What’s your favorite thing to teach? (Besides students of course)

I have a confession to make. I love math, but I don’t love teaching all the math topics. Polynomial long division, factor trees for simplifying radicals, hyperbolas, and the formulas for chords and secants and tangent lengths of circles.

Last weekend, I was fortunate to attend the CPM Conference in San Francisco, and meet some new people and have lots of conversations about math. Julie, a #MTBoS friend who I finally got to meet in person, asked me what is my favorite thing to teach? The answer was easy: trig. Specifically, the unit circle and everything about the unit circle.

But this got me thinking, what would be in my list of top 10 things I love to teach or do with my students ? (Oh, and I’m an introvert and this is a great conversation starter at any teacher conference.)

10. I taught Geometry for so many years. My second year of teaching, I bought this workbook (it was 2004 and the internet wasn’t a great resource yet).

There was an activity in which you fold a dollar bill into an equilateral triangle, and then unfold it. The diagram you end up with has so much in it. I loved to do this activity on a minimum day because it didn’t feel like they were doing math, but by the end of the period, they could easily tell me 100 true things about the figure.

9. In Geometry, using graph paper to help students conceptualize area and the area formulas.

When they piece together the area formulas for parallelograms and triangles… the look on their faces. When they finally make sense of something they already knew, it’s my favorite thing.

Specifically, pattern #106. I was stumped the first time I saw this pattern. I don’t want to give anything away, but the number of ways you can describe how this pattern grows is breathtaking.

I love visual patterns because there is always a low-floor and high-ceiling. If is teaching with these where I saw the power in multiple representations to describe the same thing, gives you a more complete picture. My Algebra 1 students at the time, could confidently discuss if a pattern was linear and discuss from the table, graph, equation, and scenario. And they were better at it than my pre calculus students.

7. Using tables for everything in Algebra 1 after we switched to Common Core. The first year my students look at a table of a linear, quadratic, and exponential function and discussed rate of change, I was floored. I had some students do rate of change twice on a quadratic and discover that the “second slope” as they called it, was constant. They didn’t believe me when I told them that they’d just figured something out I didn’t learn until Calculus.

6. Transformations of parent functions with graph dancing. Because dancing is awesome and anytime you can get them up and moving is better than sitting and writing. I stole this from my Alg 2/ Pre Calc teacher.

5. Doing a table to explain zero power and negative exponents. Especially when it’s with a student who was just taught the rule, not why. So 2^1=2, and 2^2=4, and 2^3=8. Then 2^4=16. 2,4,8,16, what’s the pattern? As the exponent increases 1, you multiply 2 to the last on. So 2^5=32. 16•2=32. If you look at the sequence backwards…. 32,16,8,4,2… the pattern is division of 2. Or multiply by (1/2). So the next number is 2^0=1. 2/2=1. And then 2^(-1)=1/2 and 2^(-2)=1/4.

4. For years, I played Deal or No Deal as a culminating activity with my pre Cal students at the end of permutations, combinations, and probability unit. I started by making my own “briefcases” with notecards and progressed to a free version of the game on the Internet. It was the most fun day of the year. And no one ever went home with a million dollars.

3. Reading “the Dot and the Line: a romance in lower mathematics” to my students on Valentines Day. I haven’t done this in a while. I missed Valentines Day, maybe prom?

2. Desmos anything. Marble slides. Polygraph. Desmos graph. All of it. The amount of self checking and exploration and learning and connections my students are able to do with Desmos each year is phenomenal.

1. The Unit Circle. I taught Pre Calculus for 10 consecutive years. There are so many patterns and discoveries in that thing. I was still finding more the last time I taught Pre Cal a few years ago.

So now I’m curious. What are your favorites?

Crazy Dream Jobs

I hereby submit my application for the job of Education Consultant to Hollywood.

My resume is below.

I️ have a passion for education and young people and I believe that they deserve more. Teachers and students deserve more… more credit, more resources, more respect, more freedom, more representation, more visibility,…, MORE.

