Saturday, August 12, 2017

An Outstanding First Day and Week!   2017-2018

School started for us this past week.  I can honestly say this may be the best first week of school I have ever had- I feel so blessed!   My students are so good-natured and hard-working; they remembered more from last year than I ever could have imagined.  I only discovered that at the end of the week as we spent the first part of the week getting to know each other and doing cool math-y activities.

The first two days back I did a couple of Sara Van der Werf’s activities that I had not implemented yet.  The first was the 1-100 number task for group-work skills building.  The students were just as engaged as I had seen in pictures on Twitter from other teachers who have done this activity.  Below is a picture from my senior Calculus students working on it.  If you have not tried this activity yet, you much do so – it is a total winner!  Even if you have started school already, it can still be done before you start any routine group work for the year to help students work together in groups.

I introduced my students to Ken-Ken puzzles this year again but in a different way.  I had seen this idea on Twitter, but I cannot remember who posted it.  Anyway, I started by putting a Ken-Ken puzzle on the projector like this:

I then had the students stand and go find a different partner for this activity.  I had them do what Sara Van der Werf calls a “stand and talk”.  I gave them 2-3 minutes to look at the solved puzzle and talk about things they noticed about the numbers and patterns in the solutions.  We then came back together as a class and people shared what they had talked about.  Together they shared observations such as how the "numbers in bold" operated together to get the number at the top of the box, that no numbers were repeated in rows or columns like Sudoku, and they noticed that only certain digits were used..  Given that, I clicked on the link for a new unsolved 4 x 4 Ken-Ken puzzled that we solved together as a class.  They got through it very quickly and were actively engaged.  That was on Tuesday, and by Friday they endeavored to solve a 5 x 5 puzzle.  They struggled a bit with an extra row and column, and they did not finish it before the bell, but I told them that we would pick up from there next week.  They had tried a new level, and I was proud of their motivation.  Below is the link to the site for Ken-Ken puzzles that I used:

Also on Tuesday after the Ken-Ken puzzle time, we played Sara’s 5 x 5 grid game.   After using some of the period for Ken-Ken puzzles, we played two rounds of this game.  I had the students work in pairs, and for the first round of the game I told them to place the numbers anywhere in the grid they wanted as I drew the cards.  While drawing the cards, I could hear them talking about placing the numbers a certain way; they were trying to figure out what the strategy would be.  After the first round, we discussed what strategies they used; many were trying not to place repeats side by side thinking that was a penalty.  In fact, the strategy is to place as many side by side as possible, but I loved hearing about the strategies they were using.  After I showed them Sara’s blog post of the grids and how they are scored, they got really excited for the next round.  I especially enjoyed talking about the slides she had where they had to figure out which placement of a set of 4 tens would yield more points.  Most student pairs had earned anywhere from 20-50 points in the first round, but after we played the 2nd round, their scores ranged from 140-200 points; what a difference.  It was fun to watch them during the 2nd round as they were intent on working together to get adjacent placement of numbers as much as possible.  I did a 1st and 2nd place winner in each class, and they earned a free homework pass to be used during review work at the beginning of the year.  That way if there is a topic they already feel strong in, it gives them some free time.   Here is a picture after we had just finished round 2, and they were calculating their scores.

Because Sara’s blog was up on the projector during the game, they noticed her and asked about her.  I told them that she was probably one of the best math educators in our country, and I believe that to be true.  I also told them behind the name tents that we were working on too; they thought that was really cool!   By doing this, I established myself as a teacher who is also an active learner from other teachers.  They probably know teachers share materials, but seeing it in action from across the country seemed to interest them a lot.   

Also throughout the whole first week, I did name tents for the second year in a row.  This year I included two days for them to ask me questions; one more random, and one about classroom policies/expectations that they still may be wondering about.  It takes a fair amount of time the first week to respond each day, but it is TOTALLY WORTH IT to do this with your students as a tool for getting to know them and letting them know that they are valued as individuals in your classroom.   The question-answer part of the name tents gives students a more private way of communicating with their teacher without having to comment or ask questions during class.  A few students really shared a lot about their extra-curricular involvements, career goals, and interests beyond the scope of questions, and I really enjoyed reading and dialoguing with them!   One student asked if we were going to do this every week.  Unfortunately, time will not allow for that, but I have decided to utilize the name tents more than last year.  One, I am going to use them to set-up groups throughout the semester rather than write names in marker on desks.  Two, I think we will paste in a second page the first week of second semester and do this again.  That way I can do a check in on the class and what is working for them or not, ask them how their holidays were, and because they are juniors, I can start seeing what they are thinking about for post-secondary options.

Lastly, as mentioned in my last blog, I set up a play table/area in my classroom for puzzle and pattern play.  My teacher friends thought it was cool, but my husband and son thought I was nuts!  They did not think juniors in high school would want to “play with blocks”.  Well, right back at them I can say absolutely they do.  The look on my husband’s face when I showed him this picture was priceless!

So yes, big kids do “play with blocks”, enjoy it, and I love that they enjoy doing this in their down time.  Here are some cool patterns that ended up on the table by the end of school on Friday:

All of the above said activities made for a great first week back.  Though I was tired by Friday as usual, I was also very happy and energized; that is a new and wonderful feeling.   Gone are the days of focusing on syllabuses, pre-tests, and “getting started as soon as possible” on course curriculum.  I had slowly lost those items over the most recent years, but I cringe when I remember years when that is what the first days looked like in my classroom.    It is so much more important to take the time to make math fun and get to know my students, and this is not something I will be willing to ever give up again.   I owe many thanks to the network of colleagues I have in the MTBoS who have taught me to see and try new things.  It allows me to be an active teacher learner and provide my students with great experiences in math.  This week was the biggest example of that yet!

