September 14, 2016

Day in the Life: Sept 14

I've decided to catalogue this year, my tenth year teaching! I'm going to write at least one Day in the Life post each month.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Monthly post - regular school day and a staff meeting

The alarm went off at 6. Checked to make sure Jordan was awake at 6:15. Made it out the door at 7. One student is already outside my room when I walk in. The rest trickle in, but everyone makes it before the bell at 7:24. So far so good. SET of the day is on the board and I walk around checking homework. I have half of their names down but the every other day schedule is tough for learning names, so I try to check the names on their sheets surreptitiously, a kid calls me on it and I fess up. I'll be there by the end of the week! We discuss homework; they were supposed to generalize to an equation and were totally stuck. I provided some wait time, gave them a little, provided some more wait time, gave a little more, provided some extensive wait time and they finally give in and guess something. I ask why they and they confess to guessing to end the silence! We discuss, they finally wake up and catch on, all is well. They take their first quiz and I introduce the purple/orange pen method. We do some work to lead into radians and some kids are quick while others are still thinking. I buy a raffle ticket for the volleyball team and that student tries to sell tickets to her neighbors - that's one way to give everyone else some think time! I explain what a radian is and we check out this awesome applet. I thought everyone was clear on what a radian was, but when we move through the applet only one student predicts it will take 6.28 radii to cover the whole circle. After we talk through that and sketch some angles, I'm sure they've got a handle on radians. But at the end of class we do some pattern finding and determine that adding 360 degrees gives a coterminal angle. We run out of time to collect class data on coterminal angles in radians but I toss the question out anyway and they have no idea what the pattern will be. They've known about the existence of radians for under an hour so I cut them some slack and tell them to think on it for next class. Now I just have to remember to start there on Friday. They journal and I pass out homework. Bell rings at 8:55.

We're supposed to spend the five minutes between classes but by the time I answer a couple questions, save the notes as a pdf in drive and set up for the next class. Soon I'll have those routines a bit quicker (and maybe my computer will be faster after the updates this afternoon?) I hope. 

Honors Algebra files in. They are honors students in the sense that they solve the challenging puzzle I posed quicker than any other block, but they are still freshmen - I had to split up a group who couldn't stop the side conversations. They were productive through the rest of class. During a tangentially related discussion one student asked what other operations exist. When we did four fours on the first day I taught them factorials and they found some impressively large numbers. Class ended before they were convinced anyone had the largest value possible using four fours and apparently a few of them are still thinking about it! At the end of class students need to write in their journals, record their homework in the agenda books, put away binders and hand in their journals. It's a lot for them to keep track of but they're getting quicker at it! Bell rings at 10:26 and several students are still packing up, I go through my end of class routine and pack my bag up too. 

I don't make it down to the first floor of the library before the bell but my two independent study kids know to claim us a table and wait. These two students are both in band which conflicts with the honors precalculus classes so I work with them during my prep block. I brought two iPads with me today - one for them to use to follow the slides I used first block, one for me to check my email. They said at first that they wanted to skip SET and have it as a reward at the end, then they saw the cards right there on the first slide and they couldn't resist. Before we start the quiz one of them is bragging about his TI-84 Plus CE. Then during the quiz he says, "I have some notes for TI!" Turns out he had typed 6/2pi and the calculator interpreted it as 6/2*pi. Luckily he recognized the error, the back and forth between enthusiasm and disdain was amusing. This pair is great fun to work with, totally worth not getting through all my tasks on my to do list! When I introduce radians they call them rad and radical. While they work on sketching angles I read an email from the new STEM coach about his observation of my class yesterday, he had lots of positive things to say! I graded all the quizzes as they started their homework, everyone did great except the student who was absent last class, hooray! Bell rings at 11:58 and we head off to lunch.

Lunch with math and business department teachers. Conversation bounces from classroom stories to stories from our college days. Bell rings at 12:28 and we head to class.

