Summer “Break”

June 15, 2017

Summer “Break”

This blog post is part of an ongoing series to capture a Day in the Life of a Teacher, a collective project started by Tina Cardone @crstn85.

I love summer because it is when I get time to do all the things that there is no time for during the school year.  In today’s case, it means doing the only thing that I love more than I love teaching – being a student.

My day starts off at 7:20 when I get out of bed to get ready for school.  This is an hour later than a teaching day, which is delightful in and of itself.  I’m ready and out the door by 7:45, which is a little late, but not too bad.  My tire pressure light is on, but I don’t have time to check the air in my tires right now because I’m giving a presentation at 8:30 and I don’t want to be late.  That light usually comes on pretty easily, so I’m sure it will be fine.

I get to school at 8:15. The campus where my summer professional development/graduate class is meeting is just around the corner from where I teach, so the commute is similar.  At 8:35 we have most of the students in the class and 3 of the 4 people in my book study group, so we begin our presentation.  Our fourth group member shows up shortly thereafter.  The presentation goes smoothly.  The book that we are studying is Cathy Seeley’s “Smarter Than We Think”, and we are talking about the difference between memorization and understanding, which is one of my favorite topics.  My specific presentation point is “using rich tasks”.  I include a number of links, including a “My favorite place to find rich tasks” list from the #MTBoS.

After the book study presentations, we spent an hour and a half going through stations with the teachers from the elementary group.  The activities cover the spectrum from early childhood through middle school.  I love getting the perspective of the lower grade teachers so that I can understand more about how children develop their math knowledge.

After the stations are done we eat lunch.  At lunch, a few of us decide to go for drinks at the end of the day, since it is the last day of our two-week course.  After lunch, we take a couple of surveys.  I finish one early and spend some time talking with my instructor about doctoral programs.  This course has really inspired me to spread the philosophies that they’re teaching like a virus to every math teacher in the world.  I’ve decided to start with a 5-course sequence that will allow me to become certified in Texas as a master mathematics teacher (MMT).  If I’m still having fun after that, I can apply those 5 courses and the 2 I’ve taken this summer and last summer toward a doctoral program.  I’ll be 1/3 of the way through my coursework at that point, which is enough of a start that I’d hopefully have the momentum to finish.  Then I can teach kids during the school year and teach adults during the summer.  While we watch some of the video interviews that people have created of “How I use math in the real world”, I register to take the GRE.  Again.  It’s my third time because my scores keep expiring between degrees.

At 2:00 we’re done and everyone goes their separate ways talking about how excited they are to be on summer break.  I reflect on the fact that I’m teaching summer school for three of the next four weeks and wonder if it was a good choice.  I’m tired and I would love to have a break.  However, I don’t do well with free time, so I think that the two weeks I’m getting off at the end of July will be enough of a break for me.  I just have to hang on until then.  Three of us go to a bar and have drinks.  We have a great time talking about our struggles and successes in teaching.  A friend observes that although we all teach in different environments, one in HISD, one in a charter school, and me in a private school, that challenges that we face are remarkably similar.  How do I connect with the students?  How do I teach them to be thoughtful and responsible?  And why is keeping your locker organized such a challenge?

After a while, we decide to head out.  I go across the street to my school to see if I can find out about our graduate school tuition support program.  it’s a new program and no one seems to have the details.  I run some errands and manage to get home around six.  I try to register for the test to become certified to teach math in Texas, but their system is so byzantine that I can’t figure it out.  They’re already closed for the day, so I’ll have to call them tomorrow.  Since I teach in private school, I’ve never needed to add a math certification to my science certification. However, the MMT program requires a current math certification, so if I want one, I’ll have to get the other.  Since they have an option for grades 4 – 8, it shouldn’t be a significant hurdle.  If I wanted to get the 7 – 12 version, I would definitely have to study my pre-calc and calculus.  Since I’m teaching 6th grade next year, the 4 – 8 option makes more sense for me.

Well, I’m going to call it a day.  I have a quilt class on Saturday and I need to get some fabric pressed and cut to be ready for that.  Tomorrow I can get my lessons ready for the first day of summer camp on Monday.  No rest for the weary.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Reflection questions:

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.  When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

Since I was a student today, instead of a teacher, I made a lot fewer decisions than I would have normally.  I’m glad that I reached out to make a connection socially with a couple of the other teachers in my class.  The great thing about our profession is that it is a collaborative effort.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

I’m still trying to rebound from how tired I was at the end of the school year.  Last Sunday I sat at the breakfast table looking forward to going to church, as I do every week.  When it was time to get up and go, I couldn’t do it.  I wound up getting up and going back to bed instead.  I didn’t get up again until about seven in the evening.  After sleeping all day, I was still able to sleep all night.  Clearly, I was tired.  Still, this course is wonderful and I’m glad that I’m enrolled in it, even if I did miss a day of church from all the nights I was up past midnight last week studying.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers, we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

I had a peer make fun of me in class last week, and it hurt my feelings.  Two relational moments came out of that.  I made a point of getting to know her better since we needed to work together during the course of the class. And, when I wrote about that decision in a journal entry for my class, I had a relational moment with my instructors when they told me how much they appreciated my effort. They said that they were inspired by my response to the situation, which really made me feel good.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.

What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

My goal for the summer is to catalog all the work that I did revising my lessons for sixth and seventh grade last school year.  I have all the paperwork, but it hasn’t made it into the designated binders yet.  I’d like to get that done before my vacation at the end of July so that all those resources are ready to use next year.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

I met a lot of wonderful colleagues in my graduate class.  I had a great talk with a middle school teacher about privilege and how we can help students in underrepresented groups to achieve.  The next day she told me that our conversation had spurred her to finish her administrator’s certification so she could influence hiring and have a larger impact on education.  We agreed to keep in touch so that we could network and extend our influence.  I met another engineer turned teacher who has great ideas about helping me develop my engineering curriculum for next year. She told me about the technology courses that she took in the UK and how they got her hooked on engineering in middle school.  I just love talking with other educators who are passionate about their work.  Sometimes all the griping you hear in the course of a regular school day can bring you down.  Being with people who are excited about teaching is like a breath of fresh air.

 

The last day of school!

Friday, May 26, 2017

The last day of school

This blog post is part of an ongoing series to capture a Day in the Life of a Teacher, a collective project started by Tina Cardone @crstn85.

Yesterday was our last day of classes.  There were a lot of interruptions with Baccalaureate and locker clean out, so only two of my five classes actually met.  But today, there are no classes at all, just assemblies and a goodbye for the summer party.

7:15 – I arrive on campus.  Usually, there would be about half the faculty here, but today only a few cars are in the parking lot.  I guess no one comes in for early help when the last day of classes was yesterday.  I am met in the parking lot by a student I taught this year, who hands me a card.  What a nice way to start the day!

7:45 – I have my tech checkout meeting.  We go through the checklists that include every device I have in my room and if they need and repair or replacement.  Since I “only” have a laptop, iPad, and document camera, my checkout is considered an easy one and I have a 15-minute time slot.

7:55 – The tech coordinator is ready for me now, but I have to be in class at 8:00.  She lets me just drop everything off and go to class.  She can always ask me next week if there is anything I left off my checkout sheets.

