…to be honest, I’m not completely sure. I love blogging, sharing my classroom and thoughts on education, participating in the online community that virtual though it may be also nourishes my professional soul.
But then again, I know the reasons. High drama at home, medical issues, making myself too busy for one more year, and a gnawing professional dissatisfaction for which I cannot envision a solution. Yet. (It’s the magic word in the classroom, isn’t it?)
I’m writing this post mostly for myself, to catalogue what is going well, and what isn’t, what I’m doing to help myself and my students, and what I could be doing as well (in those copious moments of free time between midnight and 5 a.m.).
What’s been going well in my classes this semester:
- better questioning, by both me and the students
- more use of whiteboards, vertical and otherwise
- more open-ended classwork
- stand and talks
- Beyond White Dudes bulletin board
- Introduction to Python
- student connections – I do enjoy those kiddies; they make it okay to get up at 5:20 a.m.
What’s not so great:
- I haven’t figured out how to effectively engage teenagers with Algebra 2 at 7:15 a.m. (As I type this, I’m thinking, seriously? Who thought that was a good idea?)
- I’ve got low participation in some classes despite my efforts to randomize questioning, intrigue and engage.
- On exams and homework, I have come across some pretty nasty cheating and copying (curse you, Photomath!).
- I feel increasingly constricted by the all-hallowed Pacing Calendar which prevents inquiry-based activities and by which I am continually judged.
- I also feel increasingly frustrated with administrative shunting aside of students and refusal to increase advanced offerings to all programs.
- As a result of #4 and#5, I am feeling ineffectual in the work for equity, especially locally (at school).
What I’ve been doing to keep my spirits afloat:
- I have been co-facilitating a book group at Math for America; we are doing a close and slow reading of Tracy Zager’s Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You Had.
- I am the process of cooking up a great idea for a workshop this summer with a new online friend!
- I have been taking Geometry-oriented workshops at Math for America which involve paper-folding and needlecraft – they have been super fun and inspiring mathematically.
- I am working on my NCTM presentation with a wonderful colleague and dear friend – best way to stay in touch long distance!
- I play with my cats frequently.
- I lurk on Twitter, and when I dip my toe in the water, I am always invited in for a swim. It helps to know the community is there when I ready to join, even in my funk.
I don’t really like this post, and if you have read this far, I thank you profusely for listening to me whine. I kept looking at the date of my last post and feeling the pressure to write, even without anything concrete to say. Is this a mid-career slump? Am I getting too tired? Worn out by awful news day after day (answer: yes, but me and everyone else I know)? I never want to be that teacher (or person) who is complacent, and I know there are always new and exciting things to do (I’ve still got to try my Clothesline #1TMCthing). I’m hoping that writing all this down, and looking at what has happened in the last three months that is positive will help me finish the year with hope and energy for 2018. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that life is good and meant to be lived as well as we can, and for me, part of that is teaching – math and all the rest of it.
I’ve been tweeting about various highlights of the start of the school year – wonderful comments on name tents, successful ‘stand and talks’, the launching of “Mathematicians Beyond White Dudes”, and the “What is Math?” lesson. The last two in this list, I am convinced, has won me some engagement for which I might have otherwise needed to fight, if indeed those students were willing to become involved at all in my math madness. And I owe debts to Rachel Rosales, Sara Vanderwerf, Annie Perkins, and Brian Palacios for sharing their hard work so that I might improve my practice, and the educational experience of my students, hereinafter occasionally referred to as “the kiddies,” with great affection. I have hesitated to blog about all this, because I am standing on a lot of shoulders, and don’t want to claim someone else’s genius as my own (that, and the fact that my body is screaming from the enforced transition from an 8 am wake-up time, to 5:15 am, or, as appropriately dubbed by my daughter, ass o’clock.
