My car was often – too often – the last one standing in the parking lot at the end of the day. Cars of coaches might still be there, and sometimes the parking lot would be crowded with parents and siblings watching basketball in season, but most teachers had abandoned ship long before me. (Yes, there were a couple who vied for that spot, including one of my very closest friends, but unfortunately, I often won.)
Please understand: I’m not saying this to pat myself on the back; far from it. I know that most of my colleagues were leaving to pick up children and go to their extracurriculars, or do homework, or walk dogs. I also, once upon a time, had those same issues (and still had to come home early to let my dogs out once or twice a week). Eventually, though sometimes not until the children were asleep, they would get back to schoolwork – getting some grades done or posted; throwing together a lesson that had to change because the day didn’t go well – or throwing together a lesson that didn’t yet exist; mindlessly checking submitted homework or classwork; and, of course, answering e-mails from administrators, fellow educators, students, and parents.
But as I taught longer, and as my kids got older, I somehow did the opposite of what I should have been doing – I stayed longer and longer. I can’t remember where it all started, but I felt, somehow, that if I just stayed at my desk, where all my materials were, I could more easily take care of what I needed to do and get it all done more quickly. This didn’t only mean the major reorganizing that needed to be done at the end of a particularly chaotic day, or some set up for an activity the next day, or the creation of new groups and seating, which in some cases could only be done in the room. But it also involved many tasks that could be done at home, such as posting the classwork and homework for the day on Schoology (which I tried to do in school during my lunch or prep, or I would get inundated with e-mails from students looking for that very homework we had already discussed in class), reworking lesson plans, or developing a separate Google doc for students to follow for the day’s lesson. While I tried to create my lessons for the week on one day of the weekend – usually Sunday – I didn’t usually get too specific with this additional Google doc for students past Monday, as I knew that things would change many times during the week. (Did I have to do it this way? Maybe not, but I couldn’t figure how else to get everything in that I needed to.)
So why did I stay so late most days? My idea – which was some kind of elaborate fiction I had created in my mind – was that when I finished, by no later than 5, I would leave with all, or at least the majority, of what I had to do tomorrow DONE. Not only could I leave with a clear mind, but I wouldn’t have to look at anything again (except my e-mails – there was almost no avoiding that) and have a relaxing night.
It did happen, sometimes. But often, instead, I not only stayed too late, but I still had to complete too much when I got home.
Somehow, I couldn’t seem to get it together enough.
And the truth is, it got worse over my last few years because the work load had gotten worse. Over my first six years as a teacher, I had four different positions in two schools, so I was always starting from scratch, in a way – but I expected that, as a newbie. However, for nearly 10 years after that, I was in the seventh grade, teaching – more or less – a curriculum that I had helped design and that didn’t change radically on a constant basis. Of course, there was tweaking each year and there were some new approaches, but there was a lot of consistency, as well. I became ever more knowledgeable in my subject matter, whether it was focusing on mythology, or the Middle Ages, or the Holocaust, or even teaching the parts of speech (which is quite enjoyable to me, by the way – yes, I am that kind of dorky English teacher). There were many ways to meet the challenges of new students and new ideas in education without reinventing the wheel on its every turn.
And then there was the PARCC – the death knell for teaching as we knew it. Suddenly there was a much bigger emphasis on grouping, and technology – including all kinds of new software programs that came in and out of fashion like Mary Janes – and end of marking period tests that were not created by the teacher but by educational publishers or curriculum writers. And don’t forget those assessments – pre-tests and post-tests and PARCC preparation and RSTs – research simulation tasks – which also had pre-test and post-test components. Teachers weren’t supposed to stand in front of the room and teach – at least, not for more than about 9 minutes at a time – but, instead, were responsible for developing learning stations so that students could be in charge of their own learning.
Right. Like that was really happening.
There were many, many downsides to this new way of teaching, in my book (pun intended). (Yes, there were some upsides; I did like working with small groups at my teacher station on preliminary writing, where students weren’t able to gaze off into the distance as I was right there with them.) And one of the biggest downsides was the constant changes in technology and curricula, the new materials this year that would be new again next year, the new textbook series and matching computer program that was required to be our Bible but that, within only a few years, was upended by something else.
And so there I would be, working and reworking my plans, even after having resolved to do so at home. There I was, finding new materials, and giving up some old ones – including some that always, always worked. Here I was, condensing a 10-week unit – the Holocaust – into three, and then two, and then one.
And there was my car in the parking lot in the approaching dusk, once again.