on my part.   When I tell a student what I know about her, as I did with C yesterday, then when I assure her that knowing her (a) I like and respect her and (b) am not asking something unreasonable when I challenge her, because I know she can to it if she is willing to risk, I am far more likely to get her willing to take the risk of failure necessary to really develop - as a learner, as an athlete, as a human being.

I have struggled for some time with whether I should continue at this school next year.  I could fairly easily find a job closer to home that would allow me more interaction with the students.  I could diminish the commute.  Also, were I to work in Virginia or DC I would not be capped in compensation by being a retired/rehired teacher  (which currently costs me almost 20,000 a year).  

I am in a unique setting.  The mixture of courses I teach is because of my particular skill set.  It would not be easy to find a person to simply replace me once the schedules are made.  

I also have connections with all four grades - my advisory is freshman, AP Gov is almost exclusively sophomores, STEM Policy is juniors, and Environmental Media and Research are seniors.  I am in a setting where potentially I may teach some students all four years, which is exciting.

I had already had a couple of students tell me I had to come back so that they could have me again next year.  This week something else contributed to that.

On Monday I got an email from the athletic director asking if I wanted to apply for the boys varsity soccer head coaching position.  After talking with her I did.  As of Thursday the only other applicant was the current JV Coach.  He may get the position over me - the interviews are still more than a week off - but I come with some very strong recommendations, including from the immediate past principal, with whom I coached at Eleanor Roosevelt. And were he to get it, I would take the JV position if offered (one of the varsity assistants is interested in that, but I have 8 years experience as a JV coach, 1 with girls and 7 with boys) should the JV coach get the varsity position.

There is no guarantee I will get either position.  But when I told the #2 administrator I was applying his face lit up - he explained that meant I wanted to come back.

When I told students that I might be coaching next year, a number of them had the same reaction.

In other words, what matters most to me, connecting with the students, is already happening.

Why is this important?

As teachers we have a responsibility for the curricular material we are assigned for our classes.  But we cannot teach that in isolation from our students, and it is far easier to get students to get out of their comfort zones to a point where real learning occurs when they trust the teacher.  That trust at its most basic level is that the teacher will not abandon them.  Put simply, some of our students already have experiences of abandonment in their personal lives, and to some degree in school.

That I am willing to come back represents a commitment to them, even I might not be their teacher or their coach.  I am still here to talk with, I am easier to reach if they want recommendations for internships, scholarships, college applications.

There is something else different in how I teach.  I try to be open with myself.  It is part of my initiating that I trust them.

perhaps the clearest evidence that I trust them is that they sit in groups of four even when they take tests.  I told them partway through this quarter that were I to insist they sit apart while testing it would implying that I did not trust them to keep their eyes on their own papers.  I have told them I will trust them as individuals and as classes unless they give me cause not to.  So far that has not happened.

But it is in trusting them with myself that they begin to really trust me.

They know about my wife and her medical condition.

They know I was not a great student in high school or when I first began college.

I have on occasion shared my own angst as a teenager, from growing up in a household with two alcoholic parents, from being so insecure that I did not once ask a girl out in 10th grade, tried once in 11th and was turned down (she already had a date), and only finally went out on a date about two months before graduation when I decided come hell or high water I was going to find someone with whom to go to the senior prom.

This past week, at the request of students, I shared some pictures of me from my high school yearbook.  Some of the students were amazed at what I looked like at 16.  Of course, I still had a lot of hair!  But actually, looking back, I was quite good looking.  I found out at one high school reunion that there were some classmates who were disappointed that I did not ask them out.  

From this I was able to tell my students that I understood how difficult it could be to be a teenager- from family problems, from insecurity about one's appearance, from fear of social rejection.

I want every student who passes through my care to believe in himself, to be secure enough to hear the thoughts of others, be they praise or criticism, but not to be defined by those.

I want my students to believe in their own essential value.

Perhaps that is why as I approach my 68th birthday in just over 4 months I fully expect to be in a classroom not just this year and next, but so long as I am physically and emotionally capable.

On a personal level, I am now taking better care of myself, so that I will have the strength and energy necessary to fulfill my responsibilities to my students.

I am serious about yoga, although still very much a beginner.

I go to classes at least 4 times a week.

I have learned enough to do some practice at home.

I have changed my diet to be healthier.

I have lost 14+ pounds in 19 days.  For the first time in more than a decade I am below 185 pounds, the point at which I feel comfortable jugging/running without hurting my knees.

I am more energetic, able as a result to think more clearly.  As a result, my classroom practice is improving as well.

I have been back in the classroom for half a year.

I do not write reflections here every week.

Heck, I do not write here as much, because I have other commitments that are important - my health, my wife, my teaching, helping some family members and some friends who need our assistance.

For better or worse, I am best defined by what I do in a school 45 miles from where I sit.

I am a teacher.

And I will fight like hell against anyone who seeks to impose on our school and our students in a way that will interfere with my  being the teacher I can be for them.