But today I had a success that I am pleased to own. This is a lesson that flopped dismally last year which I was able, with reflection, to fix. In our department, we have debated the value of teaching systems of equations in three variables; we don’t do 3D graphing, or cover the equation of a plane, and opportunities for context are thus lacking. But the Math Overlords in Albany (aka the Board of Regents) have included it in the standards, which by the way, have been recently revised and renamed the Next Generation Learning Standards- but I digress and will only inflict THAT rant on close family and friends.
Whether or not I feel content is appropriately placed in the curriculum, I owe it to my students to prepare them for the gatekeeping exam they will take at the end of my course, and it behooves me to find some way to make the topic intriguing without having the time to address graphing in three dimensions, providing adequate context and background. Last year I came up with the idea of having the kiddies make up number puzzles. I opened the lesson with Task Cards; when students entered the room, each table had a different set of requirements of their card. I made sure my instructions were clear and easy to follow (famous last words, right?). Total flop- the kids had no idea what to do, and looked at me like I was speaking a language that none of them knew. I guess I was. After a little flailing about on my part, we abandoned the activity, and I launched into the very dry task of demonstrating how to solve a system in 3 variables.
Fast forward to Fall 2017. One year more experience, one more year of sharing online, participating in the #DITL (Day in the Life) blogging challenge, and attending high quality professional development at Math for America and being a part of that community. Another attendance at wonderful, inspiring Twitter Math Camp – probably most important of all – surrounded by friends, progressive teaching, and a group of educators dedicated to continual growth for both themselves and their students. A booster shot for my teacher soul, which I was terribly afraid was burning out.
Today, the 6th full day of school, I introduced Visibly Random Groupings in this class. I waited a week because this class is not in my regular classroom with its lovely tables, and we have to put the desks into groups when we enter. I’m still trying to work out the logistics in my mind of moving in and out of a classroom for one period, moving the desks, giving out cards for seating…I know there’s a smooth solution that I just haven’t envisioned yet (feel free to make suggestions!).
I began the lesson with a number puzzle above – it involved three numbers, didn’t necessarily require a system with three variables to solve. The kiddies got busy as soon as they entered the room. Several did write systems with three variables, and quickly substituted into them. Jonathan, my super-eager, super bright 9th grader in Algebra 2, asked if he ‘was allowed’ to solve it with just one variable. Pretty quickly, students arrived at solutions, and wanted to share them. We put some work on the board, discussed all the different strategies involved – guess and check, elimination, substitution – everything we had used when reviewing systems with 2 variables for the last two days.
Then I put this task on the board. I read the directions to them, giving them examples of what the result of each step might result be. I learned last year that it was crucial to the success of this task to be explicit – despite my faith in my students’ abilities, they needed some translation of what I was looking for; this leg up and the experience of the warm-up gave them enough support to begin to play without me telling them exactly what to do. The room was BUZZING. The kids debated which numbers to choose. They debated which variables to use. They wrote the systems and then tested them. Twice. And then I gave each group a small whiteboard on which to write their system. The groups swapped boards, and tried to find solutions. There were heads together, signaling across the room. Not a phone in sight. And I heard lots of great talk – students justifying to one another, arguing with each other. No one needed my help, so I walked around eavesdropping, and grinning. There was frustration and struggle, but the kiddies were so motivated to figure things out, that they took that frustration and used it to fuel another attempt. They took pictures of the whiteboards so they could continue working on them later. And I could see that the class NOW was truly primed for solving the more difficult systems that they will encounter on the state assessment. As the end of the period drew near, I presented an example of the type of system we would be working on next week, just to get them thinking. When the bell rang, several students stayed behind, continuing to work/argue/get excited about solving the systems they had traded with one another.
I’ve been working hard to incorporate engagement strategies and keep the kiddies talking about math to each other. I’ve seen enough positive action thus far to keep moving forward. I love the feeling of being so intentional and witnessing the results. Okay – I know the school year is only six full days old, but I’m on the right path.