I️ believe that the stories we tell matter and the stories that are being told about students and teachers are based on outdated models of learning and assumptions made by screenwriters who have possibly never been in charge of a classroom.

My vision for this job is to ensure that any educational setting in a movie, tv show, or commercial is accurate and represents current teaching practices. Ideally, some best practices would be viewed within the story. Challenges in the plot development would be portrayed honestly so as to inform viewers about a truth in current education or in students lives.

Both students and teachers would see aspects of themselves and their schools in the stories they watch on tv and at the movies.

Negative stereotypes about any group of students, teachers, neighborhoods, or subjects would only be used as a teachable moment for growth instead of as a punch line.

So here’s my experience:

16 years classroom teacher.

16 times 180 students per year = 2880 students taught (more or less)

Courses taught: Pre Algebra, Algebra A, Algebra B, Geometry, Algebra 2, Pre Calculus, Honors Pre Calculus, Integrated Math 1-3

Teaching tools: overhead projectors with transparencies. I am experienced with both the Vis a Vis and Expo markers. Document camera. Mimio tech that turns your whiteboard into a smart board. iPad. PowerPoint. Google classroom. Khan academy. GeoGebra. Desmos. Copy machines. Outlook Express. 1-2-3 eyes on me. Confiscating cell phones. Remind.

Direct Instruction. Formative Assessment. Collaborative structures. Quizzes. Chapter tests. Final exams. State tests.

Fire drills. Earthquake drills. California shakeout. Lockdown. Lockout.

IEPs. 504s. SSTs. Accommodations. ESL. ELL. Free and reduced lunch. Gate. Honors. Advanced Placement. ROP. Elective. A through G. Extracurriculars. Letters of Recommendations. Detentions. Saturday School.

Senior Class Council Advisor. Recycle club advisor. Robotics club advisor. Lead teacher. Informal lunch tutor. Teacher dance at the rally. Teacher volleyball team. Teacher dodgeball team. 2016 teacher scavenger hunt winning team. Prom chaperone.

Conferences attended. CADA. CMC South. CPM. BETA.

Honors: voted Teacher most likely to confiscate your cell phone in the 2008 yearbook.

Currently 60% Math Coach.

I’d like to apply for this completely made up job. If you think I’m qualified, my contact information is below.

To the “Big Names” attending conferences, from the rest of us,

It’s kind of funny, but walk on any campus and I would argue every teacher is a rockstar to their students. “Mrs. Verti!” Is often yelled across the quad by students I don’t even know. The middle school math teachers who I hung out with at CMC have legendary status amongst my current students who will be so excited I saw them in Palm Springs. My 20 year High School reunion is next weekend and our Facebook group is sharing stories of the teachers we had 20 years ago.

A few years ago, I had a Twitter exchange with two big names in MathEdTwitter about the term “rockstar”. As humble people, they both were uncomfortable with the term and all it implied.

And yet, anyone who has attended any math conferences since joining Twitter has seen the impact these big names have on us “regular folk”. People ask for pictures with them and autographs. A big name walks by and you hear whispers “oh my gosh! That’s so-and-so!”

I’ve thought a lot about this since observing this first at CMCS15. I’m not one to obsess over Hollywood celebrities or ask for pictures if I happened to run into one. But seeing Dan Meyer walk by me was the highlight of day 1 and on day 2 I asked to take a picture with Jo Boaler. But these big names in MathEd impact my daily life and the lives of people that are very dear to me, my students. Their work has inspired me to continue to fight for my students and has been instrumental in helping me change my teaching practice for the better. I am a better teacher for my students because of their work.

I had a desire to improve the first 10 years of my career, but these resources weren’t easily available. I read books and searched online, but I’d argue in the past 8 years, the EduKnowledge online reached critical mass to reach a significant number of teachers in the classroom. For me personally, between Pinterest, Twitter, Jo Boaler’s Online Course, Math blogs, #MTBoS, Desmos, GeoGebra, and CMCSouth, I finally had practical tools I understood and could apply with my students. In #MTBoS circles, I considered myself a lurker for a long time. I felt inadequate and self conscious that I didn’t have anything worthwhile to contribute compared to the big ideas. I’m just starting to realize that because I work with kids, I have a voice and something to say.

