There’s an adage among teachers that says that we will beg, borrow, or steal to get good lessons that work for our students. Of course, there are a few old battle-axes out there who don’t share, but those are the ones who get stolen from. I really don’t understand the attitude that says that they are the ones who developed that lesson, so it’s only theirs to use. I mean, aren’t we all playing for the same team? In the end, it’s not about us as teachers. It’s about our students, learning to be successful young adults who can think on their own two feet, so to speak.
There are two sides to the coin that is my job. I am THE high school science teacher at my school. I teach five courses — 8th grade standard physical science, 8th grade honors physical science, 9th grade biology, 10th grade environmental science, and 11th grade chemistry. There is a senior physics class that is taught by one of our math teachers. He loves it, and, honey, he can HAVE it. I’ve never been a phan of physics. (Couldn’t resist.)
On the one hand, I have a certain autonomy. I can pretty much do whatever I please in the way of teaching the lessons, providing, of course, that it’s ethical and blah, blah, blah. There isn’t really anyone standing over my shoulder, telling me that this lesson should be used for that topic because it’s just better.
On the other side of the coin (sorry for the mixed metaphors) is the isolation. I’m in my third year at my school, and this is my third year to teach four of the courses. My method of operation is one of continual self-improvement. I want each year to be better than the year before, both in my classroom procedures and course content. I feel like this is the first year that I’ve really had my feet under me, with regards to the curriculum, and can begin making it better, instead of just using whatever comes with the curriculum. I should be able to add my own special flair to it… great activities, better labs, etc.
So, along with not having anyone telling me how NOT to do things, I don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of. There isn’t anyone with more experience, whom I can consult about a lesson. I’d love to have someone available all the time — someone whose brain I can pick on a regular basis about each lesson in all five of my courses. Someone who can advise me on how to make it BETTER this year. Someone to waaaaatch overrrrr meeeeee…. Oh, wait. My apologies to Gershwin. (Life should break into song more, though, don’t you think?)
Next week, though, I’m going to the CAST conference (Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching). There will be over 400 vendors, each with freebies to hand out. I’m taking about eight 1.5 hour workshops over various topics that I should be able to use in my classroom almost immediately. I’m also taking one four-hour course on hazardous materials issues. I think this one will be the most valuable, since there weren’t ANY classes offered for my science education degree on how to handle, store, BE RESPONSIBLE FOR all of the chemicals that we science teachers use on a regular basis. I really don’t understand how we’re supposed to learn all of that sort of thing. Talk about on-the-job training.
(Side note: When I got the job at my school, the chemical storage was in a metal cabinet that had been EATEN THROUGH on one side by the fumes from the improperly-stored acids. There were mercuric compounds that someone had ordered years ago. There were about 20 bottles of unmarked solutions. Did I have any training on what to do with all of this? NO. I’m still not really sure how to handle all of this stuff. I mean, I know the basics, so I just use the chemicals that I’m comfortable with. I think my chemistry students are missing out on some great stuff, though. Again, it would be nice if there were someone available for consult about this stuff.)
Anyway, the conference is right here in Austin, which means I’ll be able to sleep in my own bed every night. It also means I can afford to go to it. What with my school being a private school, they don’t have much money to go toward stuff like this. My principal is paying for my substitute for the two days I’ll be out, so I don’t have to use my personal days, but I have to pay for the actual conference myself. (She did say, however, that she’s lobbying the board to provide $500 per teacher next year to take care of things like this.) Fortunately, this one’s rather cheap — $120, which includes a year-long membership in the association that puts on the conference, as well as three smaller ones.
The conference is Thursday, Friday and Saturday next week. One other cool thing — we have the entire week of Thanksgiving off, so it sort of extends my holiday. 😉
The BEST part is that I don’t have to steal anything. They’re giving it all away!