Dec 24, 2009

My Dream

I guess I just had my first nightmare about teaching.

But who can blame me? I went with my family to my dad's office Christmas party--complete with Christmas carols, the presents game where you draw a number, pick a present, and steal gifts from each other, and "graduating college, eh? What do you plan on doing with your life?" interrogation questions.

My life? I don't know. But I plan on teaching in the near future. The following are actual quotes:

-"Oh! ...Wow. That's... a noble endeavor."
-"Teach high school? ...but why?"
-"Teach for America! I had friends that tried Teach for America! ..They had a hard time.... Yeah.. a really a hard time... uhh... good luck."

And, a quote which I overheard from halfway across the room. They were talking about the woman who sent a death threat to Michelle Obama:

-"She looks completely harmless--like a high school teacher or something... someone that no one would ever take seriously!"

= = =

In my nightmare, I dreamt that the kids tore the classroom apart, tore me apart, and then tore each other apart. Then I dreamt that I time traveled (I'm currently reading The Time Traveler's Wife), visited the me of 2009 and told myself not to ever become a teacher. And then I dreamt that I went on to teach English in Japan to a group of robotic, uniformed schoolchildren.

= ==

I know that I really want to do this. I need to keep telling myself that because it seems that teachers and non-teachers alike are quick to share words of caution. In particular, non-teachers wonder why a soon-to-be college graduate would choose teaching as their first profession, let alone a last-resort profession.

= = =

I really want to do this.

Dec 18, 2009

Gotta love them kids

After being verbally harassed by the creator to post, I've decided to share my best conversation I've had with my kids this year. Mind you, not a single adult that I meet believes that I'm out of high school, let alone teach them yet in spite of my boyish looks, all my students believe I have a wife and several kids (neither which are true...yet).

Student A: Do you want to have kids?
Me: Uh...
Student B: No, Mr. Kwok don't have kids. He sees us and dont wanna have kids no more.

Student B later on: The only reason why I'd want to have kids is so I can whoop them.

Needless to say, I could not stop laughing. Made me also rethink if I do want to have kids and whether I'd whoop them...

Dec 17, 2009

"He's at least 30, yo"

Marcus's hand shot up a little bit too quickly and at too odd a time for his question to be about today's lesson. I was expecting "When do we get out of here?" or "Can I go to the bathroom?" Instead, he paused for a moment and smirked. "How old are you?"

I'm the world's worst liar, and I'm 22 years old. You can read my facial expressions like a book, so I had a lot of fear in that moment that my whole house of cards was going to come tumbling down in front of me. I wasn't having a particularly strong sales moment, so I cracked up for a second and continued teaching without answering. Of course, that invested every other student in the class in the answer to this question.

"42!" (I don't think that one was serious.) "34!" "25!"

"Nah, he's at least 30, yo."

Clearly I wasn't getting out of this without an answer. My internal random number generator landed on 27. "27 - now Marcus, remind me how to test if a relation on a graph is a function," I said.

They totally bought it. The grumblings I heard afterward were that I was lying and lowballing my age.

Lessons:

1) Continue wearing a tie. Backwards hats cut your age by 15%, and ties apparently inflate it by 30%.

2) Kids are pretty gullible. I'm on the lookout for strategies to positively exploit this more.

The Glorious Perks of the Job

Fellow Teachers,

We are all too familiar with the gripes we hold for this job. Overworked, under-appreciated & underpaid. Sleepless nights and days that feel like 5 periods worth of torture. Sometimes you're in the mood to be on stage, but sometimes you're not. One thing about this job: if you're not feeling it one day, those wondrous kids will be sure to make sure you feel worse. I've driven many days looking outside the window, longing to switch spots with the man walking to his comfortable, cushy, & safe office desk.

The perks that make this job unique are limited and sometimes downright invisible. But the one that's most obvious is this: BREAKS.

An opportunity to relax, refresh, and rejuvenate. Thanksgivings, Winters, Springs, & GLORIOUS Summers. In one year, we work 180 school days. This means we get 185 of 'em off. And, THAT means we have a unique opportunity to find a sort of balance in our lives that could elude peers in other professions.

It's upon us, fellow teachers. It is here. Enjoy.

Happy holidays,

Mr. G

Dec 15, 2009

Review Games - Math Basketball Turned Trashketball

Since subscribing to giants of the math edubloggosphere, my review tactics have grown tenfold. We've gone from review worksheets pre-quiz to whiteboard reviews & speed dating and the like.

Well, here's another to throw at you. My kid's LOVE math basketball as much as me, but I believe I've just met it's prettier older sister.

Trashketball brought to you by Dan Greene over at Exponential Curve. Enjoy.

Dec 14, 2009

pride & joy

I am so proud and happy for one of my students that I must share her story.

A is a senior in my Regents Chemistry class. She has an infectious smile and is wholeheartedly devoted to her education. Needless to say I really enjoy her presence in my class and I pretty much love her to pieces.

For the past couple weeks A, like all seniors in high school, stressed about turning in her college applications on time, searched tirelessly for scholarships, and juggled her everyday coursework.

Today all of A's hard work paid off. Today A was awarded a Posse scholarship, which means this amazing young woman earned four years of full tuition to Wheaton College! A's smile was shining the entire day; she spread joy everywhere she went.

My heart is so full right now because I have faith that A will take this award and use it to its full potential. A will take this opportunity to make her mark in higher education and I cannot wait to see what she is capable of.

I have high hopes for the future; you should, too!

Edublog Awards - Show Us Some Love

First, we rejoiced in the props respected bloggers hooked us up with (here and here), and then we decided to take a peek at the edublog awards site. And then, we underwent a collective "Wait, WHAT!? We're actually on the ballot!?" Thus, here we are unabashedly soliciting your votes!

JK, all good if y'all don't vote. But, imagine how happy the day you'd make for this group of teachers if we somehow were actually awarded this thing (picture confetti and champagne).

So, if you're a true fan of this blog, vote vote VOTE here.

Showtime

I enjoy singing, but nothing gets me shakin' in my boots more than a room full of expectant audience members.

