Thursday, September 6, 2007

“And Then, Depression Set In...”

The title, of course, is tongue-in-cheek, taken from that classic movie Stripes. But it is near to being true for me at this point. Okay, okay… so I am not so much depressed as a bit on the stressed-out side.

For the past month or so, I have been following various threads on a listserv I belong to (engteach-talk, you can join it at From about the last week of July to the present various members of the list have been checking on with their beginning of the year stories. I am in a strange position, as I have been for the past few years. My school system’s calendar starts 2 August for teachers and 9 August for students. However, I am not going to start with my students until this Friday, 7 September. Until such time as I am actively in my classroom I get to fill in as a sub whenever and wherever needed and this year I got to spend a delightful couple of weeks correcting and updating student information in STI (the software my school uses for student management).

When I changed to this school system it was to specifically teach a writing course to help prepare students for the state writing assessment. Every semester I split my students with a drivers’ education teacher. For the first four weeks the students are in class with that teacher, learning all they can about driving and safety. Then they get me for the remainder of the semester teaching them writing. Well, most of them.

Approximately three at a time they are pulled out of my class for six days to go out and do the driving portion of their coursework. That means at any one time about 10% of my students are not in class. That, of course, does not count the ones who miss for other reasons (absent, inschool suspension, out of school suspension, field trips, skipping...). To add even more to the fun, my first year at the school I floated. I was in a total of six different classrooms during the year (three the first semester and three different ones the second semester).

Also, that first year, the students were less than friendly for various reasons. Mainly the drivers’ ed class had previously been paired with a study hall and so they felt cheated that someone expected them to do real work. And then there is walking into the classroom after all the relations in the class have already formed. The group dynamics have mainly been sorted out, and there has been a connection with the teacher who is now out driving with them. Then I walk in and everything changes.

Last year I was given a classroom. Still have it this year. In the classroom are twenty computers. Took me a while to figure out how I wanted to use them, but in the second semester the classes really started to cook. I was in a good place mentally.

But... the assistant principal who worked most closely with me on this class is not here this year. He has been deployed to Iraq. The other assistant principal I worked with left to become a principal at another school. The new assistant principals are good people, but they do not have the interest in this class the previous two did.

So my classes, which should be capped at about 25 (as they are technically "test prep" even though we do more than that) all have 27-32 students. This is interesting as I have 25 desks and 20 computer stations. I usually only have tenth graders and returning ninth graders (who may get the required credits to be tenth graders in time to take the writing exam). This year I have eight juniors and one senior. They are not going to take the test. But they will be in the classes where I am trying to prepare others for the test. Luckily, in my experience juniors and seniors (especially seniors) do well in my class.

The computers I made such good use of second semester last year are all basically useless at the moment. The district upgraded the network to the point where Windows98 computers are no longer compatible with it. All mine are Windows98 and no one has come to upgrade them yet, even though there was a work order placed before school started. And, as I mentioned, I have a lot fewer computers than students this time around. There are some computers that are not being used, but for some unexplained reason they cannot be moved from the empty room where they are not being used to my room where that can be used (as soon as they get upgraded as well).

To be honest, I am not sure whether to post this or not. It seems like one giant complaint. But I think I can get to a deeper point.

I am willing to be held accountable for my teaching. But how accountable can I be when I am blocked from using the method I have come to see as the best one for my students and me? And it is not even blocked maliciously. No one set out to work me over. But I seem to be getting worked over from several different directions at once. Sort of the perfect storm of bureaucratic screwups that centered on me and my classes.

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