September 15, It’s not a job, it’s a calling

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.

7:25 – I’m on time (contract start time is 7:30), but this is later than I usually get to school.  A student is waiting at reception for me.  We head up to the room, and soon after there are a half dozen students here for extra help before today’s quiz.

8:05 – Every Thursday is Chapel for us, so we head over to Chapel in lieu of advisory today.

8:40 – Second period is sixth grade today, they’re taking a quiz on fraction multiplication and division.  Because I make a big deal about speed not being important (a la @joboaler) I don’t time my assessments.  When kids finish early they read or do puzzles until everyone is done.

Luckily, everyone finishes with about 15 minutes left in class, so we are able to have a conversation about how mixed numbers work.  Lots of kids know how to convert them into improper fractions, but only one student can explain why it works.  We talk about the invisible plus sign in between the whole number and the fraction and the invisible denominator of one under the whole number.  Students wonder why there is so much invisible math.  We discuss how long it would take to get anything done if you had to write a denominator of one and power of one on every whole number.  As they finish taking notes in their journals, I ask them to make sure their journals are on the shelf so I can grade them on Monday.

9:25 – Third period is seventh grade today.  To begin the class, we discuss what activity to do tomorrow.  We have a make-and-share fair before lunch, so the only classes I see are those meeting after lunch.  They ask “Is it a fun day, or do we have to do math?”  =(  I suggest maybe we could do both, and we settle on a quick game of “I have/Who has?” followed by order of operations bingo.

Once we have that settled, we start class.  We had a test yesterday and are starting integers today.  I found a Yummy Math activity about using integers to describe weather.  We’re finding the difference between 54 and negative 9, and have a good conversation about whether the answer is 45 or 63.  I introduced addition and subtraction with counters to these students last year, but this year we use the number line model.  After that, I use a foldable for definitions and examples of opposite and absolute value.  The whole lesson only takes about half the period, so while they are finishing up their foldable I scramble for another activity.  Although we haven’t had a deep discussion about addition and subtraction, I decide to pull out the dice and have them roll two integer dice and one operator die to practice adding and subtracting.  On a whim I suggest that they might compete in their groups to see who gets the highest number on each roll (each student has their own dice.)  They like this idea and are happy to play for the rest of class.  That went so well, I will keep that activity for my second class of seventh graders today.

10:20 – Morning snack break brings a call from a colleague asking me to remind students not to work on Minecraft during school.  Apparently, there has been some issue with people logging in to each other’s worlds and behaving inappropriately.

10:30 – I’m off until lunch, so I go to laminate the I have/Who has game for tomorrow, along with some materials for fraction stations that I will use in 6th grade next week.  I stop in to talk to a colleague about a couple of struggling students that we share.  That reminds me that I need to send out an email about one of my advisees to get input before I meet with his Mom next week.

11:30 – I pick up a package from the office and make 10 minutes to sit down and eat my lunch.  After thinking about it, I decide to use the “I have/Who has?” activity with my 7th graders instead of the dice practice. Then I go back to my room to cut out the laminated pages.  When I’m checking my email, I see an email from Monday with a video that our principal asked us to watch.  It is about stress in middle school students (voiced by the students themselves) and how mindfulness practice and mediation can help alleviate stress.  He’s a big fan of meditation.  Feeling somewhat stressed myself, I take 10 minutes out to read some Psalms before the next class comes in.

12:45 – I can hear them coming in from recess, so it’s time to put up my book and welcome my next class of seventh graders.  It takes longer in this class to get the foldable finished, partly because 2 students are making extra ones for the 2 students who are making up yesterday’s test.  We do the Yummy Math activity quickly and have time to just squeeze in the whole game of I have/Who has before the bell.

1:40 – My next two classes are sixth graders again.  After the quiz we discuss the meaning of mixed numbers again.  At one point in seventh period a student says “You really want us to remember this, don’t you?”, which prompted me to ask “Am I ranting?”.  (He said yes.)  Sometimes I get really excited about math!

