Monday, August 5, 2013

Pre-Plan: The Real and Not So Real

What are you supposed to do during Pre-Plan, that week of work for teachers before students return? And if the first week is Pre-Plan, when is just plain old "-plan"?

It turns out there are three versions of Pre-Plan week: One occurs in the ideal world, one in the real world and one in my world.

In the ideal world, Pre-Plan gives us time and space to get everything in order for the big day on which the State forces students to return to school. We can decorate our classroom, finish (or start and finish) our syllabuses, map out a few weeks of lesson plans, pick up supplies (a wonderful time that always makes me feel the State loves me and wants me to be happy), try to remember the difference between learning objectives and learning goals, get ready for the first couple of days of administrivia, and write all the necessary stuff on the boards.

In this version, teachers also attend a few, brief, informative faculty meetings to make sure we're all on the same page and that we continue to provide our students with the challenging, rigorous education they expect and deserve.

At the end of the ideal world's Pre-Plan, teachers go home to a restful, serene weekend, put their feet up, perhaps sip an adult beverage in moderation, watch episodes from a couple of seedy but nicely produced cable dramas, and look forward to a smooth beginning to another successful academic year.

In the real world, on the other hand, the meetings are a little longer and more numerous, and they focus chiefly on a torrent of new initiatives, policies, procedures, regulations, and points of emphasis (e.g., stricter dress code, a crackdown on cell-phone use, etc.) for the coming year. 

In some years, there have been long sessions on the district's new insurance plan, allowing an aging faculty to add to its already bulky stockpile of anxieties an awareness of its advancing mortality and the terrifying prospect of extended care.

These meetings also allow teachers to be anchored in one spot for long periods of time while they conduct an internal worry-fest over all the stuff they need to do back in their classrooms.

The real-world Pre-Plan does, however, allow some time for teachers to experience rare moments of solitude as they labor alone in their quiet chambers of learning, simultaneously trying to block out the frightening images from the insurance session while attempting to prioritize tasks for their few remaining hours (of Pre-Plan, not their lives).

Then there's the Pre-Plan week I experience.

First, I always show up on Monday, the "optional comp day." There are no meeting interruptions on that day, and there are always plenty of anxiety-easing chores. I know that the first few hours will be spent putting stuff back where I want it (everything gets rearranged a bit by the nice people who wax the floors over the summer).

One of Monday's treats is seeing previous students and meeting new ones as they drop by to get acquainted and find out what they'll need for next week. I thoroughly enjoy this and strongly recommend that new teachers try to show up for this nice little bit of banter.

By the end of the week, I  have transformed my classroom into what I hope will be a welcoming, comfortable environment -- one that has my personality or fingerprints on it -- for the soon-to-arrive students. I try to find a balance between the room as my place and the room as their place. For example, quotes on the wall should reflect my philosophy or values, but somewhere, somehow the room should also acknowledge that it's a temporary home for frequent youthful visitors.

I try to avoid the temptation to overdo the youth appeal of my room so it comes off looking like a mall video arcade combined with a Justin Beiber Fan Club meeting site. (I'm not sure they even like the Beibs, now turned enfant terrible, anymore.) Anyway, I'd rather my students not think I'm trying too hard to be cool, because, let's face it, I'm not, and you probably aren't, either.

Besides the whole ambiance thing, I put the finishing touches on my syllabuses (more about this in a future post), put together at least a week of lesson plans, and make absolutely sure I know what I want to happen on the first day of class (more on this later) and what my plans are for going over their assigned summer reading (assessment and discussion).

But truthfully, I never do nearly as much as I think I will during Pre-Plan because I bounce around my room like a pinball (ask your parents) and keep making unnecessary trips down to the mailroom and having longish conversations with colleagues about what they did over the summer and how little I did and trying to establish some sort of filing system that'll work better than the one I had last year and going through scraps of notes and old lesson plans in an effort to keep make-up work from being quiet as stress-provoking . . . well, you get the picture.

Then some years, when we're told the campus will be open on Saturday, I come back to make up for all the time I wasted during the week, but quickly begin to fret about how soon Monday a.m. will be here, and this causes me to lose focus, so then I try re-entering the room as if I'm a teenager to see the whole thing through their perspective, then I run through the first-day procedures and despair about the whole thing, then I head for the exit and look back once more at my room, knowing I'm forgetting something, flip the light off, then flip it back on, take one more look, then head home for an anxious remainder of the weekend, and while the cable-drama characters commit stylish acts of violence, I'm thinking chiefly of Monday, thinking "Is this any way to live?" And answering, yes, I love every second of it.

Welcome to high school, kids.


  1. Doc, I do dream of having the 'ideal world Pre-Plan. Wouldn't it be nice if we really could spend our time in our rooms doing what we want?!? I love the last paragraph. I do that same thing. I was ahead of the game as I went through Day 1 lesson plan today. I'm sure I will change it many times before 'Monday gets here'. From the 'lead Dinosaur'

  2. Yes, my Jurassic friend. When's the next meeting? Quick before we fossilize!

  3. How fitting that I should read this before 9:00 AM on Pre-Plan Wednesday--deftly avoiding both colleagues and lesson planning. It's a relief to know I'm not the only anxious pinball up in this joint. Restless and devastatingly inefficient. There's also quite a bit of self-loathing for my grasshopper summer.

  4. Please, Grasshopper, allow US to do the loathing. Use all of your energy to nurture the Amazon within!