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.






January 15, a Sunday

January 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.

Today is a Sunday.  I believe that Sunday should be reserved for public and private worship of the Lord and for rest, so I don’t do any school work or hobbies on Sunday.  I started this practice about 5 years ago, and it has been a great blessing to me in that time.  Having some distance from my school work refreshes me for another week at work.

9:35 am – I wake up because someone is knocking on my front door.  Trying to fix my bed-head and hoping my PJs look ok, I answer the door.  It is our back neighbor saying he wants to replace the fence.  That sounds like great news to me, because it really needs it.  I tell him we are happy to split the costs.

Now that my husband and I are awake, we get up and fix breakfast.  I shower and dress for church.

10:55 – Church is a pleasure today.  We’re studying the book of Genesis right now.  Afterwards, I say hello to some friends and head home.

1:00 – We eat lunch, and then I read a chapter in the book I’m reading called “Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts.”

2:30 – I take a nap.

4:30 – I get up and get ready to go back to church.  I’m assigned to the nursery tonight, but sometimes there are no kids in there and I get to go to church.  That is what happens tonight.  In the evenings, we are studying 1 Peter. The sermon is about humility and submission.  I struggle with pride in myself and my work, so this is a good one for me.  Afterwards I ask the pastor if submitting to the leaders placed over us still allows room for me to call my Congressman and express my opinions on pending legislation.  He assures me that it does.  I also ask him about a work meeting that is required and is on a Sunday.  I have a meeting with the headmaster on Tuesday to ask to be excused.  My pastor assures me that if my headmaster requires me to attend, then it becomes a deed of necessity for me to attend, so it will not be a sin. I chat with friends and find out that one of my good friends is expecting (her fifth!)  God is good.

7:00 – I spent so long chatting that it’s too late to cook meatloaf as planned for dinner.  I heat up some leftover pizza and my husband makes himself an omelet.  We spend some time chatting and feed and walk the dogs.

9:30 – I go to bed so that I can be ready for 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?

Taking Sundays off was a difficult decision for me at first.  I wonder if students and parents will be frustrated if they email me late Saturday and don’t receive a response until Monday morning.  Being at a religious school has made that concern diminish a bit, but not entirely.

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 that late January into February is the most difficult time of the year for me.  I become tired and short tempered.  The joy of the holidays is past, but the excitement of summer is still far away.  The long days of planning, teaching, and grading start to become a grind.  However, I remember how much I enjoyed seeing my students the day after Christmas break ended.  I really do love my job.  I just don’t always like it.

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 recently had a student who is normally quite pleasant act very rudely to me in class.  I asked her advisor if something was going on with her, but she didn’t know of anything.  I suppose everyone has a bad day sometimes, but I was surprised how disappointed I was by having it happen with this particular student that I thought liked me.  I guess even a veteran teacher still wants to be liked on some level.  I’m pleased to report that her mood and behavior improved since then.

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’m on track to go the whole year with lessons that I have gathered from a variety of different sources, none of which are the textbook we use.  I’m trying to make sure that I have students develop concepts that lead them to algorithms, not tell them algorithms first and then explain why they work.  Unfortunately, my textbook starts with the punchline on every lesson. I’ve started looking at a textbook designed with concept development in mind for future adoption.

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

I’m pleased to report that my headmaster did excuse me from the Sunday reception that we were asked to attend.  He was very gracious and understood my reason for asking for the exception. I am always uncomfortable asking for special treatment, but everyone needs a little grace sometimes.

First day after Christmas Break

January 3, 2017

Welcome back!

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 our first day of classes after Christmas Break.  We had an in-service yesterday.  Because I work at a school with compassionate administrators, we only had 2 hours of meetings and the rest of the day was for working in our rooms.

7:10 – Arrive at school.  I’m trying to remember my morning routine.  Hopefully, I didn’t forget anything at home.

7:30 – I’m in my classroom and ready to receive students.  I’m also looking for some manipulatives that I know I have and can’t find.  I last saw them in August, so there is no telling where they are now.  I bought poker chips to use as a back-up, but since they cost $25, I would rather find the color tiles and return the poker chips to get my money back.

