My school district, like just about all school districts in Colorado (and many across the U.S.), is facing a severe budget crunch. I won’t really comment much on that other than to say that we are losing many good staff members and our students will be the worse because of it.
Due to the reduced staffing in my school, I will be teaching at least one section of Algebra I next year. This both excites me and makes me a little bit nervous. It’s exciting because I miss being in my own classroom with my own students. I’m in classrooms every day helping teachers and students, but it’s just not the same as having my own classroom and really getting to know kids.
But I’m also a little bit nervous, primarily for two reasons. First, it’s been over ten years since I’ve had my own classroom, and I’m worried about getting my teaching legs back under me. Second, and probably the more worrisome reason, is the fact that this is in addition to all my current duties. (In fact, I will have more to do next year because we’ll be adding netbooks for all of our 10th grade Language Arts classes as part of the next phase of my district’s Inspired Writing project. This is a really good thing, but it still adds up to more to do.)
I’m estimating that teaching one section of Algebra equates to at least two hours added to my day, figuring one hour of class itself plus at least another hour of prep and working with students outside of class each day. Given that I’m doing a fairly good job of keeping busy all day and late into the afternoon (and often more learning in the evening) as it is, I’m worried about what’s going to get missed. I’m worried about balancing the needs of my students in my Algebra class and the needs of my staff (and all of “my” students in the entire school). I’m worried that I’ll treat both parts of my job as “full-time,” which in a way they are, but the return-on-planning time ratio for teaching just one section is not in my favor. (This problem of time is nothing new for educators, of course, but since this is my blog I get to occasionally make it all about me.)
Okay, now that I’ve got those worries out of the way (thanks for indulging me), I’d like to look forward in a more positive fashion. Over the next few months I’m hoping to do a series of blog posts sharing my current thinking of what I’m going to try in my classroom next year. I’m going to put some ideas out there and then ask my network to provide me feedback and new ideas to consider. (Crowdsourcing Algebra – works for me.) My hope is that the result will be a better learning experience for my students next year.
So, in hopes that you will actually take me up on that, let me briefly describe some of the parameters of my Algebra class. (See how I worked the word “parameters” into that last sentence? I feel like a math teacher again already.) My high school operates on a variable schedule, which is similar to a college schedule with some classes meeting five days a week, others meeting MWF, others TR, and still others four days a week (see page 5 of our pathfinder (pdf) for more). My Algebra class will meet four days a week (MWRF) for 59 minutes each day.
To try to segment my day a little bit, I’ll be teaching first period, which is from 7:21 – 8:20 am. My students will be primarily freshmen (9th grade here in the U.S., generally fourteen years old at the start of the year), although I could have a couple of upperclassmen in my class, and I will most likely have between 30 and 35 students in class. We schedule for an entire year at one time, but because our classes are one semester and students often move things around in order to take the electives they want, I won’t necessarily have the same students all year (I’ll probably have more than half of my first semester students second semester, but will have a fair amount of turnover). We have a six period day, and freshmen typically have two to four unscheduled hours each week, where they can work in the library, visit teachers to get help, see their counselor, or choose to hang out with friends in the cafeteria. (We also have an open campus, so they can leave campus if they choose.)
Because of our semester-based courses, we have a fairly well-defined curriculum in terms of the standards that must be covered each semester (since many students will switch classes at semester). So while I have tremendous flexibility in terms of how I teach in my classroom, I’m somewhat restricted in terms of what must be taught each semester. And, of course, I have our state mandated testing (up through 10th grade, plus ACT mandated for 11th graders) in March (this testing will be changing soon, however, as Colorado is developing revised standards and assessments).
Students at my school are generally great. They mostly come from middle to upper middle class families who value education, and many of them open enroll in our school because they want to be there. Having said that, they are still fourteen years old and I’m tasked with sharing the joys of Algebra with them at 7:21 in the morning :-).
So, that gives you enough background to play along if you’d like in subsequent posts. I hope you do.