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New School Chronicles: My Albatross

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Papers, there are always papers to be graded (or at least schlepped around until I feel guilty enough to grade them)…

If you look closely at the picture that accompanies this post, you’ll see a couple of things: first, you’ll see a pumpkin that a friend brought me as a housewarming gift. You’ll see my red teacher bag, most likely filled with stuff that I can’t quite ever clean out, and you’ll see that blue reusable bag teeming with student papers to be graded.

Two things remain constant in that picture: first, my teacher bag seems to always have the same contents: a couple of folders that catch stray papers, handouts I want to amend, something left on the copier I forgot to file away, a half-finished book of some genre. The blue bag is similar in its consistency as well: it always has some handful of papers from students that I’m in-the-progress of grading. ALWAYS.

Here’s what happens: I assign a paper for the week or two-week period, we write hard and, because the kids are honors kids, they all turn in their papers. On time. Maximum length. That’s probably about 25 papers on average, per class. I have equal parts exhilaration and dread when it’s paper turn-in day. I’m stoked that I’m going to get some relatively decently written papers and I’m reticent because I then have about 1 1/2 weeks to turn them around. I binder clip the papers by class, then put them into the blue bag to bring home with me. When I get home, though, the bag goes on the chair, my sweater usually atop that, and then I start doing other things (like, I don’t know, LIVING). The next morning, as I’m rushing to get out of the door, I look at the bag again, sitting in the exact place where I left it, taunting me. As I sit on the subway, I always have a brief, intense conversation with myself about whether I should just start grading, but then, I get selfish and remind myself that I’ve promised that, for the 40ish minutes that I’m on the train, I will read whatever I want to, because that is my right as a reader and that is what I need in my life.

The papers don’t get graded. Repeat this cycle for about a week, of carrying the papers to and from school, of not removing said papers from the bag, of dodging student comments about when those papers will be returned.

Mind you, I’ve become an even more efficient grader over the last three years. A former colleague taught me how to notice themes and write these brilliant writing notes that address issues, but, in order to craft those writing notes, you first have to…wait for it…read the papers.

Finally I reach a point–usually after I am made to feel guilty by a student who never asks any questions but, on this particular day was “just wondering” when we were going to get our papers back because they wanted to work on improving their writing and something about feedback (good one; they know that if they ever couch their requests in such a way as writers improving their craft, I’ll attempt to move heaven and earth to make it happen), I cave.

I stay at school, pull out the papers and grade, and grade, and grade. Or at least read them, make notes, and occasionally get blown away by kids who are coming into their own by learning to write a compelling argument. I lay the albatross down momentarily, at least for another week, when the cycle begins anew.

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New School Chronicles: Rolling Tape

Tape

Who knew that rolling tape would be the perfect moment to reflect on the day?

For the first time in about five or six years, I have my own classroom again. I don’t have to share with anyone. I don’t have to travel, don’t have to squeeze my posters onto a bulletin board the size of a postage stamp. Don’t have to lament putting something in one location only to return to find it placed elsewhere (sometimes with a nice-nasty note about “forgetting” where to leave my stuff). I didn’t realize how much sharing space can be a cause of stress if one must share with someone who is territorial, or more senior, or more…yeah.

But this year, I have my own space. I’ve been tempted this week to leave small things around at the end of the day, just so, when I return the following morning, it’ll be in the exact same place.

I have begun a new practice this year (in addition to leaving my stuff around the room–neatly, of course), and I think it’s akin to this metaphor of rolling tape. The process of hanging up posters, student work, etc. in your room can be a meditative time. I give myself time limits to do things, lest I stay at school forever. My task at day’s end yesterday was to hang up students’ Who I Am homework: a nice get-to-know who’s in our community. On average, that means there are about 25ish sheets to hang, equalling a good amount of tape. Sometimes, all one can manage is to do housekeeping to end a day, and that’s what I did.

So, as I rolled tape, for the last hour of my day, I reflected on the three great things–big or little–that happened and my role in making those great things happen. I read something that said teachers should do this every day, and write these three things down, creating a tangible record of the good rather than the bad. This is a monumental mindshift for me, as I’m a dweller on past screw-ups, almost to the point of not being able to let it go, but with this new strategy, my attitude has done a 180.

As I rolled tape, I recounted three good things. It was quiet, meditative space, and it was the perfect way to end the day. I am a better teacher because I reflect on my practice. I have to remember and honor that, and keep rolling the tape…

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