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.
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.