3:15 – Classes are done and I supervise kids getting packed up.  At 3:30 I have 3 girls coming in for extra help. We work on order of operations, integer operations, and fraction operations.  They’re sweet and it is nice to spend time with them in a more relaxed format.

4:20 – My 4:30 parent conference is here early, and the girls are still working. I leave them to go into the office and talk with the parent of one of the girls.  We discuss her challenges in math and how I can help.  In the end, we settle on two days a week of extra help, one morning and one afternoon.  It sounds like the biggest challenge is going to be increasing her confidence enough that she will tell me when she doesn’t understand something.

5:15 – I’m done with the conference and catching up on emails.  A colleague calls to ask if we can discuss the performance of one of my advisees in her class.  She comes over and we talk about several students that we have in common.  She also gives me tips on how to get my curriculum maps finished more quickly, which is a big help because I have to finish them on Saturday and I don’t want to spend the whole day working. (As it turns out, I did spend the whole day working, but not because of curriculum maps.)

5:45 – I have a phone conference with the people from Audible scheduled for 7 pm (to troubleshoot problems I’m having with their phone app) and it takes me an hour to get home, so I need to leave.  I guess all the things I didn’t get to today will have to wait until 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?

When I had the two seventh graders practicing order of operations after school, I’m really pleased with giving them dice to generate problems and asking them to trade and solve each other’s problems.  What I’m less happy with is saying to one student “Would you help [the other student] with this part, because we studied it a lot last year and at her old school they didn’t study it a lot.”  I hope I didn’t reinforce to the new girl that she was new.  It sounded fine in my head, but when it came out it didn’t feel inclusive.

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 continuing to implement math in context.  Unfortunately, our textbook is almost free of genuine context, so I’m not using it.  That means I’m working 10-12 hours a day, six days a week.  I’m exhausted and don’t know how long I can do this.  I’ve always been someone who pursues a lot of hobbies from reading to jewelry making to quilting.  Now all I do is work and sleep.  I feel like I have to choose between letting my students down or burning out, and I don’t know what to do.

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 have a colleague who will stop by my room or I’ll stop by hers once or twice a week.  We talk about a student issue for 3 minutes and then talk about personal stuff for 20.  Lately, I’ve been avoiding her room because I just don’t have time to talk.  On Friday, I stopped by to ask her a question, and since I didn’t have anywhere to be Friday night, we had a nice conversation.  I miss that, and want to keep making time for it.

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?

Interestingly, almost without realizing it, I taught fraction multiplication and division to my students with no context at all, which is a complete departure from my goal of using more PrBL this year.  I did teach them how to draw models for each, which is aligned with my goal.  But for many of the students, this was just another thing for them to memorize.  Now I’ve regrouped and after a lot of help from @MarkChubb and Susan Troutman @RiceUSMP, I’m going to teach using contexts that naturally suggest the models I taught.  Hopefully that will get us back on track.  Props to both of them for taking time out of their Saturday to help me rewrite my Monday lessons!

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

One of my Saturday tasks was to finish the curriculum maps that I didn’t attend to last year.  It was my first year teaching a new curriculum, and I just didn’t make it a priority.  I had intended to finish them over them summer, but … summer.  So, I found out in a meeting on Tuesday that they had to be complete in the next two weeks as part of an ISAS self-study we are completing.  I’m happy to say that the sixth grade map is done.  I’m even happier to say that my 7th grade colleague agreed to split the work on the 7th grade map with me!  (I was afraid she was going to ask me to do the whole thing.)  So, this year is humming along in all the right ways.  Now if I just had a few more hours in each day, I’d be all set.

Yesterday (Sunday) I read When Breath Becomes Air.  It is a difficult read, but easily the best book I have read in the last decade.  It is a memoir by a neurosurgeon who is diagnosed with stage IV cancer.  One of the things he talks about is that many people choose a job based on work location, hours, and benefits.  And that is a fine way to choose a job.  But it is not how you choose a calling.

I keep reminding myself that in Exodus it says “Six days you shall labor and do all your work…”  Not five.  Six.  So I should stop complaining about having to work on Saturday, and give thanks that I have a job that is also a calling.

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