Thursday, May 24, 2007

Reaching Day 180: This Year's Model

Some of us like counting things down, and others say that is the wrong thing to do. I'm a countdowner. I can't help myself. I countdown the number of everything. For example, I constantly countdown the minutes left in the running time of a movie by watching the time roll up on the DVD player, then subtracting that from the running time on the Netflix DVD sleeve. Sometimes I end up watching the DVD player more than the movie.

This inescapable countdown syndrome I have is one big reason I'm a schoolteacher. K-12 education as practiced today was almost certainly invented by an inveterate countdowner. You've got a certain number of class periods split into a certain number of minutes that extend for a certain number of weeks before leading to a "nine weeks" grade or eighteen week Semester, all culminating in a 180 (or so) day school year. So not only do you get some definite END to a job cycle (unlike almost every other job where you just go on vacation every once in a while, then come back to the same thing time after time), you can also break the entire overarching job cycle (180 days) into Semesters, Quarters, Weeks (36), Days, class periods, and minutes per class period.

Of course, you can also break it down into seconds, but that's for your true hard-core countdowners.

So, as of this early Thursday morning, we APS types are currently about to start Day 179: Semester Two, Week Thirty-Seven (the week thing gets messed up with holidays, snow days, etc.). Our school year ends tomorrow, and I work at a school with seven class periods per day, so we have 14 remaining class periods. That close enough now that even amateur countdown types can tell you that, but us kickin' it old school original gangsta countdowners have been rattling off the remaining class periods for weeks, if not months, now.

Then there are those non-countdowners among us who look at us like cholera-laden ceviche when we let slip that we happen to know sometime in February that there are thirteen weeks, 64 days, and 448 class periods left in the year. We try to keep it in, but sometimes we can't help ourselves, and for that we are shunned.

I'm not bringing all this up because I think involuntary countdowners need to form a support group or have a 501(c)(3) created to fund our efforts to spread countdownerism throughout the land. I only point out that the school year is almost over, and that some of us build a computational math shrine inside our heads to the magic moment that will arrive tomorrow afternoon.

Even for non-countdowners it's a magical time, one filled with meaning, happiness, sadness, anticipation and dread. Unlike most workplaces where change occurs haphazardly from job switches, retirements and such, the end of a school year is mechanized. The gears that are students move in one year increments up and then out of an institution, ratcheting lockstep together as a class. Individual classes have individualized dynamics, leaving unique fingerprints on schools for a few years, to be flushed out en masse via graduation (or "celebration" as many middle schools call it).

The overall psychological impact of this mechanization is quite bittersweet. It's no different this year. There are many 8th grade students moving on from my school to high school that I and other teachers will miss terribly. And they aren't always the goody-goody kids you would think we would miss. I'm not naming names, but I can think of at least 10 "graduating" students whose leaving bums me out.

At the same time, we have all been stuck together in the rotting garbage barge that is middle school long enough. It's time to flush the system out, let the 8th grader escape middle school hell and become freshman somewhere else. It's also time for some 6th and 7th graders to take new places inside the machine, whether they are ready or not.

And it's also time for a break. A long break. A cleansing, restorative life-reaffirming break.

So as we countdown the remaining 2 days, 14 class periods, 509 minutes (tomorrow is a half-day) and 30,540 seconds left in the school year, we teachers will be of two completely separate minds: one that desperately tries to remind students they are still on the rotting garbage barge, that the year isn't over yet, that lessons are still to be learned; and another that almost makes us teary-eyed thinking that in only a few short hours a third of these kids will be leaving us, forever.

And it is that departing one-third, this year's 8th grade class at Jefferson MS, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, Earth, that has me regretting my own countdownism this early morning. Thanks kids, it's been a blast.


Kelsey Atherton said...

Fantastic post, and its damn good to see teachers who sympathize that middles school is a wretched hell (despite the presence of good teachers, etc).

So, vaguely related to the blog post, and tangentially less so as this goes on, I've got back issues of an underground newspaper (AHS Foliage) either Evan Mouslon or Ruth Brillman said you'd be interested in, and I can send them to you, as with the school year ending and my printer dead, email will be the way to do it. Drop me a line at

frannyzoo said...


I'll be in touch as soon as I can unearth myself from end-of-year paperwork. Btw, saw your blog, and anyone who puts They Might Be Giants at the top of their music preference list is okay in my book.

history said...

Your post is poetry and really captures the moment. I will add that the hell of which you speak is like Picket's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. I don't know if the teachers are the Yanks, or the Rebs, but at the end, we've reached the "high tide" of the Civil War that is Middle School. We seem to admire each other's courage, and when the battle is over we want to look back on all the acts of heroism, even those that knocked us low and say, "wasn't that a time?" And someday there will be a reunion and we'll shake hands on Cemetary Ridge and laugh about the most rediculous moments and hopefully forget the carnage that was also a part of the battle. Meanwhile by August we've forgotten about what we were fighting for and move on to the next war that will be "over by Christmas (break)". Have a great summer.