Friday, June 24, 2016

A Day in the Life of a High School English Teacher

6:00 a.m. - My alarm begins blaring on my cell phone. I have always had a hard time waking up in the mornings, so I have an app that requires me to complete ten math problems before I can turn off the alarm. Needless to say, after fumbling my way drunkenly through ten not-exactly-difficult-but-not-too-easy-either math problems, I'm pretty much too annoyed to go back to sleep. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't. I hear my toddler's chirps over the baby monitor and if I don't attend to him soon (attend - bring him into the bedroom and give him a sippy cup of milk and some Cheerios) then our morning will not be off to a good start. I get ready for work while kiddo sits contentedly munching on cereal, and then I get him dressed and ready for daycare. My husband works out of town quite frequently right now, so it's just little man and me today. After my son is dressed, he plays in the living room for a few minutes while I get my lunch packed. My life is a lot easier if I prepare all meals in advance, so all I have to do is pull containers out of refrigerator and toss them in my lunch bag. I take breakfast on the road -  peanut butter spread on toast. We feed the dog, and we're out the door by 7:20.

7:30 a.m. - I take my son to daycare, where he runs to his little chair so he can promptly have second breakfast, Hobbit-style. Once he's got breakfast in front of him, he's pretty content to wave bye-bye as I leave.

7:50 a.m. - I arrive to school. My first stop each morning is my classroom, so I can drop off my bag and fire up the computer. The bell will ring in about twenty minutes, which is just enough time for me to get settled in for the morning. I don't come in to work early like so many other teachers do for a couple of reasons. First, I do have my kiddo to think about. I like spending the fairly leisurely hour each morning with him, and he likes sleeping until between 6:00 and 6:30 each morning. Second, I stay late after school most evenings, so I don't feel guilty about coming in at 7:50 or even 8:00 (official arrival time according to contract). And third and most importantly, I am not a morning person. I never have been. I'm a cranky bear in the morning and it takes me a solid ninety minutes to wake up. It's a wonder I can put on pants in the morning. If I came in earlier, I would get nothing accomplished. No point. So, instead, I take the twenty minutes in the morning to check my mailbox, get my water bottle and my tea together, and open up my email, grade book, and attendance software. A few students come milling in early to chat for a couple minutes before the day starts.

8:10 a.m. - The first bell of the day, and the beginning of our longest passing period. Sometimes I hang out in the hallway, but most of the time I have students who come in right away who need something from me - a pass to the library during advisory, help with a homework assignment, a question about the afternoon's theatre practice, etc. I spend the beginning of every morning fielding questions, requests, and conversations with students. At this point in my day, I haven't even spoken to anyone above the age of 18.

8:20 a.m. - The final bell rings and advisory period begins. This is homeroom, essentially. I take attendance and double-check student progress reports to see if anyone needs a pep talk about getting their grades up. A few students have to meet other teachers to make up missed tests this morning; several honors students go to the library or to another teacher's classroom to work on assignments. Several others get passes to go eat breakfast. This leaves me with about four students in my classroom who work quietly. Students are in and out of my classroom during advisory period. A couple of my honors freshmen come in to ask questions about Romeo and Juliet, the current unit of study. Two students stop by to pick up drama club schedules since they missed yesterday's meeting. Three sophomores come in to make up missed quizzes, and I track down the other two that are supposed to come in and email their advisory teacher. They show up shortly thereafter. The morning announcements come on at about 8:45 and the bell rings at 8:55. Everyone scatters. This particular morning, my first class is meeting in the computer lab, so I lock up my classroom and head upstairs. I write the agenda for class on the whiteboard in the lab.

