Thursday, May 22, 2014

Cycles and Renewal

In my last post I talked a lot about what a rough but worth it year it has been.  That is definitely true, but so very worth it to see that first graduating class, to see our AP and upper level science classes literally explode when I was worried for a bit if the S in STEM stood for something other than science.  Getting end of the year notes (and tweets) from students, those that I'll have next year and those that I'm just going to hope have amazing lives as they move on out of my orbit.  Helping those last few students get over the line to an A, or even to passing, even if I have to hunt them down and drag them across the finish line.  It is all worth it.

And of course as we wrap up one year that seemed long at the time, but now seems like it just flew past, attention starts to turn to next year.  I think this is one of the most amazing things about teaching, not the summers off per se, but the fact that it is one of the things I've done that was in these discrete packages (quanta, one might say).  When I worked in the medical field or in industry, each day might be slightly different, but on the whole, it was the same process, over and over and there was no real time when you were "done" other than packing up for the night, or handing it over to the next shift.

Teaching though affords us this unique chance to step back and say, this is officially over for this time. I think that allows for so much reflection (which is coming in post form soon), but it also allows so much for a looking forward to the next school year.  Since I'll have all of the mundane paperwork stuff done this morning, inventories and such boredom, I can spend half of my day maybe standing at a whiteboard plotting out the next school year.  I spent 45 minutes or so with a new tweep in Michigan, Dan Meyers (@meyerschemistry) discussing how he teaches organic chemistry and what we would do differently in our Chem I classes.  As a science dept, we are going to get together and do some vertical planning as a department and discuss our new unofficial motto of "pedal down" to illustrate that we really want to challenge our amazing students next year.

It makes me think that seasons for teachers (and maybe for students) are sort of inverted.  Spring for us is harvest time, as we tally up the year's growth, as students go off to  During the summer we till the soil of our minds, thinking of new strategies, new lessons.  We restore nutrients to that soil by reading, by traveling to new places, by sleeping finally!  And then in the fall, things are reborn, it is planting time.  We start to sow seeds for the year's growth, we cultivate to coax maximum growth.

I love this time of year, for the knowledge of the fruitfulness of the year and for the planning of the harvests yet to come next year!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Worth It

Anyone who has followed my Twitter or the very occasional post here on the blog knows that it has been a rough year for me.  There are a myriad of reasons for that, I had to pick up the department chair spot at my school, there are 4 new to the building folks in my dept, I spent all of last summer and some of the fall being a common core coach.

And...due to a teacher leaving about a week before school started, I took on a 7th class of 34 kids.  That I think was the real difficulty for me, even though I am still glad I did it, I didn't want those kids to have a month or two of subs before a teacher got there.  I've drowned this year in grading, even with only grading SBG style.  My self paced efforts fell short, I have barely made any new content, we probably did about half of the fun activities as last year. In short, it was that year that just about every veteran teacher has every 5 or so, the doom year.

The thing is, I teach at the most amazing school, filled with amazing people, from my fellow teachers, to administrators and the students, most especially the students.  We are an insanely quirky school.  We are in our third year, and we put a lot more focus on our Robotics team than any of the few sports we have.  I guarantee that we have more kids that play Minecraft 2 or more hours a day than have any clue about the upcoming NFL draft.  Nerd is not a slur, but a badge most of our kids (and staff for that matter) wear with pride.

In short, we go to a school that I wish I had been at as a kid.  That was really proved to me last week when I got one of those phone calls as I pulled into the parking lot and got the text that meant I had to leave to pick up my son asap.  We had been doing an inquiry lab in my AP Chem class and I figured they had most of their data and could do their discussion and complete the lab.  Well, they had the discussion and then I got an email while I was at home trying to prep a last couple of review videos before the AP test.  The email said essentially, hey Mr Arnold, we discussed it, but we really feel like we need to run a couple of more tests, we've narrowed it down to those two things, can we run the tests?

Any good science teacher knows that you can't let even the best class actually do any lab without being there for safety reasons.  So I texted the teacher in the next room, asked him to switch out with my sub for 10 minutes to let them do the tests.  He did and they did, and it was just amazing.

Here's what it comes down to, I've had most of the kids in that class for 2 straight years, and we have a good relationship, which is of course the mantra of a lot of progressive educators.  It really makes a difference, I feel like these kids would run through a wall for me, and I would definitely take a bullet for them.  Some folks might see that and say, well you only have great kids and you're talking about your AP class.  Fair enough, but I teach at a public high school that works through a lottery, we don't select the kids at all, we take em all and love em, educate em.  But we are making a place where it is not only to ok to excel, but preferred and I'd argue, expected.

And I love this school...If someone offered me a job for 10k more tomorrow, I wouldn't take it.  And last night, the hard work was really rewarded.  I've been teaching for 14 years now, and have always thought of myself as a slightly above average teacher with a slight gift for building rapport. I think this is built around the fact that I love being in the classroom, that I am willing to treat students for the young adults that they are, smart, with ideas that matter and yet accept the fact that they are indeed, still teenagers and it is ok for them to mess up. My students probably won't ever get the district highest scores, but I've sent a lot off to be engineers, doctors and english teachers...

So last night I was voted our school's teacher of the year by our students.  And our school being what it is, we don't just have them vote, they have to provide evidence, the have to write in why they think a teacher should be teacher of the year.  And man...I almost fact, when I had to go up to get the award, I had to get off the stage pretty quick so I didn't cry.  It meant a lot more than I can ever express.  I know that a lot of folks think that what students say about teachers doesn't matter because they just hate the hard teachers or whatever, but I've always thought that HS students are great BS detectors. They know who cares and who doesn't, who cares about their test scores for the evaluation and who wants to actually prepare them for college and or the real world.  The things they said made the whole year worth it....the dozens of kids who came up to me today and congratulated me, said they had voted for me, said I was the best. (also, I got serenaded by our Dean in the lunchroom, delightfully awkward like most social interactions at our school.)

I'm not saying that it is all true.  I don't think that I'm the best teacher at our school by any stretch, we have a ton of amazing teachers, because a great school with amazing administrators attracts good teachers and students.  But I'm so pleased to be here, and so ecstatic to even be in the running. I'm overjoyed that I've made enough of an impact on some of our kids to be "that teacher".  If anything, it just motivates me to want to do more for these students next year.

And it occurs that it is so true that educators don't work for the money (though it would be nice to have more!) but for this feeling, not that "you are the best", but just, hey, you made a big difference in my life, I'm going to tell my friends to take your class too. It is so amazingly true, and I don't know that ever felt that as strongly as I did last night.

PS...I love my school, the students, parents, teachers, and administrators at it. It is the best!