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.



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