One fun thing that happened that I had not planned on was using Elissa Miller’s classroom strategy of  "Two Nice Things”.  A student in pre-calculus called out another student across the room, and immediately Elissa’s rule popped into my mind, and I said immediately “now you have to say two nice things about him!”   It worked!  The kids were immediately on board and agreeing, and the student followed through!  Also, did not hear that happen again the rest of the week –

So you see – the things we learn from each other are always with us, whether we plan to use them or not.  They are in our minds for any moment we may need themJ

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A New School Year = New Goals!!!!

Tomorrow marks the official start for my school district for the 2017-2018 school year.  I am really excited to be officially in the classroom again returning to the school I was at in the fall of last year.  A lot has changed since leaving the classroom last December:  realizing teaching was still my true love for a career, realizing that the school district I left was in fact the best fit for me and my home, and finally making a commitment to myself to not overload with things that overshadow my passions; easier said than done of course!

My teaching schedule this year includes Honors Pre-calculus and Non-AP Calculus.  I have taught pre-calculus before, but Calculus will be a new challenge for me as a course even though I have tutored it for many years.   What is most energizing to me is that neither course has a standardized test tied to it, and this will be the first time in my career that I have had this opportunity.  I can teach at the pace that is comfortable for learning in my classroom, and we can delve deeper into topics and incite meaningful learning in our classroom.  I am the only one teaching both courses in my school, which is also a bonus – this year it is all about my kids and I and what works best for our classroom.  I intend to embrace this teaching gift with every fiber of passion in my teaching soul!!!

In addition to an awesome teaching schedule, I am returning to a department of colleagues I came to miss a lot last spring as well as many new ones that seem to be very motivated and hard-working.  Our school has a new learning incentive for Algebra 1 and Geometry courses to improve our EOC test scores.  We received extra positions to meet the needs of this program, and now each Algebra 1 and Geometry teacher will have between 15-20 students only to allow for learning needs of all students to be properly met, and students are able to learn as they go/move on when ready after each concept rather than fit into a “one-size fits all” pacing for the year.  It is an incredible opportunity for 9th and 10th grade students and teachers!  So far, I have been asked to lead in the professional development and resourcing involved prior to pre-planning and in contribution to the first week of instruction.  Being a member of MTBOS definitely helped me to provide rich and powerful teaching resources to them.

As school starts tomorrow, here are my goals for this school year:


  • To continue using interactive notebooks in my classroom.  I have used them for the past 2.5 years, and they have provided students with success at all levels.  Honors Pre-calculus students can use them for reference next year in calculus, and Calculus students can revisit the art of organization with note-taking resources as they make their way to college.  Maybe they will take college calculus and use it!
  • I have created not only a play table in my classroom, but a whole play and puzzle area in the back corner of my room; that part of the goal is finished.  I now would like to instill in my students the desire to “play with math” by using pattern and number sense exploration through tactile play and number puzzles.  I want them to see math as fun and magical.
  • I started spiraling homework in the beginning of last year, but it dropped off quickly as I went into survival mode to stay well enough to finish the first semester.  This year I am going to do this again as well as lagging homework.  I was not able to go to Henri Picciotto’s session on lagging homework at TMC17, but I have read the archives of TMC17, and love the benefits to it that he outlined.  I definitely can see how lagging content in the the assignments a student does at home is much more meaningful and productive.  I do not believe in “no homework”, but I do know that my homework assignment habits needed a huge overhaul; just looks like just the right fit.
  • To help our new math teachers in the building as much as possible by providing good professional resources and advice from my experiences both successful or not.  I have been assigned one of them specifically to mentor, and she is a new teacher this year.  She has great energy that I want to foster and enhance with the professional resources and networks I am a part of.  Outside professional organizations have kept me in this profession through the good times and bad.  Even when I went astray from them, they were there for me when I was ready to re-fuel.
  •  To become much more active in MTBOS this year with sharing materials, resources, and fun chats with my fellow mathies across the country.  I want to keep up with regular blogging and #teach180.   I am hoping to join some of my North Carolina peeps for their professional development activities too.  I am hoping we have another Southern MTBOS tweet-up again this October as last year was a lot of fun, and I have a great idea/location OSin mind with another possible mathematical journey beyond that oneJ
  • To get as many colleagues of mine as possible on Twitter and in the MTBOS!
  •  Balance…  Balance, balance, balance.  If my former principal could hear this now – he instilled the importance of this into me, but I only truly realized it after I left.  The past 5 or so years, I loaded my working life with a full-time teaching job and almost full-time tutoring business.  No more of that for me – it killed my passions for teaching in the classroom, it wore my body out, and it robbed me of the joys one needs in their personal life to create that needed life-work balance.  I will still tutor a few students each week, but nowhere near what I have done in the past.  Though it helped us re-position financially, that is not needed now, and the personal cost is not worth it.
  • I still managed to read during all the crazy of the past 5 years, but now I have the time to read even more.  On goodreads, I have set my goal at 50 books in 2017, and I would like to meet that goal or get as close to it as possible.  It has been a busy summer, so I did not get as many read as I had hoped, but I am happy that I am maintaining a mixture of personal books and professional books. 
  • Exercise – it is my nemesis.  I would rather do anything else, but I bought a new bicycle last spring and have barely been on it.  I traveled a lot this summer, but now with the routine of the school year upon me, I would like to work into biking in 3-4 days a week.  

6 professional goals is a lot, but most of them are already in progress and need to just be built upon.  All of them are things I am super passionate about, so it is always easier to work towards those goals.  I predict my biggest challenges of those I have listed will be keeping up with the lagging/spiraling homework, and regular exercise, but I am committed to it.   This is the first blog I have posted in a while, and I have also yet to post my TMC17 reflections, but that is next this week!

As with any “first day of the school year eve”, I find myself a little nervous about tomorrow, but I am super excited and happier both professionally and personally than I have been in years. 

