Wednesday-Go-to-Meetin’-Day

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I got home at about 7 tonight. To be fair, I stopped to walk the mall for half an hour, then paused to buy half-price purses at Macys. I don’t want to whine, either. I had a fine day. My classes took notes, discussed sample bias, studied measures of central tendency and generally made progress while sometimes listening to music as I wandered the room, sitting beside individual students while I checked their work. In spaces between and after classes, I mostly attended meetings. They weren’t exciting meetings, but that’s fine. We should all be lucky enough to live in unexciting times. Boring meetings beat most the alternatives.

Since I am attempting to chronicle life in an academically underperforming school caught up in the wake of No Child Left Behind, though, I’ll list a few problematic aspects of my average Wednesday.

Total meeting time for the day: Two hours and fifteen minutes. Fortunately, we moved the 7th grade teachers’ meeting to the last half of the daily planning period. For more than half the year, the weekly 7th grade meeting started when our planning period started and ran until the Dean was done. Sometimes that meeting ran the whole or nearly whole 82 minute block. We have the 7th grade meeting down to a reasonable 45 minutes. No one wanted to complain about the longer meetings last semester. Our Dean is marvelous, a charming and dedicated woman who deserves all the help she can get. As hard as she works — I have often seen her in her office after 5:30 — no one ever felt like stopping the Dean when she was on one of her meeting rolls, even as 1/5 of the week’s planning time disappeared in sound bites on incentives and disciplinary measures. Still, we were grateful when a member of the seventh grade group realized we might be able to salvage some planning time by starting our meeting in the middle of the planning period. After school, we have the all-school meeting. This technically runs an hour and 10 minutes, but we finished a little early today and, joy of joys, the meeting never even touched on the evaluation system, otherwise known as the Charlotte Danielson Rubric. Instead, we discussed bilingual education. After that meeting, members of the English Language Learner’s team — that includes me — had our next meeting. The guy across the hall took notes while the rest of us discussed the plan for a new, expanded lesson plan. You can never have too many detailed, demanding new lesson plans to do!

I am not whining. I will observe that this is a weekly meeting schedule, amounting to over a full educational day in a month, and these are just the Wednesday meetings. Yesterday, I lost almost my whole planning block — over an hour — to a science subject matter meeting. The day before, I lost about the same amount of time to back-to-back math and science meetings, since I teach the two subjects. When today arrived, I was almost discombobulated when I realized that, due to the new late start, I actually had planning time available to me. I used the time to copy, clean and grade, a refreshing change from the usual day-to-day routine. Tallying up Monday through Wednesday meetings, I have spent around four and one-half hours in meetings during these three days. I have more meeting(s) tomorrow and I don’t know yet about Friday. Technically, we are supposed to be able to take Friday off, but practicably sometimes we need to plan more instruction. Those lesson plans suck up a lot of time and paper. Everything plan we make is supposed to include all the differentiation we are doing, and just about everything is supposed to be differentiated. Yesterday, we were discussing the upcoming activity where all students go out nightly for a month and record and draw the latest appearance of the moon. When we got to the obligatory differentiation stage, I wryly observed that maybe this once we could skip differentiation since I was pretty sure they could all draw pictures of the moon. We laughed. Then we set about filling in the differentiation squares. Lower students can get help from family members (In case they can’t find the moon?) and advanced students can compare Earth’s moon stages to the stages of Deimos and Phobos, the moons of Mars. Since upper students are never required to do extension activities, I’m pretty sure we won’t see much if any information on these two irregular, orbiting rocks that swing around Mars, but I’d love to be wrong. I am getting a bit tired of the same-o-same-o routines. Yesterday I joked to the guy across the hall: “I don’t look for meetings. They come looking for me.” This weird statement made us both laugh.

Again, the issue here is one of opportunity cost. I will spend around six hours in meetings during a given week, not including the time I spend conferencing about students and the bilingual curriculum with the guy across the hall. Those minutes add up quickly. If we multiply my six hours by the thirty-six weeks in a school year, total meeting time tallies up to 216 hours for the year. When I divide that 216 hour total by eight, as in an eight-hour day, I realize I will have spent 27 days in meetings by the end of this year. Ummm.. please excuse the profanity, but that’s pretty close to batshit crazy.

Many teachers will spend less. My meeting schedule is complicated by the fact that I teach two subjects and also ELLs (English Language Learners). Still, this just can’t be any way to run a cavalry charge or an educational improvement effort. What could I do with those 27 days? I could prepare new, fun, creative instruction. I could tutor confused students. I could review technical journals in my field, as opposed to the Charlotte Danielson — oh-help-me-not-again — Rubric. I’ll state for the record that the Rubric’s fine, it’s just that we hardly ever seem to talk about anything else in all-school meetings and professional developments. I could even take and finish an on-line class, adding to my understanding of special education, linguistic theory or homework research.

Eduhonesty: I used to create a one-page lesson plan for the week which laid out what I intended to teach on each day. Wednesday might be mean, median and mode review, for example. As time went on, I had a two page lesson plan that included the state standard I was addressing. If data and distributions were part of the seventh grade standards in Illinois, I would note that my lesson fell into that standard. I never minded adding the standards. As one likeable presenter at a PD said some years ago, “You can’t teach dinosaurs just because you like dinosaurs.” Obviously, teachers need a plan. Obviously teachers need to coordinate their plans. Sixth grade material should lead directly into grade seven material. But at this rate, my plan will be a weekly novella by the year 2025.

Here is one last observation on my impending retirement: If I have to write novels, I want aliens and spaceships in my pages. I want to describe barren landscapes on distant planets in faraway star systems. I’d like to hammer out a fictional plot that everyone could recognize as fiction, as opposed to an eight-page document which purports to be a blueprint for educational improvement but, in actual fact, serves as a sinkhole for time.