Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lions, Tigers, & Bears, Oh My! HELP!

One thing I really like about my school is the rotating periods. Rather than having my classes and prep periods in the same order every day, they rotate each week. For example, there's a class that I'll see 1st period in an A week, 3rd period in a B week, and 5th period in a C week. On first glance it's kind of confusing, but it's definitely worth it. Seeing kids at different times of days means I get to see them in different state of mind. The kid who's late to 1st period EVERY day doesn't end up missing as much from my class. The kid who's asleep after lunch is awake in the morning. I don't have to end every day with the same crazy 6th period group. On the more instructional side, I don't have one group who are always my guinea pigs for a lesson. I really like it.

As a teacher, it's crucial to keep track of your different classes. Most teachers do this by period number, but I can't really call one class "fifth period" when I only see them in that time slot 1/3 of the time. Most teachers end up choosing section names for their classes. The natural inclination is to name them after famous people or themes from your subject area. One math teacher has classes named !, ∞, Σ, and Θ. The physics teacher named his classes Faraday, Newton, Gallileo, and Tesla. In the first semester, I decided against that option. For the symbols, I name my table groups after Greek letters, so that takes out a lot of good math symbols (at least ones that kids are going to use in their high school math careers). When I tried famous mathematicians, I got stuck between on one hand not wanting all my classes named after white men, and on the other hand not being able to understand the mathematical contributions of the more famous female and/or non-white mathematicians. To be honest, I don't understand the math behind 99% of the contributions listed when you google "famous mathematicians," so that seemed a little disingenuous.

For simplicity's sake, I chose to name my classes last semester "Lions," "Tigers," "Bears," and "Oh My!" It was easy to go through the classes in my mind because they roll off the tongue so nicely. Sadly, most of the kids didn't even realize that the names fit together, even when I had them listed on the board (in order). Do people not say that anymore?

This semester, my classes are getting mixed up. I don't want to use the same section names because I've gotten in the habit of mentally organizing kids by what section they're in (and the corresponding color for that section) and it's just too confusing to figure out whether a kid was "Oh My!" this semester or last. So, dear readers, I'm looking for your suggestions on what four things I can name my classes. I imagine that between the eight of you, we should be able to come up with something.

Please stick to a few criteria:
-Keep it positive. For example, I've already vetoed naming them after the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (mostly because it would be too difficult to choose which section is Pestilence).
-Keep it relevant, both to me and the students. I don't really care about the Beatles, so John, Paul, George, & Ringo are out (also, see comment above re: white men). Similarly, my students don't share my affinity for New Zealand, so sadly I am passing on Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, & Dunedin.
-Keep it in fours. There are many wonderful things in this world that come in larger or smaller packages, but I need a group of four that I can easily run through in my head. If I named my sections Zack, Slater, Kelly, any Screech, I'd only end up trying to figure out what happened to Jessie and Lisa (and probably Mr. Belding as well).

You have your mission, now find me those fours.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Almost Normal

My school, being a charter, makes some creative decisions about, well, pretty much everything. Take, for example, our calendar. Like most schools, our academic year is broken up into two semesters. During that time kids take five classes (math, science, English, social studies, and Spanish) and a study hall. For the elective portion of their high school experience (art, music, things that they might look forward to) we have two month-long intersession periods at the end of each semester. Kids choose one elective to focus on, and then spend the whole month just doing that. For example, they might have dance class from 8:30-2:45 for 4 weeks. Our first academic semester ended in December, so we are now right in the middle of our first intersession.

You may be wondering (as am I), what do the teachers do during this time? Unfortunately it is not time off, nor is it time when we can teach elective classes. Instead, we spend time in "professional development," which means anything from traditional workshops about various teaching topics, to spending hours upon hours talking about and voting on proposals to improve the school, to community building. I am withholding judgment at this point.

What I will say is awesome about intersession is that I'm not teaching. Not that I don't love teaching (?), but it's really nice to arrive at school at 8:15, to leave before 6pm, to not plan lessons, to actually devote a reasonable amount of time to planning lessons, and to go to the bathroom whenever I need to. The best part, by far, is that when I leave school for the day, I'm actually leaving school. I'm not doing more work at home, I don't have to eat dinner while checking school email and typing a worksheet, I don't carry around a giant bag of grading. It reminds me of the good old days of office work when, at 5pm, I could stop whatever I was doing, go do things that normal people do, and not think about work until I returned the next morning to pick up where I left off. I don't even know what to do with all this time on my hands. The other day I went to the grocery store, we've finally watched and returned the Netflix DVDs we got last March, and I think I've been to the gym more in the past three weeks than in the past three months put together.

What will happen come February 1 when I have to actually teach a class again? The responsible person inside of me says that I should spend some time now preparing for the upcoming semester so that I won't have to spend quite so much time in quicksand mode. The realist says that there are many, many episodes of The Office that could use some re-watching.