Here’s to a new and awesome 2017-2018!!!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Day in the Life – Grinding Through April…

I always forget about April – I think that is the way it is supposed to be in teacher world.   In our area, spring break is always the first week of April, and we then return to weeks of cramming and testing.  The return is probably the hardest of the year, but if we just make it to May, the end of the tunnel comes very quickly.   Every year I forget what a storm this is to march through, and here is one of my days in the midst of it.

6:30am – Finally drag myself out of bed; it is getting harder and harder everyday as we are in the final weeks.  It is an up-do day for the hair, so I can grab 15 extra minutes of sleep….

7:30am: - Leave for school.  My new drive is farther than last semester, but takes less time as I am going opposite of traffic.  It is a perfect blend – extra time to think about the day than I had in previous years, but no traffic to aggravate me from doing soJ

7:45-8:25am:  Arrive at school.  Finish notes for Algebra 2 support to review normal distributions with empirical rule and standard normal distributions with z-scores.  Kiddos have been in and out of their Algebra 2 regular classes this week due to testing, so this is both teach and re-teach.

8:25-10:10am - 1st and 2nd hour is Algebra 2 support, so we work on the normal distributions, but save finding cut-off values for tomorrow.  I can feel they are on full after empirical rule and z-scores.   Somewhat innately, but mostly with experience, a teacher can feel that “on-full” feeling from students; it seems to thicken the air.

10:15 – 11:04am - 3rd period prep.  I update grades with homework and quiz corrections.   Grading policies in this district are new to me, but I love them.  70% weight on Summative assessments and 30% weight on formative assessments/grades such as quizzes and homework.  For quiz grades, students are allowed to make corrections on quizzes for half of their missed points back, so it is truly formative in process.  I am a big fan of analyzing mistakes, so this to me is a great practice that is in place here.

11:10 – 12pm – 4th period Advanced Mathematical Decision Making.  Today the students are taking their 4th out 5 foundational algebra quizzes; today is operations of radicals.  Afterwards, they are allowed time to get caught up on their Life-Project journal reflections.  More on that later.

12:05-1:50pm – 5th and 6th period planning and lunch.  Yep – inordinate amounts of time here for prep and having a decent lunch.  I make copies for the rest of the week, keys to upload to the class website, and finish quiz correction grading and grade updates.

1:55-3:40pm – 7th and 8th period Algebra 2.  We started notes on z-scores, so we continue through with the application of them today and working backwards from a cut-off percent.  We are headed towards a quiz on Friday, so it is a race against time – this is something here that I am having a hard time getting used to.  Great discussions with the content for application though, which saves what can be a pretty dry topic.    7th period is a large class, so a little more of a challenge to stay on task, but we made it!  8th period is small, so we are able to have more in depth conversations within the content delivery.

3:40 -4pm – Drive home – enjoying this time to reflect on the day and think about the rest of the week.  I am definitely thinking group-work review for tomorrow.  Also feeling sad that I am not able to attend MCTM this year in Duluth, MN.   My pre-service work and first year of teaching began with this organization, and it is a great organization with passionate teachers and super-rich professional development.  I try to get back every couple of years, but not going to make it this time.

4:00-5pm – Time to talk to hubs and re-boot before tutoring starts.  Grab a snack and new cup of coffee.     

5:00-7pm -  Two tutoring sessions, both for pre-calculus, but at different levels.  Matrix work for one, and probability distributions for another.  Done early tonight as I am exhausted and need to shut it down for the evening.    

7:00-9pm – Spend time with my family, peruse Twitter and MTBoS, and at 9pm I am in bed.  Time for a good night’s sleep for a change!                                                                                       

Reflection Questions: 

1) Teacher 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 about?

The current teaching position I walked into was a tough one.  The students had lost their teacher, and one class had lost a classmate in the same time period.  Attendance was low in the morning support classes and the AMDM course, and students were not used to a consistent routine in the classroom.  Although I did not implement all of my classroom expectations, I did use many.  The students were resistant of course at first, but not for long.  I am glad that I pushed through with the expectations and kept at the challenge of knowing the balance of when to push new ideas and when was enough.  Attendance has improved greatly in support class as well as engagement, and working relationships have been formed with students.   My seniors still worry me with their diminishing work ethic, so I worry about the decision to do a big project at the end of the year.  Still, it is a good one that gives them great life problem-solving skills.

2)  Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like as a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?   What has been a challenge for you lately?
Even though I just went back into a classroom in March, I still am looking forward to summer.  Summer means rest and re-charge.  Summer means the beach and free time to get all those tasks around the house done that you put off and are now stressful.  Summer is a time to spend with friends and family more than you get to do so during the year.  This year has been quite a ride for me at two new and different schools, as well as time off and reflections and realizations I never thought I would have. 

What has been challenging for me lately is that I do not have a permanent job for next year.  I have tried not to stress too much about it, but easier said than done.  There are always openings at the beginning of the year, but knowing now would be much easier.  What I do know is that I do want to teach and be in a classroom somewhere, somehow.

3)  We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with teachers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone lately.  

In my senior AMDM class, I have 2 male students who have enlisted in the Marines and are off to basic training as soon as they graduate.  They are some of the most polite and mature students I have, and they will make excellent soldiers for our country.  Because my son was in the Army reserves, and my brother in-law was in the Air Force for many years, I have been able to share knowledge and interest in their pursuits after high school.  I was also able to use my brother in-law and son’s experiences from the military to better personalize parts of these 2 students Life Projects.  I have enjoyed the conversations we have shared as well as listening to them talk about their thoughts as they head into the military in a time of potential unrest on the globe.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and are often have specific goals for things to work on throughout the year.  What have you been doing to work on your goal?  How are you doing?