When I arrive in my room I find some inflatable globes stacked on my chair and a note on my desk:



Yay team precalc! I have David Coffey's number talk up on the board as students in my contained Algebra class come in. The tech support guy comes in to help troubleshoot - the notebook problem I had last week has been recurring and I sent out an SOS. He offers to update java and see if that helps. Not sure how they're related but fingers crossed. I noticed that one student had an equation written down for the number talk - I jump on that. Both because it's great to highlight that mathematical thinking and because my screen is frozen while the computer updates and it's easier to record equations on the white board than redraw the diagram. I get my computer back in time to show off the blueberries. We do a card sort and start discussing when the fire alarm goes off. I give them directions and head outside. I'm relieved to see a fireman observing at the top of the stairs and the truck already outside - it's a drill. We get outside, marvel at how hot it is out (88 degrees!) compared to this morning (I needed a sweater!) and then head back in. Hooray for efficiency! However, they lost their momentum. We got through the discussion but not much practice happened. Bell rings at 2:02 and the school day is over.

Staff meeting in the auditorium. We get a do now as we walk in asking us to share a good thing from our first week of school. I record mine and start reading and responding to student journals which include their good thing from the past week! Yay for one good thing. A couple precalc teachers sit near me and we plan to chat after the meeting. The music teacher who set up the independent study students with me also sits nearby and we discuss what a delight they are. Student council students share their plan for the year with the staff. We hear from a local foundation offering grants and some club announcements. The administration goes over the Tier I and Tier II interventions available at the school and I finish responding to student journals (yes, I know, I'm a bad role model but I gave up my prep and this is my seventh year here, I'm well versed in intervention plans). We get shiny new binders filled with materials on ALICE safety protocols, special gift from the fire department today. Training coming soon. As I head out of the meeting at 3:00 I let a few people know I'm double booked for meetings tomorrow morning (Algebra team and language based disability team are occurring simultaneously). 

Catch up with the precalc teachers in my room. I ask what they've done and how it's gone. I ask what they want to do next. I share what I've done and discuss options for what to do next. Constant appreciation for new teachers pushing me to keep looking forward. One of them notices my student journals and ask if I respond to all of them. They're both overwhelmed and I try to make it clear - every year you do the best you can. I am teaching the same preps as last year. I have under 60 students (total!). It's my tenth year teaching. I have time to respond to journals. No one expects you to do that. Do what you can and take care of yourself. We leave at 3:50.


I have to run some errands. Get home at 4:30. Catch up online, have dinner, type this up and then head to bed!

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 glad I gave students a lot of wait time in precalc and balanced asking for justification with not putting anyone on the spot. I think they're learning the culture of my classroom. In my observation notes on my other algebra class the coach said "I'm impressed at the early rapport you have with your students - they are clearly already willing to take risks in the classroom when participating." I'm excited to see that comfort emerging quickly in all of my classes.

I probably should have been more respectful during the faculty meeting. I was on my phone a bit since Jordan's ride was late and I graded throughout the meeting. Next time I'll resist the temptation to multi-task.

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 looking forward to being caught up, it's a juggling act right now and I've decided to let all non-urgent email fall to the wayside. I'm building routines and settling in so I have faith it's going to happen soon. I love being in a place where I can help so many people, but having a freshman advisory, many freshman classes, a daughter who is a freshman and three new teachers in my department means my classroom has been a revolving door of people asking questions. Only getting a sort of prep is also having an impact - I can get a few things done while my independent study students work but I don't have access to everything. Once I have more grading this system will work out just fine but right now I need to do things that involve being in my classroom or running errands around the school. It's all getting done though, it always does.

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 one student who I'm struggling to build a rapport with. She was feeling ill on Monday and absent yesterday so when she came in today I was full of smiles and telling her we missed her yesterday and hope she was feeling better. She asked to take a few breaks during class today and before the last one I asked her to do one more problem before leaving. I think she copied the work but she wrote something and so I let her go. We are still figuring each other out but for now I'm hoping to send the message of - you do something for me then I'll do something for you. Expectations will continue increasing but I'm going to reward anything close to what I ask for and see if we can keep the mood positive for the rest of the week!