7:50 – The boys trickle in.  My goodness are they loud!  After 2 weeks of peace and quiet with my husband, I forgot what it was like to be around a bunch of kids.

8:00 – We go down to the “Boy’s World” meeting where the boys of the grade gather for character development lessons.  This is run by one of our admin team, so I am excused to work in my room this period.  Yay!

8:10 – One of my students pops in and asks if everyone else is at Boy World.  Well, better late than never!  I go for coffee and think about what I need to do first.

8:28 – I’m back with my coffee.  The consensus in the faculty lounge is that no one knows if there is a faculty meeting today or not.  The principal’s secretary said that he asked her if there was a meeting, and now the members of the admin team are emailing each other to decide.  We just had a meeting yesterday, but perhaps we need one today as well.  I hope not – I’m going to be exhausted after teaching 5 classes for the first time in weeks.

One of the things on my plate for this semester is to add enrichment for the students who already knew all of sixth-grade math before they entered sixth grade.  I’m thinking about asking my star pupil from last year (now an 8th grader) if he wants to help me offer the sessions after school.  The dean of students said that I can offer him volunteer hours for it, which goes to his NJHS requirement.  I’m going to email him and see what he thinks.  I also need to write an introductory email to the parents letting them know about this opportunity.  I’ll have my principal read it before I send it out.  He’s great at word smithing and always helps me to stay out of trouble.

9:00 – I’ve got a class coming in half an hour and I just realized that I forgot to grade one last component of their project.  I’m going to get that done quickly so I can return them.  I especially want to get these turned back because there are a few kids that never emailed me that last component (despite several personal reminders) and I want them to get it to me asap.

9:30 – It’s good to see the kids again after the break.  They are happy to see a WODB problem as their warmup, and they get right to work.  I pass back papers while they are working.  We discuss the warmup and then use color tiles to build patterns formed by linear equations as the value of the variable changes.  This isn’t something any of us have done before, so I learn how to explain the directions from the questions that they ask me.  After the students have finished, we rotate places and they guess the expression modeled by another group.  This is an activity I heard about from my informal twitter mentor, @MarkChubb3.  We debrief with a conversation about how variables are used in different ways in math, and what differences there are between expressions and equations (our next two topics.)

10:15 – My boys come in to eat their snack.  I’ll see them in class after lunch.

10:30 – I teach another class of seventh graders, and this time I front load the activity with the discussion about how variables are used in math.  They seem to have a better understanding of the activity because they finish it more quickly and with less input from me.  We have time for each group to rotate around to every other group’s patterns and see them.  We then debrief with a continuation of the discussion about expressions and equations and some of the vocabulary used to work with each one.

11:25 – I’m off until lunch duty at 12:30. I try to get some personal phone calls taken care of and record test grades for my 6th graders, so they can get their tests back today as well.  I also need to make seating charts for the sixth graders.  It’s always a challenge to remember who can’t sit together because they annoy each other, or who can’t sit together because they’re such good friends that they distract each other.  For whatever reason, that kind of information just doesn’t stick with me.

12:10 – Well, the seating charts are done, but the grades aren’t recorded yet.  Maybe I can get it done in class while they’re playing the integer number line game.  We’ll see.  They can always wait one more day.  I definitely have to go to lunch, since I only have 20 minutes until my recess duty starts.

I usually blog as the day goes by so that I can capture the realities of my day.  By the time I got back to this blog post, it was three days later, and honestly, I’ve forgotten what happened that afternoon.  I know that I taught three classes, did dismissal duty, and then went home fairly early because I was tired. (The faculty meeting was, in fact, canceled.)

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?

