Friday, August 28, 2009

ARIS this

I'm willing to take bets that I am the only NYC public school teacher out there who logged into ARIS (that's the New York City Department of Education’s Achievement Reporting and Innovation System to you) before the school year started. As I was very diligently logging in to my DOE e-mail (which I have also very diligently checked over the summer, only to be sent into panicky tailspins by the missives of my principal), I was informed I had to reset my password (which the DOE makes us do practically biweekly, as if anyone is really trying to hack into my e-mail and find out which exciting coverage I'll be made to do next), and on the default home page I happened to log into ARIS out of curiosity -- at least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Sure enough, my class list is up and running, and there are changes: I lost one sweet girl and gained one (different) sweet girl, one boy I am not excited about unless he's matured a heck of a lot over the summer, and one unknown boy from another school.

Now, I am all about the lists and charts and organizational tools, but I'm already frustrated by ARIS. Maybe it's because I've got second graders, so there's not exactly that much data to go on, but almost every single data field on my students was blank, and the ones that were there are cryptic. My new student from another school has an IEP, but I can't tell what's on it. Several of my students have "health alerts," but I don't know what they are. And a handful have "closed 407s," which (because I am a huge dork) I had to research to find out what exactly that meant. (As far as I can tell, it means they were absent a lot, and the DOE investigated.) This is my third year in the system, and I don't see how I'll ever keep pace with all the acronyms and numbered abbreviations.

But all the tools we use at my school to measure student progress -- running records and Everyday Math assessments and checklists and such -- don't factor into ARIS. So pretty much all I get out of it is a list of 27 names and a record of how many days they were absent. Which doesn't do much to help ease my anxiety of what it will be like when those 27 squirmy bodies are filling my new classroom.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Wackiness: As a measure of teaching ability, entirely underrated

A couple of commenters on my last post agreed (in a complimentary way) that I get a little "wacky" during the summertime, which made me consider the unfortunate truth that I am not nearly wacky enough during the school year. Frankly, I'm losing a little bit of my wackiness as the summer lurches to a close and I spend more of my time planning lessons and scrolling through pages and pages of the school rules and regulations binder ("changes are highlighted in yellow") that my principal e-mailed to us because apparently we're not printing anything anymore, ever. (How this will affect our ability to deliver effective instruction this year and whether my administration will make any allowances for this remains to be seen.)

I'm already having back-to-school nightmares. I think there is a disconnect between how I am during the summer vs. how I am during the school year. Sometimes I think I'm still not comfortable in my teaching skin, that it's not yet part of who I am, but rather something I just have to do between September and June. Which isn't to say I'm not passionate about it, because I am, but I've gone very quickly from idealist to cynic about the entire career.

It's been a big summer: new teaching position, new apartment, potentially a new car -- I don't think I ever mentioned that someone smashed up the side of my car while it was parked near my school and charmingly failed to leave a note. I've been driving it and its $2,000 (!) worth of damage all junk-heaped up ever since. And it will be an even bigger fall. I'm prepared to come to work early and stay late, to feel a little exhausted and overwhelmed at times, to make foolish mistakes, to rue the day I ever wandered into the university education office and asked, "Is it too late to join the program?" But I'm also grateful for the things that will make this year different from my miserable first year teaching: the support system I have among my fabulous colleagues; the little bag of tricks I've managed to develop over the past two years as a direct result of being pulled for coverages so very, very often; and the loveliest place to come home to that I could ask for (mostly because it includes the soon-to-be Mr. Brave).

Goodness knows my school has plenty of goals and expectations for me in the coming school year, but here's a new one of my own: Be wacky, sometimes. If that doesn't help my teaching fall into place, at least it will help my sanity -- and that more than anything is the best I can ask for.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Putting the ACK! in August (or, Why are the stores already selling Jewish New Year cards?)

It always takes me about a month to adjust to the rhythm of the summer. For the first two weeks in July, I dream about school: it's not over yet, it's just begun, I'm getting excessed, I'm being moved to high school, you get the picture. And just when I'm settling into vacation, blam! August hits like a ton of bricks and I start having those back to school dreams. A few days ago I had the one where it's the first day of school and my classroom is completely unfinished, and also it's like the middle of first period and I have yet to pick up my class.

So I took that as a sign I should get my butt over to the school supply store. (Actually, if you really want to know, it went down like this: July 30 -- I get an email from the UFT about our Teacher's Choice allocation money for the coming school year. As always, we can start purchasing school supplies on August 1. Which I don't, because I spent August 1 at the beach and a baseball game, because I have all the time in the world to purchase school supplies! August 2 -- I have my bad dream about the unfinished classroom. August 3 -- helloooooooooo, school supplies, I've been expecting you.)

Then I spent the whole afternoon Velcro-ing little stars and hand cutouts with my students' names on them to Popsicle sticks. "Helping Hands," get it? "Star Readers," get it, get it?! I am 98% sure that, come September, I will regret having put names on all that stuff, as I am 98% sure that, come September, my roster will change, but it probably won't change as drastically as it would if I had an ESL class, and I have extras. Also, those nameplates from Target? Cost one dollar, people, get 'em while they're hot (and boo-yah, Carson-Dellosa).

Then I spent far too much time printing and laminating times and subjects to use on my Flow of the Day. Flow of the Day, by the way, is a fancy way of saying "class schedule," and when I Googled the term out of idle curiosity about whether any other school systems refer to it this way, the #3 link was a Yahoo! Answers inquiry about, ahem, that other flow of certain days...of the month...right, that one. At any rate, my flow of the day (no, not that one) will look all fancy-schmancy, which I'm sure will be a comfort to me when it's the second week of school and all the cute little stars and hands have fallen off their Popsicle sticks.

Meanwhile, those five minutes in July I spent browsing the Everyday Math curriculum? Hmm, probably not going to cut it! But that's OK, because I have the whole rest of August to get Miss Brave back together, right?


Wait, why are you making that blam noise?