October 17, 2016

Day in the Life: Oct 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.

Friday, October 14, 2016
Monthly post - regular school day, advisory day

The alarm went off at 6. Then another one at 6:03. It's dark out and I'm unimpressed but the 8 month old puppy in the crate by my bed is waking up and it's not his fault it's dark. Get up, walk the dog, get enough mileage in so that my buddy Pikachu finds another candy. Which gets me to 50. Which means:

Make breakfast for the puppy, Jordan and I. We're on the road by 7:05, not bad. As I walk in the building I start greeting people and continue saying good morning as I head up the stairs, down the hall, sign in at the mailboxes and arrive in my classroom. I check in with my classroom neighbors about our plan for the morning - instead of having a ninth grade team meeting we are gathering in the cafeteria with students who are earning low grades so far. Last week was the middle of first quarter so progress reports are being mailed home today. Our new 9th grade dean is impressively pro-active - she printed all the progress reports of students we listed as struggling academically and highlighted the classes they had a D or lower. This is impressive since teachers didn't have to finish comments until 3 pm yesterday and we're meeting with students at 7:30 am today!

7:30 we are all gathered in the cafeteria and the dean explains that they aren't succeeding in one or more classes so they will have mandatory dayback (each subject has one day a week where teachers all stay after school for an hour - it's our day that we stay so kids can come back, abbreviated dayback). Students listen quietly until she says that she will be calling each of their parents to explain the situation, then the grumbling starts, hopefully they also heard her say that she will call parents again when they have completed all their owed assignments or otherwise brought their grades up. I'm really impressed with the new dean's initiative! Teachers hand out papers with information on which teachers stay which days, contracts for students to complete and sign and the highlighted progress reports. All of the students that I spoke with were resolved to improve. The only student who was angry was frustrated because he'd already stayed after school yesterday to get work done - I sent him to talk to the teacher to see if he still needed mandatory dayback. 

8:00 most of the kids have filled out their forms, made a plan and returned to class. The math teachers head down to my classroom to meet with our evaluator. He wrote up an observation on a recent team meeting and wanted to discuss it with us today. He started with some positives and then made the suggestion that we establish some norms and structures since the meeting he observed descended into "chaos" at the end. He tried asking us about norms and sharing some admin norms but we were all rather unresponsive. We didn't respond well to being told that taking ten minutes at the end of the meeting (after we had completed our goal for the day) to check in with each other about a variety of things was 'chaotic.' When given the chance I defended our choice and used some buzz words like differentiating the meeting - the new teacher needed to know about progress reports and the teachers with a support block needed to check in - having multiple separate conversations is not chaos. We eventually reached a point where the evaluator said that this would be fine so long as it was part of our agenda. It's really the same as having an agenda and objectives for our classes - it's for administrators who are walking in and want to know what's going on. If they would just say that everyone would be much happier. We don't mind making an agenda, we just don't like being accused of wasting time when we have been very productive in our meetings so far this year. We were then able to have a good discussion about how to run the support blocks this year since they are different from the past. Finally, at the end of the meeting our evaluator made clear that we are one of the most effective teams and are ahead of everyone on standards based grading implementation so his intention was to help us become even better, and to make better use of all the members of the team since we are the largest content team. I wish he'd started with that speech but at least we got it at some point!

8:45 bell rings earlier than usual because on Fridays we have advisory. Our advisory groups stay with us for their entire high school careers. My group of seniors graduated last year so I have freshmen this year. They were a team at orientation, we have a few juniors and seniors assigned to our room as mentors and the ROTC instructor and I are the advisors. 

8:50 Advisory starts. Today we didn't have the mentors so I ran the activity. Students talked about their goals (for the quarter, the year and in life). I wanted to have them decorate folders and write their goals directly inside the folder to keep in my room all four years, but it turned out that I depleted my stock of manila folders and the box was in fact full of manilla dividers. A plan for next week, instead we said our goals aloud. They watched a video Thank God It's Monday and then we reviewed the school incentives program. We do PBIS which this year means students earn stickers for meeting or exceeding the school expectations of being safe, responsible and respectful. While I'm not 100% on board with the bribery aspect (kids trade in stickers for tickets to the front of the lunch line or to enter raffles for gift cards and cookies) I was able to focus on the importance of taking care of yourself and respecting others when reaching any goal - in school or elsewhere. To note - I have come up with systems for giving out the stickers in all my classes so it's fair and I don't forget. I may not love external motivation but I'm making the effort to be a team player.

9:20 bell rings, prep block. I organize my dropbox folders to match the team google drive folders. We're starting a new unit today and it's annoying me that my numbering is off. Coworker stops by to ask a question about the iPads. I know that I had the admin password last year but I can't find it in a brief search and it's easier to file a ticket with the tech team than to keep searching. I decide that a fun Friday afternoon introduction to the functions unit will be Desmos' function carnival followed by some function polygraph. Today's do now will be from Estimation 180 but for Monday I want another pattern machine number talk and I don't see many on the weebly. I tweet Christopher and he responds rapidly with a variety of options! Prepping for precalc includes posting the answer key to the homework but I can't find my scan from last year. I look through my file cabinet while wondering if it would be faster to do the problems than to search for the old key. It definitely would have been faster to go immediately to doing the problems since I can't find the old one but I do happen across these gems from four years ago:

Which is a great find since I'm planning to do this exact project again next week on PSAT day. I think I'll let them use Desmos though. Finally make the key and scan it and wait impatiently for drive on my computer to sync with drive on my phone.