A postscript that I’m trying not to dwell on: As of this fall, there are two tracks for Algebra 2 in my school: one for students who passed the Geometry Regents, and one for those who did not. (Students who retake the Geometry Regents and pass it in January can move from one track to the other). There are reasons for this that make sense and others with which I disagree. But the issue at hand is that many students were erroneously programmed in Algebra 2, and this is allegedly going to be fixed early next week – which means A LOT of students are going to be reprogrammed. I am currently teaching 2 sections of Regents Algebra 2 and 2 sections of non-Regents Algebra 2, and all this good work I’ve been doing of introducing my classroom culture and connecting with my students – well, we’re all in for some disruption. Wish me luck in weathering it all.
I just finished my 11th year of teaching, and when I’m being honest with myself, I am experiencing some kind of burnout. I’m still a true believer in public education, and the beauty of mathematics as far as I comprehend it, and in the last year I have felt a great shift in my understanding of my role as a teacher away from strict content delivery (as a ‘highly qualified’ math teacher, conveying mathematics to students is my primary function in some eyes), and towards providing greater access to educational opportunity. This actually resonates deeply with me, child of the undelivered promise of the 60’s – I’ve had work to do my whole life, and maybe now I’m finally getting around to doing it. Thus, burnout: burnout regarding Regents preparation, burnout regarding credit recovery, burnout regarding the recently revised NYS mathematics standards after what can be described as a PAINFUL roll-out of the Common Core, burnout of whatever the buzzword of the year might be: differentiation, depth of knowledge, flexible groupings, performance assessment.
And yet, I am a true believer – I believe in the power of quality EQUITABLE education to provide opportunity and transform lives, and I believe that everyone CAN do mathematics given the appropriate environment, encouragement and support. Thank goodness for summer and the professional development opportunities it provides while there is time and mental space to absorb, reflect and restore – the Anja Greer Conference at Exeter, Park City Math Institute, and Twitter Math Camp, to name just a few. As I mentioned in my last post, I approached Twitter Math Camp this summer with anxiety – both professional and social. But my fears proved to be ungrounded – I came away, as I have with every attendance, imbued with renewed enthusiasm for teaching math, and feeling enveloped by a warm and generously-spirited community.
The program at Twitter Math Camp includes as one of its staples My Favorites sessions, held both before morning workshops and after lunch. These are brief presentations by attendees on favorite strategies, philosophies, or projects that they have used and would like to share. I give enormous credit to people who present at My Favorites, for these are done in front of the entire plenary – 200 people. And each presentation is a nugget of gold from a dedicated teacher’s toolkit – the best of the best. They are ALL impressive, truly. These are the Favorites that particularly stuck with this summer:
- Tony Riehl’s Distraction Box – Students deposit phones, fidget spinners, or other tools of mass distraction in this box in an effort to keep the removal of the distraction even more distracting to even more students than the original distraction (follow that?). It’s always good to remember that as teachers, we can inadvertently create drama in our (misguided?) efforts to maintain control in our classrooms.
- Jennifer Fairbanks Class Scrapbook – I already ‘borrowed’ Jennifer’s review archive project in Google Slides, but her idea for creating a Class Scrapbook for students using Slides at the outset of the term immediately does the following:
- establishes your interest in your students, and gives you some insight into them not otherwise available;
- lets them know about you;
- establishes the classroom community
- gets everyone using some technology.
- David Petro’s Engaging Math website, and his Dynamic Web Sketches! What a treasure trove – just check them out!
- Bob Lochel and the crazy web app how-old.net – This app predicts age from a photograph, and poses all kinds of interesting questions – statistical and otherwise. You can use it to gather data in your classroom, and also use it as a jumping-off point for discussion.
- Joey Kelly and Play with Your Math – Thanks for doing the work for us, Joey! He has created beautiful posters with engaging, accessible yet deep math problems which can be used to create an atmosphere of inquiry in your classroom.
- Glenn Waddell – Words Matter – Just watch this video to understand why I love Glenn. The idea that ‘words matter’ is so simple, yet Glenn illustrates how one person can effect change by thinking about the implicit messages in the language they use, and making sure that those messages are inclusive and positive.
