#DITLife: November 23, 2016 – Thanksgiving Break

This post is part of the “Day in the Life” project by Tina Cardone.

7:33am – Got to work about 20 minutes ago and decided to finally complete my reflection from my last Day in the Life Post from last week. The blogging throughout the day isn’t so bad but the reflections require thought that I am struggling to find time for. Or I guess struggling to find time to actually type out. But it was good, and gave me a chance to reflect on some things from the last month.

For the rest of this morning I have to try to read some Extended Essays since my projected scores are due today. I also have to go through and approve topics for my IB Studies class, and create an answer key for an Algebra 2 test I gave last week so that we can norm the grading during first period. Right now I’m feeling kind of overwhelmed because I have 10 letters of recommendation to write by next Tuesday. So basically this weekend isn’t going to be as relaxing as I need it to be.

But today is a dress down day!! Normally we have to wear a shirt and tie to work, so jeans and a hoodie make things easier.

8:56am – The norming meeting went well. I think everyone is exhausted at the moment so we’re all low energy. Right now I’m sitting in my IB Studies class while they look for a topic and data for their internal assessment. I’ve encouraged all of the kids to do a statistical investigation because the process is very straightforward for them. While they work I’m looking at topics that have already been submitted and approving/commenting on what they have. The deadline for a topic is today, and I want to make sure I get approvals out quickly so kids can start working (not that I expect them to over the long weekend).

10:27am – Planning period time. I was able to approve several of the topics in my second period, which was good. And I think my Algebra 2 lesson on quadratic forms and sum/difference of cubes went pretty well. I’m really proud of how well kids are doing with polynomial division. I gave them an exit slip today and the large majority of kids really get it and had the right answer. And the most common mistake I saw was figuring out the remainder. All my stress about if I was doing the right thing has been alleviated.

Now I really have to read the EEs and get those graded. I’ve been putting it off forever because I hate grading essays, but my grades are due today. So off I go.

11:38am – So I gave feedback for more internal assessment topics, looked at Twitter a bit, and ordered lunch. I did not finish reading these EEs. My ability to procrastinate on things is reaching quite remarkable levels. Off to class for sixth period and then a meeting during seventh and eighth. We have a fire drill during ninth period even though it’s freezing out, so the kids are just going to love that.

12:38pm – Time for a Grade Level Leader meeting. Studies class went well, with kids having some idea of what their project will be. They’re struggling a bit to find good data sets, but we’re having productive conversations about it. Now I just worry about what will happen in December when they have a thousand other things to do.

2:59pm – Nothing throws off a lesson quite like a Fire Drill. But I still managed to get through most of my lesson, they just didn’t have a lot of practice time.

The meeting during lunch was frustrating, mainly because I had a hard time keeping my temper. I teach at an amazing school, and I get super defensive when people take issues with certain things. But I think that’s more a sign that I’m not good in a leadership position right now.

5:01pm – Finally, FINALLY finished grading the EEs. It took about an hour and a half of half unfocused time. It’s really, really difficult to focus on essays, I don’t know how english teachers do it.

I’m playing trivia with some co-workers tonight but I’m going to head home and see the cat and the boy first.

Reflection 

I just wrote a reflection last Wednesday, not much has changed since then.

 

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#DITLife: November 16, 2016

This post is part of the “Day in the Life” project by Tina Cardone.

7:19am – I feel a little guilty for writing this when I never wrote the reflection piece for Parent-Teacher conferences, but if I wait for me to write that I will definitely fall off track permanently. I was going to write the reflection last week, but then the election happened and everything became 10 times more of a struggle. Last Wednesday was awful. Kids were crying, adults were crying, I had a permanent pit in my stomach. Apparently all that needs to happen to get me to leave before 4 is for a racist, sexist, mercurial demagogue to get elected!

Anyway, just into work. It’s nice that it’s sunny out now again, that span of a couple weeks when it was dark in the mornings was really rough. I know it won’t last but the fall mornings are nice. I’ve had MfA PD meetings the last two nights so I’m feeling very behind on work. We’re giving a test today in Algebra 2 but I want to get plans ready for next week so that my co-planning partners can look them over, but I don’t know when that will happen today. I also have to put together an Excel packet for my IB Studies class that they’re starting tomorrow to prep for the Internal Assessment, which takes precedence, and then read three Extended Essays so that I can have a Viva Voce meeting with those students. That last sentence probably doesn’t make sense to the vast majority of people, since it’s all International Baccalaureate lingo. Translation: I have to set-up a packet to help with a senior project and then read some research papers done by seniors before I meet to talk with them about it after school.