This is a list of reminders that I use when I am overcome with stage fright. Perhaps it can dually serve as a list of suggestions for nervous teachers.
  • Have good posture. Give your diaphragm the space that it needs.
  • Relax your shoulders and fingers.
  • Don't lock your knees.
  • Project your voice. Aim for the back of the room.
  • Listen.
  • Keep your eyes expressive.
  • Breathe.

Dec 13, 2009

In over my head?

The Principal Selection Committee
I have avoided this committee for 3 years now. It comes up every year and I keep finding better things to do with my time. But this time I inadvertently agreed to join the committee while I wasn’t listening very carefully to my colleague’s question. An absent-minded yes turned into a serious commitment. I had a brief moment of panic when I realized what I’d done. While I let the dread momentarily wash over me, I felt the numbness start. After a drawn out moment of emotional hypothermia, I snapped out of it.

I have a chance to make a lasting impact on my community; so long as the principal stays longer than a year. My school actually has worse principal retention than teacher retention. I pray that the applicant pool is competitive. I hope to find this process rejuvenating instead of exhausting. Missing out on summer vacation and the past three tumultuous years (in the administration) really set me up for a jaded semester. It’s that time of year though, where I find rejuvenation in the comfort of my family and a little bit of time off. Maybe this is just the pick me up I need. Or maybe it will be another reminder of my dissatisfaction of with the bureaucracy of my school district. Either way, I’ll try to keep a cheery disposition and hopefully some good will come out of this.

Dec 10, 2009

Vocabulary Test

This post is a long time coming. A term that comes up a lot in my Diversity in Higher Ed class is "deficit thinking." Deficit-minded thinking attributes blame to those experiencing the problems. The term is often used in our class discussions in reference to differential treatment, whether by race, gender, class, religious/faith practice, etc. For the purposes of this blog, let's say an English learner student is having a hard time comprehending a lesson. This frame of mind would result in comments such as, "this kid isn't working hard enough," or "it's not a value for that student/family/racial group."

I feel that deficit thinking is best contrasted by equity minded thinking, which examines institutional or structural issues that could attribute to the shortfalls. Equity minded thinking might point to teacher bias, faulty curriculum or insufficient resources at the school for English learners.

With this in mind, I try not to use the term "achievement gap," opting for "opportunity gap" instead. Inequality of achievement looks past the structures that create inherent inequality in the first place: inequalities in wealth, differences in schools, parents educational attainment, social and cultural capital. These are social realities that make it difficult for underserved students to achieve at the same level as their better-resourced counterparts. I know people sometimes point to the instances where people have "pulled themselves up from their bootstraps" in order to dash the image of inequality. The truth remains though - you can't pull yourself up from the bootstraps without boots (wish I had a citation for that quote, it ain't mine). You just can't have equality of opportunity without equality of condition.

[Disclaimer: I'm going to sound really cynical here] I've joked (kind of) with friends about my plan to provide equity (crap...equality versus equity is a whole new post) of opportunities. Bear in mind, this is a plan that is not thought out and isn't really a plan. So here goes: hold back privileged students and provide little to no resources to them. For those who are still reading, my reasoning goes like this: we need to provide the same resources for all students but if we do so all students are only moving at the same pace. The thing is, the starting point wasn't the same. Inequalities would still exist, but I guess it's nice that they also won't grow. SCORE!

Or maybe not. The truth is that we (teachers, administrators, policymakers, parents, allies) need to find a way to provide resources to communities in need that are above and beyond what privileged students receive now. Students who are already good can keep their good schools but we need to have EXEMPLARY schools (you teachers like that huh? I know my English teachers used that word a lot, I think it means "good"). This needs to happen, and will probably happen before any critical mass even mentions something like what I proposed without breaking into laughter or calling me out to be a commie. I've come across amazing people who work at various levels of education. I'm encouraged to know that people have the goal of eliminating inequity.

In posting this though, I want to pose these questions - can we eliminate this gap by only focusing on one side of the gap? Do my ideas of social redistribution have merit? (Hell, even I'm not sure on this) Do they scare you? (They should) Do I use too many parenthetical statements? (Yes I do). What makes you confident that there will be change?

Feeling Green


Everyone else in the 10th grade Algebra II class seemed to have finished the math problem. They listened patiently to S, who was called upon by the teacher.
I have a bag of 3 red apples, 1 green apple, a lime, 4 tomatoes, and an orange. What is the probability that if I pull out 3 fruits, 2 of them will be green?
Finally, the teacher walked through the problem with her.
T: "How many fruits are there total? How many fruits do you want? How many green fruits are there?'
S: "10...3....... 1."
T: "Is there only one green fruit?"
S: "Yes. An apple." *The class laughs*
T: "S, what color are limes?"
*"Green!" her neighbor whispers'*
S: "OHH..." She proceeds to get the question correct.
As it turned out, I got the question wrong myself. I can never remember if limes are yellow or green: in my family, our citrus consist of lemons, calamansi, and dalandan. Over-sized calamansi with green insides are called limónes.
English can be tricky sometimes -- even in a math class.

Question for Mac-Wielding Geometry Teachers

I can do the British £, the retail ™, and even John Mayer's tiny ∞, but I can't seem to find this anywhere...

Anyone know how to easily access the congruency sign from the keyboard?

I'm tired of doing this:

Dec 8, 2009

when will that be an option?

"Should I bring work home tonight?" asks E, my co-coach, before we pack up for volleyball practice. I shrug. E (who is in her fourth year of teaching) decides against a night of grading, I grab the volleyballs, and we head to the gym to meet our team of eager but inexperienced volleyballers.
______________________________________
Fellow teachers, faithful readers, and friends I am about to fold. Christmas is 17 days away, (yes, I have a countdown widget) which means only 11 more teaching days. I am tired. I want to go home. I am ready for a break.

When will bringing work home be an option for me? Because right now it is a given: a day at school is followed by a night of work.

Dec 7, 2009

I Am Not Superhuman

It's been a good minute or so since my last "why I dislike teaching" post. A relaxing summer living a make-believe European life for 7 weeks did good for my teaching soul. Since August, positive vibes towards teaching can be likened to a snowball rolling down a snowy mountain. Grows and grows as it rolls and rolls. Except this snowball no longer has it's snowy mountain. It's withering now. Each day. And it's to a point where I must let loose.

