A fortnight and a half

So I’ve survived three weeks.

If you’d asked me last weekend how it was going I would have said “Well, it’s tough, but there’s also some really great parts.”

Then this past week happened.

I have been struggling with curriculum development for about four months now. My lesson planning skills are pretty good, but big picture has been difficult and my stress about it has been nigh on paralyzing. But after looking at the Common Core appendix and stealing some stuff from my friends at another school, I thought I was on the right track.  Then Tuesday afternoon I get pulled into a meeting, the basic premise of which was “I love what you’re doing, this is how math instruction should be, but it’s not working for our kids and I need you to change everything.” Or at least that was my takeaway from it.  Mind you this was after a Monday when a student had a seizure and I had to start teaching an extra class on Microsoft Office and there was a neighborhood shooting outside , and after a Tuesday that was just generally terrible. So I had my first cry of the year.  Good times.

Then I spent the next four days in a spiral of confusion and no confidence and on more than one occasion considered just not going back to work. But Friday after a particularly terrible class, I spoke with the other math teacher at the school and decided to completely reboot things. I’m now moving away from the Common Core slightly back to a more traditional approach, but trying to work in some of the CCLS along the way. We’ll see how this goes, especially come exam time.  The good news is this change is Just in time for my first official observation on Tuesday. *jazz hands*

I still struggle with my 7th period, but I keep getting told that’s my pacing issue. Maybe it will get better once I have new material to work with? Who knows. I’m asking other people to come in and observe so I can get more feedback.

It hasn’t been all bad. I’ve been building relationships with some of the kids. I’ve gotten some great exit slips out of them about what they’ve learned. The quizzes weren’t a complete disaster.

Here are some takeaways so far:

  • They told me starting a new school was a lot of work. That is an understatement.
  • Working with administrators that have a Math background is very, very complicated.
  • In any situation, there are resources available that can help you, and resources available that can make you develop a drinking a problem. Figure those out early and only seek out ones that will help. (I knew this before, it’s probably my biggest takeaway from my 20s. But it has been reinforced a thousand times over the last three weeks).
  • My first year of teaching is difficult, but not in the ways I expected. I knew there would be long nights and poorly planned lessons and missteps galore when dealing with students. I was prepared for that and even when it sucks I can tell myself “Well, you’ll get better.” What I wasn’t prepared for was all the other stress that popped up. A lot of which ties into the “Starting a New School” thing.
  • I’m officially tired of being told “Your first year of teaching will suck” every time I have a bad day. It’s ceased to be helpful.
  • Kids are hilarious and complex, even when they’re being a pain in the ass. I yelled at a student to get out and not come back one day, and after I apologized we seem to be getting along better than we did before.
  • I need to get over myself, just in a very general sense.

So yeah. It’s been rough. But yesterday we went to the Citywide high school fair and we brought along some student ambassadors, and they were amazing. They were selling our school like nobody’s business and it was amazing and awesome.  On Tuesday students were staying after school and teaching us slang. PS – Giving Neck needs to stop right now.

I’m off to plan my first rebooted lesson. My co-worker compared it to the Batman films.  So we’re now in the “Algebra Begins” period of my year.  I may start teaching in a Batman voice.

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First Quiz

So, I have a whole bunch of shit to say about my first two weeks. Today especially. But it’s the type of shit that will require a rather specific mindset to write, and I’m not in that mindset this evening.  I will get to it this weekend.

I’m currently trying to write my first quiz, as well as the review material that goes before it. And I’m wondering how easy do I make it. I have been constantly amazed at some of the stuff first and second periods have come up with, but I know that seventh period is definitely behind (mainly because it’s a shitshow in there, but again, I can’t get into that right now).

I was planning on modeling the quiz on this great shipping truck problem, since it ties into our theme and the standards we’re working on. I already gave the kids the exact same problem but in a different setting (pitchers of water at a BBQ) during classwork, and they did well with identifying what the variables equaled, but less well with matching the functions.

This is rambling. Basically my question is, how do I review for this? I want my quiz to have two or three vocabulary questions (Give the definition) and then this task, about which I will ask them several questions to scaffold the task a bit (I’m also cutting out one of the expressions). During my review, do I give them the words we will review and have them write them down, or just have them look up other words from the Glossary and hope they remember?  Do I walk them through the classwork we did on Wednesday, albeit in a more constructive way, or do I see what they know on their own?

There are three issues. One: I was going to make this open-note if the students behaved. Two: My seventh period will not behave, and they are the ones that are behind. Three: I kind of want some kids to fail just to scare them into shaping up, but I don’t want them to fail so bad they give up. I am well aware this makes me a terrible person but I’m running out of other options in that class (plus I offer unlimited retakes if you correct your mistakes, so it’s not like a failing grade dooms the kid for life).

