Friday, August 15, 2008

Side by Side

I suppose it's inevitable that I've been constantly comparing my old school, Dead President Junior High, to my new school, Dead Playwright Middle School (thanks Teresa for the name suggestion!). Here are some of my observations:

DPJH - 8 classes total, divided into 4 80-minute classes per day ("Block Schedule"), plus an advisory period
DPMS - 6 60-minute classes that meet every day

My opinion - It's an adjustment to realize that I see these kids every day, and it's both a blessing and a curse, depending on the kid/class. I do think it's better for learning and retention to have the daily touch, and I'm glad we have the longer class period. When we weren't on block schedule at DPJH, we had 7 50-minute classes a day. That was really too short to be effective. An hour is just about right.

School Size
DPJH - about 1100 students
DPMS - about 350 students.
Bonus Fact: Dead Playwright School DISTRICT has about 1400 students enrolled, which was the size of Dead President Junior High's student body when I started there.

My opinion - This is one of the biggest differences. It's odd to be in the halls during passing periods and realize 1) I already know almost all of the 8th grade, and I'm recognizing most of the 6th and 7th graders and 2) I'm not in danger of death by stampede. It's SUCH a more managable size, and I especially see the difference in the administrators as they do their job.

Dress Code
DPJH - STRICT! Only navy, white, and khaki allowed, must be a polo shirt with buttons, and a bunch of other rules that took me about 5 years to memorize.
DPMS - No dress code, other than the usual rules for safety and modesty.

My opinion - I didn't realize how much I would miss dress code! While it is easier to figure out kids' personalities when they get to wear what they want, there was something about having a set outfit for school that made the students and the school seem ready to learn. It's kind of like the reasoning behind church clothes. However, I don't miss having to regulate and enforce it all of the time, and I don't miss wearing it myself (which I voluntarily did for the last 2 year at DPJH).

DPJH - Gloriously large! I was totally spoiled, and I fully recognize it. On the other hand, it was essentially a bomb shelter - no windows, pitch black without the florescent lights, and it was perpetually either freezing or boiling hot.
DPMS - About half the size of my old room, no carpet, long and narrow, but IT HAS WINDOWS! That OPEN!!

My Opinion - I think my exclamation marks have already given it.

Bonus Note - DPMS let me paint my room, too. Pictures coming soon!

DPJH - No cell phone reception in my classroom or the halls and the closest landline to me was in the teacher's lounge, on the other side of the buildling
DPMS - Full bars in the room, and every teacher has a phone.
Bonus Note: My own classroom phone is apparently haunted. It rings several times a day, but there's only a dial tone when I pick it up. Also, this ringing overrides the "Do Not Disturb" setting on the phone, so it rings during class. I've submitted a repair request, but in the meantime I keep it unplugged unless I need to call out.

My Opinion - I fought for years for the teachers to get classroom phones at DPJH. It was both a safety and a convienence issue, so I'm thrilled to have one now. However, it comes with the expectation that teachers make at least 5 phone calls a week to students' parents. I HATE calling parents. I'm not much of one for talking on the phone as it is, and calling up strangers who may or may not speak English is even less appealling to me. This will probably be my biggest hurdle of the year.

DPJH - Umm... have you read my blog?
DPMS - None.

Other Teachers
DPJH - Average age: 50-ish
DPMS - Average age: 35-ish

My Opinion - I feel a bit like when you're a gifted kid who's been in a mainstream class for years, then suddenly gets placed in a gifted program. There were some amazing teachers at DPJH (honestly, they're probably the ones who are reading this!), but there were also some tired, overworked, distracted, and even downright bad teachers there, too. Here at DPMS, a lot of the things that made me stand out before, most of the teachers do. This is an extremely dedicated staff. They're friendly, deeply attached to the school and the students, and they go above and beyond. I've run into many of them working here after hours and on the weekend, a lot have dropped by my room to observe me during their consultations, and from what I've seen, they're really, really good at what they do. Honestly, it's freaking me out. What I do normally is now the average, and that's hard for me to handle.

Bonus Note - Apparently there's a regular FAC meeting for the teachers. That would be the Friday Afternoon Club, which is held at the bar down the street from the school. I'm heading there as soon as I finish this post. If that doesn't show you some differences, I don't know what does!

Lesson Plans
DPJH - Not once in my 6 years did anyone ask me for a lesson plan, be it verbal or written, or what curriculum I was teaching. In fact, the only people who knew what was going on in my class were the ones who attended it or the ones who asked.
DPMS - My principal (who, I should say before I point out the bad, is amazing and I totally respect him) is requiring all new teachers to the school to submit full written lesson plans for every day of class, to be submitted weekly. And, oh yeah, observations, pacing guide, curriculum coaches, etc.