I attended Asilomar this past Saturday. One day trip. 2 hours down, 2 hours back. I was sick too. But hype surrounding this math conference made it impossible to pass up. I don't regret it either. But attending Saturday made the weekend feel short, now it's Sunday night way past my teacher bedtime, and I'm still sick. Verdict says 'take a sick day.'

Someone tell me why it feels so difficult to throw in the towel now. During this conference, I was inspired by all the beautiful things being done in math classrooms. I am motivated to increase my students curiousity for math the same way I am inspired to improve my own practice. I hung out with teachers all day, exchanged war stories, and laughed at jokes only math teachers would understand. It was fun.

Throwing in the towel tomorrow means we lose a day (cus, really, I don't get much done w/ subs... ever), which means we fall behind on a curriculum already not as good as those teachers I heard present/interacted with this Saturday.

--

I want to be the superhuman teacher I know I can be, but I am not superhuman. And it's especially difficult to be superhuman when you combat against 100 mini-superhumans daily and have your own normal human life to develop.

--

Lastly, a photo, b/c the last I saw the sun hit the horizon was in Alicante, Spain. (And we need more pictures on this blog, anyway). Attending Asilomar was not all math and games, it was a lil bit of this too...

Nov 21, 2009

Pre-K and Kindergarten NOT compulsory in NYC? Preposterous!

Currently the mandatory ages of attendance in an educational setting in New York State are from 6 to 16. There is an early education policy in NYS for 5 year olds but a parent may opt out for this age (I asked my students to raise their hands if they ever attended Pre-K or K, and surprise, surprise, more than half of each of my classes had not). As a result, NYS's children are already FAR behind those who do attend pre-k or k where they learn fundamental social, behavioral and academic skills essential to becoming a successfully functioning person.

Let me just paint a picture for you...
Imagine a child walking into first grade unaware of how to keep his/her hands to him/herself, or never having seen the alphabet, surrounded by children who learned to read at age 3 or write their name by age 4 and learned to use the bathroom themselves, or to respect their neighbor's pencils. Imagine what challenges this creates for the 1st grade teacher who is mandated to make sure each one of these same children is able to pronounce every combination of syllables and read and write before the 2nd grade. Imagine what challenges this creates for the 7th grade English teacher who, as a result, teaches children reading at a 2nd or 3rd grade level IN THE SAME ROOM as children reading at a high school level. Imagine what challenges this creates for a high school Chemistry teacher who teaches some students who still read at a 5th grade level and some who can read college-level chemistry text. In reality, while the low-level students hopefully are receiving a remedial education to correct years of an "achievement gap," the high-level students aren't challenged or given the opportunity to learn at the rate they are capable. The achievement gap begins in early education, and thus, continues through higher education.

Just take a look at this short and cute video made by a TFA pre-k teacher.

For years, NYS has been aware of this gaping problem in the system, however, the situation remains the same: children throughout the state are STILL not being given the opportunity to take advantage of the most sentient learning stages of their lives.

The Legislature was in Albany on November 16th, to address Governor Paterson's Deficit Reduction Plan. Because Paterson did not come up with a bill that they could act on, the meeting will reconvene THIS Monday, November 23. Legislators will be either accepting or rejecting the Governor’s across-the-board budget cuts. These proposed cuts will negatively impact early care and learning in New York State, particularly home visiting programs (which are crucial, especially to low-income low-socioeconomic households)! NYS "can't afford" pre-k or k, so hey, let's not make it mandatory! In fact, LET'S CUT THE BUDGET EVEN MORE. Ridiculous? I think so.

Please contact your representatives and voice your concerns. Click here for a message you can send to your legislators.

Some of you may remember, however, that Van and Shawn mentioned that personalized letters and phone calls are much more effective than sending a general message (Shawn: "We actually read your letters and take them seriously, especially if they're tied to your personal experience/story"). So I propose throwing letter-writing parties :) Tonight I'll be bringing some paper and pens to "Girls' Night Out" and hopefully effecting some change in the midst of having a good time with my friends.

Not sure where to send your letter or who to call? Easy peasy. Type your zip code here, and find the contact info for your Assembly person (if you live in NY). You can also find contact info for our Senators (if you live in NY) here.

For my penny, I would say education is the answer to just about any problem (poverty, racism, health issues, etc.). So please think about ways to make EARLY EDUCATION a prime concern for our legislators. And most importantly, please spread the word!

Nov 20, 2009

no homo.

"Forreal, no homo, but I love all you," W says over the school intercom.

"What do you mean, 'no homo', W?" I ask, not over the school intercom.

I know exactly what he means, because yes, I too, listen to all those big corporate paint-by-numbers we call musicians, our national I'm-not-a-role-model role models. I ask him because I want to be Socratic and teacherly, and I want him to use his brain instead of the one that Lil' Wayne made for him.


We all know that teaching something as abstract as math is a hard sell on its own, but how about teaching why everyone who speaks for you on a national level is also a corporatized-as-fuck, spit-bullshit-not-truth, common-on-a-Coke-Ad suckface? That the language in use is that of perpetuation, power over powerless?

Let me be the first to say that I get bored when I listen to political or conscious rap... but more than that, in the system we've got, its much more insidious than boredom. Record contracts with Warner Bros, but fuck the system, right? It's reductive, I know, but the simple honesty behind it is unavoidable. And it makes for tired music, tired messages, and cheap lyricism.

W, become a rapper. Read Catcher in the Rye, as I see you doing right before me, and laugh to yourself about things that remind you of your own life. Read everything. Listen to everything. Do your own thing, and fuck up the whole game. We are waiting for you, young genius, to bring us so much more.

Nov 19, 2009

Message to Quitting Teachers

I've been there before. It was the toughest decision I ever had to make. The knowledge that I was letting an entire village down - my students, my colleagues, my administration, friends & family, and anyone else who ever had a stake in shaping who I'd become - only compounded my depression.

-Teacher's who bent backwards for me since day one to ensure my success, my student's success, and, maybe most importantly, my sanity.

-Students so used to broken promises, starving for attention and structure. Young geniuses who sought direction. A few who called me their favorite teacher.

-Parents, friends, family who were proud of me, who knew of my struggles but supported me beyond measure, who respected what I got into, understood it'd be a struggle, but still believed in me nonetheless.

