Friday, August 1, 2014

I Survived

This is my desk as it looked today. I still have some piles to work through!

I made it through the first week of school! I wasn't entirely sure I would. When I went back to work last week, to prepare for the students' return this week, it was immediately clear that I wasn't completely recovered from my bout with diverticulitis. Although I was definitely better, I was still having some pain and nausea. It was a tough week.
Thankfully, I'm much better now, so this week went pretty well. Still exhausted at the end of the day, of course, but able to keep my head above water. And so grateful that Friday has come!

Looking out at a sea of student desks from behind my desk.
Yes, I sit on a yoga ball! It keeps my back flexible.

2014-15 is going to be a challenging school-year. Due to yet more budget cuts, several teachers were let go in May. When they found themselves short one teacher for a freshman English class, the administrators asked if I would teach it. I was a bit intimidated, but I agreed. I always like a good challenge!
I've been teaching English classes for 35 years, the last 25 years right here at Blue Ridge High School. However, I've always taught classes for students with learning disabilities in reading and/or writing. Thus my class sizes have always been fairly small, in comparison with regular English classes. I think the largest class I ever had, briefly, was 18 kids. Normally my classes run from about 8 to 16 students. 
And so it was kind of a shock when my classroom went from 16 desks, surrounded by plenty of open space, to 33 desks crammed into every spare spot!

I have 33 desks in my classroom, and 34 students in my freshman English class!
My stool and podium are at right, and my aide's desk is in the back left corner.

Another change necessitated by loss of staff was moving to a new 6-period schedule. For the past 22 years, I have taught under a 4-period day, in which I taught three 90-minute classes, with a 90-minute prep period. The students completed their classes before winter break, and then they started four new classes in January, thereby earning a total of 8 credits per year.
Now we are back to a more traditional schedule, with 6 classes, each about an hour long, which the students will attend for the entire school-year. Meaning they can now only earn 6 credits per semester, unless they take a zero-hour or 7th-period class (which are limited). It also means we teachers are teaching 5 classes with only an hour of prep time.

The view from my aide Joe's desk.
Joe's a hard-working retired gentleman who keeps things running smoothly!

At least, that's how it would be if I had a prep. Since they asked me to teach freshman English in addition to my usual class load, I have no prep period this year. So I stay after school everyday for an extra hour to stay on top of planning. Luckily, Dylan also stays, to attend 7th period band (looks like he's taking up the clarinet in addition to the many other instruments he already plays), so we drive home together at 4:30.
This is how my schedule looks:
     Period 1     Freshman English (aka English 1)
     Period 2     Read 180 Block A
     Period 3     Read 180 Block B
                            Homeroom (Sophomores)
     Lunch        (30 minutes)
     Period 4     English Writing
     Period 5     Read 180 Block A
     Period 6     Read 180 Block B
I also continue as the special education department chair, which comes with its own set of duties and meetings, so my days are quite full. There has been no "down time"!

Folders and baskets, ready for the freshmen English kids.

Since I've been teaching my other classes for many years, preparation consists mainly of making sure the materials are ready for the kids when they come in. I practically have the lesson plans memorized, but I'm flexible when necessary and add updated activities and lessons whenever something new and interesting comes along.
This new English class, however, requires a whole new perspective, because the needs of the freshmen will be different in many ways from the population I've served for so many decades. I'm sure my ability to break down concepts to make them more accessible to struggling learners will continue to be useful, but freshman English still looks like a new breed of animal to me!
The English department chair has been very helpful and loaded me up with the materials, assessments, and novels used by the other English 1 teachers at BRHS. With her direction, I'm now hard at work organizing it into a curriculum that fits my teaching style. I do enjoy organizing things! And so far I'm really enjoying the group of kids I've inherited for the year, in every class.

A Reading Station in the back of the room for the Read 180 program.
Lots of good books!

It's been a hectic week, but we're off to a good start! I've even been successful in getting most of the students to call me "Mrs. Carter," which is a challenge since I've been "Mrs. Reynolds" for the past 4 years. The freshmen, of course, find it easy, since most of them didn't know me until this week!

May 24, 2014: Read 180 students at the Software Station last semester.
Soon my computers will be busy again with industrious learners!
(You can tell it's last school-year, since "Mrs. Reynolds" is still on the door.)

I can already tell that this is going to be a year of challenges, accomplishments, and growth, both for the students and for me!

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