Overwhelmed and optimisitc

How do you feel during the first few days of returning to school each fall? This year, as I attended the opening faculty meeting at my school, I felt just as overwhelmed as I did in 1987—the year when I started teaching in a public school. Our faculty has so much to learn as the school year begins!

I’ve been teaching drama and TV production at my middle school for the past six years, but this year, I am teaching U.S. History, which means that my lesson planning has a greater focus on using standards to drive my instruction.  Our school district, like many others in the nation, is working with the new Common Core Standards. The school district is also switching from using AYP standards to a Growth Model, similar to the Growth Model developed in Denver’s schools a few years ago. All teachers in our district are now required to use a new “Curriculum Engine” to write our lesson plans online. We’re being trained to use a new comprehensive database that will allow (require) each of us to be experts in knowing multiple assessment results of each of our students. In addition to learning new curriculum, new standards, new lesson plan formatting, and how to use the database, a colleague and I volunteered to bring back the school’s chapter of the National Junior Honor Society – which neither of us has been involved with before.

The learning curve this year overwhelms me, and my colleagues are sharing similar reactions. While trying to determine where to start before the students’ first day of school, I made a list of why I feel so overwhelmed.

  1. Even though I’m qualified to teach US History, I haven’t taught a core subject since the introduction of standards-based instruction.
  2. We’ve heard that 50% of our evaluations will be based on student growth – not this year, but probably next year. The tests that will determine student growth on the new model will not be linked with the Common Core Standards, which we are implementing this year.
  3. I’ve never liked using a template for my lesson plans. When I first started teaching, I started with a huge piece of chart paper and filled in circles with the week’s details before filling out my lesson plan book. How will my creative ideas surface when using computer-based lesson plan tools?
  4. My brain prefers text over charts. I fear that my mind will shut down if I have to regularly look at data tables in order to “know my students better.” The data is part of the overall picture, but do they really expect us to recall each student’s test results from memory?

I fear being so busy trying to learn the new standards, the new growth model, the new lesson planning program, and the data management system that I fear that I won’t be an effective teacher this year. Will I really be able to create engaging lessons for students while I’m taking on a huge chunk of new information and practices myself? What do other teachers do to keep up with the frantic pace of changes that take place in our schools?