Back In Action

It’s the night before the first day of school, and I’m feeling strangely peaceful.  If you had told me I’d feel so good about year two 4 months ago, I would have thought you were crazy.  But here I am.

Then, when I think about it, things really couldn’t be more different between now and this time last year.  My entire school is coming back with a year of operating experience that we didn’t have last year.  We’ve got school-wide discipline systems in place, and we’re prepared to get classroom culture right school-wide from Day 1.  I’m feeling relaxed from vacation time incredibly well spent.  This, as opposed to being fatigued from 5 weeks of Institute, followed immediately by 2 weeks of Summer Bridge, for which I was completely unprepared.  I’ve coming in with good materials and technology, as well a strong knowledge of my curriculum.  I don’t have the stress of being a tested subject.  I won’t be tackling a full-time load of grad school classes.  I’ll be teaching 10th graders, who I’ve already spent a year getting to know and whipping into shape.  I’m going to be assistant-coaching basketball, which I’m psyched about.
And most of all, I think the school schedule is going to facilitate teaching and learning, rather than impede it.  This year, we’ve got a 5-period, 70-minute schedule.  Most teachers I’ve spoken to agree that 70 minutes is the sweet spot of period length, and from my experience 4th quarter last year, I’d have to agree.

It took me a while to get my sanity back this summer, but I’m ready to get my teach on, and hopefully be a lot more effective, healthy, and happy this year.  Keep me in your prayers, as well as every other teacher in the city, especially our first year teachers.  My heart goes out to them!

HSA Scores Are In

School starts in less than a week, and I’m actually feeling pretty good about it.  I am completely refreshed from an awesome summer of travel.  Since the beginning of last week, I have been reporting to the building to work on curriculum and hash out upper school policies with the rest of the 9th and 10th grade teachers.  I am very excited that it looks like we are going to have strong administrative support from Day 1, and systems in place for making sure we have a much stronger level of classroom culture and discipline.  I’m personally trying to make sure I have all my T’s crossed and I’s dotted on Day 1, so that I can have a much more successful, much less stressful year.

The HSA scores came back a couple weeks ago, and I am very happy to report that disaster was averted.  Ultimately, 28% of our students passed the HSA.  This is not a number I am proud of in absolute terms, but it is 2% better than the city average.  And it’s pretty darn good, in context of the fact that for most of the year, we made due with barely half of the instructional time in Algebra I of the typical school.  I demand better performance from myself, but it has been redeeming to get acclaim from people who know how hard I tried and what roadblocks had to be negotiated.

In the results, there were some surprises.  Some students who goofed off all year put up exceptional scores, and one kid who barely showed up 2nd semester even passed.  It just goes to show what these kids could accomplish if we could get them invested in their educations.  I also had some bright kids who put up disappointing numbers.  But for most students who didn’t pass, it wasn’t too hard to think back to blocks of misspent time that might have made the difference.  Hopefully it will be a lesson learned.

The goal now is to get as many of the remaining 72% over the hump for the next testing session.  Students who do not pass the test after by their junior year go on to be enrolled in the dreaded HSA Bridge Plan, the bane of all schools.  Basically, it involves kids being pulled out of classes to complete massive algebra work packets, and it throws schools into instructional chaos.  Undoubtedly, some of my students will end up having to do this, but minimizing this number will be absolutely crucial.