Last Monday before classes

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.

My school has an outstanding back-to-school schedule this year.  We have two full weeks on campus before classes start, and over half of that time is available for work in the classroom.  Today is one of those days.  I have one meeting and a lunch, but other than that, the day is mine to use as I see fit.

7:00 – Wake up and realize that today and tomorrow are the last days that I can sleep past 5:50 am.  Go back to sleep.

8:10 – Yikes!  I didn’t mean to sleep for that long.  Get up and hurry to get ready.

9:00 – Arrive at work.  It takes 2 trips from the car to carry in all the things I brought.  Mostly they are reference books that I packed up in May 2015 when I switched schools and just now got around to sorting and unpacking.  Put away all the books I brought in.

9:30 – Set up folders for class handouts for my 6th- and 7th-grade classes during the week.  Because I have a rotating schedule, the classes come in a random order, so I need to have everyone’s materials ready at all times.

9:45 – Go through the SIS and gather information on the date of enrollment for my new students.  The amount of the summer math assignment that we expect them to have completed depends on when they enrolled during the summer.  Luckily I only have 3 kids who didn’t have enough time to do the whole summer math assignment.

10:00 – Try to figure out how to assign individual skills to different grade levels in IXL, our new math online program.  I wind up signing up for 2 webinars in September on other IXL topics and learning how to assign specific skills to everyone but never did find the answer to my question.  I email it to my tech director so she can ask IXL directly.

10:35 – Head downstairs for the update from the nurse and some information from the guy who runs our 403b plan.  He is also providing us lunch.

12:45 – Finish lunch and head upstairs.  Look for a form online to update my 403b contribution.  It turns out the form doesn’t exist and I just need to email the Director of Finance to ask for a change.  Confirm that my 403b money is allocated correctly, and email my husband to check his as well.

1:30 – Grab a cup of coffee and get distracted talking to a colleague about screened porches. Why is it so hard to work on days that are unscheduled? On the other hand, I guess reconnecting with colleagues is important as well.

2:00 – Sit down to work on a student version of my syllabus for orientation on Thursday.  I’m calling it a FAQ this year, and trying to remember what the questions are that I answer over and over again in August.

3:00 – Student FAQs are done, and I want to copy them.  However, I know from experience that I’ll think of something I left off either on the drive home, or when I’m going to sleep, or in the shower tomorrow morning, and I would just wind up making new copies.  So, I’ll wait until Wednesday to copy them, because I don’t need them until Thursday.  Now it is time to prep seating charts and set up my paper grade book and my computer grade book.

3:30 – Computer grade book is set up and I made the requested edits to my syllabus for open house.  To write names in the grade book or to not write names in the grade book?  In my school, it is unlikely that I will have schedule changes after school starts, but it is still possible.  I could wait, but once classes start I will be so pressed for time that I will be irritated if I have to spend half an hour writing names in a book.  Better to do it now.  I can always squeeze a kid into the blank line I leave between kids if I have to.

4:15 – Somehow before I could get to the paper grade book, I got distracted making seating charts.  Well, that needed to be done too.  Now those are done and I’m on to the paper grade book.  This time, I’m going to date all the weeks right now because that’s something I frequently stop doing midway through the year.  It will be a lot easier to use my book effectively if I get it dated for the whole year right now.

4:25 – As it turns out, my classes are large enough this year, that my grade book doesn’t have room to skip a row between each student!  Go figure.  I know this will sound ridiculous to my public school colleagues, but last year I taught 54 students.  This year I am teaching 80.  The increase is a combination of an extra class on my roster and larger classes sizes.  The great thing about teaching in a private school is that you have small classes, so I’m not complaining, but I think I’m definitely going to notice the change this year.

4:35 – Seriously?  In the last 10 minutes, I’ve killed 10 teeny black ants on my desk.  I mentioned to facilities that I saw a few when I came back two weeks ago to set up my room.  The exterminator just came this afternoon, so hopefully that will help.  I’m taking my wrapped breakfast bars home just to be on the safe side.  I hope this doesn’t mean I can’t keep snacks in my desk this year.

4:45 – Ok, I have a doctor’s appointment at 5, so everything else will have to wait until tomorrow.  Unfortunately, the dates past September are still not in my grade book. I’m amazed that another day is gone with no work done on lessons.  I have my first week planned, but nothing beyond that.  I wanted to get a few weeks planned so that I can stay ahead on my planning this year.  Lessons are so much better if they can soak in the back of my brain for a week before I teach them.

8:30 – Pop in after dinner and walking the dogs to catch the last half of #msmathchat.  Tonight’s topic is “What geometry do we need to teach in MS to get them ready for HS.”  Good discussion.


Reflection questions:

Q1: 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?

A1: Because we didn’t have students today, my number of decisions was orders of magnitude lower than a typical day.  My main concern was differentiating the important or urgent tasks from the fun or easy tasks.  I’m very glad that I got the student FAQs done today so that I can reflect on them before I need to run the copies. However, I wish I had spent more time working on lessons and less working on organizational tasks.  It all needs to be done in the end, but I won’t have big blocks of time to plan lessons like this once school starts, unless I do it on Saturday.

Q2: 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?

A2: I’m so excited about the new school year and all of the new lessons and techniques that I’m going to try.  When school let out in June, I was literally having trouble sleeping because I was so excited about all the work I had ahead of me to revamp my lessons.  That energy wound up getting poured into an exhausting graduate class that I took in June, and I’ve really enjoyed having some downtime in July.  Now I’m glad to be rested but sorry that I didn’t get the lesson planning done over the summer.  Still, it’s so much easier to plan lessons after you meet the kids, that I probably would have had to rework a lot of them anyway.

Q3: 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.

A3: I had a great conversation at lunch today with someone who is a new faculty member at my school and will also have her son in my math class.  She was very open about his strengths, his challenges, and the issues at his last school that brought them to us.  It was so wonderful to connect with her in a personal way and get a window into her son’s perspective before I meet him at orientation later this week.  I know that my work with him will be stronger for the time we spent talking today.

Q4: Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What is a goal you have for the year?

A4: My primary goal for this year is to switch from traditional math teaching to problem-based learning.  I’ve spent the last 5 years reading about problem-based learning.  I’ve spent the last 2 years reading brain research and talking with math teachers that have convinced me that teaching by showing an example problem and then having students repeat it is not the best technique.  Since it is the way I was taught and the way my colleagues teach, I thought it was best practice.  But I see now that it is memorizing, not understanding.  I want my students to understand the connections between ideas and problem-based learning seems like the best method to achieve that goal.

Q5: What else happened this month that you would like to share?

A5: On Saturday I went through some old boxes that I packed up from my classroom at a prior school.  In them, I found a folder full of thank you notes from students.  Most of them were from when I taught high school, about 15 years ago.  Middle school students are seldom self-reflective enough to appreciate their teachers and write them notes.  But finding these reminded me that I do make a difference to my students, in large and small ways.


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