I Love Wednesday!

I couldn’t have written this on Wednesday.  I was exhausted.  Wednesday is the longest day of my week.  The thing is, though, I love Wednesday.  Wednesday is my favorite day of the week, and on Monday morning I find myself looking forward to Wednesday, not Friday.

This past Wednesday I got out of bed at 5:00 AM and started on school work that I hadn’t finished the night before.  Then, I didn’t get home for dinner until 9:00 PM.  After dinner, I had more school work to do.  I probably got to bed around midnight.  Nevertheless, it was a great day.  This probably sounds crazy, so let me explain.

Wednesday is the only day of the week that is usually “normal” at my school.  Monday and Friday suffer from the effects of the weekend — students are either really tired and unfocused or really excited and unfocused.  Tuesday and Thursday occasionally have the same effects, due to 3-day weekends and a Monday or Friday off.  Additionally, Tuesday at my school is regularly affected by team time, which leads to a weird schedule.  Wednesday, on the other hand, has few distractions and generally a normal schedule.  In my classes, we are usually learning something new on Wednesday, and students are on task.  Wednesday is great for teaching!

Wednesday is choir day for me.  Since September, I’ve had voice choir rehearsal on Wednesday nights, and for the last two weeks I’ve had bell choir rehearsal, as well.  This comes as a result of joining a new church last spring.  My family had been at the previous church for over fifteen years.  I learned a lot there.  Frankly, I still think it’s a fantastic church; I’ve never known a church where the members donated so much of their time to serving others.  However, growth had become stagnant for me, and my boys just weren’t connecting with anyone.  But, when significant friends at the church began “liking” the likes of Fred Thompson, Sarah Palin, and Glenn Beck on Facebook, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was surrounded by a bunch of, well, mindless, hypocritical conservatives.  So, it was time to move on.

My new church is part of one of the more liberal denominations in our country, in its social and political outlook, at least.  As a Democrat, I don’t feel like an outsider there.  The people are wonderful, and for a medium-sized church they have a fabulous music program.  The adult choir is led by a talented director, and I just love it.  It’s been over twenty years since I sang in a choir, but my voice is stronger than ever.  Choir practice runs from 7:30 to 8:30 on Wednesdays, but at 8:30 I just want to beg for one more song.  And, because I have so much free time in my life (sarcasm), a couple weeks ago I decided to join the bell choir, which practices from 6:30 to 7:30 on Wednesday.  Wow!  Playing in a bell choir is quite an interesting experience, and it’s pretty darn cool.

Wednesday is also the day of my meetings with the Alliance for College Readiness, a collaboration between Elgin Community College and the eleven high schools that are in its community college district.  I co-chair the Alliance’s STEM team, and we meet from 4:00 to 6:00 once a month.  The team has more participants and energy than ever this year, my other co-chair is fabulous, and we have an exciting year planned.  It’s a lot of work, but I’ve learned an enormous amount as a result, and it’s only fair to say that leading a team of dedicated teachers does stroke one’s ego.

If that wasn’t enough to make Wednesday the best day ever, it is also pizza day at our house.  My wife usually works on Wednesday, from morning until 10:00 PM or so, and while I’m a relatively decent cook, I’ve designated Wednesday as frozen pizza day.  That way, whether I’m home or not, in a rush or not, the boys and I will have an easy dinner.

Wednesday is exhausting, without a doubt.  Multiple activities, multiple responsibilities, and when it’s all said and done, there are still two days left in the work week.  But, I love Wednesday.  It’s the best day of the week.

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Avoiding the Grading

I like to begin my Saturday mornings with a long lie in.  It doesn’t always happen, but I tell myself that it’s good for my health and mental state after a week’s worth of nights with only 5 hours of sleep.  Sometimes I’ll get up at 6 AM on Saturdays to make sandwiches for my wife, who works long weekends at the animal hospital, but I’ll usually return to bed with no problem falling back asleep.

Eventually, after reaching a point of guilt about the time of day, I’ll get out of bed and begin catching up on the news while I eat breakfast.  No, not reading the morning paper.  I’ll randomly pick up one of the magazines or journals that I receive but never have time to read.  Or, sometimes I’ll bring my laptop to the table and begin catching up on my Twitter feed right then and there.  Soon enough, though, whether I begin at the table or relocate myself to a more comfy spot, my Saturday morning evolves (devolves?) into an information gathering session.  What new and cools things are happening in the world of science?  What are my friends on Twitter (and Facebook) up to?  What are the new developments — often frustrating, frequently sad, but occasionally encouraging — in the worlds of politics and social justice?  And, most thought-provoking, what new ideas can I bring into my classroom?

I love gathering information like this.  I love the possibilities explored on Twitter: new science, new learning, new technologies to enhance (hopefully) teaching.  I thrive on considering the possibilities, figuring out how disparate ideas tie together, and seeing the complex connections in the world.  But, as a teacher, foremost in my mind are thoughts about helping my students connect with such information and dreams about giving them new tools to learn and process ideas.  When I see sites like Mr. Gonzalez’s Webs, my mind begins buzzing with ideas for improving students’ learning in (and outside) my classroom.   I LOVE learning!

But, here’s the problem.  I’m supposed to be grading.  All school week long, I look forward to the weekend, when I will have more time to grade (and sleep).  On Fridays, when a colleague asks how I’m doing, I usually say that I’m looking forward to the weekend so that I can grade and sleep, although not necessarily in that order.  However, the weekend is now here, and what I am doing?  I’m still gathering information, and now writing about gathering information, and the pile of student-work-to-be-graded is climbing ever higher as the school year progresses.