8:00 – I take attendance and we go downstairs for our last assembly.  This one is “Fourth-grade Fly-Up” where the lower school head reads stories imagining what groups of fourth graders will be doing 20 years from now.  After the story, they get a feather from the middle school head, then run along high fiving the middle school faculty on their way to their new seats in the bleachers, where the fifth-graders sit for assemblies.  It’s really sweet and the kids and parents seem to like it a lot.

9:00 – We’re done with fly up and I talk to a few parents about my engineering course for next year.  They want to know how to get in and are excited when I let them know that it is required for all sixth and eighth graders.  I also ask two of the parents who work in engineering to come in and speak in class next year.  They are very willing.

I run around looking for the teacher who is supposed to be showing a movie to the sixth-grade students, and wind up passing her on my search, so she gets to the group before I do.  I bring my laptop and late papers to grade while the kids watch the movie.  While I’m getting my things together, one of last year’s students brings me a card.  I’m touched because I was his teacher last year, not this year.  But when I read the card, I am even more touched.  He said that he always liked math before, but being in my class ignited a passion for math that he hadn’t imagined before then.  It is definitely the best card I’ve gotten in many years.  When I see him around campus, I make sure to tell him that.

9:30 – I sit in the back of the room grading the late papers that were turned in the last couple of days while the kids watch the movie.  I think it’s funny that they talk continuously throughout the movie.  I wonder if this is generational or if it is just the way kids watch movies.  I remember going to the theater in high school and being a lot more interested in talking to my friends than watching the film, which I know annoyed some of the other moviegoers.  There are still a lot of things I have to learn about kids, despite the fact that next year will be my 20th year in the classroom.

10:15 – The late papers are graded and entered.  The only thing I need to do now is update the late homework that the kids did in IXL.  I’m not sure I can focus clearly on that in this environment, so I’ll save it for later.  I can do it after our 11:30 dismissal today.

10:40 – It’s time for our class party, so we turn off the end of the movie and move the kids into the small gym.  There are enough parents in there that I decide to go get some work done.  I bump into a student who has lost his fidget spinner and wind up spending time looking for that.  Before I know it, it is time for dismissal.

11:25 – I help move the kids to the front of the school, and work as a car hop connecting kids with cars until we’re down to one student who needs to go home.  It’s hard saying goodbye to a couple of my favorite students (not that I have favorites!) who are moving away.  Hopefully, they will visit.

12:05 – I go back upstairs to pack up.  The headmaster stops by to check in on the new teacher mentor program.  There are a couple of people who are fired up to do it, and he asks if I would mind stepping aside.  I assure him that I am happy to let someone else fill that role.  It was something I took on when another person left unexpectedly, but it’s not something I feel a particular passion for doing.  We chat about weekend plans, and I head out.  I grab my sandwich from the fridge and eat a quick lunch before I leave.

12:20 – Traffic is unexpectedly heavy.  I don’t expect a lot of people to be on the freeway at lunchtime, but here they are.  My sandwich wasn’t filling, so I stop in at Starbucks for a snack.

12:45 – I arrive at the quilt shop for my 1:00 class.  There are already several students there and working.  I wonder if I am late, but I am not.  They are just early.

2:00 – I’m enjoying the class a great deal, but I am so tired that I think I’m going to cry.  I make my apologies to my teacher and go home to take a nap.

4:00 – Although I’ve been home for an hour, I’m still fussing around taking care of chores.  I’ve scheduled three summer doctor’s appointments for checkups and took care of one last form related to my tech checkout that I did this morning.  Now I’m updating this post that I haven’t touched since 10:15 this morning.  I wonder if I still want to take a nap.  I’m supposed to be at a friend’s house in two hours for a surprise birthday party.  I don’t know if I am going to stay up and go, or give up and nap.  I was just telling my headmaster at noon that I’m getting better at knowing when I’ve reached my limit, rather than looking behind me and seeing that I’ve already passed it.  Now I wonder if I am so much better at it after all.  Tomorrow I need to run errands, drop off a cake at the church, get my eye exam, and I’m supposed to go to a meeting for better understanding at a mosque.  I would prefer to spend the day on the couch in my pajamas.  We’ll see what happens.

4:55 – I’ve finished updating my grade book with the rest of the late work that I received.  At carpool today, one brilliant, but disorganized, young lady told me that she had left some papers on my desk.  I’m so relieved to hear that because the zeros were bringing her average down a lot and given her abilities she really should be earning a high A.  Now she will.  I start to set up groups to track the students’ summer math work and then realize that I don’t have the class lists for the students I don’t teach.  I could look them up, but I’m tired.  I can do it tomorrow.  The only reason I need those lists is that I’m tracking summer work for all the middle school students.  There are two other teachers in the department, but one hasn’t been hired yet and the other won’t look at the students’ work over the break, so I offered to do all the students.  It isn’t that much more work than just tracking my own.  I think I’m going to try for that nap after all.

7:00 – Well, I was supposed to be at the party at 6:40 to rehearse our version of the Hallelujah chorus with joke happy birthday wording.  I guess I’m not going.  I get up and eat dinner.  We walk the dogs and run some errands.  I exchange emails with the tech director about how to get my classes set up to watch everyone’s summer math progress.  Because she has different privileges than I do, she can see information that I cannot.  I’m trying to make that clear to her so she will send me what I need to complete the setup.

10:15 – Well, there’s a lot more to do, but I have a three-day weekend to do it.  I can write comments and plan summer school and run more errands another day.  For now, I’m going to check in on the #MTBoS on Twitter.

11:00 – All is well in the world of math, and I downloaded a few freebies and a few paid items from Angela Watson on TpT.  Time to sleep.  Tomorrow’s another day.

 

Reflection questions:

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.  When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

Putting one foot in front of the other has been difficult this last week.  As I write this, a week later, I realize it is just because I was tired.  I have slept for 10 – 12 hours a night every day since school ended, plus taken a couple of naps.  Clearly, I didn’t take my own advice about treating school as a marathon, not a sprint.  I think I’ve been sprinting since about spring break and I’m exhausted.

I am really looking forward to my summer because I have tons of fun activities planned.  I am starting a 2-week graduate course at Rice on June 5th.  That’s also the day that Dr. Jo Boaler’s new MOOC starts, which should be excellent. Then I’m teaching three weeks of summer math camp through Rice, doing math with a STEM focus.  It’s ungraded enrichment, so we can just do all the fun things and play for 3 hours a day.  I’m going to theme each day, so we do one day on Art, one day on Flight (with a paper airplane contest!), one day on Space, maybe one day on Music?  I’ll have fun planning it and have fun teaching it.  After that ends, I get two weeks off, which will hopefully be spent with my husband goofing around.  I’m not much for rattling around the house by myself.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers, we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

The most relational moment I can think of is receiving the card that I got from my former student who graduated today.  It encourages me to know that I made a connection with him and that there will be more students in the future with whom I will connect.  Certainly, there will also be those that I don’t connect with, but that’s ok.  We just need each student to connect with someone on campus, it doesn’t need to be with everyone.  As long as I am that someone for some students, then I am happy.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.

