Sunday, October 9, 2022

*tap, tap* Is this thing on?

 Hello from the world's worst blogger!  It's been a long couple of years that have completely drained me, but things are slowly getting back to being more manageable. Since my last blog post in 2021, we finally moved from our house that was a 25-minute drive to my school and my son's school to the town that our schools are in, so instead of driving 50 minutes every day, my commute is a 5-minute walk each way. It's been pretty great!

Mostly I felt inspiration to write a blog post because it's Sunday and instead of spending the entire day working and stressing about the school week starting tomorrow, I've donated platelets, read several magazines for fun, had lunch with my family, gone for a walk, and listened to a podcast. This is a new development in my life since switching to teaching K-12, and I thought it was worth writing about. People generally say that by about year 4-5, you kind of have everything set up how you want it and it's not so much work. I teach four different classes and have been making my own curriculum as I go, so it's been a ton of work and I'm not close to done yet. But it still felt like it should be easier than it has been (this is my sixth year teaching K-12), and this year everything finally clicked. It wasn't because I magically figured everything out; it was because this is the third year we've been using our LMS. Because LMS's didn't exist when I started teaching and because I haven't switched very many times, I never remember how much work they are to set up. When I was a grad student, the university set up the courses for us so we didn't need to (and in fact couldn't) set them up on our own. The last few universities I've taught at all used Blackboard, so I was able to export the materials I developed and import them into the new school's Blackboard so I wasn't starting from scratch. But when I started teaching K-12, my school was using Google Classroom, so in addition to teaching a new student population, I had to set my courses up in a new LMS. Three years ago we switched to Canvas. It was the right decision because Canvas has a lot more features that make remote teaching much more feasible, but suddenly setting up a new LMS while dealing with both in-person and remote teaching was next-level exhausting. I didn't really have time to consider what would make the most sense in terms of course organization, so it was a hot mess, but it was the best I could with the time that I had. 

Last summer I had some time (not a lot because I was packing and moving, but some time) to think about how I wanted my courses to look, and during the last school year, I spent ridiculous amounts of time setting up all of my courses, recording videos, etc., and getting my courses set up how I wanted them. It will always be a work in progress, but I've worked on processes to make things easier. For example, I give students assignments from a reading platform ( is amazing!), but there doesn't appear to be a way to save and re-assign the readings each year. Two years ago I took a bunch of screen shots of my assignments from the previous year to get my new classes set up, but that was pretty tedious, so last year a light went on and it finally occurred to me to make a Google Sheet with all of my assignments for the year as I made them so that when I'm setting up the course each year, I can have my Google Sheet open in one window and the reading platform in another window, and then it is extremely easy to set up the reading assignments. I'm working on a lot more Google Sheets as directories for all of my materials because I realized that I was making lots of new materials and not re-using some of the materials that I'd already created because I would just forget about them. So my task for the next year or two is to catalogue everything I've created so that I'm not re-inventing the wheel all the time. (Yes, this is very obvious, and pre-covid I was doing a pretty good job of making notes for myself, but my organization took a major hit during covid.) 

Still, the thing that's made the biggest difference this year is Canvas's course copy feature. I literally just copied my classes from last year and put in the new dates, and I have all of my assignments, links, activities, lesson plans, and EVERYTHING SET UP FOR THE ENTIRE SCHOOL YEAR!!!!!🎉🎊🎈🎉🎊🎈 I was able to copy content in Google Classroom my first three years, but because it was limited in terms of features, it still took a decent amount of work to put my classes together every year. But this year, I have finally hit my goal of getting things ready for Monday on Friday afternoon, leaving for the weekend, and doing very little or no school work over the weekend, and it's almost entirely because I don't have to go digging through layers of files either online or in my computer to find my lesson plans and activities. They are all in Canvas, neatly organized by week, and they basically need the dates edited, plus some minor pacing tweaks because every class is different. 

So here I sit at 7:00 on a Sunday evening, drinking tea and listening to my son play, enjoying the view of my string lights on my new porch because I'm not sitting at school all day working like I have pretty much every year before this one. I'm finally to a place where I can really start fine-tuning things, so next year I'll start overhauling things by tightening up my unit objectives and incorporating more activities that will get us to those objectives (more interpersonal speaking activities and writing activities of all kinds and assessments that are more communicatively focused now that I have more time to do things that take longer to grade), in addition to speeding up my units and starting to use this free online textbook for my Spanish 4/4th semester college Spanish course:  I'm not totally crazy so I'm going to phase everything in so that my curriculum overhaul will be complete in 3 years (editing a level every year). 

I'm thrilled to see how well my students are understanding Spanish. We still have plenty of room for improvement, but we've come a long way from what I was doing 5 years ago, and I'm proud of them (and me!). One of my students who graduated last year took two years of Spanish with me took the language placement test at one of the universities I used to teach at and placed into 4th-semester Spanish! (One year of high school Spanish = one semester of college Spanish, so she skipped a full year/semester when she tested into fourth semester, and I was over the moon when she told me!) I hear my students using Spanish in the halls and I can now have full conversations with my upper-level Spanish students. This has been my goal since I started, and it's been frustrating not to have been able to get here faster, but it is so satisfying to have gotten this far.  Life is good!