One of my goals at the beginning of the year was to try and spiral homework daily throughout a unit.  At my new school, the pacing of content is super-fast even for on-level courses; there is barely time to cover the work needed let alone spiral.  I have been incredibly uncomfortable with the pacing in Algebra 2, but I have to keep reminding myself that different is not necessarily bad.  Still, I have been teaching long enough to know that this type of pacing does not leave much room for depth of understanding.   We have to all test on the same day, so I am not able to branch out like I would like to, and I am a guest teacher, so delay of testing is not something I can campaign for.

I am now realizing that my next DITL post is the last day of school…   Just one month left -that’s pretty exciting!

Until thenJ

Friday, April 7, 2017

Day in the Life:  March 26, 2017:  

Out of Darkness and Into Light

What a difference a month makes!!!

In my last DITL post on 2/26/17, I had just gone to a teaching job fair looking for a position for next year.  I had been offered a long-term substitute teaching position for math until the end of the year in a new district.  I accepted the offer, and they invited me in for what I though was a formal interview on 3/2/17.  It turned out to be very informal and more of an “are you sure?”, and then we went through the details of the job.  I formally accepted, and I was shown my room and a brief tour of one wing of the school.  I then went to the district offices to meet with human resources and set up the fingerprinting and background check.  This was Thursday, March 2, 2017.  By Monday, March 6th I was fully onboarded to the district, and my first day was Wednesday, March 8th.   What a whirlwind it was, but I can say that the positivity, efficiency, and strong community I witnessed on the day of the district’s teacher job fair not even two weeks prior continued to prevail throughout the hiring process.

It also continues to this day in the school I am at.  Teachers and kids are happy, REALLY happy.  There is not a colleague (most I do not know) that I pass in the hall who does not say hello with a big smile on their face.  My math colleagues are so welcoming and supportive, and the students are great.   There is a great amount of pride in this school, and I feel blessed to be a part of it.  I am teaching Algebra 2, which is my favorite course to teach no matter what level!  I also teach Algebra 2 support and AMDM, which is short for advanced mathematical decision making and a fourth high school math course option.   The only thing I have stressed a lot about since I have been here was working with a promethean board (we had different projectors in my previous county), but I gave myself a good YouTube crash course with it the night before I started and have winged it pretty well the rest of the way. 

My Algebra 2 team lead has been great!   She sent me so many resources via email before I started, and I met with her two days before I got to the classroom.  She gave me great crash courses in navigating the grade book system, the county teacher website portal, and she was been a super hero in putting together all the grades for me to enter in the grade book.  The previous teacher left a fair amount ungraded, and the Algebra 2 team worked relentlessly to get all of that caught up while also keeping up with their classrooms.  Two of the Algebra 2 team members taught my students on their prep hours in the two weeks between the resignation of the old teacher and my arrival.   When the department chairs said at the job fair that they are a family that works together well, they were not kidding; everything they had boasted about their department has proven true beyond imagination!

I walked into the classrooms mid-week, in the middle of the logarithms unit.  I walked into classrooms that had lost their teacher suddenly, were struggling with some of the most difficult content to learn in algebra 2 in the absence of their teacher, and trying to get used to the styles of the other teachers.   On top of all of that, in one of the classes the students had lost their class mate forever in the same time frame.  Was I nervous about being able to connect with these students?  Absolutely so - no first day of school I ever had could even compare to it.  I knew these students were hurting and apprehensive about a new teacher coming in; who could blame them?

I knew I needed the best strategies I had in my bag to connect with them.  They needed to know that the newbie was interested in getting to know them as well as wanting to teach them.  This was a situation that screamed for Sara Van Der Werf’s name tents, so that was the first thing in my preparation for class.   If you have not heard of or seen these, you need to go to her blog and reed about this great classroom building activity here!

I had used these last semester at my previous school, and I loved them.  It is an amazing way to get to know your students at the beginning of the year, and it is a complete asset if you are coming in to a new classroom in a pressing situation in the middle of the year.   I believe it helped the students to heal and adjust to their new classroom knowing their voice in it mattered through the questions I asked them to get to know them, and the opportunity to ask me questions.   We are not done with them yet.  What is designed as a 5-day question and answer exchange in the beginning of the year, has become a staggered question and answer exchange.  We still have a couple of days left on it, and I do use it to seat for group work on certain days.  I love that they ask when they will get to do the name tags again!  I also love the questions they asked me – much different than last semester.  A lot of them wanted to know what made me decide to be a teacher – we all love to share those thoughts!

One challenge has been planning for the AMDM class, which is a senior math class with seniors in their last semester of high school.  If you have taught seniors, you know their motivation at this point has definitely seen better daysJ    In the name tents, one of the questions I asked them was their post high school plans.  It was a great mix of plans ranging from 4-year college, to trade school, to finding themselves, to military.   What I know from my experience as a teen who took an alternate path into adulthood and later my own education is that at some point there is most likely a college type algebra class in their future.   I decided from the information I pulled that I would give them exit exposure to some foundational algebra concepts they have learned in high school, one per week, to give them something to launch from later on.  When I went back to college as an adult, I did not recall the algebra up front on the placement test, but the foundation was there when I started algebra courses and re-learned it.   Now that I am a math teacher writing a math teacher blog, well – you never know!
The algebra review is to keep time rolling along for them in the last long weeks of school.  I also want to do something really meaningful with them light on the math but high on the life problem-solving skills.  Their former teacher had started some sort of tax-budget challenge with them, but most were not engaged with it when I got there.  I see the direction their former teacher was going in getting them to build a budget and make practical monetary decisions in life, and I want to expand on it.   I figure we can all build a perfect budget, but life happens.  So, that is what I want to do with them – have them re-build their budgets, but I want to throw life scenarios at them a couple of times a week and have them problem solve.  If any of you played the game Payday as a child, that is along the lines of where I am going.  More on this later as I will blog separately about the whole experience, but I can tell you that I feel a socratic coming on for them at the end of this project!
So today is March 26, 2017, and I have been back in the classroom for three weeks.  I am absolutely loving the experience, and my physical health continues to thrive!   It has not been perfect or without bumps, but less bumps than I ever expected.  Given all they have gone through, the kids are doing great and working hard at learning the math involved.  My colleagues did a great job teaching them the beginning content of logarithms, and they were ready for the graphing of logarithms when I got there.   Given they were expected to graph logarithms with transformations and no calculator, I would say they embraced that challenge in that their test results for the end of the unit were phenomenal and brought their grades up a lot.  I believe this and having a consistent teacher again has helped them to relax and feel good about learning math again. 