9:00 a.m. - My first period general English 10 class has just started their debates unit. The debates require a great deal of research, and we have limited access to technology in my building. There aren't enough computers for the 32 students in this lab, but fortunately they are working in teams on the debate, so it's okay if a couple of students don't have computers. The students meet with their teammates. I walk them through the day's agenda, which includes reviewing the feedback I have given them on their team's thesis statements, resubmitting a revised thesis statement if necessary, creating source cards for the websites they are using, and writing their supporting evidence for their claims on fact cards. I spend the forty-five minute period wandering from group to group, answering questions or playing devil's advocate to their reasoning in the hopes that they will build stronger arguments for the debate. The students access the classroom website very regularly during this time, because this is where they can find the instructions for how to create source cards and fact cards using MLA formatting. There is also a video lesson they watched a few days before about how to write a thesis statement. A few students watch the video again before submitting their revised thesis statements. I remind the students that we will be back in the classroom tomorrow to work on our formal debate outlines, and the bell rings at 9:45. My next class is my new theatre arts class. We are meeting on the stage today, so I go there next.

9:50 a.m. - Second period theatre arts contains thirteen very eager students who are thrilled to be there pretty much every day. Today is no exception. We are doing physicality work today, so several of them go to the dressing rooms to dress out, like they would for gym class. By 9:55, we are in a circle on the stage, and I am leading them through warm ups. A few of the students in the class have never done theatre before; they are taking the class for the fun fine arts elective. They are quickly learning how physical theatre can be as I lead them through squats, arm circles, calf raises, and several yoga poses to help them limber up. I know from experience that if we don't warm up, they will be very sore or could get injured. After we've done a thorough warm-up, they don their neutral masks. We've been studying Jacques Cousteau and acting methodology behind using the neutral mask. We work through the seven levels of energy, moving from being sluggish, spineless, wobbling creatures to frantic, high strung, high energy people. After a short break, they are allowed time to work with their teammates on their masked morality plays they will be staging in a week. They watch each other move and offer critical feedback on how the actor should use his body to better convey meaning, since wearing the neutral mask means they may not make a sound. By 10:35, they are both tired and exhilarated by the work they have done, and I'm immensely pleased by the effort they have put forth. The bell rings, and I go to my classroom to meet my third period students.

10:40 a.m. - My honors English 9 students meet me at the door. For the most part, they are a very punctual group and very eager to come to class. I let them in the room and they check the drawer by the door to see if they have a new handout today, which they do not. The students who are eager to read aloud today grab one of the half dozen Shakespeare character cards attached to the board, the name of the character they want to be. Students argue lightly over who gets to be Romeo; the students who want to participate but don't have the confidence to read one of the lead roles choose the "Random Character" cards from the board, knowing they'll be assigned a servant or some other minor character who doesn't have to say much. As always, Friar Lawrence is left on the board, the last kid to get picked for the basketball team. A little cajoling on my end gets a student to pick up this card, so we've fleshed out our cast. By the time students have made it to their desks and Shakespeare cards have been nabbed, I have the instructions up on the board. Students check the board, get out their Smash Books, and start updating the complex character web and calendar of events that we've created for this play. I play music - the musical selection of the day is The Piano Guys - for the first five to ten minutes of class as students work, chatting quietly. I take the opportunity to move around the room, sometimes reviewing a student's work in the Smash Book, sometimes asking them how basketball practice is going or what they're doing over the weekend or what piece of music they are working on in concert band. It's at this point that I remember to take attendance - I am seriously bad at remembering this - so I put in attendance while I chat over my shoulder with a student about a great movie he saw recently. I get out a mini sticky note, write down the student's movie suggestion, and stick it to my desk. Students always watch to see if I'm going to write down their recommendation, and they tend to follow up in a couple weeks, to see if I read the book/watched the movie/listened to the song/tried the restaurant. I try really hard to get to all of their suggestions so we can have another conversation. Plus, I like when they teach me things too. After we've caught up in the Smash Books, I ask the students to recap the major events of Romeo and Juliet thus far. I put my own version of the character web and the calendar up on the Smart Board, and I update it as they tell me to. If I notice something isn't quite right, I double-check with the student. Another student jumps in and makes the necessary correction. After we're all back on track with what's been going on, we start reading Act V. It's one of the few acts that we will read through and watch through. That will be tomorrow. I timed it as I hoped, and the bell rings right at the point that Romeo tosses back the poison and Juliet wakes up. They all groan in frustration, and I laugh because I'm twisted like that. I erase all of the new notes and put the instructions back on the board for 4th period.

