Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Oracle

There is no question in my mind that my second year of teaching was a much greater success than the first. I was more prepared, more confident, and more competent. Because I had taught much of the material before, I felt as if I had a better understanding of how my students would react to it. I had some inkling as to what they would like and what they would dislike. I could also predict what they would comprehend easily and with what material they would struggle. This additional knowledge helped me to be much more organized and better prepared. I was able to create more effective lessons and I was able to create them more quickly and efficiently. These improvements helped to make my life much easier during year two than it was during year one. The first year felt like one long sprint from September to June; the second year only felt like periodic sprints interspersed with periods of walking.

The biggest difficulty during my second year of teaching came in the form of an extracurricular activity. During the end of my first year, Ms. Penny Mascarelli, our Director of Student Activities, approached me about becoming co-advisor of the yearbook. Fearing the time commitment, I declined. However, I still wanted to be more involved in the school. Therefore, I became, along with fellow English teacher Mr. Marcos Vargas, a co-advisor of The Oracle, Dumont High School’s literary magazine. This experience provided more challenges than I could have expected. Being a new advisor is certainly a difficult experience. Being a new advisor of a club without extensive records is even more challenging. We took over a publication that did not have much in the way of detailed information about its activities. It also did not have much publicity with the student body, as evidenced by the fact that students initially reacted with confused expressions when told about The Oracle. Mr. Vargas and I had two missions. We wanted to increase student awareness about our publication, and successfully publish a book.

We began soliciting submissions in October, even going so far as to set up an email address to which students could submit their own artistic creations (poems, short stories, essays, photographs, drawings, paintings). Student response was slow at first, but began to increase with word of mouth publicity. We also made fliers that each English teacher could give out in class. We talked to our classes about the book and asked for submissions. We extended the submission deadline. Finally, by early March (about a month and a half behind schedule), we had enough artistic, creative submissions to publish a magazine.

We thought that the hardest part was over. It was, for all intents and purposes, mission accomplished. We were, of course, wrong. We still had to lay out the book, compile it, and edit it. Even with some excellent student help, this still took a month and a half. We did not have a final first draft done until right before the April vacation. Getting that done was an emotional lift, but the hardest issues still remained. We still had to re-edit for content, to remove anything that might be offensive to the student body or the community at large. Then, we had to find a publisher, as our needs conflicted with the company that had previously done the work. Finally, by the beginning of June, we had the book in our hands.

Mr. Vargas and I were quite proud of our accomplishments during this year with The Oracle. We produced a very attractive book of high quality. We published the first ever full color literary magazine at Dumont High School. And we bonded with several students, who worked very hard to achieve the club’s goals. Although I can’t speak for Mr. Vargas, I also burnt myself out. Almost three straight months of thinking and worrying about the magazine took its toll. I was exhausted by the end of the school year, not to mention stressed.

There are lessons to be learned. Next year, we will start earlier on the magazine. We will do layout in smaller chunks, maybe once every two weeks year round. We will try to get the magazine turned in for re-editing by March 15th. We have a publisher, so that headache should vanish. Even though I had a much better grasp on my teaching material during my second year, working on the literary magazine made me feel like a first year teacher all over again. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I knew that this job would be challenging, but I had to experience it to fully understand the weight of that challenge. Next year I will be better prepared and make much better choices in regards to the production of this piece of literature. My first year as a co-advisor of The Oracle will certainly be used as an important learning experience.

To view a photo album of the 2006-2007 Oracle, click here. All names and grades have been removed to protect the privacy of those that submitted their work. The staff page and the table of contents have also been omitted. Otherwise, this is the complete book, including mistakes.

To view the Oracle as a slideshow, click here.

Written: 7/23/07

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