AND the slides I rushed to finish before leaving yesterday are no longer in my drive. Time to go make those.

7:48am – Luckily the teacher that taught this course last year put a lot of work into making a packet and slides for kids, so I can borrow heavily from that, and the slides go pretty quickly. Mainly I just change the formatting a bit so it’s more mine. And working through the slides helps me to internalize the lesson. Which doesn’t always mean I actually understand the material well enough to teach it, but it’s a process. This year really reminds me that the first time teaching something is always rough, no matter how good at math I am.

10:18am – First period was a planning meeting for Algebra 2. Tomorrow we are doing operations with polynomials, and Friday we start polynomial division. I’m really enjoying our planning team this year, although building the plane in the air is exhausting. Mid unit we start to realize “Hey, we should have done this differently” and we have to course-correct. But I think we’re doing some really, really good things. Granted I just gave a test and I’m not sure how well it went, but overall the class feels good. It will be my first time teaching polynomial division. I know that other teachers have used synthetic division but I’m pushing hard to use the box method for division, just because I think it unifies everything together. But also I’ve never taught it that way so who knows.

My Studies class today was a mess, so I need to spend a few minutes re-working the lesson and moving some things to tomorrow. I tried to rush some parts of the assignment but it was just messy and I fell behind. I need to fix this for my sixth period. Also I need to spend some time working on the excel instructions for the project. I don’t know when I’ll get to reading the EEs that I have, but I’ll try to get to them before my next class.

12:45pm – During my planning period I worked on the IB Studies Excel instructions for next week and definitely didn’t get to the EEs. It sounds like 90 minutes is a lot of time but there are conversations happening in the room and it’s all distracting. Right now I have a meeting for Grade Level Leaders where we talk about plans for the school.

2:38pm – Time for Viva Voce meetings!

3:20pm – Of the three students that were supposed to show up for a meeting, only one did. Which was good because it means the meeting went quickly, but bad because that means I have to reschedule.

This year we made a change so that instead of pairs of Grade Level Leaders, we only have one per grade. But it’s so much work, and so much is falling through the cracks. Also one thing I’ve learned about myself is that when I’m stressed, my patience for other adults is one of the first things to go. It’s not making me a very effective leader which is stressful.

My second Studies class went much more smoothly than my first. I was stupid for rushing through the content, but I wanted to give them more time for their project. I just need to remember that they will still have plenty of time in class to work. I need to finish up the Excel instructions, but I’m putting it off because it’s a concept I’m not so comfortable with. Instead I think I’ll put together a set of possible data sources for their project.

5:20pm – I spent most of the afternoon finishing up the Excel directions. This last packet took some HEAVY liberties with specificity for the sake of “I just don’t have time.” But hopefully it provides enough guidance that I can hop in and course correct students that are completely lost. It also would have been done faster but some kids walked in to talk to me, and then a teacher came in asking for help with her projector. The building is basically falling apart around us. But the packet is done, which is the last big thing I had to do before letting them work on their projects. It’s not perfect, but I won’t find all the errors until I let kids come in and start playing with it. The biggest thing I’ve learned in my four years of teaching is that after a point you just need to field test things. Oh, which reminds me I also put together a list of sources and re-formatted a planning worksheet I found online to help the kids. Hopefully the sources are useful and not complete crap. But overall a productive afternoon.

Friends are coming over for a game-night tonight so no more work for the day. Anything to keep me relatively human.

Reflection (Written on 11/23/16)

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 really like the decision I made to teach Excel completely through a packet. Any time in the past I’ve tried to teach electronics by direct instruction it’s been a mess, with 34 kids in 34 different places. The packet was a ton of work but I think it will really pay off. I’m also glad I decided to slow things down a day in my Studies class. Trying to rush two topics wasn’t necessary and wasn’t useful.

I’m worried that my decision to plan for polynomial division with the box method will complicate things completely. I know kids are learning synthetic division next year in the Higher Level IB class, even though I really, really believe my way makes more sense. But I can’t convince anyone else of that fact, which makes me think I’m doing something horribly wrong.