- Kat Glass on Differentiating – An important idea came out of this talk on working with students to set individual goals, that “failing grade” should not be a bad word; we need to stop using euphemisms when talking to students.
The afternoon My Favorites are followed by the keynote speakers – this year we had the privilege of hearing from Grace Chen, Graham Fletcher, and Carl Oliver. Grace spoke to us about the Politics of Math Teaching: how we as teachers reinforce the authority of the stories about our students and their cultures we allow to be told.
These are just 2 of the 6 pages of notes I took during Grace’s talk; her messages were quiet, but so powerful: It’s complicated, and it’s political, and we are influenced but not wholly determined by our environment. We can make our choices in our classrooms both conscious and communicable. I was deeply moved by her talk.
Graham Fletcher, in his keynote “All I Really Need to Know I Learned from the MTBoS”, said something that has really stuck with me: it is good to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are. He also pointed out that the collective brilliance of the community is greater than any one member – something I already knew, but in light of all the conversations about the community, was good to hear again.
Carl Oliver exhorted us all to #justpushsend in his talk, opening up the door into our classrooms, asking for feedback, and trusting that we are WHATEVER enough to actively participate in this community. He also wowed us with his statistical analysis of tweets under the hashtag #MTBoS, and sent most of us scurrying to find ourselves in the hashtag’s history. With the whole #MTBoSGate conversation going on as a backdrop to #TMC17, Carl’s keynote delivered a powerful message to me: this community is made up of people who have been chatting and sharing and putting themselves and their teaching out in public, on line for the last four plus years, and all you have to do is #justpushsend to participate. Truly.
And there was still more!! Can you believe I wasn’t even there for the entire conference?
Participants at Twitter Math Camp select a morning session – a workshop which runs for 2 hours each of the three full mornings of the conference (although the Law of Two Feet prevails). The themes of these sessions range from equity to instructional routines to specific curriculum to playing. Yes, playing with math, and I had the privilege of running just such a session with Jasmine Walker. and Danielle Reycer (in absentia) Our workshop, entitled Playing with Exeter Math, involved just that – math
nerds teachers working through challenging problem sets with like minded nerds individuals. Anyone who has worked with me knows that I am a serial over-planner, and the open-ended nature of our workshop contributed greatly to my anxiety about the conference. But I was thrilled that our 12-15 participants wanted nothing more than to ‘play math’ with one another, whether that meant working alone, in pairs on the board, or in groups modeling a challenging problem with ping pong balls.
An extensive menu of 30 and 60 minute single session workshops took place each afternoon. This post is already too long, but I need to summarize the workshops I attended, because they were each powerful in different and important ways to me as a teacher. (And since this recap is coming a full week and a half after the conference, many bloggers have written about them already.)
Henri Picciotto, “Reaching the Full Range” – Pure delight are the words that come to my mind in describing this session. Henri is animated, wise, and innovative in his varied approaches to bringing math to his students. Starting from the premise that every class, regardless of tracking, is heterogeneous, he presented homework techniques, manipulative strategies, calculator challenges, and other means for reaching as many students as possible. His stances are both pragmatic and caring, and his suggestions are practical and creative:
- Differentiation is a lot of extra work for the teacher and undermines the community of learners.
- Class must be worthwhile for strong students; form alliances with them and provide support for the weakest students.
- It’s not what you say, but what you do that promotes growth mindset in your classroom; students need to hear “you can learn if I give you TIME”.
- Don’t ban calculators – would you tell a student with a broken leg that they couldn’t use crutches?
- Include as many tools and provide as many representations of big ideas as you can – they create greater motivation, open up a lower entry threshold, and raise the ceiling of understanding.