So, I’m looking for suggestions.  You think I’d have this figured out by now.  I’m forty-something, and I’m in my sixth year of teaching.  How does one balance the time required for grading, information gathering, and the inevitable lesson re-planning that occurs as the result of information gathering?  To put my habit of information gathering in a better light, let’s call it staying connected or keeping abreast of important developments in the field of education.  This is important stuff!  I don’t want to become a fuddy-duddy old teacher stuck in the past.

How do you do it?  How do you stay current AND have time to give your students meaningful feedback on their work?  I’m sure I could quickly turn around assignments and slap some grades on them, but what good is that to my students?  They need explicit, useful feedback in order to improve, don’t they?

Oh, and I shouldn’t forget my family.  Somewhere in the mix, there is supposed to be time for maintaining some semblance of a relationship with one’s family, right?  Or, is that just for summer?

Suggestions?

A Surreal Evening

In this blog I intend to write about the intersection of high school science education, politics, and my crazy life (aren’t they all crazy?).  However, the following story isn’t what I imagined that I would write as my first post if I ever started a blog.  Nevertheless, I guess that it manages to target my goals perfectly.  It’s a little long, but here goes:

A surreal evening.  I’m in Washington, D.C., for a workshop on assessment in science education.  With the workshop done — a wonderful experience, by the way — I decided to wander around the Mall area because, well, I thought I should.  My first stop after leaving the Metro was the White House.  Ho hum.  A lot of people taking photos.  I took a picture of Lafayette’s statue.  Afterward, I wandered down toward the Washington Memorial.  I had a general goal of making it to the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and Korean War Veterans Memorial.  Old, important-looking buildings along the way.  Hmm.  Lots of police.  Lots of construction underway.  Enhh.  The Washington Memorial seemed taller than I remembered as a kid.  Ok.  Next, a pretty fountain with state names around it (sorry, don’t know what this is called).  Humm.  Mostly, I was thinking, The Capitol squirrels sure are looking well-fed; guess their economy is pretty good.  I eventually made my way to the Lincoln Memorial and took a few photos.  I was pleased by the happy, excited voices of the visitors.  Nice.  Yeah, I guess I’ll go up and see Lincoln.  Beautiful statue, kind of like I remembered.  Nice.  At this point, I was thinking, Why am I doing this?

Then, I saw Lincoln’s words on the side wall to the left of Lincoln.  I hadn’t remembered this.  This looks important.  I should take the time to read this.  It was from the Gettysburg Address.  Wow.  “It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced… that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  Yes!  That’s people.  Not corporations.  PEOPLE.  I thought about how there are again two sides in this country, fighting a war of rhetoric, money, and evolving protests.  I then wandered to the other side of Lincoln.  Double wow.  It was his second inaugural address.  His words spoke to my faith, my deepest beliefs.

I stepped into the memorial book shop, a few feet away.  A book of Lincoln’s words immediately caught my eye, and I bought it, along with a postcard of President Obama (Hey!  It’s Lincoln that paved the way for his presidency, right?).

Right now, I sit in the Post Pub, L Street NW, and this book of Lincoln’s words is the very book in which I scribble down my thoughts, using a pen borrowed from my waiter.  I hope that Lincoln wouldn’t mind.

After I left the book shop, I found a quiet spot on the memorial steps to sit and think.  What should I take away from this?  How should I deal with my anger toward Republicans?  What am I supposed to do with my feelings of hopelessness in defeating the overwhelming interests of money in this country’s government?  Am I, perhaps, on the wrong side?  Am I just naïve?

And, the one thought that came clearly to my mind, unbidden, was “Seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).”   Yes… That is what I am supposed to do.  That fits who I am.  I can still be angry, I can still seek justice, but there’s a humble way to do this, just like Lincoln said.

I left the steps, and I sought the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  The Korean War Veterans Memorial was eerily vivid in the dark.  You could imagine the soldiers popping in and out of the darkness.  The MLK Memorial was under preparation for the ceremony this weekend.  The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was moving for its beauty alone, but its seemingly countless names grabbed my heart.  As I wandered from powerful vision to powerful vision, I pondered the meaning of Micah’s words for my life.

I was leaving the last names behind me in the dark, when my cell phone rang.  It was my wife.  She and my 18-year old son had had to get out of the house and leave my 16-year old son behind.  Oh no… What has he done now?  As I found my way in the dark toward the Washington Memorial, the BIG bread crumb of my path home, I alternately talked with my wife, my younger son, and my older son.  Apparently, my younger son (Trouble) had started a fight with my older son.  It would be inappropriate for me to go into the reasons for the fight, but the police had been out to our house (again).

Our sons are adopted — they moved in when they were 8 and 10 — and on difficult days our goals for them have been rather modest.  For the 18-year old, our hope has been that he would one day be able to live on his own.  For the younger one, we simply hoped that he would stay out of jail.  It was another one of those days, which thankfully don’t occur as often as they did a year or two ago.  I soon found myself sitting directly below the Washington Memorial, with a clear view of the White House in the distance, on the phone with my older son, helping him work through his conflicted, angry emotions.  Yes, surreal.

It was then 8 o’clock, and I hadn’t eaten since lunch.  I left the memorials and walked to the area north of the White House, hoping to find a Middle Eastern restaurant.  No luck.  The kabob places were closed, and I finally settled on a pub.  A pub atmosphere seemed comforting and comfortable.

Well, done with dinner.  Almost done with my Guinness (not my first).  Time to find the nearest Metro station.  In our country’s capitol.  The White House mere blocks away.  Surreal.