What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

I am very happy to have completed my curriculum re-write for including conceptual understanding activities with each lesson in grades 6 and 7.  My main priority for next year is going to be communication with students and parents to make sure that they are clear on what I am trying to accomplish and how I am providing support to each child so they can learn.  That was something that snuck up on me this year because instead of asking me questions, people went straight to complaining to my principal in several cases.  I’d like to be more proactive next year so there are fewer people upset because they don’t understand what I’m trying to do and how I’m doing it.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

Our school had some students who made poor choices at the 11th hour and there were a number of faculty members that were unhappy with how things were handled.  The more I hear about the whole situation, the more I think they handled it very well.  I don’t know how to do their job and I don’t want to know, so I’m hesitant to criticize their work.  However, it’s natural for us to have opinions about how to interact with children because we all do that every day.  Still, I’ve come out of this year very happy to work at the school where I work and I’m looking forward to another year at this school.

 

Monday, May 15 – Lord help us all, it’s May

This blog post is part of an ongoing series to capture a Day in the Life of a Teacher, a collective project started by Tina Cardone @crstn85.

We have two weeks of school left.  Everyone is feeling the “spring fever” that comes with imminent summer break.  Many students are parents are also feeling the anxiety of trying to raise their grade to where they want it to be in the few days that we have left.  I don’t give end of year exams in my classes (6th and 7th grade math), so that is one stress that is relieved for all of us.

7:20 – I meant to get to school earlier today, but arrived at my regular time after all.  I stop in the lunch room to refill my water bottle and they remind me that we have a dance performance this morning.  I wonder if we will get to class on time after the performance.  Hopefully, we’ll have enough of second period for me to still teach a lesson.

7:25 – On my way to my room a colleague stops me to talk about some tutoring she is doing with one of my students.  They hand me a stack of work that he owes me.  Yay!

7:30 – A student is here to retake a quiz from last week that he wasn’t ready for at the time.  Another student drops in to hand in some late work.  Children filter in for first period.

8:05 – We go downstairs for the dance performance.

8:30 – The performance scheduled for 8:15 starts.  This doesn’t bode well for second period.

9:05 – We get out of the dance performance with half of second period left.  That is just long enough for my seventh graders to complete a card sort on measures of central tendency.

9:25 – I go over some grades with a student who has been trying to raise her average.  Then I get coffee and respond to emails.  We need to get our ducks in a row for the award ceremony on Thursday.  We had this all worked out several weeks ago, but then a couple of teachers decided to do things a different way and didn’t communicate that to the group.  Communication is an ongoing struggle in my department.  I ask the curriculum coordinator to sort it out, because it needs to be done today.

10:13 – We have a fire drill.  It is uneventful.

10:27 – We get back from the fire drill with 3 minutes left in snack.

10:35 – My second class of seventh graders comes in.  We discuss a quote from Derek Jeter about the importance of effort.  Then we do the same card sort that the other class completed on measures of central tendency.  The idea of skew is new to them, so most of their questions are about that.

11:20 – Class lets out.  I prepare and print the certificates for the kids who earned National level Honorable Mention in the Noetic Learning contest.  We didn’t have any last year, and this year there were 11 in my classes alone, which is a great improvement. Yay!

11:50 – I walk across the street to pick up some lunch.  On my way to Starbucks, I pass three other teachers coming back.  It’s clear that we all need a little TLC right now.

12:45 – My sixth-grade classes are coming in now.  I forgot that I was supposed to do a new seating chart, so I pull out a set of cards with integer operation problems.  The kids who have the same answer sit together, so it’s a warmup and a seating chart all in one.  Once they’re settled, we do a systems of equations warmup from Mash-up Math.  This one is really interesting because although there are five equations and five unknowns, there are still infinite solutions.  (Is that called degenerate?  I’m not sure, but that sounds impressive.)  We can find distinct values for three of the variables and the other two always sum to 13, but that’s all we know about them.  It is an interesting discussion.  We move on to the lesson, which is using proportions to solve word problems.

Although my students are proficient at solving proportions, when I ask them “what is a proportion?” no one can tell me.  They like to solve by inspection, so it is crucial for this lesson that they know what a proportion is and can write one to represent the story problems they’re being asked to solve.  This is just another example of the way that we train kids to care more about the answer than the process.  To their credit, when I ask them “Do I care about the answer?” someone says “You care about the process.”  (I do care a little about the answer, just not much.)  I am reminding them to label all their numbers with units and a student says “but you can just look in the problem to see what it represents.”  So I ask him how I’m supposed to know what it represents.  Under his breath, he tells me that I should look in the problem.  Ok, I guess I walked into that, but still, I don’t need sass from a 12-year-old right now.  I tell him that he could just show his work instead.

Seventh and eight periods are much like sixth, and then classes are over.  I have a student here to retake a quiz, so after I finish dismissal duty we study a bit and he retakes it.  This is a quiz on perimeter and area of composite figures.  As an experiment, I’ve given the final answers as a check.  When this student took the original quiz, he tried to use the answer as part of the given information to derive the sides he didn’t know.  Unfortunately, he didn’t do it correctly, and he also never used things like the Pythagorean theorem to find some parts of the shape.  I explain to him how the quiz should only use those answers as a check.  I also show him to run his finger along the outside of the shape to identify which pieces get added into the perimeter.  While he is taking the retake, he reports that this is a helpful strategy.  That’s good to hear because I never know which tips will work for different students.  He finishes his quiz around 4:45 and leaves.

I do some work and head out about 5:15.  I run one errand and get home around 6:30.  Unfortunately, I’ve spent the whole day having a tantrum on the inside because I really didn’t want to be at work today.  Last week was a huge emotional roller coaster with tons of feedback both good and bad.  I’m tired and anxious about what this week will be like.  My husband is distracted by all the end-of-year things he has on his plate.  Because of that, we are struggling to hold a conversation rather than talking past each other.

By dinner, I’m quiet and he knows something is wrong.  I declare that I’m going on strike for the rest of the night and won’t be doing the dishes.  He offers, but I am fine letting it wait until tomorrow.  Then I realize the housekeeper is coming tomorrow and we don’t like the way she does the dishes.  I put on a Rammstein album at volume 10 and start washing dishes.  My husband hears the music and takes the dog for a walk to escape my wrath.  It’s not directed at him, it’s the dishes and at the endless list of things I don’t want to do.  I just want a break.

As I’m finishing the dishes I get a call from a number I don’t recognize.  I answer, and it turns out to be from the Alley Theater trying to get me to buy tickets.  I’ve already decided to do opera tickets instead of ballet or theater this year, but I haven’t heard what the Alley has in their upcoming season, so I listen to her pitch.  She is so nice to talk to and they have Saturday matinees (which the opera does not) and they have a payment plan (which the opera does not) and so before I know it, I’ve bought a season subscription.  Well, it will be easier to find a friend to come with me to a play on Saturday afternoon than to an opera on Saturday night.  And I can still pick one or two operas to see, just not the whole season.

9:30 – That’s enough for one day, so I decide to get some sleep.

Reflection questions:

  • Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.  When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

I had to find a way to get the math department on the same page with regard to giving awards at the end of the week.  It appears that I’m the only one concerned with consistency in that, but I know from experience that if we do it differently at each grade level, there will be confusion and hurt feelings.  I want to avoid that if possible and I think I did a good job communicating without stepping on toes.