Everything was such a blur, I really don’t remember.  I can address one from today (1/6/17.)  Mid-day I really didn’t feel like teaching my afternoon classes, so I spoke with a colleague to get a pep-talk.  He surprised by saying “So you don’t feel like teaching?  Don’t.  Play a game with them.  Honor how you feel.”  I considered it and then decided to teach the lesson I had planned.  I’m proud of myself for sticking to my values and making every minute count.  However, I worry that I was grouchy and the value that I got in math learning I might have lost in student relationships.  They certainly wanted to talk not work, and I had to tell them that if they didn’t finish their classwork, it would be homework. I rarely do that, and I definitely don’t believe in using work as punishment. However, I didn’t have a creative idea for how to keep them focused on a Friday afternoon when we’re all tired from adjusting back to our routine.

Ideally, my lessons are so engaging that the kids complete them willingly, but this one wasn’t up to my usual standard, and honestly I’m not sure it would have mattered if it were. We’re all looking forward to the weekend.

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?

Coming back to work after a long break is very difficult for me.  It takes me a long time to unwind, and then it takes me a long time to get moving again.  I always feel like taking a vacation kills my productivity.  However, I know that I was more patient with the kids today than I was before the break, so I definitely needed it.  I’m looking forward to reaching a more even keel where I’m not so invested in work all the time that taking a couple of weeks of is such a shock.

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 kids were very excited to share their holiday adventures with me.  I feel like having these conversations about my life and their lives gives them a point where they can connect with me and I can connect with them. It always amazes me how they forget most of what I say about math, but they seem to remember the smallest personal things about me, like my dog’s name or that I got a new FitBit.

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?

There were so many things that I added this year, and I realize that some of them have faded away.  For instance, today a student was sad because he was raising his hand and everyone else was just calling out answers.  At the beginning of the year, I really made an effort to stop kids from blurting out answers, because I wanted everyone to have time to think and a chance to contribute.  That is something I would like to revisit.  I’m sure there are other small things, like having a student repeat my instructions back before we start a task that I could also re-implement. (Sometimes it feels like changing my teaching habits is like stretching a rubber band. Without constant tension, it goes right back to how it is naturally.  I wonder how long I will need to consciously change a technique before it becomes a habit?)

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

Since going back to work from the break, I’ve made a conscious effort to stop thinking and talking about work non-stop.  While my husband certainly appreciates this, I’m mostly doing it for myself.  I need to have time that I am not working in order to be refreshed and ready for students when I am teaching.  Constantly thinking about school doesn’t get much work done, but it creates a lot of stress and exhaustion.  I feel like I’m always on the rat wheel, and I don’t know how to get off.  But after Christmas break, it seems so easy.  How do I stop? Just stop. Do something else, think about something else, stop the impulse to tell my husband every minute of my day.  I think this is an important change for me. After all, a teaching career is a marathon, not a sprint.  Even a single year of teaching cannot be viewed as a sprint.  You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else.  For that reason, my word for 2017 is “balance.”

Last day before Christmas Break

December 16, 2016

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 – Ok, one more day.  I can do this!  I am welcomed to school by a Starbuck’s gift card in my mailbox.  How nice.

7:30 – I finalize some plans for today with a colleague and open my room.  I’m not expecting to see anyone for extra help today.  Surprisingly a student comes in and asks me if I can give her an extra assignment to do over the break on what we’re learning next.  I explain to her that she would have had to ask me for that earlier.  I am with students from now until dismissal today, and I have to prepare an assignment to give her, they aren’t just something that I can pull out of thin air.  The next 20 minutes are a flurry of students coming in and dropping off presents.  That’s one of the nice things about teaching younger grades.  Some of the cards are really sweet, telling me how much they appreciate my extra time before and after school to help them.

8:05 – Attendance is in and we’re off to the early childhood Christmas concert.

(Normally I write these blogs as the days goes on, a few sentences every hour or two.  This day was so busy that the next time I thought of this blog was when I went to bed that night.  I’m now finishing it up from memory several days later.)

As we’re waiting for the concert to start, I share with a college that my goal for today is not to do anything that will get me arrested.  He agrees, and we promise to bail each other out should anything go badly today.  I didn’t think I could be this tired and grumpy.  Hopefully, my self-control will last for four more hours.

