Professional Development Opportunity

In looking for opportunity to progress productivity and learning for both students and teachers alike, one must find resources? Nowadays, these resources are found mostly online for everybody. It’s pretty easy to just “Google” everything and in two seconds find something out there in the cyber universe that is exactly what you need.

But what about relevant lessons? What about planning a curriculum for an entire grade of students in a high school?

Once more, I bring you to “Rydell High” where I go at least once a week (and lately it’s been at least twice!) and assist in the classroom, run warm-ups, occasionally teach a full lesson, and participate in discussion between teachers who are brainstorming ideas for their 10th grade American Literature classes. These group brainstorms occur all throughout a teacher’s day: at lunch together, between periods, on preparation periods, and all-day curriculum planning meetings.

Each of the English teachers at Rydell who teach tenth grade were given the opportunity to call in a substitute teacher for one full day so that they could take the entire school day (and more if necessary) to iron out the giant kinks, wrinkles, and bumps in the cloth of the American Literature curriculum.

The most important thing I learned while sitting in on the first half of that day-long meeting:

Your peers are your best resource.

The amount of times I heard “that’s such a good idea! How did you do that with your 10-2’s?” or “Do you have the handouts you gave your 10-3’s? I really think my 10-honors will really benefit from that lesson, actually!” and other phrases of the similarity was countless. 

The cast of characters around this table included:

               
“Frenchy”           “Ms. Lynch”            “Jan”                    “Marti”

        &   
“Rizzo”                  “Sandy”                        “Patty”

Each teacher brings something different and new to the table (literally and figuratively). One teacher was ahead of the rest of the team in their general outline of the curriculum because she thought she was behind. Meanwhile “Frenchy”, my host teacher, thought she was even further behind, when really she was just focused on other skills with her students. For example, the 10th graders are reading 12 Angry Men; at the same time, they’re getting the skills necessary to be successful on the state standardized tests and learning about being American and therefore why it’s important we read these canonized American texts. That’s a lot to cover.

However, these teachers taught me how important it is to work as a team, to share resources and ideas with each other, and just how great and supportive your colleagues can be in stressful and confusing times. Here these teachers were at “crunch time”, planning something that one would think had already been established.

Well it wasn’t.

Why?

Because:
1. There is just not enough time in one day to get everything done that a teacher would like to. There are current grades to put into the computer (and depending on the district, there could be really, really strict timelines for that, or there could be really lax ones. But these students and their parents/caregivers rely on gauging their student’s success on the grades they see in the computer). Unless a teacher has help, it’s inevitable that their grading will lag behind when there are other lessons to prep for, meetings to attend, and, oh yeah, teaching has be done.

2. Teachers’ lives do not revolve entirely around their classroom.  As selfish as that sounds to some, these teachers–each one of them sitting around that table–have families, children, and lives outside of the walls of “Rydell High”. There needs to be a healthy balance between work and personal life.

3. This is the first year that Rydell High has experimented with a Writing-Based Curriculum. In a school system that, nationally, has been all about teaching for the state tests (thank you, NCLB) a progressive portfolio-based structure takes time to implement. To transition from one strict style to one that is much freer and liberal is difficult in the worst sense of the word.

Bottom line: there’s just not enough time for everything to happen at once behind the scenes.

With that said, these teachers worked as a team to really prioritize what their students will learn and when.

Since everyone was in different places with their students, highlighting what was the goal for each marking period really drove their focus. With the scattering of the team’s placements, tempers began to rise, anxieties began to surface. However, there is always one in each team, regardless of what the team is working together to achieve, who has the skills to bring everyone else off the ledge and calm the group, refocusing them on strategies to organize and prioritize. That was Marti‘s job–a Reading Specialist, Marti knows many tricks of the trade when it comes to talking people down.

Not only does Marti posses the right skills to calm a crowd with her high-pitched, sugary-sweet voice, but she is the resident standardized test expert. She offered up her knowledge of test-taking strategies to help her teammates incorporate exam preparation with the curriculum requirements around the literature students must read (Twelve Angry MenOf Mice and Men, etc.).

To do this, the “Pink Ladies“, we’ll call them, decided to model their midterm exams in the same formatting as the state test–killing two birds with one stone

I was able to, from this discussion, grab Marti for a really great conversation clarifying the difference between “teaching to the test” and what they were doing by modeling their own exams to the test. The difference is, as explained by Marti, that the Pink Ladies weren’t changing their midterm formats to “teach to the test” but because it relieves some of the students’ anxieties, or possible anxieties, when they sit down in front of that exam paper.

It boosts their confidence. 

All in all, what I learned from this experience is:

1. It’s so, so, so important to work as a team with your fellow teachers because, in anything in life, we’re only as good as our strongest support. And the strongest supports come from having the strongest support system under you. Who would be better to support you than those who understand exactly what you’re going through??

2. That support system of teachers, coworkers, peers, and colleagues is the most important resource you can have. Why make things harder for yourself with such limited time when there is a plethora of experience through trial-and-error just down the hall from your own classroom?

Also connected to the above two points:

3. Working with your fellow “Pink Ladies” is going to ultimately help you in covering the zillions of things in need of covering (state test, portfolio, canonized literature, and whatever else your individual school, district, and department requires of your students).

Moral of the story:

Don’t forget to utilize your resources–i.e. your colleagues and peers!!!–when in a crunch!

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