I’m not as happy with the way I dealt with the student who sassed me under his breath.  I should have spoken to him privately instead of responding to him out loud.  However, sometimes that makes an even bigger deal out of the issue.  Also, since others heard him, I felt that it was important for others to hear my response.  This is something I’ve always struggled with handling well.

  • Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

I am really looking forward to summer.  I have two weeks of classes as a student and three weeks of summer math camp as a teacher, then three weeks off.  The challenge is just to get there.  This is the last two weeks of my overloaded teaching schedule.  Honestly, right now I don’t feel like I have 9 days left in me.  A friend is home sick with a fever and I joked that I might have to come over and lick her spoon just so I could get a day off.  I don’t think it’s a good sign when being sick sounds better than being at work.

  • We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

Last week both of my administrators helped me a lot with dealing with some push back that I was receiving from parents about my teaching techniques.  I really appreciated their willingness to meet me where I am, listen to my responses (both intellectual and emotional) and give me concrete suggestions on how to address the feedback while at work and then leave it at work when I went home at night.  This experience increased my trust in my administrators to work in my best interest and therefore increased my commitment to the school.

  • Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.

I have now completed my curriculum re-write for both classes for this year.  I am proud of having developed a fully textbook-independent set of lessons.  That means that whatever textbook I am assigned, I can use it as much or as little as I want.  It was a huge effort to complete and I am very proud of the results.  It will also help me for future years, because now I can plan lessons with minor changes to add more real-world problems, 3-act tasks, open middle, etc.

  • What else happened this month that you would like to share?

We talked in a faculty meeting about finishing strong for ourselves and for the students.  This is the first time I can remember in 19 years of teaching that I was tempted to coast through the end of the year.  I am so tired.  I would love to give the kids a worksheet and just sit at my desk.  However, if there is one thing I know, it is that I won’t be happy with their behavior if I do that.  Because talking is encouraged in my class, I have to make sure that we have something mathematical that is worth discussion, or the discussion will turn to social drama instead.  I’m sad that several teachers I know are surprised by my determination to keep teaching right to the end.  If we don’t keep working until the last day, how can we expect our students to do it?  I know they are tired, and I am tired too, but every instructional day is precious and we can’t waste them.

 

Testing Day

Thursday, April 13, 2017 – Testing day

This blog post is part of an ongoing series to capture a Day in the Life of a Teacher, a collective project started by Tina Cardone @crstn85.

Today is the last of four days of testing at our school for the sixth grade.  The students have been on a special schedule all four days.  From 8:00 – 8:30 they are in their testing rooms to get iPads set up, attendance taken, and settle down.  This allows enough time for anyone late to school to still get into the testing room.  At 8:30 we start, taking two tests with a break in between.  We finish up around 10:30, and then the kids have free time in the testing room.  At 11:20 they go to class and run their normal schedule for the rest of the day.

I’m very lucky because I’m in a private school.  These test results are primarily used to give us data on how our instruction is working for the class as a whole.  I think they also go on the kids’ transcripts for when they apply to high school.  The extent of the preparation we do is to teach our curriculum.  I did include a warmup this week on percent problems, because we hadn’t discussed those since that unit, and I expect that it is on the test.  Otherwise, it’s just business as usual.

7:30 – I arrive at school.  There are a couple of students there to see me for extra help on tests they would like to retake.

8:00 – Everyone is here, so we take attendance and head for the chapel.  Thursday is our once a week chapel day, and because it is Holy week, we are doing “Stations of the Cross” today.  We’re expecting the chapel to run longer than the normal service.  I stress to the group that this is a solemn time and as we walk in and out of chapel we should be quietly reflecting on Christ’s crucifixion, not chatting about our plans for the weekend.

8:45 – The chapel service was lovely and actually not much longer than normal.  We head back to the room to get ready for testing.  I tell kids to get their snacks from their lockers, use the restroom, get a drink, and be ready to start at 9:00.

9:00 – We go through the instructions word for word, one more time.  The kids know that I am required to read them word for word, so they are patient.  I tease one girl for clicking “ok” on a pop-up box before I actually tell them to click “ok”.  This is a verbal reasoning test that lasts 30 minutes.  It is uneventful.

9:45 – Everyone is done with the first test and we take a snack and restroom break.  The teacher who is floating pops in, so I go for a cup of coffee and the restroom myself.

10:00 – Everyone is back in their seats and we start the next test.  This one is vocabulary, and it is only 20 minutes.  How nice to finish with something short and relatively easy.

10:30 – We’re all done and I call over to see if the gym is available.  Yesterday we just played games and read in my classroom, but I don’t want these kids to feel like they missed out on recess time.  I can’t reach anyone, and they seem perfectly happy playing in my room, so I leave it alone.

11:20 – I send the kids off to class and try to get some work done.  I also eat my lunch and decide to pop across the street for dessert.  I get a smoothie.  It’s delicious.

12:50 – The kids are fidgety after testing, but they seem to settle in after a couple of minutes.  I felt like my lesson on surface area didn’t make sense yesterday, so I try a different approach.  I don’t teach nets because I think they are confusing and just an extra layer of math for the kids to learn.  Yesterday I told them to just find the area of each side.  That was too vague.  Today, we start by looking at a cube.  I ask them what the sides are called.  They say “faces”.  I say, ok, that’s what math people call them.  What do normal people call them?  They are stumped.  I point to one and ask “What is this called?”  Someone says “The top.”  I write “top” on the board.  In seconds we have a list of all six sides.  They I start asking how to find the area of each side.  We find them and add them up.  We repeat the process with a rectangular prism and finally a triangular prism.  They seem to have the hang of it, so they return to practicing on the worksheet I gave out yesterday.  I’m pleased that it went better the second time around.

1:40 – My next class comes in and we repeat the lesson from the previous period.  They were less confused going in because I did a better job with them yesterday.  We practice finding surface areas.  One or two students are finding the volume, so we talk about the difference.  One student is finding the area of only one side.  I’m not sure how she picked that one side.  We talk about all the other sides and how you have to include all of them.  Someone or other has their hand up throughout the class, which makes me feel needed, but also makes me wonder if I didn’t give enough instruction before letting them practice.

2:30 – This class didn’t meet yesterday because of the testing schedule (we have a rotating schedule.)  We watch act three of @robertkaplinsky file cabinet 3-act task.  Several people say “I got 864 for four sides because I didn’t think about the handles.  Is that right or is it wrong?”  I try to engage them in a conversation about what “right” and “wrong” mean in this context.  No one would think about the handles until they actually put on the sticky notes, I argue.  So 864 is a perfectly reasonable expectation.  Life isn’t like a perfectly set up math problem.  I’m not sure they understand.  We move on to calculating surface area in a more general way.  I explain to them that there are lots of formulas, but all you need to do is list the sides, find each one’s area, and add them up.  We do a couple, and I give them one to try on their own.  I tell them they are dismissed when they have gotten it right.  Most of the kids actually get it, although a couple just get answers from friends.  I talk with them about why that isn’t helpful.  When there are 3 kids left, we work the problem together so they can succeed, and go home.