As far as tutoring, I was able to transfer a few students to my colleagues in the area who had spots and were looking for students.  I am still tutoring a fair amount until the end of the year, but many of them not on a weekly basis.  My hopes for next year are to remain in the classroom and then get the tutoring down to a bare minimum.  

This weekend we are up at our friend’s hobby farm near Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  I had planned this trip a couple of months back with the intention of visiting Anna Vance and her classroom, but being back in the classroom means I had to shorten the trip a couple of days and will not be able to make that happen; I will look forward to seeing her and many others at TMC 2017 though!   As I sit and drink my morning coffee from the porch and reflect upon this past month, I cannot believe how fortunate I have been to find a teaching opportunity this late in the year at such an awesome school.   We have one more week until spring break.  The kids are ready for the break, and it will be a long week most likely, but I cannot wait to work with them again on Monday!

Reflection Questions: 

1) Teacher 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 about?

I am proud of the fact that I already feel like I have connected with the students and that we are in a solid rhythm in the classroom.  I am both proud and thankful that I have sought to become a member of MTBoS and have resources to great classroom ideas both content and socially orientated that have helped me to build a positive learning environment in a tough situation in the middle of the school year.

2)  Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like as a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?   What has been a challenge for you lately?

As told above, I struggled with what exactly to do with my senior math class in the final weeks of school.  I am excited about the “life project” and the ability to try and hook them into something that can be of great use to them almost immediately as they begin a new chapter in their life soon.  Though the math part is lighter, the problem solving will be intensive, and I believe that will be the project’s strength.

3)  We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with teachers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone lately.  
My whole month since March 8th has been relational for me getting to know a new group of students and working to earn their trust in me.  We are further with that then I could have ever imagined; I am proud of them for their perseverance in a tough situation!

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and are often have specific goals for things to work on throughout the year.  What have you been doing to work on your goal?  How are you doing?

As I said above with the senior math project, I feel another socratic coming along!!!  I will also think of a new way to incorporate a socratic into Algebra 2 and Algebra 2 support before I am done.  This will help me to continue to build my bank of experience to share at Twitter Math Camp this summer.  Also, I am not sure if my students have been exposed to socratic seminars in other content courses like they had in my previous district.  I am kind of hoping they have not been or at least not a majority, so I can run through the experience of teaching them the rules of the process just as I will need to do with TMC 2017 participants when they do socratics together.


Day in the Life:  February 26, 2017
Continued Darkness and then an Unexpected Light

I do not have a timeline for this day.  I am stunned today but excited, and the course of the blog will explain it.

After returning home from Minneapolis for the second time at the end of January, I found that what I thought was a temporary funk about being out of the classroom had turned in to more of a darkness for me.  I had been out of the classroom for weeks, and my physical health had rebounded amazingly, but emotionally I was lost.   I never thought I would miss teaching as much as I did, and I felt completely empty without a classroom to prepare for and care for.  The daily interactions with students was still happening through tutoring, but not in the same way that teachers and students interact in the classroom through instruction and learning.   Also frustrating was trying to keep and maintain a tutoring schedule for a lot of students all of which had crazy schedules with spring sports, theater season, and field trips.   A lot of times students would cancel, and by the time I would see them again, there was not enough time in one session to review content and enhance the learning they had previously had with their teacher.  It felt like an endless game of catch-up, which is not uncommon to a classroom as well, but this was somehow different and very uninviting.   Because I felt so empty inside, I found myself without the energy to make the physical time of my days anything but empty as well.  I slept longer into each day, I accomplished less each day until it was time to tutor, I dreaded the long hours of tutoring, and I missed seeing my family because I worked at night. 

By mid-February I knew without a doubt that I wanted to teach again next year.  I knew that I could not break the cycle I was in until I started taking steps to make that happen.  I knew there would be job openings in my former district, so I re-applied and also check-marked substitute teacher thinking that if I did not get a position, I could at least get back in the groove by doing that next year.  At the same time, one of my tutoring student’s mom had gotten a job in a neighboring district this past year and reminded me about that district’s job fair at the end of February.   I had thought about applying to this district before, it is not far away at all, but to me I still saw my district as “home”.   I took her advice though and began to prepare for the job fair by applying to that district, gathering transcripts, responding to inquiry based essay questions about my teaching experiences and philosophies, and re-vamping my resume(that was the most arduous task trying to figure out all that needed to be added and what was dated enough to be deleted).   I worried that leaving one district in the middle of the year, although for health reasons, would affect my chances of consideration into this district.  The district I was applying for was growing by absorbing the most recent urban sprawl from Atlanta, and was becoming a very sought after district to apply in.  All former colleagues I knew that had gone to this district really liked it, so I was curious to see what the job fair was like.

Now, I do have a timeline for yesterday, Saturday, February 25, 2017

7-8am:   Nervously getting ready for the job fair and mini-interviews.  It has been awhile since I have
                done this – first impressions are everything for a competitive district.

8:15am:  Leave for job fair.  It is at one of the high schools closer to me and starts at 9am.  When I 
              arrive 15 minutes later I am glad I left when I did because there is bumper to bumper traffic 
              to get into the parking lot and park.  Further, they have student volunteers there to direct 

8:45-9am:  Pick up my name badge and job fair folder and instructions in the cafeteria.  Start towards
                the wing of the building that has the high school meet and greet mini-interviews.