Chris Shore, Clothesline Math I’ve been hearing about Clothesline Math for the last couple of years on line, but could never quite grasp exactly how it would work in a high school classroom until this workshop. Chris Shore, who I can only describe as magnetic in front of a class, had 30 teachers late in the afternoon, after a full day of intense workshopping and professional learning, oohing and aahing over the deep connections that can be made (and even deeper misunderstandings that can be revealed) with this easily assembled interactive tool. One group in the classroom is working on the clothesline, but everyone else has whiteboards and has their eyes on the prize – 100%participation and engagement. Of course, Chris is the Clothesline Master, with the patter to go with it, but after the hour (which flew by) in his workshop, I felt emboldened enough to make Clothesline Math my #1TMCThing (the takeaway from the conference which I am committing to use this year).
I attended two other wonderful workshops – Raid the Physics Lab run by Megan Hayes-Golding and Teachers as Advocates, facilitated by Max Ray-Rieck and Peg Cagle. Very different content (as the titles suggest), but both enriching, mind-expanding, and thought-provoking. And both opportunities to learn from people who I admire greatly.
I would write more, especially about these last two sessions, but you are probably as tired of reading this (if indeed you are still reading) as I am of writing. And I apologize for the length. After reading everyone else’s recaps of Twitter Math Camp 2017, and being convinced I didn’t have much to add to the conversation, I see now that I came away from this joyous gathering burn-out free and ready to re-engage with my professional pedagogical self (after I finish my summer vacation, that is!).
And I can’t wait to visit Cleveland next summer, for #TMC18!
FROM THE VANTAGE POINT OF 5 DAYS AND READING A HOST OF #TMC17 RECAPS, I’M GOING TO SPLIT MINE INTO TWO POSTS – THE FEELS AND THE MATHS. HERE ARE THE FEELS
I’m sitting in Union Station in Washington D.C., waiting for my sister to arrive on the train from New York. I can finally tear myself away from my twitter feed, having just found out that #TMC18 will be in Cleveland. It was hard leaving early, but reading the#TMC17 twitter feed (or rather, watching it fly by at lightning speed) kept the feeling of the conference with me as my train sped along – albeit delayed – from Atlanta to DC.
My head and heart were so full when I left the conference Saturday afternoon, that I was exhausted. I began to make a list of places/people/events/meals so I wouldn’t forget anything when I was ready to write my reflective post, but the list quickly overwhelmed me. So I’ll just do my best to remember.
The backdrop (fortunately or not) for this year’s Twitter Math Camp was an online debate about the hashtag #MTBoS, which is an organically evolved acronym for the Math Twitter Blogosphere. I’m not going to jump into the fray, although it’s been alternately entertaining, infuriating, and painful to watch, but I want to say this: out of what I will not exaggeratedly refer to as desperation for professional connection, I jumped into the fray in 2013. I blogged somewhat timidly, lurked frequently, and was blown away by my first participation in #geomchat – a weekend morning chat for Geometry teachers. My twitter feed (which I had learned to set up thanks to David Wees’s videos to which I can no longer find the link) flew by with comments and questions from like-minded teachers across the country, and most likely from Canada, the UK, and Australia as well. I was speechlessly joyful – I’d found gold.
I went to #TMC13 in Philadelphia not knowing a soul, and I was pretty terrified. What I found was this: a warm and welcoming community, one which I could join or withdraw from as I needed, and one which welcomed me when I returned, without reservation. Over the last five years, I have had weeks (months) where I have had to remove myself from the online chatter, and other times where I have reached out with questions about teaching, content, ethics, and equity, always to find someone willing to talk. I get out of this community what I put into it. And even though I didn’t wear one of Sam Shah’s wonderful “Adorably Shy” buttons at TMC17, I consider myself one of those folk (although not necessarily adorable). Every conference I attend, every talk in which I participate is something of a personal struggle. I learned a long time ago that I am responsible for me (or as Annie says, “You do you”). The #MTBoS in its many forms – chats, blogs, tweets, conference gatherings – is greater than the sum of its parts. I am grateful that it is there for me. But it doesn’t owe me anything.
[That was too long. And I guess I jumped in a wee bit. Couldn’t help myself, and don’t want to delete it.]
