While school does not officially start until August 21, for all intents and purposes my summer ended this week. I was at the school three days out of five for various meetings and tutoring sessions, I spent an additional three to five hours a day organizing syllabi and lesson plans for the new academic year, and I started my typical morning routine by setting the alarm for 5:00am (ugh...)
At the height of my teaching career, about three years ago, I was teaching eight different classes (7th grade - 8th grade - 9th grade English; high school grammar; British Literature; Creative Writing; English Composition, and Computer Apps). The start of a new school year meant the cessation of my personal life for about nine months.
Since that time I have cut back ... WAY back... to where I am now only teaching three classes (Brit Lit - ACT Prep - English Composition) on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I will consistently have a four day weekend, and most grading should be completed on Wednesdays.
Yes, my schedule is quite manageable. I consider myself semi-retired... and I am blessed. I now just have to convince my brain that my personal life is not coming to an end; right now, however, it is having a difficult time with that foreign concept.
While I have indeed dramatically decreased my work load, it does not mean that I will diminish the content nor the degree of excellence in which I will try to teach these classes. And while I have used the same basic syllabi for Brit Lit and English Comp for several years, there is always room for improvement and revision. I thought it might be helpful if I shared my definition of "lesson plans" for those who perhaps think I use this as an excuse to hibernate...
Before school begins I try to develop an overall scope and sequence for the year, that is, what units will I teach, how long will I spend on each unit, and how will the unit material be assessed (typically, a written paper and/or a literary exam). I try take into account what other factors might need to be considered before assigning potential due dates (a major holiday, a sports tournament, other class papers, my own personal calendar, etc). I give thought to previous years... what worked, what did not work, and tweak the new syllabus to reflect necessary changes. I research the internet for other possible enrichment activities to help make the assignment come alive - or have more personal relevance for the students. I compare the due dates of all my syllabi to ensure that I will not be overwhelmed with grading. Typically, this takes several hours for each class.
My next step is to then create a daily lesson plan for the first two weeks of school. This is where I decide what handouts I need, what books students will need, what topics I want to discuss in class. I create detailed plans for each day ... and I try to include more than I think I will need. I cringe at the thought of having more class than curriculum. I try to envision the class - what could go right (based on past years) and what could wrong (and then have a plan B and possible plan C if needed). My goal is to have a clear mental image of how the class is to progress from start to finish so that when the day comes, I do not need to glance at the lesson plan... it is embedded in my brain.
Of course the lesson plans must be tweaked after the first day. I try to maintain a certain synergy in the class, that is, I know what information I need to cover in the course of the year, but I allow the students to dictate the pace. By creating detailed plans two weeks in advance, I have material available if the class speeds through at a faster rate than I anticipate... and should they pause on a particular topic, I know how I will need to make up the time. Therefore, at the end of each day's teaching, I need to evaluate the class period, make notes as to what we covered, and then revise future lessons based on this information. I might decide that an enrichment activity is needed, in which case internet research becomes my homework. I might decide that a group activity is necessary, in which case a careful pairing of students' strengths and abilities must be developed. It is work...and it is time consuming.. but I enjoy the challenge of teaching the same material year after year in a fresh new way, one that appeals to the new dynamics of the class.
After the first few weeks of school, grading will be added to the mix of weekly preparations. Depending upon the assignment, this could take just a few minutes (grading a fill-in-the-blank vocabulary quiz), to several hours (grading and critiquing a ten-page research paper). This is my least favorite part of the job, especially grading written essays. I feel such a sense of responsibility to assess the quality of the work (which always is somewhat subjective) with a traditional letter grade. Because of this, I spend quite a bit of time creating detailed, objective rubrics. I often read the papers more than once and try to offer helpful suggestions for improvement. What I fear most is being labeled that English teacher who dashed the hopes of a would-be writer because of all the editing marks.... and yet I maintain that proper written communication is absolutely critical in today's world of emails, texts, and blog updates. Hopefully I achieve that proper balance.
So there is a bit of insight into my life as a semi-retired educator. At times it is a frustrating, and occasionally stressful, but for the most part it is a wonderful way for this life-time learner to follow her passion and instill that desire in others.