Sunday, August 24, 2014

Thinking about the First Day of School

This weekend has been a pretty nice farewell to summer, despite the fact that my truck is in the shop with a $500.00 repair bill waiting for me on Monday. I'm excited about tomorrow, and not a little apprehensive as well. I will be teaching Art and Electives at the Alternative Discipline Center for our school district, which means I will be working with those high school kids who were suspended last year. I will be part of program that is completely new to me, with new people and procedures.

After years of teaching High School English to classrooms full of students, it will be strange to have only a handful of kids. I won't miss every aspect of teaching English, but I know I will miss the students I had the blessing of working with last year. They were incredibly conscientious and sweet-spirited, for the most part, and they made coming to work every day worthwhile.

I wish I could have been a better teacher for them last year. It was the worst year of my life personally, going through the separation and divorce, and having to get used to commuting again, after years of living one mile from my classroom. It literally took me less time to ride my bike from my front door to my classroom than it did to walk across the parking lot. When I got to school, seeing my students generally made me smile, despite the frustrations I was experiencing inside.

There were the sophomores who were a little goofy, but were still capable of communicating with adults like human beings, and there were the AP Literature Seniors who were ever aware that graduation was coming soon, yet still gave a solid try at most of the things I asked them to do.

I've never been a well-organized man, and grading papers has always been a challenge for me. After teaching for a full 8 hours, I found it next to impossible to sit still at the end of the day to grade writing. My eyelids are like the screens on a smart phone, if they rest idle for a moment, they black out. I've tried staying up with a fresh brewed pot of coffee, but by the time I had consumed 12 cups, I was just a jittery mess, and not really better focused on the task at hand. And last year, with the emotional turmoil of being alone, I found quiet time with a stack of papers very disconcerting.

I started making peer evaluations more a part of my day, when I realized that the kids could, when working in concert with a clear rubric, give fairly accurate evaluations of their own writing, but this was never as satisfying as it should have been. I remember my wizened old English teacher would write barely legible notes on my papers when I was a kid, and those notes could inspire me to write better or crush me when I knew I had not written up to her expectations. When you have 160-180 students, and you spend just a minute on each paper, the time adds up. I was never able to spend just a minute; instead, I would get bogged down, trying to think of the best advice to fix a poorly constructed sentence, sometimes rewriting a whole paper before getting frustrated and just writing a number at the top of the page that roughly represented what I thought they deserved.

Now, someone else will be worrying about that task, as well as the standardized testing our politicians have given us to make sure kids are learning. A.P. Exams are no longer my concern. Starting tomorrow, I will be in completely different world, and tonight, my thoughts are racing a bit.

Across town, I know my boys are in bed already. My youngest will be starting first grade, and he is excited because his kindergarten teacher has moved up with him. He learned so much from her last year, and he is eager to be in class again. My oldest will be returning to regular public school after spending two years at FWAFA, the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts. We were thrilled when he was first accepted into their program, but we had hoped that he would receive more support in his primary artistic concern, playing guitar. He learned a lot about music through being part of the Texas Boys' Choir, but he missed playing sports. Starting tomorrow, he will be attending the same school where his mother teaches art, and he plans to try out for soccer. My nephew, who lives with me, will be attending his old high school, and seems enthusiastic, if not for the work ahead, for the chance to see his close friends who attend with him.

My ex wife, bless her heart, is probably more stressed than I am. The last time we spoke, she still had not received confirmed schedules, so she will be unable to prepare for her first day the way she would prefer. She is a natural planner and a maker of lists, so not having her student rosters has got to be stressful for her.

It's time for the serenity prayer, I believe...

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