Summer Living, Teacher-Style

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a teacher approaching the end of the school year must be in dire need of summer break.
Not Jane Austen, but close

This spring, the end of the school year crept up on me. I spent months being in denial that we had blown past spring break and were approaching the end of the year. At the start of May, a piece of me still imagined I’d get to continue for weeks more with my students, exploring this or that topic.

(I’m confident none of them envisioned spending their summers that way.)

At the end of May, I completed my sixth year as a high school teacher. I’ve now spent as many years teaching as I spent working on my PhD. There is something really cool about that, and also totally impossible to think that it’s been a dozen years since I began grad school.

In these six years, I’ve approached summer a variety of ways. I’ve chaperoned trips, done PD weeks at various programs, drafted a book, presented at a conference, and spent a little downtime with family.

Every single year has also involved a lot of lesson planning, at least in the last two weeks. It’s just what I do: I get my head away from school a bit, breathe, and come back to planning courses when everything is a little fresher in my mind.

1338776063923_5400305Last year, I was exhausted when June hit. This year was different. A lot of my colleagues were exhausted, physically and emotionally. I should have been exhausted, too: it’s certainly where I was in January and in February and even before spring break in March. But when the students left this past May, I was ready to look ahead to next year. I usually don’t do a lot of prep in June, but this year, I wanted to work on things while they were fresh in my mind and I was energized.

In the month of June, I was on campus almost every single weekday, keeping pretty close to usual school hours (plus some). In part, I went to campus each day because my son’s preschool is only a couple of miles from there (our house is much further away, and I do afternoon pickup). I get a quiet place to work, surrounded by books and space, and I maximize my work time since it takes only 5-10 minutes to get to the preschool (instead of leaving 30 minutes in advance from home).

Campus is quiet in the summer, but not totally silent.  In addition to the summer camp kids running through the halls periodically, you eventually discover that you’re not the only one sneaking in a little work. A few other teachers snuck on to campus to get some work done, and some of the staff are still around (and happy to enjoy a good lunch elsewhere, like a local German-American restaurant, or all-you-can-eat sushi).

b86cf7a41d08f31aca61ac17892979a11I love planning courses and classes in the summer because you get these uninterrupted stretches of thinking space: no assignments to grade, no classes to cover for someone else. No meetings with faculty or students, no daily obligations in between your classes. If you’re really good at getting stuff done without someone making you do it, well, summer is a magical time to imagine what the next year could be and start to build that reality.

I love what I do. Spending my time on campus this month – and a lot of spare time reading and thinking about courses – hasn’t felt like work. It’s just felt natural, and fun. Thinking about courses and how they’re organized, articulating the course standards, rethinking assessments, and setting goals and class plans? These are some of the fun puzzles that make me happy in my career.

So far, this summer is incredible. I haven’t yet accomplished the big goals I set for myself, but I’m discovering some good things that I think will help me be a better teacher next year.

No matter how we spend the summer, I hope that’s the goal all teachers have in mind.

Note: Tanya pre-wrote this entry because she’s chaperoning a school trip for two weeks. She looks forward to telling you more about it when she gets back in mid-July. This gives her plenty of time to fine-tune her courses for the fall, which she’s already itching to get back to.

 

 

Waiting for Wonder Woman

I don’t remember the first time I met Wonder Woman. I remember her presence in my childhood as a sense of wanting to be her (or Princess Leia, or She-Ra…).  I have vague impressions of Lynda Carter on my television screen, and maybe even my own moments of pretending to be Wonder Woman. It’s hazy, but she was there.

I forgot about her for a long time. This was easy to do, since she went a bit underground after the TV series (or it seemed that way, in my world). My dad, a long-time comics collector and sci-fi fan, helped me grow up with a healthy dose of superheroes and Star Trek, but somewhere along the way, Star Trek overcame the rest. (I never did get into comics myself until I discovered Neil Gaiman’s Sandman while in college.)

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The Research Connection

Think back: when did you learn how to do research?

You know, that process of going to the library sometime in your elementary or secondary or college education to learn about some topic so you could write a paper about it. I remember my first research paper ever, in Miss M’s third-grade classroom. She listed all the available topics on one of those clear sheets she could display with the overhead projector, then went around the room allowing us the chance to choose.

elizabeth_i_when_a_princess
Seriously, who wouldn’t want to study someone who dressed like that and had red hair? I wanted red hair and a dress like that.

I reallyreallyreallyreally wanted Elizabeth the First, but either my last name was too late in the alphabet or I wasn’t listening well that day (probably both), so I was out of luck. Fortunately, there was also an Elizabeth II, so my luck hadn’t entirely run out, even if this one didn’t have the neat-looking dresses.

Ironically, the next research process I remember well, the one where I think maybe I started to get the hang of “research,” finally took me back to Elizabeth I, or more accurately to her older half-sister. (It’s almost shocking I didn’t become an early modern British historian, right?)

I’ve spent countless more hours, days, and weeks doing research since then. In grad school, I wrote a lot about my research and note-taking process, but it’s only been in the past year or two that I’ve begun thinking about an even larger question: how do you teach someone to do research?

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To Chapters, New and Old

TasselOne of the nice things about social media is that you never forget an important date, like the one when you defended your dissertation. In the six years since then, so much has changed, but not everything. For example, I haven’t entirely left grad school behind – or at least, I’m still working on what once was my dissertation project. Only now, I have a little more to show for it.

Before I finished the dissertation, before I took my teaching job, I was part of a panel proposal for the 2012 American Historical Association meeting.I didn’t know in February 2011 – when the proposals were due – whether I would even have a job the following school year. I hoped, at the time, that having this as a forthcoming talk would look good to a prospective employer.

Almost a year later, I flew to Chicago for a quick weekend, making sure I didn’t miss any teaching obligations. I hung out with old friends and enjoyed conference sessions on my terms. I hit up the Art Institute in Chicago (and had an unfortunate run-in with a light pole while walking down the street). That Sunday morning, our panel convened in the final hours of the conference in front of a small audience of people. (The panel focused the military’s experiences of integrating women and minorities as a way to manage the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.)
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Meeting yourself where you are

 

Eighteen years later, I still remember the moment I first told someone I wanted to be a writer. The certainty of that idea developed over a year I will always hold close. It was one of the most challenging years of my life, but it was also the year I learned what it felt like to achieve a dream.

A year earlier, I had been uncertain of what I wanted out of college and unwilling to take out loans without more direction. I left school after my freshman year, and by late October, I was flying east to be a nanny for a family I’d never seen. It was one of the scariest and most thrilling decisions I’d ever made.

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The History of Us All

 

eleanor_roosevelt_at_united_nations“I became more of a feminist than I ever imagined.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

The more I learn about Eleanor Roosevelt, the more I like her. I also like to think we could have been BFFs, but I think that’s how it goes with heroes. Like good old ER, I haven’t always identified as a feminist, nor have I always been a women’s historian, but today those are two integral parts of my identity. For people who think like me in those regards, every month may be Women’s History Month, but March is the designated month of observation. I suspect that I know more than a few people who probably wonder “Why do we need Women’s History Month?” I still tend to think, “Why not?”

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