9am – 10:00am:   Each classroom in the wing housed department chairs and admin from a specific
                          school in the district.  I hand in my resume to each, talk to a head counselor from
                          one high school and department chairs from 2 other high schools.  I am asked if
                          I am interested in an immediate long-term sub position at the 2nd school; they had
                          a math teacher resign the previous week.  

10:15am:  I am finished with meet and greets.  I go back to the room for school #2 and verbally
                commit to the long-term sub position.             

10:30am:  I leave the job fair for home trying to grasp what has just happened, but I am excited!

11am-12pm:  I arrive back home and email the department chairs with my intent to accept the job. 
                    Am I really going back so soon?

Here’s the thing – From the moment I parked the car and walked into the job fair, I was impressed.  From the sheer numbers that showed up for a potential job, the friendliness of the students and staff working to direct candidates to the right areas, to the organization of the whole affair, it was clear this was a desirable district to be considering.   The superintendent of the district was driving candidates from the parking lot to the registration and interviewing area in a golf cart, and he came and shook every candidate’s hand in line to do meet and greet interviews.  All administrators representing each school were so welcoming to all candidates, and everyone was just HAPPY…   It was clear that this district was full of pride and focused on community and relationships.   Having come out of the classroom because of exhaustion and run-down health due to a very toxic school environment, this was a breath of fresh air I was afraid I would never see again.   When I did the meet and greet with school #2, the department chairs were so kind, and I could tell they loved their school and department not just in what they said, but the pride in their face.   They talked about how awesome and supportive the administration was in supporting them and their department.  They told me that even though their department was large, it was like a family that always looked out for each other and respected each other’s knowledge and contributions.  They were impressed with my resume, but could not offer a permanent job.  Still, they immediately asked if I would consider a long-term substitute position for a teacher that had resigned the week before.  I told them I wanted to think about it and make sure my health was in a place to which I was ready for it and being there long-term for the students. 

I went to another meet and greet after that, but I could not get over what a positive vibe I got from those teachers.  I could not stop thinking about what it might be like to step back into the classroom in a completely different district so soon, but my excitement at the prospect rose with every thought I had.  All of the sudden I had more energy than I had felt in a long time, and by long time I mean at least a year or better.   I felt my physical health could continue to thrive in the environment they described, and I knew that my emotional health needed me back in a classroom.  I finished the meet and greet with school #3 and headed straight back to talk to the department chairs from school #2.  They were with another candidate, but they were talking with other candidates.  I talked to the assistant principal they had raved about and told him I would like to accept their offer.   He said to go ahead and email them and that they would be in touch the following week.  He thanked me and again reminded me of how pleasant and professional an administrator could be.

I went home and emailed the department chairs again and accepted the offer if they had not found someone else.   Now the waiting game begins.                      

Reflection Questions: 

1) Teacher 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 about?

The decision to go back to making a lot of decisions throughout the day as a teacher has me both excited and worried.  Am I going back too soon?  Did I gamble my physical health to save my emotional health?  Am I right that taking care of emotional sadness will help my physical health to maintain and get even better? 

I am proud of the fact however, that I made the decision to apply for employment in a new district.  New experiences can be scary and intimidating, and I am proud that I got out of that car pushed through the nerves to go to the job fair and not let the competition turn me away from fighting for the opportunity to teach again.

2)  Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like as a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?   What has been a challenge for you lately?

As told above, I have been in a very dark and empty place being away from the career I love.  I look forward to the opportunity of being in a classroom again while also getting a foot in the door to a new district that seems full of growth and positivity.

3)  We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with teachers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone lately.  

The relational moment came with meeting the department chairs of school #2.  I instantly felt at home while talking with them, and I felt that I would really enjoy working for them.  It is really nice when an interview, even a mini one, does not feel like an interview!

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and are often have specific goals for things to work on throughout the year.  What have you been doing to work on your goal?  How are you doing?

I applied to speak at Twitter Math Camp in July 2017; I am truly honored to have been selected.  I am giving a workshop on integrating socratic seminars into math classrooms, and I had implemented socratic seminars in a different way to my Algebra 1 classes last fall.   I have been excited to give the TMC session, but I was regretting that I would not be able to explore more with socratics during spring semester.   If I get the opportunity to go back into the classroom, I will be able to work with socratics again before the sessions this summer.   This is definitely another reason I am excited for the long-term substitute opportunity – to continue working on new ways to incorporate this learning tool for students to connect and problem solve in mathematics.

So – did I get the job?   Stay tuned for March’s DITL post coming after this one!!!

Day in the Life:  January 26, 2017:   Unexpected Realizations

Almost a month has gone by now since I have gone out of the classroom.   My days are pretty redundant, and I am finding myself pretty non-productive in the redundancy spiral…   This week is different though because unfortunately, my best friend’s father passed away this week.   Thus, I find myself on my way back to Minneapolis for the 2nd time this month.

9am – Wake up and grab coffee, still trying to get used to having the day all to myself.

9am-11am:  Browse Twitter and other social media, read some MTBoS blogs, and book a rental
                    car for my trip on Friday 1/28.   I am finding that it may be more challenging to 
                    rearrange a tutoring  schedule for my students and worry about income lost than it is to 
                    request sick leave in teaching and write lesson plans for a sub.   I never thought I would 
                    hear myself say words like that.  Still, I would not be anywhere else but by my friend’s
                    side to support her, so anything it takes.

11am-12pm:  Rearranging tutoring schedules, contacting parents, and prepping tutoring materials for
                       the evening.

12pm-2pm:  Reading current book selection:  Kristin Hannah’s latest book – The Nightingale.  
                    turns out to be phenomenal by the wayJ

2pm-3pm:  Prepare and cook dinner for later in the evening.