Back to #TMC17:
I arrived in Atlanta early on Tuesday, and after picking up my rental car, went in search of coffee (always). Trusty Google Maps sent me to Octane Coffee, which happened to be on the grounds of the Woodruff Arts Center, and even more fortuitously, across a sculpture-strewn garden path from the High Art Museum, currently featuring an exhibit of 250 Andy Warhol prints. The coffee was great, too.
After feasting myself on art, I checked into the lovely hotel, settled in, and met Mary, Sandra, Jennifer and Anna for an excursion to what can only be described as the best aquarium I have ever visited. (This is no small statement from someone from New York, where we are convinced that the best of anything is only a subway ride away.) Thanks to the enthusiastic efforts of Heather Kohn, a large group of tweeps were visiting the aquarium, and our ooh’s and aah’s were no less enthusiastic than the many children
visiting. We ate dinner at the surprisingly healthy cafe at the aquarium, and returned to the hotel to find #TMC17 participants filling up the multiple gathering spaces around the hotel lobby. The reunion began.
From that point on, #TMC17 became camp in the best sense of the word – the opportunity to be with friends, learning, playing, and dining. Every different workshop, activity and meal found me in the midst of even more people I knew or wanted to get to know. Reunions with people I hadn’t seen since Philadelphia, tweeps I had never met in person, and new colleagues/tweeps/friends. Here’s a secret: I was seized by ambivalence the week before I left for Atlanta. Traveling overnight by train, rooming with someone new, running a workshop, maybe I just wasn’t ENTHUSIASTIC ENOUGH for the TMC lovefest. But from the moment I connected with my aquarium buds in the lobby of the hotel until I dropped my final riders off on Saturday afternoon, I felt embraced and accepted – whoever or whatever I am – it’s ENOUGH. And that seems to be the overriding message – one that I hear loud and clear even though sadly I was not able to stay for Lisa Henry’s closing remarks.
It strikes me that at this point in my life such insecurity is silly, and maybe even unbecoming. Old habits and feelings die very hard – sometimes you are still THAT kid. But my experience in Atlanta this summer is something I will treasure, because I rejoice in being found wrong.
I’ve got two days of school to go, and elated as I can’t help but me with the long-awaited summer vacation, I am ending the year – my 11th as a teacher – feeling unsettled and unsure. Here’s why:
Reason #1: Regents Exams
All 168 of my students took Regents exams this year (Geometry and Algebra 2), and I spent three days grading Geometry exams at a large grading site – three days grading the same 4 questions on papers from other schools (stultifyingly dull, by the way).
On Friday, June 16th, the day that both exams were administered, I took both exams, working carefully through all questions, particularly the extended responses. I noticed a few things:
- The exams took a long time to finish – the second portion of the Geometry exam took me over 30 minutes to complete (I usually allow my students 5-8 times my own work time on an exam). At 4:15 last Friday, there were many Algebra 2 students working when time was called.
- The wording multiple choice on the Algebra 2 multiple choice questions was tricky – I worked on the exam with two other veteran Algebra 2 teachers, and we debated several of the questions extensively.
- Several of the Geometry multiple choice questions also required a substantial amount of effort to clarify the intent of the question; the acceptable responses to two questions were eventually modified: one question had two correct answers, and on one question, ALL FOUR CHOICES were deemed correct.
As I graded exams, there were many papers which showed solid evidence of student reasoning and understanding, and wherever possible, points were awarded when this was the case. But there were also many blank papers, and papers on which the work only showed evidence that the student was not prepared for the exam, or lacked sufficient understanding of the big ideas in the course to even be sitting for the exam.
Grading for the exams has been completed (at least for my school it is). My Geometry results were predictably disappointing – I knew this going in to the test, and given the opportunity to teach the course again, I already have ideas in mind for how to better support my students throughout the term. The Algebra 2 results were very good – 93% of my students passed, including several who had barely passed the course. Given the low ‘cut scores’ (the raw score with which the passing scaled grade of 65 is earned), the Geometry debacle is embarrassing and the Algebra 2 success is no surprise. I’m glad it’s all behind me for this year, and that I able to pass four Algebra 2 students based on their Regents grades.
