I don’t know about anyone else, but this semester has been a busy one for me—especially the latter half. Part of the problem is that I have an inclination to overextend myself. In addition to my regular high school teaching duties, I also tend to sign up for additional projects that can consume time on evenings and weekends.
For one, I am currently pursuing an additional graduate degree, a Specialist in Educational Leadership. Although I am completing the work virtually, the meetings are synchronous on Zoom, and its completion comes with graduate-level work expectations, including meeting deadlines and exhibiting a certain level of composition on assignments. Sometimes, too, the assignments seem to get concentrated into a short period of time.
That level of busyness plague me this last month. There was one particular week that I had so much to do. In addition to regular daily in-person instructional duties, I needed to make an afternoon/evening trip that Monday to Tupelo to return an item at a retail store, attend two Zoom virtual class meetings for my degree on Tuesday and Thursday nights from 5:30 to 9:00 p.m., submit two assignments online on Canvas by 11:59 p.m. that Monday, have a classroom instructional observation on Tuesday at 11:30 a.m., plan for and attend a district committee meeting that Friday at 9:00 a.m., and write a newspaper column by the end of the week—a task which did not, unfortunately, get completed. Some weeks aren't this busy, but on that week, Friday afternoon couldn't arrive soon enough for me.
In addition, I’ve also had several side projects that have consumed my time. In the fall semester 2020, I was accepted into the Tennessee Rural STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Collaborative and began a project to construct community STEM Activity Boxes. Our long-term expectation is that this project will increase interest in STEM, as we plan to integrate the activities within STEM classes at our school to some degree, with the cooperation of the teachers of those respective disciplines.
My preparation included 32 hours, 15 of which were completed outside of school hours, working on the project with two other district educators. This included four days of convenings with 17 hours total from September through February. The remaining 15 hours accounted for out-of-work time spent planning our proposal and presentation and providing feedback to other cohort members, including a Zoom prep meeting with my two collaborators on January 15 and a collaborative slide show constructed February 8 and presented to the state cohort.
Then my two district collaborators and I procured McNairy Central High School (MCHS) students to construct and decorate the three wooden community boxes. Our plan is to place one in front of each of our three schools, regularly stocking them with pre-designed homemade but inexpensive STEM activity/lesson kits to be picked up by students, completed at home, and results posted via a QR code. One box has now already been placed; one box is in process of being erected; and the MCHS box is almost complete, with the art department finishing its decoration.
We also solicited our local Modern Woodmen affiliate to contribute initial funding of $500 and our local coordinated school health director to contribute funding from available resources to help purchase or construct PE-related activity kits. In October, I wrote a proposal for and, in December, received the $5,000 Battelle Education Tennessee Stem Innovation Network (TSIN)/STEM Classroom Grant, in partnership with TVA. In the future, we will be seeking out similar funding sources in order to create sustainability.
In the meantime, I was selected by my principal to serve as my school’s teacher leader for the English department, tasked with serving on the committee for the upcoming 2021/2022 new textbook/instructional shift implementation, participating in 15 hours of meetings at both the district and departmental level since last December. My leadership function on this committee is, of course, in addition to serving as a school representative for the academic non-profit foundation that funds annual teacher classroom grants, tasked with working with other committee members to oversee the grant application and scoring rubric, deadlines, recognition of winners, and fundraising—along with negotiating the challenges required by the changes this school year in the midst of a pandemic.
In addition, this school year all instructors at my high school have taught in a hybrid sort of model, with some students in-person and others working asynchronously at home on their lessons. On my own non-professional time, I have completed 15 hours of graduate education classes, as mentioned earlier, since August of last year and worked on renovating a 115-year-old downtown Corinth home. Am I bragging? No. Am I complaining? No. Am I tired? Yes. Definitely. “Tired” is an understatement. I am, in fact, too tired even as an English teacher to devise an idiom or figurative language the expresses the level of exhaustion that I have managed to reach.
It is interesting to see on paper what I have accomplished in a short amount of time, and, moving forward, I would like to impart two lessons learned: never discount the amount of work involved in being a teacher, in addition to the time spent in a classroom with students, as that may be only the beginning for some educators. Second, never discount the value of downtime, of doing absolutely nothing sometimes. It, too, has its import, and, as the semester starts to wind down, I am hoping soon to enjoy a little of that sort of time—at least until graduate school resumes in early June.