The big names I’ve met are humble and kind. I’m sure it’s overwhelming to be recognized to the extent that they are.

Dear Big Names,

Thank you for your work. It is proof that you have faith in the ability of math teachers to make math interesting and relevant. It is proof in your faith that our students, who we would literally take a bullet for we love them so much, can learn math at high levels. In a culture that denigrates our students and our work and undervalues it in so many ways, your faith in us keeps us going. So, just know that our fan girl (or fan boy) behavior comes from a place of love. Your work has gotten me through a difficult time professionally and I am so grateful.

Love, the rest of us

Birth Order (& Team Roles)

Have you ever read the Birth Order Book, by Dr Kevin Leman? I read it in college, and much of it rang true from my experience. I am the quintessential first born daughter. The weight of the world was on my shoulders. As a child, I knew without a doubt that our family would collapse if I wasn’t there to help things along. I was responsible and protective and IN CHARGE.

I even fed the baby I was so in charge. And made sure my brother was gentle with her. (She was MY baby after all.)

This is our favorite sibling picture from our childhood. 😂. So much our favorite that we recreated it the night before I left for UCLA, long before people did such things on Instagram.

One story Dr Leman tells is of an activity he does with attendees at his conferences. He has them sit in groups by birth order: first borns, middle children, babies, and only children. Without instructions, there is a paper in the middle with an activity. He says that the first born group always immediately sees the paper, reads it to the group, and starts working on the activity. The only children will do this too. The middle children will sometimes see the paper and get started, but often are busy introducing themselves and socializing. The babies of the family are having too good of a time talking to each other that they almost never see the paper.

At the time, I thought this was hilarious, and further proof of the superiority of the first borns. Of course, it makes sense to start working on the activity. Get it done. Be the first team to do so, too. At that age, I didn’t have much patience for people who didn’t think like I did. After reading the book, I pondered my close friend choice till that point in my life and it’s almost hilarious that they are all first born girls: Jen, Trish, Aimee, Katie, Jeanne, Emma, Newsha, Cheryl, Jane, Ashley,… There were a few exceptions like Claire, but not many.

Fast forward many years, and I’m teaching a curriculum that encourages cooperative learning with the use of team roles and cooperative structures.

Prior to this year, whenever I wanted students to work in a group, I’d tell them to put their desks together, give them a task, and tell them to start working. And sometimes it worked well and but most of the time, one student would take over or nothing productive would get done. Much like Dr Leman’s experiment, with no guidance or instructions the teams did not consistently work well together.

After a year of CPM and a year of much professional development on cooperative learning and a year of experience with my own students, I believe the difference is in the team roles.

In CPM, there are four team roles: Resource Manager, Facilitator, Recorder/Reporter, and Task Manager. The students start from day 1 learning their roles and what is expected of them. This is actually written into the first chapter of the math book. Once students learn the different roles and what is expected of them to work effectively as a team, then they can work together each day on the various learning tasks.

Resource Manager is responsible for gathering all the materials. As they walk in at the beginning of the period, they gather the team bin and any handouts their team may need. The teacher is also considered a resource. If a student has a question, they ask their teammates first, and then if they all have a question, the RM calls me over to answer a team question. They return materials at the end of the period.

The Facilitator gets the team started by (in my class) reading the directions to the team as they read along. After this, they choose the readers as they move through the problems.

The Task Manager keeps everyone on Task. They keep track of time and remind their team to get back to the problem if they are off task.

The recorder/reporter makes sure all team members are writing in their notebooks and makes sure everyone is finished before the team moves on. They can also be the spokesperson for their team and writer for all team assignments (in which only 1 is turned in).

Each team has a placemat with the team roles and their descriptions, and every now and then, I tell them to discuss the roles and responsibilities with their teams. They also do this when we switch teams and everyone has new roles.

