And Miles To Go Before I Sleep

The title this week more or less represents my inner state as I start preparing for my series of lessons. I know compared to the full workload of a teacher it is laughable, but for me at this current juncture, it is a lot. It is not so much the amount of work that it is (which is a lot, I feel I can’t stress that enough), but it is the amount of thought. My lessons and my labs are never off my mind and even when I’m supposed to be taking some time for myself, the thoughts of “how can I make this better” or “what would streamline this lab” or “what am I really trying to get them to learn” never quite go away. Speaking to a veteran teacher at a workshop, she said “welcome to teaching, that’s how it’s always gonna be.”

On top of that, there is still the five days at my placement, the classes and the assignments and with all that together makes for a push in mental stamina I haven’t had in what seems like forever. Against logic and my previous capabilities, I am prevailing (knock on all the wood) and still holding together (knock on all the wood again, just in case). In part it is from my work ethic from wrestling and knowing what off-season and in-season feel like, and how going from the off-season to in-season is always a time filled with a few bumps in the road. Your body is not quite ready for the shock of being put through that much anguish and even what seem like the simplest things put you on your back and out of breath. But over time your stamina grows, your body is used to the hits and what you found unbearable six weeks ago is now your warm-up. If the stamina building of teaching is anything like that, it’s going to be brutal, but it is a brutality I have faced before just wearing a new mask. Bring it, I say!

So, coming off my soapbox, here are my noticings for the week. Both time spent at my placement and my lesson writing came into play.

1. Empty space is amazing or horrible deepening on how you use it. Empty space on an assignment sheet allows space for improvised questions when there is some lack of understanding during a lesson or you find that an assignment has taken much less time than you had planned for it to take. So leaving a bit of empty space on an assignment sheet for that purpose can be a game-changer and correct any unforeseen circumstance on even the best lesson plans. With that said, empty space for an answer has the potential to freeze a student. Empty space immediately following a question is meant to be filled, and while giving enough space is always a good idea, too much can be challenging because there is an inherent notion that all that space should be filled with something. So what is the solution to this issue? Put in a template so the students know explicitly what the expectation is. If you ask them to draw something they see in a microscope, put in an empty circle inside the space so it is less daunting, or perhaps put in one sample template of a test tube when you want them to observe a series of reactions. In both cases, empty space is only useful when you are truly mindful of your students’ abilities and what your expectations are and what you are doing to get them there. It’s the little things and in this case, it is the nothings that matter (did I just blow your mind there?).

2. Everyone says “try you labs before you do them.” While I’ve always heeded the advice, it is remarkable how I still occasionally get humbled by writing a lab procedure. Something should work in theory and people have said worked in practice may not work for you and if Murphy’s Law has anything to say, it will most definitely not work for you. Trying to get a bromothymol blue solution to hold carbon dioxide took three different attempts in three different vessel and three different approaches. Of course, all of them failed. The most logical solution eluded me. Something I have worked with for years for whatever reason did not cross my mind until someone said it: parafilm. I thought of plastic wrap and rubber bands before I thought of parafilm. Nothing really puts you in your place than finding an incredibly local and simple solution for what you consider a dilemma. On a brighter note, I did not panic, I kept trying to find new solutions within my means. And if my means are limited, I know what my end goal is and can work with what I have. My problem solving skills will most likely be continually put to the test as I design and modify labs throughout my career. It’ll be fun… I think.

That’s all for now. Once more into the breach, dear friends.

Five Days a Week

As October turns into November, so does STARS and three days a week at our placement become five days a week at our placement. I’ve learned a lot during STARS; being a place where I had chances to try out some aspects of teaching in a lower-stakes environment allowed me to take  the lessons I learned with me while lessening the impact of the mistake it took to get to those lessons. I’m going to miss the bustle of Wednesdays and Thursday afternoons, the energy that came with doing science and watching the STARS grow into experts and leaders. And I’m also going to miss explaining in vain the difficulties of what I am doing to non-GRS folk. Some of them just do not have a clue.

Five days a week means about 40 hours at my placement, no more sleeping in twice a week, and five days of navigating the unexpected ins and outs of being an observing student teacher. As I am given more responsibility in the classroom, I feel more in tune with my role as a teacher as the lessons (and the mistakes) come at a more frenetic pace. One thing I really do enjoy about the process compared to Camp and STARS is that because everything is happening so much faster, the debrief and reflection does not become dwelling on my mistakes. There is a lot less self-pity about not doing a better job because guess what? The bell just rang and you’ve got four minutes between this class leaving and the next one starting, so quickly make an inventory of what was good and what was bad, do what you can to fix the mistakes for next class and oh my gosh they’re walking in the door. It’s go time. We (my CT and I) still do proper debriefs, but even those are less about dwelling and simply what I can improve upon and what I’ve done well. Being able to do both is key; to be good, one must know what to fix as well as what one needs to keep doing.

So with that, I step off my soapbox and present a few more lessons that I’ve learned from this past week of student teaching.

1. Five days a week is an absolute drain on the body and the mind. I didn’t quite have the requisite stamina to go five days. By the time Thursday rolled around, sure I could succeed in the school day, but that took everything I had. I was getting back from class by 8, in bed by 8:30 doing work and such, and involuntarily passing out by 10. While that can work for a few days, I’m going to have to find the energy for the other parts of my life eventually. For one thing, I really have to take better care of myself. That means eating better and getting the occasional bit of exercise into my schedule. If I’m breaking down by December, then I am no good to anyone. So the plan as of now is to cut down on processed carbs as best I can, remember to take my multivitamin, and actually stick to a consistent workout regimen.  How much difference that makes remains to be seen, but for the first time, my diet and excursive habits are going to have to be a bit tighter in order to actually be productive during the day. Boy was I spoiled by undergrad.

2. As a teacher, your eyes have to be everywhere. This was apparent when I was playing a supportive role, as I felt like I was putting out one small fire to the next. In the lead role, that was even more apparent and if I didn’t deal with certain things they had the chance of getting out of hand. I would look down just to write something and when I looked back up, there was something to manage. This is still one of my areas of growth and my CT and I have worked out a few strategies. For example, when helping a student, make sure to stand at an angle where I could see the whole classroom. Secondly, do everything with my head at least partially up. That way I can still see what is going on while not derailing the lesson. I occasionally forget to do these two things, but now is the time to really be critical about my moment-to-moment actions and decisions, so I have to be more mindful of what I am doing and not go back into bad habits.

As a whole, I need to start picking at my bad habits, both in and out of the classroom, and take them down a notch. To be a focused and improving teacher, I need to be a focused and improving me. That doesn’t mean I’m not taking time for myself though, that’s all a part of taking care of myself. When it stops becoming care, then there is an issue.

Until next week! And a happy Veterans Day (and two days of sleeping in) to all.