So I’ve discovered something about this profession (and although I thought I knew before, I really know now): there’s a LOT of planning required, and virtually no time to do it in!

….not a surprise to most, I know.

Between my mentor teacher and myself, we have the ability to split the load, thank God. I take the seniors, she takes the sophomores, and we reconvene in school the next day, or that Monday after the weekend.

It’s on the spot.
It’s quick.
It’s flexible and adaptive.
It’s forever improved upon in the following class.
It’s reflected upon.
It’s discussed.
It’s ‘planning’ at its most able.

With everything going on in the school (have to be in the tutoring room for 1st period prep, have to cover another teacher’s class during 1st period; have to plan the rest of the week for the low-tracked sophomores during 5th, figure out the game plan for the rest of the day during 5th period; conference with students after school, go to meetings and trainings…) in addition to everything each of us has going on in our personal lives, the ability to actually sit and thoroughly create a plan with enough time in advance to feel un-rushed is virtually impossible.

However, we make it happen with the time we DO have.

We always know just what we want the students to know–‘okay, they have to know “dialect” for the Keystone, so how are we gonna get them to understand dialect?’ We know our materials that are handy (video clips? word document? let’s make a list?)

The answers to these and similar questions are usually scribbled down in three different places: the sheet of computer paper that is folded up and placed as a bookmark in one of the two novels we’re focusing on, Frenchie’s calender/date book, and my planner. Additionally we usually jot it down onto a sticky note and stick it next to the computer on the desk.

It happens fast.
It happens on the spot.
It happens with confidence.
It happens with the knowledge that we get to think on our feet.

Practice, practice, practice.

Flexibility, adaptability, excitement.

I plan on the notion that the more engaging, the better.
The more active, the better.
The more real-world connections we can help them make, the better.

What do they want to learn about?
What do I want them to know?
What do they already think and know?
What do I expect them to think about after they leave my room in connection to the rest of their lives?


What’s YOUR Center?

It was the end of the first marking period at “Rydell High” and “Frenchie” was scrambling to make the deadline for her students’ grades.

She needed extra time.

It was a Friday–my day to be in the classroom.

So I took my chance to teach my first real lesson.

Something that I learned about the 10th graders from the curriculum planning meeting I sat in was that the 10th graders (and even some of the other grades; French and I were having the seniors do the same assignments) were going to be doing self-reflecting work out of a book called  7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. 

This book has a lot of really great writing prompts and issues that are brought up that we pose as prompts to the students.

So quickly, Frenchie and I threw together an idea for the students to work with this book–a book that they all were expected to have.

There is a chapter in the book that talks about “Centers“. These “centers” are basically categories of priorities: “school centered”, “friend centered”, “parents centered”, “work centered”, etc.

Every day, we give the students a writing warm-up, and since this specific day I was in-charge of…well…everything. So I decided to make their warm-up somewhat relevant:

What is currently your top priority?

Before I revealed the actual prompt (above), I made sure to give them a little more of a chance to have background knowledge on the topic, so I asked

What is a “priority”? What does that word mean?

I took a few suggestions from the class, all of which were related and accurate, and then posed the warm-up question. I asked for a time-keeper and asked him/her to put 5 minutes on the timer, and asked if they could let us know when there was one minute left.

I made sure to write with them (my top priority was to write my thesis on Peter Pan…).

When time was up, I asked for a few to share out what their top priority was and why. Many of them said things like “getting into a good college”, or “getting an ‘A'” in a specific class.

We then made sure that everyone had either their 7 Habits book or a packet of photo copies Frenchie and I made during 1st period Prep.

I read the first section which introduced the concept of “centers”, then turned it to the class and asked for volunteers to read aloud.

After the gist of each section was read, I stopped the reader and asked someone else to summarize briefly the driving point of the portion read (“Pause. Let’s talk real quickly about what he’s saying here…”). With the end of each section, I asked for a new volunteer to read next.

The process moved pretty quickly, and moved quite efficiently. It began a little slowly–as my aunt (a 6th grade math teacher in AZ) says, “I became a dentist with how many teeth I had to pull!” After about the second pause in reading, though, the students seemed to understand the process and became much more responsive. The amount of hands raised to offer-up answers, definitions, explanations, and examples increased tenfold by the end of the class period.

Once we finished the reading, I went up to the board and asked for the class to make a list of all the centers the author addressed in his chapter. I also told them, that they should all take out a piece of paper and pencil or pen and write the list at the top of their own page.

When the list was completed and in front of them, I said

“Okay, with the last five minutes of class you’re going to get a head-start on your homework. For homework, I want you to write 350 words–preferably typed–telling me what your life’s center is right now. You can have multiple centers, one center…For example, if I was to write about my centers I would say that I have a heavy emphasis in my school center, friend center, and work centered.”

By the time I finished explaining the homework, they had two minutes left, so they had already began to pack their bags and put their portfolios on the shelves.

This sounds like a lesson that went swimmingly, perfectly, even. But it wasn’t.

I guess in explaining one of the centers, I used the term “y’all”. I’m from Las Vegas, where we speak like that. But a few of the students, of course, caught my diction. In expecting a relevant comment, I called on–let’s call him Jimmy–Jimmy in the back:
“Ms. S., are you from here??”
And I asked for someone who actually had a relevant response to my question. Instead, I got more guesses as to where I was from:
“Are you from Virginia??”
“North Carolina?”
To refocus everyone I made sure that one thing was clear:
“I’m not telling you where I’m from! Now let’s focus, c’mon, guys!”

Luckily, that was the end of that.

In response to their questions, though, I plan to make it into a game. I’m going to try and connect English and writing with geography and U.S. History (since they’re taking that class, too). I’m going to give them hints each time it’s brought up like:

I’ve lived in 6 states. 5 of those states were all a part of the Union in the American Civil War. Guess one state and explain why you think that is a state in which I have lived, or why you think that is the state I am from.

We’ll see how it goes…