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I realize it’s an odd time to “catch up” with all my fellow bloggers and twitter friends out there but it’s 7:45 on a Sunday morning and I’d rather do this than the mountain of grading, weekly lesson planning, worksheet creating and respond to all those emails in my work inbox. So here I am. Running from all this great responsibility I dreamed of – and I have just one phrase to tell you all – I LOVE IT.

I am so happy to finally have my own classroom. It’s been a challenging 7 weeks but overall I believe I’ve had more success than failures.

The first four weeks were hell. As a mid year teacher I knew I would have a lot of push back from my students – mainly behaviorally and they did not disappoint. I was extremely strict and stern and adhered to the code of conduct in ways I didn’t believe were possible. I wrote so many detentions a day and students were always down in administration complaining about me. Is this a good thing? NO. I hated it. I was unable to build any personal relationships because the kids kept testing me. I tried to joke with them but every time I gave them a little leeway they would try to take back the classroom and not refocus. I realized I had to set up these boundaries and sacrifice the relationships for the time being. Maybe a veteran teacher would be better at this than I but in the end – I haven’t written a detention in 2 weeks and the students are acting appropriately and respectfully to myself and their peers. Do they like me? Hell no. Are they working well and doing better in my classroom? Yes. Trade off I suppose. What I’ve been focusing on the last two weeks is building relationships with students and my whole classes. It’s a slow process but hopefully we get there.

Why I am so happy at this school despite being the evil new teacher who just inhabited room 240:

  1. Administration backs teachers – all those complaints they never once (okay fine, once) asked me to pull a detention or took a students side. Because of this, students started to realize I had merit in my rules and eventually adhered to them. No one has been down to administration in two weeks (despite the girl with the attitude problem on Thursday who was told to talk to me after school and marched down to the Dean of Students).
  2. Collaboration and a spirit of support – The math department has been wonderful. Almost all the other teachers are around my age in their 4th-5th year of teaching and have a lot of support, materials, and advice to give. They’re fun and happy and not a lot of debbie downer talk over by the vending machines.
  3. I’m learning – PD every Friday isn’t a drag for this new teacher, I am learning new cool ways to teach materials in my classroom. I’ve adopted the idea of a “support station” in my classroom. This wall in the back of the room could range from being a solution station or a spot where students can check their work only on a multi step problem. This eliminates calling me over constantly and helps them feel in charge of their learning and lets them move at their own pace a little more than if I called back their attention to provide help to the class. I’ve also stolen the idea of “White Board” work from a few of the other teachers. By putting graph paper inside sheet protectors students have little white boards. I give them small expo markers and we do competitive group work review and just general class work on them for something different. New ideas from new colleagues.
  4. Resources – I have a smartboard, a classroom set of TI-84 plus calculators, and computer labs. May not seem like a lot but it’s a huge leap from the school I worked at before. In addition, the school is kept in immaculate condition.
  5. Mandatory Math Projects – We have to have a minimum of 3 performance based assessments per quarter. This means they encourage that discovery based learned and more in depth critical thinking rather just all summative procedure based learning.

A post on the struggles to come. Because I promise it won’t fit on here nicely.

We did it!!!! Okay, now I am going to take a little more credit here and go ahead and say that I did it – and you all helped!! After 5 interviews at various schools in Chicago and Philly, I was offered a full-time position with a charter high school in northeast Philadelphia.

The school has block scheduling so at the semester point (January 23rd) students start new courses. This is a huge advantage for me as a new mid-year teacher because although I will be new to the school in January, I will be starting my classes from day one.

I have two blocks of track two 11th grade precalculus and two half blocks of 12th grade remediation/consumer math. I am extremely excited to have both of these courses because I get to have college bound students and most likely non-college bound students. I student taught a section of Business Math for the lowest track of seniors and had a lot of trouble and fun getting to know and work with these students. I also had a lot of disciplinary trouble – but hey, what’s the fun in working in an urban environment if the students won’t keep you on your toes? I am also pumped to work with precalculus students because I want to push myself at challenging students more often and making sure I am contributing to them becoming college successful.

So now, I enter my plea. What do I need to bring to my new classroom? I mean that both physically and emotionally/mentally. What types of things should be on the wall, on my desk? What should be around to keep me organized? What should be photocopied and what types of procedures and routines should we do everyday – at least consistently in the beginning to start (i.e. warm-up/bell work sheets, exit ticket sheets)? What do I say on the first day? Should I have an icebreaker – I saved this post from Kate Nowak a while ago and really enjoyed her idea. What type of paper gradebook system should I use (my friend prints an excel file for the week and uses a clipboard, I was using a floppy binder with a month of grades and filling in…)? Mathy McMatherson offered this link about getting organized with a lot of feedback on these questions as well.

