As the words from the classic off-Broadway tuner go,
Try to remember the kind of September when life was slow, and oh so mellow…
WAIT A MINUTE! Those composers of that immortal song may have created a delightful melodic line and sentimental words BUT if they are talking about a slow and mellow September, well, those composers were never school teachers, that’s for sure! September may be the hardest month of the year for teachers and so as we come to the end of September, I am not at all wistful about its passing!
I am not lodging a complaint on behalf of school teachers, nor am I really whining—I am just observing that September is difficult! But, but, but, if we do our jobs well in September, the rest of the school year is easier…
I remember a conversation I had at Hackley, my previous school, sometime in a long-ago September, maybe around 2003, with a colleague named Jennie. Jennie sighed and lamented that “this has been the hardest September ever!” Since I do have a good memory, and by that point I had been a colleague of Jennie’s for nearly a decade, I replied simply, “But Jennie—you said that last year! And actually, the year before that too, and…” Jennie had just forgotten that September is a hard month for teachers. So in my kind, soothing, Dr. Phil-like way, I tried to help her remember (get the joke, the musical joke from The Fantastiks ???!) about the perils of September in the school world.
And no, to all my banker/finance/12months-a-year-working-friends, the difficulties of September are not just that we are trying to move our summer-moribund bodies back into the workplace as we shuffle off the leisure of summertime (and by the way, I do not say June-July-and-August, since my vacation was exactly 8 weeks and not three months this summer—again neither complaining nor whining, simply stating the facts) but we do move from unscripted summer days to highly (HIGHLY!!!!) scripted and choreographed days and evenings with bells going off and major shifts in how every cell of our bodies react to life. Oh no, that last phrase was not too dramatic at all! I decided it would be fun to just look at the last two days and what I did—mostly because won’t it be fun years from now to look back on the minutiae of a September day here at KA.
Okay, so let me run you through my Wednesday this last week. My alarm is set for 6:00 a.m. however I must be so excited about my days that I frequently wake up at 4:30 ready to greet the day. I checked emails to see if there were any last-minute student emails from the night before that might have met disaster as they did their homework on the art of the ancient Aegean world (those Minoans—such fun party people!). I use that early morning time to call someone in the US and I check in with Christy in New York (it is 10:00 pm there) and let her know how our department meeting had gone the day before as I explained and waxed rhapsodically about her TIEL wheel). At 6:00 I go over to the gym and do some kindle-sample reading on the treadmill and do exercises on five of the whatever-you-call-the-machines-with-weights. My goal is to get back to my apartment and shower before most of the boys are up at 7 and use up the water supply for the dorm. I drop off the weekly laundry at the drop-off point, go to breakfast in the Dining Hall, chat with several colleagues, then make the schedule for the day. This is one of those days where almost every minute is accounted for until about 9:00 pm. I meet with headmaster John Austin at 7:30 to discuss some issues going on at the school. My colleague Julianne is in South Africa for a week and so I am picking her “History of Freedom” class up for the week she is gone. I make sure my Xeroxing is done for that class and my Art History class. I spend about 30 minutes making sure my lecture/discussion notes on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance are set to help them understand the evolution of the concept of freedom from ancient Rome to the Renaissance. Then I go and teach the class. It is always interesting being a “substitute” teacher, but I know about half the class. From there I meet during the break with my Art History class for practice killer multiple choice questions—they get extra credit for just showing up and practicing! From there I move down the hall and observe Peter’s class as he teaches about Buddhist art. He loves constructive criticism, so I create a transcript of class and then write some suggestions and comments. From there I need to go back and block two scenes for Our Town for my rehearsal that afternoon. Blocking always means I am thinking about the actors as chess pieces and writing down all the physical movements for those scenes, trying to imagine the stage pictures they will create. From there I go to the library conference room where I moderate the weekly meeting of department heads. We are embarking on a pilot year of our new appraisal system so I want to make sure these department heads understand how and by what means they will be evaluated this year. After that a colleague needs 15 minutes to discuss a problem she is facing with her class. Okay—lunch time! I have a sit-down