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?

My goal is to create space for other people's ideas. During today's card sort I let students start by creating any groupings they'd like and I wasn't discouraging when they made a pile of all the cards that had a five on them even though I was working toward groups like rational, irrational and integer. I also asked what the precalc teachers had done and were thinking before telling them my lesson plans. Progress!

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


Since I just posted my first day last week not much is new!

September 13, 2016

DITLife: First Student Day

I've decided to catalogue this year, my tenth year teaching! I'm going to write at least one Day in the Life post each month.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016
First Student Day of the Year. 
Two hours of just 9th graders, full school classes 9-2.

The alarm went off at 6. Feeling tired and allergies acting up but I pulled it together and was dressed by 6:30. Make breakfasts and lunches. Start to leave at 6:58, so proud of myself we're leaving before 7! Realize it's trash day, but still leave at 6:59, yay! One day of on time departure down. Send my daughter and her friend off to the auditorium and head up to my classroom.

Last week my room was chilly, today it's stuffy. Sad. Good thing I got a fan on sale last week. Take some time to put stuff away and get the room ready. Run to the bathroom quick before freshman start practicing finding their classes. They rotate through their entire schedule (A and B day) spending just a couple minutes in each room. Greet lots of kids, congratulate them on finding the right room, clarify how to read our schedule, explain how lunches work. Jordan's friend stopped by three times to get directions. When I saw her other friend in the hallway later in the day she said, "Hi, Tina!" and then realized that we're at school. This should be interesting.

After the 9th graders are done practicing finding their classes they head back to the auditorium for an activity fair. I check in with teacher next door a bunch about our plans for the day. Get a chance to check in with Jordan's liaison and fix a glitch in her schedule.

9:24 - the rest of the students have arrived and it's advisory time. The rest of the year we meet with our advisory once a week for half an hour, but this week we'll see them each day to hand out and collect paperwork. Advisories stay together all four years, my crew graduated last year so we have a group of freshman. My co-teacher for advisory picked up all our supplies and printed a roster and spreadsheet to record everything they return. Go competent advisory buddy! We play a getting to know you game (choose vanilla or chocolate, summer or winter, born here or moved to Salem), went over some school rules and sent them on their way at 9:50!

My first block is team time which we got to use to make copies and finish getting ready today. We have a new dean for the freshman house and I haven't even met her yet. I'd like to get the team together and clarify some protocols but I'll take the prep time, especially when my prep block today is only half as long as usual with the delayed start and advisory. By 10:00 I've had four conversations about some students who want to do an independent study for honors precalc (band conflicts with the only two blocks it's offered, I'm happy to hang out with them in the library and grade while they work. It puts my total number of students up to 60! I ended up with some ridiculously small classes this year, partially due to teaching a contained double block but mostly due to scheduling strangeness (the other honors precalc class has 28 students, mine has 15). So my grading load is small and I'm happy for the chance to interact with a few more students, especially motivated ones!

Next door neighbor and I head down to the library to make photocopies. Encounter a broken copier (first day! already!) Fix the copier. Help someone with their copies. Get my two days of copies done. Organize my classroom a bit more and plan my journal blue books structure.

10:53 am notebook software (to make slides for the SMART board) crashes
10:55 am notebook crashes again
10:56 am and again! Finally quit trying to look at that file.
Set up paper notebook planner instead. Prep a bit more.

The principal walks by and says hi. I flag him down and ask for advice playing the double role of parent and staff - his son is now in tenth grade. He is very laid back, no concern about me driving students who are also Jordan's friends.

Turn on my classroom fan. It's stuffy and not improving in my room. I'm glad I bought a fan on sale last week! Get my slides done for the first two days by 11:30 (never got that other file open but worked around it). Hit the bathroom and grab a snack - lunch is late due to the delayed schedule today.