10:25 the bell rings at 10:45, should I make copies now or edit this card sort that I don't love first? I decide to just merge the two existing card sorts since google isn't finding me any better options and I'm short on time. Print them and then realize that there's only one table on the two pages - I definitely need more than one table in my function vs. relation card sort.

10:35 give up and make copies

10:45 class is starting to arrive while I make notes on what to add to the card sort. Making notes while standing in the hall is sort of like greeting everyone, right?
We estimate the height of the lamp post and kids ask if Mr. Stadel minds that I use so many photos of him in my class.
Function Carnival goes great. We stop and discuss what is happening once everyone has tried something in the first graph. Half of the students in this class are also in an ELL class so I try to be extra aware of language. Not only do we discuss what happens when we draw a squiggle and get 3 blue men on the screen, but we also talk about that thing being a parachute and what exactly a parachute does. I mention the definition of function and make the connection to the title of the activity.
As students finish this activity they move on to the polygraph. I love block classes - there was plenty of time for three distinct activities! While they played polygraph I learned that they don't know their classmates' names. What a lovely opportunity to meet each other, I should continue encouraging that. I forget that we have three middle schools that feed into our high school, plus two students are new to the country this year, so they don't all know each other.

12:10 bell rings. Put in attendance, save slides from last class and open the fresh file for next class. Head down to the lunch room to eat with mostly math teachers. Debrief the meeting with the evaluator this morning and decide that we both don't mind doing things but wish that he would just say to do them because he/admin/the district wants it rather than trying to connect it to our last meeting. Having processed that we chat about weekend plans.

12:35 head upstairs 5 minutes before the bell to help my new teacher neighbor with some online forms.

12:40 last block begins arriving. This is my contained special education class so we repeat the algebra lesson from last block but it takes them longer. When the first student is ready for polygraph there are only 15 minutes remaining in the block so I give them the option to play or do make up work. The first student to finish didn't owe anything so she played with my co-teacher while I helped other students finish and check if they owed anything.

2:02 bell rings. school is over. Jordan (my daughter) comes in to say hi, drops some stuff and immediately walks out again to hang out with her friends. I am thankful for the moment of quiet after everyone leaves. I finally start prepping the card sort I've been trying to get to since 10:30. Then I remember that I need to update the forms I helped my neighbor with earlier. Then I finish typing and printing the card sort. I print card sorts on colored paper so they are easier to separate and store so I take out the paper, decide that now is definitely the time to organize it all, finally pick out enough paper for this copying task and head down to the copiers with Jordan. It's Friday afternoon and my brain is fried - you wouldn't believe how difficult it was to print sets of two sheets on colored paper. Jordan made fun of me but I finally got everything printed. Decide to wait to slice them and we head home at 2:30.

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 simultaneously proud and regretting that I was defensive during the meeting with our evaluator. I usually just nod and smile during those meetings because the great/hard thing about teaching is that we're mostly left to our own devices. But I think it's important for him to know that telling us our meeting was chaotic just because he wasn't sure exactly what was going on is not a helpful way to communicate.

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 finally felt caught up at one point this week (all of my classes took tests recently, proctoring tests gave me time to get organized). That feeling is gone (there's a pile of tests to grade) but I'm reaching the point in the year where everything is routine rather than developing structures. 

My best class at the beginning of the year was so quiet I felt awkward and played music. A few students were added to the class and they all got more comfortable and now they are majorly chatty and distract each other. It's hard to find that balance between wanting everyone to be friendly and needing to stop conversations so that math happens.

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.

One of my students has autism. Since he has a paraprofessional with him all the time (who does much of the prompting that I would do with other students) and frequently needs to take breaks outside of my classroom I don't have as many conversations with him as I do my other students. During the test this week his para expressed frustration and asked me to step in. I was able to sit with him and by alternating between a preferred math task and the test I got a bit more work out of him. It's frustrating because when he is able to focus he comprehends the math well, but getting the knowledge out of his brain is a challenge. We'll just keep adding new strategies to our toolkit until he is able to communicate what he does and does not understand! Working with differently abled kids certainly keeps my job from being boring.

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. The weekly homework was my idea that I came up with over the summer but I've often been leaving writing it to the last minute. The beauty of this is that there's plenty of time to allow other teachers on my team to contribute! It's not purposeful but it is effective, I only wrote two of the five we've done so far.

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

I'm really enjoying my precalculus students in both my class and my independent study. They didn't all rock the first test but they are all genuinely nice people. They work together and do crazy things like read the instructions on handouts. They're focused but we also have interesting conversations. I'm writing this on Monday and this morning I asked them why they were all so quiet and told them they were allowed to work together. One student looked up from her paper and said "we're focusing!" To which I replied, "well, I'm bored!" A few smiled at me and then they all went back to work.

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