And just like that year 6 began. After a summer spent running, visiting, holding the best baby, and painting I was ready to start, like a strong man to run a race. Oh and I watched just about as many hours of Olympics as humanly possible.
I have always loved schedules and play-by-plays. Truly no minutiae is too small for me to enjoy. So instead of my usual “resolutions” post, I thought I’d try to flesh out a “day in the life” of a 6th grade teacher. Sadly, I can’t really do much in the way of pictures. Gotta respect student privacy..
5:45ish… Wake up and think about running. It is pretty dark outside, but the energy I have the rest of the day is the best. I stumble out the door and am rewarded with a lovely sunrise as I lope home.
6:20ish-6:50ish…put on clothes, blow dry the sweat out of my hair, make-up, shoe crisis (I can plan outfits like no one’s business, but I often fret about my shoes), pack lunch and breakfast, and scoot out the door.
6:50-7:30… On the drive to work I pick up coffee (usually Starbucks, but I try to frequent two independent coffee shops close to my school). I also listen almost exclusively to classical music. Until this election is over, I will be enjoying “Back to Baroque” which starts at 7:00 a.m. Without a doubt the most challenging part of my day is waiting in the carpool line. Our school’s campus was built before the school got big. At this point we have over a 1,000 students coming into the school over the course of a 40 minute window. And there’s only way into the school. These days it’s just built into my commute time.
7:30-7:50…At this point, I get into my classroom, check my email, answer 3-4 emails, pick a song to play for the day, and make sure details are ship-shape.
7:50…Welcome the kids into the classroom with a firm handshake, eye contact, a smile, and a “good morning.” A veteran teacher told me that she did this years ago, and I’ve always like the tone it sets for our morning. All four 6th grade teachers welcome our kids together. Then we have a communal moment of comparing outfits (we match accidentally an eery amount of times) and a brief “Good luck; see you at lunch!”
8:00…Life music plays over the intercom while students read and I hiss dire warnings about what happens to students who don’t order lunch on time! Then we say the pledge and they go to art or Spanish or music. I barely know their schedule at this point. I just know that they go away, and I have a precious hour to get all of the work done!
8:05-9:05…In this hour I either get everything done or nothing done. There is no happy medium sadly. On the days when I get nothing done I’m usually chatting with the ladies. On days when I am a beast, I can answer multiple emails, grade, enter grades into an online gradebook, lesson plan, research a new way to teach deserts, find more art books to order on amazon (always looking for kids appropriate art history books, y’all).
9:05-10:00…I think of this time as our class power hour. In the morning we hit it hard. I do like to give them some modicum of choice in their days (so much is out of their control), so often they get to decide whether to do grammar, some literacy testing, or writing first. Writing is universally the least favorite topic. The writing curriculum is very structured, and often I feel as though I’m speaking in code. I might say things like, “After you write your KWO, I want you to choose three dress-ups to include in your paper as well as all 6 sentence openers. You don’t have to worry about decorations in this paper, but you can’t double up on your dress-ups and openers.” Super jargony. And yet, they usually know what I’m saying. Just kidding. They ask for directions to be repeated a hundred thousand times. Nothing says “I respect you and listen to you” more than asking someone to repeat something she’s carefully explained multiple times. I breath and remember that they’re 11/12.
10:00-10:05…Snack. Preferably something healthy. Bare minimum…no candy. Then I time them to see how fast they can throw their trash away and sit down quietly for read aloud. Our record thus far is 29 seconds.
10:05-10:20…Read aloud. I really like to think that we all enjoy this little break. If there is one sacrosanct part of the day, it’s read aloud. There are days when grammar or writing get the shaft, but never ever read aloud. Currently we’re reading The Land I Lost about a little boy’s childhood in pre-war Vietnam. Not a book for vegetarians or animal lovers, but most kids love it.
10:20-10:40 I really have no idea what happens here…I think they usually finish up writing or grammar. Sometimes we go over important stuff, like what to wear for picture day or bringing sunscreen for field day.
10:40-11:40 History 1 and 2. I teach the same class 4 times in a row. I like to think of my first class as the guinea pigs, and I always wonder if the last class feels a little staged and stale. Never mind. I love teaching history. Sadly, I am currently teaching geography. When sassy people ask why we’re doing a geography unit in history class I have stopped trying to come up with a clever answer. I now just admit that they are correct, it doesn’t fit well, but they need to know this stuff and history was the only place it would fit. We just colored a map of the USA using only four colors (none of them can touch! 4 Color Theorem!), and, Lord have mercy, that was a challenge. I also don’t love these kinds of puzzles so after being asked to check maps multiple times for correctness I mentally decided to make the assignment a completion grade. Ain’t nobody got time to scrutinize 80+ maps of 50 states to see if any states with shared borders were the same color. Before they started, I carefully instructed them where to start (TN) and how to plot out their colors (little dots rather than coloring in completely). Bless them. They all started with California and blithely colored in as darkly as they possibly could. Then of course there was the wailing and gnashing of teeth when they realized mistakes had been and colored pencils will never ever erase well.
11:45-12:15 Lunch with adults. We always eat together as a team, and when I read that the Supreme Court Justices do the same thing when in session I knew there was a method to our madness. There is truly something very communal about eating together and making conversation. Sometimes we talk about kids, but usually the topic veers towards other interests like Hamilton, salt and pepper potato chips, politics, books, and the latest shoe finds at Nordstrom Rack.
12:20-1:20 The afternoon history classes are mostly the same, and sometimes they wrap up and I don’t really recall much of what happened in the last hour.
1:20-2:00 Literature. We’re reading a book I adore, The One-Eyed Cat. It’s character rather than plot-driven. This means it is slow. But the writing is exquisitely beautiful (reminds me of Willa Cather and a Dorothea Lange photograph). For this book we make lots of predictions about what will happen next (not sure why no one ever cheats and reads ahead). I also try to ask them to relate what’s happening in the story to their own lives. This isn’t super deep, more like, “Have you ever been unable to sleep and wandered around the house in the dark?” And of course everyone has a story to share (or they make one up real quick-like). Twenty personal narratives later we’re back into the chapter. I love literature at this age, because we’re basically reading a book and discussing it to death. This is more or less what I do in my free time, so I could just play all day.
2:00-2:15 Recess. I monitor sporty pod, our soccer/football, basketball court combo. At any given time, there are three games being played simultaneously. No one gets hurt, but everyone cheats. I refuse to referee unless people are crying.
2:15-2:45 On the day I’m recapping the kids were in computer class. Another half hour of silence to frantically get all the things done.
2:45-3:10…Study Hall. Surprisingly, they are super quiet and diligent for this last part of the day. I wish someone would enforce a “study hall” in my life. Think how much you’d get done if you were given 25 minutes to just silently work. During this time, I’m usually answering writing questions or talking to the rogue history student from another homeroom.
3:10-3:15…We wipe desks with lysol wipes, someone cleans the board, the plants get over-watered, and everyone packs up. There are high fives at the door and the day is done. I’m still not back in school shape, so these days are truly exhausting. I was trying to express to my mom how you have to be so “on” the entire day. I love being the boss, but somedays it’s crazy being the professor, party planner, police force, first responder, counselor, and lady of letters. Teachers wear many many hats. But I always come back to the fact that I am never ever bored. And I am moved when year after year, former 6th graders come creeping (0r running) back for hugs, to gush about life as a junior high kid, and maybe for reassurance that they’ve got this middle school thing. In the end, my hope for my students is that they know they are loved, respected, and heard. All the rest is just gravy.