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“You doin’ too much!”

March 1, 2009

Teacher Musings:
“You doin‘ too much” was something my students in Oakland used to say constantly. Out here in Boston its “You forcin‘ it.” These statements are usually uttered when I am assigning homework, or expecting them to do some amount of reading and/or writing during class. What they essentially mean is that I am expecting them to do a lot of work. Needless to say, I take it as a compliment when they tell me this – it means I’m pushing them to do and think more (or at least I hope so). But lately I’ve been feeling like telling my own colleagues and supervisors that they are forcin‘ it. I have been feeling entirely overwhelmed with the pressures of the MCAS, English exhibitions (a type of presentation done by students in all of their content areas), professional development opportunities and mandates and expectations that I manage all of this and continue to teach and have my students learn the same way at the same rate as when I didn’t have all of these responsibilities. Its overwhelming to say the least.
Recently I have also been reading numerous studies that compare how teachers in America teach significantly more hours and have significantly less planning and collaboration time in comparison to their European and Asian colleagues. I also attended a roll-out of my district’s latest collaborative professional development endeavor. This latest roll-out is actually a way of leading inquiry groups that I personally prefer to how they are done at my school now, and that also have show stronger results. Yet when I was talking to my assistant headmaster about how these would look in our school, we got to the point where we were talking about what else had to go. Because, frankly, in my opinion, at my school we are doin‘ too much. We have at least three different types of meetings that we use our Friday whole-school PD time for. We also have a leadership team, a governing board and department time build into our day. Yet almost every single one of these meetings is doing something different. What is frustrating to me as I really think about it, is that every group is made up of dedicated people and every meeting has some value to it. Its not that we are doing useful things at my school, but we are trying to do far too many of them. More and more is being published about the benefits of “deep” rigor where learners focus long and hard on understanding and applying one important core idea. And I think that we, as teachers need to be allowed to do the same with our learning. You could pick almost any one of the many initiatives in our school, say we as a staff are just going to focus on that, and I could guarantee some successful and noticeable outcomes. But when we try and do it all we do none of it well. Just as I have to pick a few main objectives that I want my students to meet by the end of the year, shouldn’t teacher development also have a few measurable outcomes for teacher learning every year? And just as I have to constantly re-focus both my students and myself back to our “Big Goal” I know I would learn more if I know what my own “Big Goal” was.

Yummy Stuff:
This last week, after getting back from vacation, our eating schedule got back to normal a bit. We had red curry one night, which is super easy and quick to make and is one of my favorite weeknight meals!
Red Thai Curry (makes enough for two, plus leftovers for lunch! Feel free to substitute your own favorite veggies!)
1/4 cup red curry paste (in the ethnic section of most grocery stores. Make sure its vegan by checking for shrimp paste!)
Two cans coconut milk
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 head of cauliflower, chopped
1 block of tofu (12-16 oz) frozen, thawed, (this helps soak up the flavor) and chopped in to small blocks
1. saute 2 T of curry paste over medium heat
2. Pour in coconut milk. Be sure to shake cans to mix it up first – it tends to separate
3. Stir in the rest of the curry paste well
4. Pour in the veggies and tofu. Stir to coat.
5. Turn down to simmer and cover with a pan. Simmer for 25-30 minutes or until the veggies are as tender as you like. Check and stir every 10 minutes or so.

I love to have this with brown rice, so I usually start the rice before I chop the veggies and tofu. Its quick, easy, and yummy for lunch the next day!

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