I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to lob them a softball that will set unrealistic expectations on difficulty moving forward, but I also don’t want to penalize them for my teaching deficiencies. It’s not their fault I didn’t explain things well the first time, or get good enough control out of the class so people could learn. I’m going to muddle about with this for a while and see what happens, but I appreciate any feedback.

*Edit: I’m using TERRIBLE math vocabulary in this post. “what the variables equaled” should be “what the variables represented.”  Ugh.

Long Day

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That’s how my day started. And that was the high point.

I have a whole long post about my continued trials and tribulations with my 7th period but now I must sleep.

Something Good that Happened: I got my first paycheck!!

One of these classes is not like the other, and I need help.

So, today was my second day, and it started out amazing. We focused on Pair-work norms today, and to facilitate I did the handshake problem with my first two periods and sort of let them play around with it for a bit. They were all into it and guessing the answer and being generally awesome and my morning ended with me feeling amazing about teaching.

Then we got to the Lunch-Gym-Advisory-7th period block of my day, and things went downhill fast. We’re still expected to go down to lunch with the kids to babysit them while norms are still being established, but you can tell the kids resent it. Plus I need some time on my own. But I understand it’s necessity given what a complete SHITSHOW the other school in our building is. How’s this for a low-inference observation: On their way down to lunch the kids came running and screaming and bouncing a basketball off the walls. As we were leaving gym, they stood in two lines and made comments about our school walking through, and then some boys from that school interacted with our school in the hallway. It’s a mess.

Sidenote: I hate being in gym class now almost as much as I did in high school.

Anyone who reads this, I need some advice about my seventh period. I can do the exact same lesson that works amazingly well in first and second period, and we don’t get through half of it because the kids are disrespectful and noisy. I had them come into the room twice because the first time was a mess. I demanded absolute silence for the Try Now. I tried to get 100% (although my principal popped in for an observation and told me I didn’t have it…).  I diffused most situations fairly well, I thought, but there were just so MANY situations.

Some problems I face: My room has no windows and my AC unit is broken, so it’s hot, and after 6 classes it starts to smell a little funky. I get them right after Advisory or Literacy, which is right after gym. The class is my largest (although even then it only has 23 students so I feel bad even bitching about this given the struggles of some teachers).  The girls in the class are all awesome, but the boys are a whole other damn story.

Here is what I’ve decided to do moving forward:

  • Re-do the seating chart – Apparently the alphabet is just not in my favor in this class, so we are reorganizing and spreading the boys out among the girls. Although only some of the girls because the others will get stabby.
  • Structuring this lesson to within an inch of it’s life – Even pairwork will be structured, with a script for them to follow.
  • Spending five minutes tomorrow reviewing classroom expectations and consequences – I also want to say “Ok, so why do you think we have new seats? What happened yesterday that wasn’t awesome?” I’m going for self-regulation.
  • Intervening specifically on certain students that were obviously problematic – There is one student that I have for four classes, and the Social Studies teacher and I have already worked out a specific strategy to use in an attempt to help him self-regulate. We’ll see how this goes tomorrow…
  • Investigate the possibility of reprogramming some of the kids – Do all of the loud, rowdy ones have to be in my 7th period? But then again I don’t want to disrupt the awesomeness of my other classes.

My principal suggested putting the Try Now on a worksheet so they wouldn’t have to copy it, but I’m not sure how I feel about that. Above and beyond my desire to not waste trees, I feel like I can get them to copy it quietly. It’s everything after that falls apart. Part of my problem today was i tried to play a name-game so I could learn more names, but it wasn’t structured well enough in that instance.

I guess I think I have a good handle on what needs doing (if not enough time to actually do it between now and tomorrow), or at least what needs trying, but I’m always open to more suggestions. Thanks in advance!

 

Awesome thing that happened today:  I asked students how many of them felt they learned a lot more about the problem even though they didn’t get the right answer, and 90% of the class raised their hands. LEARNING!

No day like the First Day

(I just found this on the internet)

(I just found this on the internet)

Well. It’s done. I have officially survived my first day of teaching my own class.

It wasn’t as smooth as I would have liked, but it wasn’t a complete disaster. I got to go through my syllabus in full, albeit at breakneck speed. I had originally really wanted to do a “Build our Syllabus” type activity like Dan Meyer did, but we were given only 20something minutes per class and I couldn’t find an easy way to integrate that. In hindsight I should have just played different name-game ice-breakers for 20 minutes because at least then I would have learned everyone’s name, but there was a strong focus on “Conveying expectations.” Unfortunately that felt an awful lot like talking AT three different periods of students and I don’t think any of us enjoyed it. But I left school today not knowing anyone’s name and it is freaking me out. These are students that I met at recruitment fairs, information sessions, accepted students night, home visits, and a barbecue. I’ve also been monitoring their summer assignments online. But matching names to faces to memories is a hell of a task for me personally and I feel like it’s costing me in student relationships. I imagine every student is like “Why doesn’t he remember me?!” and I haatteeeee it.

