Back to School: New day counts begin….

Ivy and I work on the deck, Sunday afternoon...

When I woke up Thursday morning, a new day count began…. Summer was over, really over, and school was back in session. Well, not really. School for teachers was back in session. States across the country have different school codes and thus require students to attend differing amounts of school days. In Illinois, the state requires the school calendar to have a minimum of 185 days including student attendance, in-service, and emergency days. I have kept track of the days the past several years trying to make each of the days count. I have embraced the idea of making the days count for some time. I have even gone so far to number each student attendance day in my planner with the corresponding days remaining on my master calendar. Therefore, the first day of student attendance looks like 171-1: meaning 171 days remain and 1 because it is the first day of school. There are other days including parent conferences, in-service days, and teacher workdays – I just have not numbered them.

My day began as always with Ivy and coffee, though she was just as happy to lie back down on her pad and not even go outside. She came downstairs briefly, sniffed around and then returned to her pad and went back to sleep. One of my goals this year is to arrive early for school. I am horrible about being on time. It is one of my (many) faults. In order to be early, I need to stop working at home no later than 6:00-6:15 and be out the door thirty minutes later. I attained my goal, both Thursday and Friday. Way to go. As for other goals, I plan to improve my knowledge and awareness of children’s literature and develop skills and strategies for teaching writing.

Fortunately, my drive is short about fourteen miles and it takes about thirty minutes, but the commute has taken as long as two and a half hours one snowy evening. It was a mess that night and I have promised myself to stay and work on snowy nights, if it is possible. The drive is just long enough to get ready (mentally) for school as well as to unwind and process the day. Sometimes, I talk to Warren, my brother, in Texas as he gets started for work, too. Sometimes, I just listen to the radio and learn what is happening in the world.

The beginning of school for teachers looks like and feels like meetings. Long meetings where we get all sorts of information that is important, but repetitive. Sadly, some teachers must get it wrong each year, because the same information is repeated each year. My favorite has to do with attendance. On the first day of school, we take attendance and mark each student present. Every year there is always a student on my list who is not present – but I cannot mark them absent. You see, they have yet to be present at school before they can be considered absent. So, I mark every child ‘present’ on my attendance. If I child is in my class and not on my list, I check their schedule to make sure they are supposed to be in my class. Often, they wandered in my room hoping to have me first hour (usually because of a friend of theirs) but sometimes, they actually do have me and I write their name in and mark them present.  Remember, a child can be absent from school only after they have been present. It sounds like a late night comedy sketch – but each year we spend ten to fifteen minutes listening as the principals explain the rule.  Also, part of the first day attendance is to physically count students as well as the number of boys and girls in the class and make sure it matches the number of students. We repeat the same procedure on the sixth the day and then thereafter, we just mark kids absent or tardy depending on their situation.

Sometimes the meetings are worthwhile and I actually walk away with ideas on how to be a better teacher. This year is no different. Friday morning was our Institute Day, which translates into ‘teacher school.’ This year’s focus, in Language Arts at least, is to grow as writing and reading teachers. The district Language Arts coordinator has embraced the work of Kelly Gallagher an English teacher from Anaheim, California who has written several books on writing and reading instruction. I have read one of his books, Readicide, and found it very interesting. I am also reading another of his books, Teaching Writing to Adolescents. I walked away from Friday thinking ways to integrate my new knowledge into my classroom. I also walked away with a very large headache and sick feeling of being overwhelmed.

While I was at school Friday, Beth took the kids to Water Park and they come exhausted after a wonderful day of swimming, tubing, and playing in the water. Olivia was so excited she told me three times about the slide she rode. It sounded exciting and I was sad I went to meetings instead. We ordered pizza and watched movies and that finished Friday night.

I was early up Saturday morning and took Ivy for a short walk, we came home to read the paper and have coffee, or at least I did and Ivy begged to go back outside and sniff for rabbits. At least one summer tradition can live on. As always, Saturday is yard day and I mowed the grass. Afterwards, I sat outside and read while Ivy slept underneath my chair. It was very peaceful. Beth and William went office supply shopping and Olivia played Webkins.

The Bears, aka ‘Da bears,’ were playing Saturday night and I had a choice of two football games to watch on television: Steelers vs. Giants or Bears vs. Raiders. I flipped back and forth and scouted for my fantasy football season. I have played fantasy football for the past nine years with teachers from school and it always fun. Like the Bears, or my original home team, the Oilers I have limited success. However, winning is overrated and it is just for fun; it also keeps me connected to the men and one woman in my building who are in the league. Last year William and I played on-line fantasy football and we had fun though his interest in football is not what I had when I was his age. I was certain I was going to be like our neighbor – a professional football player. Fortunately, I had a backup plan (or two).

It is amazing how quickly time can pass. Summer screamed by, or so it seemed. The past three days are gone, complete, they are history. Sunday will be over before I know it and as I write I am sitting on the deck with Ivy. The kids have gone to the pool with Beth. My plan is to visit school later today (Sunday) and get a few things off my ‘TO DO’ list. Olivia and William will go with me and can help me with some of the tasks that need to be done such as sharpening pencils, checking old markers and other necessary but time-consuming tasks.

Tomorrow is a teacher workday, which means I can work and prepare for the first day of school with my students without meetings. I can look over the first day and make my ‘TO DO’ and check it against all my notes and go home to get a good night sleep and be ready for the first day. Tomorrow, is the last day of summer for William and Olivia, they too start school Tuesday. The coming days will exciting and full of new experiences. Making the Days Count, one day at a time.

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