Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Another New Job

I am changing jobs after the semester is over, it was too hard, the schedule, the students, the people, the chemistry on a cart. Going to work at a charter school teaching math. I think I could handle the students who didn't want to learn but not all the rest of it. This gets me back on the path I wanted to be on anyway.

I will be teaching Geometry and Stats and I will have my own room again.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Not too sure about this

I am six weeks in and I am not feeling too good. Some parts are ok. I am feeling ok about my classroom management. On Wednesday (when I was having a formal evaluation) my fifth hour kids worked like angels and seemed to be engaged and even showed evidence that they learned something.

I just don't like my schedule, 7 period day, five 45 min classes, one 45 min prep, 15 min for lunch and 45 min in my PLC, every day. Then I work at school until 4, go home make dinner, work on prep until 8:30 or 9, go to bed so I can wake up at 5, get back to school at 6:30, students at 7:15. It is a grueling schedule and I teach in 3 different rooms, science on a cart. I have 150 students and have not made enough phone calls. I tried doing it yesterday, but I cannot get on the data base to find the numbers. I feel crappy about my grading because I haven't figured out how to do sbg with my new curriculum (science, not math) and I am still working on a concept list. The bell schedule and prison type atmosphere (every door is locked at all times) is making me crazy. I am drinking Tension Tamer  and "Happy" Tea to help me through the day. I dread Mondays and the weeks are long.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Starting Over

I feel like a new teacher again and it is hard. I started at a new school teaching Chemistry and Physical Science not Math at all. I miss math a little. I hardly know anyone. I travel (three different classrooms a day). I have to submit detailed daily lesson plans for the entire week every Monday by 8 am to my coach. I am having trouble with the routines and expectations (breakfast to go, daily announcements, getting to my next class, setting up (and I havent done any real labs yet). OK enough complaining, that is the bad part, except one more thing, I need a computer , it is on order but there is some sort of problem with our district and Apple's new operating system. I am a Mac Baby. I cry if I have to use a PC (not, really, I am getting better at it, but I really miss the Mac).

Here is the good part. My coworkers are helpful as can be. I like the students a lot. I am not having issues with my classroom management. I was really worried about this after working in a private school so long. I can feel how my experience is helping me through this transition. Being new is both tiring and invigorating. I am trying Interactive notebooks and I just graded a big batch and they were pretty good.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What the Heck?

I have been thinking about writing about my interviewing experience for a while. I have talked to friends and family about an injustice that I experienced. The injustice is not really directed at me but at the students in some of these schools. First of all you should know that most of my experience has been in private schools. But, I went to a Chicago Public School, I taught my first year at a suburban public school and I taught summer school in an urban setting this year. At two of the  urban, public schools where I interviewed, I felt scolded for my lack of experience with "tough" kids. I was essentially told that I was totally unprepared to teach this type of student because these students don't want to learn and their behavior is bad.


Do all private school kids have great behavior and want to learn?  Do all public school kids have bad behavior and hate learning? We know that is not true. This experience is still bothering me because I feel like there can be no movement of teachers from private schools to public schools and a lot of what I have learned about teaching came from my private school experiences.  Thankfully, I did get a job at a public school and I can transfer my skills but it still bugs me that these two schools couldn't see that and they have a crummy attitude about their own students behavior and desire to learn.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

New Job

I finally got a job. I will be teaching Chemistry at a St. Paul Public School in the fall. I will miss teaching math but right now, I am having fun just being a math student.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Homework and Trust

During my talk today, I talked about this post by Jason Buell. I also like this response to that post from Frank Noschese. BTW, Frank Noschese also just did a TED video that was really great (you have to skip to about 45 minutes to see it, the official video hasn't been published yet).

MCTM Spring Conference 2012

I gave my second presentation today at MCTM on sbg again. I could tell I wasn't as fired up about it as I was last year, though I still feel it is important. Part of that is because I don't know what I am doing next year (see Quitting My Job post below). I saw many great presentations the last few days. On Friday, I really liked the STEM presentation I went to and Sara Vanderwerf's. I stayed for a little bit of the Rational Number Project and then the Blake teachers who are using sbg with problem solving. Today, I learned about Project Lead the Way and I really liked Chris Danielson's presentation connecting middle school Algebra with Calculus.

