New teacher diaries

A time and a place

New Teacher Diaries

Imagine you’re a lawyer, and you wake up early one morning to finish preparing your arguments for a case — say your client is on trial for robbing a grocery store. You arrive early at the courthouse, review your notes and feel ready to go. But then midway through your opening arguments, you get a call informing you to leave the courtroom and go to the one next door, where you’ll be arguing an entirely different case on patent law.

You’d be caught a little off guard, right? Maybe a little irritated that you didn’t find out about the change sooner? Maybe kind of annoyed that all your hard work will go to waste?

Yet this happens to me every day at my school. For the past week, at least once a day I’ve been pulled out of my regular schedule as a push-in reading teacher and sent to cover 5th-grade teachers, the suspension room, you name it. Wherever I am — my office, a classroom — a secretary manages to track me down and send me someplace else.

Occasionally I get sent to cover kindergarten classes in the auxiliary building and when I get there, I discover I’m actually supposed to be the science teacher or the art teacher.

Sometimes these changes are announced beforehand (usually in obscenely arcane memos that are impossible to decipher without a hefty chunk of time and the help of several colleagues) but sometimes they are not. And since nobody at my school who makes these decisions actually consults with each other, I am routinely scheduled to cover two different classes at the same time, which means I have to go running all over the school tracking down the people in charge and informing them about the laws of physics.

Weeks ago, I got an e-mail about a schedule change due to 1st-grade science professional development (which it’s lucky I even opened in the first place, as I am not a 1st-grade teacher nor a science teacher) during which we should all be following Week 2 of our coverage schedule. Then the date was changed. Twice. Then “Week 2” was renamed “2nd Rotation” to avoid confusion (nice try). Because I am extremely conscientious about these things, I was pretty sure the schedule change was still on today, but there were so many date changes that I didn’t know (a) if it was even happening or (b) which coverage week (excuse me, “rotation”) to follow. So one of my colleagues called down to the main office and, with my own ears, I heard her ask this question: “Are we following the coverage schedule today?”


NO! So off I went to my scheduled class. Twenty minutes in, I am paged over the loudspeaker to report to a 1st-grade classroom I was apparently supposed to be covering, which happens to be a different classroom than the one I thought I was supposed to be covering (because for some mysterious reason we were following an entirely different rotation on the coverage schedule).

The following period, a phone call dispatched me to cover another class for the rest of the day. So there went my day — mini lessons down the drain, strategy lessons scrapped, guided reading groups put off. When will I learn not to get to school an hour early to plan lessons I don’t get to teach? It’s not just the lost time or the last-minute schedule changes that bug me; it’s also the thought that my struggling readers, most of whom will make it to 3rd grade by the skin of their teeth if they make it at all, are the ones who are really missing out when I’m not there.

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