8:45 – The concert ends a little early and we decide to go to advisory until the 9:00 activity rotation starts.

8:50 – The dean of students calls everyone to the small gym for announcements of who won the door decorating contest and the ugly sweater contest.  I’m thrilled to learn that the boys I advised last year have won the door decorating contest.  Last year we didn’t even decorate our door because they couldn’t decide on a theme.  Clearly, they’re growing up.


9:05 – Amazingly we are already done and headed to our rotation activities. On the way, a teacher tells me the schedule I posted for today is wrong.  I wonder aloud how it can be wrong when I copied it from the Google Doc we created the schedule in.  She says she has replaced it with the correct one.  (When I check later, I see that mine was correct.  This is not worth mentioning to her, despite how much I want to say it.)

I am responsible for having the kids make origami cards to give to support staff on campus.  Another teacher is having them decorate cookies to give with the cards.  The origami is confusing to the kids, and as I’m trying to explain it, the Spanish teacher comes in and takes over the lesson.  Another day that might irritate me, but today I’m relieved.  We get the cards done just in time to rotate to the next activity.

9:30 – The second group of card makers comes in.  This time the origami goes more smoothly and we finish with a few minutes to spare.

10:00 – My final group of card makers is here.  The athletic director has been helping out with this activity, and this time she gets up and teaches the lesson.  It’s nice to have a break and be able to just pass out supplies and help kids that are stuck.

10:20 – The kids are done, so we tell them to deliver their cards and cookies and then go to the party in the music room.

10:30 – The party is well organized and attended by some parents.  The kids seem to be having fun.  Since there are a half dozen adults in the room, I ask my colleagues if they would mind me taking a 15-minute break.  I’m such an introvert that it’s really hard for me to be with people so long without a break.  They’re gracious and let me go.  I bump into the headmaster and we have a good chat about the stresses of this week and how we’re looking forward to a break.  I also bump into the dean of students and we go through each other’s Christmas gifts and swap a few.  While we’re doing that the Spanish teacher brings me an Amazon gift card he got as an exchange for the bottle of wine I gave him earlier in the week.  (Don’t tell the kids we trade their gifts!)

11:00 – After about half an hour of snacks, the teachers take the kids out to the front playground for recess.  At 11:05 I finally get back out there to help supervise.  A mom comes up to talk to me about struggles her kid has been having. I struggle to be attentive to her and to the kids on the playground.

11:30 – Before I know it, it is time for dismissal.  We all go to the curb to wait for cars.  I have a few good conversations with parents as they pick up their kiddos.

11:50 – Only two kids are left, so we drop them at the reception desk and go upstairs.  I was going to get lunch and then work, but I decide to knock out my work and go home for lunch. When I get back to my desk, I discover that there is a present waiting for me.  In and of itself that isn’t surprising, but this is from a Mom whose child had already given me a gift.  I’ve never gotten two gifts from the same family before.  This Mom also said some lovely things to me at carpool today about what an impact I’ve had on her daughter.  I’m touched in a way I can’t adequately explain.

1:45 – I still haven’t finished the work I wanted to do.  I have cleaned my desk and my classroom.  I have not graded the projects hanging on the walls.  They are life-sized Barbie scale drawings we made from measuring the dolls.  I decide to roll them up and take them home so I can leave.

2:00 – I’m on my way to Christmas break.  I have a lengthy to-do list of things to grade and things to prepare for January, but those can wait for another day.  For now, I’m expecting a personal call at 2:30, so I head to Salata to grab a salad and take my call.  Then I’m home for the holidays!

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 that I was able to keep my cool with my colleagues this week, for instance when my friend corrected my schedule and it was hers that was in error.  It didn’t matter, as long as we were all telling the kids the same thing.

I wish I had been able to keep my cool with students as well.  During 8th period on the 15th , I put kids in time-out for the first time in 20 years of teaching.  They were supposed to be playing a game (war comparing positive and negative fractions and decimals.)  Instead, they were wandering around the room.  When I got them reseated, they were still not participating.  I told them to put their heads down.  Was that really necessary?  Maybe I should have let it go.

