Friday, August 31, 2007


That's the sound of a big sigh of relief, followed by an equally big freak-out.

Some of my questions from yesterday have been answered. I have a schedule, for instance, and I know that I see my kindergarten classes twice a week and my first and second grade classes once (with the addition of one third grade class and one fourth grade, self-contained, special ed class). I know that the SW on my schedule does not stand for "something writing," as I speculated, but for "schoolwide," apparently in reference to some nebulous schoolwide project that I will be expected to work on during that time (I'm 99% sure that what this actually means is, "Things We Need Someone, Anyone to Do When All the Other Teachers Are Busy With Their Actual Classrooms"). I know that I do not have to take attendance in my first-period classes, or dismiss my last-period classes, or be stationed anywhere during dismissal (which is a pretty sweet deal for later in the year, even if it does make me feel kind of left out right now).

I know that the content of my lessons should focus on the meat and potatoes (read: boring!) details of writing: grammar, punctuation, that sort of thing, although with my school population it might be more like, "Let's practice writing our letters." And I know that the principal has promised me that we will sit down and talk in greater detail about what kind of curriculum I'll be planning (on the one hand, when will we do this? School starts Tuesday! On the other hand, how much did I really think I was going to get done in the first week anyway? I guess I'll just...wing it for a while?).

My biggest, biggest concern right now is materials. As in: I don't have any. As a cluster teacher, I got the impression that my situation is kind of BYOS (Bring Your Own Supplies). The social studies teacher has tons of materials that she pushes around on a cart, and I have squat. Granted, writing is...writing, and all we really need are pencils and paper, but I don't think I'm supposed to steal classroom supplies, I don't know if the kids will have their own supplies, and obviously it's too late to requisition anything for the first week. Should I buy a big dry erase board or chart paper and tote it around with me? Do I need a dorky little cart of my own? How on earth do I get from the main school building to the kindergarten annex down the block when one period ends at the exact same time that the next one starts? Where oh where do I find books to use for Read Aloud? When oh when do I get a key to the staff bathroom?

So, like yesterday, on the one hand: reassured. On the other: FREAKING OUT.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Stressed backwards spells desserts

Or in my case, a speedy jog and half a bag of Sour Patch Kids.

So, today was my first day of staff development at my new school. It's hard to sum up the experience in words, so thank goodness the Yiddish language can do it for me: Oy.

It was good, and also bad. It was reassuring, and also nerveracking. It was...challenging, and also rewarding? (As that seems to be the catch-all description of teaching in general, mayhaps I can work it into every entry!)

Here's a rundown of the good and the uncertain (I'm not going to say bad):

The good: There are heaps of new teachers (I think it would have been so much more challenging to be the only new person), and everyone seems friendly. There's a good vibe at the school, and several people have told me how great it is and how lucky I am to be working there. I know where my (shared) office is, and the teacher I share it with even found me a desk and a chair. My commute wasn't terrible at all (in fact, I got to the school 40 minutes early).

The uncertain: My, um, job? Here's the rub: As far as I know, the school has never had a writing cluster before...and I'm the only writing cluster teacher in the school (as opposed to, say, Academic Intervention Services teachers, where there's one for different subject in every grade), and I'm new. And no one so far has been able to give me a clear picture of what I'm actually supposed to do. These kids get Writing Workshop in their classrooms every day. And I haven't been given their Writing Workshop curriculum. Am I supposed to ignore what they're doing in writing with their classroom teachers and implement an entirely separate curriculum? Of course not. Am I supposed to adhere closely to the general Writing Workshop curriculum and teach Writing Workshop lessons as if I were the classroom teacher? Probably not, because why would they hire an extra staff person to teach something that's usually handled by the classroom teacher? Or am I supposed to consult with each individual classroom teacher and plan lessons that complement their Writing Workshop curriculum? This seems the most likely to me, and I was vaguely told over the summer something about working on the "mechanics of writing," which probably would complement Writing Workshop lessons, but then...should my lessons follow the workshop model?


I know this is all extremely typical of schools at the beginning of the school year. I just wish I knew, one way or the other, so I could get started on my own planning. This afternoon, the teacher with whom I share my office asked me if I was getting much support. I said, "Not yet." And she said: "Don't hold your breath." She may have even added something about "sink or swim," but if she did, I blocked it from my memory because those words bring back horrifying memories of my disastrous student teaching experience. I mean: I don't have a problem planning a curriculum. If I were the social studies teacher, and there was no social studies curriculum, and I had to invent one, I would. But there is already a very clearly outlined writing curriculum for classroom teachers. I'm just not sure yet where I fit into it, and I'm desperate to corner my principal or my assistant principal and find out.

In addition, I'm a little concerned that being a cluster teacher will be a little bit lonely. Already the teachers are bonding across grades, and I don't have anyone to turn to for advice or support. I'm reasonably sure that by October or so, I'll be settled in, I'll obviously know what kind of lessons I'm supposed to be teaching, and hopefully I'll be friendly with everyone and particularly the K-2 teachers. It's just those first day of school jitters I guess even teachers don't outgrow.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Can you teach old teachers new tricks?

