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All my travels have come to an end and I am facing the conclusion of summer.  School (for teachers, anyway) starts on Monday and the real deal begins on Wednesday.  It truly seems like summer began just three weeks ago.  I was so pumped for spending time with my kids and traveling and indulging in my hobbies … and now, I’m wondering why I didn’t use my time better.  Or perhaps I did?

I will admit it – my profession comes with some perks.  There are few other professions that allow people several weeks off in a row.  I get holidays off.  I have decent insurance.  My working hours are predictable.  I don’t have a boss yelling at me to stay late or come in earlier.  That’s stuff that most teachers do automatically because they have to. However, as the demands of our profession have risen, the time to get everything down has declined.  If I could change anything about how a school day is set up, I would demand that teachers have more time to plan.

Budget issues and emphasis on standards and benchmarks have whittled away planning time to one 42-minute period per day.  Yes, I know — most people would LOVE to have 42 minutes a day to do whatever they wanted.  However, this is not a break time for us.  It is a planning time.  If you use that period as a break time every day, you will never get anything done and will fall hopelessly behind.  Those 42 minutes are for cramming in all the stuff we need to do on any given day: ordering copies, writing lessons and handouts, contacting parents and answering emails, grading papers and entering grades, generation progress reports, conferring with other teachers, scheduling computer time, tracking down students, setting up A/V equipment, organizing handouts and packets … the list goes on and on and on.  For teachers who are actually trying to be innovative and doing something extra, those 42 minutes go by in a flash.  Therefore, I’ve gotten in the habit of using my lunch time for additional planning time.  I scarf down some yogurt and get to work.  Unless i’m really stressed out and just want to get out of the building, that is my daily routine.  When I am teaching a writing class, using my lunch is a necessity unless I want to bring work home with me, and even THEN that extra time isn’t enough and I end up correcting at home too.

If anything, that is where I feel the disrespect the most — when people fail to realize how much time it takes to plan and correct, particularly for those of us English teachers who get anywhere from 30-80 essays being handed in on the same day.  For a writing class, you are expected to get those essays corrected and handed back before the next batch comes in.  For me, correcting just one essay thoroughly (if I am marking all grammar and spelling errors and making suggestions) can take up to twenty minutes — and that is for an essay that isn’t riddled with errors.  Do the math: twenty minutes times eighty essays.  I need approximately twenty-four hours to correct all of those essays, and that is not even taking into account the essays that are so messed up that it can take up to 45 minutes to get all the suggestions written.

If all I taught was a writing class, then I’d be OK.  I’d use class time while the kids were writing along with my planning period and lunch to get them done in a week or so.  However, a writing class is usually one of the four classes that I usually teach.  I can’t use my planning period everyday to correct writing, because then I’d be neglecting the time it takes to keep up with my other classes.  Needless to say, those 42 minutes just don’t cut it on most days.  Even using my lunch as a planning period doesn’t seem to make much of a dent in the time it takes to correct writing and deal with other classes as well.

Teaching is a different animal, and sometimes I get tired of telling people I’m a teacher only to have them get that “look” and then say, “Must be nice to have summers off, huh?”

So often I have to bite my tongue to keep myself from saying, “Yes … and it must be nice to have a coffee break and actual lunch hours, huh?”

Our profession has taken some major hits in public perception.  The media, the government, disgruntled parents — all of them seem to be intent on making it seem like all we do in school is hand out worksheets and have sex with our students when we get a free moment.  That sounds crass and jaded, and perhaps it is.  How many good stories do we read about what schools are doing today?

If you have never visited your child’s school, do so.  Most teachers would be happy to open their doors for you and allow you to see what they do.  Having a parent in the room is nerveracking and a bit disruptive, but it’s also nice for people to witness the energy that’s required to get through a class period and the immense organization and dedication that is required.  Most people see what we do and say, “I’d never be able to do that; I’d go nuts.”  And for some people, that may be true.  At the very least, however, I’d love people to recognize that those of us teaching school actually know what we’re doing and we not only care about the subject we teach, we care about the students in our classroom.  Somehow schools and teachers have been made the enemy by a disgruntled public and the media, and it is this attitude that will do more damage in the long run than anything else.  There are bad apples in the bunch, but I guarantee that those people are the exception and not the rule.

School starts in approximately ten hours.  Time for bed.  🙂



This is my 11th year of teaching, and each year always feels the same during the first couple weeks.  I call it a “back to school” feeling.  It’s a composite of things I remember from my own school days, along with some of the things I experience being on the other side of the desk.
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Today I completed my second day of school, and I left the school building feeling rejuvenated and full of excitement.

Oh, I can hear it now — you former or current teachers are screaming, “LIE!”