3pm – 10pm:  Tutoring Pre-calculus, Algebra 2, Geometry, Honors Algebra 2, 
                        Honors Pre-calculus, Honors Algebra 1, and Honors Algebra 2; all in that order.  
                        Definitely getting a varied fill of math each evening!

10pm-11pm:  Decompressing and finishing up texts to tutoring parents.  Off to bed at 11pm, so I can
                      get all errands run during the day before I leave early morning on Friday for 

Reflection Questions: 

1) Teacher 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 mover you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried about?

Because I am out of the classroom, I do not experience the day-to-day deluge of decisions throughout the day.  Many would think that is a lucky thing, and I thought I would enjoy being free from this for a while myself.    In fact, I miss this challenging part of being a teacher terribly.  Tutoring is predictable from week to week except for a schedule change or two, but the students come for tutoring, I help them, they go home.  I don’t make the big decisions, someone else does, and I find the materials to enhance the instruction that has already taken place.  I did not look at tutoring this way when I taught during the day and then tutored at night; back then I still had the challenge and excitement of running my own classroom.  Yes, that is right – excitement; folks I MISS it!!!  Today I am proud of the fact that I did not look back on the decision to get to Minneapolis to help my friend despite all the scheduling of tutoring is off balance now, and the parents and kids have been great about it.
The decision I am worried about is the one to leave teaching for a while – will it affect my ability to get back into the classroom as I am definitely thinking that is where I need to be.
2)  Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like as a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?   What has been a challenge for you lately?

I am definitely in a low right now, and I never thought I would be.  Not seeing colleagues and students on a daily basis has been challenging for me.   I am not using my time during the day productively.  I had visions of working on developing materials for tutoring during my day hours and learning to try new recipes and adopt healthier eating habits.   None of this seems to interest me or engage me.   Of course I am prepared for tutoring each day, but planning for 4-6 different preps for students that have been instructed differently than my delivery kills my energy to prepare beyond extra practice.  Trying to think about doing so just reminds me that I no longer have a classroom to prepare and care for.  I browse Twitter for inspiration, but it makes me miss teaching even more.  Still, I save the ideas, activities and blogs I see for a later date.  I figure this is just temporary and normal and that I will shake this funk eventually.

I am looking forward to seeing my friend.  Helping her will help me to get my mind off of not teaching, and being with her will probably comfort me as much as I intend to be there to comfort her.

3)  We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with teachers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone lately.  

One cool thing with tutoring this month is that one of my new tutees is a former student of mine from last year.   It was great to know that when she needed extra help in honors pre-calculus, she chose to contact me and seek help.  In working with her this past month, we have been able to laugh and share some great memories from her class last year, and it is really exciting to see the things that she remembered from honors algebra 2 last year!   Still, polar and parametric equations are a different mathematical world for students, and she has not formally had physics yet, so the applications were tougher for her.  Best of all, I talked her into taking calculus next year!  She did not want to do AP Calculus, and I agree that she may not yet be ready for that, but she did not realize they were going to offer non-AP Calculus.  She is definitely a candidate for that course, and then she could either continue into AP Calculus or then take AP Statistics.  With her, I know I have made a difference both in the past and presently.  She is such a hard-working student, and she will do great!

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and are often have specific goals for things to work on throughout the year.  What have you been doing to work on your goal?  How are you doing?

One of my professional goals for my self-induced sabbatical included visiting other teacher’s classrooms to observe, gain ideas, and reflect on my own practices for growth.  I wanted to visit Minneapolis South High School since I had student taught there in 2004.  My cooperating teacher Don Winnes is still there, so I wanted to visit and catch up with him.   I also wanted to visit Sara VanDer Werf’s classroom again (I observed her for about 20 hours during my pre-service practicum in 2004), and my hopes were to see a couple of Sara and Don’s colleagues’ classrooms.   Luckily, the week of my trip worked with their schedules as school was back for Minneapolis that week.  She gave me a choice of days, and I chose Friday because it was supposed to be up to 6 degrees that day/warmest day of the week.

Yes – 6 degrees…  I had really thought the weather channel was kidding, but no chance.  Good thing I crocheted that big ball of yarn into a new scarf and picked up new boots – this weather-pansied Atlantan was COLD – can you tell?

I am glad I made it the scarf long enough to wrap all around my head and neck!  Here I am at Matt's Bar trying to warm up, so I can order a Jucy Lucy!

I honestly do not know how I made it through so many Minnesota winters back in the day….

BUT-it was totally worth braving the cold to go back to Minneapolis South High.  I got to observe my former cooperating teacher Don, Sara, and her colleague Morgan Fierst.   I spent an extra period catching up with Don, and it was great to be able to pick up the conversations we had many years ago.   I was observing Sara and Morgan’s classroom around the time they did the Fireworks Task that Sara posted usingDesmos to model projectile motion with quadratics/parabolas.  Morgan had introduced the activity the day before and was continuing by helping the students to explore contextual component.  She did a great job challenging the students to connect the contextual ideas to the components of the graph of a parabola.   The contextual part of the problem was several paragraphs long, and I loved the strategy she used to keep students engaged and navigating through the problem.   The context of the problem was broken into smaller paragraphs that she numbered off to help students disseminate and discuss the information in the problem.   I now realize there are so many problems that I have unnecessarily skewed down to avoid students being lost in context; now I have a great new way to help me to keep the content rich in context and mathematics.  As always, activities using Desmos are great, and I will definitely be using it at first opportunity when I return to a classroom.  

