Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The long, short first half

The winter break is almost near. Only four school days stand between me and more than a week and a half off of teaching. Like I am any year, I'm somewhat exhausted, and I feel just a bit in over my head, fatigued by the nature of "this year."

But this is an annual exercise for me. I walk into every winter break filled with the motivation to do something different the next semester. And I believe that's true because, by falling before the true midpoint of the year, there has enough time to infer lessons from the administrators and the students about how to proceed for the remainder of the year. And, there is enough left to the year to justify trying a new approach.

Last year, around this time, my educational guru started sharing ideas with me about differentiation that slowly but surely transformed the atmosphere of my class. I hit the second semester with those ideas in place. I also mulled over how to rearrange content of a politics and civics class I taught then, and approached semester two with a distinctly different approach. I remember spending time a few years ago mulling over how I needed to be more transparent online about my lesson planning (okay, that's a very nerdy revelation).

The good news is that my middle-of-the-year revelations are stemming more from what I perceive the kids need rather than what I think my higher-ups want. I'm glad to know that I haven't lost my ability to read and hear the students. In short, I know at mid-year how I need to push my students but the manner in which they need that push is more subtle. It's not as much about expectations of content mastery as it expectations of use of time and nimbleness of mind.

This job remains exciting. Every class is a puzzle, and one has a given amount of time (9 weeks, 18 weeks, 27 weeks) to figure out what works for them. You're reading the post of someone who, in week 14, figured out how to make a group of students work and think and contribute in the way he's been looking for.

I'm very proud of what my administrator saw when observing me today. He saw a teacher who knew how to keep a group of 11th graders moving, both intellectually and physically, for 90 minutes. He saw a teacher who knew how to blend instruction and assessment so fluidly it was a bit hard to tell what the kids were doing when. He saw a teacher able to improvise and laugh and adapt. And he saw kids honoring the atmosphere the class needs.

I chuckle a little bit when I think on how different my room and lesson looks now than it did half a career ago, when I came to the high school. I'm lucky that I have a career that challenges me to keep things fresh.

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