3:30 – I have two kids with me after school.  One is taking a test.  The other is studying for a retake.  When his Mom asks what time he will be done, I say 4:30.  He doesn’t like that.  I explain that he has a late assignment to make up after the retake, plus the classwork that he didn’t do today because he chose to work on the late assignment.  When he makes his frustration with this plan clear, I assure him that it is his choice whether he does the assignments now or over the weekend.  He makes a dramatic face and says “Fine, I’ll stay!”

I’m trying to get him to show work on how to solve an equation.  He doesn’t see that you have to do the same thing to both sides, and the variables keep getting isolated as if by magic.  Finally, I take out counters and a cup.  We put 18 counters on one table and 12 on the other.  I put a cup with the 12 counters and ask him how many are in the cup if the two tables are equal.  He looks in the cup and says “None”.  I ask him how many would need to be there.  Eventually, we work out that it is six.  I put in six.  Then I ask him to get the cup by itself, while still keeping the two tables equal.  He declares it to be impossible.  We talk more.  Eventually, we each take off 12 counters.  He says “OH!  So you mean I need to subtract 120 from BOTH sides in that equation?”  I think I will faint with relief, and ask him to do just that.  He proceeds to tell me that he understands that, but everything else I’ve said today was very confusing and made no sense.  I cringe on the the inside and say thank you.

5:00 – We’re finally wrapped up and I head out.  On the way home, I talk with a friend I met in a graduate class last summer about an opening at my school.  I get nervous because I feel like she’s interviewing me.  However, I tell her the truth, good and bad, about my school.  I would really like for her to work there because she is energetic and fun and she loves teaching and loves kids.  She says she will apply for the position.

6:00 – I get home and decide to take the evening off.  It’s the start of a four-day weekend, and I need to get some down time.  I’m not my best self right now, and I want to get closer to that place before the new week starts.  Next week is our class trip, which will require extra patience for everyone involved.  I have a lot of papers to grade this weekend, but that can wait until tomorrow.

To cheer myself up, I ask my husband out to dinner.  We strategize on when all the leftovers will be eaten if we go out, and once we’re convinced that we’re not wasting food, we go across the street for fish.  Dinner is delicious.  After that, we go to a local bookstore to shop.  I find several titles.  As I’m browsing teen fiction, a woman comes up and asks me if I’m a teacher.  I say yes.  She asks me if I can help her find a book called Speak.  I tell her the author is Laurie Anderson and show her where the book is.  Her daughter comes up, and we have a chat about school and about Speak.  I ask how she knew I was a teacher.  She says “I could tell from your face.”  I have no idea what that means, but I like it.

Reflection questions:

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.  When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

Today I asked a student to take off her non-uniform jacket during testing.  Later she put it back on.  I asked her to take it off again.  She complained that it was cold.  I told her that I had asked them to raise them temperature in the room and that the air was already shut off.  Normally I wouldn’t be worried about this, but since we were taking high stakes tests, now I’m worried that if her test scores are low, they will try to blame it on me for making her take a test when she was cold.  I should have thought it through and just ignored the jacket.

In better news, I’m glad that I put in the time that I did with the kid after school.  I did a fairly good job of not letting his very emotional state cause me to snap at him.  For this time of year, that’s saying something.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

I’m really looking forward to next year.  I’m teaching a couple of new electives in engineering, and to make space for that I asked to be relieved of one section of 7th-grade math.  My administration actually relieved me of both of my 7th-grade sections, which means next year won’t be as crushingly busy as this year has been.  Seeing that light at the end of the tunnel is making it easier to work through the end of year crush.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers, we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

I had a great meeting with my headmaster last week.  I was asking for help with managing my workload and he was very willing to take an hour out of his day to help me.  We agreed that the underlying issue is that we have completed expanding our class offerings, but we haven’t finished fully staffing the expansion.  Since then, I found out that we would be adding faculty that would help resolve my issue for next year, which is great news.  But even before I knew that the time the headmaster was willing to spend with me meant a lot to me.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.

Although I have a concrete plan for how to differentiate for the entire class, there is no time to implement it this year.  I will revamp a couple of units over the summer and use them next year.  It really helps that I’m only teaching sixth-grade math next year, so I only have one class to re-write instead of two.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

I know one of the questions we hoped to answer with this project is what the ebb and flow of a school year feels like for teachers.  I’ve always said that February is the toughest because the refreshment of winter break is over and spring break hasn’t come.  I still think that is true.  But I also realize that April and May are chock full of special events, special schedules, and a frenzied to-do list of all the things that need to be finished before school ends.  This week, two of the four days I had no off period at all.  Every one of them was taken up with either testing or a meeting.  It wasn’t just the testing schedule that caused that, though, because last week, I had three days with no off period that wasn’t a scheduled meeting.  This is partly because I teach one extra class, but also because there is just a lot going on right now.  We’re trying to get kids to end the year strong.  We’re trying to get summer work assignments ready.  We’re thinking about courses that will be offered next year.  We’re trying to get ready to go on the class trip.  I’ll be really glad when summer gets here.  Between graduate work and summer school, I only get three weeks off in the summer, and those are in July, but I’m still looking forward to it.

 

 

The middle of spring break

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

This blog post is part of an ongoing series to capture a Day in the Life of a Teacher, a collective project started by Tina Cardone @crstn85.

Ah, spring break.  A time to rest and catch up on projects for school and around the house.  I prefer not to travel on spring break, because this far into the school year, my to-do list has gotten out of control and I need a chance to catch up.

Unfortunately, I’ve been sick for the past 4 weeks, so I don’t think much is going to get done today.  I have bronchitis now and my plan is to sit around the house in my pajamas all day, which should make for a short blog entry.

9:00 – I wake up, catch up on email and twitter.

9:30 – For breakfast I eat some oatmeal and make a pot of tea to share with my husband when he gets up.  He is also on spring break, and usually gets up around 9:30 on holidays.

10:15 – I decide to take a nap, so I read a library book for half an hour and then sleep.

1:45 – I have some leftovers for lunch and then catch up on my last DITLife blog post.  I hadn’t had a chance to do the reflection questions until now.  I really like the reflection piece of this project.  I am a highly reflective teacher by nature, so these are the kinds of questions that I enjoy.  I also email a student who is (hopefully) doing some remedial work over the break with suggestions on things she can do.

2:45 – We watch the last half of a movie that we started last night.  It’s not unusual, even on break, for us to start a movie after dinner and then I get tired and go to bed halfway through, so we have to finish it the next day.

3:45 – After the movie, I have a snack and look at some resources for upcoming units.  I fall prey to the lure of TpT and wind up ordering some games for my classroom.  This is a seller that I’ve seen a sample product she listed for free and liked it a lot, so now I’ll have a complete set of her games so I can have one available for every unit for the kids to play.  I just need to round up 10 used Pringles cans to keep them in.  With that in mind, I ask my husband to buy Pringles when he goes to the store.

5:00 – I put on some Star Trek Next Generation and play with my new teacher planner that I bought from the same seller on TpT.  Right now I don’t have a good organization for things like sub plans and emergency information.  This will be a good way to keep track of things.  I would also like to start keeping attendance and grades separately.  Right now I keep them together and sometimes I don’t remember to take attendance every period.  (We’re only required to take attendance first period every day.  I always ask the kids where missing classmates are, but I don’t always remember to write it down.)

