This school year brought six snow days (or was it five?). Either way, when you teach in a block scheduling format loss of days matter. I was schooled long ago that only one major concept will be learned each block, so trying to cram multiple ideas into sixteen-year-old’s developing frontal lobes is just futile. The result of block scheduling is that I only have about 90 chances to teach 20,000 years of history.
When a teacher only has 90 opportunities to instruct, they must make strategic decisions about pedagogy. Decisions like these require editing topics with a scalpel, not a hatchet — regardless of the time constraints, the students still need to learn the basic content to perform well.
I also have some basic values about instruction and assignments. Instruction needs to be clear and assignments must be valuable. When spring break arrives, one question looms: will there be homework over break? I always try to answer that with no. I want to be the reasonable teacher. I want to be fair. I want students to return refreshed, ready to tackle seven weeks of intensive study and review for a major exam. I also do not want to have homework over break, or a pile to grade after the break. I need to put on my oxygen mask as well.
With the loss of classroom time this year, I decided to shorten my research assignment and declare the due date the day before break. Students were instructed to hand in their assignment via Google Classroom and then were set free for a long spring break. Well, that was my plan. Instead, my honors’ sections convinced me that they needed until Wednesday over break, and my academic sections seem to feel that due dates are suggestions. The reality is that today is Thursday, and the assignments are still trickling in. It is like when you hand wash the last dish, clean up the soapy water, and someone hands you their dirty plate (with a smile). So, with every email notification of dear Johnny handing in his research project, I take out the dishpan and fill the sink up with warm water and a drop of soap.
Teaching is so much like housework — it is never finished, and it often goes unnoticed. Unfinished grading hangs over my head like cobwebs in a neglected corner of my house. I feel the weight of each student’s work — the responsibility is great to give them honest, constructive feedback. The pressure is mounting to return to work with a clean desk and a free mind.
The next seven weeks will test my resolve and require my expertise, patience, and humor. I have responsibilities first to my AP students, then to my sophomores, and then to my own children. Sadly, my family knows that May and June are not mommy’s favorite months! My husband often says that he doesn’t like me in September, but he hates me in June.
So, will there be homework over break? Yes. The work will be mostly mine, however. The work involves resting, reading, grading, and planning for the last leg of this school year — a year that has included an incredible amount of soul searching, reflection, and discussion.
Ultimately, I am accountable to my students and they deserve the best version of their teacher. They demand my ability to plan dynamic lessons, coach their skills, and prepare them for success.