Educational Triage

10 steps to losing one’s mind and reaffirming one’s purpose as a high school teacher:
Step 1: You have written an educationally sound but also fun/entertaining activity based on a Viking webquest found on the internet to use as a pre-reading activity for Beowulf
Step 2: You have written a guiding handout for said activity, edited, revised, printed, and copied it – all of which take precious time, but you did it anyway because the results will be worth it.
Step 3: Present activity to students, getting them excited, only to find that the technology will not work in the classroom (not on my teacher computer, not on their Chromebooks) because of a missing FLASH plugin. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? WE CAN’T HAVE FLASH? And GOD FORBID we be allowed to download and install ANY programs without an administrator’s permission, password, and a pint of blood. What do you think we’re going to do? FIX SHIT TO MAKE IT WORK?!?!?!
[Deep breaths reminicient of The Muppet’s, Animal, after a freak-out]
Step 4: Nearly cry in front of students out of epic frustration that has been (and is still) building and building and building
Step 5: Abruptly leave the classroom full of students to go one door down and commiserate with a colleague instead of losing job for setting the place on fire (2 minutes – hopefully no one will notice)
Step 6: Go back to classroom and tell students, “I’m sorry things aren’t working here – you will have to find another way to complete the assignment outside of school hours.”
Step 7: Field student bitching because “it isn’t fair” that the technology at school doesn’t work
Step 8: Not so discreetly eat an entire chocolate bar that a colleague gave me this morning (On Monday a different colleague had given me the gift of chocolate, but that is long gone)
Step 9: Put on my “brave face” because there’s still several more periods before my prep
Step 10: Skip ahead two periods to relish in the AP Student’s Literature group discussions (only one more week before they turn in their group project on their first of seven novels and switch with another group to start reading a new one)
  1. King Lear group discussing nakedness (3.4 “Is man no more than this?”)
  2. Kite Runner group discussing wedding scene vs. death scene – what part does the life cycle play in humanity?
  3. Jane Eyre group discussing characterization of Jane and how one’s treatment shapes their personality
  4. The Road group discussing forgiveness and the purpose of prayer in an apocalyptic landscape – plus, “the old man”
  5. The Bluest Eye group discussing the reliability of the narrator (Who wrote stream-of-consciousness Chapter Titles? The narrator? If it’s Claudia does that make her an unrealible narrator? Are there other elements that make her an unreliable narrator?) and Junior’s introduction and the large number of events surrounding his introduction
  6. Gulliver’s Travels group struggling and arguing over who the people of Laputa represent (sooooo good, lots of fantastic discussion happening here)
  7. The Handmaid’s Tale group discussing surrender vs. rebellion and tying in current events re: the oppression of women
The little negative stuff piles up: it’s extremely frustrating and hard to get past when these “issues” are so routine and they stop your lessons in their tracks, causing you to shoot from the hip, again and again, in order to fill the time and meet the standards.
The occurrences that battle these negatives are also little, but far more powerful. It’s things like my AP English Literature class holding their own Literature Circles like bosses, holding themselves and each other accountable. I get to walk around that classroom during those discussions and feel like a goddess of pedagogy. The best part is that I’m not even doing anything; the students are. However, they are doing it because I showed them that it was possible and believed that they could do it. If the average person walked into my classroom during Lit. Circle discussions (every Friday), they would see 7 small groups in animated discussion, but may not understand how much work goes into them (both on my end front-loading and modeling for them and the students preparing discussion questions, reading and annotating, and drawing connections to their own lives).
Those who think that teachers are overpaid, or that teachers do not deserve to be paid as highly as other professions with equal educational requirements don’t understand just how much work a “good” teacher does. They might see my messy desk and think, “she isn’t even organized, how can she be an effective teacher?” Or, they might walk past and see my students all talking and think that they’re not working, but socializing. (Administrators have assumed this, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the public did too.)
I work my ass off, as do many of my colleagues, but we are beset on all sides by increasing educational and administrative (paper work) demands without an accompanying increase in time, supplies, resources, or monetary compensation.
Something has to change. My students deserve my best, but I can’t give them that when I have 5 different subjects in one day. I can’t. I’m only one person.
So, I triage and prioritize.
  • ELA 12 (1st and 2nd periods) typically gets second best. I enjoy the literature available to me to teach the required standards and they tend to be more mature than their younger counterparts. I’m pretty active in these two classes, but more subdued – gotta save my energy for AP.
  • AP (3rd period) gets my best, every day: no question. They get the most physical Mrs. Magy – up and everywhere around the room, in and out of small groups, lots of reading, discussion, and writing. I write exemplars for them and model reading and writing like what will be expected at the college level. And it’s my writing, so it’s damn good.
  • Then I have back-to-back hours of ESL students for two different purposes. I really struggle with these two periods. I specifically avoided elementary education because I dislike teaching basic concepts. It requires an intense amount of patience, and when you add in that these students are new to this country, you add in behavioral issues because the students have not acclimatized to the expectations and social norms of American culture yet.
    • In 4th period, I’m helping my ESL/ELL students build their basic reading and writing skills.
      • We are focusing on close reading strategies and annotating for non-fiction sources (they have a separate English Literature course where they focus on fiction).
      • Every single student receives individual reading comprehension work at their reading level (or just above it) to challenge them (from books that I purchased, with money that was not reimbursed despite the clear educational need for them).
      • I meet with students individually 2-3 times a week during this period to discuss their reading comprehension work (How does their annotation look?, can they identify main ideas, supporting details, organization, etc.).
      • The student’s reading levels range from pre-reading (they know their alphabet and can sound words out, but have very little vocabulary) all the way through 6th grade.
      • And there are 24 of them, all in the same classroom.
      • Two students are already making visual, measureable progress, but their SAT scores will still be low becuase they’re reading levels are so far below the readings on the standardized test.
    • In 5th period, I’m helping my ESL/ELL students prepare for the SAT.
      • All of us teachers that teach a semester long SAT Prep class (for either English or math) hate it. It’s drugery. I do not believe in standardized testing, yet I am held accountable as a teacher by how well my students perform on them (poorly, duh, they are mostly ESL/ELL and immigrants to this country – the tests are white-biased and do not measure what they claim to, but that’s another post for another day).
      • Since the students are far below grade level, I focus on writing during this period since we focus on reading during 4th period. It’s like a double-whammy of Mrs. Magy’s Magical English Elixir.
  • Finally, I have SAT Prep (7th period) for the highest achieving group of 11th graders (our students are tracked – it is what it is).
    • Obviously, I cannot use the same lesson plans that I use for the ESL/ELL students, but by this point I am so tapped out that I am using the Cambridge Preparing for the New SAT workbooks, that our school spent so much money on, and give them lots of time to practice reading the more complex text passage types found on the SAT. I have them do lots of pre/post tests, but do not grade based on their achievement so much as their improvement and effort.

