Saturday, September 3, 2011

Starting the School Year

As the school year begins, it's been a hectic series of weeks.  I caught this piece regarding principal burnout  at charter schools just as I was recovering from an incredibly hectic week at work.
I'm fortunate to teach at a school that is, in urban education, a good school.  I'll call it "City Prep", or CP for short.  I've had enough experience at CP that I've been thinking a lot about what teachers from my former school would say about my classroom and my school if they saw it.  They would probably notice the following.

1.  Teachers are teaching rigorous and well-planned lessons.
2.  Students are paying attention.
3.  There is no inappropriate noise in the hallway.
4.  Students are generally on task in the classroom.
5.  Students are FAR more respectful to teachers and follow directions.

The big visible difference at our school is that students are doing much better than students at the school I came from.  But the students are basically the same.  They come from similar neighborhoods, face similar pressures, are distracted by the same things.  What's different is what the adults are doing.  At CP, we have a consequence system that the teacher simply has to utilize, not create.  We have consequences for student actions, and students face them every time - no student is sent to the office only to return 10 minutes later because the vice principal "spoke to them," as was frequent at my former school.  There are very clear expectations - talking back to an adult is simply not tolerated, and thus it doesn't happen.  And finally, adults are incredibly proactive in trying to build great lessons to make sure that students are engaged.  One think I'm working to improve is my proactive management - the process by which a teacher sets up small student actions that promote behavioral and academic compliance.  For example, the English teacher at CP shouts "pencils up" every time students are about to begin independent practice.  After waiting for compliance (2-3 seconds), which is easy to observe, the teacher shouts "go", and all students immediately get writing.  That's a big improvement from just saying "Okay, now we are writing independently.  Begin."  In the latter example, it's difficult to monitor student compliance, and there's no easily observable action that makes a student feel pressured to follow along (nobody wants to be the one without their pencil up.)

All of this relates to the article about principal burnout because I've been wondering how sustainable  14 and 15 hour workdays are.  14 hours is a lot, and each day is draining physically and emotionally.  And then there's always weekend work to be done.  Which reminds me, it's about 9:30 on Saturday and I need to get to work.

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