Publication Type: Web Article
Year of Publication: 2004
Mary Tedrow walks her readers through what a teacher's day--her day--looks like--including helping high schoolers cope with the death of a peer.
Tedrow, M. (2004). A day in my teaching life. Teacher Leaders Network diaries. Retrieved from the Teacher Leaders Network 10 Apr 2008. Link: http://www.teacherleaders.org/old_site/diaries04_05/other/MT01_04_05.htm...
A Day in My Teaching Life
This piece was written in April, 2004.
All of this happened today. Much of it will repeat itself tomorrow.
7:20 Open my room. Take previous day's checks from journalism advertising receipts to the office for depositing.
7:25 English office. Sort papers. Run into a science teacher and help him figure out which teachers have juniors and seniors so we can distribute a questionnaire for him. Make coffee.
7:40 In the room, Manuel tells me he is failing biology even though he does all his work. He might not graduate and so he will quit soccer to concentrate on this class. Manuel is a hardworking ESL student. He is perplexed and frustrated. We talk about other options. I tell him I will talk to the teacher who does peer tutorting to see if we can get him more help.
7:45 Kids start piling in. Check voice mail. Turn on computer – check email.
7:55 Late bell. All the seniors are here. (!) I hand out a senior survey by the newspaper staff and the one the science teacher asked to have distributed. This is a big deal because it is their chance to leave a mark on the school. Then I start a lesson on new book titles for the reading workshop. Manuel is excused to get help from a counselor.
8:05 We are interrupted. One of Barbara Jean's friends is crying at the door. She tells BJ that Megan died this morning. BJ collapses in tears. I go to find out what happened.
8:07 I run to the office to find out if they are aware that Megan died. Megan is a senior who was diagnosed with bone cancer just before school started. Her classmates are seniors and the death is unexpected. Yes, it's true — and they know already. Megan died at 5 a.m. All the counselors and administrators are on "high alert." Megan turned 18 last week.
8:10 Back in the room I have to tell the rest of the kids that it is true. Megan has died and, though I don't know her personally, I begin to cry myself. The lesson plan seems irrelevant now. We talk about sadness and a need for grief. The kids are solemn, some cry. No one reads as planned.
They chat among themselves, which seems a good thing to do since this group knows each other really well. The boys begin to joke. It is hard for them to deal with all the emotion in the room.
In the next 15 to 20 minutes a series of people come to the door. An administrator. A counselor comes in but leaves because we are having personal time and she feels like an interloper. Several students come by and meet to hug. A runner comes for the attendance which I sent late to the office by email because of the disruptions.
8:50 Leslie comes to the door. Leslie has been having a tough year, in and out for emotional reasons. She interviewed Megan for a story on her illness and the story was subsequently picked up by a local paper. We move into the hall and both begin to cry. I move her down to the journalism office where she can call her mother, collect herself and get copies of the old paper to distribute to friends who now think the article is very important.
8:55 A counselor comes to tell me there is a room set aside for seniors who need a place to be together. At that moment Tina (a student I have on day two) bursts out of her business class and breaks down crying.
9:00 The principal makes an announcement on the closed circuit tv to acknowledge the death and offer services. A student says, "This feels like 9–11."
9:05 The kids seemed settled enough to get some work done and we begin to read in the final 20 minutes of class. Four girls huddle and Barbara Jean continues to cry on and off.
9:23 I tell the students to be sure to have supplies ready for class on Thursday because we have a lot to catch up on. They assure me they will.
9:30 I move to the Journalism lab. Set up the morning announcements on the tv and begin talking with the students. This group is rattled too. They all remember the lively pictures we took of Megan for the paper. We are on deadline and they are all supposed to finish stories. Surprisingly, after a brief chat on who is having problems, and how the paper should handle the death, they settle in to work. No one wants to write the obituary. We'll deal with that another day.
While they write, I read their stories and meet individually with the writers. We discuss changes, where to expand, how to adjust leads, language. They rewrite.
10:00 Another run to the office to deposit more checks that have arrived. Stop in at the English office for photocopies and the phone rings. Its the nurse from another teacher's daughter's school. The girl is sick. Even though I have left my own students, I cover for her while she takes the call. In three minutes I have found another teacher to take my place so I can continue to the office.
10:10 Back in the room I help a student devise an online poll, show a student how to change a piece of writing from second person ("you") to third, help critique an editorial cartoon, and offer suggestions to the copy editor on how to get ahead on her job in her downtime.
11:05 Second class ends. I move back to my regular classroom.
11:10 I'll be skipping lunch to work with students who have been targeted for remedial work for the Virginia English SOL —a test all students must pass to graduate. None of the identified students know me and I don't know them. Only one of the 20 we've identified shows up and she is not happy. She does not like being singled out. I spend my time assuring her that we only want to make sure she passes and are offering her a chance to use a computer program she can access at home. Convinced this might not be so bad, we move across the hall where I can show her how to use the program. She has a chance to try one question before we log off and she goes off, promising to return tomorrow to get more completed before she tries it on her own.
11:33 The next group of identified students comes in. They have the same problem. They don't want their time from friends taken. They don't like the implication that they are stupid. One has permission from her mother to skip the remediation. I convince her to stay when she realizes that she won't have to miss her study hall every day. She said she uses this time to do homework because she has a job. We work it out.
12:01 No students arrive. I grab my salad from the office refrigerator and eat it at my desk while I make sure I have copies for the last class and answer my email.
12:20 A student I don't know finds me in the room. She wants to know if we have more newspapers with the story about Megan in them. We do and I get her copies from the lab for her classmates.
12:28 The last group of remediated students arrive. This is the largest group but they know each other and are not as worried as the other group. The program is explained and we look at the practice test that landed them here. I talk about how seriously they took the test and offer them an opportunity to retest and get moved out of the program. One student admits privately to me that she is a poor reader. To reassure her I show her a few test taking tips that can help her attack the reading more easily. She is an eager listener and a polite girl. She wants to pass this important test, it is clear.
1:00 These students leave and promise to return tomorrow for further help. I run to the bathroom.
1:05 Late bell for the last block. This is a chatty AP class. They are given an opportunity to fill out the Senior Survey and the survey the science teacher had. They read and mark an essay with reader response marks and then we have a discussion about their reactions to the op-ed piece. We review for the AP test by reviewing all that they have read in their four years in high school. I let them share their memories of these books with each other. Then we look at three open-ended essay questions. They write a prewrite — we discuss and repeat that until we reach the third question. Then the discussion veers off because Steven wants to know when we'll figure out how people learn and I launch into a long lecture on how the brain works to build knowledge and how to study effectively, emphasizing how to make the most of their time in college — where everyone's mind is these days. I have their undivided attention for a long period of time because they are truly interested. This is a true teachable moment and I revel in it. Somehow I manage to bring it back to the questions we are looking at.
2:15 I pass out a list of classic literature and ask them to highlight all the titles they have read. I encourage them to ask each other questions about the texts and reinforce their memories.
2:20 Ashley, from last year, stops at the door to ask if I still have a copy of the photo of Megan that appeared in the paper. They want to use it to make an iron-on for a t-shirt to memorialize her. I promise to get it to her tomorrow morning.
2:28 The bell is about to ring so I hurriedly collect their response logs to their Easter break reading of Pride and Prejudice. These logs will be my reading tonight.
2:30 Bell rings and school is dismissed. One more run to the office. Grab my bag of notebooks for reading, and I must leave to pick up my nieces at their middle school by 3.
Though the death of a student was an unusual feature of the day, the constant interaction with students was not. Is this stressful? Judge for yourself. It's real teacher life.