Thursday, June 4, 2015

Thoughts on my First Year at Carmel

Looks like I'm going to end the school year the same way I started it - packed-up in boxes.  Don't worry though, I'm not looking for a new job this summer, but rather the school is being renovated.

There were so many great things that happened this year at Carmel, between students, and administrators, and swim team, and the math conference, that it all seems so much like a blur now.  Before it all dissipates into the ether, here's my vain attempt to recall the best thing that happened each month.

August - Less than two weeks in Virgina and I'm sitting the library for a week-long staff orientation and teacher preparation.  Learning all the names and faces of both students and staff was initially overwhelming, but as with any beginning it eventually becomes second nature.  Initially, I intimidated myself of the prospect of teaching sixth graders, thinking I wasn't "qualified" to teach children that young.  As it turns out, they were, consistently, one of strongest classes.  Also, after dodging it for four years, I was forces to teach a high school Geometry class, which was exactly as terrifying as I thought it was for the reasons I thought it would be.

September - I finally have some idea of how my schedule works and I'm into a routine, but because many of my lessons didn't transition well from Vestal, I'm writing 20 lessons a week.  Needless to say, I'm writing all my lessons the night before for the day of.  Not ideal, of course, but a necessary evil of being a "first year teacher."  In addition befriending the History and Spanish/Drama teacher who helped move my stuff, I also start forming awesome working relationships with all the teachers, and a close bond with the middle school English/History teacher, who is also in her first year.

October - Math Conference!  My only professional development of the year was a two-day math conference that was hosted in Richmond Convention Center.  While there I attend over eight one-hour sessions about anything you could possibly know about math education.  Bonus: I find out our Dean of Academics at Carmel is also the organizer of the event and is a highly regarded math guru.  Also of note, I am confirmed of my ability to teach in my first (and only!) observation of the year.  My conference with my administrator is incredibly relaxed and informal.

November - Swimming begins and I pretend to coach a starting squad of about 20 swimmers.  Over the course of the season, only about three or four quit at various points throughout the year.  At this point, 75% of my team can tread water and move around in the pool, but you can barely call it swimming.  Writing lessons is becoming easier, and I start actually noticing the different strengths and personalities of my students in general.  The month ends with a Thanksgiving visit from Andrea's family.

December - Only two weeks of instruction before a week of mid-terms.  I write my first (five) mid-term(s) from scratch, and painfully have to re-write most of them because they were too short.  I make note of this so I don't make the same mistakes in May when I have to write finals.  Unsurprisingly, I enjoy a full two-week break for Christmas, half of which is spent in New York, the other half writing lesson plans.  This finally allows me to write lessons a few days ahead of time for the rest of the year, even if it's only a day or two in advance, it makes my life considerably more enjoyable.

January - Compete in two swim meets almost two weeks apart; swimmers are surprisingly confident despite their obvious nervousness.  They crush it.  Most of them don't disqualify during their events - full turns and starts in all - and some swimmers are actually looking fast in the water.  I also address the student body for the first time in a spiritual context during Chapel.  I get so sick-and-tired of my Algebra 2 curriculum that I trash it and use (altered) lesson plans from Vestal.  Best decision I make all year.

February - Swim season ends, but discover that they won't leave me alone now.  They show up to my room constantly and lovingly annoy me before school, during school, and after school.  My focus now turns back to academics in full.  With extra time, I finally learn how to maximize my free periods (where possible) and really enjoy a month of (relative) normalcy.  Also, didn't have school for a week because it was too cold/snowy.  For NY readers: We had about 12 inches of total snow this winter and the temperature bottomed out in (positive) single digit degrees.

March - After teaching Math 6 through Algebra 2 for almost an entire year, I realize that very similar lessons are taught to different levels - especially Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2.  This saves me from writing entire units, which is great for this year.  But this also upsets me because I feel like if something is taught well, I shouldn't need to teach it again.  I get permission from the Dean to restructure the entire Upper School Math curricular to cut the slack - a process that will probably take about two to three years to complete.  The finished product will be awesome.

April - The air is finally getting warmer and it's clear that the school is in "end-of-the-year" mode.  I go on my first field trip (ever! as a teacher) where I spend most of the time in the medical station with a student who almost passes out (to his credit, it was a rather gory reenactment of a civil war emergency operation).  At the end of the month, a small collection of teachers start meeting every morning in the Commons to watch students - a job that is usually done by only two teachers on a rotating basis.  It becomes the highlight of every one's morning and continues into final exams.

May - Teacher appreciation week was the most phenomenal outpouring of parent-student cooperation that I have ever seen.  I became the life of the sports banquet because of a stupid, dry joke about how the program would have been "sunk" without the help of my assistant.  I learn my lesson from mid-terms and write my final exams extra long with no additional edits.

It was a great year, and I think next one is going to be even better!

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