I don’t know the figures, but I imagine it costs in the millions of dollars to develop and administer the Regents exams. I imagine (I hope) that a lot of time and thought goes into how the questions are assessing the standards we have been told to teach in each course.
So, why, why, why are questions not vetted properly enough that not one, but TWO need to be thrown out after CLASSROOM TEACHERS have had a chance to look at them? Why are questions not properly enough vetted that their intent is debatable among a group of teachers?
And what does it say about these exams (all three math Regents exams) that they can be passed by answering only 55-70% of the multiple choice questions correctly? (To this teacher, it says that students can be ‘trained’ to pass the exam based on the ways in which the Board of Regents constructs multiple choice questions.). What does this say about how New York State wants teachers to teach high school math?
And the biggest question in my mind that how an exam can be justified as assessing mastery of course content if a raw score of just over 30% is considered passing? Does the Board of Regents think this is the best that students in New York state can do? Or do they think this is the best teaching of which their teachers are capable?
Something is so seriously wrong with this picture that I wonder, as I reflect on my practice this past year as well as on my students’ performance, what modifications I should make for next year. I love teaching math because its patterns and provable truths are beautiful, and that the perseverance and logical thinking required to master the content are skills which build intellect and broadly applicable critical thinking skills. But my students live with Regents grades on their transcripts (and many of my students go on to apply to New York state and city schools, which look at these grades), and I live with them on my performance evaluation. At this point in my career, I am not necessarily worried about this portion of my evaluation, but it behooves me (as I’ve said before in this blog, many times, I know) to provide my students with the best possible test preparation of which I am capable.
But there is something so seriously wrong with this picture that I don’t know how to proceed next year; I am unsettled and angry. I believe(d?) in the Common Core standards , and the big ideas which governed their crafting, the progressions of major topics through the grade bands, and the ‘inch wide, mile deep’ philosophy. I was a NYC Department of Education Common Core Fellow, and spent three years reviewing allegedly re-aligned textbooks, developing tasks, and creating professional development. But overall, the implementation and roll-out of the standards in the state and New York City has been rushed and ill-supported in terms of resources, and after all the professional development, and textbook review, and engageny.org lesson-writing, New York has decided to modify the high school content standards, opting out of the national Common Core Learning Standards. And has created some exams that, in this teacher’s view, do not summatively assess the courses for which were designed.
So that’s Reason #1 I’m unsettled, and it’s taken an entire post. So Reason #2 will follow in the next few days. But here’s a preview:
Reason #2: Philando Castile
Time flies when you work like a maniac – have I actually been teaching for 11 years?
It feels fitting that this last day of classes is a hot June day. Although the last day for three months on which my alarm will go off at 5:23 a.m. (a major cause for rejoicing, to be sure), I’m not feeling celebratory. I spent a lot of the weekend grading final assessments, and the results were disappointing. In all my classes – both Geometry and Algebra 2 – I created 4 different assessments. 10 questions, 10 points each. Open notebook. Cooperative. The students took 2 class periods to finish them. The topics were posted on the board in advance. There was an overnight between the start and the finish (I said that already, right?). The questions were Regents-style – things they have seen before. To be honest, I was astounded that the results weren’t better, given the latitude I allowed the students in getting support. As anyone who knows me can attest, I take these poor results very personally, and reflect as a matter of course on what I can do to help my kids. But to be honest, I’m upset that my students’ desire for good grades (I know they care very much about this) did not evoke a correlating effort to do well. I mean, they SAW all the questions, and had an evening to study/procure resources/get help in order to finish their assessments the second day. But this is not what happened.
I’ve got to let it go for now.
Grading went late into the evening, and I’m still tweaking. Late panicky emails. Can’t you adjust my grade? You are my favorite teacher, after all. I know I don’t deserve it.
Sigh. The biggest lesson I need to work on teaching? Doing whatcha gotta do. So these last-minute pleas are not necessary.
