Monday, September 17, 2012

The World is Disappearing


I have to say that the creator of this map did a fairly decent job of representing the New Yorker’s point of view. New York is a great city with much to offer, but every time I hear the phrase “flyover state,” I can’t help but cringe a little.

This year I’m beginning my curriculum with a geography unit. Over the past few years it’s become blindingly apparent that our students have no clue about the area of study in general, let alone its specifics. Few can even tell the difference between a city, state, and country, let alone name them. I’d wonder what the heck their social studies teachers have been doing for the past eight years, but I know already- basically nothing, because they haven’t really had social studies.

Since the beginning of the standards movement, the number of minutes devoted to social studies has taken a huge dive. In many elementary schools the only subjects considered important are English and math, with some lip service being paid to science.

Take that and toss in a healthy dose the New York attitude- many of my students might as well be taking U.S. history on the moon.


Monday, September 3, 2012

One Teacher's Summer


It seems that most individuals I meet during the summer think that I’ve come into three months almost entirely free from the bonds of the job; that during those “sacred” months, teachers cannot be bothered by engaging in worthwhile and productive activity. Even those sympathetic to teachers seem to give a sideways glance or two during this period of the year, forgetting slightly that the job is not so easy during the school year. Much of this comes again from our own perspectives of what summer was like- as kids. Perhaps it can be excused for that reason. Regardless, giving a perspective on one teacher’s summer might help to clarify what many of us do with ourselves in (June,) July and August.

Big Baking Apples
Summers in New York include leisure, blistering sidewalk heat, and east coast shenanigans. My own neighborhood has the particular odor of baking urine, as there are a ton of dogs around (among other animals). In general, a sort of oppressive heat settles on the city much like the inside of a pizza oven. Where I grew up the temperature regularly tops 110 degrees with full humidity, sometimes for several straight weeks in the summer, but at least it cools down at night...

In this pizza oven, teachers are afforded nine weeks, but few take all of them. That would mean walking out of the building the second the kids leave and back into the building without anything set up just two days before school begins. That’s horrifying to think about for a number of reasons. Here’s a week by week replay of what I did with myself…

Week 1
This was mostly a week off. I spent two days putzing around the house, wrapping up odds and ends from the school year, planning for the work that had to be done over the summer, and preparing to take a trip to Cape Cod. My wife and some friends and I were invited up to a friend’s family house for the Fourth, so we took him up on it and went up there for a few days. Luckily, the family let me cook dinner for them one night (striper in b├ęchamel with potatoes, topped with shrimp- something close to bacalao, as well as vichysoisse and almond cake) and thereby allowed me to feel useful.

Week 2
30 hours at school and 10-15 outside of the building planning and helping to facilitate professional development for key staff members in charge of implementing some major structural changes in our grade and school next year.

Week 3
The weekend and Monday I spent in Michigan visiting the in-laws, while Tuesday was a full day spent at school learning about Google Scripts from an expert in the area. The technology should help us implement a new advisory model with increased student-teacher and home-teacher communication as well as decreased truancy (crossing our fingers on that one). That Wednesday morning I gave a lecture about blended learning to a summer enrichment course for teachers my wife was teaching and then left directly to the airport to board a flight to England.

Weeks 4-6
Was spent working at a museum in England developing curriculum. While I’d love to elaborate, confidentiality requires not so many details as to give away my school, etc. Our schedule was fairly grueling though, beginning at 7:30AM and ending at 6PM, but the work was great. The location wasn’t too shabby either, though I was priced out of actually attending any Olympic events ($800+/event). At the end of the experience we had the beginnings of a massive collaborative effort between Brits and Americans that I plan to install as one of my largest curricular pieces this year. We were also all thoroughly exhausted, mentally and otherwise.

Week 7
Four days with my grade level team planning and working to prepare for the coming year followed by a day of exit exam grading. Evenings here are split between time with my wife and planning curriculum for the coming year.

Week 8
Three straight days and evenings of curriculum planning in front of a TV playing “Band of Brothers” as well as “Gulliver’s Travels.” Earlier in the summer I’d read the book associated with the latter and used the movie with Jack Black to write an exemplar compare and contrast paper for my AVID elective class’s first assignment of the year- slated to begin the third day of school. I also tossed in my yearly dentist appointment for good measure. After that my wife and I and the Cape Cod group mentioned earlier went out to Montauk for a few days on the beach.

Week 9/Week 1 of School
Almost every teacher I know goes back to work during this week. Classroom setup, two days to learn more about Google Scripts, and numerous meetings with a variety of groups of people in the school kept me busy.

Labor Day. Done.

Now, this is not a typical summer for teachers, but it speaks to the fact that most of us don’t simply lay around the entire time. Additionally, not mentioned here are teachers who have kids at home. Many choose in fact to stay at home with their kids to strengthen their family and make sure they raise their kids in a healthy manner. For some reason that’s lost on a lot of individuals and instead summer is still characterized as “leisure time.” My own stay-at-home mother worked the hardest during the summer months, when the six of us where running around the neighborhood like crazed maniacs between sports practices and games-- students aren't in school either.