11:45 Algebra class starts. There are only ten of them and they're happily working quietly. I don't know what to do with myself so I putter and try not to interrupt. It still felt too quiet, so I turned on some background music. Two kids show up a half hour late because they went to the wrong lunch. I understand because their freshmen but annoyed because I specifically told them during the morning rotation the math department has second lunch.

12:35 - 1:05 Lunch! Chat with colleagues. Varying levels of stress in the room but the veterans remind the newbies that it gets easier!

1:10 Last class. I pronounced a student's name correctly and they were appreciative. First day win. Two separate students do some fraction operations successfully!! Big surprise on the first day and in my class of students with learning disabilities. Kudos to their previous teachers.

2:02 Bell rings. Update the bell schedule for tomorrow. Sit down and realize I'm tired! This three days in one schedule is too much. Since I'm not ready to stand up again I read my student's end of year reflections from last year. Until the other three precalc teachers show up at 2:30. I talk them through my plans for the first couple lessons and am once again thankful for new teachers who make me look ahead. They depart at 3 and I finish reading the reflections. Take a few minutes to check in with some algebra teachers about how today went and what we'll do tomorrow. Update my calendar and finally head home at 3:30.

When I get home I sit again! So tired! Take some time to catch up online. While eating chips I realize there's marker on my hands. Back to teaching life. From 4:30 to 5 I have a call to plan my ten year college reunion. Jordan's homework is entirely for me - I get to sign lots of paperwork. I open my email but decide I can't deal with it today. Start writing up this post while watching netflix. Pause at 6:20 to make dinner. Too tired to finish typing so continue scrolling the internet until bed time.

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 tempted to stop students to have a discussion when they were being super quiet, but they were working so I'm glad I resisted the need to have more control! I'm not sure what the best response was to the students who went to the wrong lunch but I didn't say much of anything to them so that certainly could have gone better.

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 looking forward to settling into a routine. The rush of setting everything up and explaining routines and meeting new people and helping everyone else do all of those things is a major challenge!

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 met almost all of my students today! That was exhausting. But step one toward building lots of relationships.

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?

My goal is to create space for other people's ideas. I let students work creatively on their four fours activity and gave them space to try a variety of approaches. I also asked what the precalc teachers had done and were thinking before telling them my lesson plans. Progress!

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

Since I just posted my teacher day last week not much is new!

September 3, 2016

Day in the Life: Professional Development Day

I've decided to catalogue this year, my tenth year teaching! I'm going to write at least one Day in the Life post each month. If you'd like to join me check out my idea and my plan and sign up!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016
First Teacher Day of the Year. 
Full district welcome followed by school based professional development.

The alarm went off at 7 am. Yes, this is later than it will go off during the school year (when I'll have to leave at 7) but it's still earlier than I've gotten up all month. I pick up my phone to scroll through Twitter, email, instagram, facebook, snapchat and my timehop. Second alarm goes off at 7:15 to say stop playing on your phone! I'm not in school mode at all, so I decide to get dressed in school colors to try to build a positive feedback loop. Forcing myself to smile every time I enter the school building each day has always worked to make me feel happy even if I wasn't really awake enough to be grinning. Maybe wearing school colors will invoke some school pride and enthusiasm that's gone dormant over the summer?

I leave the house at 7:45 and arrive in the parking lot at 7:50, I love my commute! When I walk in the door (greeting a few co-workers on the way in) I spot my co-teacher. We got together earlier this month to set up our classroom so it's not a reunion after months apart, but it's great to walk in the door and immediately see her. I greet her and some other friends and we sit with some other high school math teachers at a table in the auditorium. At 8:00 someone at the table checks their email and discovers that the detailed schedule says coffee 8:00 - 8:30, the initial schedule had said 8:00 start. We all lament the one last thing we could have done...