6:15 – It’s amazing how long you can spend playing with fonts and organizational tools.  As fun as that was, I’m going to see about making dinner and finding something else to do for the evening.  I think the day of rest was helpful, I’m feeling better than I was.

8:00 – While hanging about on Twitter, I stumbled into the NCTM chat for an article from MTMS.  It was on teaching for conceptual understanding before procedural fluency, which is something that I only explicitly learned about last year, but has been an idea near and dear to my heart for all of my teaching career.  The chat was great, and I came away with an Ignite talk from Annie Fetter that I was excited to hear.  Then I listened to two more Ignite talks of hers on YouTube.  I really see how Notice and Wonder connects with the idea of developing the headache before we give kids the aspirin.  Her premise that students can’t hear a solution to a question that they didn’t ask makes so much sense to me.  I’m going to keep looking for applications to the problems that I create and I’m going to start presenting situations with the question removed so the kids can just notice and wonder and ask questions themselves.  Then we can solve the questions that they ask and hopefully that will help with both their interest and their memory.

9:30 – I’m going to read my library book and go to bed.

Reflection questions:

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.  When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

Well, I’m sure I shouldn’t have spent money on Teachers Pay Teachers.  I told myself that I wasn’t going to keep pumping money into my classroom after the outrageous amount that I spent last year.  But, I’m looking forward to the games I bought and to the new planner system.  Hopefully, it will keep me a little more organized.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

I’m really excited about the new courses that I’m teaching next year.  We haven’t ironed out exactly what I’m doing, but it’s going to be some combination of engineering and some math/coding based on a series of lessons that Khan Academy put up about how Pixar makes their movies.  I’ve mentioned a little bit to the kids so far and they are excited.  My only challenge lately has been not overcommitting on all the things that I’m excited to do next year, and this summer.  Right now I have two weeks of vacation this summer, and given the amount of work I usually do over the summer, that isn’t enough.  Still, I’ll make it work.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

The most relational moment I’ve had recently was with my husband.  Last week we celebrated our twentieth anniversary.  A long time ago my mentor teacher told me that it was good that I cared so much about my students and their one shot at my class, but when I said “My husband will always be there” she said “Don’t be so sure.  If you don’t take care of your marriage, he might not be.”  That was good advice.  Luckily, my husband really likes to work a lot too, so we muddle through.  He’s been a great role model to me of what a dedicated teacher looks like.  He’s teaching an extra class and coaching the robotics team next year, so we’re both going to have to continue to be mindful about carving out time together every week.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.  What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

Well, I had originally planned to spend a lot of time this week digging through some NASA engineering curricula that I picked up at the LLI conference as well as planning that self-paced unit for the end of the year.  However, sometimes you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else, and that is where I find myself now.  All of that work will still be waiting for me next week, and I’m sure I will find a way to get it all done.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

I had some good conversations with my principal and with the headmaster about the work that I am doing at the school.  They’re continuing to ask me to teach more classes and I’m having to push back to ask that they balance the teaching load more fairly between myself and my colleagues.  I love to teach and there is a part of me that wants to teach all the classes!  However, I also know that I can offer more to the program if I am not overloaded.  I never want to take on so many classes that I start teaching them poorly, and I think my administrators understand that.  I’m curious to see what they will work out for my teaching assignment for next year.

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Friday, March 3, 2017

Spring Parent Conference Day

This blog post is part of an ongoing series to capture a Day in the Life of a Teacher, a collective project started by Tina Cardone @crstn85.

In our school, we have two days of parent conferences a year, one in the fall and one in the spring.  I have 10 boys in my advisory this year, so I will have 10 conferences.  In my case, four scheduled for first thing and four scheduled for lunchtime.  One is sick so we’ll do it next week, and one is MIA.  I’m sure they’ll call at some point today or next week to schedule a spot.

The conferences are student led.  We spent the week preparing a script of things to discuss, including what our trimester 2 goals were, what action plan we followed to achieve them, what we learned about ourselves in the process, and what our plans are for next trimester.  I also had the boys do a reflection on some fixed/mixed/growth mindset statements to see where they are in developing a growth mindset and if it had changed since trimester 1.  That should give them plenty of things to discuss.  My role is only to take notes and answer questions, so it is a relatively low-key day for me.

7:20 – Arrive at school.  Because my first conference starts at 7:40, I can have a friendly chat with the receptionist and a Spanish teacher that I see in the lobby.

7:40 – My first conference is here.  It goes smoothly and we identify some action items to continue progress in trimester 3.

8:00 – My second conference is very positive.  This student is new to the school and we agree that he is adjusting well both socially and academically.

8:20 – My third conference also goes well.  The family is very complimentary of the school as a whole and tells me that they are applying for their younger son to join us as well.

8:50 – I catch up with another teacher on some students that she advises and I teach.  We share notes on how to help them best prepare for Algebra 1 next year with her.

9:00 – My fourth conference is surprising.  The young man is a very strong student, but he cries when he talks about his struggles to stay focused when he is trying to do his homework.  I didn’t realize how much it upset him to want to achieve a goal and then be constantly distracted by other things.  I wonder briefly if he needs testing, but I think this is just normal pre-teen development, and he will learn (with my help) to schedule his time and stick to his schedule.

9:20 – I email my principal and headmaster to pass on the compliments from two of the families this morning saying how pleased they are with our whole school community and the way their boys are progressing at our school.  Yay team!

My next conference is at noon, so I’m going to clean my desk, plan lessons, and catch up with my principal on what his goals are for the engineering class he wants me to teach to the sixth graders next year.

9:35 – The dean of students stops by to reassure me about some negative feedback I received from a parent earlier in the week.  She wanted to let me know that the people above me at the school know the quality of my work and value what I am doing, and they are not going to change their minds because of one unhappy and vocal parent.  That is nice to hear.  I know that I am doing a good job, but sometimes criticism can produce doubt.

9:40 – I go to talk to my principal about that engineering class and the parent I just referred to is in his office.  I have no doubt what they are discussing.  I feel awkward talking to his secretary about his schedule for the day and when I can come back, because they can see me through his office window.  Oh well.

9:50 – To cheer myself up, I stop at the school library on the way back to my classroom and pick out a few books to read over spring break.  As I’m leaving, I see a student coming in for her conference who was absent all week.  We agree that she will stop by my room later to pick up what she missed from my class this week.

I schedule a doctor’s appointment because I’m still sick from the thing I caught 2 weeks ago.  The only appointment I can get that won’t involve missing classes is opposite the all-school faculty meeting, so I schedule it and then email the headmaster to see if I can be excused from the meeting.  I hate to ask for that, but what can I do?  I’m sure he will say yes unless there is something at the meeting that I just can’t do at any other time.

Another colleague stops by to debrief on conference issues.  We walk out to my car and bring in my trunk full of math materials that I got from a friend who decided to leave teaching. I’m sad for the loss, because she was a great teacher, but I’m happy for her that she is moving closer to her family and into a job that will be more satisfying for her.  She taught a lot of SPED and ESL kids and then her principal rated her teaching as “below average” because her students had standardized test scores that were below average.  Those are the types of things that I never understood about public school and that prompted me to switch to private school.