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 am definitely looking forward to break.  Last week I had three days in the week that I had zero off periods.  That is part of why I am so tired and cranky right now.  As I said on Facebook, I can’t remember ever working this many late nights and still being so far behind on planning and grading.  I sent my principal a note saying “By the way, I’m not sure you realized how busy I am right now.  Honestly, I’m not sure I realized it either until this week.”  Something is going to have to change between now and May or I’m not going to make it.

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 gave my seventh graders a test on Tuesday, and based on the questions they asked and how long they took to finish, I got them impression that it hadn’t gone well.  Rather than grading the tests, we debriefed the next day, looked at some strategies, and spent time practicing.  The next day, I gave them back their tests with some loose leaf paper and had them correct anything that they wanted to correct.  They were very appreciative of the chance to review and improve their work.  It was interesting that a couple of them really wanted me to tell them which problems were right and wrong before they revisited the test.  I told them that I wanted them to make that decision, based on what we had reviewed.  I’m hoping that this decision showed them that what is important to me is that they learn the material, even if that means we need to take more than one attempt to do it.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. How is your goal progressing? 
I feel like I’ve started to lose track of my goal is all the daily flurries of teaching.  I just taught a whole unit on percent applications to my seventh graders, and it wasn’t until the end that I realized how much trouble they were having identifying what was happening in each story.  If they had been drawing bar diagrams (or similar representations) then maybe they would have been able to see what is the part, what is the whole, etc.  I need to stay focused on the importance of sense-making.  I need to continue to focus on one or two good problems each day, not five or ten rote problems.

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

Today (12/20) I had a fabulous phone conference with a friend I went to grad school with 15 years ago.  She is now a professor in the education department at Syracuse University, and she was giving me an introduction on how to do lesson study in a small school like mine, where the math department isn’t big enough to do it by ourselves.  We had a great conversation, and I have sent a message to the admin team asking for their blessing for me to start a lesson study group at our school.  I’ve already received a positive response from the headmaster. I have a few colleagues in mind that I really hope will join, but I’m going to invite the entire middle school faculty so that no one feels left out.  Although I can’t imagine adding one more thing to my plate, I’m so excited about the idea of having colleagues to collaborate with again (something I miss from my last school) that I’m willing to put in the extra work.  Let’s hope I’m not biting off more than I can chew.

Also, this trimester I have a new course that meets 2 days a week. It’s a sort of “Introduction to Debate” class.  It’s amazing how much a little thing like that adds to my schedule.  In addition to the 2 periods a week, it’s the prep time to teach something I don’t know much about. I’m hoping that the prep time will decrease once I get into a routine.  If it does not, I’m going to ask them to find someone else to take this class on for Trimester 3.  I need to keep my focus on the 5 math classes that I’m teaching.  Also, on a personal note, I’m hoping to audit a class at the local seminary this spring, so I need some room in my schedule.  The class meets 4 Saturdays in the spring, which seems doable.  But, since I have to put in at least half a day on Saturday to make my week work, it might not fit in my schedule.  We’ll see.  Spring semester always has more 3-day weekends than fall, so hopefully we are over the hump for this year.




December 15, 2016

December 15, 2016

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 school.  Today is our last day of classes before the break.  We do have a half-day tomorrow, but it is Christmas activities, not classes.

7:30 – I touch base with a teacher about some kids in my math class and her advisory.  Based on her non-verbal feedback, I decide to apologize to a student for an overly harsh remark I made yesterday.  We’re all tired, but that’s no call for me to be rude to a student just because he had a bad attitude.

7:35 – Students are in my room studying for today’s test revision.  The test I gave two days ago didn’t go well.  Instead of grading it, we revisited the topic yesterday, and I’m giving them today to rework any problems they think they missed.  Then I’ll grade the final product.  That means I can’t teach simple interest, but the 8th-grade teacher said she’s ok with that, she’ll get it next year.  I’m so glad I teach at a private school where we can make these modifications.