The hardest part about letting all that go is saying goodbye. Admitting to everyone and, even worse, yourself that something you wanted to get into for so long is something you cannot do.

Sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do. We all got our reasons. And I feel you on that. We are humans first. Teachers second.

But please do say goodbye. The text messages, emails, and phone calls aren't to further the guilt, but are out of genuine concern. And any sort of goodbye or closure you can provide for us is thrice as meaningful for them.

---

Again, keep swimming. Things look up on the other side of winter. Way up. And it's not that far away.

Nov 18, 2009

Entiendo

For background & reference, check the post "Never Have an Argument with a Student Ever Again."

Earlier today, a dialogue:
S1: Can I just sit here for the day? Please Mr. G; I promise I'll be good. Please?

Me: I understand, but I need you in your seat.

... and, thus, we play the game I've grown to understand some kids just NEED sometimes, until he finally moves...

S1: But I don't want to sit here. I don't do well in the front.

Me: I understand, but this is your seat. And, like everyone else, I gotta have you in your seat.

S2: Haha. G, why you always saying "I understand" for?

Me: Yo entiendo.

S2: Huh? What's that mean?

Spanish speaking S3: "I understand."

Nov 13, 2009

Find a Way

M is a student in my strategic/remedial double period Algebra class. Typically, M struggles with concepts but puts in effort.

Outside of academics, I'd say our relationship is pretty good. She has good humor and a great smile too.

M was out last week. I called her father to see what's up. Death in the family.

M returned this week. I tell her that her father and I spoke and that I want to work with her to get her grade back up to where it should be. She nods yes.

But M didn't show up Thursday afterschool like she said she would, and M starts showing a lil attitude in our conversations. Rather than trying, she folds quick. Rarely does she give off any sort of positive air. You can tell something's changed.

I approach her and say "I understand there are days and weeks where things aren't right. It happens to me too. But I'm still going to push you to understand, because I'm your teacher and I know you're capable." A nod, but still no smile.

During our quiz today, she stares blankly at the wall as others work diligently. I try to catch eye contact to re-direct her, but her stare is fixed.

I take a post-it note and write "M, are you ok? You don't seem ok. I want you to feel better. Feel better, ok? -Mr G"

I stick on her desk. It catches her attention. She picks it, curious.

She reads, looks up at me and smiles.

Nov 12, 2009

Public Education in California

"California schools are attempting to educate the most diverse and challenging school population in the country and doing it with substantially fewer human resources than almost any other state. The state has the most students, a diverse group of students, more English learners than any other state, and substantial numbers of students from low-income backgrounds. It will also soon again face increasing enrollment. At the same time, the state has fewer school staff per pupil than all other states and spends less than the national average per pupil. " -- Comparing California (June 2008)
I need your help! ...OK, if that wasn't convincing enough for you: California needs your help!

California's public education was ranked at the beginning of this year as 49th in the nation in general public education (and even in specific education categories such as technology). Compare this to 2007, when California came in at no. 14 -- either Californians care less about education, or everyone else stepped up their game (for more disheartening news about the state of California, see here).

This may or may not be new information to you, but my close friend and I are hoping to spread this news to our community members and mobilize them to find solutions and take action. We share many experiences, ideas, and resources; we don't have all the answers, but we have the drive to seek them.

I invite you to consider the following course objective for a class that we plan to facilitate next semester:

1. What is the nature of the subject matter or content of the course?
The subjects of this course are California public education, California state government and education institutional policy, the many cultures of California, and how these three subjects work with and against each other. The explorations of this course are based on academic literature and shared experiences. The nature of this course is collaborative learning and hands-on experience/practice in the public school sector and democratic practices in city and/or state government.

2. What are the key learning outcomes?
  1. To experience and build strong ties with the surrounding community and community-based education organizations by means of an understanding of the solidarity and equity discourses.
  2. To recognize one's self agency; to become empowered and empower others in order to mobilize for equity in public education at the grassroots level.
  3. To develop a better understanding of alternative systems, sites, and methods of education, as well as the multiplicity of experiences within public education.
  4. To practice one's power in democratic processes by working towards improving education at a structural level.
  5. To begin personal working definitions of an "equitable public education.
For more information, please read our course syllabus.

Feedback, ideas, resources, and general support is welcome and much needed!

Img Src: Cartoon Stock

Nov 11, 2009

Teachers Are Liars Unto Themselves

Veteran's Day is a teacher oasis, as close as we come to a fringe benefit, a professional treat in a profession where weeks pass with only occasional sweetness. I've been thinking about it since last week, but I thought about it the most on what has become a regular Sunday, one where the whole week of things that I've put off grows like mold on bread, and on Monday, I just eat around it to stay alive.

Now I realize that I am generalizing, because perhaps I just have some deep personal issues around organization, preparation, or general responsibility (I like to think of myself as unboundedly curious about the organic nature of day-to-day life; a virtue in some cultures), but allow me the release: I LIE TO MYSELF, PERPETUALLY, UNABASHEDLY, CONVINCINGLY.

I commit myself to the notion that I will work, truly labor, on this day when I have a choice to avoid anyone aged 16. But here I am, grinning stupidly, at how beautiful a fall day is in the Bay. So I lie, and cheat, and steal from my own sanity.

But I need to, and that is simple and unavoidable. There is plenty of brown, non-moldy space on my bread for tomorrow. I guess there's always this weekend.

Nov 9, 2009

The Administrator's Role

I don't know if I'll ever consider being an administrator, but today I took on her lens. I was invited to an all day PD with 4 others and my Vice Principal. The PD's goal: get schools to establish properly ran PLCs & interventions in their schools. The data is there. California districts who've shown the greatest gains collaborate at a level we do not. To get those same gains, why not take a leaf from their book.

The issue is finding the structure, the time, and the buy-in. If your school says yes to the following questions, you probably have a pretty good school:

1. Teachers know exactly what they need to teach and when.

2. Teachers collaborate on a consistent basis to:
  • Create common assessments.
  • Analyze results of common assessments.
  • Address common student struggles by adjusting instruction.
3. The school has an intervention system in place to help students who are not learning.

4. If a student needs intervention, teachers know PRECISELY what skills the student needs and what needs to be done to assist him.