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?

 

Last week was the election. Everything about that was a low, and continues to be. I went home over the weekend which, while I love my family, was also draining, as we have different political views. There are a hundred posts and articles about how kids, especially black and brown kids like I teach, are responding to the election, and I can’t add anything to those conversations that hasn’t already been said better. But the election has affected me deeply and I’m just exhausted.

I worry sometimes that all of my blog posts come off as “woe is me, teaching is so exhausting, this and this suck” and I feel like I need to put all of that tone in the context that one of my coping mechanisms is to complain. I bitch and moan, but then things don’t affect me too deeply. I do love this job, and I love the kids, and I love planning lessons. But it’s hard. I don’t do a good job of sharing the great things, just the hard things.

That said, this weekend is Math Prom with Math for America, so I’m definitely looking forward to that.

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.

The day after the election, I was listening to some podcasts on the subway platform trying to make sense of the despair I was feeling, and I saw a co-worker walking towards me, and we hugged and she just started crying. We spent the entire walk to school trying to understand what had happened and trying to support each other. Throughout the day all of the staff members I saw were trying to support each other in little ways. It certainly didn’t fix things but it made me proud of my community.

I started each class with a short comment about how upset I was, and how I knew many of them were upset. I said I would protect them and I loved them and that part of the way I could do both of those things was to teach them more math so they’re better equipped to be citizens. I didn’t word it that eloquently because I had gotten 4 hours of sleep, but that was the general idea. Later that night when I got home one of my seniors wrote me a long email thanking me for saying something and hoping to make me feel better. I teach some great young people.

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 am doing ok, I think. I’ve done more exit tickets this year than I think I did in the last three years combined, but I’m not great at doing synthesis type activities. The “I used to think…Now I think…” structure is so fantastic but I forget about it from time to time.

As for note-taking, there have been a couple times where kids are working and I consciously think “No, this slide should be different so that their notes make sense.” I’m getting better about that too.

I haven’t used Desmos in more than a minute, unfortunately. Partly because in my Algebra 2 classes I have 35 kids in the room and only about 19 working laptops, and then there are two Algebra 2 classes that meet simultaneously so we have to find a second laptop card, and 40 minutes is cutting it tight to get the laptops out, log on to Desmos, and do something meaningful. I want to find ways to incorporate it more, but it’s going to require some seriously thought.

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

Honestly I’m sure things have happened that have been great, but the election is acting like a giant black hole obscuring lots of things. In general I think our Algebra 2 classes are doing some great things, but I’m sucking hard as a GLL this year. There are not enough hours in the day, and the hours I do have keep getting put somewhere else.

 

#DITLife: November 3, 2016 – Parent Teacher Conferences

This post is part of the “Day in the Life” project by Tina Cardone.

7:22am – Been in the building for about 10 minutes and have been looking over the materials my coworker made for today’s Algebra 2 class. It’s still dark out because we’re reached the point of the year where it’s dark when I wake up, dark when I get to school, and usually dark when I leave school. It’s frankly depressing.

We have parent teacher conferences this evening. At our school we try to focus on having the students lead the conferences, talking about what’s going well and what they want to improve. The goal is to have students be reflective about class and about their performance. It’s nice  because it’s less talking from us, but it’s still draining to have to be “on” for another three hours every night. I like meeting the parents though. Meeting parents/families/guardians always puts so much stuff into focus. You can start to see where kids get their personalities from. It’s also fascinating to see how parents respond to hearing about their kids. Sometimes fascinating good, sometimes fascinating bad, but always enlightening. Unfortunately, more often than not the parents you see are not the parents you need to see, but we’ve made calls home to try and fix that. I’m still really, really bad about reaching out though.

Students are supposed to see me to schedule a time to meet ahead of time, but for some reason I haven’t had many kids sign up yet. It’s pretty typical that juniors and seniors don’t sign up, but I expected many more sophomores to sign up. Somehow I have a 50 minute window in the middle of the evening tonight. Which actually means I’ll have a bunch of parents just dropping in. It’s good that the parents have come in and are looking to meet teachers, but it’s frustrating to not be able to predict which conversations I’ll have to have.

In between writing this I’ve been tweaking the prompt sheet I have on the table for kids to read from. It helps guide the conversation and is less work for me. I also give the parents a little contact sheet with pertinent info to get in touch with me. I don’t think they ever use it (and I usually see it on the floor in the hallway later) but hey, due diligence.

