Mirror, Mirror

Well, dear Protege, I’ve certainly been remiss lately–but then again, so have you 🙂 Life has a habit of getting in the way of our best intentions, but as promised, here is a new blog entry. The title is apt because this will be a reflection upon the last semester; something that I still do even after almost 20 years of teaching. I’ve divided it into “Things I’m Happy About” and “Things I Could Be Happier About”.

“Things I’m Happy About”
1) I’m really happy about the fact that I finalized my assesment and evaluation philosophy and put it into action. You know what I’m talking about, of course–what I like to call “Formative until Level 4”. Allowing my students to use feedback to revise and improve their assignments, no matter how big or small, until they reached level 4, has been one of the best ideas of my career. No more work being tossed into the recycling bin as soon as it’s handed back, no more ignoring the comments, no more complaints about ‘what can I do to improve my mark?’ without even reading what I’d written. Every student had the chance, with every assignment, to revise and revise until he or she was satisfied with the mark, and I was satisfied that the student REALLY understood the task. There was no ‘end of the road’, no ‘sorry, try doing X next time’; they all knew that they could use my feedback to improve their practice. And man, did they ever. I only had one student out of 102 tell me that he was fine with a 68 on an assignment. Whenever I gave anything back, I announced “As always, if your mark is below level 4, then please use the feedback to improve and resubmit if you’d like to.”  Talk about happy kids. Did they realize that they were the ones doing all the work? As Damian Cooper says, excellence in education isn’t about lowering standards, it’s about making kids work harder to meet the high expectations we should have of them. Am I a genius? Of course not. Is anyone else doing things like this? Probably. Do I care that some people might think I’m crazy for doing this, and make broad statements about kids needing deadlines, and is it fair to the other kids who got level 4 the first time, and who has the time and etc. etc. Nah. My response is simple: We have differentiated instruction. We should have differentiated assessment.

2) I’m really happy that I took on the role of Site Supervisor of International Languages at Forest Heights. Yes, I work 6 days a week now, and I’m pretty exhausted by Saturday night, but the staff and kids are so wonderful, and it’s always kind of crazy and chaotic and funny. I’m learning a lot about how to be a great administrator, and if I EVER get placed as a VP, I’ll have mad skills.

3) I’m really happy that I made excellent use of my prep time this semester. I stayed in my room many days getting caught up on marking. With a lot of effort to avoid distractions, I managed to hardly ever bring marking home, and was able to spend more time a) with family and b) sleeping.

3) I’m really happy that everyone in my family is relatively healthy. I’ve seen a lot of colleagues suffering through family crises of one kind of another this fall and winter, and dealing with a lot of stress in their personal lives in addition to the work stress we all carry. I’m feeling very blessed that none of my loved ones are dealing with more than they should have to handle.

“What I Could Be Happier About”
1) First and foremost, I wish I’d been a better mentor. I feel like, in the last little while, I’ve neglected this part of our relationship. I’m glad that, over exams, we’ve been able to spend some time together, but I hate the thought that I’ve given you short shrift.

2) I need to make a serious effort to appreciate what I have right now, instead of constantly focusing on (and getting stressed out about) what I want tomorrow. I have no control over my own future it seems, and I just have to live with that knowledge rather than constantly feeling like Morissey: “When you say it’s gonna happen now, well when exactly do you mean?” And to follow up with Hamlet, ” If it be now,’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all”. When it comes, I’ll be ready, but for now, I have a wonderful family, supportive friends, great colleagues, and lovely and lively classes. What more could a department head ask for?

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