My Opinion - This is a struggle for me, mostly because it takes so much freakin' time. Of course I constructed my lessons at DPJH around objectives and assessments and expected outcomes and such, but I never wrote them down. Writing these lesson plans take about 6 hours a week - it's why I worked a full day last Saturday and why I'm going to work another full day tomorrow (with no extra pay, by the way). I appreciate the preparation in some ways - it's nice to know a week ahead of time exactly what I'm doing, and I've even been ahead of the copying and such. Still, it takes up a ton of my time, and I really could use a weekend.

The Students

DPJH - About 65% Caucasian, 25% Hispanic, 8% Pacific Islander, 2% other
DPMS - About 70% Hispanic, 28% Caucasian, 2% other

My Opinion - I've enrolled in a Spanish for Teachers class. I think I'll be able to pick up the accent quicker than I thought, since I'm hearing it a lot more often. The students here frequently talk to each other, and sometimes to me, in Spanish.

Socio-Economic Status
Both schools are technically Title-I qualified, which means most of the students are on free-or-reduced-lunch (i.e. live in poverty). DPJH had a larger range of SES, though, with some kids who were diffinitly middle class. DPMS doesn't seem to have that upper-end.

DPJH - The "gifted" kids were pulled out separate from all core classes except math and stayed together in a very tightly-knit GT program. My 9th grade English class consisted of a full mix of abilities - from students who were definitely gifted but had chosen not to be in the GT program to kids who read and wrote at probably a 5th or 6th grade level.
DPMS - I teach all of the 8th grade Language Arts classes, except for the one for students who speak no or very little English. The classes are divided by ability level and are very homogenous in that regard. The "honors" class actually means that those kids are at grade level. My lowest class probably reads and writes at a 3rd grade level, if not lower.

My opinion - I am begining to understand the argument for mainstreaming. I'm not fully converted, but I don't like the homogenous classes for ability. The low-level kids just have too many other factors (hello, distractability!) that work against them. I'll probably write more about this in a future entry.

Class Size
DPJH - Last year, my smallest class was 28 kids and the largest was 39 (that was my English class). Overall record - 49 students in my Advanced Drama class. Average size - probably 38.
DPMS - Here are my student body counts:
1st period: 22
2nd period: 21
4th period: 27
5th period: 19

My Opinion - Anyone who says that class size isn't a factor in student achievement is 1) obviously not a teacher and 2) should be forced to try to teach 40 junior high school students English grammar right after lunch on the day before a full moon. And let's throw in a lock-down drill in the middle of class, just for fun.

So. There are a few of my observations. I was terribly homesick for DPJH last week. It's getting better, especially now that I'm getting to know my students here. There are a lot of things I like about DPMS, and there are a lot of things I miss about DPJH (especially you, Ben, Kelley, Janelle, and John!). But that's life, isn't it?


  1. This makes me so glad MaKell will probably attend school outside of Utah!! I also wish you could be here for a change in administration - we don't start until Tuesday with meetings and NO BACK TO SCHOOL NIGHT!! Hooray! Not looking forward to the first day without you and Janelle, just won't be the same!

  2. I was ready to pack up and join you until I read "lesson plans." Sure, they have their place, but when writing the lesson plan takes more time than actually teaching the lesson, something is wrong.

    Registration this week was very interesting. All of the new administrators were out in the halls the entire time, trying to help get parents into the proper lines and answer their questions. No one had time to sit in their office until the doors were locked at the end of the day.

    At last count, we have 3 new administrators, one new counselor, one new secretary, and at least 11 new teachers here at DPJH this year. It's not the new faces I'm worried about, it's the familiar faces that won't be there.

    At registration, an 8th grade boy asked me if I still played Rock Band. I said yes. "But how can you play if ____ and ____ aren't here anymore?"

    Good question.

  3. After reading all that, I can definitely tell that the teaching experience is different for you. But I'm glad to see that you're adjusting and getting to know the teachers and students well. I hope things will get even better for you as the year progresses, and I hope you change as many students' lives as you did mine and many others at DPJH (I love that name, haha).
    Can't wait to hear more about what happens!

  4. waterhouse,
    we told you you would miss us! yeah i know "we're not there anymore either" but still! ;) at least you know that if you were still at DPJH you would be having to do change too. so either way things were going to be different.
    have fun teaching while your DPJH students enjoy our last week of summer vacation! :)
    love you water~

  5. WATER!!
    hey you, oh my goodness, this is a big change for you!
    espcially will all the hispanics. you said 78%? holy cow!
    and no dress code??
    woo hoo!
    that makes two of us. :)
    wow, it feels so weird knowing you're not at kennedy anymore.
    and even more weird that i'm not there either.
    well, i wish you luck with all these new changes and new teaching rules.
    love ya!


    p.s. DPMS better love you and treat you good! i have no idea why they wouldn't!

  6. Water you are the greatest!!!!