May 24, 2016

Many Voices

I'm not the only one promising to stay in the classroom!

A few years back I did a great job updating the #matheme page, a name I came up with as a blend of math theme and meme. It includes posts related to certain themes. One theme was Teaching, Our Profession which include a few letters on why we're staying in the classroom.

This week has seen a few more updates!

Why I Don't Quit by @RPhillipsMath

Why I Don't Quit {A Letter of Non-Resignation} by @misscalcul8
"I can't fix the system but I can fix how my students experience the system."

Is This Where You Want to Be? by @DietzTeach

Did you write a letter that I missed? Will you write one now? Post it in the comments so I can include it on the #matheme page!

May 23, 2016

Status Update

Since I wrote that letter...

I haven't quit teaching. And I still have no intention of quitting.

The elementary school that was at Level 4 (marking the district as Level 4) made great strides that year. But the school committee had already given up on them before the test results came back and handed management of the school to a private charter. I don't know how they're doing now but it was a source of intense frustration that the teachers at that school worked incredibly hard in a terrible high pressure environment, showed growth, and still all had to reapply to their jobs.

The high school reached Level 1 status (top tier) this year. Want to know the one thing that I believe had the biggest impact? We started to only give the tests to students who are prepared for it. The state says that we must give the English and Math MCAS to all sophomores. But they don't specify what the requirements are to make a student a sophomore. So we changed our requirements - students have to pass Algebra 1 and English 1 in order to be coded in the system as grade 10. And then we showed growth. Maintaining Level 1 status will be no easy feat as we have to continue to show growth toward the target of 100% proficiency. While I love that Massachusetts only requires three tests for graduation (science in grade 9, math and English in grade 10) I don't love that students have to take a math test that's primarily on Algebra in tenth grade since most of our students are taking geometry. I would rather have an end of course test for both 9th and 10th than spend a month in geometry class reviewing 8th and 9th grade content.

Administration still has far too many tasks. While our deans used to be able to build relationships with students, establish boundaries and be available for consult when I needed backup, they are far too often in meetings. The same with our department heads. A lack of trust and respect permeates our school culture and I believe that this is based in the fact that we spend so much time planning/reacting and not enough time engaging. Everyone is aware that it's an issue, but we need a critical mass of adults to stand up and say that we need to stop building the pressure and start stepping back to decide on our priorities. My priorities are building up students who are decent human beings and problem solvers. I don't need quarterly benchmarks to see if students are making progress toward those priorities. I don't need extra things, I don't need more content, I don't need more pressure. I need space to collaborate with my colleagues. I need time with my students. I need respect.

May 22, 2016

Staying in the Classroom

A few years ago there was a flurry of letters written by teachers who were quitting teaching in protest of the state of education. Followed by one teacher who responded that she was not going to quit. So I wrote my own letter, I Will Not Quit.

Blogging is awesome because I can go back and read about how I felt 3 years ago. The entire goal of this post is to say, read my old post and write your own. Tomorrow I'll share how things have changed since I wrote that letter.

May 21, 2016

Test Prep Blitz

I'm sure you've seen the videos of kids singing songs about rocking their bubble tests. I can't watch, they make my heart hurt. We did do some power poses one year but that's as close as we've gotten to that type of thing. I don't love what we do for test prep. I don't love high stakes tests. I really don't like benchmark tests. But there are a few cool aspects of what we do - try to focus on those when you read this post.

It's English MCAS day. The sophomores have to take a 3 hour state test this morning. With nearly 30% of our students on an IEP or a 504 we have a lot of special testing accommodations so we hold school on a three hour delay to free up all the staff. In the past the ninth, eleventh and twelfth graders got a day to sleep in, but this year we did something different for ninth graders. They came in to school at the regular time and the ninth grade teachers all taught a mini math lesson. And not just the math teachers! The English and Biology teachers reviewed linear equations. The History and Health teachers reviewed functions. The Algebra teachers reviewed inequalities. After rotating through all three stations students took their Algebra benchmark test.

It's Math MCAS day. The sophomores have to take a 3 hour state test this morning. The ninth graders again came in to school at the regular time and the ninth grade teachers all taught a mini biology lesson. And not just the science teachers! The English teachers reviewed open response questions. The Algebra teachers reviewed reading graphs and tables. The History and Health teachers reviewed cell transport. Biology teachers reviewed ecology.  After rotating through all the stations students took their Biology benchmark test.

Here are all the cool things about this model:

  • I didn't have to spend a block giving the benchmark test!!
  • I got to meet students I don't have in class.
  • We got to talk to all the teachers about what we're studying in math class. 
  • I found out what kinds of things are in the biology standards.
  • Our students saw that teachers know other subjects.

I love science, so it was great for me to be able to share my enthusiasm for another topic during the Bio Blitz. In class a few days after the Algebra Blitz one of my students connected a problem she was solving with one from the review lesson saying, "Oh yeah! Ms. [health teacher] taught me that!"

In order to make this work we had to use some of our team time. The ninth grade team meets regularly; instead of having hall duty we have team duty. We meet as a whole team once a week and we meet in content groups once or twice a week (depending how the alternating day schedule works out). So we spent some content group time developing the materials and then one whole team meeting prepping the other teachers for their lesson. I think this was one of my favorite uses of our common planning time this year.

May 20, 2016

Put on Your Oxygen Mask

Every time you fly, the flight attendant reminds you, "Put on your own oxygen mask before helping those around you." And for good reason, if cabin pressure drops significantly you have a matter of seconds before you pass out. You can't help your kids if you're unconscious.

My therapist told me tonight that this is an oft quoted piece of advice for parents. And we all know that teaching is a lot like parenting. (Since I'm parenting and teaching the same age group right now all advice is doubly useful!) I am not a good teacher or parent when I'm stressed, tired, distracted or otherwise not 100% on. So I have to figure out what my oxygen mask is, and prioritize it. Things that make me a more functional human also make me more patient of others imperfections (and my own!). Not to mention much more fun to be around.

In January I made a new years resolution to actively engage in more of the hobbies that bring me joy or calm. I made a schedule and told Handle to remind me every day at 5 pm. On Mondays I would do the crossword, on Tuesdays I would play the ukulele, on Wednesdays I would read and on Thursdays I would color. I don't think I've ever successfully completed this routine, despite five months of reminders. Sometimes I feel bad for checking off tasks that I didn't complete, but my ever wise therapist reframed things for me - these are reminders of things I like in case I need them. Sometimes on a Monday I'm vegged in front of the TV and I appreciate the reminder to do a crossword while watching. Other times I'm in the middle of a great book and I read four days in a row without needing any reminders. This month blogging has been my oxygen mask and I haven't had time for much else.

I recognize my need for time alone after a long day of people constantly demanding my attention. I know that I need eight hours of sleep, more than that during allergy season. I know I like walking, hiking and sometimes even jogging but it's also okay that I'm not exercising while my immune system is waging the annual war. It's good to have options for ways to replenish my energy and it's okay for me to focus on a particular one for a stretch of time.

As my ever wise friends say:
You do you.
Practice radical self care.

Put on your oxygen mask people, you can't hold your breath until summer.