8:00 – Wow, I wasn’t paying attention to the clock and the 3 kids I’m working with are late for advisory now.  I should have dismissed them 5 minutes ago. I need to hurry up and take attendance for my advisory so we can get to chapel.

8:05 – On the way to Chapel.  It’s lessons and carols today, so it will run late.  I really like working at an Episcopal school and having Chapel every week, but around the holidays, it does cut into instructional time.

9:05 – We’re out of chapel and headed to what’s left of 2nd period.  I coordinate with the tech teacher on the way back to our classrooms to bring my 6th-grade class to her to change their computer passwords before we start our hour of code activity.

9:06 – I get to my classroom to discover that I have a seventh-grade class now, not a sixth-grade class.  Oh dear. (Rotation schedules are tough to keep up with.) The seventh graders don’t have enough time to do what we had planned today, because of chapel running late.  I thought I had them third period so they wouldn’t be affected.  On Tuesday they took a test that I expected to take 30 – 35 minutes.  At the end of 45 minutes, less than half had finished.  Obviously, they either didn’t understand the concept or didn’t have enough practice before the test.  Yesterday, we debriefed and practiced more.  Today, they are getting their ungraded tests back to fix up anything that they now think was incorrect.  I wanted them to have the whole 45 minutes.  We make arrangements for them to come back at snack break and or lunch to continue their work.  The technology teacher comes in and asks me to take the seventh graders that I have now.  I try to be patient as I explain that I understand that they need to change their passwords too, but I need them to take this test more than I need them to change their passwords.  Someone else will have to take this group.

9:30 – I take my sixth graders that I have this period and we do the high priority password change that the tech director told us about at 9 pm last night and has to be done by all faculty and students prior to leaving school today.  I wonder what happened to prompt the urgent request, but I don’t ask.  No one has responded to my email trying to coordinate schedules, so I’ll just take all three of my sixth-grade classes today.  We’re doing an hour of code activity that will take longer than 45 minutes, but it doesn’t matter if they finish it or not so I can spare 10 minutes for password changes.

10:15 – Well, most of the kids got their planets to orbit, and it’s time for them to go to snack break.  My advisory comes in to eat their snack.

10:30 – It’s time for the weekly math meeting.  Because we don’t have anyone specific who leads the department or the meetings, there have been some issues lately with attendance.  Our principal recently made it clear that we will meet and we will attend to our tasks.  Hopefully, that means we’re actually meeting today.

10:40 – Hmm, I’m the only one in the math office.  I feel like I threw a party and no one showed up.  I’ll wait a few more minutes.

10:50 – Oh, here are the two other math teachers.  We meet and talk about how we want to revise our summer math assignment for next year.  The curriculum coordinator is supposed to run the meeting but she is not here.  That’s odd, given the meeting we just had with our principal.  I hope everything is ok.

11:30 – Our meeting is over and I go to eat lunch so I can be in my room during the MS lunch period for kids who need to finish their tests.

12:10 – Most of the class comes back at some point during lunch to do an extra 5 or 10 minutes worth of work.  One student works for about half an hour and still isn’t done.  We agree that he will ask his PE coach for permission to come finish during PE.

12:50 – Sixth period is my second group of 7th graders who are redoing their tests.  Many people finish early and are able to do the holiday themed Mad Libs that I had originally planned for today.  It is a review of one-step equations.  We will start two-step equations in January.

1:40 – Sixth graders come in and do hour of code.  They also rotate out in groups of 4 to go to the tech director’s office and change their passwords.  They need more help with this Hour of Code activity than the last one, but we made good progress.

2:30 – One last class of sixth graders.  We stand in line outside the tech director’s office and go in 6 at a time to change passwords.  Eventually, we’re all done (including mine) and we go back to class.  When I try to give the directions kids keep interrupting me and finishing my sentences.  Because I’m very tired, I tell them that they clearly know what they need to do, and they should do it.  Then I sit down at my desk.  Clearly, I need to spend more time praying for patience every morning before school.