Yeah, I teach math. And as much as I love math, when my students leave my classroom, working in a team is a skill that I know every single student will need in their future. I know that they won’t ever say at their future job or in the group their English professor assigned, I want to be Facilitator and who wants to be Resource Manager? But the roles teach them the various tasks that an effective team needs.

Someone needs to gather the resources. Someone needs to get things started. Someone needs to keep the team on task. Someone needs to be able to present their work.

I don’t want my students birth order to define this for them. Some students were uncomfortable in specific roles. But they learned how to do all the different roles and grew. And by the end of last school year, I can say I will always use team roles. They taught my students how to work effectively in teams. And they learned some math along the way.

My Journey from Rows to Groups

It’s been 3 years since I switched my seating chart into groups of 4. The change really came out of desperation, to see if making a physical change would shake things up, help my students, help me. It don’t think mine is a unique journey, but it’s mine, so here goes.

I started teaching in 2003, at the very beginning of No Child Left Behind. The California State Standards were still relatively new as was the California High School Exit Exam and STARR test. My classroom looked very similar to the ones I learned in as a student. Rows. Direct Instruction. Notes. Quiz. Test. Rinse and repeat.

I wanted more. I knew there was more I could do for my students. But I could not imagine a different model for my high school math class when I’d never experienced it. I’d often say that it’s difficult to teach in a way you were not taught.

One summer, I decided I needed to change. Try something different. I knew that the way I taught under NCLB would not help my students be successful with the new changes brought about by Common Core. I’d ask them to turn to their neighbor and talk about something, they’d look at each other and turn back to me and wait for me to answer.

The week before school was to start, my newly hired principal walked into my classroom to ask how things were going. (He’d been a math teacher before going into admin.). So I explained how I wanted to move my desks into groups, but I was afraid because I knew how important the first day of school is for setting the tone for the year. He encouraged me to try it. “What’s the worst thing that happens? You put them back into rows on the second day of school!”

Feeling much more confident I made the leap. That first year, I didn’t change much about how I taught. Just rearranged the furniture. By the end of the second week, I noticed a big change in the students interactions in class. They started to turn to each other as resources. They’d check answers, ask questions, offer help, and TALK about the math. And all I did was change the seating arrangement FROM ROWS TO GROUPS. And I taught pretty much the same as I’d done before with mostly direct instruction with some discovery learning thrown in when I could. BTW, I was teaching Algebra I and Honors Pre Calculus that year.

The interesting thing was that by the middle of the year, about half my department had switched to groups. No extra training, no professional development.

My 2nd year was a struggle. We had switched to the Integrated curriculum and I missed the first quarter because I had a baby in the summer and maternity leave. My long term subs were a teacher in my department and Matt Vaudrey, who is our district’s Ed Tech Coach and also has a math credential. My students were in great hands, but missing the start of the school year and learning a new curriculum with a new baby and adjusting to two kids was a struggle. I struggled with classroom management this year.

This third year was entirely different. Even with a new curriculum and a toddler, I transformed into a teacher who can say I will never NOT teach with cooperative groups.

Our district switched to the CPM curriculum for Integrated Math 1 and 2. As part of the adoption, the teachers were given 8-10 days of professional development. This was not the PD when the people from the publisher come out and show you how to use the test generator and how to find the website. This was pedagogy. We learned how to structure our classrooms so students learned cooperatively. We learned about team roles and different cooperative structures. We were not lectured at but actually participated using the structures and roles. The PD provided by CPM suggests 4-5 days prior, and then 4-5 spread throughput the school year.

There was a major learning curve. It took me a few months to get my groove. I wasn’t perfect. But with training and being supported by a curriculum that was strong enough where I could change my focus from creating lessons to teaching in a new model.

My students’ ability to reason, explain, justify, contradict, question, and collaborate blew me away. Our students are capable of so much more than we think. They became more independent as I made them responsible for each other. They greeted each other by name and knew everyone in class at the end of the year. (That never happened before. )

My role changed too. I learned to deflect their questions with more questions that required them to think and often resulted in them answering their own question. (This drove them crazy!) I would walk from group to group, listening to their work, answering questions, making comments, and gently nudging groups who had gotten off task or needed to move along. I did a lot less talking and a lot more listening. It was difficult at first and I struggled with a feeling like I wasn’t “teaching”, but that didn’t last long.

