Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Certification Check-In

This one's for the good folks running around in Schools of Ed. If you plan to leave your state, venture out into the great wide open and teach the children far away from the homeland, you should have an idea by now of how you're going to do it. One of the big things you're going to need to know is what kind of certification you'll need to teach in your state of choice.

My road to certification was a long, perilous one that ended with a phone call from the city saying "Nick James will not teach tomorrow if his certification is not complete." Yep. My paperwork had not gone through by the day before school, which meant I had to take a trip down to the headquarters of the NYC Department of Education to see what was going on with the paperwork I had submitted in a timely fashion many weeks prior to the beginning of school. I'd actually begun the process more than six months prior to the beginning of school.

Going from Kansas to New York things can be tricky. States often have what's referred to as certification reciprocity, meaning that some states only accept teachers from certain other states. Now, I believe New York got rid of excluding certain states from reciprocity, but the process a year and a half ago left my head spinning enough that I'm not really sure what New York State wants from it's teacher candidates before they teach. They wanted me to pass four certification exams, take trips to the NYC DOE offices numerous times, call the state office in Albany a few times, dance around with a tutu, sweat for the several weeks leading up to school and finally pull strings most people don't have to push my certification through in time to teach. Pretty sweet, right?

Some good advice I took away from my advisor at the School of Ed was to go ahead and get the certification my home state offered at the end of my teacher program. While I applied directly to New York State, having a Kansas certification helped the process along considerably, even though it was impossible to tell that would be the case by reading the certification requirements. If my certification had not gone through and my principal had kept me in the classroom anyway, things would have gotten way worse if I'd not been certified in any state. Getting certified in two states ended up costing more money of course between processing fees and three additional certification exams, but it was worth it.

If you haven't checked out what you'll need to be able to teach you should still have plenty of time, but get on it. You can find most certification requirements online. I was contacted recently by the journalist working for the website certificationmap.com, which is a pretty decent starting point for anyone leaving their state to teach. You can find some preliminary information and links to state's certification requirements.

Sweet Interview
The site also has a blog on which they're interviewing teachers about their craft, why they went into the field, etc. The man who contacted me asked me to fill out a few questions and then put my answers up as a post on December 28th. Nice!

Today's Wine: Franciscan Cabernet 2006. This one was recommended by Betty in an earlier post. I couldn't find the Cabernet in New York, but I found it on a trip back home. While a bit more expensive than what I usually buy, it was a great bottle of Cabernet. Very well-balanced and complex on the palate. Between the recommendation, the great bottle and the fact that my father picked it up for me, I was living large last night.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Low Attendance Days

Attendance is a major issue for many of our students. It's the major issue with our school's progress and it oftentimes leaves our administration and staff scratching our heads about how to increase our numbers. Right now we're averaging about eighty-five percent as a school, although the high school averages in the seventies while the middle school averages a bit higher (our seventh graders in particular never miss school, which makes me very excited about teaching them next year). The numbers are averages, so of course there are good attendance days and bad attendance days. The numbers also drive us to plan around them, which is both smart and dangerous.

Last year I did not anticipate one of the the lower-end outliers: Halloween. It was really poor planning on my part, but my lack of experience and inability to accept the fact that students oftentimes don't do what they're supposed to do led to a major project almost falling flat in front of my administration.

On Halloween (a Friday) I planned a work day during which the students were to complete speeches for a rally the following Monday. They were writing speeches about the presidential race, either supporting Obama or McCain (I did actually have one student write one supporting McCain, though it was a bit sarcastic). It had begun to dawn on me that Friday's had lower attendance rates, but last year on Halloween the attendance in the eighth grade bottomed out at around twenty-five percent. When that happens the motivation of the students who do come to school plummets and the amount of work that is completed is abysmal. Come the following Monday, I had to give students the first half of the period to finish speeches before they were given. Smiling nervously at the administrators who had come to watch, wondering if the whole thing was going to fall apart, the students who I hand-picked to give speeches actually did fairly well.