As an administrator, YOU find a way to make that happen without hiring more staff, pulling out more money from the budget, overstepping veteran teachers who're set in their ways. All the while, managing your duties in the day-to-day, not to mention being the last-resort disciplinarian for the toughest of kids.

It was nice to spend some time w/ my Vice Principal for the day. I asked him if, as an administrator, he felt swamped. He laughed.

Nov 4, 2009

No wonder he's so angry

Dear Journal,

It's Monday and I can't help but think about my Do Now for ELA today. I only try to forget but never will. I grow scared of the images in my head of my mother getting beat by my sister's father.

from J.

Whenever I can, I give my scholars a chance to journal about WHATEVER they want. I ask them to put an S with a slash through it at the top of their entry if they don't want me to read it. Whenever I see a slashed S at the top of the page, I swear to you, I don't read it. Never. I honor and respect my students, and in turn, they honor and respect me. This particular entry, however, didn't have a slashed S. Actually, none of J's entries do. I think that means he trusts me. I hope so.

I love J. He's a jerk in a lot of other classes, but I miraculously got him on my side my first year as his teacher when he was still in 6th grade. He's one of my 7th graders now, and we still have that bond, thankfully. For some reason, his writing always inspires me. He's so bright for his age. He has so much to offer, but so many roadblocks in the way of his success... especially at home.

What do I do? What can I do for J? I can't love them all the way I want to, but I really want to try.

Nov 2, 2009

Keep Swimming, Friends

1. Would you rather:

a. Get up at 5:45am, pour a cup of coffee, finish up lesson plans, then get ready for work.
b. Stay in bed.

2. Would you rather:

a. Spend half of Sunday lesson planning for the week.
b. Head out to the park for sports and friends.

3. Would you rather:

a. Make parent phone calls home for students who're slippin' off the map.
b. Cook dinner, eat dinner, and enjoy those quality chill 'after-work' hours.

4. Would you rather:

a. Deliver a lesson plan to the class after lunch.
b. Play a movie so you can veg out on the interwebs.

5. Would you rather:

a. Track down the student you see cutting class.
b. Keep walking straight to the faculty room for your copies.

If you're trending towards b for the majority of 'em, you're feeling exactly like me. Keep swimming, friends. 2 1/2 weeks until Thanksgiving break. Then, Christmas is around the corner. Then, it's all downhill from there!

Oct 29, 2009

Teaching Teachers How To Teach

... not entirely, but I like the title.

This year, I was approached to lead the new batch of OTF math teachers - 11 first year math teachers teaching in Oakland. Only a third year myself, I questioned if I was capable. Then, I concluded: I know exactly what it's like to be a first year OTF'er and I've got at least a small handle on what's good and what's not in terms of excellent teaching. So, I said yes.

It's an odd thing. You prep for your first day w/ your teachers the same way you prep for your students. You want an activity prepared when they walk through the door. You want to make a good first impression. You want to create buy-in so that each session afterward is not a "ugh, I hate going to this place" but rather something they can look forward to. The nervousness and butterflies that fill me the night before my first day were the same that filled me before my first session.

The only difference: rather than introducing myself as 'Mr. G,' I was just 'Eyawn."

It was awkward at first, standing in front of a classroom of teachers, young adults whose professions match my own. I mean, who am I to teach teachers how to teach with a face as young as theirs?

I opened the session w/ the same type of stuff I open my real class. Opener w/ floating numbers at the top to remind them of their time left. Calling on folks randomly w/ cards. Random question (how tall was the tallest man that ever lived?) then shared a photo they awed at. Etc. Etc. The entire time, I doubted whether ANY of this was worth any of their time. (The meeting was mandatory for them).

And then something happened. I began sharing the methods I employed inside and outside the classroom that got me through my first year. I began sharing what drives my own practice and my own class. Their eyes widened and they started asking great questions. I got flashbacks to how wide my own eyes felt during that first year and was surprised at how quickly and comfortable I was to answer questions now. At the corner of my eye, I saw note-taking. I became a believer of my own abilities to fill this role, and a believer in the role itself - to support first year teachers towards becoming great teachers themselves.

Looking through feedback folders afterward, I take note of positive responses and become quite proud of myself. My efforts to providing an equitable education no longer occur solely within my classroom walls, but possibly ripple beyond to others as well.

Oct 20, 2009

Today's Lunch


I figure I'd post my lunch plus an easy recipe for those who like to save $$$ and bring their own food to school.

Today, we have goat cheese tortellini with marinara sauce, mini chicken and apple sausages, and roasted garlic yukon gold potatoes. That all sounds complicated, but it's pretty easy to make.

Pasta Recipe:
Buy ready-made tortellini in your flavor of choice and a jar or cup of marinara sauce. Boil pasta according to the directions. Drain pasta and spoon desired amount of sauce on top of it. Add parmesan cheese if you want.

Sausage Recipe:
Buy a pre-packaged bag of mini sausages in your flavor of choice. Saute in a pan for 8-10 min. over medium-high heat until done (brown).

Roasted Potatoes Recipe:
(Okay this one is kind of hard, but it's so worth it! These potatoes are soooo good.)

1 lb. baby yukon gold potatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
2 tbsp. fresh thyme (finely chopped)
3 tbsp. butter
salt and pepper

Cut potatoes in half. Place potatoes in a single layer on a baking dish with all the olive oil. Roast in 350*F oven for 45 min. Toss once in a while to cook evenly.

In sauce pan, brown garlic with butter over medium heat. When garlic is golden brown, add thyme, stir quickly and remove from heat.

When potatoes are done, toss in garlic/butter/thyme sauce. Salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

Reasons why it's a good idea to make your own lunch:
  1. You save money :)
  2. You know exactly what's going into your food, so you can control having a healthy, balanced diet (I see you teachers with your Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald's, tsk tsk).
  3. You save time (I make my lunch for the entire week on Sundays and store them in tupperware).
  4. You save on throwing out garbage because you're using reusable storage and utensils.
  5. You can use the time it would take to walk to a restaurant or wait in long lines for food to catch up with teacher friends, plan, grade, go shopping, take a walk, call your mom, etc. Or you just won't have to interact with people at all, if that's incentive enough for you.
So in conclusion, make and bring your own lunch to school :)

Oct 19, 2009

"You know, like that game 6-degrees of Kevin Bacon"

I co-facilitate an extended orientation for first year international graduate students and it has provided me with excellent practice in examining my cultural biases. Though the students in my class are peers, I am the American. I know the answers to the hidden curriculum of this wacky system of the U.S. My life experiences are also pieces of institutional knowledge that inform how I speak, act, think.