11:20 – I saw a parent yesterday whose son was in my advisory last year.  I jokingly asked if they would schedule a conference with me for today because their conferences are so fun and easy.  They stop by with their son and their daughter and we have a 5-minute recap of both children’s conferences.  They are outstanding students and I taught both kids last year and this year.  It is fun and we laugh a lot.

11:30 – Lunch is ready. The parent guild is treating us to box lunches from Jason’s Deli to thank us for our time on parent conference day. I still have so much planning to do that I decide to eat at my desk and keep working.

11:55 – I have enough done for next week for sixth grade, but I still don’t have a plan for seventh.  Also, I need to write a practice quiz answer key to post today for sixth grade and a test review to email out today for seventh grade.  But, my next four conferences start in 5 minutes, so that will have to wait.

12:00 – The next four conferences are a blur.  My students are great and they all go smoothly.

1:40 – We had a lot to talk about in the last conference, so we ran over significantly.  I’m going to forego meeting with my principal to talk about next year’s curriculum and finish getting ready for next week.  I need to be at Rice in just under an hour to take the final exam for my graduate course that I missed last week because I was sick.

2:10 – I’ve got things ready for Monday, so I head over to the university to finish my course work.

2:30 – I take an hour long exam on content and instructional methods.  It’s nice to think about something that is more simple than interpersonal relationships for a while.

3:30 – I’m done with the exam, and I spend some time chatting with the professors there about math methods.  I’ve been taking courses with them to continue to improve my teaching techniques and they have a lot of great suggestions.  We also talk about the curriculum for the summer camp that I will be teaching for them in June.

5:00 – It’s time for my friends to head home, so I leave and go to have dinner with my friend who is leaving teaching and moving to Phoenix next week.  She has a few more classroom supplies for me in her trunk.  It’s great to see her, but sad that she is leaving.  It’s been an emotional day.

7:30 – I head home so that I can get some sleep to get over this virus.  I have a lot of work to do, but it will have to wait for tomorrow.

Reflection questions:

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.  When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

I’m really glad that I asked my student from last year to stop in and visit.  It was a joking request, but obviously it was received well because they actually stopped by, and I know that the few minutes we spent together deepened my relationship with both students and with their parents.

In the less than ideal category, during my afternoon conferences, I was distracted by worrying about the meeting that my principal had with the parents who are unhappy with me.  While that wasn’t a decision, per se, I wish I was better at putting things like that out of my mind so I could be 100% present when I’m in my classroom.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

I told my students this week that I currently embody the meme of the cat hanging from the branch that typically says something like “Friday’s coming!”  I find late February to spring break to be the armpit of the school year.  I’m tired, the kids are tired, but summer is too far away to feel like the light at the end of the tunnel.  When I used to work in engineering, there was less of this feeling because the daily and weekly demands were less.  We usually worked 45-50 hours a week routinely, and only went over 60 where there were unusual deadlines.  Now I work over 60 hours a week routinely.  I know young lawyers and doctors do a lot more than that, and honestly I can’t imagine how they do it.  But perhaps for them it isn’t a long term condition like it is for teachers?  I don’t know.  At any rate, I am very much looking forward to spring break and getting a breather.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

I had a very powerful and productive conversation in my last conference today.  The relationship I have with these parents and their son is wonderful and they are doing all the right things to raise him to be a good person.  I was able to speak to times when he inspires my to be my best self by his example.  I’m so grateful for this family and getting to work with them every day.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.  What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

My goal for this year has morphed a bit from implementing a PBL curriculum to just implementing a rich and varied curriculum that is better than the one provided by my textbook.  This curriculum includes inquiry lessons, PBL, hands-on activities, and a lot of concept development that allows students to understand the math they are doing instead of just memorizing steps.  I have been successful in not teaching from the text all year, and we are close enough to the end that I am confident that I will be able to complete this.  I have a lot of ideas for how to include additional PBL lessons in the curriculum next year and it will be something that I continue to tweak for years to come as I see what my students need and as the #MTBoS continues to generate more PBL for me to use.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

I went to an outstanding 2-day conference in Arlington called LLI Southwest at the Oakridge School.  It was a STEM focused conference and my main goal was to learn more about things I can teach in my new engineering elective next year.  I was also able to touch base with three people that I know from a previous school, which was wonderful, and I learned some new tips and tricks for my math classes.  One of my ongoing challenges in how to effectively differentiate instruction in a heterogeneous group.  I am firmly opposed to ability grouping, because I never want to limit a student by telling them how far they can go in math.  So, I need to look for lessons that use what Henri Piccolino calls “The Goldilocks Principle” where there is something that is basic, something that is just right, and something that is too hard for every student.  One of the presenters at LLI talked about a way to use a blended classroom set up to allow students to work through a unit with some required tasks, some optional tasks, some passion-based tasks, and checkpoints along the way.  I think this could be a really good fit for my situation.  I’m planning to give it a trial run with my statistics unit at the end of the year so I can see how to tweak it for next year where I can implement it with one unit per trimester, and more if it is working.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

This blog post is part of an ongoing series to capture a Day in the Life of a Teacher, a collective project started by Tina Cardone @crstn85.

7:20 – I’m at work and a couple of students who need help are walking in with me.  I ask them to wait while I drop my lunch in the fridge and we go to study.  There are about 8 kids in for extra help this morning, and I feel like I don’t spend enough time with any of them.  What can you do?

8:00 – I think we have advisory, but the boys tell me that they have health today, and right as I’m about to call the science teacher and ask he calls me to tell them they have health.  I thought it was Friday this week, but this week has been crazy, so he totally understands my confusion.  Off they go.  This is nice because I have plenty of work to do, entering citizenship grades and editing the test I’m giving tomorrow.  Also, my principal sent a link about some Pixar based math lessons on Khan Academy so I check that out.  It looks awesome!  That’s really exciting.

8:25 – The boys come back because the video wasn’t working so they were sent back to advisory.  Lucky that I hadn’t gone to make copies!  Since there are only 10 minutes left I let them goof around on their iPads for the remaining time.  We have a new math video game called Fog Stone Isle that we’re demoing and they are having some glitches that we try to address.

8:35 – Advisory is over and I’ll off p2 today, so I go to do some copying and laminating.  I need to cut out the laminating for a game we’re playing after lunch.

9:30 – My first seventh-grade class comes in. We missed class yesterday because of a tornado alert, so they need the lesson that I taught the other section yesterday.  We’re scheduled for a quiz, and technically yesterday’s lesson isn’t on the quiz.  However, it helps, especially with the bonus, so I’m postponing their quiz to tomorrow.  They seem ok with that.

I’m amazed to discover that they are completely stumped on how to connect the context we’ve been using to study equations (frog jumping contests from Cathy Fosnot) to symbolic equations.  I try to walk them through it using Algebra Tiles.  Later I realize that I should have used an open number line instead.

10:20 – My advisory comes in for their snack break.  It is uneventful.

10:30 – My second seventh-grade class comes in and takes their quiz.  After the quiz, I show them the open number line explanation that I thought about last period.  They seem to understand.  We’ll see if it sticks with them tomorrow.