I will not see students again until Tuesday.

I will not teach again until Wednesday, 1/29, which is also my wife's birthday.

But I will not stop thinking about my students, those who will continue with me, and the close to 60 who will be new to me beginning on the 29th.

I am teacher.

Want to make something of it?


Originally posted to teacherken on Sat Jan 18, 2014 at 04:23 AM PST.

Also republished by Education Alternatives and Teachers Lounge.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (14+ / 0-)

    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Sat Jan 18, 2014 at 04:23:48 AM PST

  •  always appreciate feedback (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    should you choose to give it in any form


    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Sat Jan 18, 2014 at 05:06:53 AM PST

  •  Tipped & rec'ed (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, FloridaSNMOM, OpherGopher

    nosotros no somos estúpidos

    by a2nite on Sat Jan 18, 2014 at 05:10:23 AM PST

  •  In a good educational world we would be able to... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, anastasia p, FloridaSNMOM

    do what Ken does and what at least some of his students do:

    Act normally (what I consider normal for teachers and learners, anyway) in an otherwise complex and confusing educational policy environment.

    Being able to tell a student that we know her capabilities and that we are then going to challenge them with a safety net and with scaffolding so that she can take learning risks without feeling that if she screws up, she'll go down the chute and... NEXT!

    Of course, I'm not there to see all the other things that go on and the other constraints to "normal" but I deduce that it's closer to normal than some of the charter schools we've been hearing about where students are merely inputs to the investment and exvestment machinations...

    Go Ken, go, go go! Oh, see Ken, he's happy and great at what he does.



    "Daddy, every time a bell rings, a Randian Libertaria­n picks up his Pan Am tickets for the Libertaria­n Paradise of West Dakota!"

    by unclebucky on Sat Jan 18, 2014 at 05:43:55 AM PST

    •  not quite (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      anastasia p, FloridaSNMOM, dicentra

      You wrote

      Oh, see Ken, he's happy and great at what he does.
      Only when I can.  I still have to deal with idiotic mandates,such as giving a test in a course that is project based learning, because the school board requires it.  Such as having my principal apologize to me for marking me down for not demonstrating cultural sensitivity in a lesson where it was completely irrelevant when she knows I am about as culturally sensitive and aware as any teacher in her building.  Such as having to have students sit for poorly written external tests that have no meaningful impact upon what they are learning nor are they necessarily adequate measures of what they have learned, and which have the unfortunate impact of restricting my flexibility in meeting the needs of my students because I must prepare them for such meaningless activities.  Such as wasting time in doing all kinds of documentation and explanation that bear little relevance to what I actually do as a teacher that actually helps my students learn.

      On these things, I am not happy.

      When I can function as the skilled and dedicated professional I am, then I am happy.

      "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

      by teacherken on Sat Jan 18, 2014 at 06:01:11 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Hahah, yes, by my quote of a reader I guess... (0+ / 0-)

        I meant what you said in your reply, Ken. :)

        Happy is never 100%...

        Be happy as you can be, Ken!


        "Daddy, every time a bell rings, a Randian Libertaria­n picks up his Pan Am tickets for the Libertaria­n Paradise of West Dakota!"

        by unclebucky on Sun Jan 19, 2014 at 08:18:39 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  What you've said here (5+ / 0-)

    crystallizes one of the reasons I think groups like Teacher for America are wrong for education: that temporary thing, that lack of commitment to the students, the school, the community, the churn and instability for students who have too much of it in their lives already.

    Thanks for sticking with teaching at a time when it seems like to many factors conspire to push excellent teachers out.

    Ed FitzGerald for governor Of Ohio. Women's lives depend on it.

    by anastasia p on Sat Jan 18, 2014 at 06:36:07 AM PST

  •  Teaching is more than just fact transmission (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, teacherken

    And your work exemplifies all that teaching can be, and why those years of experience matter. I think we learn not just how to teach, but how to care about our students. That makes it hard to consider giving it up! My dad, who turns 98 in a few weeks, still exchanges letters with former students from 50 years ago or more.

    You are making even more difference because it's high school. At the beginning, they are still so young, and at the end, they can vote, enlist in the military, marry, go off to college on their own, try for a job to support themselves, ... They need people like you to be there for them across this transition.

    I do hope you can keep teaching, and especially teaching how to become a teacher. And if  full time is too much, that you can find a way to scale back to what is manageable. Like my dad, though, you'll have that legacy with you always.

  •  I imagine you'd have considered it if it were (0+ / 0-)

    possible, but have you thought about moving closer to work?

    Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL. If Corporations are People--Let's draft them.

    by benamery21 on Sat Jan 18, 2014 at 10:43:40 AM PST

    •  not going to happen (0+ / 0-)

      where we are we are rooted in multiple communities, including especially the veterinary hospital that has treated our pets since 1982

      "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

      by teacherken on Sat Jan 18, 2014 at 12:18:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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