It's easy to forget that some things only make sense given contextual knowledge. My co-facilitator tried likening a conversation between two students to 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon. That is an incredibly obscure reference that even Americans might miss. How many people have access to who Kevin Bacon is (despite his amazing performance in The Air Up There)?

It's easy to make assumptions about what students know/don't know.

Oct 12, 2009

Fake it til you've Made it

Is it just me, or are weekends feeling progressively shorter? I know by the end of the day, I'm back in teacher mode ready to do battle the remainder of the week. I also know I do not feel that way right now. I've got a bad case of the Mondays again this morning. Anyone out there got advice on how to mentally transition yourself between Funday and Monday?

Oct 8, 2009

Why I've Become A Believer of Our Oakland School

I know all my students' teachers. I meet with them at least once a week. Their classrooms are only a minute from my own. Further, my students all have the same teachers. They talk about us the same way we talk about them. Even further, my students have a teacher who communicates with their parent at least once a month. If that's not a tight-knit school community, I don't know what is.

Yet, I teach at the largest public high school in Oakland.

How is this possible? Let me explain. It's new, (we've only started this year w/ just the freshmen class) and I firmly believe in it's effectiveness. If you're a big school looking to rid yourselves of big school cons and replace them small school pros, consider this:
1. Our school has 2000+ students and 100+ teachers. Think: big school.

2. Within our school of 2000+ is a "house" of 600 freshmen and 24 teachers whose classrooms situate only one corner of our large campus. Think: school within a big school.

3. Within our house of 600 are 6 mini-houses of 100 freshmen who share the same 4 core teachers. Think: small school within a school within a big school.

4. Within our mini-house of 100 freshmen are 4 groups of 25 who are paired with 1 teacher who commits to their success. (Phone calls and emails home, check ins, personal attention, all of it). Think: family within a small school within a school within a big school.
Logistically, the setup requires extra extra attention. Extra summer hours were dedicated to stitching together a masterpiece of a master schedule. Extra beginning week time was dedicated to balancing each house. However, things are now set, wheels are now rolling, and what we have is the greatest sense of community I've ever felt at this school. We've cast a net so that no student falls between the cracks.

Checking in with my students' other teachers is done with ease. Not only this, but what you've created is 4 sets of 6 teachers who all teach the exact same course load. Efforts to collaborate, share effective methods and lessons, create common assessments, etc are done with the same ease.

The geniuses who planned this restructuring did so masterfully. At least I think so. What do you think?

Another Hurdle

A new school year is in full swing. This means a slew of new experiences for even me, an undergraduate high school tutor working (for no pay) in the Bay Area.

For starters, I've gone from shadowing in an Oakland Algebra I and Geometry classroom to doing odd-jobs at a charter 8th-12th high school in Berkeley. Coincidentally, one of those odd-jobs consists of shadowing in a 10th grade Algebra II class. I feel like I've been promoted alongside Mr. G.'s students from last year.

I'll have plenty of stories to share about this charter school later.

For now, I just wanted to say that I stand before you all, absolutely humbled.

I've formally tutored for a good 5 years now. In those years, never have I written a single lesson plan. None. Nada. Zilch.

That being said, I sat down to write my very first one five hours ago. Granted, I've had a week to do this and it's been on my mind for that long... so it's kind of like I've been working on it for a week. In my head.

Now, five hours after the sitting-down part of the lesson plan-writing process, I've come up with the following:

Objective: Learn how to identify graphs of corresponding equations with rational exponents.

...yup. That's it.

And let me tell you, I've been graciously provided resource after resource -- worksheets to fill in my "Objective" and "Materials Needed" and "Students' Prior Knowledge"; instructions on the 5E Lesson Plan; an entire Algebra II student textbook; website after website of complicated (and boring) suggestions -- but I can't come up with a single, comprehensive lecture or activity.

I've taught, I've bonded with, graded, and even disciplined students. But this -- this lesson planning -- is foreign territory. I have a compass, but no map. And certainly no GPS.

Best regards to the experimental class who will be the first to experience Lesson Plan à la April.

Oct 7, 2009

Name Christening

My last name's a difficult one to pronounce. The type that kids abbreviate to a letter out of necessity. Mr. G's been it since my very first week of teaching. Over 180 days, name variations are inevitable. I've had it all: "G-Dawg," "G-Man," "O.G.," "G-Baby," "Mr. Garro," "Jizzle," or just plain "G." It's all in good fun, and I don't mind.

We as teacher's also have the ability to christen students a new name. Sometimes it's bad, like the time I mispronounced two student's names in the same day. "Wallet" and "Lovin-ya" is what I pronounced. Never-ending ridicule ensued. Sometimes it's necessary. Two Kimberly's? Howbout I call you Kim instead? (I do. And thus, Kim she is to the rest of the class). And sometimes it's good. Take Monday, for instance with one unruly student:

T: "Is it cool if I called you gangsta?"
Me: "Is it cool if I called you T-Dawg?"
T: "Aright, I'm coo w/ that."
Me: "Me too."

Since then, unruly student's been a lil less unruly and our relationship is that much better. I hear other kids in the class taking up the same nicknames - for myself and said student.

It's my theory that students who christen my name a new twist feel more comfortable with me as a person, making them more receptive to my teaching.

Oct 6, 2009

Speed Dating

I switched classrooms this year. The new space is in a more centralized location, making every other classroom only a hop, jump, and skip away. It's intimate, has a rustic feel, and I've grown to love it.

However, I did give up a portable near the parking lot (great for either quick escapes away sroom or speedy entrances into the classroom), with a top-of-the-line thermostat (the new a/c is a bit weak and slow to take effect), excessive whiteboard space, many many cupboards, and pushpin walls.

