Sunday, April 17, 2011

Year One....Again

In many ways I feel like a first year teacher again. I am 49 years old, teaching is my second career (I was a chemist). I have had many first years. I was an intern instead of a student teacher teaching Earth Science when I started, I had no idea what I was doing, I had 35-40 8th graders and no support system but I had just left a promising career for this and I wasn't going to quit. I remember staying up late, reading, studying doing everything I could to be a good teacher, but I also knew I couldn't recover from my early mistakes with my students. My classroom management was horrendous. I did a few cool labs and I think I helped one student that year.

My second first year I spent at a nice private school with small classes. I had great support from one wonderful teacher and a lab assistant. The dream job. I still messed up with the classroom management and I couldn't figure out how to really do this job effectively. I was teaching 9th grade Physical Science and 11th grade Chemistry. I quit this job when daycare for my 4 year old closed and I drove to work crying one day (I was also about 5 months pregnant).

I left teaching for 3 years and stayed home to raise my 3 boys. I tutored math and chemistry a little, I volunteered at their schools. I realized I loved doing math whenever I had a student, I couldn't wait to prep for our sessions. When my oldest son entered 6th grade we transferred him to a private school. He was lost at the public school and he needed attention. In the spring a math teacher position opened up at his school and there would be a promising tuition discount, so I applied and got the job.

Then Year One: Number 3 happened. How do I have such a terrible time learning. Parents complained about me. The kids hated me. I worked harder than I had ever worked. I had no idea how to teach math. I enrolled in a math methods class and read books on classroom management. Things got better but I knew I had to just wait for the next batch of kids because it was too late to restore trust. I couldn't wait for them to graduate (I work in a pK-12 school) so I wouldn't have to feel guilty anytime I saw one of them.

I then taught for 8 more years and for the most part did ok. I got into a groove. I felt students were learning, I was told that I was a good teacher. Then last year I went back to teaching Science more than Math, that was ok too, no major problems except staying up reading and planning. It never got easier, just better because I became more effective as a teacher. I still stay up until midnight working on school stuff most nights.

Year 1:Number 4
I discovered blogs, Standards-based grading and what other teachers were doing. I had been working in isolation and I had never collaborated with another teacher (except a little with that wonderful teacher at my job in that other private school). I'm also working on the Science course with a phenomenal teacher and that has been great (even though I am busier now than ever). I started SBG and I could not have made more mistakes, first grading homework, then not grading it, now back to grading it. I'm frustrated with the apathy of many of my students. I still, after all these years, have classroom management issues. I don't want to wait until next year to start over and get through to a new batch of kids, I still have 6-7 weeks with these kids and I love them all. That is one difference. I don't think I loved my students as much during Year's 1 and 2.

Ideas for the rest of the year.

In Earth Science, I'm going to focus on their learning and give as much feedback as possible. I don't do SBG there and the kids are doing fine.

In Geometry, I am doing ok. My students are doing the homework that I carefully select to help them learn. I wish I didn't have to grade it to make them do it but I am making it worth a very small percentage and giving them regular feedback. I'm thinking that the homework quizzes I give could be just for feedback not for a grade. They like working together and they're engagement is satisfactory. They seemed to love right triangle trig last week. They are doing well with their understanding.

In Algebra, I'm having a problem, many are disengaged, they won't even pretend to listen. When it is time to do group work they do a little work (for their peers). Only about 25% of them are doing their homework. Many have not mastered important concepts. I am going to have to change a few recommendations for next year. I'm thinking now that I should be extremely careful with the homework I assign and do the spaced practice (from CPM) in class. I'm also thinking of having them make a Definitions and Properties Manual to use for the rest of the year. I refuse to play the points game with them. This isn't thought out very well, just a little rambling....


  1. One of the things I've found helpful with group activities is to break it up into several stages: stage 1 takes 3 minutes, stage 2 takes 5 minutes, etc. I then get a LOUD kitchen timer--or my cellphone timer--and set it for 5 minutes or whatever that stage requires. When the timer goes off, everyone moves on to the next stage. This seems to keep the goof offs from chatting away their time while my back is turned and I'm helping other groups. The smaller the time you set for each stage, the less opportunity for goofing off. I try to keep the first couple stages to 2-3 minutes so that if they are goofing off they are going to get a talking from me and will have to bust their butts to play catch up during the remaining stages: I've found asking them when they want to serve their detention for wasting time in class, and then offering them the deal that if they work ten times as hard for the rest of class I'll consider them to have worked off that detention, to be quite effective. :-)

    Paul Hawking
    The Challenge of Teaching Math
    Latest post:
    Creating a culture of double-checking your work