Implementation, Day 1
The first adjustment was losing 10 minutes of homeroom. This is kind of sad because it makes it harder for us to play with the "advisory" idea, but there really wasn't any other time of day when we had a "spare" ten minutes. The other bad part, that I hadn't thought about in advance, was that I do not have a homeroom specifically because, as a science teacher, I am often racing around preparing for a lab. My administration knows that I am not a morning person, have a long commute, and can use the time to get ready. Anyway, I have plenty of other duties, including science team leader and 6th grade team leader. I usually spend the first ten minutes of homeroom helping supervise the halls, and the last twenty minutes racing around preparing stuff for class. As of today, that time has been cut by ten minutes, but I'm still expected to keep an eye on the halls.
The rest of the day went pretty smoothly, as far as people remembering to change classes 10 minutes earlier, collect the kids from lunch 10 minutes earlier, etc. I definitely had a few moments of looking at my watch, thinking I had tons of time left, then suddenly realizing we were on a new schedule.
We normally walk our classes downstairs to the exit at the end of the day, but we are experimenting with just letting the kids who are not staying for tutoring dismiss themselves. We have a couple of staff members posted at various points on the stairs, and (in theory - she often does not show up) a security guard at the door, and we are all supposed to watch the halls from our doorways as the kids leave. Today seemed to go reasonably well; I didn't hear any complaints or chaos.
Things were a little mixed-up after that, but not too badly.
One side issue was that a lot of kids received "promotion-in-doubt" letters last week, based on their 1st marking period grades and last year's test scores. This confused many parents and kids - and teachers! Kids were coming to us in tears and it was the first we'd heard about the letters. I asked my AP to please communicate to us when they are sending something like that, so that we aren't left dumbfounded when confronted by families. Anyway, a lot of the sixth graders who received promotion-in-doubt letters thought they were supposed to stay for tutoring (it does make sense, you have to give them that).
We are supposed to keep the kids who have to stay in our last-period classes for a few minutes while the other kids leave, then release them to go their tutoring teachers. I let my sixth graders go to their tutors as soon as the halls looked clear, but my own tutees didn't show up for quite some time, and out of 7, only 4 were present. One girl was absent from school, but I'm not sure what happened to the other two. I notified my AP, then started the session with the others. Attendance issues will be worked out over the next couple of weeks, I'm not worried about that.
The "lesson plan" or whatever turned out to be both useful and way too ambitious for 75 minutes. Basically, we are starting each session with a fluency drill - today's was very easy for them, which was good, I think, to start them off with a feeling of success. We went over that, and I had them do some additional practice "in their heads" and we talked about different strategies for adding two digit numbers quickly in your head. Then I gave them each a workbook, and spent a few minutes going over the example problems, which were about adding and subtracting fractions. This was the part of the lesson labeled "direct instruction," and while it was direct instruction, I did it sitting down at a table with the kids and just walking them through the example. We had to spend a few minutes reviewing how to find a common denominator and what to do once you have a common denominator. Seventh grade. Oh dear. I had them do the first six problems on their own and then check in with me so I could catch problems quickly. It's a good thing I did, because problems cropped up immediately. One boy found the common denominators correctly but then just left the numerators the same. Others... well, four kids managed to find about 10 different ways to add fractions incorrectly... yikes. So, at that point, I kept one seat on either side of me open, and I spent the rest of the period working with one or two kids in those seats while the others worked independently (and snipped at each other), and then took their turn checking in and working with me. And then, in what seemed like no time, we saw kids from another group walking past us in coats and realized we'd lost track of time and it was already time to go.
We still have more than half of a worksheet on adding and subtracting fractions to finish tomorrow. The math department wants us to do homework help and problem-solving practice as well. The kids would like time to work on their homework, so I will try to fit that in, but problem-solving? I just don't see it.
I am a little nervous about what this will be like when all 7 kids show up. Missing today was at least one real space cadet, a very sweet girl who completely zones out and really ought to be in a group of one. And I think the novelty of the experience minimized snippiness today, but I know a couple of these characters well enough to know that I may soon have seven kids spread out at 6 tables!
As for the rest, I took part of my prep today to talk to my AP and Principal. I said that I just needed to say something that was on my mind, and asked why we had not used the last two PD sessions to prepare for this, when everyone on staff thought we were. My Principal did not make excuses but took responsibility and basically said that it had been a confusing time and that she wasn't really aware of the unhappiness among the staff or the understanding we had about how that time would be used. She said it was an error in judgment and apologized, and asked that we be more vocal next time, especially after the first PD, we should have spoken up and questioned her more. Okay. I kind of thought we did, but it was a hectic week and I had many conversations with many people about many things... Anyway, then I said that I felt we needed a back-up plan for weeks when we couldn't have our regularly scheduled team leaders meeting, because that was a time when many of these issues could have been raised and resolved, and because the school decision-making process can't fall apart every time people are sick/called-out-of-the-building/on trips. She agreed and I think we will discuss a back-up plan on Wednesday.
It was that conversation, more than anything else, that made it all okay. I know that when I need to say something, I will be heard. I will listen when others have things to say to me. Sometimes we will yell at each other, occasionally even cry, but we are committed to the conversation and to constantly improving how we handle each situation. The math tutoring will evolve until we come up with something good for the kids and palatable to teachers. I'd rather that I didn't have to do it: of course.