3:15 – Whew, we’re done.  I wish the kids a lovely evening and tell them that I’ll see them tomorrow.  I go to dismissal duty and make sure the kids are packing up and going down to carpool efficiently.

3:25 – The kids are gone, and I have to run to get to a 4 pm doctor’s appointment.  I really struggle to find appointments that don’t involve missing classes.  Although my contract end time is 3:45, my principal is understanding about things like this.

5:15 – I brought home the seventh-grade tests to grade, but I changed my mind and decided to go with my husband to his school’s Christmas party.  I taught there for many years, and although I miss it when I go back, I really want to see all my friends.  That means I’ll have to grade the tests over the break, but it’s worth it.

For reflection questions, see tomorrow’s post (12/16/16).

Making my quiz a better opportunity to learn

Today I did something that I’ve never done in almost 20 years of teaching.  It isn’t original – the kids told me that their science teacher does this all the time.  But for some reason, today was the first time the idea clicked for me.

We’re taking a quiz on properties and equivalent expressions.  For most sixth graders, variables are very abstract and confusing, so combining like terms can be a train wreck.  Based on how long they spent on the practice quiz yesterday, I expected the one-page quiz to take all period.  However, 10 minutes into the quiz, I could tell it was not even close.  I could also tell that there were a lot of mistakes being made.  So, inspiration struck, in the form of a blue highlighter.

I told the kids that, contrary to my strict “No one leaves their seat during a quiz or test” policy, they should line up next to my desk when they finished.  I quickly scanned their answers, highlighting the problem number on any problem where the answer was incorrect.  I did not provide any other feedback.  Students then returned to their desks to take another shot at those questions.  The next time they turned it in, I took it to grade later.

My hope is that by knowing what they did correctly, they could identify their mistakes.  In essence, I was thinking that they could learn from their own correct work and lift themselves up by their bootstraps.  We’ll see how effective that was when I sit down to grade them and when we continue studying tomorrow.

There were a lot of factors working in my favor.  My largest class is 17 students, so I never had a long line waiting.  Students at my private school are extremely well behaved, so there was no talking or pushing in line. Combining like terms is a simple enough topic that I could scan the answers quickly without using an answer key.

The students were a little confused (“You mean then we get a better grade?”) and very appreciative (“You’re the nicest teacher ever!”)  I work hard to develop a culture that values learning from mistakes in my classroom.  I hope that this is one way my students see my actions speaking as loud as my words.

If you use similar techniques, I would love to hear from you in the comments.  I’m sure that there are refinements I could use to make this more effective for my students.

The last day before Thanksgiving Break

November 18, 2016

The day before Thanksgiving 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.

At my school, the day before Thanksgiving break is Grandparents and Friends day.  There are no classes and the whole day has an open-house feel to it.  Students take their grandparents and friends for tours of the campus, see an art exhibit, shop at the book fair, and attend chapel.  It is a half-day, so we’ll all be done by noon.  Part of me enjoys days like this where we build community, but another part of me is frustrated by having to spend a day at work when I’m not getting to teach anyone anything.

7:10 Arrive at school.  We can’t park on campus today because all the spots are needed for the valet parking for grandparents and friends visiting today. I’ve gotten here too late to score a parking spot in the store lot across the street, so I need to park around the corner on a side-street.

7:20 Finish walking to campus and set up.  On the way in, a parent volunteer stops me to hand me a book that a student bought for me from my book fair wish list.  What a nice way to start the day!  I love books.

Yesterday I griped to a colleague that two adults who knew I had jury duty Wednesday had asked me Thursday morning if I had graded Wednesday’s quiz.  I expect this from students, but from adults?  So, when I walk in my friend greets me with “You got those quizzes graded yet?”  My response is somewhat appropriately grumpy and we both laugh.

7:30 I catch up on Twitter posts while kids wander in and out of the room while waiting for their grandparents to arrive.  Some don’t have friends coming and they came to school anyway, so we buddy them up with another family and send them on their way.  No reason for them to sit in my classroom doing puzzles all day long.