I know teachers that would only plan for AP and phone in the rest with this schedule. I know teachers that would maybe plan for AP/ELA 12 and discount everything else.

But I can’t. It’s not who I am. I became a teacher to help students learn. Even on days when I “take it easy,” I’m still doing more than most, and yet, it’s never enough. I always feel like I’m not enough, and that I’m not doing enough. Part of that is my personal depression and anxiety (for which I do receive medical care and treatment), but part of it is the administration and the Charter company who constantly find ways to tell the educators that we aren’t doing enough.

In some areas, I honestly haven’t. For one thing, I haven’t been diligent about uploading my lesson plans each week in the multi-page Google Doc format required. Triage. I have outlines of my lesson plans hand-written on my desk calendar. I know what’s happening, why, and when. Come ask me or talk to me about it, but I don’t have time to write it all down in your ridiculous bureaucratic form that everyone knows you don’t read anyway. Yet, if they aren’t there, I will be marked down for being “ineffective at planning.” {eye-roll} If I was ineffective at planning, the students would run my classroom and they would never make progress. That simply isn’t true.

What standards am I covering? All of them, Bitch. I’m a master educator. I’m working my students up-down-and-sideways and your silly forms will not tell you that, only visiting my classroom and seeing my teaching first-hand could.

Every day teachers perform triage, and every day teachers are making the best educational decisions they can for their students based on that assessment. But what happens to the teachers who don’t add their own self-care into their triage? Burn-out.

I haven’t been able to spend quality time with my family like I’d like because of my work demands. Triage. I get some of that time back by NOT doing the multi-page lesson plans. It’s 2-4 hours of time, but I’ll take the hit on my educator effectiveness to be able to participate in bathtime and story time each night with my kids; to be able to sleep an extra 1-2 hours each night (so I actually get 6 hours of sleep instead of 4 hours); to be able to get home before 6pm each night.

Triage. Reclaiming my time. Today I will sit in 3.5 hours of pure meeting hell that administration calls “Professional Development,” but as educators who triage important educational and personal decisions every day, we all need to reclaim our time and demand that the excessive paperwork and meetings that do nothing to push forward academic progress need to stop.

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