20 Years of Teaching

Dana's Teacher Stats

This month I finished my 20th year as a teacher. A few years into my career, I almost left it behind. I had finished my fourth year, and it was particularly bad for both professional and personal reasons. I had a really hard time finding a job. I finally found one about October—teaching preschool. The kids I taught that year are in college now, but I think of them often because they brought me back into the profession. Teaching them somehow rejuvenated me and helped me figure out why I do this job. For a while, I thought perhaps I had chosen the wrong age group and considered teaching younger children. I taught two years of middle school after that and went back to high school, this time in private school, and I never looked back. I have now spent 13 years teaching in private schools.

I saw the above teacher stats meme going around, and I had to do some estimating, but the only figure I’m not really sure about is the number of students. I would estimate I’ve taught anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 students. Some years in public school, I taught five sections and most of them had 20+ students, but I have now spent the bulk of my career teaching 4 or 5 sections with fewer than 18 students in each section (also an estimate, as sometimes the number is higher, and sometimes it’s lower… by a lot). As a ballpark, it’s not bad. Those faces come swimming back years later, even after I have forgotten the names. I wonder about many of those faces. Some have kept in touch with me.

I was feeling quite frustrated a few weeks ago. You know how it is at the end of the year. Everyone’s nerves are frazzled, and we forget to be as kind and thoughtful as we should be. I include myself. I had a particularly draining experience toward the end as well, and I have to really thank my colleagues for their moral support at that time. It’s remarkable what difference some time, perspective, and rest can make. The ending of the year was particularly good for me, as my colleagues nominated me for a prestigious teaching award at my school, which in itself was a huge honor. My colleagues then voted among the nominees, and I was selected for the award. I can’t articulate what it means to me that my colleagues recognized me for my teaching, especially after I had been feeling so down on myself as a teacher. For those colleagues of mine who read this blog (and I know there are a few), thank you very much for such a tremendous honor. You really made my year.

I keep trying to make more time to reflect on this blog because I really miss it. Some post ideas I have in the offing:

  • I wrote about ditching chronology for thematic design in teaching American literature, and I get emails about how it has gone, as the post is now old enough that comments on it are close. It has gone very well. I plan to write an update.
  • One of the most enriching experiences of my career has been a collaboration with my fellow 9th grade World Literature I teachers and 9th grade World Civilizations I teachers (history). I want to reflect on that collaboration and share how we planned and what the year looked like.
  • I brought home several professional books to read, and I will write reviews here once I’ve finished with them.
  • I have now taught AP Literature and Composition for two years. I always contend it feels like year three is the year when things start to feel really good, whether it’s working at a school, teaching a course, or whatever else might be new and different. I have lots of thoughts about how this year went (much better!) and ideas for next year.
  • I went to some excellent professional development at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education with three of my colleagues, and I haven’t written a thing about it on my blog.
  • I am also becoming more involved with my local NCTE affiliate, the New England Association of Teachers of English (NEATE), and even though it’s early days, it has been great establishing local connections like I had in Georgia with GCTE.
  • My students have done some great work this year, and I haven’t shared it.

Stay tuned!

Related posts:

Time to Blog

time photo
Photo by Naccarato

As E. T. Bell says, “Time makes fools of us all.” Months have gone by, and I haven’t written anything on this blog, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. I have actually taken up letter-writing again, and I have been trying to send letters somewhat regularly to my grandfather, who just turned 92 this last week, as well as two friends from school. I have been journaling. I published an article in English Journal back in January.  While I haven’t been doing as much creative writing, I have been doing some reflective writing or other writing about teaching practice.

I’m a firm believer that we make time for things that are important to us, and for one reason and another, it looks on the surface like this blog’s importance has diminished. After all, if it were more important (I reason to myself), I would post more. I’m forced to consider also, however, that despite much of the writing I’ve been doing offline, I’ve got writer’s block where this blog is concerned. I have often logged into my blogging platform, started a new post, and stared at the blinking cursor. Other times, something will happen in the course of a regular teaching day, and I will make a mental note to blog about it. But I don’t.

Why not? By the time I find I have an hour or two to set aside to write about a topic, my own brain has moved on from thinking it over. I have a little notebook with a few ideas jotted down, but I find when I pull it out and look over them, thinking about what to write, nothing is grabbing my attention. In theory, the little notebook is a great idea.

It’s the end of another school year, my twentieth, and I feel wrung out in a lot of ways. I am doing more presentations, including presenting at the NEATE conference earlier this year. I’m also presenting at NCTE in November. Running my department can be exhausting. I have three preps, which is doable, but involves a lot of planning. I am falling behind grading. And, and, and…

And yet, this blog, I know, is important to me. When I was recently at the Harvard Graduate School of Education participating in the Transformative Power of Teacher Teams, a professional development course for teachers aimed at making teacher teamwork more powerful, rewarding, and productive, I was asked to share what I was proud of in my career, and this blog was high on my list of accomplishments. I have been writing and reflecting (sporadically, yes) in this space for nearly twelve years. When my former host shut me down last year because they claimed my site was not optimized (and wouldn’t help me optimize it without my plunking down several hundred dollars, despite my having been a paying customer for a decade), I was not so much worried that all of my work would be lost, as I know how to back up my files, but I was worried I wouldn’t be able to figure out an affordable solution and that I would be offline for weeks. And in spite of not having updated, I didn’t want to be offline for that long.

I know I need to make more time to be reflective here. This blog saved me when I felt alone, and I found others who shared their ideas and practices with me and who agreed with me. I didn’t feel so lonely anymore. It made me think about what I was doing and why. I am not sure I would have done presentations at conferences or written any articles for publication if I hadn’t had this blog first. This blog gave me some sorely needed confidence.