11:20 – I was supposed to cover a class for a colleague who is doing an activity with visiting prospective students, but the division secretary noticed that a sub already on campus was free that period and asked him to do it.  I go to meet with the counselor to talk about a student that I’m struggling to communicate with.  I explain things to the student and she says she understands and then proceeds to do things that bear no apparent connection to what we discussed.  The conversation winds up lasting the whole period, as we discuss other students of concern as well.

12:15 – I go to lunch and eat as quickly as I can because I need to be at recess soon.

12:30 – I go to recess.  On the way downstairs, a tutor stops me to ask for extra material for one of her students to study.  She is surprised when I tell her that the trimester ends next Friday, so the last day for late work and redos is a week from today.

My principal is at recess, which usually means that one of the teachers on duty is absent. He and I talk about the Pixar/Khan academy material he sent this morning.  He says that he wants to offer a class on that next year. I immediately ask if I can teach it, which makes him laugh because I already have an extra class assigned to me, so my schedule is bursting at the seams.  I really do want to teach it, though.

12:45 – On the way in from recess, my principal and I discuss one of my advisees who is experiencing a tough time socially.  We agree that for now we just need to keep an eye on the situation and be supportive. We agree to touch base again if more action is necessary.

12:50 – My sixth graders come in and we do a warm up from Mashup Math that was actually for Valentine’s Day.  Oh well, better late than never.  The kids really like equation solving puzzles.  Our lesson is on matching inequalities to their graphs.  The kids work on that while I cut out the laminated pieces from this morning so we can play the game on the back of the paper. After a few minutes, I realize they are stuck. I didn’t realize that on this sheet you have to solve the inequalities first, and we haven’t talked about that yet. I show them how to use trial and error to match the inequalities to their graphs.  I am frustrated with myself that I didn’t notice sooner.

1:40 – My second sixth-grade class comes in, and while they do the warm up I finish cutting out the game pieces.  We play a game where they evaluate inequalities with random numbers and the person with the most true answers wins.  It amazes me how much they struggle to follow written directions.  I want to jump in and rescue them by telling them how to play the game, but decide it is better to keep pointing them back to the written instructions when they ask me questions.  I don’t just say “read it again”, I run my finger along the pertinent spot in the directions that answers their specific question.  They finish the game and we talk about how to match the inequalities to their graphs.

2:30 – My third group of sixth-graders is here. We start with a planner check to make sure that everyone has the homework and upcoming assignments written down for all their classes. Then we do the warm up and play the game. They are not as focused this late in the day, so the game takes the whole period.

3:15 – I dismiss my class. A seventh-grader comes in who needs to retake a test. I pull up the retake and see a note that I haven’t rewritten it from the first version yet. I race through the questions editing them slightly and print it out. It will have to do.

4:00 – My student is done with his retake and asks for some extra help on the topic for tomorrow’s quiz. It turns out that he actually knows all he needs to know for the quiz, it’s the material we just started today that confused him.  We do some practice and he leaves.

4:30 – I’m trying to sort out what order to teach the next few lessons for my pre-Algebra classes. We’re finishing up multi-step equations and starting inequalities. Normally I would practice equations more before moving to inequalities, but I’m going to a conference next week and I’ll be out Thursday and Friday.  I would rather introduce the new material now and then have them practice both topics while I’m gone.  I find some lessons that I like in a resource from the local Education Service Center and run them off.

5:00 – I head home.  Traffic is ok today, so I get home before 6.  When I get home, I need to grade a couple of quizzes that kids took late and then scan them and email them.  The test is tomorrow, so they should be able to see how they did on the quiz.  I don’t normally have to do this, but I didn’t remember to grade their late papers before today.

6:45 – I recently had the tech department push an app called Fog Stone Isle to the sixth grader’s iPads.  I didn’t say anything to my classes, but I did ask my advisees to try it out.  Word has spread and students are asking for the class code so they can play beyond the demo.  I send out emails to each of my three sixth grade classes with their class codes.  I haven’t figured out how to incorporate it into my formal classroom, but for now, they can just have fun playing.  The game is a cross between Minecraft and a fraction operations tutorial.

7:00 – My husband and I are talking about going to Starbucks to grade papers, but I just need to take a break.  I’m going to stay home and watch the movie that he bought me for Valentine’s day.  Plenty of time to do more tomorrow.

Reflection questions:

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.  When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

I’m very pleased with postponing the test for one class of my seventh graders. It wasn’t what they expected, but it was the right decision for them and they seemed to understand my reasoning.  I’m less pleased with my lack of sufficient preparation for my first sixth-grade class and my student who needed a retake.  These are the kinds of things that fall through the cracks when I am too busy.  If the laminating had been done and cut out, I could have just pulled the first activity and switched to the second, but the laminator was already off for the day when I went to do it yesterday and I didn’t want to wait half an hour for it to warm up.  I meant to cut the pieces out during the period before lunch, but the meeting with that counselor, although less urgent, was more important.

None of these are high stakes errors.  Everyone will bounce back and learn what they need to learn.  We will be fine.  But that isn’t the level of preparation that I like to have for my students.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

I find this time of year to be the lowest point for me emotionally.  I’m tired and I’m rushed.  There are too many things to do and not enough time.  That leads to mistakes, like the lesson I taught my first sixth-grade class today, which I should have done next week instead.  I’m looking forward to the conference I’m attending next week, which will give me ideas for my engineering course next year.  I’m also looking forward to spring break.  After spring break I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I’m looking forward to the conference I’m attending next week, which will give me ideas for my engineering course next year.  I’m also looking forward to spring break.  After spring break I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

I had a student confide in me about some social difficulties he is having.  He is such a sweet kid and my heart just breaks for him. Honestly, I think sometimes the other kids pick on him because he is so nice that they are uncomfortable.  What they see as brown nosing is actually genuine kindness.  I wish that I could help him more, but I am so pleased that he is comfortable sharing his feelings with me.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.

What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

I’ve made a lot of progress toward differentiating my instruction this month. I attended a webinar before Christmas that gave some great ideas.  The one that is helping me now is the idea that each lesson should have a “Goldilocks” approach, where there is some material that is too easy, some that is too hard, and some that is just right for everyone.  It is easy to cover that range, because I’m pretty sure what is easy enough that everyone can do it and what is hard enough that no one can do it.  Then I just have to make sure that I move smoothly from one end to the other, so that everyone finds some sweet spot in the middle.  I hope that by doing this my lower functioning kids will feel supported while my higher functioning kids feel challenged, all at the same time.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

I’ve had great results from lagging my homework and tests.  This is from the same webinar, which was a Big Marker/Global Math session led by Henri Picciotto.  We study a topic one week, do homework on it the next week, and assess it the third week.  This has led to a consistent 5 point bump in the mean scores on my assessments, which is a bigger immediate impact than I’ve seen with any other change I’ve made to my teaching. I couldn’t be happier with the results!  It also has other benefits beyond increased exposure to each topic.  If we miss a day because of weather or something, I don’t have to reschedule my test.  If someone else really wants to test on the same day as my test, it’s no big deal for me to move one day forward or backward, because we’re studying the next topic already.  If a student is absent the day before the test, they are still prepared to take it when they return.  Everyone has time to come in and get extra help if they don’t understand something.  Test reviews can be handed out a week before the test, instead of the day or two before.  This really is one of the best and simplest changes I’ve ever made to my classroom.