Sunday, February 22, 2009

Minding My P's and Q's

At twenty, when I imagined my teaching career, I pictured myself darkening the classroom and reading Poe’s “The Raven” in a hushed, slightly theatrical voice from a stool in the center of the room. Students would sit casually, chins cupped in their hands, while their eyes shone bright with understanding and anticipation. Well. I can’t say I never have teaching moments like that, but those moments don’t make up the bulk of my day.

I didn’t realize way back then that the bulk of my teaching day would be populated not with “moments of being” during which I electrified my students with literature but with bookkeeping. Yup. Bookkeeping. Keeping attendance, identifying missing work, and tracking missing students make up a disheartening proportion of my daily tasks. Why disheartening? Well, these tasks are like the pot scrubbing parts of teaching. I cannot whip up a fabulous rapport and exciting lessons with students unless I have these elements under control just like a great meal requires a clean, well-stocked kitchen. I am committed to these tasks because being organized on attendance, missing work, and students’ status ultimately makes me more effective. I just wish doing it properly didn’t take so dang long…

If, for example, I skip my weekly habit of running a “missing assignments” report and notifying those students about the missing work or if I record a student as absent three times in a row without looking into where that student may be, I feel anxious. Making up work at the end of the grading period is one of my least favorite pursuits with students. I like to address the problem while the assignments will be fully relevant to what we’re doing in class. It also stinks to realize once a student finally resurfaces that a well-placed phone call might have brought him or her back sooner. After years at this gig, I’ve decided the trouble of staying on top of my bookkeeping pays off in the end.

Like washing a dried egg pan, however, these tasks sap the spirit. They smack of redundancy and fastidiousness. At certain points in the semester, I devote significant portions of time to them, so it helps to ensure I read a poem aloud every now and then to keep the true teaching juices flowing.

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


Anonymous said...

It's now visual aids and bizarre music to warrant a reaction. But, hey, whatever it takes to sustain interest and illicit "Whoa, that Dickinson gal sure wrote a lot" or "How come she never married?" will surely make for interesting banter and learning in a senior ELA class. So we miss the semi-conscious, bleary-eyed, mesmerized looks, but the "No kiddin'! You don't say", still make my heart pitter patter as I trudge along and entertain with snippets of the past.

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