Monday, June 8, 2020

Howie Balaban: Back To School - Week 2


Well, so far.

After two full weeks of summer classes, I feel like I have hit my stride. When I went to sleep Sunday night I had managed to get to a point that allowed me to do a little work each day for each of the two classes I’m taking. Prior to that, some of the assignments had been allowed to pile up, and I was spending far too much time digging out of a hole I’d inadvertently dug for myself. This happened for a number of reasons, but rest assured nothing was late or done haphazardly. 

Last week in this space I explained some of my decisions for going back to school. This week, I think I should expand on that a bit.

As most of you know, whenever I used to have full time employment it was as a newspaper reporter. Due to a shift in how so many people consume news, and because of the inability of community newspapers to maintain a physical presence the way they used to (this is a shame, really), I’ve had to adjust my expectations and my focus. So last fall I applied to be a substitute teacher and I started filling in for local educators in December. By the time the world shut down, I had been regularly subbing in Medina and Lyndonville, and I had just been approved to lend a hand in Roy-Hart. 

To that point, the most fun I’d had was in classes that most closely resembled my journalism career. Talking with students in almost every secondary grade level about books and writing not only kept them engaged with me, but I found that I was excited to do it. I want to believe that I can keep that excitement moving forward and limit any bad days, because let’s face it: we all have bad days.

Sure, I found myself subbing for a math teacher or a science teacher on occasion, but in those classes I needed to heavily rely on the lesson plans left for me. In the English classes, I had a better grasp of the material because my career to this point mirrored it more. (Side note: after filling in for an AP Physics teacher my brother jokingly asked what I taught that day. I told him, “AP Physics,” but he pressed the issue, knowing full well that science is not one of my better subjects. I then said the class learned about jewelry and cookies. I could hear his face go, “Huh?” over the phone so I explained, “Yeah, there were questions about joules and questions about newtons.”)

I had a great conversation with a couple Lyndonville students, one of whom needed to pick out a book for an independent reading project. He wanted my recommendation, and after he showed me the list he could choose from we agreed he should read a book by Mark Twain (one of my favorite authors). In one English class in Medina, I filled in while the students were reading the amazing play Twelve Angry Men and thoroughly enjoyed rereading parts of it with them and diving into the meaning of some of it.

Obviously, I know that not every conversation with a student will be as enjoyable as talking about Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn, nor will every class be as pleasant as one that’s reading a play together. That said, I also know that there are 180 days in a school year. The goal is to make more of them better than worse, and if anything, these first two weeks of class have been encouraging in that they are helping to show me how to make that goal a possibility.

Til next week!

Howie Balaban’s mid-life career change journey will be chronicled here. In the interest of general privacy, unless the need arises, it is unlikely he will be mentioning specifics of his classes.