The day before Winter Break this year showed something interesting about which students tend to show up on days before a break. Because our classes are highly tracked we have been able to see the dramatic differences between low and high achievers at our school. The turnout on Wednesday was as we expected, but was not perhaps what people off the front lines expect: the high-end students and the low-end students show up; the students in the middle do not.

The reasons for this are numerous, but if you simplify it completely: high-end students come because they are motivated to succeed, the low-end students come because they oftentimes have no where else to go and they want to be in a warm, familiar place before they head into a break that will be less than spectacular. The middle of the road students, on the other hand, have neither of these incentives working for them. They know that the day before break most teachers aren't going to plan anything major and there is the assumption that other students will be absent, so they can be as well. They may also simply want to extend their break by a day.

Fridays in general mean a sharp decline in attendance. Students look for that three-day weekend, some feeling that they've done enough work by showing up at least three days of the week (perhaps they even followed directions!). While we should try to boost attendance on Fridays and other low-attendance days, we also need to plan for the fact that many students will not be present. On one end of the spectrum, the day before break this year saw our high school teachers taking their students to the movies, which meant half their students stayed home and the other half were doing nothing academic. Our ninth grade science teacher complained that the teachers allowed the students to dictate what was going to happen that day, as the teachers made the assumption that absolutely nothing academic could be done on that (whether that was true or not is debatable). The other end was what I did in my classroom, which was a huge gamble, though less of one because I teach middle school and not high school.

I did plan something academic this year before break. I've done my best to push the students academically and somehow, with an hour left before ten days of break, my high-tracked class (which had been reamed out all day for goofing around), buckled down and for the most part finished five-paragraph essays about working conditions in the early 1900s and what the government and individuals did to improve those conditions. While I got a number of pretty awesome presents for Christmas this year, that one trumped them easily. I'm still trying to figure out what happened, but I'm happy as a lark about it.

As a first year teacher something that happens a lot is that students dictate the tempo of instruction. I struggled so much last year with this, thinking that "students aren't going to do s*** anyway, so why plan for it?" This is dangerous. On low-attendance days allowing students to dictate what is going to happen empowers them to take control on other days. Of course there is a balance to be had- planning huge assessments or assignments for low attendance days is also not the answer (it'll be like pulling teeth to get my students who were absent for that essay to actually complete it), but if you expect that the students will not produce anything that day, they won't- and many of them won't even show up.

Today's Wine: Louis Martini Cabernet and a cheap house wine at a bar. These were had at a local establishment out in semi-small town USA. The cheap something may have been the strangest red wine I've ever had. It was bad, to be sure, but it tasted as if they'd left the grapes out. It wasn't light-bodied, it had no body. The waitress was very gracious, taking it back and asking what "flavor" we'd like to try instead. I've written about Louis Martini before and knew it would be just fine, so I chose that flavor.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winter Leave

Tomorrow we start winter break. Last year it was like entering some kind of cloud- an alternate universe that was my life prior to starting work on the front lines. Here are a couple quotes from what I wrote in my journal about the break:

The first four months of school were certainly startling... My students knocked me on my knees, I hit survival mode on the first day of school and was reeling backward, literally trying to stay alive during the first couple weeks of school. Everything I believed about education and about what I wanted to do with my life came crashing to the ground around me and as I sat sorting through the pieces the school year marched on dragging me along by my heels. It took two months for me to stand up and move forward to catch up with my students and the massive beast that was my classroom and my piece of the education system in New York City. During that time I appeared to everyone in the setting as a meek, skinny white guy from the Midwest trying very hard to survive in a setting that was entirely foreign to most human beings.

By the time the break rolled around last year, I felt as if my feet had hit the ground, but barely. It was my major accomplishment. While things certainly weren't fantastic in my classroom, I felt as though I was vertical and moving, and I'd begun to roll with some of the punches. That said, it was still ridiculously unclear what in the world I would need to do to be successful by my own standard.

