Friday, May 2, 2008

I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter

Ah, May is here. My lesson plans get peppered with family tree projects, group presentations, a movie excerpt here and there…The hardest part of the academic year has passed, and now my students and I focus upon finishing these last few weeks cooperatively. Now is also the time of year when my mind begins to frolic in the “do-over” nature of teaching. What will I do differently next time?

Usually, I’ll sit down and write myself a letter, addressed to “Dear Rested, Excited about the New School Year Me.” I’ll write one for each of my preps, filling each letter with tangential details and more than a couple of run-on sentences. I’m the audience, and I know the author is writing after completing a mental marathon. I write about what worked, what didn’t, and what I plan to change. Here’s an excerpt from last summer’s letter:

“If I could teach [students] to look at how their peers use evidence to prove something, it could really save me pain near the end. B. also says they can’t learn everything. I cannot expect to get the MLA mastery I want and eradicate all false logic, too. I don’t really want to take anything out—and how much can I add? ANGEL can print my grade book easily, so I am able to see just how long my semester is: 21 quizzes, 4 timed writings, the research project, 2 essays, 3 drafts, 3 bulletin boards, and 5 additional writing assignments. That’s nutty.”

Pretty insular stuff, I realize, but it triggers my memory when I revisit it. I don’t read the letter until, oh…July, maybe two weeks before the letter comes from school welcoming me back for August and outlining the in-service schedule. I get excited every new school year, and the letter helps me remember where to begin. I teach the same preps over and over again; sometimes I forget my intentions! After reading this letter, I did decide to lose one of the timed writings and add a two day lesson on recognizing and constructively critiquing peers’ use of logic. This year, my letter will have new concerns.

I actually teach summer classes, too, but this ritual of closing out the regular school year helps me relax. Truthfully? I don’t have the energy right now to fix what needs fixing in these units, so this letter to myself helps me put it to the side until I can. Reading my old letters helps me see the progress I’ve made as well. It can be difficult in this profession to see our own growth when the demands constantly change around us, so we need habits where we acknowledge ourselves to ourselves. These letters help me do that…

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher

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