On Thursday, I went to the Ross Taylor Symposium on the SciMath Frameworks. I should have mentioned that during my talk because I plan to use that a lot.

Anyway, if you came to my presentation, here is a link to a pdf of my talk and an Algebra Syllabus that has a concept list and details of how I have implemented sbg. There is also a Geometry Concept list.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Reflections on Year Two

I am working on the talk I will give at MCTM next week. Even though I am reusing a couple of slides, I think it is a lot different from last year's presentation and the talk I gave at the beginning of this year at the fall conference (only 3 attendees at that one).

My two major successes for this year have come up just recently. I gave the cumulative trimester 3 midterm on the first 30 concepts and one of my Algebra students said to me "I cannot believe that I know all this stuff!" My other success happened this week in both of my classes. I presented a couple of tough problems that had very little given information and the students had to use several different concepts/skills to solve them. When they got the problem (with or without help) some of them exclaimed "that was a great problem!" and I saw several students agreeing with them. It seems like many of them are appreciating tough problems now. I have not been assessing problem solving but I have definitely been working on it and now they seem to be enjoying it. I don't even care if they are good at it right now, if they like it and appreciate it and find it fun, they can eventually become great problem solvers.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Quitting My Job

In January, I resigned from my position after 11 years. I think it is finally safe to blog about this because it is now public knowledge. It was hard to quit a job I loved but I had to do it. Of course, I am sticking it out until the end of the school year. I am 50 years old and usually I have not been one to stick around too long so this job had been an anomaly. I moved a lot growing up. I get burned out and unhappy. I need a change. It will be sad to leave my friends but I have to do it.

Looking for a new job is kind of fun. The uncertainty about what I will do next year is unsettling and stressful, applying is tedious, interviewing is hard to schedule and nerve-wracking (especially while teaching an overloaded schedule) but I am learning a lot about myself and it's kind of exhilarating. I can't decide if I should teach math or science. I don't really want to do both. I thought I wanted to teach math but so far schools seem more interested in me as a science teacher. It is kind of like the title of my blog, I am undetermined, can't be defined, not quite imaginary....

I'm also going back to school. I am starting by retaking Calculus. I took it 30 years ago, from a non-English speaking teacher at the U of Mn and didn't really get it. I am ready now. Then I am going to take all of the classes I need to extend my math license from 5-8 to 5-12. That will be a nice goal (it is only 6 classes after Calculus) Then I think it's time to get a PhD, I'll decide about that after my youngest child graduates from high school, after I have a little more experience.

What to do with helplessness?

This week I became frustrated with my Geometry students who don't know how to take a cube root on their calculator. We have already done this when we did similarity and looked at area and volume of similar figures and now we are doing some more complicated volume problems. Why can't they do this? One reason (I think) is that they really don't have a calculator of their own. There is no reason they can't own one, I teach at a private school and most of them have Smartphones, IPods, IPads, etc. I stopped providing calculators (because they disappear and I find them hard to keep track of..... Hmmm. I show it to them two ways using the cube root function and raising it to t he 1/3 power (reminding them to use parentheses).

Saturday, March 31, 2012

You've Met Minimum Requirements!

I've been looking for a new teaching job and Minneapolis sends these emails that say "Congratulations, you've met the minimum requirements for .....position...... you may or may not be contacted....thanks for your interest." Hmmm... Reminds me of traditional grading and the meaningless track we have put our kids on....How often do our students "meet minimum requirements" and does this mean anything?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Drastic Measures

Yet another frustrating and overwhelming end to a trimester. It was much easier when I didn't make them pass every concept. Passing every concept is just getting a score of 7 or better (out of 10). Last year, my students played the average game and decided not to learn some concepts because they didn't really need to.

I was reminding, hounding, threatening and working much harder than my students in the last few weeks. I think I did about 100 reassessments last week. Not as many as the first trimester (since I used Study Hall as punishment) but still way too many. The frustrating thing is that some just aren't working very hard to learn things, they procrastinate knowing that they can continue taking assessments, they come in knowing nothing and wanting me to re-teach. Even though I've tried to do things to avoid this, I end up giving in a bit when I have 21 (out of 100) students who are not passing (due to 1 or 2 low scores). I did not want to give that many incompletes, so I worked harder.