7:53am – And so it begins. A kid just came in to sign up.

8:10am – Our department meeting was cancelled today so I have some time, but I’m not sure what to do. Updating some slides, looking through the classwork for today. Nothing super exciting.

10:24am – Two classes down. During the morning meeting time I didn’t do as much as I probably should have, but I’ve been feeling kind of unmotivated. It’s not that I don’t have a ton of things to do, it’s just that none of them feel especially pressing.

In IB Studies we’re finishing up the Statistical Analysis unit by doing some practice with the Chi Squared test. This has been the first time I’ve ever even done the Chi-Squared test, much less taught it, and it’s been really interesting. I have a much, much stronger understanding of the underlying math than I did before and it’s been really interesting.

In Algebra 2 we’re teaching the Quadratic Formula, so we get to sing the song. We showed kids the derivation, but honestly that level of algebra is a stretch for a lot of kids. We’ve been flying through the Quadratics unit because it’s presumed prior knowledge. Except we don’t offer Algebra 1 at our school. So some kids saw all of this in middle school, while others never really mastered linear equations. The range of skills is crazy, and we’re trying to give them as much guidance as possible. I think we’re doing alright, but overall they are struggling on assessments. It was nice that today we weren’t trying to fly through material.

11:13am – During my planning period I had a quick meeting with the department chair who taught IB Math Studies last year. We’re starting the Internal Assessment and I don’t really have a grasp for what I need to do. The meeting was helpful, but really just reinforced the idea that I really have to sit down and read through all the materials. Not really sure when that has time to happen. I’m off to go try to complete some grading before my next class.

11:43am – Well, grading didn’t happen, but I fixed a worksheet from earlier this year on completing the square with algebra tiles. Anything to avoid grading, I guess.

2:37pm – My R6 class went similarly to my R2 class, with not quite enough practice for the amount of time. But the problem is we’ve been going so slowly through this unit, and all the problems are exactly the same structure. So once they’ve seen 4-5 examples it doesn’t feel like the best use of time. But I also want to make sure they’re adequately prepared. Finding that line when practice goes from meaningful to perfunctory isn’t easy.

Because of parent teacher conferences I didn’t bring lunch, instead planning on ordering an early dinner. But I was starving so I went to the market next door to get some chips and a juice and a soda. I’m already very tired and the fact that I still have 3 hours of parent conversations ahead of me is even more tiring, so I needed some caffeine. After I got back I was able to get some grading knocked out so that was good. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish the grading before conferences start so that won’t be on my list.

Kids are still coming in to sign up for conferences which start in 2 and a half hours.

4:07pm – Finished my grading! It was only 30 short quizzes but still I hate grading. Now I’m trying to scarf down dinner ahead of conferences tonight. I don’t know if I’ll manage to print stuff out for the bulletin board or not, but I’ll try.

5:29pm – Two conferences so far, and I have a 10 minute break. That said I have 8 in a row next, which basically comes out to an hour and a half of just talking to different families. It’s not that the conversations are hard, and it’s nice to see the families, but also socially draining. Luckily I don’t think I have any super stressful conversations tonight.

7:06pm – The problem with how we do conferences is that every conference is supposed to last 10 minutes, but then they’re also supposed to start one right after the other. So if I start at 5, talk for 10 minutes, I’m done at 5:10. But then that family has to be somewhere to start at 5:10. So the second one of the night is a minute late. After 6 in a row, you’re almost ten minutes behind, so conversations are rushed, and everything falls apart. And it’s shitty because you don’t want to rush important conversations, or make any parent feel like you’re tapping your foot to get them out the door, but then you also don’t want to waste a parent’s time that is waiting. It’s stressful and messy. And what’s silly is that now I have only one conference over the next 50 minutes, so it was RUSH RUSH RUSH and now nothing.

7:56pm – Well, the family that was supposed to show up at 7:40 didn’t show up, so I guess I’m done for the night. I was able to make a key for the quadratics practice we’re doing in Algebra 2. But I just realized I never made copies of the quiz I’m giving tomorrow so I’m off to do that real quick.

8:06pm – Copies made, so I’m out of here. Home to sit on the couch and not think about school for a few hours.