Tuesday, August 19, 2014

It's Go Time

Go Time Indeed
So tomorrow marks the official end of summer for teachers in my division with the arrival of students back at school.  The week long formal preparation has come to an end.  Most teachers have been prepping on some level since school got out in June but day 1 sneaks up quickly and you must manage the butterflies and find ways to serve your future students.  This year with 1 to 1 rolling out at our school there has been a bit more preparing than normal, but preparing is a rite of passage for teachers in August.

As I did prepare I was making a few copies in our new "Paper-Lite"(buzzword anyone?) technology blended workplace, I overheard a younger teacher ask a much more seasoned teacher if they were ready for school to start.  The reply fit the moment.

"You are never really ready...You just go."

That statement epitomizes my feelings exactly. And tomorrow is go time.   I could spend a whole month getting ready for the arrival of students and still find in many ways I still eel unprepared.Truth is I hate Pre-school week as I spend the majority of it in meetings or engaged in Organized Procrastination ( We can all get a little blue from the start of school).  Yep...some might say I seem intent on rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic instead of getting down to preparing in ways that really matter.  I focus a lot on my room.  Learning spaces are important...and recent trends to continue to place focus on shiny new spaces.  So I spent much of this week removing dated furniture, storing rarely used texts and finding a way to open things up a little by removing the clutter.  Hopefully it will be an improvement.  But we are still in a basement you know.

Another reason I don't enjoy this week is that there are no students in the building.  If the school building is the body, the staff is the skeleton that holds it together and the students are the blood in the veins.  The place lacks life without them.  Save the occasional visit from those getting a head start and mapping out their travel plan or those fixing scheduling issues its been just us teachers.  As energetic as we've been we can't replicate the buzz created by the young folks when they fill the building.  This year especially they will really FILL our building but until tomorrow it has just seems stale and empty.  At least when they are there going crazy there's some energy in the place.

So no I am not complaining about being back at work, quite the contrary.  My sister who teaches in Southwest VA has been back for 2 weeks already so I count my blessings for a little extra time with the family.  Sure I'd need my head examined if I didn't secretly wish for a few more days(or weeks)  of summer.  But it is go time.  Time to get back to the routines, the normalcy, the unpredictable chaos.  Schools in our area will fill with the young and the not so young but the mission is the same.  Help them grow, learn, think, engage, understand, cope, create, discover and do our best to educate them to the best of our ability.

Students, parents and teachers alike will lay our heads down tonight with a curious blend of anticipation, anxiety, excitement, and even dread.  In the months ahead we will will journey together with all of life's little adventures.   It will take time to learn each others stories and there is so much to do but at 8:55 tomorrow we get down to it.  Best of luck to all those who will greet the new and old faces and wishing everyone the best for a safe, successful and memorable school year!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How I Missed My Son's 8th Grade Graduation

I'm pretty sure it was the largest class to ever graduate from Jack Jouett Middle School. Somewhere close to two-hundred and fifty eighth graders. So large, they moved the graduation down the road to Albemarle High School. It worked out well for me, that's where I teach. I wouldn't even have to take leave to slide down to the auditorium for a short middle school graduation.

My wife and I found good seats in the standing room only crowd. Like most graduations, we were there to watch our son walk across the stage, literally, from one stage of life to the next. But I missed it, and all I got instead was this lousy picture.

Bearing my name, I knew he'd be in the second half of the second half of the alphabet. I patiently waited for the "S's" to remove my phone from my pocket to ready the camera. I tried out the angles and settings as the first "T" was called and sat prepared to capture my son's milestone.

They called his name. As he walked up the steps I snapped a shot and inspected. "Too soon, that's no good, I've got time for another." So I tried again. "Too far away, I need more zoom." By now he's reaching for his certificate. "Last chance, better make it good." As I inspected the picture above, he started down the aisle, walking toward the back of the room and I realized, "I didn't even see him graduate."

I'd gotten so concerned about documenting and preserving the experience that in the end, I missed out and all I've got to show for it is a poor quality picture. That image would mean so much more if I'd paused to savor the moment, paid attention to what was happening, and allowed that memory to process for me to hold in my mind forever.

But I've learned a valuable lesson moving forward into this school year. The moment is so much more important than the documentation. We've become a culture that values the proof more than the experience. It's not enough to do. There has to be evidence that it's been done.

This is true of our vacations that we document on social media and it's true of our classrooms where the shiny project for display takes precedence over learning.

I'm not missing out this year, and I'm not going to let my students miss out. I'll still snap pictures when something cool is happening, I'll still have students produce projects to complement their learning. But I'm not going to waste so much time "trying to take the picture" that I miss out on the important things that are going on.

This happens in many ways in our classrooms:
1) The grade becomes more important than the learning
2) The project becomes a showpiece instead of a learning process
3) The teacher evaluation becomes self-promotion instead of honest self-reflection
4) The student work is displayed to demonstrate the creativity of the teacher instead of reinforcing the effort of the student.

I'm sure there's more. But I think all of it is solved by committing to be fully present to our students and their needs in every interaction we have with them.