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Here’s a question I hear often: What do the teachers do on the days they work without students in the building? The refrain I often hear is that we must sit around drinking coffee and eating donuts, adding up final grades, and not much else.

Au contraire! First, I despise coffee, and our wellness committee would frown on chomping down on donuts. Is there some fraternizing on workshop days? Absolutely. Those days give us a chance to sometimes touch base with other staff members we don’t see often in the hectic world in which we work. However, those meetings usually wend toward education and comparing notes on what’s going on. It’s nice to know what other teachers are doing in their classrooms because you can at times find connections to your own teaching. Working across curriculums benefits students as they see the threads from many classes and how all these seemingly unimportant ideas are related and important in life.

Workshop days are different depending on what time of year it is. Prior to school starting in the fall, rooms need to be put back together. That means arranging desks and seating charts, putting up bulletin boards and other decorations on the walls and doors, and sorting through the requisitions we received over the summer. There’s the excitement of a new year and new groups of students, which helps get all the preparatory work done. Trust me on this – most teachers spend a lot more time in school in August than they are required to. We all want everything to start smoothly, and there are many details to reach the perfection we hope to achieve on the first day of school and beyond.

As we reach the end of each quarter, there are indeed grades to finalize. I have learned over the years to try to avoid big assignments or tests right at the end. I’d rather not feel rushed on workshop day to finish those corrections and all the final grades. Plus, with my philosophy on giving students second chances to show improvement, I want them to have some time for that.

For instance, my 7th graders finished a paper on the last day of 3rd quarter. It would have driven me mad to correct all those stories in a day. Plus, there was a clear sign of re-teaching needed. I told them I would put it on the 4th quarter grade, and some have already taken advantage of redoing the work – they’re learning!

Workshop days sometimes involve meetings of different committees since it’s a time when everyone is available. It’s rare to have a whole staff meeting, though that can happen if there’s something important. There are planning sessions among teachers who teach similar classes. Mrs. Rudau and I both teach sections of 8th grade English. We’re able to touch base to see if we’re staying on the same page. I have special education kids who mainstream with my class, so planning ahead with their teachers is vital. These quarterly days help that run smoothly.

I don’t like to plan too far ahead. During the winter, it seems if I plan more than a week out, the weather terrorists strike and mess with the schedule. Other things pop up throughout the year that make planning too far out useless. However, when we get to the end of 3rd quarter, it’s time to take a hard look at where we are and how much of our curriculum is left. Do we have time for everything? Can we make adjustments?

Let me make this clear. While I have a curriculum I should follow, I’ve never ever completed everything. I refuse to just cover material. If I don’t have time to teach the concept thoroughly, I really try to avoid it or mix it with another, easier idea. I always remember American History in high school, when we spent three days on World War II and then a week on the remainder of the 20th century. How much do you think we got out of that? If we’d spent that entire time on WWII, we would’ve been better off, since we’d really have the impact of that war driven home.

And we won’t even get into all the paperwork special education teachers try to catch up on! I know how convoluted my desk looks by the end of a quarter and all the time I spend catching up on paperwork I have to do, but their task is much taller! Elementary teachers also have more planning and collaborating because there are 3-4 of them teaching the same grade, not including organizing with the specialists and others who help keep that school running smoothly.

There you go! Outside of lunch, there’s not as much downtime as you think. There are moments where I just sit at my desk and decompress for a bit. Then I look down at my to-do list and get back to it. Workshops – time off from students? Yes. Time off, period? No way.

Word of the Week: This week’s word is perambulate, which means to walk about or roam, as in, “The teacher found that perambulating a bit through the empty halls helped focus his mind on the quarter to come.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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