Monday, January 2, 2012

This one's for my teacher friends

Allow me to set a scene. My teacher friends all know the one. It's Monday morning and you're lugging your tote bag that is bursting at the seams with all the stuff you packed, exhausted, at the end of the day on Friday. "I'll do all this over the weekend," you said to yourself at the time.

But now it's Monday morning, and this is the first time that tote bag has left its spot next to your door all weekend. You didn't do a stitch of lesson planning. Your grading's not finished. You have no idea what you're going to do with the kids today.

Today is what we in the biz call a "Wingin' It Day." We've all been there. None of us are proud of it. But even the best have an off day. And today is that day.

OR, in a similar scene, you walk in the door with a fabulous day of lessons planned. Only to find out that surprise! Picture day isn't next week like you thought, it's today and the administration's still working out the schedule, so just be ready to bring your class down any time.

...but...but...What about my fabulous lesson? It's planned to the minute. I can't get interrupted! And those of us in Middle School don't have the luxury of rearranging recess or bumping a science lesson like people in Elementary might be able to do. We get a 50 minute period, and life becomes exponentially harder when one class gets out of pace with the others. Suddenly your fantastically planned day has become a "Wingin' It Day" and you didn't even get a relaxing weekend!!

Both situations are equally frustrating. And both situations require the same tool for making it work: The photocopier. 

The photocopier is a teacher's best friend and worst enemy. I've always said that they should require all education majors to take "Unjamming the Xerox 101" before graduating. THOSE are some classes I would have used in my first year of teaching! The photocopier saves your life when you find out during your lunch break that the mom you've been trying to conference with for months has finally decided to grace you with her presence, but only during your last period of the day. She doesn't care that you have a class to teach, and you can't afford to miss this conference. 

What do you do? Photocopies of filler assignments and get an administrator to sub for the first 10 minutes of a class while you finally get that meeting. 

The photocopier saves your life when you find exactly the excerpt you need, but the school library doesn't have a class set for the kids to use. With 15 minutes before the class begins, you suddenly get a class set. 

The photocopier saves your life when you get that stroke of genius and FINALLY find the inspiration that will turn today's mediocre activity into a real learning moment. You just need to run some copies for the day and you'll be good to go.

So imagine my confused surprise when I first got this job and found out that none of the teachers at my school make their own copies. I'll confess my initial reaction was: You mean I don't have to wrestle with a single paper jam the whole time I'm here?! But then I remembered the Wingin' It Day and wondered how teachers make it work.

Now you're wondering how I make copies.

"In advance," is the short answer.

This. Is the long answer.

At least 24 hours in advance, I have to decide on what I'm going to want copied and fill out this form. Then I have to find a supervisor or a team leader, explain why I want to make these copies and assure her that there are no haram topics or words in this material, and she signs off on it. I then send this form along with my resources to a building across the street. It's called the copy center. Essentially it's a room full of men and copiers and lamination machines. It's important to note that not all of these men speak or read English.

So I have to fill out this form, send it with my materials and trust these men to a). understand what I'm asking  and b). follow my instructions. And then I have to hope that they'll get the copies back to me in time. And, because of my gender, if they ever do my copies wrong I can't go over there and show them the model I made. I just have to either keep sending the copy request with modified instructions or give up all together.

"Wingin' It Days" have taken on a whole new appearance.

Wingin' it or not, I rarely used to do a simple copy. I combined pages, clipped excerpts and put them all on the same page to save paper, drew pictures to clarify my typed instructions. I've pretty much stopped doing that all together now because the whole process takes too long.

This is certainly one of those challenges to my teaching abilities that I didn't expect to face when we moved here. As a result I've become much better at using my print resources that are already on hand, and I have a growing repertoire of instructional games that have taken the place of the filler assignments of old.

Vicariously yours,

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