Monday, June 18, 2018

Calling for a Culling

Hello! My name is Mark, and I am hoarder of classroom materials.

I finished the annual task of packing up and cleaning out my classroom today. For the very first time I chose to leave the posters on the walls, if for no other reason than I did not want to spend the extra time to take them down.

Everything but the furniture must be hauled out by the teachers so that the floors can be cleaned, stripped, and waxed. Fortunately the custodians handle the task of moving the desks, shelves, filing cabinet, and closet on (wheels). All of this is accomplished by a couple weeks before the start of school, and then we haul everything back in and set things back in order.

After I moved my last cart of books and boxes, I noticed that I have much more than a small amount of stuff squirreled away. Take a look:

Yes. Count them. Six cubbies, three cabinets, and spillage out into the floor. All filled with boxes of books, files, desk accessories, decor, toys, arts and crafts supplies, etc. Looking closer will reveal sets and backgrounds from at least two homecoming floats. All of this useful and important in its own time and place, but a pain to pack and move when the building is dark and silent.

I had planned to spend a part of this year to set it all out and then to find it a better home or send it into the trashcan. The goal was reduce my stash to fewer cubbies... but it somehow grew to more! I now admit that I do have a problem. I had set out a special shelf this year marked with a sign reading GRATIS. The idea was place items free for the taking by any student, visitor, or teacher. This process began with good intentions, but as the work and activities grew, the environment withdrew into the background. Sometimes there were piles and stacks to navigate, but never did it stand in the way of our missions.

Something's gotta give, though. I will make it a priority to sift through all these items and keep only which contributes directly to the teaching of six Latin classes or the running of an active Latin Club. After all, having too much stuff can stand in the way of effective use of fewer, higher-quality items. It is time to sift, cull, trash, and give away things that are no longer making the cut. I have gather these items for 31 years. It is time to apply the notion that less is more.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Greener Grasses

I just returned home from a farewell dinner for two Latin colleagues leaving our school system at the end of the week. Each one is departing for pastures expected to have greener grass, albeit decidedly different flavors.

My first colleague will be leaving her high school program after fourteen years. She taught all levels of Latin, including Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, an occasional middle school class, and a fairly active Latin Club and certamen teams. She became department chair and the odd combination of classes and duties began to compound and overwhelm her. She has a husband and two young children. She has opted to leave these burdens behind and will replace them with what will surely be a two-hour commute each way. She will have a lighter teaching load and enjoy higher pay.

My second colleague will be leaving behind his middle school position after only three years of teaching, admittedly not even enough time to get really get his teaching chops established. He has wrangled middle-schoolers in Latin I, Latin IA, Latin IB, Latin II, and Introduction to World Languages. These combinations of classes, including the nature of these young students, has also worn on him. He will be leaving teaching behind for new and different opportunities. He looks forward to greater freedom, less grief, and more chances to explore and grow.

To lose a fourteen-year veteran is a real loss... loss of experience, continuity, and institutional memory; yet losing a three-year beginning is just as frustrating. The departure of new teachers is a very real problem and threatens our profession. Good Latin teacher are difficult to find in the first place, but then to lose them too soon compounds the problem. Each one has made his and her own decision, and I do not begrudge them their choices at all. Indeed, there may even be a little bit of envy.

As I mentioned in my last post, this has not been a good year for me. Besides missing four weeks of teaching due to medical leave and recovery this spring, as well as time out for conferences and the graduations of both my daughter from graduate school and son from college, there were some classes where my personality and that of my students did not match up well, and some students even rejected any enthusiastic attempt to learn and grow. I hope to pursue these dynamics in later posts. I am just about to complete my thirty-first year of teaching. At one point the notion of retirement surfaced and I rejected it because I could not stand the idea of leaving in a negative note, and indeed I had unfinished business. As the year began to wind down and the frustrations that come with formalized testing, certification, and administrative demands, I began to seriously consider retirement at the end of next year. Thirty-two years in any profession is respectable, is it not? I signed my electronic contract thinking that I might wrap things up on my own terms and leave at the end of the 2018-2019 school year. After all, my certification will be due, our curriculum is changing with a requisite alteration of teaching philosophy, and we are getting new textbooks. Sounds like a good time to depart, does it not? Then I made the fateful move... out of curiosity I checked the pay scale, just to see what my final paychecks would look like. I was floored! In only eight more years, my pay was scheduled to increase by more than $18,000! How tempting! How exciting! In order to keep seasoned, experienced teachers, the pay increases significantly up until it freezes at 40 years of service. This put the breaks on any thoughts of retirement for the moment, but I am a bit disappointed in myself because suddenly I am choosing to stay not just because I want to teach, but that I am reaching for the money.

My two colleagues and I have noticed the greener grasses growing in other pastures or even in our own field. Is it really greener though? Does it taste any different or nourish our bodies or souls any better? At the moment, only time will tell.

More about retirement later. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

All Things Considered

As exam week rolls into view, I find it necessary to take stock of this year which, I must admit, has not been a good one, either for me or for some of my students. I am returning to Marginalia as a means of reviewing, organizing, and analyzing what went right and what went wrong in my classroom and inside my head. I am being purposely vague at the moment; just laying out a general road map of personal discussion. Welcome back to me!

P.S. I will also be editing this blog: making updates, deleting nonsense, and adding commentary. I was surprised to find that I started this twelve years ago, and it has been dormant for much of that time. Perhaps it is time to erupt.