Last week was the Department of Education's "New Teacher Welcome," a three-day event designed to indoctrinate all us new NYC teachers to the methods and madness of NYC public schools. First up was the grand ceremonial welcome for all new teachers at the Javits Center. The invitation said "8:15 SHARP." Being teachers, we should all be punctual, right? No time-wasting for the DOE!

As my students might say: Not. The DOE treated us to the dulcet tones of Songs of Solomon, an uncommonly good "inspirational ensemble" made up of teenagers, and then to the...what's the opposite of "dulcet"?...tones of a marching drum band, also made up of teenagers. For the first hour. On the one hand: Hooray for teenagers! From our public schools! Who play awesome music! And are inspired by great teachers like ourselves! On the other hand: I COULD HAVE SLEPT ANOTHER HOUR.

Then we heard a half-hour of speeches from the likes of Chancellor Joel Klein, followed by...a musical interlude. OK, I could have slept another two hours.

Most rousing speaker: Obviously Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, even though she did make us engage in a supremely uncool call-and-response game during which we dutifully recited, "Call your union rep!" to every question she posed. ("What do you do if you're teaching and the principal enters your room and whacks you over the head with a textbook?" "Call your union rep!")

Least rousing speaker: The poor dude who followed Randi Weingarten, mostly because he insisted on using the word "persistancy." From underneath the dull, droning stupor that was settling into my brain at that point, I thought: "...does he mean persistance?" Yes, yes, he does.

Then we broke out into smaller workshops which concentrated on topics like salary, certification and health benefits. At last! I thought. All my questions will be answered!

Also, a big not. Most of the speakers wasted a good portion of their allotted half-hour by reminiscing about their early teaching days, back when they all got handed a room key/attendance roster/single textbook (the item varied based on the speaker) and were told, "Good luck!", and then their students ate them alive, chewed them up and spat them out and they were expected to teach Chinese even though they majored in studio art and they had 40 kids in their classrooms hanging from the ceiling and they had to walk uphill both ways to school in the snow. But now of course they all love teaching! So much that they left it for careers in the UFT or DOE management. Mmm-hmm. At any rate, the only real concrete piece of information I gleaned from this portion of the day was that when I submit paperwork to the DOE proving that I have a master's degree in order to get my salary raise, I also have to submit a transcript of my bachelor's degree, which I sort of find unreasonably ridiculous because: OF COURSE I HAVE A BACHELOR'S DEGREE. Otherwise, how could I have been hired in the first place? Or, you know, gone on to get a master's? Whatev, DOE, whatev.

I also got to visit the "teacher trade fair" (i.e., land of free stuff), where representatives from Chase Bank literally jumped out of nowhere in front of my path and started chattering about Chase's free checking. So I took my free teacher gift from Staples and scampered.

The Javits Center welcome was followed by a two-day training event at a high school downtown. The less said about that event, the better; I, miss brave, have played hooky from an extremely small number of things in my life, and alas, this event turned out to be one of them. It was literally every single thing that's horrible and wrong about training events all rolled into one enormous turd of a package. It was like, "Work with a partner who teaches a similar subject and grade level to plan a lesson. Oh, there's no one here on your grade level or subject? Then you might as well work with these two other teachers to plan a lesson that incorporates adaptive physical education, 4th grade special ed and K-2 writing! Because that will definitely be helpful real-world experience!" It was like, "Make a chart of your concerns and expectations for the school year" (hmm, my concerns and expectations are pretty much the same thing) "and now we'll share -- oh, look, we're not alone!" And when I said that I was struggling with the idea of how to implement behavior management routines as a cluster teacher without her own classroom, the facilitator talked about how the most important behavior management techniques...hinge on how teachers set up their classrooms. Worst of all, though, we were constantly being lectured on how teachers need to cater to students' different learning styles, and how they can't just stand up in front of the room and talk at their students. Weirdly, none of the facilitators noted the irony in this.

The theme of the event was "All Children Can Learn" (I don't think my math teacher friend has gotten this memo), "All Teachers Can Teach" (reassuring! but true? The jury is still out!).

Friday, August 24, 2007

10 Days Until School, 10 Things I'm Worried About

(in no particular order)

1. forgetting my students' names (I'll be teaching three different grades, probably about 140 different students, so I feel this is a valid fear)

2. not being friendly with the other faculty members

3. losing control of my class

4. not making my lesson plan lengthy enough so that we have too much time left over before the period ends

5. making my lesson plan too lengthy so that there is too much crammed in before the period ends

6. attempting a lesson with my students that is too devastatingly easy

7. attempting a lesson with my students that is too devastatingly hard

8. forgetting to do some major clerical data thing like an assessment

9. being late to school

10. crying in school, even if it's in the staff bathroom (you can never hide those red eyes!)