At 8:30 we are greeted by my principal (the whole district staff is here but we're at the high school so he gets to MC). The mayor acknowledges how much summer work we do. The superintendent hopes we took some time off. She asks the new staff members to stand, we clap. She also asks returning staff to stand and we clap again. I appreciate the appreciation. The union president just started a twitter account and is encouraging everyone to participate in #whyweteach. Back to the superintendent who recaps last years accomplishments and tells us there are no new goals this year. The goal is deepening our work from last year. This is significant in a low income district where most years are a revolving door of trainings from whatever the grant of the month is. Maybe being labeled a failing district by the state wasn't so bad after all? I'm curious what will change when we finish our five year plan and that bonus funding evaporates.

The district welcome concludes at 9:23, already ahead of schedule. There's break until 10:00 so the other staff have time to clear out of our auditorium. I greet one of the new hires I've been working with over the summer and meet a new hire for the school for students with emotional/behavioral disorders. When school based professional development starts the principal models sharing the agenda and objectives. I'm never engaged by reading an objective - I appreciate an outline of what we're doing today, but by the time we went over the agenda I knew what the goals for the day were. We spend some time look at data from the state test, student survey and staff survey. My takeaway: kids feel safe and like teachers have high expectations of them, but not so much like they have relationships with teachers or are engaged. It's good to know what we're doing well with and what we need to improve on as a whole. We get up to mingle and fill out people bingo sheets, I meet another new teacher outside of my department and catch up with some familiar colleagues.


We break for lunch from 11:30 - 12:00. I'm proud of myself for remembering to invite the new hires from our department to join us and make sure to let them know that many members of our department eat in this same lunch room together every day all year. We discuss the morning sessions as we eat. The superintendent had a slide saying that students today have seen more trauma. I had immediately started a twitter conversation because I disagreed. My coworkers had the same reaction I did - we do a much better job identifying and responding to trauma now but there's not more of it. Otherwise I had agreed with superintendent's speech but others in the lunchroom were not happy with it. Turns out that it wasn't that they disagreed but that they didn't need to hear it. That was a fair reaction - it wasn't very motivational for those of us who have done this year after year. I appreciate the superintendent's sincerity but I could have used some pep on the first day back! We also caught up about important things like gardening and summer adventures. All in under thirty minutes. Teachers can both talk and eat rapidly.

We have a new student information system (online program for attendance and grades) so we had Aspen training from 12:00 - 12:45. I appreciated that at the end of this first training (how to take attendance) we got to choose our track for the next training - differentiated PD is unheard of here! Yay!

I walked out of the computer lab with two of the new hires in the department and they asked to pick my brain for a bit. We headed down to one of their classrooms and I agreed that the room layout looked good, her opener plan looked good and her posters were nice. Then I shared some posters to go with hers and we talked about my grade breakdowns. I did an okay job in this interaction of listening and valuing their thoughts rather than just saying "last year I..." Frequently I get excited when someone asks a question that I have an answer to and just want to tell them everything I do. A goal for this year is to teach teachers the same way I do students - asking what they think, listening and building off that foundation. Also, adorable moment, they asked what room I was in and realized that I was next door to the third new teacher. Apparently they went into my classroom during new teacher orientation and stole a bunch of ideas from my room setup! Makes me extra glad I went in to set up in early August. One of the new teachers is in her first year teaching so she needs an official mentor (we'll all unofficially mentor all of them but the mentoring program is required in MA to get a professional license). I haven't been asked, and when I texted the other teacher who usually mentors in our department she hadn't heard anything either. I gave both the new teachers my phone number and promised to investigate the case of the missing mentor.

Headed back toward my classroom at 1:00 for some room prep time. I prepped folders (hole punch and draw lines) while I answered more new teacher questions, this time from the teacher next door. I'm so appreciative that everyone is asking me things since my brain is still focused on renovating my kitchen, it's getting me back in school mode. I was doing great and feeling confident in my answers until she asked about homework. I haven't thought about that yet! Last year homework was complicated and a mess, everyone has a different opinion. This teacher and I are totally on the same page with what we want to accomplish but are lost on how to do so. We told the rest of the Algebra team to think on homework overnight so we can make decisions tomorrow.