I remember that my class is way down on the list of priorities for almost every one of my students – just a fact. We did a wonderful exercise when I was in the NYC Teaching Fellows training program – we folded a piece of paper into 4 rectangles, and in each rectangle wrote one importantly memorable thing about high school. Guess what?
No one wrote about their math class.
I remember my high school math classes and teachers pretty clearly (I am Her Mathness, after all) – Mrs. Forbes and her exacting proof standards, Mr. Cohen and his bad jokes and comb-over, and procedural teaching of Calculus – and I remember that I enjoyed math and was very good at it. (I credit my becoming a math teacher to my junior high school Algebra teacher – tough loving Mrs. Adams, who awed all us south shore of Long Island white students with her Black Power watch.) But when I think ‘high school’ – the good and bad things it meant to me – those are not the images that rise up. And I’m a math teacher. I need to remember that in the teenage brain, math class (for the very vast majority) occupies a very small corner.
I spent the day going over the final assessments with my classes, and answering their specific questions. The temperature rose throughout the day, and despite the tower fan I brought in from home, the room became barely tolerable, with an occasional hot breeze blowing across from the room across the hall. The kids, predictably, became quieter and less energetic throughout the day, and I realized at the end of my 5th class that I had been talking for HOURS. I have a brief respite, and then teach for four hours more – 2 hours of an afterschool Regents prep class, and two private students.
Luckily, this second part of the day is spent in air conditioning. And because the interactions are in much smaller groups (I have six students in the afterschool class), my teaching has a better chance of being efficacious.
Home at last. I go through more messages, review the last few work submissions (delayed by absences due to illness and personal circumstances), and make final grade corrections. I make sure ‘comment codes’ are added to as many grades as possible, and, even though it would be LOT of extra work, I regret not being able to write my own comments; I’d like to be able to express something personally to each student and family – to let them know that I saw every single one of them in the classroom, even if I was not always able to meet everyone’s academic needs. But (a) this is not school policy, and (b) 168 personal comments? Yikes!
Finally finished, and tweet out my joy. I’ve got 2+ weeks still to work, but teaching classes and grading (and seeing the results of my teaching) are finished for the 2016-17 school year. I have many regrets, and a laundry list of things I wish I had done, and I’m setting new goals as I am closing the book on this school year. But that sense of liberation – aaaah.
And the lovely, unfailing #MTBoS universe immediately responds:
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 want to give the students as many chances as I can to complete work and demonstrate mastery, but at the end of the term, this turns into work being done at the last minute and students scrambling for credit and points. This summer, I want to come up with some tools – some specific artifacts (individual tracking sheets?) and other more diffuse classroom cultural norms – to help students take a longer view of the term (and the entire year, for that matter). That said, there are several students who made significant efforts in the last 3-4 weeks of the term to turn the tide, and were successful. I’m happy that my systems and encouragement worked for those children.
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?
Some days it was difficult to not be angry at the advantage I perceived my students as taking. I needed to remind myself repeatedly that they are teenagers, and that even though high expectations are always a priority for me, these expectations may need to be modified for their maturity level.
What am I looking forward to? The next two and a half months!!!
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.
I began discussing plans with some colleagues to run professional development next fall using modules from Teaching Tolerance. I will be working with two science teachers – we committed last spring to raising awareness around racism and diversity issues in our school, and thus far have seen the formation of the Midwood High School Social Justice Club. We’ve got the kids moving in the right direction – next year, our fellow teachers. I’m pleased how my relationship with these two women has grown.
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 did a better job this year of SEEING my students. Next year, I want to improve further, and think about how my pedagogy can be more culturally responsive. I’m not clear on how that will manifest itself in my classroom – this is the work for me to do.
5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?
My latest scan revealed that things are stable medically – my new medications are working in the right direction. I continue to feel good, and am deeply thankful for that. I try to use my health issues as a reminder to live well in the present. And the present is that vacation is almost here!