And you’d be right.
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back_to_school_bannerIt’s fair week here in our small town, and I cannot believe that the summer has already flown by.  I mean, it seems like I just cleaned up my classroom and walked out with an armload of books, ready for a break and a fresh start in the fall.  I say “fall” loosely, because it seems that school starts earlier and earlier every year, and it no longer is limited to the fall, but mid- to late-August.  This year it’s beginning on the 17th for us teachers, with the regular circus beginning on the 19th.  Oh, how I long for the days when the school year couldn’t begin (by law) until after labor day!

Of course, I understand that with most schools being climate controlled, there really is no reason to hold off the commencement of school until after the typical August blanket of heat and humidity has dissolved.   We’re good to go as soon as the teachers shake off that zombie-like stare and begin to feel like their old selves again.

It’s a typical pattern that I will spend most of August resisting the urge to begin really long, time-consuming projects in order to procrastinate working on school stuff.  It’s like the opposite of a nesting instinct because it’s an instinct that tries to distract me from what needs to be done.  In fact, that anti-nesting instinct is the very feeling that provoked me to begin this blog a year ago.  I wanted to do something — just not school stuff.   It was a good move, because this blog satisfies my urge to write and also allows me to connect with others who enjoy the same things I do.  I’ve met some great people just by reading other’s blogs and maintaining my own.  So if you’re one of the handful of people who regularly stop by and read my feeble ramblings, thank you.

I’m feeling motivated to make the upcoming school year as stress-free as possible.  I’m sure by October I will be laughing at my naitvetee, as I often do, but I know I have to do something in order to keep my sanity a little better this time around.  You see, last year I began teaching high school AND middle school, and because the two buildings are currently not together, that meant that I’d be doing some traveling back and forth to the different buildings.  Basically I’m half time at one building, then I get in my car and zip over to the other building and spend the rest of the day there.  And while the arrangement does provide some wonderful variety, it just about kills me every day.  I didn’t go into last year being supremely organized, and trying to deal with the new situation, the new classes, and my lack of organization is what just about did me in.

This year (I told myself), it would be different.  I’m playing around with some options to help make being a multi-building teacher a little less chaotic, both for me and the students.  I created a website that will house all my lesson plans, class information, resources, etc.  I’ve done that in the past, true enough, but it was always part of some company’s setup, so the URL was always hard to remember for the kids.  This year, using the great discount I get at ICDsoft for creating new websites, I bought a domain with just my name so that the students have no excuse for not remembering it.   There it is — use it, kids!

Now, if I can only fight this weird urge I have to go buy a bunch of school supplies I don’t need.  As someone who has an admitted fetish for office supplies, that will be more difficult than it seems.


Yesterday I went on a field trip with a group of middle school students. We visited various places around Des Moines, such as the downtown library, the botanical center, the art museum (where Grant Wood’s American Gothic was on display), and one of the malls.
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The guilt finally got to me, and I opened up the WordPress dashboard to engage in the weekly Deleting of the Spam, a hearty family tradition that warms my heart every time I participate.

Anyway, I glanced at the date of my last entry and stopped cold: January 18?  Really?  Where have I been? Why haven’t I written a word in over three weeks? Read the rest of this entry »


Wow, do I hate the end of the quarter.  Every year I swear that I’m not going to let the work overload me, but every year each quarter’s end finds me clawing at the last shreds of sanity as I try to conquer the piles of paper on my desk.  Grades are due tomorrow, and I only have a couple more grades to enter into the grading program.  If you hear a cheer float by your ear (there’s a cheer in my ear … or a tear in my beer?), that’d be me proclaiming to the world that I’ve won the war. Read the rest of this entry »


Contractor update:  Still waiting.  Insert MP3 of crickets chirping here.

On the plus side, however, we have a new door to our garage.  Previously we had a plywood door that made a satisfying SLAM when it closed — satisfying, that is, if I was angry about something.  The sound was not so satisfying when the kids decided to play a game that involved Spider-Man (or whatever character) going in and out of the garage in quest of the latest Bad Guy.  Nothin’ like a Saturday afternoon of BAM … BAM … BAM! Read the rest of this entry »


I teach a cinema class at my high school, and it’s always interesting to watch the reaction that they have to movies that are widely considered “classics” — that is, movies that appear on the American Film Institute’s Top 100 list.  There are some movies that I absolutely love that will bomb with them.  Rear Window is one of them.  I think just watching Jimmy Stewart on screen with Grace Kelly is entertainment for a couple hours.  My students, however, grow bored with the slow pace and lack of scene changes with the film and it ends up being one of the worst rated movies by them.  Besides, when modern remakes come out that are better able to hold their attention, like Disturbia, is there a point to watching the oldies?  I seem to think there is.  But then again, I’m old. Older than they are, anyway. Read the rest of this entry »


These late summer days always hold a feeling of hope for me. There’s nothing like going back to school, seeing my former students, catching up on the latest news, and creating a learning environment. The energy created by starting over with a clean slate and clean notebooks is addicting. Read the rest of this entry »

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