Spin, spin, spin, and breathe, you silly woman!

I’m actually catching up on some marking tonight (it’s a miracle!) but the price is I haven’t gotten to work on the snowmobiling story. Yet.

I really need to figure out a title for that WIP.

Been having that hamster-wheel feeling again. The world turning without a break, no time to stop and catch breath. I do anyway and end up wrestling with guilt over what I haven’t accomplished. I’ve made some lists and few items get checked off before more gets put on. The pile of stuff to get done grows like the layers of clean laundry thrown on top of the dog’s cage, waiting to be dealt with and staring me in the face.

And there’s a divide between work stuff and home stuff. Some of it blends — I can make phone calls for appointments on my lunch break or prep period, and I can bring marking home or plan lessons on my computer. I know of some professionals who leave work at work, and concentrate on home at home. I don’t seem to be able to do that a whole lot. I’ve been marking my Writer’s Craft students’ flash fiction horror stories since they were submitted on Feb 9, and I’m still not done. It takes me an average of an hour to an hour and a half per story, going through it for constructive feedback on how well the story communicates the genre and theme, how effectively the writing process and collaboration were used, and the degree to which the individual reflected on his/her process. After one or two of those, I just can’t do any more for the day, or even the next day. Editing fatigue, perhaps. Right now, I’m taking a break on multiple-choice quizzes from my grade 9s, on conflict in literature and points of view, making sure they understood the concepts before we move on. And all three classes have progress reports due on Monday, with summative tasks being submitted on Friday. Plus Friday is my daughter’s skating show in the afternoon and evening, which means I have to run to her school on my lunch to pick her up and deliver her to the skating rink, make sure she’s in the right place (I’ll be asking some friends I’ve made, other parents whose children are in the skating lessons, to supervise her for the duration), and then dash back to the school for my afternoon class.

Even though the 24 Hour Playwriting Challenge is done, and video posted, nothing has really slowed down. The next projects were lining up even before that was finished. (Breathe) I started looking into accommodations for the Ottawa ComicCon trip, only to find out that the ideal location — Carleton U — doesn’t take school groups until after the date of the convention. There’s also Sears Drama Festival, which I’ve committed to helping with (I said I’d organize the maps and goody bags for each participating school, and assist / supervise training the stage manager and the technical needs of the play being done), and I was asked last night if I wanted to run a drama program for a summer day camp in the area, in July. (Breathe) On top of that, I still have to sign off on my students’ IEPs, submit my emergency lessons, assess my students’ blogs, and run off the progress reports.

And Bridget still needs me to help her finish her sewing project.

And Jack needs a shelf for his room.

And the house is steadily declining in the clean we had achieved for my mother-in-law’s visit.

There is good news in all of this, though. After many weeks of waiting, our snowblower was finally returned to us, fixed, and Hubby used it today to smooth and enlarge our parking area. I’m enjoying my new purses — the Bag of Holding Con Edition, and the white bowling-type bag — plus my new Book Bag came in today, along with a Book Pillow for my desk at school. And it hit me the other day just how much I’ve done so far in this school year.

And there’s still my third novel to come out. I’m just waiting for the edits to come back to me, and the final copy of the cover, so I can delve into publicity once more. (Breathe)

And that’s why I’m a bit frustrated at myself for not getting back to the Snowmobiling Story tonight. Writing is one of my escapes. This one is particularly important, as I’m using it to reach those struggling grade 11 readers. (Breathe) I’d really like to know, one of these days, why I keep putting these things on myself. I am a glutton for punishment. An auteur of overachievement and guilt when I want to back away from being an overachiever. Maybe I’m trying to assuage some guilt by doing things, or maybe it’s just that doing things gives me an excuse to avoid housework.

One thing I do know: the things I put together with my students make a lot of people, including myself, feel pretty damned good.

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Blogging for Grades — I’m that kind of teacher!