I have not perfected cooperative teams. But seeing what my students were capable of this year as they worked in teams made all my struggles worth the effort. I look forward to practicing more and becoming better at managing cooperative structures and student talk.

This is an area of growth I want to work on this year. I am speaking on this topic at #BETA18, our district back to school PD mini conference. I will also be presenting this topic at #CMCSouth in Palm Springs in November and at the CPM Conference in February. This #blaugust challenge is an opportunity for me to think through some of the things I want to bring to these conferences.

I will write about specific cooperative structures I tried this past year and ones I would like to try during the #blaugust #MTBoS challenge. I can’t commit to every day, but a few a week. Thanks for reading!

CMC South 2017. Now what?

I can remember when I first attended CMC, back in 2000-something, my goal was to find good worksheets. The only other professional conference I’d ever attended was CADA, which is the California Association of Directors of Activities conference.  CADA is full of teachers who plan rallies and are in charge of school culture and spirit. That conference had strobe lights and cheers and loud music. The sessions were about how to raise student leaders to create a climate on campus that was inclusive and inviting for all students. Our goal was to celebrate all the students and adults on campus. The conference was a giant party.

My early CMC sessions back then were hit and miss. I remember spending a lot of time in the exhibit hall and there were a lot more vendors.

The last CMC I attended back then before all the budget cuts was 2008. I remember attending a session given by Exeter Math and doing an area problem about a goat tied to a barn that made my brain explode. I loved the problem so much I assigned it every Thanksgiving to my Honors Pre Calculus students.  Another big takeaway that year was that I needed more individual whiteboards. My coworker and I even stopped at Lowes on our way home to buy a big whiteboard and had it cut down. But I also attended a few sessions with math “tricks” to help kids learn math.

During the next 7 years, we had a big budget cut. Many years of not attending CMC.  I had a baby. We switched to Common Core. We struggled to understand what that would mean. I took Jo Boaler’s course. I read everything online I could find about teaching differently than I was. I joined Twitter. We asked our admin to send us back to CMC. We needed help putting all the pieces together and needed inspiration.

CMC 2015 was my tipping point. I attended Robert Kaplinsky’s session on Depth of Knowledge. I went to Michael Fenton’s Desmos session and we Charged, Annie Fetter’s Notice and Wonder session, Michael Fenton (again) talking about his transition away from traditional instruction, and finally got to hear Jo Boaler in person. And Ignite was amazing. I left that conference on a high that lasted 2 years. It reenergized my passion for mathematics education.

I am fortunate to work with people who also felt the same about growing as professionals and doing what is best for kids. Our department started to Notice and Wonder, PBL, Desmos, and Work on our questioning technique. We are now in the 2nd year of a transition to an Integrated Curriculum and first year of CPM.

CMC 2016 was my first day back from maternity leave. So the only thing I got was some separation anxiety from my baby girl.

CMC 2017. It was great. I presented for the first time. Got to see sessions by Chris Shore, Tracy Zager, Fawn Nguyen, and Jo Boaler. I played with open number lines, clotheslines, Notice and wonderings, questions, and visual patterns. There were deep conversations about math and education and politics. I hung out with colleagues and new friends.

But I Noticed that most of what I heard I’d heard already before. And I’m Wondering what I think of that. I’ve already drunk the Kool Aid. Im on board. I agree.

Now what?

Last minute sub plans

“You’re daughter was just crying and saying she wanted you. It’s not like her, so there might be something up.” The daycare teacher looked concerned.

Victoria came up behind me with tears in her eyes. “Mama, I missed you.”

She reached up for me to pick her up. At 6, this is getting difficult to do. But when there are tears in her eyes, I will keep trying to lift her up even when she’s 16.

I lifted her up and put her cheek against mine, and she felt really warm. But we’d just had a heat wave, with temps at 108 and 109. So I thought maybe it was from playing outside.

