and we’re off

First day of school:

six classes, all with friendly, bright, decent kids
good, trustworthy colleagues all around
no big mistakes yet to have to overcome
encouraged but still really tired

I’m lucky to get to teach and especially to get to teach at Willard. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m teaching the best kids in the school. What’s crazy is how hard it still feels to do this even though I have nearly everything lined up in my favor. I can’t imagine what so many teachers feel like with the conditions they work under.

My prayer is that all of us in the school biz remember what a privilege it is to be a part of our students’ lives, have resilience when the inevitable bumps (or worse) occur, and pause in the busyness (at best) or chaos (at worst) to recognize the perfect moment when it occurs (à la Spalding Gray). Grace and Peace.

the other half of the book

I am going to reveal a little-known trade secret about the modern high school Biology class — we no longer do most of the things that defined the experience for last hundred years or so.

1. We only teach half of the textbook (more about this in a minute).

2. We don’t do dissection — no frogs, no grasshoppers, no earthworms. I blame the usual suspects — time, cost, delicate sensibilities. It’s too bad — we probably shouldn’t underestimate how many scientists and doctors were initially drawn to the macabre thrill of peering into the innards of various critters.

3. We don’t go on field trips. Again the usual suspects — time, cost, delicate sensibilities.

4. We don’t study zoology or botany. Really. This one is harder to parse — maybe it’s just a logistical issue (one needs lots of stuff to do this properly), but frankly, classroom management of students who never learned good habits of working in the lab also comes into play. I strongly suspect, but cannot prove, that today’s students who grew up in schools saturated with the dogma of “collaborative learning” (aka “group work”) work less effectively than students from previous eras who primarily learned to work by themselves, and then later had opportunities to work together in a lab setting.

This year, I’m determined to begin to walk my way back toward a more balanced approach. My Honors Biology classes are going to rediscover the second half of our biology textbook — the chapters dealing with prokaryote, protist, animal and plant characteristics. Without real plants and critters I’m going to have to find interesting pictures and videos to supplement our text. It won’t be anywhere near ideal, but I hope it begins a process of moving back toward biology as a living, breathing thing — the very thing that captivated me (and so many others) when I was a young student.