Today's the day many of us ring in the new by cleaning up the old. Decorations packed carefully away; trees plopped randomly by the curb. Resolutions scratched on the slate of the new year.
For high school seniors and those who shepherd them through the final days of teenage-hood, the first of the year brings the call for college applications - which means that my bretheren and I have been furiously scribbling recommendation letters for the past 10 days or so. I usually have about 20-odd cherubs who request recs each annum. So, at about seven colleges apiece that would be? I don't really want to do the math.
Assuming my students resolve to keep decent GPAs through second semester so that their future alma maters will still want them come June, we turn to me. What do I want for 2013? At the risk of sounding unerringly cliché, I thought I'd look at the new year from a teacher's point-of-view. So, here goes:
1. Fewer meetings, just for the sake of meetings. We've got a new schedule yet again at my high school this year - the seventh new schedule in seven years, but who's counting? We were told that we need more time to meet with one another, face-to-face. That makes less face time with the kids, but more time talking about how we teach them. Give me a break.
2. Less time talking about how we all need to be friends. Yes, we know we're all in this together. That's a given. But I don't need to be besties with all of my colleagues in order to get along with them. Or to be a better teacher. All of this trying to get along of late reminds me of the classic "Mean Girls" line, uttered by a character only known as Crying Girl, in the school gym: "I wish we could all get along like we used to in middle school...I wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy..."
3. More focus on academics. Our school's highly regarded Career Center, responsible for helping students with college and scholarship searches among other "real world" tasks, was booted from its coveted suite near the cafeteria at the beginning of the school year. Now in its place? The euphemistically named Director of Student Activities and his staff, complete with leather furniture. FYI: The DSA, back in the day, was called the Athletic Director, and was rumored not to know even the rudimentary skill of how to tie his own shoes.
4. Less focus on athletics. Probably a losing battle, but please see Number 3. Also, that's why, I hear, he wears loafers.
5. More "Attaboys." In my home state of Texas, an "Attaboy" is the random pat on the back for a job well done. We've had plenty of those this year, maybe to make up for all the extra time we've spent wasting away in meetings with folks we've already met with three times that particular week. We even received a half-day off, with no requisite "professional development," "inservice," or any of that attendant hoo-haw required. And they gave us lunch, always a bonus!
6. Additional recognition for those who've fought the good fight - and won. I have to say I was tickled when our administration put a scrolling banner on the school's Web page applauding my journalistas for sweeping the state awards yet again. But I have to say I'm still a bit miffed that no one, other than my teaching colleagues, has said the word "boo" about my AP Lang students' 100 percent pass rate on the national exam last year. Maybe those in charge don't realize how rare that particular statistic is. Or they're spending too much time lounging in the sweet leather furniture down in the DSA's new office (please see Number 3).
7. More of an attempt to recognize that "new" is not always "best." I certainly understand the new principal's desire to put his stamp on things, but that doesn't need to be accomplished at the cost of besmirching those who have come before him. Every time he sends a "shout-out" to one of his new hires, the resentment of the old-timers fairly seeps from the pores of our equally aging facility.
8. Additional openness to ideas that are "out there." I'm not allowed to screen the Michael Moore documentary, "Bowling for Columbine," because it's rated "R." But my AP Lang students are 17 years old. By nature of their College Board-mandated curriculum, my Lang classes are considered "college-level." In the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, there is no better time to discuss both sides of gun control. "If not us, who? If not now, when?" Rabbi Hillel, a Jewish theologian of the 1st Century BC, reputedly said this first. It's been repeated often. I concur, wholeheartedly.
9. More of a focus on student and staff safety. I've said it before, and I'll say it yet again. We have four security guards and one cop for a student and staff population nearing 2,700, in a building built 47 years ago to accommodate 1,500 individuals. I'm not advocating arming the staff. I'm more in favor of figuring out where we go from here.
10. More of an effort to try to understand the other guy. In AP Lang, where I teach persuasive writing, students learn the value of giving a "nod to the other side." No one's going to hear you if you don't recognize that your opponent has a valid point to make, as well.
The two doves at the top of this entry - perched on my genuine Manitowoc, Wisconsin, aluminum Christmas tree - are designed to represent both sides of the equation. The dove is also a symbol of peace, so that works, too. Here's to a Happy 2013!