lunch table so I make my way to Table #53 with my new buddy Jae sitting beside me as I serve my table their lunch and make conversation. Finally I get to go to do the best part of my day: I get to teach AP Art History. We are looking at funerary markers from the pre-classical Greek time, so we get to discuss how the Greeks are always urging us to think about what is eternal about life and about death. I draw some connections to how Our Town is asking the same questions! We get to look at some classic Greek vases by Exekias and Euphronius and admire how the balance in those vases also mirror how the Greeks believed balance created order which could…if we are lucky…result in harmony in life, From there I spent 30 minutes with a new teacher who wanted to talk about some of the issues she is facing as she makes the transition to Jordan. I sneaked in a 10 minute observation to Reem’s music theory class before I went to meet with the Teaching Fellow seminar. That is always fun to spend time with the youngest faculty and try and help guide them. Okay at 4:00 I have one more meeting of the day: I am on the Technology Task Force. If you just snickered at that—well, you wouldn’t be the first!! I had to run out of there at 4:25 so I could change my clothes and get to rehearsal to block the actors through those scenes for that day in Our Town. At 6:00 we ended rehearsal, I went home, talked with my dad for half an hour, then sat on the couch for about 20 minutes. I had a dinner invitation at Tessa’s that evening—always good food there—and we were going to discuss how the upcoming Round Square conference might capitalize on watching a performance of Our Town. After about 90 minutes of dinner and conversation I went back to the dorm to meet with Peter and go over the class I had seen him teach earlier that day. So about 9:30 I made it back to my apartment to unwind before another day…
Wow…fortunately Thursdays are a little easier for me. I have fewer group meetings. Shall I do the run-down? Why not—I am on a roll now recounting the day. The morning part is the same—except I only woke up 30 minutes before the alarm that day. I start the day with Julianne’s class and we discussed two Renaissance paintings and how they embodied new break-throughs in what “freedom” meant for that era. After that class I meet weekly with my beloved colleague Lilli discussing issues with our Dean of Faculty office, especially working on our plan in the next three weeks to visit all 76 teachers on the faculty. I had a 45-minute meeting with a novice teacher who has found September frustrating (no, she would not find it slow or mellow either!) and that was a great conversation trying to identify some areas in which to grow and how to manage the pace of school. After that—ahhh…Art History class and we explored the complexities of Greek temple architecture!! I love it! From there I went to the auditorium for a guest lecturer from a psychologist on campus for a few days. The speaker provoked the student body in an exciting way and that carried over into our advisor lunch (“I think he is a feminist, Mr. John” charged one of my advisees.). After lunch, wait, Thursday afternoon, and it slows down a lot…oh yes…how nice. I waited for a student who was practically in tears needing help on his writing. He didn’t show up, so I waited in my office, reveling in the AC! At 2:15 another new but veteran teacher came by for an appointment to discuss her frustrations with a whining class and just to get some perspective. We had a great chat and then I spied the errant student from the class before who wanted writing help. I talked with him about what makes writing effective. Hopefully it will help. At 3:00 I made my way down to the gym for my weekly visit with my friend Lubna. I tend to yawn as we sit and laugh about the week. But that visit in the gym represents the end of the week. Oh wow. I have a dinner scheduled with several administrators and the guest psychologist, but that’s it for the rest of the day…oh, wow…some couch time…who knows what else?!
So those are two of these September days. They are long days. And they fly by. They are rewarding, but as I said, bells are always going off and one better have the battle plans for the day mapped out carefully! But as I also said, if we do September right—well the whole year is easier. If I plant the seeds in class, both in terms of skills and attitudes and content, the rest of the year is smoother. If I plan professional development that empowers and enriches the faculty, everybody wins! If I make time to speak with the frustrated, we grow as colleagues and guides. But oh, every step in September seems important. And exhausting.
I neglected to say that one of the things I did when I went to visit Lubna yesterday afternoon was that we looked up the website for the Marriott resort at the Dead Sea. It has been a normal September—so today was the perfect day to spend relaxing at the Dead Sea. I went with old friend Emily and new friend Hadley, and we reversed the effects of September. Ahhhhh…I am not sorry to see September go, and oh, I am excited to welcome my favorite month: October.