Our day was officially done at 2:30 but we didn't leave our rooms until 3, and continued talking all the way to the parking lot. My throat hurts! I guess I'm not used to talking so much. I rewarded myself with ice cream when I arrive home.

School is on my mind the rest of the day but I didn't get anything else accomplished. I went for a walk and listened to a podcast while my daughter was at an appointment. We ran some errands and got home at 6:30. We watched netflix for a while. I started getting ready to blog at 9:00 but got distracted looking at dogs to adopt... Then it was suddenly 10:00 and I decided to go to bed instead!

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 proud that I was able to spend some time with each of the new teachers in our department, I was on the hiring committee so I was a familiar face to them and hopefully was welcoming. A few times I answered questions without ever asking "What do you think?" which wasn't ideal.

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 getting back into a routine. I love teaching and I am much happier when I'm on a schedule. But summer is also a great opportunity to do different things - I've been enjoying my home improvement and web design projects. I'm having a hard time switching gears back into school mode, especially when we have two teacher days followed by four days off. They feel like two random days in the middle of my vacation.

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 started building relationships with all my new coworkers in my department. I also caught up with friends who I hadn't seen much of over the summer. It takes a bit of work to get back to the point where we all know everything going on in each others lives, lunch today was a good start!

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

I want to create space for other people's ideas. Originally this goal was going to be about allowing students the voice to share their opinions on the world outside of our classroom (as well as the world inside our classroom but I've already created structures for that). After a day of interacting with adults I've realized that I shouldn't limit myself to students. I enjoy sharing what I know but I'd like to get better about asking open questions and giving other people the space to share their knowledge.

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

The end of July was my first opportunity to run a Nix the Tricks workshop for a district rather than at a conference. I enjoyed the experience and am thinking more about how to be a classroom teacher while also having a broader influence.

In early August I took a day to set up my classroom; the actions were not notable but the company was. My co-teacher was with me. Seeing her up and working and prepping for the year meant so much more than the email saying she was in remission and we'd be working together again this year. Another goal of mine should be to tell her daily how much I missed her last year and how happy I am to have her back. My daughter also joined us and it was a good opportunity for her to learn the school and the schedule since she's about to start ninth grade at the same school where I teach!

September 2, 2016

Homework, Take 2016

Going into the teacher days this week my mind was still on renovating my kitchen, but I wasn't worried. It's my tenth year teaching, how much prep did I really need to do? We'd gone into my classroom once already and set everything up. I'm not teaching any new preps, I can get everything done in the remaining week with little brain power. Are you laughing at me yet? Because you should be! My class sizes are different and I have an honors section this year. I started last year with some great intentions but when my co-teacher was out for cancer treatment (she's back and healthy!) I let a lot of things drop. Thank goodness I have some great new teachers in my department who are asking all sorts of important questions and getting me thinking. One important question was homework in Algebra:

After two days of discussing homework and thinking about all the things I've tried and considering all the thing I've read, we have an almost plan.

We want:

  • students to practice every day - since we don't have class every day that means giving homework
  • students to review old topics as well as get more practice on current ones
  • students to do the work and find it valuable


We don't want:

  • to spend our lives grading homework
  • to spend half of class going over homework
  • to depend on technology (working in school or kids to have access outside of school)
  • kids to be overwhelmed
  • kids to be rewarded for copying 
  • kids to be penalized for not doing something they already know how to do.


Our Plan:
There are two parts: daily assignments and weekly assignments.

The daily assignment (which isn't really daily but bi-daily since we only see our classes every other day) will have ten shorter and more straightforward problems. Seven of them will be on the current unit. Three of them will be review from past units (potentially a review topic that will be useful in the next unit). We started to do spiral review homework last year but we were also building our entire curriculum last year so we couldn't keep up with it. I'm hopeful that we will maintain this practice throughout the year. We won't be grading these problems, just checking for effort at the start of each class. Those points for effort won't be factored into their grades, but we will record them. If a kid is aceing all the assessments and not doing homework then nothing happens. But a student who is struggling on tests/quizzes can see the correlation between homework completion and understanding.

