What to write?
Do I write about the chaos of implementing this new schedule?
Or about how much the kids I see every day need the extra help? I have spent 150 minutes this week working on adding and subtracting fractions with kids who forget the steps every time I finish going over them, who will spend at least another week of tutoring on this skill because we are going to have to tackle the issue of "borrowing from a whole number" when subtracting mixed numbers like 7 1/2 - 4 3/4. It is so clear to me that the kind of one-on-one attention that they need in order to learn this material is simply not possible in a class where the teacher has 25 or more students, all clamoring for attention.
Today, all six kids were in attendance. I tried to have a conversation about why we are doing this, to promote buy-in, to set some ground rules with the kids rather than just harping on them to stop picking at each other and making me crazy. Two or three are grateful for the help and, while spacey, generally attentive. One resents every minute of it and is a mastermind of finding ways to distract herself and everyone else, to slow the pace down to an absolute crawl. The others are somewhere in-between, followers who could get excited about improving their math skills if led down that path, but who can also spend a whole period flipping pens at each other and whining. The buy-in conversation was a failure. For one thing, it's hard to just convince kids that they need to improve their math skills, that they will use some of this stuff in real life and the rest is important because knowing it allows you to pass through certain educational gateways so that you can... study even more. Oh joy, mutter the seventh graders. And as their tutor, I'm not going to be the one to design groundbreaking units that inspire them mathematically. Nope, we're reviewing, practicing, drilling.
Or maybe I should write about the rollercoasters we're designing in sixth grade science. The PVC tubing arrived on Monday, along with the little metal balls. First problem: the balls, although they fit, were too large and would stick really easily inside the tubing. Luckily, some random kit I got last year came with a milk carton full of BB's, which were not only just the right size but far more magnetic than the balls I bought this year. Third problem: I do not have enough flat wall space to set up work areas for the kids. Next year, I'm getting giant pieces of cardboard and giving each group one of those, so they can work right at their tables. I was nervous about today. Each group got 3 meters of tubing, a few BB's, a magnet to move the BB's through the tube if they cannot complete the rollercoaster course, a stopwatch, a record sheet, a bunch of graph paper for scale drawings, a new roll of Scotch tape, and an assignment sheet. Fourth problem: I bought (shockingly expensive!) gridded chart paper to put on the walls to help the kids make their scale drawings, but they are still a little fuzzy on the concept. I guess that's my mini lesson for tomorrow. Fifth problem: I tried to make a rollercoaster that would meet the parameters, and in the 30 minutes I spent on it, I couldn't do it! Now imagine groups of sixth graders, whose eye-hand coordination, general knowledge of physics, and frustration thresholds are all somewhat lower than mine.... granted, they get three class periods and are working in groups of five, but.... so, I adjusted the parameters. The goal was to make the slowest possible rollercoaster with four hills and 1 "up loop." I changed that to two hills and one up loop, with extra points for groups who include more features. Slow rollercoasters are much harder than fast.
Or maybe I should write about the almost panic-attack I had this morning. Over the last few weeks, I've been struggling with breathlessness. The first couple of times it happened, I thought, well, that's an interesting new stress symptom, but I'm not going to let it take on a life of it's own, I'll just stay calm until I catch my breath and then forget about it. That kind of worked, but it's really hard to not think about whether you can get enough air or not... and the problem got bigger, and began happening off-and-on for hours each day, and eventually, just before first period today, I found myself crouching down beside one of the tables strugging to breathe and trying not to cry and wondering whether this was enough to warrant an immediate trip to the doctor and a day off, and deciding that I would be perfectly fine in three minutes and would feel like an idiot asking someone to cover my classes. Plus, what was I going to do with the rest of the day, sit at home and worry? So I got to my feet, gathered my stuff, and just kind of yawned a lot all day long. And yawned my way through yoga class. There is a certain irony to getting anxiety symptoms during yoga class. And yawned my way home on the bus, and through the typing of one blog post. I am very eager to talk to the doctor about this. My initial reluctance, stemming from the absolute certainty that they will prescribe an anti-anxiety med, has all-but-vanished, and now I just hope they don't make me jump through too many hoops before writing out the prescription. The really irritating fact about all of this is that I don't feel any more anxious than usual!
Or maybe I should respond to Chris's post about the point to all this blogging. His post is a response to another blogger's rejection of the idea that any kind of systemic change comes out of blogging about education. What kind of change are we creating? I never thought that blogging would be a primary stage for creating systemic change, just as I wouldn't expect that of a newspaper column, tv show, or any other single means of communication, whether broadcast or interactive. However, I see blogging as one more opportunity to extend the conversation and push ever-so-slightly farther in the direction of positive change, straws on a camel's back or approaching the tipping point or what-have-you. Many, many things have happened as a direct result of this blog, although the overall effect on society remains to be seen. I have had conversations with people in the UFT, the opposition caucus ICE, the DOE, and elsewhere that absolutely would not have occurred without this blog. Has any of those conversations led to some new policy or other immediate change? No. Nevertheless, I am becoming more and more certain that teacher-bloggers are heard by the powers-that-be. Futhermore, I am now part of a growing network of teachers committed to putting our experiences in writing for the world to read. As I've written before, I believe that something positive will come out of it - besides just support in this tough career! - but it will take time to develop. I've given advice and support to at least a dozen new or pre-service teachers who have emailed in response to the blog. I've borrowed ideas from other bloggers' classrooms. I've passed on ideas and resources discovered on blogs to non-blogger teachers. Through reading blogs and blogging, I've found organizations that I might have taken a long time to discover on my own, and I've shared resources with others. I've been spurred to think beyond the insular world of my school, when my natural inclination is to circle the wagons. I've provided a little glimpse of the day-to-day work of teaching and of creating a new school, and in doing so, have allowed people to compare their perceptions of schools to (one school's) reality. Those are just the experiences I can think of off-hand. None of these things is earth-shattering or sea-changing, but they are not to be dismissed, either.
So many topics, so little time. Don't forget that one purpose of blogging, for many of us, is to keep a chronicle of our lives, to reflect. We happen to think others might benefit from our chronicles and reflections (or we're just narcissistic! LOL) so we publish our journals on-line. Writing has become a bookend to my day as never before.