When I was a very new teacher, some greats were on their way out the door. I was fortunate enough to get to learn with a few of them (here’s looking at you, Tulsey, LoVecchio, Williams, both Coddingtons, and Whiting) and perhaps even luckier to get to teach with an ever-diminishing number of this generation (here’a also looking at you, Gwinno, Markham, Anderson, Wright, and Rogers). At the end of my first year, one of these Greats among Teachers, Steve Griffin, a beloved sixth grade science teacher at my first district, accepted a leadership position in a nearby district. We chided him for turning to the “dark side” of administration, lovingly knowing that our loss was most certainly their gain. I stopped him to congratulate him on his promotion, and he met me with the same mischievousness that his students adored and said that I would enjoy my career as a teacher. “It’s the best part-time job I ever had,” he said as we parted.
Ten years later, I know why his eyes twinkled when he uttered that punchline. Of course, he was referring to the notorious summers off that teachers are afforded. There’a an old teacher-joke…
Q: What’re your 3 favorite things about teaching?
A: June, July, and August!
In the light of some quite negative press that local teachers have both been subjected to and brought upon themselves (sow’s ear?), and responding to comments by several colleagues and a student that I should take my own medicine and write reflectively more often, I wanted to capture the June, July, and August of this teacher.
My contractual year ended June 30th. This year, I was already at the National Charter Schools Conference in Washington, DC. At this conference, I met some heavy hitters: Preston Smith, founder of Rocketship, and I spoke briefly. Macke Raymond, CREDO at Stanford’s Project Director for the oft quoted 2013 National Charter School Study and Rochesterian at heart, and I had lunch together. Alex Hernandez of the Charter School Growth Fund has pushed me to write a concept paper about my makerspace turned school to share with his colleagues. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, addressed the crowd while I sat second row. I attended three full days of presentations, and spent every waking moment trying to learn as much as I could about founding a charter school, so that I can be well-positioned to do the same and open doors to students in fall 2015.
I got back into town the evening of July 3rd and spent the holiday weekend catching up with friends, relaxing, and reflecting. However, I found myself mulling over my ideas. When, on the way to Ithaca, we passed a Montessori School, I began to consider more seriously multi-age classes in my charter. While painting pottery, I considered how students might engage in creative arts in my charter. While attempting to perfect a gin and tonic sorbet (a slushy fail, for now), I began thinking about engaging students in the growing and preparing of food.
The following week, July 7th-13th, was spent actually making connections and following up with all of those amazing people that I met. I sent e-mails, responded to LinkedIn requests, brainstormed, scrutinized the CREDO report, began to look at the public charter school law in NYS, and setting up conversations with local, national, and international stakeholders. I also increased my participation as Educational Liaison in KnowledgeCraft Projects, a wildly interdisciplinary team working to develop educational technologies. The KC team has been developing Minecraft-based educational tools that rely on the mechanics of gameplay in Minecraft and are fun as well as educational, and my main task this summer has been to find kids to play our games and give us feedback.
Last week, while liaising educationally, I was able to get two soon-to-be seniors from my high school on the team as game developers. In addition to adding Jake and Chris to the team, I met 7 new educational leaders face-to-face last week who have all expanded my professional network. Three will be helping to plan edcampROC, two are interested in allowing KnowledgeCraft to field test our Minecraft-based games with students, one is a proponent of makerspaces in schools, one runs WE@RIT and summer camps aimed at encouraging young women to consider engineering as a career. I also taught at tech camp, culminating a professional learning experience focused on flipped instruction. And we finally got real, live kids to play our Minecraft games… three of them, to be exact, one of whom broke a game by “griefing” an NPC to death and crashing the game, one who’s been playing longer than our in-house admin, and one who chatted my ear off (with valuable qualitative data) while he played.
Over the weekend, I participated in educational history by attending the first ever edcampHOME. Suffice it to say that nothing went as planned. The brainstorming board was full in seconds and took an hour to sort. Google Hangouts weren’t operating as seamlessly as the organizers had hoped. We had to scrap an entire session due to the delay sorting topics at the beginning. Regardless, or rather because of the “can do” attitude and the excellent organizers, the event was full of learning experiences, if not successes, as someone reminded our Google community.
And that brings us up to speed. What do I have planned for the rest of my summer vacation?
This week I will be attending three days of tech camp and seeking to prepare and flip some lessons for my new 10th grade literature course. I’ve also found kids – three camps full totaling more than 150 kids – who want to play our Minecraft games at RIT, so I’ve been coordinating a schedule, preparing questions about the experience, coordinating with the three camp directors, purchasing accounts, and observing those kids. Meanwhile, our server needs an upgrade. Thursday, the edcampROC organizers meet via Google Hangout for our first collaborative planning session, and on Saturday, a call for proposals to present at FabLearn2013 on Digital Fabrication in Education closes, and next week is the Fulbright application deadline. In my spare time, I’m drafting a concept paper that describes my public charter school in more detail, preparing to teach a 6-day English Regents review session, and editing my fella’s professional writing.
August will be a lot like July. The kids camps will wrap up, and we will have data to crunch. I’ll spend the 2nd collaborating with the other two summer school teachers and the 5th through the 13th teaching, proctoring, and then grading. Then there’s pre-assessments to write for next year, meetings with charter school folks, and my official “summer work day” on August 29th. I’ll head home to reconnect with my people: I’ll shoot guns (and the shit) with dad and wander through the garden with mom, swim in Aunt Beth’s pond and help can tomatoes, hear stories about the southwest and let the evening pass with cocktails and conversation in the gazebo before school starts again on September 3rd and this summer vacation is over.
My father, a wealth of good and oft-repeated advice including not to be “stupid in the stupid zone”, told me that if you choose the right career, you’ll never work a day in your life; my vacation seems to be evidence that I have chosen well. Griff was right: teaching is the best part time job I ever had.
What have you done during your summer vacation?