Beyond the Baton - March 2021

Last month, I wrote about teaching at Boulter MS and how easy it was to get back into the swing of things, despite not having been in a classroom for over 20 years.  This post, I thought it might be interesting to share some of the differences, which are myriad.  I'll attempt to do so without attempting to delve into the good/bad, why/why not and just describe what is.   I'm not including COVID protocols here, by the way.

First, the size and population of Boulter is enormous, probably twice as large as my M.S. in Toronto.   Visiting the mailroom, one immediately gets a sense of the scale of the place.  The mail slots seem to go on forever!   (Aside: one of my recurring dreams involves me forgetting to retrieve mail from my box at old school, then arriving one morning and realizing that I had forgotten for months!  Very stressed, I walk towards to the mailboxes and the dream ends.  Any ideas what to make of this?)

The school day starts much earlier in Tyler and is much longer as well.  For comparison purposes, my students in Toronto started at 8:45am and were dismissed at 3:05.

Probably related to these long school days:  the students at Boulter, seem awfully tired, especially during last period.  (Classes are also 100m long, compared to 50m in Toronto!).  

No lockers at Boulter, which surprised me.  Students have to lug everything with them, all day.  Thus students are unfamiliar with combination locks, even in grade 8.

Security is very intense.  Both front doors and classroom doors are locked during school hours.  We have a full-time officer on site.  There are very serious-looking first aid trauma kits in each classroom.  During my first lockdown drill, I literally had to ask the students what to do.  It is incredibly sad that they have to deal with this reality, as well as dealing with their academic, artistic and athletic priorities.  In comparison, the front door of my school in Toronto was always unlocked during school hours and teachers were encouraged to leave classroom doors open.  I'm guessing some of these policies are somewhat changed these days.

No bike racks in front of Boulter!  This saddens me.   And the line of cars picking up students is very long.  In Toronto, roughly 1/3 of the students walked or biked to school, including me, about once a week.  One of these blogs, I may describe the several embarrassing and dramatic wipeouts I had riding around that city.

The cafeteria menu at Boulter is very regimented and one does not seem to have much choice.  And no one seems to have to pay, either.  In Toronto, everyone paid.  And the menu, while subject to regulations, was much looser.  Our head cafeteria cook, who was from Jamaica, would often make rotis for lunch, my favorite day of the week!  She'd come out and find me to let me know they were available, and I'd stash my bag lunch in the fridge for one extra day.  YUM.

Dry erase boards vs. chalkboard of my earlier career: now this is a debate worth having.  I miss everything about chalkboards except the dust.  I miss the squeaky sound of chalk rubbing against the board.  I miss the five-pronged device where one would have to insert 5 pieces of chalk and could draw a crooked music staff in one graceful swish of the arm.  I miss the satisfaction of coming back to school and seeing a pristine, sponged-off board in the morning.  (As an aside, we used to write "P.L.O." by items of the board we did not want cleaned.  Did so at Boulter, and it still works!  Stands for "Please Leave On" in case you were wondering.)  Biggest gripe with dry-erase boards:  pens running out of ink.  Second biggest:  difficult to erase cleanly.  

But at the end of the day, the similarities outweigh the differences for sure.  Teachers are over-worked and under-appreciated.  Students run the gamut from extremely motivated and very lazy.  There is a period in middle school also where some kids grow like beanpoles and not, which I always found secretly amusing.  I've always known how important good public schools and the good news is that motivated teachers and students exist and thrive, both in Tyler and Toronto, now and 20 years ago.

The next post, I'll probably deal with my agricultural side gig, picking (and to some extent growing) peaches.  

Richard Lee

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