What questions am I forgetting to ask?

And most importantly (obviously).. do I need to change the scope of my blog from a pre-service, cuz folks… I’m a teacher now!

I sent out my “rigorous revised lesson plan” before the break and I got a lot of positive feedback from the principals. As I reflect further and discussed rigor more with fellow teachers I realized I needed to go back to Bloom and all of his higher order thinking. I decided to rewrite this lesson plan using the row game model that I found by Kate Nowak (I think she invented it..?!) because it allows for individual practice, self/peer-checking, and a bunch of extra problems should the student finish earlier.

I also edited my do-now and exit ticket to exhibit that higher order thinking as well and put in more questions for the do-now tickets (as modeled by my observations of other staff in the building).

In the end, I was very happy with the revised lesson and so was the department head at the school. I think it still showcased creativity (row game), collaborative learning (working together, helping your classmate), and rigor (higher order thinking, scaffolding between activities).

As I know so many of you are completely fascinated by my job hunting: I am now being flown back out to Chicago by a different school within the same network on Monday – I will be doing a demo lesson for 11th grade pre-calculus on matching basic trig functions to their graphs. I now know I need to use some of the same principles of rigor in this lesson plan and I’ve already begun scouring the blogs and twitter for some good resouces and ideas.  So expect to be flooded with my many questions on twitter as usual (you guys are the best!).

Do- Now:

Row Game:

Row Game (KEY):

Exit Ticket:

Is rigor relative?

I survived a grueling interview process – and it’s not over. Let me provide a small amount of background before I go into a crazy rant. I applied to a few positions for the next school year in a very result-driven prestigious charter network in Chicago. I was astounded when I got two phone interviews from two different schools within the network and that night they were calling all my references. By the following day they had offered to fly me out to Chicago for a sample lesson and more interviewing.

All they provided me with for the sample lesson was a standard (Substitute whole numbers for unknown quantities to evaluate expressions. For example: If x = 23, then [4 × (69 ÷ x)] + 2x = ?). I further inquired and learned it was going to be 9th grade honors, 31 kids who had familiarity on the standard. Now this school is famous for taking neighborhood kids and turning them into test-scoring geniuses that all get into college. But they all come into ninth grade from failing schools around the area and spend most of 9th grade getting onto grade level. It is a very disciplined and structured school and the students are extremely well-behaved and quiet.

So that was weird. Asking students to focus their attention and then getting their attention – blew my friggin mind. But here’s the thing, I created a lesson for a bunch of students I didn’t know – meaning I had no idea their behavior would be a nonissue, they would be as proficient as they were, and that they had clearly covered this standard in excess and the students knew how to evaluate expressions.

So what am I so upset about? Well, in my very small practically nothing experience of interviewing and sample lessoning I felt I should be judged on my teacher presence, lesson planning ability, flexibility, and reflection after the lesson. Did I think the lesson was challenging for these students – not really. And I answered that way in my 4 person panel after the lesson. Why not? Because the students already had a clear grasp of this standard before this lesson and so the questions that were meant to be challenging and make several mistakes that we could address as a class did not. However, students were engaged in the activity because it was asking them something different (find the expression) and so the activity was slightly challenging for them. Had I known that they were able to do these so fluently I would have changed the cards to all be more like the challenge sets and provided more challenging and scaffolded do-nows and exit tickets. (I included specific concrete examples to the changes I would make as well).

In the end, one of the principals let me know she was hesitant to hire me because she was unsure I could teach to this level because all of my experience is teaching very low students. She explained my lesson was not challenging enough for these students and did not show I was capable of teaching rigor (but how was I supposed to know the level they were at? Had I actually been teaching – not reinforcing – evaluating expressions, it would not be an issue. Their prerequisite knowledge made it so it seemed kind of fluffy). BUT THAT ISN’T TRUE.

Ok, here’s the rant and/or question:

Rigor at my school means different things (or is rigor not relative??). Asking students to complete homework every night is an extremely high expectation that I placed on them. Requiring students to come on time and complete do-nows, stay on task for the ENTIRE class period is almost unheard of in my school. Giving very challenging tests and requiring NO CHEATING is rare. Giving lots of worksheets and classroom practice and then collecting it to ensure students stayed on task. Asking students to show up and pay attention, not letting them sleep even though it would be easier for me as a teacher because they won’t disrupt the class when their head is down. These are just a few of the higher expectations I’ve placed in my classroom.