Nope. I took her temp at home and it was 104.6.

My husband is also a teacher and coaches football. He took a day off to care for our 1 year old when she was sick the first week and recently had two pull out days for curriculum trainings for his new History textbooks.

It was my turn to be out.  We feel lucky that we both teach. He understands when I absolutely cannot take another day off right now and vice versa. But this would be my first sub day of the school year.

I dread sub days. They are so much more work than just being at school. And most of the time the sub cannot help the students with the math, so I always plan on leaving something behind they can do independently which often translates to busy work. The work is often done poorly and I usually get a note from the sub about how poorly behaved my students were.

I hadn’t figured out how I was going to handle sub days this year yet. We just switched to CPM. Barbara, our CPM trainer and teacher at a nearby district, said in May that CPM classroom runs itself and that she will leave behind a lesson for her kids to do, and they actually do it!

Desperate in my classroom at 8 pm, with a sick 6 YO at home, I decided, why not? Why not give the students the lesson I was planning before my daughter got sick. Best case scenario it works and we just need to check answers. Worst case scenario, they don’t get it and I’m no worse off than if I’d left them busy work.

So I left the substitute teacher my usual sub letter. Explaining classroom policies, the lesson, and thanking them for taking my classes.

It dawned on me that my students should also get a sub letter explaining my expectations and what they needed to get done in class.

First period the day I returned, my Ed Tech Director (Kris Boneman) and our Ed Tech Coach (Matt Vaudrey) came by to see how CPM was going. I warned them I’d been out the day before and explained what I’d left for my students to do and that I had no idea how successful it had been.

Every teacher could tell you, you’re a little (or a lot) disorganized the day you return from being out, especially if it was last minute. Well, my students marched in, got out their homework, checked their answers and started working while I circulated, checked how far each group got on the previous day’s lesson, and got organized.

CPM, CPM team roles, and the structure of the CPM lessons, have helped my students become a little more independent. And gave me some grace when I needed it.

This was only the first absence. I have to be out 2 days this week for district business and for the Southern California Math Specialist meeting.  I hope it works again. I will keep you updated.

Transformations

I taught Geometry for years under the era of NCLB and knew the 22.0 California State Standards backwards and forwards. After Pre Calculus (love me some trigonometry), Geometry was probably my favorite subject to teach. I loved the hands on nature of the course and helping kids “see” the shapes in the world around them.

The topic of transformations appeared minimally on the STAR test (state test) so if I had time, I’d spend maybe 1 day showing my students what a translation, rotation, reflection, and dilation looked like. And that was the extent of my transformation knowledge.  There were some years when I didn’t get to them because there were other topics, like Circles and Volume and Surface Area that were emphasized on the test and my students needed to master those more than transformations.

Isn’t it funny how much my entire thought process has changed in such a short time? You see, at the time we made the switch to Common Core, I was teaching Algebra 1 and Pre Calculus, so I didn’t really pay too much attention to the changes in the Geometry standards. I was focused on multiple representations of functions and being blown away by my students ability to use tables and graphs to make connections and describe patterns.

Two years ago, our district decided to switch to an Integrated Curriculum. Last year we taught Integrated 1 with HMH and ALOT of supplements, and then made the switch this year to CPM with Integrated 1 and 2.  (That story is long and for another time.)

But I finally got to experience the common core Geometry standards and see… feel how different they are from the CSTs. So far, my biggest aha! Has been how transformational transformations are for developing both geometric and algebraic understanding and connections. (And patty paper is my new favorite math tool.)

1. The Geometry standards in Math 1 for the Smarter Balanced Consortium do NOT focus on formal proofs (these are taught in Integrated 2, which is the biggest difference between SBACC and PARCC).  However, students must identify congruent triangles using SSS, SAS, ASA, AAS, and HL.  If you read the standards in depth, they develop the definition of congruent figures using a series of rigid motions. They don’t formally prove two triangles are congruent, but they describe it using the series of rigid motions and identifying the congruent angles and sides that map onto their corresponding parts.

