I am so flipping happy.

After all the bullshit that happened last semester, it's so great having a new mentor who actually, you know, TALKS to me.

So far every day this week I've gone to staff building meetings and met up with him to plan curriculum (basically the first 3-4 weeks of school are all planned out), he's had me make stuff for the class (a couple posters about responsibility, Respect, and Safety-- the school's motto-- and a power point about fire drills) and basically he has included me in all the planning stages-- which of course my old mentor never did. He's given me SO MANY RESOURCES and websites and neat-o teacher tools and AUGH so many TOYS!

The place where I'm teaching is a middle school, and technically the program I'm in with my mentor is a completely separate entity than the actual school, it just happens to be on school property and run by the same principal. We have a lot more freedom than the regular school, and we're a lot smaller; there are six teachers total, and two classes of fifth graders, two classes of sixth graders, and then one of seventh and eighth each. This means that all of these kids will be seeing these six teachers every day; they are all sharing the same teachers, and they will all be seeing the same faces of other students. The program is centered around STEM and preparing kids for future STEM fields, but they still need ELA, and it's all PBL, meaning that the kids get to decide what they want to do.

For example, here's the first week and a half for sixth graders and the format my mentor and I discussed the other day:
1. Introduce a concept/theme for the week. Our first week is "courage."
2. Have an in-depth class discussion on what they consider courage to be. Have them write a little thing about it.
3. Read aloud to students a clip or short writing piece that involves the theme some way.
4. Have students talk to each other about what was read, what they think, how it relates to them.
5. Have them read on their own a longer piece of relevant writing (in this case, it's a chapter from the Hatchet).
6. Online, there are little classroom modules that kids can use to study. There's a video trailer to the book, there's a character sheet where they identify character traits, and there's the text itself they can read at their leisure at home.
7. After reading the writing, they practice summary writing. There's a packet that helps them unpack what they should be doing (both writing what happens in the story, and then writing what the author might have meant).
8. Finally, the kids get to connect the concept of courage and what they've read to themselves. They can choose to write something, to make something, to build a webpage, to interview someone they consider to be brave-- whatever they like so long as it makes sense and ties to the content. Shoot, if they wanted they could do a flipping interpretive dance. It would be really hard to grade, but they could do it if they wanted. They get about four days to work on this project.

It won't always be so formulaic, but this is roughly what will happen for at least a few of the themes. There's also a heavy emphasis on real-world problem solving, so we'll be positing Focus Questions for kids to puzzle through for their major projects, namely "this is a problem. How would you solve it using what you know now?"

Part of the Project Based Learning the program prides itself on is that everything is cross-curricular-- which is why there have been so many meetings this week. All six of the teachers are talking to each other and planning curriculum maps. Like, "History teacher is doing Ancient Civilizations, so English teacher can read short stories on ancient civilizations, and Science teacher can talk a bit about fossils and archaeology." The idea is that the kids are constantly building up on what they've already learned in other classes, and that succeeding in one will help them grasp concepts and succeed in the others.

The kids themselves are all smarty pants (I guess they had to be in order to get into the program) whose parents are VERY invested in their education. This is great because it means that we can do lots of assignments that involve parent interaction, but it also means that the parents like to bother the teachers.

Part of one of the meetings I was at was just talking about how to handle a handful of parents who are very. . . sensitive about their children's education. As in, one woman specifically has stated that she will not tolerate "anything that makes my children uncomfortable or unhappy." Including grades lower than As when her kid is apparently a B student at best. This is actually really sad, because according to the other teachers, the boy in question is absolutely miserable and constantly acts out-- which means he gets into trouble and then mom gets mad at us.

Since this is still middle school, the practice here is to call parents a lot. My mentor wants me to call them at the beginning of the semester just to introduce myself, ask if they have any questions, say how nice it is to have their kids in class, etc. Then later on, if the kids act out, you can call the parents and tell them that little Johnny pushed Harry and Suzie ate glue or whatever and make sure the parents are in the loop. However, at the meeting, the teachers discussed a handful of parents that are on the unofficial do-not-call list. The reason being that if we call them, they will get mad at us and actually come down here to have a meeting with us at best, or complain to the office and even the district at worst. Three of them are raging mamas who refuse to believe their children are anything but perfect angels, and two of them aren't mean, but just super chatty and will tell the district anything-- good and bad.

"Do I still call them for the introduction?" I asked my mentor.
"Nnnooooo. No. Go ahead and pass on them," he said.

Yesterday, I went to the school for another meeting and to help set up the classroom, as well as hammer out the last bit of the first couple weeks.

For the past week, I've taken the bus to get to the school, but it takes about an hour (10 minute walk to the stop, 30 minute ride, 20 minute walk to the school itself) so I decided to save a little time by biking again. I haven't ridden my bike since summer started, and I figured it would be good to get back into the groove of things. So I actually make it halfway there (it's about six miles) before my tire bursts. I have a portable hand pump strapped to the body, but the nozzle on the tire actually got RIPPED OFF so there was no way to pump it.

I texted my mentor that I would be late, and he responded (something my old mentor never once did. She never, ever, EVER responded to any of my texts despite giving me her number.) that it was okay, and that he'd be there all day, and that I could get there in my own time. So I walked my bus over to the closest stop, caught the bus, proceeded to miss the a couple stops because I was unfamiliar with the neighborhood, and wound up passing a rare stretch of road without ANY stops, meaning by the end of it I was a couple miles away from the school in the opposite direction of where I started.

I told him that I would be especially very very late because of the bike thing, and he asked if I needed a ride, if I was safe, if I knew where I was. I told him everything was fine, and I'd try to get there as quickly as possible.

When I finally got in an hour after we were originally supposed to meet, I wheeled my bike into the classroom and he said,

"Oh my gosh, did you walk all the way? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," I said. "Just a bit of a walk!"
"Well, you made it in time for the meeting. You don't have to go, if you need to sit down--"
"No no, I'm cool!"

So I made it to the meeting and learned about school disciplinary procedures. Then there was some kind of parent luncheon thing with free food, so we pigged out, then went back to the class to discuss curriculum and make posters. After everything was done and sorted out, he asked if I was sure I didn't need a ride or if wanted to call someone or something, and I told him that the bus stop wasn't too far, and that it was fine. He said if I ever needed to park my bike, I could park it in the classroom.

Last semester, something similar happened. I didn't get a flat, but I crashed on my bike and the chain came undone, and it took me a while to fix it because it was winter and raining and my fingers were all numb and stupid. I texted my previous mentor with the number she gave me, and got no response. I wound up taking the bus and making it in time for class, but without enough time to park my bike in the cages. My mentor didn't say anything, though she gave me some funny looks, and the day proceeded as usual.

So I guess the point I'm making is that basically my new mentor is the nicest person in the world.
If I botch this semester, then I have no excuse.

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