7:45 A student is unclear on where to meet his grandparents so I go down to ask the headmaster what to do.  He always stands on the sidewalk and greets each student by name every morning.  That’s one of the things that first attracted me to this school.  I tell the receptionist that if anyone is looking for that student, he is in my room.  On the way back up to my room, I stop to pick up the two spirit shirts that I ordered last week.  Now I can wear them on the last Friday of the month with my jeans.  I got one of each spirit color so the kids wouldn’t think I’m taking sides.  The parent guild volunteer laughs when I say that.

8:00 Some kids go to chapel.  Others stay in my room playing games while they wait for their grandparents to arrive.  They’re pretty loud and I have a headache, but I can’t really expect them to stay quiet during free time.  They’re just being kids.

Over the next few hours, families wander in and out on campus tours.  I introduce myself and discuss my philosophy of math education as much or as little as they seem to show interest.  I hope that I’m representing the school in a good light. Overall the kids seem happy to show their family members around and many are very engaged discussing what we’ve been doing in math recently.

10:30 Most of the families have either gone to chapel or left for the day.  A few kids come to hang out in my room.  They ask me questions about time zones and the Pythagorean theorem and other random things.  It’s nice to just be with kids again.

10:55 The kids leave to wander around campus until it is time for them to get picked up at 11:30. I think about what I want to accomplish before I leave at noon.  The more I can get done today, the less I’ll have to do over the break.

11:30 Two colleagues just informed me that all the kids are gone and the rest of the faculty has already left.  I guess noon was just an estimate.  I’m off to start my holiday.  Plenty of time to grade papers and plan lessons next week.

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 was happy to be able to tell a set of grandparents this story about their grandson.  At this week’s faculty meeting, we were asked to say what our favorite thing was that happened in trimester one.  Mine was that this (reluctant) student voluntarily came into my room before school one day and told me a math joke.  He then told me several other math jokes in following days.  The fact that he was voluntarily coming into my room and talking about math was the  best thing that happened all trimester.

I’m a little worried that it wasn’t ok for me to let those three kids go wander around campus for the last half hour of the day.  In Middle School, we always supervise our students, but today is such an unstructured day, and I didn’t want them to feel like they were trapped in my room.  I did remind them not to leave campus without an adult.  I just hope that we can find them fairly quickly when their parents come to pick them up.

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?

Lately, I’ve been struggling with the idea of having an enrichment class added to my schedule.  Last year they told me that I wouldn’t have one since I had an extra section of math.  But then, after the fourth time they asked me to do one this year, I broke down and said yes.  I feel overwhelmed and I’m not doing my job as well as I would like.  I’m sleeping less this year because I work so much, which is crazy.  I’m not a college student anymore; I’m a middle-aged woman.  I’m not sure how to resolve this in a way that I can live with.  I’m going to have to change something about the way I am doing my work to make it go faster, and I can’t help thinking of that as cutting corners.  I don’t see how I can make things any more efficient than I already have.  Hopefully, I’ll think of something soon.

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 was happy to have some time to discuss issues with my division head this week.  Last year I was in his office a lot with questions and asking for suggestions.  This year both of us are busier, and I have less time to collaborate with him on my work. I appreciate his gift for using words to build consensus and want to learn from him in that regard.  That was exactly what we discussed when I went to him this week for help relating to a parent that doesn’t understand my teaching style.

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?

As I plan my lessons for the next two units, I’m going to be mindful of including as much problem based learning as I can.  I purchased a book from Cathy Fosnot’s series that I’m planning to use for my equations unit.  I hope that it will be a good structure for them learning equations with understanding.

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

I met a Mom who was picking up her daughter yesterday, and she was thanking me for teaching her daughter.  She said that usually math was a problem for her and this year it wasn’t.  I told her how much I appreciate her daughter’s somewhat sassy and very insightful questions about why I make some of the “teacher moves” that I make.  I’ve never had a student who asked about why I teach the way I do before, and I love getting to talk about it.  The student looked mildly embarrassed when I called her questions sassy, but I think overall she understood that it was a compliment.