My Bi-Polar Year

Knowing people who actually suffer from bi-polar disorder, it may be inappropriate for me to borrow such a disruptive condition to describe my teaching year, but it really does seem suitable. On any given day throughout the week I may be feeling positive about teaching my students to think, seeing a couple figurative light bulbs go on or feeling another’s particular success. The following day – or even a few hours later – I may be driving home from school considering what suitable employment I can find next year that can help me pay the bills with less stress.

Some of it is the usual: Switching from state standards to CCSS, I truly believe, is a good thing, with the exception of the evaluative process. But that evaluative process and the expectations without enough in the way of training or ideas other than ‘here are some cool web sites that you don’t have enough time to explore’ is stressful. In addition, our campus is undergoing construction, which makes it difficult and time-consuming to get where you need to go. Then there is the ever-increasing student apathy that I am always fighting against, and it makes me sad and angry.

I have brought much of the stress on myself. I’m a thinker. I think great thoughts, and in my imagination, things usually go quite well, when in reality, they don’t. Last Christmas break, I began to imagine a class in which I would teach digital citizenship and the use of various online tools. It was probably one morning straight off an empowering #satchat session. I was becoming a huge fan of Twitter, seeing the benefits of growing a network of like-minded people and of sharing resources and connecting with a world bigger than the one I dealt with in person every day. I wanted to share this with students who tweeted song lyrics and about who they were hanging out with.

I had also begun to recognize the value of blogging, not just to have an outlet, but to have an audience, which creates more purpose in your writing. And a blog, it seemed, would be the perfect parking place for other projects I could invite students to explore. It would become a digital portfolio. This could be logged under college-readiness skills.

In the spring, I presented the idea of a digital communications class to my principal. He liked the idea, but wasn’t sure he could turn me loose from my English sections. The class was finally approved weeks before school started, and though I had a macro idea of what and in what order I wanted to address, as far as actual day-to-day lessons, I really had few things planned. So it is that I have come to plan for this class by the proverbial seat of my pants.

Since the class was not on spring enrollment forms, there was no one in it at first. I began to receive students a couple at a time that first week, but some didn’t even know what the class was about, let alone have any particular enthusiasm for it. So it was that I ended up with a cross section of students who vary in ability, motivation and even attendance. Those issues paired with my planning lessons day-by-day have made the class somewhat less than fun.

I’ve allowed a lot of autonomy, letting them choose topics for their blogs that are of particular interest to them. What does it matter to me the topic if I just want them to learn how to incorporate a link in their post? For some, this is fantastic freedom that they embrace. For others, it’s too little instruction. With that freedom of choice came a sort of working at your own pace. Some have struggled with topics, some with the logistics of getting the blog itself going, some with that old motivation factor.

The last thing I need is for word to get out that DigiComm is boring or that the teacher doesn’t really even tell you what to do. I don’t need a bad rep. In my original plan, the term would end with a PBL project for the group based on something they feel passionate about, some wrong they’d like to see righted for which they could put their new knowledge and digital tools to work. I don’t really see that happening this term, and it saddens me. It makes me worry that the class will never get off the ground the way I imagined.

But just when my bi-polar pendulum is on a downward swing – like recently when one student asked if she HAD to use her Twitter for class – something will happen to let me know that I really am on the right track. A student will linger after class to let me know she is really enjoying the freedom she has on her blog. Or students who graduated last year stop by to visit, and we have a two-hour conversation. They tell me good things about my ideas, and I get to reciprocate as I hear ideas bubbling from them as well. Or when I made blogging an option for my English freshmen, I actually had two show up during lunch to learn how.

That downward swing is coming again. I know it is. It always does. I just have to hold on and look for the upswing and hope the pendulum is strong enough to carry me through the entire year.

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About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

2 Responses to My Bi-Polar Year

  1. Donna Deaton says:

    I appreciate your honesty in posting what I often experience. I really enjoy teaching students who want to learn and who try to experience education in a positive manner. There are, however, days that I feel like I’m beating a dead ant with a toothpick. I know, that was a bad metaphor, but you know what I mean. I think your digital communications class is a really good idea that I might try to get on our schedule next year.

  2. I see your dead ant with a toothpick and raise you three dead squirrels with an under-inflated swim ring. How’s that for a bad metaphor? DigiComm was/is a great idea, and just when I think it isn’t, I see an article like this that validates me:
    https://www.edsurge.com/n/2013-09-30-five-essentials-to-create-connected-students

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