Finally I came up with a new plan for the last trimester. Concepts grades will be shown individually and I will include all concepts since the beginning of the year in the electronic gradebook, but, if a concept is no longer on in-class quizzes it will be included in a "composite" score. If there are any concepts with scores of 6 or below in the composite score, I will temporarily change the score to zero (making their grade drop to an F for sure) and when the student comes to retest, I will add those few points to the score they had and restore their grade. I think this will work. One of the students said that it was "all or nothing." It is and I'm tired of them just giving me "something." After announcing the new plan, they seemed a bit more serious in class, we'll see.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Green Sheets

At my school, the 6th and 7th graders participate in the ACE program. ACE stands for Assignments Completed Everyday. It works like this: if a student doesn't have their homework, they get a "green sheet." They have to bring the green sheet back the next day signed by a parent with the completed assignment. If they don't have it, they get another green sheet and a call home. Three green sheets in a week and they are "blue-listed" which means that they have to get their assignment notebook signed by every teacher at the end of each class. If they have a green sheet free week, they get an ACE ticket and ACE tickets can be used for different things, like a special lunch brought in.

In the 11 years that I have worked for this school, I haven't had much to do with these except when my own sons were involved. That is because the 8th grade team (and I primarily teach 8th grade) doesn't follow this program. We say they are getting ready for high school and don't need it. Anyway, I quit grading homework this year and at the end of October, I was feeling pretty good about the fact that most of my students were still doing it. Well, now it is almost February and only about half of my 8th graders are doing homework and I am suffering for it because they are taking a long time to learn everything due to lack of practice. However, I have one 7th grade class and because they get "green sheets" they always do their homework. Class always goes better with them because they all come with the skills practiced.

Anyway, today I told my 8th graders that they will now get green sheets when homework isn't done. Since they only will get these in Math, I told them 2 in a week will mean lunch detention. Boy, they were mad, but I had a couple of them thanking me because they are so entrenched in this points game that they won't do the homework if they don't get something for it. Clearly, they thanked me because they knew that they will do it to avoid punishment. This seems a bit weird. I've been asking them "Do I give worthwhile practice for homework?" They say "Yes." Then I ask "Do I give a lot of homework?" and they say "No." They do trust me, they just can't be motivated without some sort of reward (points) or punishment (talking to their parents).

Middle schoolers are goofy... I'll write again to report how this experiment with "green sheets" works.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Yoga and Practice

I've been on break for the holidays and I have been taking yoga from a different teacher. I am a novice at the practice of yoga and I have been in much better shape at other times in my life, but this has been making me feel really good about myself and tonight I figured out why. Yoga teachers are always referring to where you are in your practice and when it is time for a certain pose they might say "and if this is available to you..."

So there are a few things about this that correspond to my "practice" as a math teacher. The first is that it is my practice and it's hard to get it perfectly right. I have to do what is available to me and that depends on a lot of things; it depends on how I feel, what I did the day before or right before class, where my head is and the students who show up to class. I was thinking of how this teacher feels with the novices and experienced members of the class and how she has to do something for all of us. Tonight, I didn't change for yoga and showed up in my jeans that are stretchy but still totally inappropriate for good practice. This sounds like my students. Last week during yoga, I had a nagging cough. Many times, I am so exhausted that I fall asleep at the end (and snore, disturbing the other members)...

I like the phrase "if this is available to you." How often have I presented something without saying this. My yoga teacher gives another option if the pose is not available. How often do I do that with the practice of math?

Then the word "practice." Homework is practice and I don't grade it. It would be ridiculous to be graded in yoga and it is fine to not get it right, you are still more relaxed and more limber and flexible after you have practiced. I suppose the only way to fail would be to not show up. Even if you just laid there for an hour in child's pose you would gain something though I would never do that because I choose to go to yoga and I definitely want to at least try everything, even when I am not feeling 100%. How come we can't be more like this in our practice of teaching and learning at school?

I like the way this teacher meets me and the other students where we are. She gave a challenging class tonight and I did most of it (even in jeans). I like to think that I meet my students where they are most of the time. I know that most of them believe that I understand them and that can go a long way with eighth graders.

I've been reading Robyn Jackson's Never Work Harder than Your Students and it is all about working on your practice both as a teacher and as a student (of teaching). It is amazing to me how a break in the routine can help me figure out this kind of stuff. The "gift" she talks about comes from hard work and also from how we are put together, just like in yoga.