In spite of all this layoff hooplah (which is not getting any better, btw) I just had two of the most satisfying days of teaching I've had in a long time. Yesterday was better than today, I admit, but I'm counting them both as successes. Here's what I did....
A US History teacher (8th grade) came to me a couple of weeks ago with an assignment he wanted to do with his students. Civil War Biographies. Could I help? Of course. We talked for a while and I admitted to him that I thought the assignment was a bit of a snooze. Really, I liked writing bios in school, but i thought that the kids might respond a little better if we mixed it up. I've been working to make some inroads with the history department for years, so this was my chance to design something cool and incorporate technology.....and basically win them over.
I convinced the teacher to drop the birth, death, family, education, bo-ring angle. Instead we developed three basic questions the students needed to answer. What was the person's role in the Civil War; how did s/he contribute to its outcome? What clues from his/her childhood inform us as to why s/he ended up playing that role? What could s/he have done or decided differently that would have dramatically impacted the outcome of his/her life (or in other words, what were the paths untaken?). Aahhhh...that felt better. The kids would be forced to analyze what they read, rather than just listing loads of 'who cares' information.
I developed an example product. The teacher developed criteria for grading the product. I collected probably a hundred web resources for the kids to use. We were so ready, it's not even funny. And you won't believe it....
It worked. Every kid got it. Every one got INTO it, which is amazing. (Well, not one. One ate cookies, cussed at me, stole another kid's keys, and was picked up by the dean all within the first 10 minutes of class. It was impressive.) The rest of them, though, were amazing. We did everything electronically. They took notes by copying and pasting text and images onto a Word document, keeping track of each web address as they went. No antiquated note-taking practices here! They used multiple sources (in one case nine!) and they saved their work to the school's network so they can access it from any computer on campus next week.
They asked really cool questions, like how did John Wilkes Booth get away from the theater, anyway? They showed me a picture of the chair that Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot. It has a dark stain that was once thought to be blood, but now we know is hair pomade. They liked that. They read speeches make by Frederick Douglass. They read Jefferson Davis's 1861 Inaugural Address. They were intense! I'm not sure I've seen anything like it for a loooong time.
It was a good couple of days, and it reminded me of what it takes to be in the classroom day in and day out with the same kids, plugging along, teaching the same lesson to six groups, teaching it again to students who were absent, grading their work, finding new ways to deliver that dang 'ol instruction. It's hard! I am exhausted. I'm often exhausted by my job, since it's very go, go, go. It's a different kind of tired, though. My days are varied and unexpected. I talk about science and math and books and ancient empires and vampires and earthquakes and video games every single day. The variety keeps it light. These past two days, though, oh man. Six times I said, "In order to save to the network, you'll...". Six times I said, "In order to give credit to your sources, you'll need to copy the URL to your notes....". Six times I said, "In just a few moments, you'll need to do your final save.." And so on, and so on. It's tedious to say the same thing six times, you know?
The teacher was happy, I was happy, and now I am ready to go home and flop. I don't want to talk for the rest of the night. I need to watch a movie and rest my brain for a while.
I hope people know what it means for these teachers who might be losing their jobs. They like to do this, after all. What will they ever find that's as satisfying as this?