I'm glad I'm writing this post since we didn't decide how we will go over the homework. In my precalc class I project the worked out solutions and then students ask questions. In Algebra we used to send a kid up to each board to do a homework problem and then we would look at all of them and ask questions (to clarify for the kid who posted an inaccurate solution or a kid who couldn't solve it at home). Maybe I'll pick three of the ten to have kids do on the boards and post answers for all of them?

The weekly assignment is one I've been pondering all summer. First, I liked that Landmark gives long term assignments - I think planning your time is an important skill to learn but I always do it for my students. Second, I've been reading a lot about social justice and seeing a lot of "politics" posts. I want students to have a chance to express their opinions. I want to talk about important issues in a safe space and in an approachable way. I want to teach students that opinions need to be backed by facts. I want to show how statistics can be misinterpreted and used inappropriately. I want students to recognize when math can help them make sense of the world. My first idea was to have students choose articles on their own and then write about the math. But then when we were looking at the do now's I've used in the past I lamented that I always wanted to spend more time on the debate day - would you rather or always/sometimes/never questions. We realized we could combine all of these ideas and have students do one longer, opinion based assignment each week. Every Monday or Tuesday we will give students a prompt. It could be an article, a would you rather situation or an always/sometimes/never statement. Then they will have to respond with:
1) Their initial opinion. Without calculating what is your initial reaction to the article or your initial choice?
2) Do some math! If the article said something is a 20% increase from last year, find last year's value. For the would you rather determine the yearly cost of each. Test some cases of the always/sometimes/never statement.
3) Their final opinion. Did the math change their interpretation? Are they making a choice based on the math or are there outside influences? It's homework so there's plenty of time to tell me about all their personal experiences that influence their opinion.

I'm looking forward to grading these and hearing from every student, something I never had time for during an opener. I'm hoping to start with some fun ones (longer or deeper pool?) and as we go to mix in some questions about people massaging data to say what they want and using data to show inequity in the world. These questions will not be related to our current content but they will be steeped in the math practices (they should use 1-6 every time!). I hope that students enjoy the opportunity to share their opinions and that they will start suggesting articles for us to assign. Maybe if it goes well once a month I will have them choose their own article. I hope that the outside of class assignments spark some conversations that carry into class. I hope that the practice of sharing initial opinion, reasoning and final opinion will influence them to be willing to change their minds based on evidence and reasoning both in my classroom and outside of it.

August 17, 2016

Teacher Prep Program

There was some twitter conversation today about quality teacher prep programs and the harm of alternative certification. I was quite surprised to hear that so many people didn't do a teacher prep program before they started teaching. I think it might be hard to imagine what you could stand to gain from going through a quality program if you've never experienced one. I was lucky enough to have a solid program at my undergrad institution and a stellar program for my masters which I completed during my second and third year teaching.

The biggest thing about my undergrad program (at wonderful Mount Holyoke College) was how much time I was able to (and required to) spend in high school math classrooms. My courses required observation hours at local schools. We were assigned specific things to observe for and reflect on each week. Observing during those classes meant seeing things in action. Making connections. Adjusting from my experience of adolescence to a broader array of possibilities to reference. My white, suburban, wealthy school experience is not the narrow definition of normal. For our licensure program we were required to observe in a variety of schools (urban, suburban and rural). I was lucky enough to spend a couple semesters observing at a school for students with emotional and behavioral disorders. I saw that the kid who felt safest sitting in the cabinet and the kid walking laps around the room were still participating in class. And when the kid with the security stuffed animal let me hold her comfort object while zipping her coat I understood what could happen if you built a relationship over time. I was an independent child who was good at school and whose parents spoke the language of the system. Having the opportunity to learn these lessons while observing, assisting and eventually co-teaching meant I could focus my attention on the million other things happening in the classroom outside the content. It's simply not possible to devote that much energy to studying student actions and interactions when you're the responsible adult in the room leading instruction.

