Monday, December 31, 2007

Mid Year's Day thoughts

It's New Year's Eve, and I've been barraged by print, TV, and now blogs with end of the year reflections. You know - best of, worst of...

But I'm smack dab in the middle of a school year. If I start thinking back to February or March of 2007, it's sooo long ago. Those kids in that class are no longer a close part of my life. How can I think about the year of 2007 as a separate entity? It has two distinct and incomplete parts: the class of 2006-07, and the class of 2007-08.

It is this annual cycle of the classroom teacher. It starts in August and ends in June. There is a definite rhythm and pacing to a year - starting up, getting to know you, building skills, building relationships, more, more, more, and then letting go. I doubt there are many professions with such a cycle, especially where you start all over every year.

It's like a living, breathing organism. You get to "be" a part of that special organism for ten months, then shed its skin (which takes a part of you with it every time), and then take a deep breath and do it all over again.

But I love it. I love the age I teach (8/9 year olds, third grade), and I love the process.

There is much handwringing going on in some edtech blogs as the year "ends". Much ado about the state of schools, the educational system, what's wrong with teachers, why teach anymore, etc. Here are three noteworthy ones, especially because of the comments:

I thought about adding my 2 cents on all of them, but I ran out of gas. I am outraged at many of the same things these guys talk about. But this is what keeps me going:

The 9:00 bell. That's when the kids come in the door. Thank goodness for the kids. There, I've said it again.

Yes, it kills me when I see dysfunction in my educational system. Yes, it breaks my heart when I see 4th and 5th graders not using, and losing, the incredible tech skills they had in my classroom. Yes, it is incredibly frustrating when absolutely nothing I have tried in over a decade of encouraging technology use with my colleagues has made a bit of difference.

But that 9:00 bell keeps ringing. For one year my kids and I will have an incredible experience. Nobody can take that away from us, and my kids will remember.

So, Happy Mid Year to all you classroom teachers out there, especially Clarence, Doug, Brian, and Sarah. Enjoy the rest of it!


Doug Noon said...

Out of the 99 feeds in the reader I plowed through this morning, yours was the last - and the best - the most encouraging and hopeful of them all. I've been thinking lately that my frustrations in the classroom are nothing more than that. They are my frustrations, and my problems. It's easy to blame the system, or the other people in it. It's much harder to use those problems as catalysts for personal growth, because they call for us to respond in ways we might not be ready for, and to stretch in unexpected and sometimes unwanted ways.

I, too, am out of gas. But I may find a moment today to join you in writing a little more about this. Thanks.

CB said...

"It's like a living, breathing organism. You get to "be" a part of that special organism for ten months, then shed its skin (which takes a part of you with it every time), and then take a deep breath and do it all over again."

--so well said, Mark.

I don't want to lose that, and agree with you that it's better living than most get paid to do.

I want to shed the school skin, and definitely that bell, but not the connections with the learners, nor that magic you so clearly feel too.

It's not hand-wringing, in my case. It's bracing, I think.

Loved the post. Makes me want to experience teaching the ages you do.

Ken Pendergrass said...

Mark- thanks for reminding us why we teach...and that we have the power to change our practice. As a music specialist, I love teaching third graders...they are my favorite kids- wonderful sense of humor, willingness to risk big and not self-conscience about what others think. I wish I could "freeze" that attitude for all my students. Happy New Year!

Mark Ahlness said...

Thanks very much for the comments on Mid Year's Eve, guys :)

Clay - thanks for your post that listed all those links and more. When I have the time and energy, I will chime in on your students 2.0, thread - it is so very cool what you have done.

Ken - I can't tell you how much it means to hear from somebody in the hood. And to know you are pushing this envelope in music, is so very encouraging, lump in the throat time.

Doug - You may still read this in 2007. Hang in there, buddy. I truly hope you do not give up the evangelical part of your voice here just to be at peace with where you are. You speak the message so well, and you can reach so many...

