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.



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