#DITLife (sort of) – January 21, 2017

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My awesome sister, Holly

This post should have been written about my participation in the Women’s March in Washington on Saturday (the 21st), but a shoulder/neck injury which was with me for a week prevented me from attending the march, and indeed, any productive activity except watching  everyone else march interspersed with soothing episodes of Friday Night Lights. A visit to my doctor and a magic injection has relieved me of most of the pain, so I am writing today on a different ‘key day’ in the Day in the Life series: last day of the term.

I had content to deliver in my Algebra 2 classes, and so we went over how to rationalize all types of denominators – monomial, binomial and complex. I created a handwritten guided note sheet [love going very old school now and then], demonstrated several examples on the board, and let them practice and chat. The students were intrrationalizing-denominators-hand-notesoduced to rationalizing monomial denominators in Geometry, when they studied special right triangles, but the degree to which they (a) remembered and (b) mastered this topic varied widely.  I was pleased that the vast majority of students were working all period, and supporting each other as well.  When each class was over, I reminded them that once they were my student, they were always my student, and that my door was always open. It’s hard to say good-bye; by the end of the term, I feel like I have a good sense of each of them and what they need.  And then most of them move on to other teachers.
In my first Discrete Math class, I had reasonable attendance.  When we were working on the first few linear programming lessons and making Lego Furniture, I promised the students I would give them a ‘lego play day’ with my massive lego set.  And so I did.  I also brought out my bag-o-math-games – Blockus, SET, Blink! – and some Matrix Logic 51scimoqgbl-_sx425_puzzles.  With few exceptions, all of the kids picked up a math activity. Interestingly, a table of girls played with the legos, and all began creating [symmetric] tableaus involving gateways, furniture, people, and even vehicles.  A table full of boys, contrastingly, began stacking together as many legos as possible, building large blocks and walls.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures, but the contrast was striking.  I need to remember the soothing effect that manipulatives have on students – how can I incorporate something constant like this in my classroom –  frequently [always?] available, even when not directly connected to the lesson, and not too
distracting?
The second section of Discrete Math – towards the end of the day, and certainly after lunch for the kids – was pretty empty; the attendance totaled 6 students.  Three boys who hadn’t otherwise interacted in my room became immersed in a Blokus tournament; when the bell rang, they kept playing.  Again, I made (and am making) a BIG mental note to find ways to incorporate games and gentle, accessible competition in more activities.
The elephant in the room all day long was end of term grading.  The students knew the submission of final grades were due Monday morning, so there were few attempts to negotiate or plead.   I know there were students who were disappointed with their grades (as was I; I don’t think my students understand that I am as upset when their grades are not higher [or passing] as they are), but I also know that when priorities compete, as they inevitably do, math class does not come first for many children. And I am aware that there are myriad reasons why this is the case.  Every term I come up against my empathetic and sympathetic leanings battling my insistence on student accountability.

This term, there were a number of students in my Discrete Math classes who earned a passing grade by the slimmest of margins, and I know that my standard was not as high as I would like in some of those cases.  Luckily, in school, every term is a do-over, and a chance to improve.  Here’s hoping I do better with this next time.

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Reflection

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 can’t point to one decision that I made that I am proud of on this day, but I am proud of the environment that I have created in my Algebra 2 classrooms.  As the students filed out when the bell rang at the end of the last class of the last day of the fall term, so many of them said good-bye with warm feeling.  Many of them were surprised that there was ‘work’ on the last day, when they knew grades had already been turned in, but they wholly participated in the lesson, cooperatively and collaboratively.

There were many decisions that I made in my Discrete Math classes, particularly around grading with which I am decidedly not happy – regarding students whose averages slid way down in the third marking period – I helped them make mad scrambles to complete enough work to bring their average within reach of a 65.  A lowering of my own standards and expectations that I vow never to make again (I’m sure I’ve made this vow before, but now that it’s out in the inter-ether, I’ll have to stick to it…)

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 teaching Geometry this spring, and possibly training to teach AP Statistics and Computer Science – I love learning new things!  The challenge I have been feeling is maintaining a positive attitude and high expectations for my Discrete Math students.  These are the students who have been, or are being, steered off track, either by their own poor academic performance, or the perception that this is the best they can do.  I start off teaching this course, every year, with enthusiasm and a determination to help every student see their own potential.  By the end of the term, for as many different reasons as there are students, my energy and positivity decline, and I am, as I said before, engaged in a mad scramble to help kids pass the class.

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 had a wonderful discussion with my Assistant Principal last week, in which we talked about my being part of a team to train to teach a new Computer Science course.  I also told her I would love to teach AP Statistics someday.  I had never mentioned this to her because (a) I need to be trained and (b) there is a teacher with much greater seniority than me who teaches it.  What I found out is that the number of sections of AP Statistics we offer is actually limited by the fact that there is only one teacher, and that she would be happy to have another AP Stats teacher in the house.  After the applications for AP Statistics are processed this spring, if there are enough eligible students to create more than three sections next fall, I will going to AP Stats Camp for Teachers this summer!

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

January has been a rough one.  The winter break felt too short; both students and staff returned to school tired.  The end of the term, particularly in my Discrete Math classes, felt like a let down – all my great intentions, or many of them, unrealized. January 20th did arrive, and the unthinkable (to this blogger) actually happened.  With my back out, I could not join in the historic march which severely disappointed me.  I know, however, that the work is just beginning.  And the spring term – a new beginning – is just a week away.

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