It's felt that I never left, really. I'd been in the city for five straight months (save a weekend in Houston) and it feels like I was just here (Kansas) yesterday. It'll be interesting to see how long that feeling lasts. July will probably be the next time that I visit the Midwest.

When I was sitting on my parents' couch last December it felt as though everything I'd done in the four months prior was a thousand miles away (according to Google Maps, it's 1,223) or that someone else had done it and I had simply watched them closely. Perhaps that meant I was really back in my element. New York had been so jarring that it certainly could not be considered my element. If your time in the classroom has been less than stellar, getting out of the city is important if for no other reason than it helps remind you that things can be sane and normal (according to your own definition).

This year I really need to get out of the city as well. The amount of agitation, disrespect, city attitude and nutso people in these parts have really gotten to me lately. They are a minority and I have certainly defended New Yorkers as people who are just as nice as any other group of people once you get to know them, but the callousness that permeates crowds here has started to get under my skin. While last year I needed to get away to show myself again that the world hadn't gone completely insane, this year I simply want a short break from the city so I can appreciate it a bit more, relax and get ready for the spring.

Today's Wine: Charles Shaw Shiraz. Again, not as dry as their Cabernet, but a bit peppery like Shiraz oftentimes is. It also supported the fact that for the price, Charles Shaw is incredibly acceptable.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

"Happy" Holidays

Ah, the holidays. Last night it snowed here in the city and it's very white outside. It reminds me of the years my parents would pile all six of us kids into an ugly Buick station wagon (the kind with the fake wood paneling) and make the trek from Kansas to Minneapolis to visit the rest of my relatives. We'd be jammed in so tight that we couldn't move for the eight hours we were in the car (it was probably planned that way by my parents), and to get out to go to the bathroom took agility and skill in order to keep tons of suitcases and presents from crushing you, your baby brother or any innocent bystanders outside of the car.

Once up in the Twin Cities, we'd go to a Christmas dinner at one grandparent's house on Christmas Eve and the other on Christmas Day. Both were pretty fantastic in their own right. My mom's family kept kids in ties and dresses and we sat around a single table with cloth napkins eating Norwegian meatballs. After dinner I'd run around in a pair of wooden clogs brought from the old country. My dad's family was quite the opposite. Their were thirty plus grandchildren, eight sets of aunts and uncles and other family friends (topping twenty five adults sometimes) all crammed into a single-story rambler surrounded by a hundred feet of snow. Everyone always had plenty to eat, plenty of toys by the end of the day and plenty of cousins to goof around with. While the journey up and down the middle of the U.S. wasn't our favorite, my brothers and sisters and I always loved the holidays and getting to see our whole family.

I'm not too sure, but before those breaks our behavior in school probably changed. Knowing full and well that all you have to do is "survive" another couple days doesn't always motivate you to do astounding things academically. We acted the way we did because we were excited that we were going to get a break. We acted that way because school was going to be out and, while we might complain about being bored once or twice before the New Year, winter break was something to be appreciated.

Something I found out last year is that this is not the story for many of our students. While I knew that none of them would be driving to Minneapolis and many wouldn't be getting a lot of presents, what I didn't know is that some of the the students hate the holidays- especially the ones causing all of the trouble in your classes just before the break. How they feel about the holidays is usually reflected in their behavior. The continuum of student behavior ranges from those who do far better than normal to increase their present potential to those who know the holidays are not going to be a celebration at all. Most students are somewhere in between, but the ones at the extreme ends are the ones who are, as usual, the most interesting/back-breaking.