I didn’t really see how powerful this was until I pulled out the patty  paper and my students were translating and reflecting and rotating their triangles.

I’m excited to see if having this experience in Math 1 will help students grasp the formal proofs in Math 2, which seem to always have been a struggle.

2.  Our textbook taught parallel and perpendicular lines and their equations AFTER transformations. We thought it odd, but went with it.

Then I read through the CPM lesson.

It had students graph a line, trace it on patty paper, translate it 5 units down, write the new equation, and describe what they noticed. Every single student could tell me later that the slopes of parallel lines are the same!

It then had the students graph a new line, draw a slope triangle, trace it on patty paper, rotate the slope 90 degrees about the origin, draw the line through new hypotenuse, write that equation, and describe what they noticed. This one needed a few more practices, but every single student could describe how to create perpendicular lines by rotating the slope triangles 90 degrees and how the slopes were related.

I’d been teaching math for 14 years and was starting to see the connections between Algebra and Geometry! This is why we switched to the Integrated Curriculum!

3. So far this year we are in Chapter 1 of CPM Math 2, and I am working through all the problems my students will do in class and for Homework. I’m only a few sections ahead of my students. So in the next few sections, students will use rigid motions and patty paper to describe relationships between angles in parallel lines cut by a transversal, triangles, and various polygons. Already they’ve described graphs and polygons as having or not having rotational or reflection symmetry.

This is where I’m at so far. I know I’m not finished making connections and learning new things. (I taught Pre Calculus for 10 years before giving it up to be a 40% math coach and I was still learning new connections.) I love this job because I have the ability to keep transforming (pun intended) year after year.

15th year

As I face my 15th year in the classroom, you would think I’d be ready to face another group of kids, another round around the school year merry go round…. but this year feels different.  Oh so different, and I would say I feel about as ready and nervous as I did back in August 2003, that very first year.

It’s been a long journey to this place of discomfort. There were many years under NCLB with (what I thought was) decent instruction and ok/good test scores but something felt off in what I felt my students could do. You see I followed what I thought was the formula, solid direct instruction, steps to follow for specific skills and learning objectives, gradual release, informal assessment using small whiteboards, heck, even a smart board for a few years. And yet, I would give my students a new question of same or similar concept but worded in a new or different way, and they’d look at it like it was a foreign language. I was so frustrated because I couldn’t quite figure out why.

And then, the year I went on maternity leave the first time, we had a math training pull out day in which every math teacher was expected to go. And, for the first time, I heard of the common core math standards and the standards for mathematical practice. And  I realized the missing piece. I had been teaching Only skills mastery and only 1 way. It also dawned on me that in order to teach  the new standards, I’d have to be a different kind of teacher. And as a teacher, I knew how much work that would take. And I’d just had a baby. Ugh.

So the past 5 years have been a process of learning to teach, facilitate, unlearn bad habits, question, manage groups, develop lessons, find resources, research strategies, etc. Until this school year, when we will start CPM. It’s a book and a program I’ve advocated for.

But as excited as I am to start working with this awesome resource with my students, I feel like a nervous first year teacher. Is my preparation enough? Will all of my theories actually work in a real lesson? How will parents react? I really hope my students find this as engaging as I have! 15th year in the classroom and it feels like the first.

I’m so proud of our team of teachers who have worked so hard to prepare for this school year. I hope it’s a successful year.

Whether it’s your first year or your last year in the classroom, may it be a rewarding one for both you and your students!

In the beginning

Every summer I think through the previous school year, try to figure out what changes I want to make, and think back to my very first year in the classroom.

I finished my teaching credential in the spring of 2003, after student teaching at Carson High School in LAUnified. The bank account with my student loans reached zero and I didn’t have a job with enough earning power to live in Venice for the summer. So I did what many have to do, and I moved back home. Home is Bakersfield, CA, 2 hours North of LA. My boyfriend at the time (who would later become the Mr. to my Mrs.) also lived in Venice, but we wouldn’t live together.

The Mr. proposed that summer so the plan turned into live at home for a year, focus on my first year of teaching, pay down student loans, hang out with my parents, and plan a wedding.