Another important aspect of my program: studying psychology. I took Psych, Adolescent Psych and Ed Psych. Were they repetitive? Sure. Do I need all the reminders I can get that teens are still developing their prefrontal cortex? Absolutely. I learned about brain development, ranges of normal and reactions to abnormal situations. I have taught students who have suffered trauma; knowing that the students who sucked their thumbs in high school had a (probably terrible) reason for still needing that self soothing. This knowledge prepped me to ignore such uncharacteristic behavior in the classroom (the last thing a kid who's suffered trauma needs is a teacher calling them out) and check in with the guidance counselor later. I learned about stereotype threat and behavior management techniques and attachment theory. I learned about how kids function in the world and how to read their needs from their actions (because the connection is frequently not obvious!).

I'm also thankful for formal lesson plans. Were they tedious? You bet! Do I write them now? No. Did they help? Absolutely. I've internalized the structure so I no longer need a full page of prompts to remind me to consider my students with different learning needs or to ponder possible misconceptions before class begins. And while I complain about having to post the objective on the board it's not because I don't have one, it's because the objective is for me. When I shared lessons with other students in my classes it was almost like getting more observation hours in. And, since my undergrad program was too small to be just math, I got to see strategies from different disciplines and steal from them too!

Most importantly, I had time to process all the information I was receiving and imagine how it would work in a classroom. I observed a variety of teachers. I had a variety of professors who had mostly all taught in K-12 classrooms. I learned what not to do from the sexist/racist teacher next door to my cooperating teacher. I endured the irony of a professor who lectured us for a whole semester on how important it was to not lecture our students for the entire period. By the time I reached my student teaching semester I already had a well formed teaching philosophy. And I'd written it out a few times. Yes, it's changed. Of course, there's nothing like being the only adult in the room to really test your skills. I've absolutely continued to learn by trial and error, but there were fewer errors and a lot less crying* because I was prepared before I started teaching.

*My college friend took none of the courses I listed above and then enrolled in TFA the year after we graduated. There were a lot of nights where she called me crying. And I talked her through all the things I'd learned that would help her through the next day. She was exhausted because she was teaching during the day and taking classes in the evening and then writing her lesson plans at night. There is not enough time in the day for that to be a good structure! Your brain needs time to unwind and process all the inputs.

All of the above happened before I started teaching. Then I got a job, taught for a year and immediately started my masters! My mentor my first year told me that once you stop taking classes it's really hard to start again so the best thing to do is never stop. (I've heeded his advice and am about to move to the Masters+45 column!) I did an awesome program (Boston University's Mathematics for Teaching) that included three summers of taking math classes (where I was able to experience being a student again while marveling at the well crafted problem sets and sound bites like "exams are an opportunity to review") and math education courses during the year. I learned about the history of math education around the world. I learned K-8 strategies so I could recognize the difference between a trick and a method when kids showed me techniques that were different than the ones I learned. We researched an education topic in depth - I know so much about proportional reasoning and why students find it challenging! We did independent research on a math problem of our choosing - talk about perseverance! It was a wonderful program that recognized the challenges of taking courses while teaching, the courses were from 4-6 and we were encouraged to use lesson plans from our current teaching assignment to complete homework assignments.

Do I think it's possible to become an excellent teacher without a stellar teacher prep program and follow up? Of course. But I would never recommend it. It isn't fair to the students to have a teacher who is learning so much on the job. When we hire teachers we tend to rank teachers who successfully student taught at our school the highest, followed by teachers who successfully taught elsewhere, followed by graduates of any BU program, followed by anyone else. Experience matters. Real experience in the classroom is best, but a solid teacher prep program is a pretty good start.