The behavior of the students on the worrisome side of the spectrum starts going downhill a couple weeks before the holidays. The stories range from students who will not have enough to eat for a week and a half to children waiting for an estranged parent to bring them a promised present, which simply won't happen. Unfortunately many of the students who have a parent absent in his or her life don't give up hope they'll come back for holidays until he or she is in high school. Many of the students are also anticipating a lack of structure for a week and a half that is difficult to deal with. There are a hundred reasons why they may not like the holidays, the point is that they rough if you're not used to spending quality, healthy time with your family.

As for the students who acquired the abilities to smile, listen to you and complete an assignment for the first time in anticipation of their respective gift-receiving holiday, enjoy it while it lasts, call their parents to let them know they're working hard and hope for some residual effect come January.

Keep in mind that as you're struggling to keep your classroom in order before the break, your students may be struggling with the thought of a rough couple weeks ahead of them. Many of the ones you've been battling all year are the ones who are actually going to miss your classroom the most. For the past four months you've been showing up every day (or very nearly every day) to do what you can for them. Whether or not they're responding, listening, working or otherwise, you've done that for them- and you'll be back for them after the holidays.

Today's Wine: Mulled Wine/Gluehwein/Gloegg. This is, of course, spiced, fortified wine. There are a lot of recipes out there for it, but I use the toss-it-together method, which works out just fine. For each bottle of not expensive red wine, put in a splash of vanilla, an orange cut in half with some cloves stuck in it, a cinnamon stick, a healthy splash of Grand Marnier if you have it and some sugar (start with a quarter cup and add more if you want). Heat and drink.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Holiday Parties

When I started writing this post it was my intention to tell you to take no part in holiday parties for students. This was because the thought of mine last year makes my stomach churn a bit. I was very, very frustrated after a day we tried to give the students who came to school a bit of a break but during which we were handed loads of discipline problems and headaches. What changed was my giving a draft of the post to a fellow teacher in my school who told me how her holiday party went last year.

These are some of the things she said:

In order to have a successful party, or even easy day, you have to have the time be particularly structured. If the students have a positive community and respect for their teacher, celebrations can worthwhile and fun.

We fell down right there last year. We didn't have a structure to the activities we did, only the day itself. Just like the classroom has to be structured, celebration time needs to be as well. My classroom (and two of my teammates') were also not as a rule positive communities where respect for the teacher was to be found.

Students have to see the value in what they're doing. Watching a movie for the sake of watching a movie is transparent, while watching a movie after you've read a book is desirable. The kids know what to expect and have been likely looking forward to watching the movie ever since the reading of the book began.

We showed a movie last year, but we showed it just to show it. That meant "do whatever we please time" to most of the students, which ended in half the students present being kicked out of a movie room for the rest of the day into a detention room that was monitored in shifts, which was less than entertaining for the teachers doing the monitoring.

Holidays are a little different, but I even had a nice holiday party last year. I sugar-coated it as a "Publishing Party" and it seemed scholastically oriented and viable. Since there was a structure to the day, there was a structure to the party and things went off without a hitch.

We tried to teach some small lessons in the morning and show a movie in the afternoon, but even the class schedule was completely different than what the students were used to. By the time the movie rolled around in the afternoon they would have been a little nuts on a regular day, to say nothing of the day before winter break.

You have to have student buy-in. You have to put them in charge sometimes so that they feel what they are doing is meaningful. Have a plate passer-outer and juice-pourer and a napkin-giver. All of a sudden you have an entire classroom working for the party! And THAT is what having a successful party is all about.

Last year I ran around like the waiter I used to be brewing hot chocolate for students, popping popcorn and handing both to the students in the movie room. At this point in the year my trust in the students had been so shattered by their lack of participation and terrible behavior in class that I flat rejected offers to help with handing these things out- probably not smart.

This year I am planning no holiday party. The teachers on my team (two of four of which are new to the school/team) and I are all having some kind of culminating project in each of our classes (mine was today- a rally for modern progressive issues topped off with a few bags of chips), but we aren't going to try to have a grade-wide celebration.