Now I realize to many schools, especially this one, those are norms. But isn’t it relative? Can’t this principal or will any principal see that the fact that I can and have asked more of the students show that I am capable of placing high expectations and consistently keeping them there? Will I be punished (again, second time now!) for working in a high-need urban school that does not prepare for students for college, which is why I am applying to your school!!!

Does the fact that I have never worked in this type of learning environment mean I would not be able to? Since I had high expectations of my students, does that not translate to all students? Are the high expectations I placed on my students not high enough? Am I not experienced in rigor at all?

Or does this mean I am just not capable of teaching the type of rigor this school or many of the “successful” area schools offer and I should just resign to working in my same school next year? Because I think quite the opposite.

Meet Substitute Molly

My last day of student teaching was Wednesday. I received a ton of love from my juniors and a lot of good riddances from my seniors. Great cards, hugs, and words of encouragement that I made some difference in these kids’ lives. My co-op and I ended up having a teary exchange and I feel grateful for such an amazing experience.

But I work at the after school program so I headed back to school (in jeans, hurray!) on Thursday and as I waited for the elevator as the students poured out of the school I got so many, “OMG MS. P!!!!” more hugs, more awesomeness and more love. I felt like a regular ol’ celebrity. It’s hilarious because I did not get this much love as their actual teacher. It’s great the selective memories they have.

So I began subbing and was lucky enough to have a roster with mostly 11th and 12th grade classes – many of my students. Kids were coming in all day visiting my classroom, asking for help on their homework, begging for me to come back, asking if they lobby to the principal will he hire me, etc. etc. It felt good. But honestly, subbing is SO BORING! It’s glorified babysitting (but why glorified, hell it’s just babysitting). I really can’t wait to find a job.

Next post: How the hell to answer those interview questions “correctly.” (This will be a request for help from you guys).

I am very upset that my student teaching is ending. I have grown to really respect and admire these 130 students I have been working with on a daily basis for the past 11 weeks. They have grown tremendously and have taught me so much about classroom management, wait time, engagement, motivation, time management, and letting things go. I am proud of the growth the students have shown me and I am proud of the slack they’ve cut me for the mistakes I’ve made (i.e. grading errors, writing bad tests, stupid assignments, too much/too little practice and homework). The kids trust me now, they might almost like me in a weird she’s definitely a biatch-who-cares way, and I love it!

My co-op and I have grown to have an amazing friendship and respect for one another. He is someone I will always stay in touch with after next week. He is extremely encouraging, positive, friendly and funny. The way he can get students to laugh and build relationships is fascinating, especially since he gets the “worst” students and can get them to say they wish he was their dad/grandpa. We work together very well. He relinquished his classroom to me and allowed me to make those mistakes and gave me suggestions, never advice and let me choose to ignore him and flounder and never held hard feelings.  I didn’t learn a lot about actual teaching styles and choices from him but I learned about the right kind of attitude that leads to a happy 38 years of teaching and watched how he built impressive relationships with students.

So my co-op is retiring and there is a possibility this school will hire me in the fall but there are no long-term positions at the school for now and so I must move on. I am so distraught about leaving these students. Which makes me believe that I have absolutely found the correct profession for myself since my friend so eloquently stated it,  “Molly, you are not even getting paid!!!!!” Oh. Yeah. Right. So if I can care and put all this into an internship I feel as though I have definitely found the right path for me.

So the next step is finding my own classroom, and I have two fantastic leads in Philadelphia at top 5 schools – one charter and one magnet. I have my first ever teaching interview on Tuesday at this extremely well-known prestigious charter school and I am absolutely giddy with excitement and nerves. I want it, and I want it very very bad. I love the school model – it’s based on Paulo Freire and student centered/ project based learning where although the students come from mainly economically disadvantaged homes 97% go to universities as a result of this high school. Furthermore, last year the class received over 3 million dollars in scholarships! It blew my mind that I even received an interview. So I have my portfolio armed with many lessons I have blogged about here, I have spent way too much money on outfits to choose from and have been anxiously listening to advice from my tweeps on interviews.

