Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Each TIme I Stop to Breathe, Another Day Has Gone

It astounds me when I pause to realize just how busy I am.  I'm given a degree of freedom in my classroom that would be utterly unheard of in the States, but with so much freedom comes a lot of work.  I'm creating one of my classes, College Prep, completely from the ground up (it's a brand new class at our school).  In my "spare" time, I'm reading, researching, studying, researching studying . . . anything that it takes to create a stellar course that will really make a difference in preparing our students.  Already I am seeing tangible results.  Today, my eight students in that class (a fun mixture of six Koreans, one American, and a Dane) successfully worked together to answer twelve SAT-level analogy problems, and got all of them right.  A week ago, they struggled with low-level ones and were utterly terrified of facing these questions on the SAT.  Seeing them grow in confidence as well as skill is all that I need by way of motivation.

It really helps that I have such an excellent working relationship with the high school principal.  She's fresh out of the classroom, so she completely understands teachers and does all that she can to support us effectively.  She's great about letting me try out any of the crazy schemes I come up with for improving student performance.  For example, she enthusiastically agreed when I asked today if I can throw an after-school SAT study party before each offering of the SAT at our school.  My idea is to allow any students preparing to take it at that time, as well as the eight in my prep class, to come for some fun study games and collaborative preparation.  Most of the students, particularly the English language learners, are terrified of the SAT.  My hope is to take away some of the terror, but leave the awe, and also help them to realize that studying with others is much more fun while still being effective.

I've been playing around with some different uses of technology in my history classes, with good results.  My kids are acing their quizzes, giving me high hopes for when I administer their first tests.  Of course, for me, the fun part is seeing how enthusiastic they all are about starting class each day.  None of the kids seem to dislike history -- in fact, most kids regularly comment on how much they like it!  The tenth graders are currently neck-deep in the Renaissance, which is not my favorite area of history in all honesty.  So, I spiced up all that history of art and such by throwing in extra emphasis on those ambitious, scandal-laden, just-plain-dirty Medicis and my old friend Machiavelli (I spent so much time studying him in Dr. Saxon's class that I feel as though I knew the man intimately).  The bigger class of sophomores whined a little over all of the notes they had to take during my Machiavelli lecture on Monday, but I told 'em, "Toughen up, cream-puffs!  Sore hands build character!"  The freshies, meanwhile, were quite excited today when I set them loose researching the worldviews of three major religions today.  They're a curious bunch, which makes them a joy to teach.  I'm finding that they really enjoy getting to track down answers for themselves.

Aside from the teaching load, there are a ton of other things going on lately.  Tomorrow a group of us are having a baked potato party.  I have my Chinese lessons to keep up with, and I'm trying to spend a bit of extra time in practice each day so that I can learn quicker.  I'm helping to coach the JV volleyball team.  Fall Camp is on Thursday this week, an event which we teachers have been diligently planning for weeks.  The high school girls are going to a gorgeous island, where they'll spend a night in a very nice hotel.  To get there, we get to cross the world's longest bridge, and then on the way back, we'll get to go through a tunnel that goes under the Yellow Sea.  Our theme for the week is holistic fitness:  fit spiritually, fit physically, fit relationally, fit dietarily, etc.  I'm going to be giving the girls a short talk about relational fitness.  I've settled on the topic "Don't Be a Mean Girl" -- I'll talk about building up each other rather than tearing down, along with accompanying activities afterward.  We've planned a "casino night" for the girls, complete with different games, from which they can win prizes.  Kathryn and I are going to teach them Spoons, one of my favorite card games.

On Saturday, the day after we return from Fall Camp (it's just two days and one night), our new Early Childhood Center (ECC) has its grand opening, at which I've agreed to help run a station where children will decorate cookies (I agreed to help in exchange for cookies).  On the 6th, we're having a College Night, at which I've been asked to give a presentation about my College Prep class (speaking to parents . . . yikes!).  Mid-quarter is fast approaching, with grades due.  About that time, I'll have a major paper to grade from the freshies and the sophs are getting their first test.  One of my college prep girls is taking the SAT in October, and I've offered to give her some private tutoring, should she need it.  And then there's the teachers' conference in Beijing during the first week of October.  Oh, and the Vision Trip I'm going on mid-October for a weekend.  Whew!  My poor calendar is looking exceedingly obese these days!

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"