Happy New Year one and all - Mark

Graham Wegner said...

Mark, it is interesting that my blog post has been linked in with the whole education system / changing from within or without type of posts, as mine was definitely a local level observation about my own little journey. I can think of 2007 as its own entity because that's how our school year runs. But the mind never stops ticking over even on break and I'm with you in that my place is still in the classroom. We are all change agents in some way - what we sometimes see via edublogs is people trying to find their most effective spot for that change. I think I'm a small change agent, one of Doug's fleas (which I referenced way back in K12 Online Conference 2006!) and I'm fine with that. There are too many exciting things to do and trial in my classroom, too many ways my own practice can evolve and improve to take on anything bigger, too many ways to influence those I work with on a daily basis to recast myself in some new role beyond what we have in our respective education systems. I still want to build in some of Dan Meyer and Chris Harbeck's Mathematics ideas into my 2008 program - if via blogging, I have a small voice that occasionally gets some traction and attention, well that's a personal bonus. I think that those of us who teach in primary (elementary) schools do have a different take as we do get the time to really build and bond with the kids under our care - the timetabled, compartmentalised way high schools run could be another source of teacher dissatisfaction with "the way things are." I won't be boring anyone with a best of, reflections of the year type post, because I figure who needs a break from learning anyway.

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year, Mark,

Thanks for hanging in there and loving teaching. Thanks for the links to other teachers who are doing the same and blogging about the challenges. I truly appreciate you.


Will Richardson said...

Hi Mark,

Happy New Year, first of all. And thanks for reading, even if it makes you outraged. ;0)

I guess my question is why is the love of teaching so pegged to the system? Might there be different environments in which to teach that don't leave kids wanting from year to year, that revolve around a system of learning among students and teachers? I think that is the shift I'm looking for, one that just might be possible today. My push is not against good teaching; I'm not patronizing you or Doug or Clarence or Clay or many others when I say I would send my own kids to your classrooms in a hearbeat. What I'm pushing against is this idea that teaching can only take place within this construct that constantly fails my kids.

I and many others appreciate what you do, and I appreciate the importance of being with and working with children. I just want you to be able to do it in a better place, one that really makes good teaching flourish and stick.

Sarah said...

And here we go......Happy New Year! Did you see my West Virginia Fiesta/Tostada Bowl win? What a great game... It was terrific.

Well you know I'm taking the time to tell you, and I'll tell Doug later too, that you both helped me hold my chin up all year, you have no idea how much I appreciate this!
It was a year of hard days. And good days.

There are dark dreary things I want to share with you both because you'll let me see the little bit of light, it is so hard that so much of what really happens teaching you can't exactly share involving privacy issues, but in general teaching has been a little like those strange Lemony Snicket books. But just the same let's say that the little window blogging opened for me, changed my relationship to teaching. I'm doing more science, I'm taking a few risks, I have a little better perspective. And I'm maybe ready this year to "speak" again having sat on my mouth for months.It might not seem so but I've tried to see if I couldn't just hold off on deciding what I thought...just observing. I kind of want to just tell you that there was something that slipped into my mind reading your blog, over time it worked like a kind of healthy thing you do for yourself, seeing what you just tipped me back towards the goals I had at the start of working with kids. And I am grateful.

I need to read more blogs this New Year.....but I'll mostly be focusing on the kids and how lucky we are to live where we do and how we can do the most we can with what we have. In the end I'm so thankful to be alive. Thankful for the work.

Unlike Doug I'm totally continuing in blaming a lot of other people...hey...lower ladder rung here of zen. I am what I am. But I'm willing to talk about that in the New Year and consider also my incredible amount of "need to improve."

GB said...

Preach it brother. You're the first person I've read who made note of the way being a teacher chops your calendar year in half.

So, here's to continued growth in this particular skin. I'm just starting to get comfy in this one and I'm not quite ready to shed it.