A typical day.
Arrive at school by 7:30 to meet with the leaders of the Gay-Straight Alliance. Time to plan for our next big meeting as well as to plan for ARGS Open House on November 7th.
I let the kids run the meeting, trying to give them the opportunities to become leaders, to figure out how to run meetings, get others involved–but I can’t let it go completely. I have to tell them that in spite of all their enthusiasm for Ally Week, the LBGT History Month announcements have stopped–what happened, I want to know? Who took on that responsibility? Why did the announcements stop? What about all the ideas we had to post flyers around the school about how to be a good ally, particularly for the transgender kids who are facing some tough stuff right now, hearing some chatter, misunderstandings, and sadly, some taunting. We are trying to implement a gender-neutral bathroom, and for our transgender and gender-nonconforming kids, that alone would be a huge sign of acceptance, so I hope, hope that administration will let it happen.
While the kids are organizing, I am writing a letter of recommendation, one of six or seven due on November 1st, one of twenty-six that I will write between now and December. In order to get them all written, I’ve decided that I will write at least one each morning before classes start, and sometimes, two or three.
GSA kids finish about 8 o’clock. I keep working. Stop to talk with a senior who pops in with a question about a piece of writing she wants to submit to Bennington Writing Contest and what do I think and can I help her think of a title? Remember, too, that I have agreed to read another senior’s college essay and give feedback — decide I should do that before I forget.
First block of the day is my free block every day this year. Before I get too ensconced in work, I head down to the office to drop off the official proposal for the gender-neutral bathroom to our Executive Director. Drop off, too, a completed letter of rec into the outgoing mail.
Back up to my room to read argumentative essays and try to finish them up, write the appropriate comments that will help my 11th graders figure out how to approach these in the future. But I have to grade them too. And I know the grades will disappoint the students. I can see them, their earnest faces, wanting A’s all the time, the pressure of not getting A’s making them cry sometimes. These papers aren’t great. On the sentence-level, they’re strong, but as for arguments, they’re weak. Thesis statements that need a lot of work. No real sense of audience. I need to figure out how to talk to them about these papers, without discouraging them too much.
If it’s an A day, then my 11th graders come in, students who are used to doing very well, excelling even, here in my dual enrollment/college credit course in composition and American lit. Yet, some of them are clearly NOT quite ready for college- credit coursework. Their thinking is pretty surfacey and they’re too wound up to hear me if the grades don’t meet their expectations. I teach one class before lunch and another after lunch. These classes drain me though I love teaching them. They take all my energy –“lecturing” about a period of American lit, or introducing a new writer– Emerson, Thoreau. We’ll move on to The Scarlet Letter and Hawthorne next week. I’ll end the day with my freshmen, the Creative Writing class. They are bouncey, full of energy, excited, most of them, to be in high school and to be in this high school specifically, one where they can be themselves and enjoy friendships and not get teased or bullied. They’re still new to writing and I always walk that fine line between encouraging and teaching them what makes good writing, why some things they think are “awesome” aren’t, in fact, so awesome. But I love their enthusiasm and joy.
If it’s a B day, then I have all writing classes–Fiction I, sophomores, eager writers all, most of them with great strengths that are developing well. Our favorite days are workshop days when kids bring in assignments and read for group feedback.
And Fiction II, nine young writers all working on drafts of long projects–novels or collection of stories. They’re strong writers too, for the most part, and eager readers. I love our conversations about the books we’re reading together. Since most of them are new to it, and two students are writing dystopias, we read The Giver. I find that having them read YA novels is helpful for figuring out novel structure–and for some of them who aren’t yet sophisticated readers, the YA books keep them focused and interested. There’ll be a mix of other non-YA books too. Right now, kids are mostly excited about our upcoming Writers Fest. I had the idea of giving three kids each a shared book to read, from local writers (all of them friends) who could then come to Writers Fest, have lunch with the group of three writers, and talk about their book. Kids are reading A.B. Westrick’s Brotherhood, Meg Medina’s Yacqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass, and Virginia Pye’s River of Dust. Two other students are reading Lydia Netzer’s Shine, Shine, Shine and will meet (I’m hoping) with Lydia at another time for their lunch.
In between classes, or while they are working (though when they’re writing, I try to write too), I send off emails about Writers Fest, do some research on public school policies on transgender kids. I remember to email the tutor who is working with one of our students, hospitalized with an eating disorder, on official “homebound” instruction. I grade journals (about eight done, only 30+ more to go!), jot some notes about next quarter’s planning and a reminder to scan a book chapter onto my website. I double-check, too, that I’ve got my material ready for the after school training I’m doing with kids for an upcoming anti-bullying assembly. I microwave my lentil soup and eat and chat with my friend and colleague for thirty minutes.
At the end of the day, I could collapse. If teaching were only about the classes themselves, then it would be easier for sure. But it isn’t. It’s about these kids and their lives and making school an environment where everyone can feel safe and therefore can learn.
I find that these days, I’m totally fried. Besides what I’ve already described, there is Poetry Out Loud to think about — we hold our semi-final round during lunch, in between the grading, the planning, the teaching, our only “free” time; there are two upcoming field trips, both of which are exciting for the kids, one to VCU for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. In Fiction II, we have read Ramona Ausubel’s No One is Here Except All Of Us, and we’ll take part in a Q & A with her and attend her reading and award ceremony. Kids will also have the opportunity to choose books to read and judge as part of next year’s award; they’re thrilled to do this work. Two days later, I’ll head to University of Richmond with a group of students who will take part in a class, followed by Q & A and reading with Zadie Smith. It’s a fantastic opportunity for my students — and it’s free, organized by a professor at U of R, funded by a grant — and an afternoon and evening I’m excited about, but it’s also one more detail to keep track of. I don’t mean to be complaining–I’m honestly thrilled that my students have these opportunities — and am selfishly thrilled too.
As I read it here, my day might not sound so bad, but the mental energy required to manage all the separate details is exhausting. I’m not exercising like I need to be, either, and that could be part of it. Need to get back to that too.
Time to get ready for another day!