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. 

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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 defense of my syllabus

Today on Twitter I stumbled on a discussion about a teacher’s child’s math teacher’s syllabus.  Although I agreed with some of the comments, in general, I did not like the tone of the discussion.

As educators, we are all at various degrees of the educational spectrum.  And some are in the process of changing how they teach and evolving their educational philosophies.  Following #MTBoS, it is evident that some of us are further along in the evolution process than others.

Some of the comments about the teacher’s syllabus (whose name was left out, to be fair) reminded me of some of the comments I’ve read from people from both political parties attacking the “other” who disagrees with them.  I’d like to think that as teachers, we are all professionals, and would give this teacher the professional courtesy to step back and wait for more information before attack.

Because as I read through the syllabus and the comments about particular parts, I saw so many elements of my own syllabus in the document.  And it was demoralizing that my entire class would be judged from this single document.  Because my syllabus really does not reflect all the changes I’ve made over the past 6 years in my classroom.  It is a document that I tweak from year to year, but to be honest, don’t give much thought.  It is a formality that is required by administration, and my document is similar to ones across my school.  The students take it home, get it signed, and then lose it.  However, if an issue comes up during the year, the first question our administration asks is, do you have this policy outlined on your syllabus?

*This syllabus is from two years ago because I was on maternity leave at the beginning of last year, so my syllabus when I returned was not that typical.

The “tweaking” I’ve done has been mainly to condense the document down to 1-2 pages.  Grading policy is not completely dictated in my department, but it is expected that our assessment categories percentages vs. homework category percentages ratios are fairly close.  How we break them down is up to us.

Each year, we sit down as a department to meet and discuss common policies.  We primarily do this, not to dictate, but to see where we are all the same.  Because parents talk and it is much easier sometimes to have the same policies.  Some of our common policies I agree with and some I go along with because I don’t think it’s that important and I’m a team player.  A few of the policies we have in our department are no late work unless for absences, common testing by subject, and requesting (not requiring) that the students bring an EXPO marker to school (because we go through tons of these and our budgets are limited).

Reading through my syllabus makes me sound like a dictator, control freak.  If a parent were to post my syllabus on Twitter, some of the same conclusions people made about the teacher could be made about me.  My syllabus does not show the smile I have on my face as my students walk in the door, or the hours I spend at lunch and after school helping my students.  My syllabus does not show the hours I spend in the evening researching my content area and trying to figure out a new approach to a lesson on linear equations.  My syllabus does not show all the times I attend my students extracurricular events or help out as a chaperone.

My students laugh when they complain about something and I sarcastically say “oh, yeah, I’m the meanest teacher on campus.”  They laugh because they know that it is the farthest from the truth.

This piece of paper is no different than reading a school handbook.  Sometimes, policies need to be stated and consequences need to be explained.  It is just that, a piece of paper outlining the nuts and bolts.


 

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.  

Not what I was expecting

***I wrote this post back in November 2016. My first blog post ever, I wrote this after sitting on the fence and wanting to participate so long.  But then fear and schedules kicked in and I didn’t share.  After recent discussions online about participation and letting go of fear and being vulnerable, here goes…

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Nothing about being a working parent is easy, especially the first week back.  Your first week away from the baby and managing a new routine. 

Back in 2011, I returned to work from maternity leave the week I submitted my Master’s Thesis.  This time, I had to drive older sister to kindergarten but without grad school, was able to really enjoy my time with the baby.
Both girl’s birthdays are in July, so both maternity leaves I missed the beginning of the school year and returned at the same time. Every teacher will tell you how important the first few months of a school year are to establish expectations with your students and set a positive classroom culture.  Not being there at the beginning, even with 14 years experience, had me a little anxious about how the rest of the school year would go.

I returned to work from maternity leave November 7.  It was the day before the 2016 Presidential election.  I returned to a new textbook, new curriculum, and a new role as a 40% math coach.  My first week back was overwhelming, emotional, exhausting, and discouraging.  I was welcomed back by my colleagues and students but landed in the middle of a curriculum debate about where we should go and I felt in over my head.

So on Saturday morning, after my 5 YO’s last soccer game of the season (yes!), she asked me if I wanted to go see Trolls with her in the movie theaters, “just you and me mama”.  She then said, “daddy can stay home with the baby”.

After the week I had, a spontaneous mother-daughter date was just what I needed.

So we saw Trolls.  It was exactly what I needed after my first week back.

(In case you care about knowing the ending of children’s movies, this is your warning that I will reveal some things about the end of Trolls.)

Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) sets off with a grumpy toll who refuses to be happy (Justin Timberlake) to save her friends who are going to be eaten by the burgens.  (They are a large race of creatures who eat Trolls because they believe that’s the only way they can be happy.)  There’s a point in the movie where Poppy fails and the trolls are placed in a pot and are being taken to the dining hall to be eaten.  Poppy realizes that she failed her friends and because of that, now they are all going to be eaten.  She becomes so sad that she physically changes from pink to gray.  Then the troll played by JT starts to sing.

Trolls- True Colors

I started sobbing in the theater.

I was so discouraged last week.  So often in education we only hear the negative voices.  I don’t know about you, but I am my worst critic.  I’ve been so overwhelmed by all the new things I’m juggling: new book, new curriculum, new pacing, new job, new baby, new routine in the morning, new president… uncertain future…  And reading and hearing all the “voices”… news reporters, commentators, people on social media, people at work… so many grown ups who are unable to see another’s point of view.

This song reminded me of my support network.  I need to listen to their voices.  The people who see me and the work I’m doing.  The people who build me up and support everything I try to do at home and at work.

So often we hear the 1-2 negative things and not the 5-6 positive ones.

It also got me thinking of the people around me I know who might need to hear that someone “sees” them.

Who around you could use a word of encouragement?

These past two weeks have been rough… for all of us.  If we could only see each other and be seen.