11:30 a.m. - Fourth period is still honors English 9, but it's a completely different group. Third period is a class of 30 students, with 26 of them identifying as extroverts. They love to talk about anything. Fourth period is a class of 17, and 15 identify as introverts. They come in quietly. Only one student picks up a name off the board unprovoked (I'm sure you could guess that he's an extrovert and is dying for the opportunity to use his voice). They all settle in to work, whispering to the student next to them. I play The Piano Guys again, but I don't move in and around with this group. It makes them noticeably uncomfortable if I stop by for a chat when they are trying to work. So instead, I perch on the edge of a desk. I don't grade papers or allow myself to look busy in any way; I just sit there, making myself available to a kid if they need me. A few do; they come up and ask me questions one-on-one. One raises her hand, and I go to the front of the room to her seat to talk to her. One student does engage me in conversation about comic books, a commonality that he and I share. The classroom's resident politician sits nearby; he makes a comment that turns the conversation on it's head and the next thing I know, we're having a serious discussion about the pros and cons of socialism. A few other students take part in the conversation, most just watch it go down. They are engaged in the conversation, but they just don't have anything to say. Most of these students are listeners, not talkers. After the allotted five to ten minutes, I hold up the Shakespeare character cards that haven't been taken and start pressing for someone to pick up the cards. It doesn't take too long before a few kids come up to take the remaining cards. The rest of the class goes in much the same way that third period did. Once we are into the lesson, the lesson flows smoothly, But getting my fourth period comfortable and eager to participate is a totally different game than working with third period.

12:15 p.m. - Lunchtime, and I finally get to go pee. I also refill my water bottle, heat up my lunch, and then return to my classroom. I prefer to eat in my classroom rather than the cafeteria because it is just too noisy in there and I have trouble hearing conversation when there is a lot of background noise. Also, as an introvert myself, I need thirty minutes by myself to recharge a bit. I listen to music, eat my lunch, and assess last year's Romeo and Juliet test review game to see if it still meets my needs. I tweak it here and there, changing the wording of a question, replacing another question entirely. Five minutes before the bell, I pack up and head back up the computer lab.

12: 50 p.m. - Fifth period is noisy. They are friendly as can be, but they know how to generate some noise. They are general sophomores so class runs basically the same way as first period, except a problem arises. A student from one of the teams has been assigned to the alternative school for the remainder of the year. The team is in a state of panic of this because that was, of course, the kid who had all of the papers they had done so far and had all of their notes and HAD EVERYTHING. I sit down with the team and we come up with a game plan for reassigning who will do what for this big project. I print them new copies of the worksheets that are now missing (fortunately there are only two) and I help them get those filled out. I spend the majority of my time getting this team back on track, kind of leaving the others to the wolves. I feel badly about that, but there's only one of me and there are 35 of them. With the exception of one team who is obviously not on task, the others do a great job for the class period. When the bell rings, I hold back the team that wasn't on task and I ask them why they think I kept them after. They know why, and they tell me why. When I ask them what they think I ought to do about this, one says, "Take away our computer privileges." I ask them to come up with a game plan so that they will stay on task in the future, knowing that the penalty for not doing so will be the loss of computer privileges, as suggested.

1:40 p.m. - Sixth period general English 10 is my most challenging class of the day. They are a hugely diverse group with very different needs. I have seven students in this class with I.E.P.s, more than in any other class. I have five with behavior issues, and these five thrive off of each other. I have many very good students in this class, but unfortunately they are often overshadowed by their peers. Two of the five troublesome students, however, are in the office for the class period. The structure of the teams and the absence of these two students allows for a fairly smooth class period. Three students lose their computer privileges for the period for playing games instead of using their time well; they will have to use their advisory period tomorrow morning to get today's classwork done. Since they lose computer privileges, I give them an on-topic task that they can do by hand. They grumble, but they comply. They'll be better tomorrow, I am confident.

