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A day in the life of a Temecula Middle School teacher

Friday, March 21st, 2014
Issue 12, Volume 18.
Robert Eilek
Temecula Middle School, Social Studies Special to the Valley Ne
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Up at 4:30 a.m., I down a bowl of cereal, an orange, an apple, and enjoy a cup of green tea. I quickly lace up my running shoes and, rain or shine, I am out the door enjoying my daily 6-mile run and some ju-jitsu training.

I arrive at Temecula Middle School just as the sun rises to begin my day as a 7th and 8th grade social studies teacher. It is 6:45 a.m. and my first class does not begin until 8:15 a.m.

During the interim, I unpack my belongings, turn on the computer to read administrative announcements, and answer parent emails. This particular morning I respond to a motherís e-mail asking why her child received an "F" on a brief, 1-2 paragraph analysis of the importance of the Marbury v. Madison court case.

When told that her child failed to turn in the assignment, the parent thanked me for my prompt response and assured me this would be addressed at home.

A colleague who teaches special education classes comes by unexpectedly to vent frustration with an exhausting workload that includes preparing lesson plans that reflect the new Common Core State Standards, teaching multiple subjects at multiple grade levels, and completing endless administrative paperwork.

I still have time to run off and make copies and fine tune my lessons for the day. My 8th graders are looking at the details of the Louisiana Purchase and the subsequent exploration of the territory by Lewis and Clark.

I am not pleased with the learning targets (objectives) I have identified for this lesson, so I quickly shift the focus to an analysis of President Thomas Jeffersonís constitutional justification for purchasing the Louisiana Territory from the French.

My 7th graders are learning about ancient Chinese farming and describing the new tools and farming techniques that impacted their economy.

Learning targets are clearly defined, posted, and no modifications are needed. I make a quick dash to the bathroom before reporting promptly at 8 a.m. for morning supervisorial duty.

Campus safety is a major priority at our site and teachers recognize their responsibility to keep our children safe from bullying and other mischief.

At 8:15 a.m., students make their way to my Advisement class where attendance is taken, televised announcements are presented, the Pledge of Allegiance is recited, and individual student planners are checked to ensure that students are writing down their daily homework assignments.

Several of my advisees qualify for recognition in the California Junior Scholastic Federation and I assist them with their applications. My first period 8th graders arrive at 8:28 a.m.

Some students appear tired, others alert as I greet each student as they enter my classroom knowing how important personal interaction is to creating a comfortable and respectful learning environment.

While taking attendance, one student complains of flu-like symptoms and I write a pass for the student to see the nurse. With a lot of students coughing, sneezing, and getting sick recently, I am certainly glad I got that flu shot last fall.

Another student reminds me that he is going to be gone several days for a sports competition and wants to get the assignments he must do ahead of time. I tell him that he needs to see me during lunch when we have more time to sit down and map out a plan for his absence. Finally, I get around to teaching.

After examining the circumstances surrounding the Louisiana Purchase, I propose the following essential question to the students: Where does it say in the Constitution that the federal government can buy land?

I direct the students to huddle up in pairs to research, discuss, and write down potential answers to this query using the United States Constitution as a primary resource. I rotate about the room monitoring and adjusting instruction as needed and ensuring that all students are engaged in this activity.

The process uncovers a plethora of opinions: some students suggest that President Thomas Jefferson avoided a constitutional conflict by calling the purchase a "treaty" and under Article Two/Section 2; he has the authority to make treaties with the approval of 2/3 of the Senate. Other students cite Article One/Section 8/Clause 18 (Elastic Clause) as justification for the purchase.

I applauded the studentsí efforts and was struck by their ability to apply their previous knowledge of the Constitution to the Louisiana Purchase question. My 7th grade World History class arrives for period 2 at 9:18 a.m.

I give a power point presentation showing several farming inventions by the Chinese. The students are asked to draw illustrations of these new inventions and farming methods along with written explanations describing how they impacted the Chinese economy.

The majority of students in this class are highly motivated and it makes teaching them very easy. It is my favorite period of the day.

It is now 10:08 a.m. and time for my DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) class. Last year, the district called it PLC (Professional Learning Community), but that title was retired apparently due to the confusion and inconsistency throughout the district as to what a true PLC program should look like. Unfortunately, huge sums of money were spent training teachers to implement the PLC that never was.

My DEAR students are involved in a variety of pursuits. I take attendance and quickly dispatch struggling students to their math, science, or language arts teachers for "intervention." Those students having difficulty with social studies remain with me along with those who require no additional academic assistance.

I tell the students who do not need intervention to "drop everything and read" silently while I work with students who are struggling in social studies. On this day, I have five students present for social studies intervention. Two need help writing paraphrased note cards and finding resources for their historical research paper, while three more need assistance preparing for a third attempt at passing a recent test.

The period comes to an end and I wonder if I have made any impact at all.

At 10:58 a.m., my preparation period begins. It is a time when I make parent contacts, grade papers, develop lesson plans, conference with parents, and collaborate with colleagues.