It doesn’t work for me to schedule time, say, once a week to be reflective here (although it would be good for me if it did work) because I feel pressure, and I just get frustrated with myself if I can’t do it. I have always had to post when I can, when I’m inspired. I just wish that were more often.

Those of you who blog, how do you keep your momentum going over time? How do you encourage yourself to keep writing? What do you do when the cursor is blinking at you? How do you start again?

Related posts:

Time for This

Transit spatio-temporel (Time & Space Transit)I’ve been thinking about this blog post for a couple of months. I have also had several conversations in that time that led me to believe the issue of what we decide we have time for is an important issue to explore.

A lot of people ask me how I have time to do the things I do. In fact, someone asked me that question just the day before yesterday. I don’t know how to answer that question because I have as much time as everybody else. How I’m choosing to use it may be quite different. I think if something is important to you, you will make time for it, and if it isn’t really that important to you, you won’t.

Case in point: Kirstie Knighton and I were discussing the EC Ning, which is a great resource for English teachers. She mentioned that she has tried to refer several colleagues to the Ning, but many of them claim they don’t have time to participate in the ECN community. Kirstie’s response was, “How do you not have time” for using this fantastic resource to grow and become a better teacher? The answer, of course, is that Kirstie has made that growth and attachment to the ECN community a priority, so she makes time for it.

I participated in NaNoWriMo last month (won, thanks!), and I have averaged about a book a week this year (first time ever!). Why? Those two things, my writing and my reading, are really important to me. I set aside time to do both. I don’t watch a lot of TV. The only show I have to see, aside from a few specials here and there, is Big Bang Theory, and that’s new because I only started watching at Thanksgiving. Sure, I miss out on all the pop culture references, and I don’t get to participate in things like the Lost phenomenon, but I decided for myself several years back that TV wasn’t important to me and that I needed to use my time in other ways, so I let it go. That doesn’t make me better than someone who chooses to watch TV (there is a lot of good TV). It just means I made a different choice regarding my time than someone who watches more TV made. (Interesting side note, there is no correlation between the number of hours of TV someone watches and the number of books in his/her home; I know this because I did a study using a random sample of work colleagues for graduate school and the resulting scatter plot was all over the place.)

Another thing I do is use technology to help me be more efficient. I think people sometimes either don’t use the right tools, or they don’t use the tools they have available to them efficiently. If I want to keep up with certain blogs, for instance, I subscribe to their feeds in my RSS feed reader. Then I check my feed reader and scroll through the updates, reading the ones that seem interesting, and skipping the rest. Dipping in occasionally sometimes makes it seem like I’m doing more than I am. Same goes for Twitter. I put everyone I follow on Twitter on a list. I scroll through the updates to my list in my Twitter client, not necessarily reading every single one, but reading the ones that catch my eye. I join groups that interest me on the EC Ning and the MC Pop Ning and set my email settings so that whenever someone posts to those groups that interest me, I receive an email. If the subject of the new discussion posted is something I think I want to discuss or something I can help with, I post a reply. I don’t necessarily consider myself extremely involved in the worlds of blogging, tweeting, or online discussion. I consider what I do to be dipping in when interested. This is something anyone can do. It’s easier to manage all the online conversations you want if you use free technology tools available to help you do that.

I also multitask. I might be reading RSS feeds or writing a blog post and checking Twitter at the same time. I read while I ride the bus to work (I always take a book with me). I automate certain tasks. For example, I use Diigo for social bookmarking, and I have set up my account to work with my Twitter account and my blog so that every time I favorite a tweet, it is automatically bookmarked, and all of my bookmarks are automatically published to my blog on Sundays. Many weeks, that post may be the only post on my blog, which is why I am always sort of  flabbergasted when anyone suggests they don’t have time to blog. Sure you do. Just don’t make yourself some kind of crazy schedule you can’t handle and otherwise post when you are inspired.

I use Google Calendar to manage my time and create appointment slots for colleagues who need technology assistance. There are all kinds of things that you can do if you make yourself a schedule and stick to it. Like anything else, the things you want to do sometimes take planning, and you need to schedule time for doing them during your day.

Obviously having very small children, going to school, or having long required work hours are going to eat up time, and I don’t think people who have such demands on their time should make themselves feel guilty when they can’t participate in activities they want to participate in, but to be honest, these aren’t the kinds of people who tell me they don’t understand how I have time to do the things I do. Most of the people I hear this from have older or even grown children, are not in school, and work a normal 40-hour week like I do. So what gives?

It isn’t that anyone has or doesn’t have time for this, whatever this is to you. If you are telling yourself you don’t time for something, I would counter that you aren’t making time. I have three kids, too. I work full time, too. There are ways to make time to do the things you want to do. You just have to figure out if whatever it is you think you don’t have time for is actually something you want to make time to do or if that’s an excuse you use for not doing things you’re not actually all that interested in, anyway.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Gilderic (Very very slow internet connection)

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Time

I never have enough time to teach everything I want to teach — at least not the way I want to teach it.  I have found myself frustrated this year after writing some very good UbD units, only to find I have to cut out parts in order to finish the work in the amount of time I have available.  I have also had to contend with Jewish holidays, our peculiar school schedule, and shorter class periods.  When I taught public school, each class period was at least 50 minutes long.  My classes work out to be 45 minutes long each day (one day is a double period of 90 minutes, but we have class only four days of week, so the average is 45 minutes).  Five minutes doesn’t seem like a lot, but over the course of a week, that’s an average of nearly a half hour.  I just don’t feel as though I really do justice to some of the topics I teach as a result.

How do you cope with the time crunch?

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