Just finished my first day of teaching, with a sense of relief at finally meeting real people and seeing, as the new principal said, what it looks like here. He’s new too. It looks like, wow! Good sized classes, neither too big nor too small, of bight-eyed teens and expecting and planning to do all their homework on time and needing only a few hours of guidance and inspiration per week to do the same thing others sit in class for five hours per week to accomplish.
I did not feel ready, having focused most of my time in the weeks leading up on getting to know the five new curricula, laying out the big picture plans, and thinking of cool science project and lab ideas. But my fellow teachers seemed to all feel the same, and weren’t hesitant to admit it. The first few day of two, everything is so different for the students switching out of summertime, back with friends or in a crowd of strangers, new teachers, all that bewildering the senses for them, too, that it’s best to keep things simple, and not necessarily “burn from the word go,” or “teach like your hair’s on fire”. At least not in every class.
So I laid down some paper, went over syllabi, told them a bit about myself and played the “stand up if you…” game. It worked beautifully, and I found out that the senior academy is full of musicians, athletes, a good number of readers and writers, a few who love math or science or know how to program, more than the average number who can tell how to tell one kind of tree from another, make pickles, and shoot a rifle, have traveled to the East coast or Alaska, and even a half dozen whose grandfathers, like mine, lived for months in the woods trapping and hunting for a living. No one knew how to make yogurt, so I said I’d teach them, as it was a biological process. I had them practice the opposite circling hands exercise while I told them about the mind’s plasticity, that it was amazing what connections our brains would make if we had a growth mindset. When I had nothing more to add, I wrapped up each math class with a start at the Chapter zero Pre-test and the sciences with or a Bozeman Science video to be continued or reviewed at home.
I noticed also, though I, too am taking in only the first layer of this new reality, some unique individuals, introverts by nature, who are full of interesting knowledge and experience, and a kind of quiet willingness to open up and be appreciated. They too enjoyed the game, not a grin-and-bear-it face among them.
In biology the second item on the list of syllabus topics was evolution. Was there anyone, I asked, who felt that was a controversial subject? Yes, a few acknowledged, one or two emphatic nods. I said we’d be finding out what evidence scientists used to come up with the theory of evolution they’ve probably heard of, but how much more there was to the idea, and the ways that scientists could observe first hand and even test and replicate the process of evolution on a shorter time scale. Said they’d definitely find it very interesting. Put out a request for fresh road kill and birds that had lost their lives to window reflections. Asked them to email me to see if it should be brought in fresh or kept in the freezer for a while. No one said “Ew, gross!”
The environmental science class had actually signed up for a course labeled “General Science,” so I told them–Surprise!–when I was hired I got to choose the emphasis of the class, and since they’d already completed biology and the End of Course exam requirement, environmental science was a good next step, was full of ways to deepen and integrate and connect scientific knowledge. It was also an important and timely kind of study in this era of awareness of the many environmental problems we are facing. That class was all young women, except one. Is it women that will solve all our environmental problems? I asked, before the fellow showed up. Definitely, one said, and the others nodded.
Our next classes are a week away, because of our Monday-Wednesday schedule and the holiday, and Friday classes don’t start for another two weeks, so I have an unbelievable three more days of paid planning plus a long weekend. I wish all districts could afford to treat its teachers this way.
I had a heavy harvest of raspberries and blackberries in the garden this summer, and they are still bearing. So I mashed and squeezed a quart, and drank up the aroma of the breeze off a warm bramble patch with my evening meal.