The Rhythms of Secondary Education Life

I’ve long had a thing for blogging about the general “what’s life like?” element of education – obviously, of course, for many years my blogging featured grad school life. Now it’s a different kind of educational environment, and I want to talk about it, too. Let’s face it: given all the “No more plan B” and similar conversations, it can’t hurt for people to have an idea of what it’s like for PhDs in other career fields. There are plenty of blogs out there from folks like me, but you’re here, so let’s talk about my experiences.

I’m not sure if I’ve said it on here before or not, but I never went to high school. There are people at my school now who find that fascinating, and my extended family greatly enjoy a few giggles at the idea that it’s taken me so long to actually go to high school. That’s all another topic entirely – and I’m happy to discuss if anyone’s interested – but yes, as you might imagine, getting used to a secondary school routine has been a change. Particularly from grad school (although I have to say that I kept more-or-less “business hours” in grad school, with an average 10:30-11 pm bedtime and up around 7-7:30 most of the time).

Our school runs on a six-day rotating cycle schedule, which means that my days feel very different in a lot of ways. I find this fun and energizing, but it also can be a bit chaotic at times. We also operate on a trimester schedule (as opposed to quarters or semesters). In a six-day cycle, we have 7 blocks (A through G). A block meets every day as the first period. B through G rotate daily, and one of those classes drops every day. So, in a six-day cycle, I’ll see my students 5 times for my history classes (but since my English class meets in an A block, I see them EVERY day).

Confused yet? Don’t worry. It took me ages to figure it out.

Here’s the upshot:
Every morning, my alarm goes off at 5:15. Most days I jump out of bed to switch off the alarm and hit the shower. Some days I’ll nix the shower for another 20 minutes of sleep. Once I pull on my clothes, it’s breakfast-and-check-email-and-facebook-etc routine, followed by hair/makeup, prepping my things, and taking the dog out to the backyard. My goal is to be on the road to school by 6:30, because traffic’s better then. On the best days – like today – I can be on campus before 7 a.m.

Technically, we have to be on campus by 7:30. A fair number of students start arriving around that time, though, so I like to be there as close to 7 as possible to allow myself some breathing time: time to set up my chairs (I have rolling, padded desks that are the kooshiest in the building), go over lesson plans, respond to emails, etc. Sometimes I’ll meet with students or parents. On our Wednesdays (a day when classes don’t start until 9), we might have faculty meetings from 7:30 to 8:30.

By 8 am, most of my English students will have arrived. Or maybe not. That A period can be rough on juniors, so it’s always interesting to see how many people will make it on time. We’ve just started The Great Gatsby, which we’ll work through between now and the start of winter break on Dec. 16.

Then, the day varies wildly from there. Tomorrow (Friday) is Day 1, the day when the blocks go in alphabetical order, A through F (G drops). Tomorrow, my schedule will look like this:

8-8:45: Teach Chapter 2 of Gatsby
8:55-9:35 (B period) Sit in on my colleague’s Shakespeare class, a senior elective that I’m essentially auditing for fun
9:40-10:15 (Activities Period) I’ll have one of my two clubs in my room discussing/debating current issues – I love this period and this group!
10:20-11:20 (C period) I’ll proctor study hall, which means I can do some prep for next week
11:25-1:10 (D period) This is our lunch period today, and I teach sophomore history in D period (20th century world history). History classes have 1-hour classes during lunch, followed by lunch itself. So, from 11:25 to 12:25, this section of sophomores will learn about the Korean War as part of our Asia Since 1945 unit.
1:15-1:55 (E period) My free period today, so I’ll work on prep for next week (I need to finalize the AP US History Civil War lesson plans)
1:55-2:10 Technically, this is the afternoon break. Realistically, this means my F period students will start arriving and will just hang out until class starts. Probably with food from the bookstore. I feel bad for the cleaning crew in our building…
2:10-3:10 (F period) This is my other section of sophomore history. They’re one class ahead of the other section, so we’ll be doing the Vietnam War. We’ll watch most of the “Roots of War” episode of Vietnam: A Television War and discuss it and the issues of decolonization, the war’s relationship to the Cold War, etc.

From 3:10 to about 4, I’ll wrap up some things, answer emails, and figure out what I need to get done over the weekend to prep for next week. And then I’m off! Saturday this weekend will be filled with some family things, but Sunday I’ll start grading the English papers that are coming in this evening.

And that, perhaps, is something to discuss another time: the rhythm of assignments in secondary education. Because aside from the busy schedule and the constant being-on-the-go element of this high school, the grading and assignment load is absolutely another important element. But more on that soon. I’ve got 30 minutes ’til bedtime, and I have grand plans to read one of the For-Fun books that I purloined from our awesome library.

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