Slow start this morning due to spring allergies, right on time with the early warm weather. But by time I’m at school, my homeostasis seems to return. I take the exam I am about to administer to my Algebra 2 classes one more time, making sure that answers are reasonable, and that all the big ideas included have been thoroughly covered and reviewed. I look for and find a lovely extra-credit question which really gets at the structure of logarithms. It took me a couple of tries to puzzle out the solution to this problem; I would love it if a few of my students figured it out.
Three periods of testing; I managed to look at the multiple choice questions from two of the classes, and haven’t come across a paper yet with all 10 correct, which gives me pause. Was there something I missed in either teaching or reviewing? After I am done grading, I’ll have to go back and look at where most of the errors occurred. Parent-Teacher conferences are on Thursday evening and Friday (it’s Tuesday now), and it would be optimal to have the exams graded by then. A bit of a Herculean effort, but I’m going to go for it. But right now, I have to do a little prep for Geometry this afternoon – print Agendas for the tables, and review the lesson for questioning strategies.
No working printers to be found, so the agenda is put on the board. I am really enjoying my geometry classes this term; I am channeling my inner ‘pirate’ and exuding enthusiasm for triangles like nobody’s business (not a stretch for me, in truth – just ask my fellow quilters about the ad hoc lesson on special right triangles I gave at our mini-retreat last
weekend. I convinced them all that the 30˚-60˚-90˚ triangle was, in fact, a Platonic Ideal.) The students, for the most part, respond with equal enthusiasm, if not 100% comprehension. The engagement, however, is wonderful – I’ve even gotten the oh-so-cool-math-is-for-losers Abdullah to put away his cell phone to complete the Daily Quiz (a formative assessment currently dubbed by the students “The Biggie Triggie”). I spend a lot of time backtracking while observing student difficulties during this activity. What I have noticed is that each new idea they learn gets folded into what they learned the previous day – which is good, except when the distinctions between which ideas apply to which problems is blurred. For example, we began by identifying trigonometric ratios on all types of right triangles and using them to find missing sides before I introduced special right triangles. (I love telling the kids that sin 30˚ = 1/2 is the most important thing they will learn all year. Their Algebra 2 and Pre-Calculus teachers will thank me.) But when we go back to solving problems with non-special right triangles (if such things even exist – aren’t ALL right triangles special?!?), many children are labeling sides with the 1-√3 -2 ratios. As this type of misunderstanding surfaces, I jump into mini-mini lessons in which I attempt to clarify the previously taught ideas in a different way – hopefully one which will illuminate that which I failed to convey the first time taught.
Today we are working on word problems solved with trigonometry, after unplanned but clearly necessary The Biggie Triggie mini-lesson. If the students understand how the trigonometric ratios work, however, the word problems shouldn’t present much of a problem (at least the starter problems) – the triangles in these problems (ladders against walls, kite strings, hills being climbed) are pretty easy to spot and sketch. Despite student antipathy for word problems, I manage to convince these two lovely classes that these are the word problems that will end their fear, because they can and will SUCCEED. It works. Amazing. I’m so lucky to have these kids this term, and at the end of the day. I always finish happily – extolling the virtues of the mighty triangle.
My paperwork for the day is done, and I go through tomorrow’s lessons to make sure that I have everything ready – my day starts at 7:10 A.M., and surprises at that hour can be very unpleasant. Tomorrow’s lesson in Algebra 2 – Introduction to Summation – is not my favorite one; it’s highly procedural. But after several weeks of exponential functions and logarithms, the routine problems will provide a respite (and confidence booster) for many of the students. In Geometry, we’ll be working on problems involving angles of elevation and depression. I’ve got a nice introduction to this topic (and if you are the source of this introduction, thank you – but I don’t remember where I found this resource), one which gets the kids up and looking around. More geometry fun!
I’m ready to leave (the upside to arriving before 7 A.M.!) school. On my way out, I stop in the restroom, and run into the Video Production teacher. We’re both at the end of our day, and fairly relaxed, so we begin chatting – the first social chat I can recall having with her. She is mentoring two former students of mine who have been making short films (I was recently interviewed by them for their latest effort on the results and repercussions of 2016 election), who apparently have told her we need to be friends. Great! I need allies at school! She makes me a gift of a button she is marketing, and our friendship is started.
I have two private students this afternoon, an 8th grader taking Algebra 1, and a 9th grade Geometry student. My tutoring schedule becomes heavy in the spring – with state tests and Regents beginning to loom – extending the work day 2-3 hours several times each week. Besides the financial reward, I really enjoy working one-on-one with students. It gives me the opportunity to provide the specific customized help that I aspire to in the classroom, without the 34 student/45 minutes constraint. And I also get deeper insight into where misconceptions happen, something I can definitely use in school. And I can see what other teachers are doing – it’s always eye-opening to see how different classrooms and schools can approach the same courses and standards.
Finally – home, dinner, and a little mindless television to grade exams by. I manage to get through about half of the tests this evening, and the results, while not stellar, are better than I expected on what is usually one of the more difficult topics in the course. I am encouraged; maybe I’m getting good at this…(famous last words…)
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 am completing this post several days after it was due, so I have some information that I did not have at the end of this day – namely that in the 3rd class that took the Algebra 2 exam, I discovered evidence of cheating by several students. So clearly my proctoring was not vigilant enough, and the consequences of this I am still dealing with 5 days later. On a positive note, my efforts to rejuvenate the Geometry classes are successful thus far, and I am committed to maintaining the highly charged (positively) atmosphere in the classroom.
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 am looking forward to learning Python – I am preparing (and being trained) to teach an Introductory Computer Science course next year. The pilot course is only being offered to students in our ‘non-gifted’ track, which is wonderful – it is high time for those students to be offered a new opportunity. And I may be teaching some of my Geometry students, who I am growing more fond of every day.
Big challenges. I lost my first cousin this month after a brief and ravaging illness, and I am terribly sad. I’ve had trouble dipping into the online community since the inauguration, and this has shut me down a little more. There’s a time for everything, and this is a time for me to be with my thoughts. But motivation is hard some days. Thank goodness for the kids – they always distract me.
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.
It’s kind of funny to think of a friendship beginning in a public school bathroom, but it was nice to connect with someone new and quite different from me (ostensibly, anyway). Ms. B – the video production teacher – has always struck me as an artiste, dresses very bohemian, and always seems to be floating around happily. But our few minutes of chatting made her much more real to me, and it turns out that we have more in common than I had suspected. I’m looking forward to learning more about her.
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?
I continue to work on better relationships with my students, on seeing them more clearly, and trying to think the best of them first and always. Without any specifics to offer, I think that I am doing a good job of this and feel a lot of good will in my classroom. And progress has been made in the name of equity and awareness in my school, although I can’t take all the credit – our newly formed Social Justice Club will be holding its first meeting next week.
5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?
Let me tell you about my wonderful cousin, Amy Pollack. She was a middle school ESL teacher who was completely devoted to her students and school community – she retired two years ago and continued to work two days/week at her school. The outpouring of love and gratitude from students on her FaceBook page after her death reminded me of the same sentiments expressed by my mother’s students. Amy also gave back to her local community by working at the Putnam Valley Food Pantry, very often acting as translator for families in need. She loved to dance (famous for leading the Electric Slide at every family event), and to laugh, and we spent every Passover together for as long as I can remember. I will miss her.