If you're still struggling with management and getting a handle on your class, plan something that's educational, but not incredibly difficult. Stick to all daily routines you have in place. Last year two days before the botched holiday bash I brought in for each of my students two of my favorite cookie and one of those small candy canes wrapped in a gift bag with ribbon. Unlike most of the other things I'd handed out last fall, these were not based on merit or performance or behavior, which meant everyone got one. I can't tell for sure, but the gesture may have been something of a turning point in the relationship I had with those kids. Whatever did it, things started to get better after break.

Today's Wine: Misterio Malbec 2006. This made for smooth drinking and, as is usual with Malbecs (for me), a nice bottle for the table.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Start an After School Program

Sometime in early December last year I was having a particularly bad day and was down in the dumps about the fact that many of my high-end students in my classes were standing on the deck watching as I was drowning and many of their classmates were swimming circles around me. They were probably wondering when and if I was going to get it together and start teaching. To say the least, the work load was getting to me and I felt like all of my options for controlling my classes were exhausted.

That's when my assistant principal walked in and told me I should start an after-school program. I' m not sure what the look on face was when he said that. It was probably either blank, as if he'd just spoken to me in Ukrainian, or I gave him a look that sent him the message that he'd fallen off his rocker and smashed his head against something hard on the floor. By the time he was done talking, however, I was on board.

By this time last year I was becoming very cynical and angry about my job. I started an after-school program to help lift up my high-end students as much as to preserve my sanity. I drafted a letter and handed it to the few students doing well in my class inviting them to meet me after school to talk about starting a program. I called their parents to let them know I was creating an honors after-school program and that their child was invited to attend. When all was said and done I had about seven students who wanted to stay/were told to stay by their parents- about half of the students I invited. They stayed with me for the rest of the year, agreeing to do pretty much whatever for the small price of a granola bar or popcorn during the meetings.

By June the group had served many purposes. They reminded me that I love teaching. They taught me about themselves and their peers through conversations I couldn't have during the school day. They also helped me complete my master's thesis by serving as a sample population. In June I wondered how much they really got out of the program, though I was satisfied that it was an academic venture outside of school hours and was more educational than the video games they would have been playing otherwise.

I didn't give the program a second thought after school let out, figuring it was over and done with and that those students moved on to high school (most of them still at our school). It wasn't until several of them approached me in September this year and asked if I was going to have another program that I realized that they even really enjoyed it. One of the students whose parents had made him attend for fear that he'd be jumped walking home after school was one of those really pressing for it.

These students certainly caught me off guard. They wanted me to start another after-school program? What was more, these students were already scheduled to be in school from 8:15 to 4:00PM. Now they wanted to stay until 5PM? I thought they were nuts, but told them I'd think about it and perhaps start one after school got underway and we all were settled in.

After several more requests I ended up organizing and starting one two weeks ago. Instead of seven or eight eighth graders coming to learn how to analyze documents for U.S. history, I now have seven ninth and eighth graders coming to learn German (which is my second, random certification) twice a week until 5PM. I'm not sure if there's a nerdier, stranger bunch of students in the South Bronx, but I'm happy as heck to have them. I wrote a bit about this in my post titled Home Field Advantage. Having students coming back into my classroom on a regular basis to say hello has been an amazing feeling. My relationships with two of the biggest pains in my ass last year have done one-eighties, to boot. While my after-school kids are way too talkative and can also be pains sometimes, they think I have something to give them, which makes me think that I might.

It's incredibly difficult to differentiate if there are any behavioral problems in a classroom. Generally the extra attention and time that would be used to push high-level students is used to deal with the ones who are going nuts, throwing things and attacking your sanity. Starting an after school program provided an outlet for me last year to get some real teaching done for students who were committed to learning. It may be something to consider if you're struggling to justify your existence in your classroom, as I oftentimes did last year. If you're pulling out the rest of your hair right now and wondering what the hell has been going on for the past three and a half months, try taking a step back and finding a way to really teach a small group of students. It may really remind you why you're here.