Last week I introduced all three of my classes to the concept of blogging. Some of my students were already familiar with the concept, though that familiarity ranged between having vaguely heard of it to already having tried it on their own. By Friday, most of my students had set up their own blogs, as assigned — eventually their blogs will be evaluated as their Course Culminating Activities. Some are using WordPress, others doing Blogger. A few have already gotten followers, to their great surprise, and a few have taken right to it, adding photos and reblogging and generally enjoying the experience, which is extremely gratifying to me. Last semester, I had students grudgingly blogging, with much complaint and remarks that no-one would ever look at their work anyway.

My rationale for using blogs in the classroom is this:

  • It’s a positive internet presence for students who might only otherwise be online with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media.
  • It’s a demonstration of their best writing, like a portfolio — but one that they cannot lose.
  • It challenges their abilities to use communication software, graphics, written expression, and knowing their work could be visible to others puts a bit of pressure on to make sure it is good work.

Some of them don’t believe me when I tell them that future employers may search them up online, and that having a blog that demonstrates their capabilities in the English language could be of benefit. But these classes are taking to it rather well. So that brings up a whole new set of challenges for me:

  • A number of students have asked me how often I’ll expect them to blog. My answer is that ideally, they’d blog a little every day that we have class, reflecting on what they’ve learned and what they think about it, but that may not be practical. So maybe once a week. Even then, I have to remember that I’ll be the one to read through all of these in the end!
  • They’ve already started posting about their Independent Novel Studies. Do I have them continue to add to their original posts, or do a separate post for each chapter or section completed? I could teach them how to add a separate page to their blogs, as well.
  • Do I book a computer lab once a week? I tried that last semester, and the year before, but the students I had at the time generally didn’t complete their blogging in one period. It might work better this time around; most of my pupils have their own phones or tablets, making the task that much easier.

I’m excited to see what my students will produce. Whether we add separate pages or just keep them to the simple layout for now, one of the most powerful aspects of having each teenager blog about what we’re doing in class is that they’re seeing the Internet for more than just entertainment and messaging. Blogging is akin to journaling in many ways. I’ve also given them the option of making their blogs private, and providing me with the password, but since their material isn’t going to reveal personal details, I think we’ll be safe. That’s another powerful lesson as well — how blogs can be as anonymous or open as the user prefers. That’s a topic worthy of discussion this week, I think.

I still have to plan my lessons for the next few days, but we’ll see how they fared over the weekend. I want to see how many made progress in their novels, whether anyone spontaneously blogged, what they thought about the experience if they did, and if they didn’t, then why not? I’d like them to think about what it means to communicate online, as digital citizens. That’s on top of doing our class novel reading and starting our look at literary elements and devices. So much to do, so much to balance . . .

Plus, I have to start organizing a 24-Hour Playwriting Challenge taking place in two weeks. That means making up registration forms (would have liked to have done that today, but we had visitors for the teenager’s birthday), setting up the advertising, and ensuring the participants have rehearsal space. And my greatest fear is that if I don’t get enough registrants we may have to cancel the event. I worry about that a lot. I feel like it would be a bit embarrassing. But it is what it is — all I can do is try.

I also signed up last week to do a guest post on Mysti Parker’s blog, on the (fictional) scientific aspects of love, and that’s due tomorrow. Gotta get that done!

And then, I’m looking at that field trip to Ottawa ComicCon in May, so I have to get details together for the proposal (mainly bus estimates and accommodations, plus the tickets to the Con). I would still like to see that as a class project, but at this point it might be easier to do the legwork myself.

One task at a time. Remembering to breathe. My happy place at the moment is thinking about skiing. I was able to listen to my tunes while skiing this weekend, turning and swishing in time to the beat. I love those moments when I can lean into the curve and my uphill leg is bending, skimming over the snow like a bird dipping over water. It’s intensely satisfying to make those switch-backs without losing balance, gaining speed and then reining it back with one ski braking. An hour or so is all I can do before I’m wiped, and if I fall, I can’t get up without taking my skis off first. Still, it’s good.

Long day. Long weekend. Not much R&R to it, but the kids are happy, and I think I’ll sleep well tonight. Hoping, anyway. 🙂

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.