Teacher Talk: How one teacher sees the year

Posted: Friday, September 26, 2003

Ever since elementary school I have visualized a year as a slightly warped clock. If you take a simple round clock off the wall and spin it like a coin, gravity will eventually take hold. Just before it comes to a stop it will sit suspended in air about 30 degrees from horizontal. A year always appears like this in my head. It doesn't spin but this third dimension helps me to appreciate the rise and fall of time. Since becoming a teacher, the fluid movement of energy now punctuates the scale of my visual year.

The scale of the months of my visual year does not coincide with the hours on a normal clock. On my clock year, school starts at around 5:30, Labor Day strikes at 6, September through New Year's takes up a full semi-circle from 6 to noon. January through May seems compacted into the first three hours noon to 3. The last week of school seems to take a full half-hour. And from 3:30 to 5:30 there is summer.

Let me elaborate, starting in June:

3:30-4: When I lock my classroom at the end of a school year it is usually done with a sense of urgency. I am fried. I need to crawl into a hole somewhere for a while and sleep. I can't even think about the past year with any sense of perspective. It usually takes me about two weeks to switch gears, tap into that long forgotten tank of fun and get outside.

4-5:30: In the summer I try to flood my mind with anything new. I take a class, travel or go on an adventure. During this time, at some point though, IT happens. Never in June, sometimes in July, but always by August I start seeing the arc to the new school year fast approaching. I stave it off, but ideas start popping into my head anyway. Eventually, I embrace these ideas, start to plan and finally go over the past year in my head. I set some goals and, yes, I even start to get excited and nervous.

5:30: By day one of my 182 or so contract days (oops, I don't have a contract yet) I am wound a little too tight. I like that we start the year with three days, then four days, then five. I need the build-up. I forget how much energy teaching takes. By Friday of week one, exhausted, I fall into a heap on the couch.

6-12: September through December takes up six hours of my visual clock. I put 140-150 names to faces. I set the stage. I develop systems. I do battle with the copier. I find my rhythm. My students are positive and eager. A whole lot of learning takes place for all of us. I am proud of this time.

12-3: December through May flies, a three-hour sprint. Relationships are pretty well established. We are all on the same page, but there are a lot of pages to get through yet. Just like in any Harry Potter book, you know the school year will come to a close, but some wild and crazy events are sure to happen before Harry needs to go back to Privet Drive. I am racing spring, but how long do I have before I lose my students to the May sunshine? I build in a few rigorous projects to keep them engaged.

3-3:30: I have a love/hate relationship with the last week of school. Love: Many of my students surprise me with their steadfast determination to see school through until the fat lady does her job. Some students take the time to reflect on the year and share their thoughts with me. I smile. Hate: I think we give finals too early and kids tend to skip out on the last few days. Nonetheless, I calculate grades, file through the required paperwork, lock my classroom and the year has come full circle.

I've noticed that for me, any year in Juneau is all about energy. I think I should take up running to learn to pace myself. I can look back at each of my six years of teaching and recall the experiences, the projects and the tough moments that have shaped me as a teacher, but how I see a year visually in my head has changed very little in over 30 years.

• Mary-Lou Gervais teaches math at JDHS.

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