Sunday, June 28, 2009

Year in Review: Sept, Oct, Nov, and Dec 2008

I'm only to September? Really? I have a lot of work to do.

September 2008. Checking the google calendar to see what happened then, because honestly, I don't remember. The first 3 months of the school year blurred together, and the overhanging feeling is one of frustration and not accomplishing the amazing things I had planned.

Oh, yes, that was the month of the Golden Bell award visit. Two years previously, we had earned the California Designated School award. That was (and continues to be) a pretty big deal, especially since we earned it the first year we were even eligible to apply. We spent the whole year writing the monstrous application and preparing for the visit, and when we won, the whole school rode an excited wave of accomplishment that lasted well into the next year.

So, the California School Board Association has this award called the Golden Bell. The application is about a page and a half, and we were nominated by the same people on our school board who were actively trying to kill the spirit of our school, so it wasn't that big a deal to anyone but the principal (I'm sure it's the first item on her resume now...). Of course, everyone likes winning awards, but the culture of our school was already so degraded that we couldn't really get excited. When the principal decided to start the 8th grade promotion in June with a "ceremonial ring of the Golden Bell" (yes, they actually sent us a bell), it was all we could do to keep from laughing.

The most frustrating part, besides the principal's taking credit for how awesome our school is when she had only been there a month, was the lack of reflection. When we applied for the Distinguished School award, everyone took a part in putting together the application, and a few people spent hours and hours writing the responses. It was a great time for us newer people to learn the history of the school, and for those who had been around to see how much we had change. We all had in-depth conversations about different components of our program, and the application process, though tedious, made ours a better school. The Golden Bell application didn't require the same collaborative reflection, which could have helped to solve some of our problems.

There's not a lot else on the calendar, but the few things there just serve to remind me of how much hair we tore out as we learned new, frustrating characteristics of our Dear Leader. For example, she spent hours talking about Constitution Day lesson plans and hounding people for their written proof that they had taught about the constitution on this particular day, regardless of relation to their content area standards, but she didn't take the time to plan all-school rallies, which, in the past, have been vital for maintaining the school culture.

The whole review won't be griping about the principal, but the first few months were so frustrating that I'm sure complaints will be a common motif for a while.

October 2008. Hooray for Midterms! Okay, maybe not, but by 7th grade, the kids have taken 3 midterms and 3 finals, so only the new students were at all fazed by them. Better monitoring in advisory improved the quality of only a few review sheets; I'm not sure why kids don't study for exams, and it seems that we will always struggle with preparation. We also started the Exhibition research report, which has also become something of a standard procedure. The 7th grade team worked together really well on this exhibition, and it went fairly smoothly, although there is always a lot of room to improve.

We also had the Learner-Led Conferences, which are a staple of our school. Every student is required to lead a conference after every Midterm week, and each parent signs up for a specific time. The rubric requires students to present, with passion and energy, their work (do you like how I used the plural there so that I could avoid the whole gender-specific pronoun thing?) and accomplishments. Oh, yeah, and they are responsible for completing the whole conference within 15 minutes. :). I've been to schools where only a few parents show up to an open-house style mess, and this is much more effective. Parents are more comfortable because it's their kid presenting, rather than a teacher talking at them, and the kids are encouraged to use their home language. (side note: I learned a lot of Spanish this year!). Kids aren't so comfortable, because there are at least two and sometimes four or five adults listening to them all at once, but it's worthwhile because they build confidence and learn how to talk to their parents about their grades. We gain some side benefits, too: the parents learn that they are welcome in the classroom, and they learn that their younger kids are welcome, too, because the teachers make a point of saying hello and having crayons and paper out for them. Students see that their parents and teachers (usually) have common expectations and talk to each other, and it makes the conversation easier if I have to call home two weeks later because someone didn't turn in math homework.

Because of conferences, and the beginning of long-term projects, the last two weeks of October tend to be the most productive, even with that sugar-laden interruption known as Halloween!

November: This month was more difficult than usual. Along with the previously-mentioned frustrations, long-term projects, and reawakening provided by conferences, we had the upset that comes when a teacher is out on long-term medical leave. Also, a family issue left me emotionally drained (fried, strung-out, practically stoned, with no illegal substances involved), so much of my teaching was robotic...on autopilot.

December: By the 2nd week of this short month, I had decided that allowing personal problems and an incompetent boss to prevent me from doing my best was total crap, and I began to come out of hibernation...just in time for the hell week that always happens just before the exhibition. Except, it wasn't hell's nice when kids know what they're doing! The exhibition went well, and we were ready for Christmas Break when it arrived. Happy New Year!

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