I feel ready for the next step but as the students are constantly asking my why and when I am going I feel so bittersweet about moving on. I am glad I was able to make such an impression on them as a student teacher but it is also gives me confidence I will be able to take over a classroom mid year and make it my own and get results from students regardless of anything; it just takes a lot of will, effort, good attitude, and time.

My students rock. We just finished a 3-4 day unit on Surface Area that ended with a quiz that only 3 students out of 70 did not pass – amazing progress!!!!

I started out the volume unit by handing-out a warm-up worksheet that asked students to count the number of cubes that made up each figure. There was an example at the top of the page that also showed students that it was cubic centimeters so answer with the units cm^3. I got fantastic questions immediately:

Are we counting the faces or are we counting the cubes?

Score 1 for a successful surface area unit yet again. I explained we are counting the CUBES, I saw many students erasing their previous answers. They finished the problems in about 3 minutes once they realized it was simply counting up boxes. We went around the room answering the questions making sure to include the correct units (hey, it’s cm^3 because they’re little cubes!).

Next I directed their attention to my desk, and asked them to turn their warm-up paper over and SILENTLY write down their prediction on which container held more and give a reason why. I stated again the need to not shout out because they don’t want to share their answers with their neighbors. I held up each Tupperware for them and its corresponding name (neighboring  high schools).

My demonstration table

I asked students to raise their hands for each Tupperware, we started with St. Joes. In the first class nobody raised their hand (interestingly, in the honors class about a third believed it was the biggest which shows they are different kinds of thinkers, but I digress). Instead of just moving on I asked if somebody would raise their hand and explain why they did NOT pick St. Joes. The volunteer’s responses included words like deep and short. I reenforced the word Height and when they explained that it was in fact wide I used the word Base. I continued to use those words over and over until the students started to include them in their own descriptions.

As expected, we became split on Masterman and P E&T and it was time to figure out how we were going to measure this! I held up my marshmallows and explained these were my kind-of-cubic centimeters like in the warm-up activity and we were going to count how many cubes filled it up. I asked why this wasn’t perfect and students explained that they were cylinders, wouldn’t fill up the perfectly, could we have half layers?, smushy, etc. And we agreed upon no smushing and a good estimate. I also asked if I could just dump a bunch in and they emphatically responded NO! I must build a layer on the bottom and build carefully.

Good.

I had a student volunteer and a supervisor (both rooting on opposite teams) to come up and measure P E&T while I measured Masterman for the class (it was clear). I found there were 6 marshmallows on the bottom layer and I showed this to students and asked if I could find a shortcut. I decided to look at how many layers could I fit and noticed there were four (I stacked four marshmallows on the side and showed students). About half the class shouted, TWENTY-FOUR MARSHMALLOWS WILL FIT!

Score. How did you get that number? I multiplied. Why? Ummmm. Okay, let’s see if you’re all right! And then I proceeded to fill up the Tupperware and WOW, 24. And then I asked them use the terms base and height to explain their shortcut and they explained they multiplied base by height.

The next awesomeness happened when skinny ol’ P &ET ended up with 25 marshmallows and we were flabbergasted on how the two different shapes could hold such a similar amount! And then students started to realize that maybe ones fatter base made up for the shorter height. The conversation was mind-blowing and it occurred in all three class periods.

So when time to show them the volume formula for rectangular prisms and cubes it was super easy for them to see we just get the area of the base and multiply the height. They wrote down the formulas I put on the board and did the following two pieces of classwork, exit ticket, AND completed their homework. Mind you, we did all this in a short day – which means 38 minutes. WOW.

They continued to show me they understand the concept of volume when we moved onto more figures including cones and pyramids which we compared to cylinders and prisms and saw how their volume was related (I put figures inside of other figures and asked questions like which holds more to reenforce similarity/differences) and thus the formulas would be related. It’s been a very successful and exciting 2 weeks of learning for us!

Unfortunately – I only have 10 days left of student teaching. Which means I am going to do some AWESOME things for the next 10 days to get the most out of the last few days – up next, Pythagorean Theorem (looking for projects!)

Sources: All worksheets (except Molly-made exit ticket) taken from: http://www.superteacherworksheets.com/volume.html

My Links: Classwork:http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/73201749?access_key=key-1f62a6i45ii2q5u5p4zf. http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/73201750?access_key=key-2kgmvw3emrxadclicsrr

Homework:http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/73201751?access_key=key-mdrtsl9v0wki7bwwuh6

Exit Ticket: http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/73201835?access_key=key-rishm72tbtyzsvm7aqf