Musings, Nits, and Praises: August 2010

Musings, Nits, and Praises

A farrago of all things deemed blog-worthy by a music-loving, poetry-writing, humor-seeking English teacher

The In-Service Scorecard

+4 for catching up with colleagues you haven't seen in two months
+3 for each meal provided
- 1 if a breakfast lacks fruit, a source of protein, or anything remotely healthy
+2 for each time coffee is provided
- 3 each time that coffee is Folgers or Maxwell House
- 5 for any ice breaker
+500 if an ice breaker involves someone karate-chopping an actual block of ice
- 5 for any sort of cheesy, morale-boosting activity
-15 if you had a hand in creating such an activity
-5 for a team-building activity that has nothing to do with preparing for the school year
-500 if the team-building activity involves juggling butcher knives blindfolded
+5 for each day you have two or more hours to work in your classroom
-10 for each day you have less than two hours to work in your classroom
+2 for every free thing you receive
-5 if one of those free things is a tote bag or over-sized t-shirt
+5 for any meeting lasting less than an hour
-10 for any meeting lasting more than an hour
-10 for every time a colleague asks a question during a meeting that's been answered multiple times
-  5 for any vacuous motto or education buzzword
- 50 for any PD session on differentiated instruction that consists of someone talking for two hours using a bland PowerPoint
-100 for PD videos starring people with next to no teaching experience
+200 if you find out you wound up with two planning periods
-300 if you find out you've been assigned to teach a new class
+10 for a motivational speaker who does more than comically tell you things you already know
-10 for a motivational speaker who offers little more than feel-good fluff or seems to think possessing the vitality of someone on speed is imperative to being a good teacher
+1,000 if registration day includes an open bar
-20 for every student who emails you to explain why they haven't done the summer assignment
+5 for every scheduled break
+50 if you're allowed to go home early
-50 for any impromptu meetings
+10,000if an impromptu meeting is to unveil a new teachers' lounge with a pool, jacuzzi, sauna, lounge chairs, a pool table, old-school arcade games, a ping-pong table, a calypso band, and free cocktails
-10 for dull, professional development sessions
+1,000 if a professional development session involves how to become a professional musician
+15 if you make it the whole week without falling asleep during a meeting

The In-Service Survival Guide

Whether it's tomorrow (as it is for me) or a couple of weeks from now, the end is coming for teachers across the country--the end of summer vacation. Now, bidding adieu to traveling, sleeping in, reading, lounging, taking care of home projects and the like is sad, but we understand we get paid (however minimally) to teach. And, happily, a lot of us like to teach.

The problem is, though, that when the annoying staccato of the alarm clock wakes us at dawn, sounding the end of summer vacation, we won't be going back to school to meet our new students and dive into another year. Nope. First there's the week-long pedagogical potpourri of ice breakers, high-energy guest speakers (some of whom now spend more time talking about their love of teaching than actually teaching), cheesy morale-boosting sessions, meetings, meetings about what was discussed at previous meetings, and meetings about future meetings known as in-service.

Of course, a few of those meetings are necessary. A department meeting is helpful to establish goals for the year. An overview of changes made to the student and faculty handbooks is useful, although assuming everyone on the faculty is literate, it should take twenty minutes tops, not two hours. If in-service sessions consisted of these two things, and even, say, a meeting on state standards, meetings would be wrapped up before lunch the first day, and teachers would have the rest of the week to work in their classrooms to prepare for the year.

Simple, right? Of course it is. That's why it will never happen.

First, some people are addicted to meetings. Memos and emails just don't cut it. They need to announce things. Everything. I hope for the sake of those people's families that addiction is contained at work: "Honey, kids, come in the kitchen. You were asleep this morning when I got up, so I need to show you which bowl and spoon I used to eat cereal and where I sat at the table."

The other big reason in-service will never be streamlined is that some people think returning for work has to be a production. That's where the ice breakers, team-building exercises, and motivational speakers come into play. There are teachers who claim to actually like that stuff. I've concluded they're either delusional, or they were paid by the people in charge of those activities to convince teachers like me how fun they are.

For teachers who are healthy-minded and aren't paid actors, I've compiled an In-Service Survival Guide.

1. Stay caffeinated. This goes without saying, really, since most teachers quaff approximately 3,600 gallons of caffeinated beverages during a school year. But caffeine is even more important during in-service. Without it, hours of mind-numbing meetings coupled with the fact your body hasn't adjusted to getting up early will likely end up with you fighting off slumber--or falling asleep for a few minutes at time--annoyed that you could be sleeping comfortably in your bed or on your couch. So grab a cup of coffee on the way to work from someplace with good coffee. Don't settle for the Folgers in the teachers' workroom. Chances are you'll wind up having to drink that crap plenty during the year. As the day wears on, be sure to drink a soda or two.

2. Make lesson plans. Exciting? No. But productive. Why be sitting in a mind-numbing meeting, irritated you're not in your room planning, when you can be planning?

3. Bring a game. You can't stick with just lesson planning. Mix in some games--crosswords, Sudoku, cell phone aps.

You can also make up your own games. See my In-Service score card, for instance.

4. Read a book. I like silence when I'm reading, so this one doesn't work well for me. But some people can pull it off.

5. Maximize your pee. An added benefit of consuming caffeinated beverages is that you'll have to pee. But don't just head off to the bathroom at the first urge to go. Read over the day's itinerary and determine what will be the worst session. Even if it's painful, wait until you're a few minutes into that session, then walk out to use the restroom. The two-three minutes it takes to walk to the restroom, relieve yourself, and walk back to the meeting is often all the respite needed to survive until an actual scheduled break.

6a. Take a phone call. If your spouse, another family member, or a friend calls, it could be an emergency, right? Better answer the call just to be sure.

6b. Arrange a phone call. If you receive an agenda to start the day, look it over and spot the most painful session. Text a friend and ask him/her to call you during that time.

7. Invent a new education acronym. Not only will this provide you with a distraction, it could be the springboard to an early retirement and making millions hocking your product. Spend the first day coming up with the acronym and then write a short book replete with graphic organizers the rest of the week. There's really no need to develop a novel concept. Just pick an old edu-fad and rename it.

8. Imagine you're Bill Gates. Think of a field you have no experience in but would like to heavily influence. List changes you'd make to that field if you had billions of dollars worth of influence and a legion of "yes men."

9. Pretend you're somewhere else. Say you'd rather be at the beach. Bring in a basin full of sand to place your feet in, a lounge chair, some sun block to rub on, and head phones to listen to the sounds of the ocean on a phone app. Then just close your eyes. *Note - This works best if the speaker has an obstructed view of you.

10. Injure yourself. I've never tried this one, but if I get desperate enough someday, I might. I'm not talking about anything that would necessitate a trip to the ER, just something that would require you to leave the room--a papercut that draws blood, a fall out of your chair, spilling a hot drink on yourself, etc.

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