I teach at a high school that uses a block schedule, 85 minutes a class, four classes plus lunch each semester. With most of the classes only a semester long, the attempt is to take a year-long class of 45 minutes, and teach the curriculum in one semester. This allows for more project-based teaching, labs in science classes and vocational programs, and also encourages teachers to utilize Cooperative Learning, rather than straight lecture. And it is right about this time every year, that I look over what we’ve covered in class and begin to assess whether or not I’ve served the students well.
In the past several years, I’ve been able to keep my Algebra students all year. This year, I was slotted to teach two math levels, something I haven’t done in quite a while. Always being up for a challenge, I was excited to teach a class I hadn’t spent time with in years, knowing I would be creating learning experiences and materials to help my students acquire information. So time passed, and all the interruptions are gone. There are only 4 days left before their final, and then I won’t see them in class again.
In an effort to be proactive in the changing laws and with the more challenging students that our school serves, our Department will be moving toward a different model. Team-teaching for a few of the classes, and turning my classroom into the Learning Resource Center. There is a laundry list of services that the LRC will offer, such as an alternate test site, computers available for projects, tutoring, and counseling. As I look around my room, physically there are things that need to be changed, tables instead of desks, and moving bookshelves and other seating arrangements to make room for computer tables and quite places to complete assessments. As I started to gather things up, put them away, or give them away, I began to think about where my students would go.
On Tuesday, we’d spent about three hours hacking out a new Master Schedule for our department and placing students where we thought was best for them, based on their level and the teacher(s) available. After considering where these students were placed, I began to have doubts. Was I the right person for this position? How comfortable was I in giving up my classes to do something we had never done at my school? Analyzing it from every angle, I decided that we did the best we could, and though next semester will be a learning experience, students can only benefit from this shift in program.
As I looked around my room today at the students that I’ve had since the middle of August, I began to wonder what perhaps every teacher thinks about when they retire or leave one school for another: Did I matter? Did I do the best job I could to prepare them for their next class and for life after high school? With a deep breath, I realize, yes, I did my best to serve my students. And now they’re moving on to other teachers when I would normally have them through May. I know my colleagues are very capable instructors, and that my students will be in good hands.
I asked myself to move back to that space of excitement. This is an opportunity to serve in a different way, to work with more teachers and parents and students. I won’t be delivering group, direct instruction, but I will be working with students in a tutoring situation, helping them with myriad questions regarding registration, graduation, post-secondary options, and assisting general education teachers in accommodations and modifications in their curriculum to ensure the success of all students. And it is from this place of gentle anticipation that I give my students a soft push to move on to their next teacher, another class, and different experiences than what we shared.
I know that I will continue to create not only a learning atmosphere, but also whatever adjustments are needed to this program to ensure its success and that of the students and teachers that it will support. Like graduation at the end of the school year, when students march across the stage, receive their diploma, and launch into their lives with only memories, some knowledge, and a few friends, my current students will move on, and I, too, will open the next chapter of my career. On my website, www.myjoyenterprises.com I list tips to help teachers in their classrooms, as well as some classroom materials that I have created. Check it out, and leave a comment about your thoughts when you’ve had to send kids on their way.