2:30 p.m. - Seventh period is my prep period. I head back down to my classroom. For the first time today, I start responding to emails that didn't require an urgent response. Three parent emails, a couple from administration. I have four evaluations to fill out on I.E.P. students before an upcoming conference, so I take care of those. I also had two students ask me to write them letters of recommendation earlier in the week, and I need to get those done. Time slips through my fingers. At 3:00, I start getting my classroom prepped for the next day. I erase today's agenda and objectives, filling in tomorrow's information as I go. I have handouts for tomorrow's English 10 class that I copied earlier in the week, so I drop those into their drawer. I straighten the desks, pick up the trash off the floor, and get all of my personal belongings together.

3:15 p.m. - The bell rings and I go out into the commons for afternoon hallway duty. Kids stream by, heading out to the buses. Several stop and make conversation on their way out. After the halls clear, I head up to our auditeria for drama practice.

3:30 p.m. - We're about two weeks out from production, so we're now having five-day-a-week practices that last until 5:00. Also, because we are so close, that means that I have the full club in attendance right now - all 40ish kids. I corral them all together and give each team their assignments: stage crew, double-check all props, set the stage, and make a list of anything that is still missing; tech crew, we're running from the top today, so please go double-check all of your sound and light cues; costume and makeup, help the cast get into costume and do a makeup inventory; cast, get into costumes and begin warm ups. Show time is at 4:00. It all runs very smoothly; this is a student-led and operated program and I'm just there to put out any figurative or literal fires that pop up. The run-through goes well but we're still missing a couple of items, so I'll be making a last minute shopping run this weekend.

5:30 p.m. - I finally get to see my little boy. I pick him up from daycare and, as always, he is starving. We head directly home.

6:00 p.m. - Dinnertime for my son. Right now he's still young enough that he eats dinner and goes to bed way before I'm ready. So he has his dinner in the kitchen while I start my own dinner and sing to him and talk to him. Dinner is followed up by bath time, jammies, a book, and then bed. He is usually in bed between 6:45 and 7:00. This is a wonderful thing because I do get some time to myself in the evening, something I desperately crave after being "on" all day long. It also sucks, though, because I don't get much time with him weeknights. We more than make up for this on the weekends, though, when we play and do fun things all day long. Since having my son, I've made it a point to not bring home any school work on weekends unless it is absolutely essential. I have learned a lot about how to better manage my time so I can be 100% in family mode when I'm with my son. Weekends are for family. It makes me feel less guilty about the time lost during the week.

7:00 p.m. - My kiddo is in bed and I am finishing dinner and working. I want to find a video of a masked theatre group doing physicality work, so my theatre students can see professionals doing the very thing they are learning. I also have to finish writing my Romeo and Juliet test for the next week. My freshmen this year are really excelling at this unit, so I've upped my game and made it more rigorous than ever. They've risen to the challenge beautifully. The test needs to reflect this, so it requires an update. I also need to work on the playbill for the upcoming theatre production. One of my students has an intense interest in graphic design, so I'm coaching him on the side. The playbill is his current project; it is something we've been collaborating on using Google Drive. I need to review his latest changes and give feedback. My husband calls, so I stop working for a bit to talk to him. Some things don't get done that evening that I wanted to accomplish, but that's why I work in advance. I have to allow lots of extra time for other priorities if I'm going to do it all.

9:00 p.m. - I take an hour and a half to unwind before bed. I watch Game of Thrones because I am obsessed. After Thrones is over and I have experienced all the feels that a person possibly can in one 60-minute show, I check on my son and then get ready for bed. I read in bed for just a bit and then it's lights out at 10:30. I lay awake for a really long time because I have trouble closing all the browser windows that are open in my head, but eventually I get to sleep.

Then I wake up and do a variation of this day all over again.