Today's Wine: Charles Shaw Chardonnay. I used this while making a fancy schmancy wine reduction sauce for some pasta. I generally like to sip whatever it is I'm cooking while cooking. It's pretty standard quality for the 3-Buck Chucks- great value for the price, but nothing to scream from the rooftops about otherwise.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Last year I was asked to step in and cover a class for a teacher who was inexplicably absent. The students had been "my students" for months and while I wanted to believe that they would listen to me better than they would listen to a substitute, they didn't seem to want to go along with that fantasy.

When I walked into that room and could not get the attention of the class, I asked why they wouldn't get quiet and they responded with, "You're not our teacher for this class. You're a substitute." From there on all bets were off. I walked into that class hoping only for some semblance of order and as little headache as possible. I was given no lesson plan, had no computer and no resources other than what I could scrape together in the room. My grand plan was to look to the classroom library, hand out books and ask the students to read (which really pissed off the absent teacher when she got back, as she'd spent some time working on that library). Their grand plan turned out to be something totally different, although it did involve books from the classroom library. My version involved books in their hands, while their version involved books on the floor.

Today I had my first coverage of the year. Like last year, I taught the class the period before and then followed them to the next class. Like last year I started with a joke along the lines of "You guys are SO lucky that you get ME for two periods in a row!" This class is the class that had been tearing apart our math teacher. This class has been the root of rumors and the butt of numerous jokes. Walking into the room I was less than thrilled to be holding a one-paragraph lesson plan with seventy minutes between us and lunch (during which I'd be running lunch detention).

What happened next was miraculous and surreal. I read the email to the students, gave them some paper out of a closet in the classroom and told them to get to work. It took them about ten or fifteen minutes, but the students got to work quietly. This was probably due to a lot of factors that I'll spare myself the task of writing about, but the point is that with a very similar population it was night and day from last year. Last year the students hardly considered me their teacher outside of my own classroom and the period they had me. This year, even though this particular group doesn't care too much for me, they recognized the fact that I was in charge in the room. That's very encouraging for when I have them in my own classroom from this point forward.

It's also pretty nice to identify another thing that's gotten much better since last year.

Today's Wine: SIPranillo Tempranillo 2006 (Spanish). While I generally like drier wines, this one was really well-balanced and went incredibly well on the table with some cheese and prosciutto. It's full-bodied, but was pretty soft on the palate.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Get Off the Soap Box

Sometimes in the classroom I have verbal diarrhea. The sheer volume of the stuff coming out of my mouth is impressive, if excessive. It's as though I'm narrating what the class is doing, explaining directions, giving my opinion on any number of things in a never-ending string of gestures and phrases that is tuned out by most students after about twenty seconds and is not tuned back into until I change the volume of my voice from loud to incredibly loud, say something they really want to hear that has nothing to do with what we're doing in class, or threaten them with extending the period into lunch or past the end of the day.

In addition to this verbal phenomena, I also take the time out of my busy day on many days of the year to tell students about life's mysteries, what they can expect from high school, college, future employers (sometimes current employers), parents, siblings, etc. I talk about the psychology that explains why people act and tell them that their actions are going to affect whether they graduate or not. Sometimes my brain tunes out and my mouth just goes, spouting something that, while intelligible to my friends who have a decent graduate level education, is certainly not something my eighth graders understand.

Now, this desire to tell students the facts of school and sometimes life is derived from a very real concern about their well-beings, how well they're doing in school compared to the average American student and unsettling statistics about what will happen to them if they don't turn around their behavior and finish high school. The added stress of a semi-controlled classrooms with a few very unruly students draws out the lecture and increases the desire to cut the lesson about citizenship and simply "tell students how it is." This preaching to students, even if it does sink in with a couple of them in the long run, generally leads to a lot of eye-rolling and a dramatic increase in talking and unruly behavior by those who are most often guilty of . The irony, of course, is those talking and ignoring and/or mocking the advice/ideas I've talked about are exactly those who need to be listening. As you'll be able to tell in time, the idea of a State of the Class Address is difficult to pull off especially on semi-weekly basis.

