Why I’m in Nashville

As you’ve no doubt figured out from yesterday’s post, and from my Twitter feed, I’m in Nashville today for an education conference, heading home tomorrow. For those of you wondering why the school board would pick up the bill to send five people from my school (as well as delegations from both of the other two high schools in my district) to Tennessee for one day, I thought I’d explain a little bit about what exactly we’re here discussing. Teachers, no doubt, will know exactly what I’m talking about after the first sentence. For everyone else, an explanation will follow.

We’re here to learn how to Team our ninth grade.

As it stands, there is little difference between the way our ninth grade operates and the way our tenth grade operates. The problem with this is, there’s a vast difference between ninth grade and what the kids had last year in middle school. A lot of kids get overwhelmed in the shuffle — and when they get overwhelmed, the teachers start to get overwhelmed too.

The idea behind teaming, at least the way we’re going to do it, is pretty simple. The ninth-grade class will be divided into pools of students, about 70-80 per pool, and each pool will be assigned to a team of teachers. That team will consist of one science teacher, one math teacher, one social studies teacher, and two English teachers. (Two English teachers because, since that is the only class that is year-long instead of one semester, there are twice as many of us.) In ninth grade, these students will take all of their core classes from this pool of teachers. They won’t have exactly the same class all day — it would be big trouble if I sent my 25 first-period students to Mr. A in second period, and he sent them to Mr. B for third. By the time they reached Mr. L at the end of the day, they’d be ready to kill each other.

What’s the advantage of this? There are several, beginning with the teachers. With this system, all of the teachers on the team will get to know virtually all of the students. Then, when we meet during our planning time (and we will all have the same planning time) we’ll be able to discuss and work out any issues that have arisen. If a student exhibits poor behavior in my class, that may be a minor problem, but if he exhibits the same thing in two other classes, that’s something bigger that we can now identify and address.

Another benefit — all of the teachers will discuss their lessons with one another. Imagine how this can reinforce a student’s learning process, if the science teacher happens to be conducting an experiment that requires the same sort of math that the kids learned in Algebra that morning, or if they leave Social Studies class having studied the culture of Ancient Greece just before they enter English class and begin reading The Odyssey. What’s more, with the teachers all aware of one another’s assignments, that can be reinforced during the day too.

This sort of synchronicity between the students will give them a boost in ninth grade, and having that boost — both in educational quality and in overall confidence — is something they’ll carry through into tenth grade, and eleventh, and eventually through to graduation. At least, that’s the plan. In fact, this has been the result in many, many schools that have tried this process. We’ve visited some of them. We’ve discussed the system with our fellow educators. And it may take a few years to really start showing a major change, but I think most of us in the ninth grade team at my school are convinced that this process will — in the long run — be better. Teachers will have a support group amongst each other, students will have teachers who are better prepared to deal with them specifically. If this works, it’ll work for everyone.

As for why we had to go to Nashville to learn it… two reasons.

  1. That’s where the experts are this weekend.
  2. C’mon. Free trip. Are you saying you wouldn’t go?

I do wish we’d had a little personal time — an old friend of mine I haven’t seen in several years lives here now and I’m unfortunately not going to get a chance to meet up with him — but overall, I think this was a worthwhile trip. And if your kids ever wind up in my ninth grade English class, I hope the results will convince you it was worth it too.

Oh — and if anything I just wrote didn’t make sense, feel free to ask in the comments. I’m no expert, but I’ll answer as best I can. And if you ask something I can’t answer, that probably means we haven’t thought of it yet, and thanks for bringing it to my attention.


2 Responses to “Why I’m in Nashville”

  1. 1 Jessica
    April 4, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    I think it will work wonderfully! It sounds like a very sound plan, and as you stated it has worked in other places. I personally was not “overwhelmed” in 10th grade (ninth wasn’t at the high school then) but then again, it was still 7-55 minute classes then. It wasn’t 6 hour long classes (or whatever it is now) and then BAM in high school you get hit with the 1.5 hour block. I think the team plan would give the students a better transition into the high school life.

    And no….NEVER turn down a free trip…..:)

  2. 2 Jason
    April 5, 2009 at 12:02 am

    Let’s just hope the Screwl Board doesn’t stand in your way on this one… it may just make too much sense for those politicians! You know how I feel about the board over here, most of them deserve the same fate as our last Parish Council – they ALL need to GO!

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