After 1 week back in the saddle
It’s been quite a ride so far, and not one that can be easily reduced to one post. But here’s a start:
First, I’m very happy to have found something that just works for me and my schedule at this point in my life. It’s 4 afternoons a week, 2 classes each day (except Tuesday when I have 3). I have grades 5-8 twice a week, and 4th grade once a week. They’ve basically never had CS before in their school, except for an unsuccessful experiment last year with something virtual. I have no classes on Fridays.
It’s a small independent school with a progressive pedagogy. Kids seem very happy, as do the teachers. The administration consistently goes out of their way to accommodate me in this new venture, whether it’s getting my Google account working on the Chromebook (more on those later), making sure I can display my screen, or buying the necessary equipment for the program. You know, robots, microbits, etc.
So all that is good. I retired a year ago from full-time in-person teaching. I still had lots of ideas, still had a love for CS and middle school, and was still a lifelong learner. But I just really couldn’t hack the all-day everyday thing any more. This gives me an opportunity to do basically just the parts I love about teaching: in-class interactions and helping kids code cool stuff, without the burden of all the peripheral duties and headaches, like supervision, advisories, grading…
And so far so good, after a week! I’m also running a couple of after-school weekly camps, which are another source of income for me. Camps are Minecraft Minigame Coding with command blocks (my personal fave), and also a TTRPG camp for doing some Dungeons and Dragons, which I haven’t done in decades but am seriously looking forward to doing.
And even though I’ve done what I’m doing there for about 20 years (guess that makes me an expert), I’m learning new things and adjusting to a new situation. While I taught my classes in a pretty progressive manner in traditional schools, I was still locked into that grading framework. And even though I’ve never been a huge proponent of grading, I’ve never taught in a situation where grades weren’t both "the carrot and the stick." So how do you motivate kids to learn? How do you assess the learning? How do you structure your curriculum so that kids have the freedom to explore and pursue their own interests, which is a hallmark of progressive education? I’m learning as I go and will report back.
I’ll end this with one super practical thing I learned: these 5th graders needed a seating chart! I don’t normally assign seats and only reassign seating if students give me a reason to move them. Well, I had 20 good reasons to switch it up! Fortunately, they already had assigned seats in the room where I teach. So class #2 was a HUGE improvement over class #1. Lesson learned.