Today, the social studies teachers are analyzing last yearís common assessment results for the unit on Louisiana Purchase/Lewis and Clark Expedition/War of 1812. We are also attempting to make adjustments to this yearís assessment to comply with Common Core State Standards.

I am a bit confused about what about the Common Core expectations are for social studies and that has caused additional anxiety, but then Iíve got it easy compared to the language arts and mathematics teachers who are developing a new curriculum, new pacing guide, new assessments, and have to teach a "new" way with minimal direction from the district leadership.

It is 11:45 a.m. and my period 5 social studies class rushes in. They seem more restless than usual. Several are wearing hats and I have to remind them once again of the rule about removing hats and hoods upon entering the classroom. One child defiantly continues wearing a "hoodie." Instead of getting angry, I tell him in my best comedic manner, "There are no hoods in this hood." Some of the students laugh, a potential confrontation with the student is averted, and I get on with the lesson.

Many students were absent from this class yesterday so I will I have to re-teach the lesson on Marbury v. Madison and save the Louisiana Purchase for another day. After reading and discussing how the Judicial Branch gained the power of judicial review by rejecting the Judiciary Act of 1789 as unconstitutional, several students are provided with a script of the trial and volunteer to reenact the courtís decision.

The acting is superb and most students appear to understand its significance. However, the real measure of their understanding will be in their written analysis.

Itís lunch time.

I, like many other teachers, enjoy a working lunch. I have my usual peanut butter sandwich, an apple, and a salad. While eating lunch, I grade papers to lesson my workload in the evenings and on weekends. Today, three of my students are also enjoying a working lunch ‚Äď they are making up a recent test.

I try to unwind a bit at lunch and take a few deep breaths, but what I really need is another 6-mile run!

Lunch is nearly over. From my classroom I see hundreds of students gathering across the quad waiting for the bell to signal lunch is over. At 1:05 p.m., the bell rings and here they come!

Period 7 presents a unique challenge because it is right after lunch and some children are mentally tired while others are wound up and sweaty from playing lunchtime sports.

Some dash to the sink to get a drink of water and wash their hands. Unlike my other classes, this group takes a longer time to settle down.

Suddenly, a verbal altercation between two students interrupts class instruction. I take both students into the hallway to diffuse the situation hoping that I can prevent this from escalating. I get both boys to shake hands and I have successfully ended the feud ‚Äď whoopee!

Just as I get back to describing Lewis and Clarkís journey up the Missouri River to explore the Louisiana Territory, there is yet another interruption as the telephone rings. This time it is the school nurse asking me to remind a student to come to the office for medication. Lewis and Clarkís troubles at the Rockies will have to wait until tomorrow.

My last class arrives at 1:58 p.m. I feel like I am nearing the end of a marathon, a bit tired physically and mentally, but still striving to hit the finish line strong.

We read aloud a short narrative on the Lewis and Clark journey and it seems rather therapeutic serving to calm the students just enough to have a reasonable question and answer discussion.

This is my most difficult class. I have a large number of resource students with multiple academic needs and others who have behavioral issues. Some students need additional time to complete tests and other tasks, some read below grade level and need tests read to them, some need help taking notes, and some simply need front row seating to keep their attention riveted.

I have an instructional aide to assist me with this class, but that aide is "shared" with another teacher so I do the best I can to accommodate these children.

It is 2:45 p.m., the bell rings, and the day concludes. I wish the children a good afternoon and remind them to get their homework done. For me, the day feels as though it is just beginning. I inspect the mound of student papers on my desk that need to be graded. I quickly grab a stack of them, equip myself with a red pen and a calculator, and sneak off to the Media Center to "hide" from my colleagues so that I can get some work done undisturbed.

I grade papers until 4:30 p.m. then return to my classroom to prepare lessons for the next day. I write out clear learning targets (objectives) and try to identify appropriate and stimulating learning activities to meet those objectives. Next, I record the dayís homework assignments on my webpage for the benefit of absent students and parents.

It is now 5:30 p.m. and I am tempted to work just a bit longer in order to record some recent grades online. However, the lure of going home and seeing my family is too strong ‚Äď the grades can wait.

Oh, I nearly forgot, I need to check for parent emails and telephone calls. As a parent myself, I know how important it is to respond promptly to parent inquiries so I complete this one final task.

At 5:45 p.m., I realize I have been at work for 11 hours, but one final email captures my attention. It is one from the Temecula Valley Teachersí Association regarding contract negotiations. Hopeful of a fair pay increase since teachers have not received one since 2006-2007 while absorbing huge health care cost increases and reductions in pay by agreeing to multiple furlough days to assist the district during the economic crisis, I read the email, but my day ends with frustration and anger.

To reward teachers for their efforts and financial sacrifices to help keep the school district solvent the last several years, management offers teachers a measly 0 percent pay hike for 2013-2104 and 2 percent for 2014-2015.

They then further insult teachers by "sweetening" the offer to 1 percent for 2013-2014 retroactive to January and 2 percent for 2014-2015.

As for the school districtís offensive offer, I am reminded of Jack Nicholsonís memorable line in the film "A Few Good Men" when he said, "I would rather you just said thank you and went on your way."



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