Lastly, the place was HUGE. I coulda easily transformed that place into a night club if I wanted. Along those lines, one friend suggested I hold my birthday celebration in the classroom to take advantage of the space before I'd be forced to relinquish it. Speed dating, she suggested. Order something for dinner, grab some wine, face desks to each other, set some structure, and give all my friends one-on-one time with each other!

Whether in jest or not, the idea was intriguing. And now, after reading this post, I look to put this idea into effect with my real classes.

Check the post! At the end of the day, these are the type that keep me coming back to teacher blogs. Thanks, @K8Nowak!

I cried 4 times today

  1. This morning one of my mentees told me that his mother (who has cancer) is not showing any signs of progress. His father died of cancer last year.
  2. I teared up when I was talking about an example of adversity I had to overcome when I was their age. The theme of our current unit on the memoir is "Freedom & Adversity." They started to tear up with me.
  3. One of my students shared that she wasn't able to make up with her grandfather before he passed away... on her birthday. Another said his father told him he was leaving for a vacation. He left 2 years ago and never came back.
  4. One of my students shared a time when she was blatantly called the "n" word WHILE playing in a golf tournament this past summer. She couldn't focus. She won first place.
I'm feeling like I shouldn't have gotten into this unit. I didn't realize how heavy it would get. I thought they'd talk about things like broken bones, the day their dogs died, or getting over their fears of swimming. I didn't think they'd broach topics of death, household abuse, heartbreak, illness, poverty, violence, racism, adoption, divorce, prison, etc.

Being a 7th grader where I come from didn't used to be this bad... at least not the way I remember it. I guess it's a good thing I'm giving them some sort of outlet, and I can only hope that this opportunity to share and reflect on overcoming their adversities will be a positive experience for me AND my kids.

Oct 1, 2009

Introducing Geometric Reasoning

First, I create buy-in. I talk about what differentiates human beings from all over living beings on earth is the ability to reason. To reinforce this, I show two images. One of past students with accompanying text "WE CAN REASON." The other:

"HE CANNOT."

That is all.

Sep 29, 2009

Pick up line for Teacher

"I saw this pencil and it was tall and handsome, and made me think of you."

Sep 28, 2009

The Ex's

-Running into an ex-student in the halls is like an unexpected run in with an old friend. I almost wanna ask them out for a sit down and a cup of coffee to catch up. Almost.

-My doors are always open to visiting students.

-I will always be willing to give an ex-student my full support, even if it means spending lunch tutoring an ex-student enrolled in another teacher's class.

-Backfire occurs, though, when students visit w/ hidden fundraising goals in mind. $15 so you can get to Madrid this summer? Gah.

Sep 23, 2009

Embaressed

Dear Ms. S,

I'm so very sorry about my language in the hallway. A kid of my age or anybody for that matter. The reason I cursed is because Jahron slapped me so I was pretty angry. I'm really sorry and it will NEVER happen again. I embaressed myself and I am sorry.

Sincerely,
Nicholas

Only one word is misspelled. Good job boy. But I better never hear you curse again.

Keep 'em full, keep 'em focused

Another snapshot from my classroom...

my laptop (check out what's opened up on my desktop) + fuel for the day

"Keep 'em full, keep 'em focused." That's the Frosted Mini Wheats motto, and doesn't it apply as much for teachers as it does for the kids?

Since two of our lovely teachers/SupTeach bloggers were out sick this week, I thought perhaps I'd write a post on a few essentials that I hope will help you people stay strong and healthy in the classroom this year.

A few things I always have on hand are:
  1. an apple or orange, or some other type of fruit (sliced up peaches, pineapples or mangoes)
  2. Frosted Mini Wheats or some other carb (like Graham crackers or pretzels)
  3. a calcium (yogurt, milk, cheese, etc.)
  4. a protein (turkey/ham/roast beef sandwich, chicken, eggs, peanuts, roasted/smoked almonds, etc.)
  5. Emergen-c or Airborne
  6. lots and lots of water
  7. hand sanitizer (I use it between every single period... nevermind the chances that I'm just lowering my own immunity.)
  8. at least ONE bathroom break between the start of school and the end of the day (raise your hand if you've found yourself going the ENTIRE day without having gone to the bathroom at least once? [raises hand... I totally did not go to the bathroom since 6:20AM today, and it's now 3:23PM EST])
Post on lunch-making and packing tips tomorrow! :)
As we care for the mind, so must we care for the body!

mmm... dericious <3

Sep 22, 2009

occupational hazards

I know I've only got one year's experience in the classroom but from my observations teaching is a dangerous job.

The Top Teaching Related Injuries/Ailments (unofficial)
  1. head aches/migraines
  2. paper cuts
  3. laryngitis
  4. UTIs
  5. fatigue
  6. the list goes on...what do you have to add?
Due to the limitations of my voice I was forced to stay home from work on Monday and Tuesday. Contrary to general belief the day at home is not completely relaxing. Whenever I stay home I feel immense amounts of guilt and am never really able to be away from school.

Tomorrow I will return to the classroom with or without my full voice. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Sep 21, 2009

Whine Fest

Today, I'm going to jet out of school ASAP. I dropped my grad school classes because... because eff that man. I just can't do it this year, not with 3 weekdays of grad school and 1 Saturday to boot. AND I'm teaching a new grade with an added class. It's too much. Too much to grade, too much to plan, too much to study, too many research papers to read, too many papers to write, too many textbooks to comb through...

I don't want to turn this blog into something through which I vent, but gosh, I feel like in this profession, you just have to vent sometimes. You just have to let it out somehow or else you'll go crazy.

TFA you've done a bad job with this grad school partnership. You've let me down.

Sep 17, 2009

The Assessment Scheme to Rule them All

Here's the assessment scheme I've used since midway through my first year. For me, it has done all of the following:
-Provides differentiation for every students.
-Identify skills to remediate.
-Has xtinguished student test anxiety and has replaced it w/ student buy-in.
-Eliminates the need for students to make-up tests when absent.
-Significantly reduced the amount of time I spend grading.
-Creates an overarching picture of what the year looks like for myself and my students.
Enough from me, however. If you're out of the know and are still stuck using the 'old way' of testing, read it from the source:
How Math Must Assess (dy/dan)
Further, check out a walkthrough by Kate:
The Assessment Scheme to Rule them All
As she well puts:
-Reflects current course knowledge
-Provides clear path to remediation
-Rewards progress
For the remainder of my teaching career, this is what will drive my course and my teaching.

