Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Ten Reasons I'm Looking Forward to This School-Year

A former colleague of mine wrote a blogpost in which she explained why she was looking forward to the year ahead, and this struck me as a tremendously constructive thing to do.  I don't consider myself a pessimist, but I also know it's far too easy to forget to reflect on what I'm grateful for, or what I'm excited about.

Obviously, the big event in my life this coming year will be the birth of my first child!  This is so big, it bears mentioning at the outset.

However, my list of ten will revolve solely around my teaching.  Without further ado, here are ten reasons why I am looking forward to the year ahead!

1) Year #9
This will be my 9th school-year at CAJ.  Granted, I came halfway through that first year, but all the same--it'll be my 9th graduation to attend here.  This is a strange feeling.  I was still a kid when I came to CAJ, all of 22 years old and only three weeks out of college, and now I'm a veteran, just above the middle of the pack in terms of years of service here.  Moreover, this will be my 7th year of teaching the Junior Humanities and English courses, and my 6th year in my current classroom.  I know the rhythms of the school-year, and have a deep familiarity with my curriculum, as well as a deepening familiarity with the broader Social Studies and English curriculum.  That intimate familiarity has freed me up to take risks and try new ideas--I'm looking forward to year #9!

2) Applying What I Learned in my Master's Program
Similarly, this will be my first year post-Master's.  For the past three school-years, I have been a student as well as a teacher, and while there are definitely benefits to wearing both of these hats at the same time, I'm really looking forward to the mental space to digest what I learned in my Master's program and apply it to my teaching.

3) Three Sections of Junior Classes
This year, for the first time ever, I get to teach three sections of Junior classes instead of two.  The 11th grade class is large--one of the largest classes to come through CAJ in quite a while, in fact--and so rather than dividing them between two sections that would pack my classroom to the gills, my schedule will look like this:

1st period: English 11
2nd period: Prep
3rd period: Humanities A
4th period: Humanities B
5th period: Humanities B
6th period: Humanities A
7th period: Prep

Bear in mind that each Humanities is a two-period combination of English and U.S. History, and Humanities A is one section of students, while Humanities B is the other.  For the first time in six years, I will have class sizes under twenty.  While my daily schedule will be busier and I'll be on my feet more than I was the past two years, it's an ideal trade--I'll gladly take a busier schedule if it means smaller class sizes!

4) New idea for Guided Outside Reading.
I mentioned in #1 that my familiarity with my job has freed me up to try new ideas.  This is one of those ideas.  I'm currently halfway through Book Love by Penny Kittle, and suffering from more inspiration than I know what to do with!  Kittle's main claim is that many students don't read assigned texts effectively, if at all, because they've never learned to read for fun, and missed out on those valuable opportunities to build up the patience and perseverance to tackle increasingly more difficult texts.  This in mind, I've committed to setting aside one class period per week solely for silent, sustained reading.  I have been in communication with our school librarian, who has agreed to let me bring my students to the library for one period a week to read.  I felt like this setting would be crucial--too often in the past when I've given the occasional reading day, students have forgotten their books at home--meeting in the library will provide access to not only books, but also magazines.  My main goal is to get them reading regularly just for fun, and the library seems to me the ideal setting to achieve that goal.  Moreover, our librarian suggested that perhaps we could have various staff members come in and briefly recommend books each week so that the students could get a sense for what their teachers are reading, and possibly find a new book to read in the process.  I've had such struggles with Guided Outside Reading in the past, and am excited and invigorated by the potential that this new idea holds to cultivate a love for reading among the students (or at the very least, plant the seeds by getting the students to read on a regular basis).

5) Unit adjustments
Another risk I'm taking is re-shuffling the order of my units.  My main course theme has been, and will still be "Becoming People of Justice", but I want to create a more logical narrative flow to the how this theme develops over the course of the year.  This goal in mind, I have shifted a unit on worldview from second semester to first semester--I feel like discussing humanity's quest for meaning is foundational--and then second semester will focus more on the injustices that can arise when people pursue wealth, land, or power, as well as the appropriate response to injustice.

6) Teaching debate students
It has now been four years since I last taught 9th Grade World History.  This means, for better or worse, that I'm teaching students for the first time when they get to 11th grade.  Fortunately, I already know a sizable chunk of this incoming 11th grade class very well, having coached them on the debate team.  Nine students from the Class of '18 participated on the debate team last year, and consistently demonstrated to me a curiosity about argumentation, a willingness to work hard, and a willingness to step outside of their comfort zones.  Of course I'm looking forward to getting to know all 55+ students in the class, but I am definitely excited for the opportunity to work with my debate students in a slightly different context in English and Humanities class, and to help them develop and refine their research, speaking and argumentation skills, as well as helping them to grow as leaders both within their class, and also on the debate team.

7) Coaching Debate
On that note, I'm looking forward to another year of coaching debate.  Debate has become part of the school culture at CAJ, and I have had a number of students who weren't on the team last year express interest in joining this year.  The program is thriving, and it's exciting to be a part of it.  I'm also grateful to have a co-coach this year (a colleague who was on leave in America first semester last year), not only because the team is growing but also because two of us will be able to provide better support and guidance for the students than just one of us on our own.

8) Departmental Duties
It will be my second year as the chair of the English and Social Studies departments, and this year, I will be working with a colleague so that he can assume leadership of the English PLC, while I focus on Social Studies.  We are continuing to work on Scope and Sequence, and I look forward to many good discussions about curriculum not only within our PLCs, but also within our Research & Development Team (the curriculum coordinator, department chairs and principals).

9) Clean Classroom
After six years in Room 306, I finally worked up the courage to purge the closets and file cabinets this week.  I have a difficult time throwing things away, myself, and it seems like this was also true of the room's previous occupants, stretching back at least as far as the early 2000s.  I threw out what looked to be a classroom worth of dusty textbooks, outdated files, old student projects, and miscellaneous lost and found items, and am appreciating the fresh, uncluttered feeling of my classroom.  I'm looking forward to another year in this space!

10) New Laptop
Last, but important all the same, I received a laptop upgrade at the end of the last school-year.  My previous laptop was four years old, and could no longer enter full-screen mode when I would show YouTube videos to the class without crashing.  I'm excited for a year with a still-new, fast, and strong computer!

These are my reasons for looking forward to the school year that is now just over a week away.  What are you looking forward to?

My clean, uncluttered classroom!  You can't tell from this picture,
but the cupboards and file cabinets have also been cleaned.