Ah, August: the Sunday of Summer. Which means the official commencement of the Sunday Scaries (you know those moments of sheer panic that occur throughout the day on Sunday wherein you suddenly and very deeply realize exactly what you still haven’t done to fully prepare for the work-week ahead).
The dawn of the Sunday Scaries feels like being stalked by a small predator: you are safe for the moment, but you eventually have to make a decision about how to get free completely. Trying to outrun the beast means simply prolonging the uncertainty/fear. Or you can turn on that beast, which really isn’t that big at all, and you can rear back and roar and make yourself large and attempt to scare it off forever.
Every year since I began teaching, when the Sunday Scaries commenced in August, I swore I would turn and frighten that beast away. But then Fantasy Football season would start and a last-minute trip to the beach would be a good idea and, well, last year was actually fine, I can outpace the beast for a little bit. Until Thanksgiving, at least. At worst, I can get right in the New Year. But then, inevitably, the chase lasts all year. And then summer comes and I crash in a heap at the end of June, one eye open for the lurking beast.
Well, this is me standing big and tall. Approximately five weeks out from Day One, and here I am: roar.
I’m starting my School Year’s Resolutions today. Yes, it is
Tuesday Wednesday. And, true, I did not actually get to campus to start setting up today this week as I had planned. That’s okay. Because simply completing this post is one of the things I’m holding myself accountable for this year. And that’s a small victory to get things going.
So, here is my School Year’s Resolution for the 2016-2017 school year. It’d be cool if you stopped by once in a while to help hold me accountable. It’d be cooler still if you made your own resolutions, too, and we helped each other out. At any rate, here it is, in no particular order and without much revision (new/old rules).
- Re-think my assessment strategies in the classroom. My first year of teaching, I didn’t give traditional grades. We had rubrics, sure, but a lot of what my students did was generated by their interest and was assessed via my copious feedback. Time and experience and an expanding student body dictated some changes to my methods, but last year I found myself giving too many quizzes and tests. I’m considerably less thorough in my feedback on projects and essays than I would like to be. Last year, my classroom showed signs of being that dreaded kind of place where kids showed up and waited to be quizzed and then they basically checked out until the Q-word popped up again. That sucks. And I’m upset that I let it get that way. This year, I plan on implementing more student-centered projects and building on existing units to provide more authentic challenges and to move away from study-guided readings. In a perfect world, I’d get rid of grades altogether, but I’m going to take some time (a month at least) before I say for sure that I’m making that move.
- Become a Google Certified Trainer. I’m a little ashamed that I’m not even a Google Certified Educator. Our school converted to Google officially at the start of last year, and I’ve been using Google Classroom and their suite of services for at least that long. It’s such a simple set-up and yet I have this suspicion that I’m not using the product to my complete advantage. And, as someone who is fairly tech-savvy, if I’m not taking full advantage, I’m sure some other folks in the district may not be either. I’d love to leverage my own curiosities into opportunities for other teachers in the district and beyond.
- Be more open in my reflective practices. This one might seem a little obvious given the nature of this composition. However, what I mean is this: I tend to blame myself for student disinterest or for a class-wide subpar performance. Part of getting past that means sharing what is happening in my classroom more frequently (beyond the dinner-table ramblings my poor wife has to suffer) and inviting other adults into my classroom to help me see my practices from a different point of view.
- Push for Scholarly Personal Narrative and other alternative writing assignments. In addition to my classes feeling as if they have somewhat staled, they also feel more status quo. As I’ve pushed for academic excellence, I fear I’ve cropped the heart out of many of my students’ essays. During this past spring, I stumbled upon Scholarly Personal Narrative, a topic that I was introduced to in a slightly different manner by my hero and co-worker Brian Mooney when we co-taught an American Lit course and utilized a variety of digital and analog literacy platforms. However, since then, something has been missing. This year, I’d like to generate more authentic expression and criticism by encouraging students to write from “I” and then get into the mechanisms for sophisticated academic writing. Recently, I’ve reversed and minimized that process. In turn, I fear I’ve lowered the ceiling for personality and raised the floor of mechanical composition and analysis.
- Find ways to better incorporate close-reading and writing skills into a Maker Environment. The academy in which I teach has changed again and again, always seeking the cutting edge of the design industry. This has led us to becoming a maker space, which has been amazing. Our students have gone from creating hand-made artifacts that served as models and digital renderings that were mostly theoretical to being able to 3-D print objects or use a CNC machine to bring their ideas to life. My place as Literature instructor has been to supply a humanities heart to this otherwise industrial place. And while I relish that role, and believe it to be paramount, I also believe that there is more I can do to reach beyond the pages of novels and poems. In my research for how I might get this done, I’ve found teachers like Nick Provenzano, who has leveraged his English class to include impressive and timely technology. (Nick is, unbeknownst to him, another of my heroes). How can I use literature to both advance a common understanding of the human condition while also providing my engineering and design students with the kind of critical and technical prowess they will need to succeed in their other classes? I’ll let you know next June.
- Start a podcast. As a storyteller, podcasting is, and has been, an exciting medium to me. I’ve recently fallen in love with true stories, becoming a fanboy of The Moth and StoryCorps, both of which I plan to use in my classroom in coming months, very likely as supporting components of the Maker mind-set. But I also have this recent itch to tell the story of teachers. Which brings me to…
- Define what it means to be a Human Being Teacher and use this blog as a platform for personal and professional development for both myself and anyone who is interested in the ideas and ideals that find their way onto this site and devoting myself to any ancillary projects that come from this process. As I move through the year and continue to develop this project, I hope to not only figure out how to produce a podcast, but also to create a space that values learning about and sharing what it means to be a human being and how to remain one in and out of the classroom.
This post is titled Part 1 because I expect to return to this list once the school year starts. History has taught me that the fear-engines turn on in August, but the jet fuel really starts to burn once the kids show up and things really get moving in September and action displaces some of the fear/anticipation. I expect to have many more ideas not only in mid- to late-September but throughout the year as well. In fact, I expect this list to grow over the years, and I’m looking forward to see what I can accomplish and what falls away in the next ten months and beyond. I sincerely hope you’ll follow along.