When talking to a rather difficult class, less is generally more. Standing up on a soap box and telling a class what they're doing wrong, why it's wrong and how they're going to fix it; trying to make a speech about what things should be when they simply are not that way; and trying to tell students anything important when they are more interested in showing their friends how well they defy authority by showing you the finger is generally not incredibly effective.

Step away from the podium. Common sense says trying to talk down a class that is refusing to listen is not going to be effective. The impulse you developed in undergrad says that if you present a reasonable argument that the students are going to stop in their tracks, say,"Gee willikers, he's right," and amend their ways. If you've been on the front since September you already know that's ridiculous. For those classes that are giving you particular trouble, try to reduce the number of words you say to the bare minimum. If the students have a very short attention span for you when you're talking (whether they should or not), it's your job to place your instruction into that window and to try to expand it.

Today's Wine: Project Happiness Syrah. This bottle only has a yellow happy face on the front of it. Most of the reviews seem a bit down on it, but what I had of it followed the Charles Shaw Shiraz, so the Project Happiness tasted pretty alright.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Plan Your Time Wisely

My girlfriend asked me today what I did on my planning period. She'd noticed that no matter what I did during it, I always planned my lesson at home anyway. She was trying to tease out of me the fact that I might not use it as wisely as I could.

My planning period is right after my first period class. Last year it was often spent wondering how I could salvage for my other classes a meticulously-planned lesson that had just crumbled away before thirty eighth graders. That sometimes meant rewriting a PowerPoint or scrapping the whole thing and getting something new for the rest of the classes in order to preserve order.

This year when first period is over I first head into the hall and make sure it is cleared. That always takes a few minutes, as I help clear the hall of eighth graders and then of the ninth graders who pass through the same hall after the eighth graders are done passing (we don't have any official passing periods- an effort to reduce incidents in the hallways; students move directly from one class to the next). When that's all over I generally use the restroom and then head to a small science prep room that fits a couple desks and refrigerator. I pull up the detention log for our grade and write down the names of our detainees for the day on post-it notes to hand to the other teachers on my team so they can lasso the rapscallions who owe us time at lunch. From there I make any alteration to the day's lesson plan that need to be made for the rest of my classes, answer any emails that need answering and attend to any paperwork or errands I need to run around the school (talking to the secretary or an AP, making extra copies for my classes after my prep, etc.). Other than those things, I feel like I've been doing a lot of putzing around during my planning this year. I sometimes start planning the next day's lesson, but know full and well that it won't get done during that period, so I'm generally not as focused as I could be. This problem is exacerbated by the knowledge that I haven't taught that day's lesson to most of my students and therefore cannot know exactly what I'll need to cover the next day- I may change my mind about what to teach based on how my students perform on a given day in class.

From now on I'm going to try to get my grading done and entered during my prep period. Up until this point I've been dedicating about four hours of my Saturday to pouring over my students' work and getting an idea of what they have or have not learned in the past week. Grading every day will allow me to more easily catch those who are having issues with an aspect of the unit. It will also hopefully make me more productive during my planning period.

Advice for the First Years- Pick one part of your job that fits into the time you are allowed for your prep period. Make sure that thing gets done every day. Last year after school I retreated to my bunker apartment in Queens and the time I spent there was very unstructured, which oftentimes meant it took forever to get anything done. That's fine if everything gets done, but I should have used the structured part of my day- the time I spent at school- to organize my job and make it easier for me to complete.

Today's Wine: Domaine Vigouroux Gouleyant Malbec Cahors 2007. Lately the reds I've been drinking have not struck me as fruity. This is no exception. It was pretty good- smokey and herby. It hails from the region called the South West of France.