Archive for August, 2012

Is it Friday yet?

Ok, so it’s not so much devotion that I question, but more, um, ability.   Nor is it a tough day, but rather a tough student.

Last year I had a student who made me really question what I was doing trying to be a teacher when most people are looking forward to retirement.   He started the year kind of Hemingwayesque, very literal and repetitive, but by the half way mark, he was starting to be more Kafkaesque.  And I started getting worried.  About his grasp on reality.  About my decision to change careers.  On the days he really pushed my frustration buttons, I really questioned whether I was the right person to teach a class in which he was enrolled.  And of course that made me question whether I should be teaching at all.  He really brought out all my first year doubts.
Was it vainglorious of me to think that I, who failed both Calculus II and Statistics the first time I took them (almost 25 years ago), knew enough math to teach it?  Who was am was I fooling?  See, he still makes me question my ability to teach math.  Why math, why didn’t I just go with language arts?  I never failed one of those classes.  Or try for elementary level, where at least I know the math?  Sigh, the doubts are still there and not helped by the inferiority complex I get after reading in the MathBloggerTwittersphere about all the great things math teachers are doing.
Fortunately, my mentor often behaved like an avuncular aunt and offered gentle encouragement while mentioning specific things that I do well.  Hey, there are things I do well.  Thank god!  My principal jumped in on the act and offered excellent feedback while at the same time stroking my ego.  He has a deft touch and I always walk away from his feedback with a clear idea of what I need to work on, some possible directions for improving, and what I have been doing well and should continue doing.  So when I’m really down about my teaching, I talk to my mentor or review the great feedback I have received, and then I move on.
I have to admit, though, I would rather eat okra and grits than have another student like this one.  I jumped for joy (mentally) when I got my rosters for this year and he was nowhere to be seen.

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I have sooo many goals for this new year; maybe too many.  I need to start working on several of them the first week, no delaying or procrastination.  Like dealing with all the paper that teaching seems to generate.  But the most important goal that I have is to begin as I mean to go on.

I don’t want the first day to be all about rules and administrative tasks and (blech) paperwork.  I certainly don’t want those things to be the major theme of the year.  So I am going to start the very first day with a plan similar to how I want the rest of the year to go.  I am going to ask my students to think about things related to the content they will be covering.  I am going to ask them to do some investigation and analysis, then share their results.  And I am going to ask them to reflect on what they did.  And, yes, we will do that administrative stuff, like discussing rules and passing out the syllabus, but not until we do the important stuff.

In my life science class, the students will be describing what life is and building a word cloud for their first notebook document.  (Periodically during the course, they will revisit that theme to see how their vision has changed.)  They will find some other opinions on what life is and build word clouds based on those visions, then do a little comparative analysis.  After sharing their results, I will ask them to do a little reflecting on the results.  The whole shebang will become part of their portfolios as documentation of their starting point.   Next comes some “Animal, Mineral, Vegetable” to start them thinking about similarities and differences.  Since first day is freshman only (half of this class), they will have to be ready to share their results the next day with the other students.  And then finally we can deal with the administrative details.   At the end of the class, they will get their first exit ticket, a randomly drawn card that they have to identify as animal, vegetable, or mineral; whether it is alive or not; and how they know this.  That is how I want each day to go forward.  I know it will not always be like that; there may be lectures, labs, group activities, or some other thing.  But I absolutely don’t want it to be a follow the textbook and do worksheets kind of class.

Basic Math will start a little more prosaically.   With only two students, this will be more of a tutorial than a class; however, it is still important to begin as we mean to go on.  As they enter, I will give them a card with instructions on where to find their binders and their seats, and what to start on right away.  Once class begins, we will have an Act I activity.  I like the pennies pyramid (thank you @mrmeyer); it is flexible enough to accommodate many levels of entry.  Now that they are all warmed up, we can do the initial assessment.  I have to have that information as soon as possible so I know what interventions they will need.  From there, we will do some common reflection about the activity, the assessment, and how they feel about “doing” math.  We’ll take care of the administrative stuff, then do the exit ticket.  It will be a set of self-assessing questions on work habits.

In general, I want to start building the habit of greeting students at the door; this was something I struggled with last year, so I am really going to make an effort this year.  I also like beginning with an entry problem or task.  Last year, my Algebra class came in and started right away on the SAT Question of the Day that I had printed for them.  I was so pleased the day I realized they were finishing it before the second bell was ringing for class to start.  Yay, way to extend the class period!  I definitely want to continue this.  My biggest goal is to do the same at the end of class.  I really need to establish an exit ticket habit.  The only way to make sure it happens is to start with it right away, first week, and don’t let up.  It takes an average of two months to really establish a new habit, so I can’t waste any time!

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Since this blog is going to be (hopefully) a public record of my growth as a teacher, it seems logical to explain where I am right now.  In about two weeks (omg, only two weeks) classes begin at the small, rural high school where I teach.  This will be my second year as a part-time math and special ed teacher.   Officially, it is one quarter special and two quarters math; however, it never really splits on those lines.  Since it is a small school, we only have three (well, two and half) math teachers.

I am coming late into teaching, but that has been the pattern of my  life.  I didn’t go to college until after I had four kids; I was 28 when I started.  I graduated with a degree in Math and English (after six years), then I worked in the insurance industry for too many years.  Great people in my department, but I just didn’t like the corporate world.  I quit insurance, found a job in a school’s central office and started taking education courses and subbing at the local high school.   Late.  I have been late for everything!  Except for having a family.

I finally had everything I needed for certification except student teaching.  It is really hard to arrange student teaching if you are not enrolled in some college’s teaching program.  No one wants to talk to you unless you have spent all your education dollars at their school and been indoctrinated into their way of doing things.  Bah!  I did finally find a school and a professor who would manage my student teaching and had it all set up for last year.  Of course then a position opened up and I was hired!  In Maine, they will waive the student teaching requirement if you teach for a full year.  So I started my first year with no student teaching experience, no summer planning time, and no clue of what I was getting into.

Last year, I taught Pre-algebra, the second half of Algebra I (the slowed down version), the first half of Geometry (for students who failed first semester), physical science for special ed students, and contemporary issues as a co-teacher.  My largest class was seven, but they were a very needy seven.  Classroom management and differentiation were the biggest part of my first year learning curve.  I was overwhelmed by paperwork, frequently changed my homework policy, and never did find a good way to deal with one particular student.  I only cried a few times.  And I loved every minute of it.

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This past summer, I really started investigating the online education community.  I lurked on twitter, found too many blogs to follow, and generally immersed myself in the digital world.  I considered starting a blog, but was hesitant.  I already have a variety of journals, plain and fancy, in which I started writing furiously, only to abandon them to the back of the bookcase.

With a blog, however, it’s worse; there is an audience.  The fear that I would abandon an audience held me back.  Until I read about this challenge on Sam Shah’s blog.  Here is my opportunity; I didn’t have to blog forever.  I could stop after four posts with no guilt.  Hooray and thank you, Sam Shah.

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