Wanted: Mary Poppins and a House Elf

Preparation for second semester continued today. I’m not done my exam marking, so I brought the remainder of the exams home with me in the hopes of getting them done. I did manage to get ahead on a few things for Monday, though:

  • Revised and copied course outlines for my three classes
  • Rearranged my classroom, organizing the desks into groupings of 5 (with one grouping of 3), borrowing an idea from Ally, a friend and colleague who tried it last semester
  • Adopting old couches and easy chairs from my department head, who no longer needs/wants them, creating a comfy reading lounge / writer’s den in my classroom — something I wanted to do a decade ago but lacked the necessary resources (a truck) or energy to make happen on my own
  • Cleaned off my desk
  • Marked one set of exams
  • Copied readings for Professional Learning Team’s in-class project on literacy
  • Took down old posters of student work from last semester

Here’s my to-do list, for work anyway:

  • Lesson materials and handouts on active listening, mindfulness, note-taking, annotations (content for first few weeks)
  • Revise my poster on classroom expectations
  • Make a poster with Restorative Questions
  • Construct prompt cards for desk groupings — I want to have reminders on MLA, brainstorming techniques, the writing process, and note-taking on each set of desks
  • Bring up novels for grade 9s (Cue for Treason) — we’re waiting on the shipment of the novels for grade 11 (Yes Man)
  • Sketch a loose outline of lessons for the first two weeks. I have learned through bitter experience that it’s better to overplan but also to be prepared for the students’ needs to be vastly different than expected.

As my friend and fellow teacher Kim pointed out, it’s like this every year. We always think or hope we’ll have enough time for the turnaround but it’s never sufficient. I try to power through but without frequent breaks I lose focus. And yet with frequent breaks I feel like I’m churning my wheels in a rut of loose, chewed-up snow, getting inches forward and then having to slide back in order to find momentum to get moving. Among the pressures and anxieties of having things ready to go on Monday morning, starting off the new classes with an effective tone and set of expectations, I know I’ll be deluged by grade 12 students who want to know how they did overall, whether they passed or failed, and in either case, what their final marks are.

Meanwhile, life continues at home, too. My daughter’s skating lesson is cancelled tomorrow due to competitions, so there’s a bit of a break at least, and then there’s skiing lesson in the afternoon. It’s going to be cold tomorrow, too. Well, as cold as it was today, which was substantially colder than yesterday — positively balmy, it was, at only -8 C. I want to step up the family’s cleaning efforts by adding a visible allowance to motivate the 9 year old. I calculated today that if I give her $0.25 per chore — daily and weekly — she could earn up to $10 a week. I am thinking of getting it in quarters and putting it in a clear jar so she can see it. Then, every time she is scheduled to do a chore but doesn’t do it, she loses a quarter. I take it away while she watches. At the end of the week, she gets to keep — and spend — whatever is left over. I got the idea from a Berenstein Bears story, in which Sister Bear is given a handful of dimes as incentive to avoid chewing her nails: every time Sister chews, she loses a dime for that week.

So there’s that. In addition to trying to jumpstart collaborative cleaning and going skiing, marking exams and setting up my lessons for the first week, I’ve got a board meeting for the local theatre’s revitalization project on Sunday afternoon, Elizabeth needs to be bathed, the dog needs walking, laundry (no, wait, those last two things are chores I need to delegate to the kids), and we need to start prepping for the teenager’s birthday party and sleepover next weekend.

And then sleeping. I would like a nice, long, uninterrupted sleep without weird dreams, if possible. Last night I dreamed I was performing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream but I was Falstaff, and I had taken the role very last minute so I was struggling with the lines and I was worried about making a bad impression and never being cast again, but having a good time nonetheless. We were onstage in the old theatre, and suddenly there was a flood of people walking through, carrying chairs and tables and filing boxes and things — as though their work day had ended and they had no other choice but to interrupt the performance to get all of their stuff put away. They seemed apologetic about it. I was torn between trying to sneak peeks at the script on my smart phone and looking at the book in my hand. There was a difference, too, in the interpretation of the character: on the one hand, he was supposed to be a clown, the comic relief, and he (I) was using a sock puppet as a foil. On the other, the stage directions in the book I’d found indicated a much more painful back story — each line he spoke was layered in subtext about loss, heartbreak, frustration, and misunderstanding. I wanted to perform the part with the second interpretation, but how to change up the direction in the middle of the show?

Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to deal with all of this if we had relatives closer than an hour and a half away. But then again my mum and dad managed with my brother and I, and we never lived in the same town or city as our relations — I think the closest we ever lived to an aunt and uncle or grandparent was 45 minutes. But then again, it is much, much easier than when the kids were younger. And I’m grateful that they’re healthy and intelligent, that we have easy access to clean water and food in our cupboards, heat and light, that we can walk about without fear of landmines or being questioned about our papers. In the big picture, I have nothing to complain about, really, so I shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

But I feel what I feel. I do good work at school, but I’m constantly aggrieved by the state of my house and my inability to get my kids to participate in the housecleaning. It’s at the point where if I start to clean, my daughter asks, “Who’s coming over?”, and that’s not right. We’re back to that question of how to get a stubborn 9 year old to do what you need her to do, particularly when one’s own energy levels are low after a day of getting stubborn teenagers to do what they need to do.

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