It’s funny, when I think back to the memories that stand out, almost none of them are of the math I taught. I remember a lot of direct instruction, worksheets, assigning odds out of a terrible textbook, and struggling with classroom management.

For my own memory and for those of you embarking on this profession, here are the crazy things I remember from my first year of teaching.

1. One of the first teachers I met in the department was a woman who was in her final year of teaching. She said on the first day of school of her last year, she had a student who was the granddaughter of one of her first students. That’s how she said she knew it was time to retire.

2. My 2nd day of school, at the end of 2nd period, a student came up to me and whispered in my ear that my fly was down. I fixed it and figured that now that that happened It would never happen again. (But it happened the following year on the 2nd day again. Oops.)

3. At back to school night, I had a total of 9 parents show up. For 130 students. Oh, and 2 of the 9 were my parents who were so excited to see me at my job that was now covering my health insurance. I did the math that night and knew without a doubt that the biggest reason I was even able to stand in that classroom was because my parents always show up, even now.

4. About a month into the school year, a sophomore student came up to me and started to complain about her feet hurting. She said it a few times.  Finally, she came out and said that she just found out she was pregnant. So often students are trying to reach out for help, but they don’t know the right words.

5. At some point, a counselor asked if I could take on a TA… a senior who was dropping a class. I said sure. So one day I sent my new TA on an errand, and he found himself on the stage in the drama room, mooning the drama class. 🙄 I was so mad and mortified and afraid it would affect how admin saw me. Luckily he quickly was removed as my TA and the dean made him write me an apology letter.

6. Coming back from Winter Break, I overheard a colleague near my age talking about an adult ballet class she was going to start the following week. I full on butted into that conversation and invited myself to come along. I’m so glad I did because that colleague is still a good friend and we had so much fun in that ballet class together.

7. I was required to do a CPR class for BTSA. The day of the class in my 6th period, one of my students was chewing on a pen and swallowed the lid and started choking and coughing. I’m not lying but the first thought that went through my head was “you can’t do this now, my CPR class is tonight!” I had taken one before but couldn’t remember what to do. My student ended up fine, but that night as soon as the instructor introduced himself I raised my hand and said, “uh, I had a situation in class today and I need to know how to handle it.”  (FYI: if someone chokes on something and is coughing that means the airway is open and you are to help them by encouraging them to keep coughing. The obstruction will either go up or down. If they aren’t coughing and are choking, then you use the heimlic maneuver. But please, take a CPR class. You will feel better. )

8. I made a phone call to a dad about his son, who was failing the class. My impression was that the student could have had a B or an A if he only put forth some effort. I had a 45 minute discussion with the dad who was of the opinion that education should go back to the days when you just showed up and passed. After all, his wife was a high school drop out and had a fulfilling life. So it was ok if his son chose not to do well in school. I learned in that conversation that sometimes there is only so much I can do if the parents aren’t on board. But I will continue to fight that message as long as that student was in my class.

9. I inherited my classroom from a teacher who had retired the previous year. He had been in that room for many years and left everything for whoever was to get the room. He popped in one day to ask me if the stuff had helped me get started. I lied and said of course. (This was before there was much on the internet.) Most of what he left were drill and kill worksheets that I tossed because the room was soooo full of stuff. Because of that, I’ve tried to keep everything to a minimum in my classroom.

10. My first day of student teaching I was 22, and I called my mom to thank her for kicking my butt, even if I didn’t like it, to do well in school and set goals. Teaching taught me real quick how fortunate I was to have my parents in my corner, pushing me to be the best me I can be until I could do it on my own. So many of our students don’t have that for many reasons… my mom’s response “oh! You’re welcome! I wasn’t expecting that phone call so early!  I really like this teaching thing you are doing!”

In the beginning, teaching can be overwhelming with everything that is thrown at you.  I always say one of my favorite things about this profession is the clean slate we get each school year to reinvent ourselves and try something new. I think I look back to the beginning each summer because it’s amazing to see how much I’ve grown since then.