I have to be careful not to be too pessimistic. I made students laugh some, I think I imparted the important parts of the syllabus. One personal highlight: I introduced myself to a student I hadn’t met and he said “Oh, I’ve heard about you.” Is that good or bad? Is bad press better than no press? I don’t know, but it made me laugh.

But this leads me to change what I was going to do tomorrow. Originally I was going to focus on pairwork, but instead I’m going to spend the first half of the lesson just learning everyone’s damn name, and then shift into pairwork. There will be less math this first (well, second) day out, but if I don’t know their names I’m up shit’s creek anyway.  But I’ll make an actual chart-paper sheet of expectations for pairwork that we can model for the rest of the week. I’m going with the tried and true Handshake Problem just to get them thinking about math, and it’s a cheesy but effective segue into “Let’s meet each other!” And it’s not so intense that I can’t take a few extra minutes to set up some extra classroom norms.

My biggest concern now is that my stresses and issues show on my face. Any adult that bumps into me knows exactly when I’m upset and can usually figure out why. I think I’m pretty good at keeping it from the students, but I fully admit I could be lying to myself.

Anyway, off to make powerpoints and seating charts for tomorrow. Woo-hoo.

Counting Down

Less than 12 hours until my first day of school as a teacher starts. Holy shit.

I’ve been so busy with getting ready for tomorrow that I’ve not been updating nearly as much as I wanted to. So here are some updates:

1.  My Unit 1 Map is finally done!

Well. Sort of. It’s done as in I’ve written out a very rough outline for where I want the 20+ lessons to go. I’m completely positive that I’m going to have to completely revamp the damn thing about a week in, but at least I have something to revamp. It’s really difficult when a lot of my first unit feels so…intangible. As I interpret the Common Core, I’m basically supposed to get kids comfortable with messing around with Math on their own. My first unit is just using what they should already know about Algebra and increasing their fluency and comfort with the procedures. The most important part seems to be getting them to explain, both in writing and verbally, their thinking and their steps.  I’m spending two days on that the first week, before we even get to any of the other standards. Then I’m spending a whole day just discussing what a variable is. Which I worry is crazy. But variables are such a vital part of Algebra that I want to make sure when I say variable, they know what I mean. I’ve gotten far too many crazy responses from the summer assignment for me to be confident that we all have the same understanding, and if we don’t have variables down what the hell are we going to do the rest of the year? So Frayer Box to the rescue.  Then it’s a lot of “Create an expression/equation from a pattern and explain why you did it.” 

But enough about that, because I’m going to start freaking out about how not-ready I am.

2. In addition to teaching Algebra 1, I’m also teaching literacy, advisory, and apparently I’m assisting in gym.

There are a lot of great things about working in a new school. I get to set the tone, shape the culture, and decide how math will look moving forward. We also went on home visits and met the students and their parents in their natural habitat, as it were. It was so cool and I think it will be so valuable.

But then there are the frustrating things, like an extra two weeks of PD my friends didn’t have but that were necessary to set up school expectations. And the fact that I have to wear six different hats all at once. In addition to those classes, I also “volunteered” to be a UFT delegate and was flat-out conscripted to be a track coach. Oh, and I’m running the Gay-Straight Alliance at school (if such a thing exists). My only response is to take a swig of my beer and soldier on.  

3. My classroom is decorated!

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With the help of a very nice woman named Verna, I have bulletin boards! It’s not 100% what I want but it’s a great start and I’m confident I’ll have time to beef it up this week. 

 

Those are probably the biggies. I’ve been running around crazy like. And tomorrow we go. I’m trying desperately not to psych myself out too much. At this point what’s done is done, so I can just sort of ride the wave. I’ve got lesson plans and PowerPoints for the first couple days. I had really wanted to be further along than this when I started the summer but the crippling panic of creating a curriculum map slowed me down considerably. I just hope my next five units go a little bit smoother once I know the students a bit better. 

I know I’m not going to sleep tonight, despite my best efforts. And I’ll be up an hour before my alarm. And I won’t be able to eat because I’ll be nervous all day. But then it will be over and I’ll grab a happy hour with my coworkers and I’ll come home and plan like a mad-man just so I don’t run out of ideas halfway through Wednesday. And I probably will anyway. But there’s no stopping it now. See you on the flip-side.

And away we go.