Here is my copy of the activity Morgan gave her students including the numbering strategy that the kids and she were using to connect the context and the math

When I observed Sara, she was reviewing operations of polynomials in order to connect the past and push forward into more work with solving quadratics.   This connect back and push forward strategy is a common one of mine as well, and I was happy to see that my work falls in line with a teacher who has a huge amount of experience and success.  I felt very comfortable circulating in her classroom, and the coolest thing was when one of her students asked me for help when she was helping someone else and could not get over to him.   Another cool thing was the table she set up in the back of the room for the kids to work with geometric block tiles to build mathematical patterns. There was a design in progress on the table, and it was clear that kids are at pattern play in her classroom (no surprise thereJ).   This is another idea I want to incorporate into the next classroom I find myself in.

At the end of my visit I sat and chatted with Sara for a while.  She asked me what was still the same about South High, and my immediate reply was that I remembered how awesome it was.  The student body and faculty are very diverse, the environment is so friendly, and students are active learners.   I loved the students and teachers when I student taught there many years ago; it was great to see that had remained the same. 

Going back to Minneapolis South High School and observing was a great experience.   Sara, Don, and Morgan all made me feel very comfortable in their classes and introduced me to their students.   I wish I would have taken pictures to share, but I was so happy to be there and absorb the things around me that I did not think to do so.   Besides, it was probably weird enough for the kids to have some random teacher from Atlanta roaming around their room let alone snapping photos.  I took away some great strategies and ideas, visited and met great people, and re-connected with the beginning of my teacher career.  What I did not know at the time though was that it was the first realization I had that the passion for teaching that I thought was lost and needed searching for was still very much alive in me and did not need extraction.


Monday, January 2, 2017

Self-Induced Sabbatical Begins….

Day in the Life Post:  12-26-2016

I cannot timeline this post because today I seem to have no concept of time.  Not only is it winter break, but it is the first day after Christmas; we were in school until December 22nd.   The 23rd was spent decorating and shopping, and then holiday festivities with the family for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day over the weekend.  This is truly the first day of winter break for my district, but it is more than just a break for me.  I will not be returning next semester to teach, so it is the first day of what I am going to call my self-induced teaching/classroom sabbatical.   I will still be working from home tutoring students, but I have chosen this time to step away from the classroom to physically get well (chronic illness) and refresh and rejuvenate my teaching soul.

I think I got up somewhere around 9am, and I have not done much of anything this day, nor did I plan to.  It allowed me to spend some time with my son early afternoon, which was nice just the two of us visiting.  He asked me if I was excited to be out of the classroom, and I told him it was a complete mixture of emotions.  Furthermore, I still have had zero time to even decompress from a long and challenging semester.  I know I am not going back to school in a couple of weeks, but that idea is a statement to me right now rather that a fact that has resonated with me enough to feel the excitement of a new challenge.

I have been in the classroom 12 years, so it is very strange to think of myself without a classroom of students to teach for an indefinite amount of time.  I know I will miss my daily interactions with kids and will face a new challenge in finding a schedule/routine to stick to outside of one that is provided for me.   I will still tutor students in mathematics, but it is much different providing follow-up instruction versus original delivery of content.  Given this, I know myself well enough to realize that I will find a way to still  make the mathematics more authentic to them even if it is not the first time they have exposed to the topic. 

I do not really know what my long term plans are, or rather I am trying my best not push myself into decisions about that when I am so worn out.   I am most certain I will teach again, but I do know that I must be very thorough in picking a school that is a good fit for me.   I do not know if public education is a good fit for me anymore, but I could feel differently about that months from now.  What I do know is that I need to take some of this time to learn and explore the world of teaching again just as I did when I was in pre-service teacher training.  There are so many things I have felt behind on in the past couple of years in the classroom that I would definitely like to learn about and gain knowledge in before I ever go back.  Some of that is technology based, some of that is looking deeper at current pedagogical methods, and also taking the opportunity to visit the classrooms of practicing teachers again just as I did during teacher training. 

My decision to leave the classroom was prompted by my body telling me physically to pull back and rest, but the desire to re-train myself is a goal I am pursuing to help me get back in touch with my passions for teaching.   I believe that re-connecting with my career passions will help re-store my physical health by replacing ongoing stress with the excitement of learning; endorphins and such.  Becoming more current on new ideas and best practices can also help when I go back to teaching.  A sizeable portion of my teaching stress was from feeling like I was never able to get a good grip on the change I wanted to make.  I am lucky that I have the resources to take this break and fulfill my goal to re-train, but I wish that all public school teachers had this opportunity.  College professors are afforded the opportunity to apply for sabbatical, spend a year researching and focusing on new ideas for their careers while still maintaining their seniority, tenure, and benefits.  I believe it is critical for K-12 teachers to be given the same opportunity.   Our world is fast-paced, challenging and constantly changing.  Educating children to function and thrive in our world is so much more complex than it was even 5 years ago let alone when I went through pre-service teacher training.   Given the in-flux of constant evolution of new ideas in best instruction and learning practices, I think it makes sense that every K-12 teacher have the chance to take a step back and focus on learning more and enhancing the experience they have already gained.   I know this would pose a tremendous financial undertaking for school systems, but there are districts that have found funding for this through private charitable donations.  I hope it is something that more school districts explore through stipends, continuation of benefits, or at the very least the retention of seniority and job placement upon completing a year of sabbatical leave. 

Educating our future means educating those who teach and nurturing the passions and talents they possess.  It is an investment worth making to preserve the presence of solid teaching and learning in classrooms as well as potential to counteract the problems with teacher retention.   I talked to Tina Cardone a month ago inquiring about still being able to write “A Day in the Life” blogs if I was going out of the classroom.  She was very supportive and said that she was totally open to it if I could find a way to make it work.  I think now I realize the direction I want to take in my “Day in the Life” posts is to share my “self-induced sabbatical” journey.   As I propose that more school districts consider this for their teachers, I would like to demonstrate an example of what this may look like by writing about what I learn, observe, and resulting reflections as I step away from role of teacher to teacher learner again for a period of time.