Class Quirks

Pinelope (see upper right corner, and read this post if you don't get it)

I like bringing joy into my classroom. I like making the kids laugh as much as I like challenging them. Every class should have its quirks. Personally, I don't remember much about 7th grade except for silly, unusual things like Sheldon: a grey stuffed Koala my teacher would leave in the front of the classroom. She used to tell us that even though she's sitting at her desk, Sheldon would be watching and he'd tell her everything that went on after class while we were out at recess or lunch. Hopefully, when my kids are 23 years old, they'll look back on 7th grade and, if nothing else, will remember Pinelope: the little red push pin that keeps our class as silent as a mouse, during the appropriate times, of course :)

Sep 16, 2009

Noise level: Pin drop

During the portion of my lesson when I model the skill for my students, I always say that the noise level should be "pin drop," meaning the class is so quiet that we can hear a pin drop. When I was explaining the noise level to my students, I took a pin and dropped it on the floor to see if we could hear it. I actually kept the red pushpin I used on the top right corner of my bulletin board, and when my students see me start to reach for it, they know they're being too noisy and need to quiet down (otherwise, I'll take a minute from their Time Bank which they use to earn things like bathroom passes, music of their choice played during work time, 5 min. of social time at the end of the day, homework passes, etc.).

Today, for extra credit on their assignment, I asked students to suggest a name for our red pushpin and I got the cutest/wittiest/funniest suggestions:
  1. lil red one
  2. Bob (short for Bobby Pin)
  3. Herbie the Pin
  4. Pinny
  5. Pinelope <---cute!!!
  6. Pushy
  7. Mini Me (aka Mini Ms. S.) <---kind of creepy, but cool nonetheless
  8. Drake (like Sir Francis Drake) <---super clever
  9. Mr. Sapida <---my favorite :D
  10. SLANT (this is an inside joke with my class which I might explain in a later post)
  11. Ms. S #2
So what do you think? Help me vote for a name for our new little class pet!

Sep 15, 2009

Pay It Forward

My first year teaching was a yearlong hazing process.

It was waking up at 5am daily to put together fresh lesson plans, running to and from the copy room in work shoes, getting very little sleep, having virtually no social life, and coffee. Everything was fueled by coffee. It was weekly, night-time, meaningless traffic school disguised as credentialing class. It was adjusting my practices and discipline methods on an almost weekly basis. It was driving up and down the 580 and the 13. It was accumulating grown up things like thermoses, work bags, dress shoes, and work socks. It was going day-to-day fighting to survive while hoping maybe somewhere in the process good teaching would occur within the confines of my classroom walls.

I survived only through teachers and people who looked out for me.

I beg, borrowed, and stole my way through my first year. Every teacher I met with resources, I asked for them. Teachers from my school, teachers from other schools, bloggers, anyone. I took what they had, chose what I liked and what I didn't like, remixed them, and filtered out what didn't work for my students and me. I know there's a certain pride I could have in saying I'm a great teacher. Period. But I am who I am because of the teachers who helped me get there.

First year teaching is not about reinventing the wheel. Thousands of teachers have taught the exact same stuff you've done and walked through those same pair of shoes. I put all bets that most are willing to share with you what they've got b/c they know what you're going through.

--

Thus, these past few weeks I've found myself paying it forward to this year's new crop of first year teachers. I easily pass along every ounce of digital material I've spent hours producing to the new teacher seeking help before me. I easily spend that extra 15 or so minutes checking in and walking them through exactly what's been successful for me...

being sure to point out: it'll be a year of adjustments and hard work. But find what works for you, and, as one principal continuously pointed out to me so much that it became my mantra, it will get better.

A Second First Day

[A note.

Dear Reader: please don't judge or hate me for writing the following. I feel that it's best to be honest. So here goes.

Sincerely,
Ms. S]



I'm teaching my last class for the day in about 10 minutes. I've been having pretty good days at school. Yesterday was a disaster, but even so, I was able to get through it unscathed, still able to feel positive and look forward to the next day. First days of school are always a disaster anyway... as I've experienced once before. Actually my first, first day of school went really well last year. And, in general, yesterday wasn't so bad for what it was... I'm still not feeling that this teaching thing is my calling though. I'm just not feeling it. I didn't feel it all summer. I have fun during class while I'm teaching, but it's still not me. It's not what I want to do forever.

I have so many thoughts lately, and the one occupying my mind the most is, "I'm so over this teaching thing."

Sep 13, 2009

Adding & Subtracting Integers

I've held off cooking a nice dinner, am hungry, am angry, am missing a new episode of Entourage. At this point, I've accumulated a small fortune of years of lessons to fall back on. However, I've spent the past couple hours designing a lesson on adding & subtracting integers. Reason? I've sucked at it. There are multiple methods and multiple models and I can't seem to find which is the best.

I also want to avoid restricting ourselves to rules that serve to negate a sound conceptual understanding of number sense. For example, every year I find several students hoping to apply this rule:
1. If the signs are the same, add the numbers and keep the same sign.
2. If the signs are different, subtract the numbers and take the sign of the larger number.
I'm not trying to create computing machines here, I want thinkers who understand what they're doing.

So, just to share, this is what I'll try tomorrow:

Share 2 models of adding integers:
1. Adrian Peterson's total yardage calculated with losses and gains.
2. Mr. G's bank balance calculated with deposits and withdrawals.
Share 2 methods of adding integers:
1. Number line
2. Counters
Share 1 method of subtracting integers:
1. Add the opposite (meaning, when we see the subtraction sign, let's change the operation to addition and oppositize the second number), then use one of the 2 methods above.

I've contemplated the benefits of showing number line, counters, AND the difference model with subtraction but am afraid sharing those will do one of two things: scare students or confuse students.

Therefore, I go with what I've seen produce the most clarity and success. After we got these methods down for a day or so, THEN I'll show the other stuff. How's that sound? Anybody else got something that's worked real well for them?

Or maybe I'll just show this video:






And lastly, whatever happens tomorrow. I'm no doubt leaving a minute or two to show Kanye's infamous diss. Gotta buy your students' attention, you gotta. Also, I wanna see reactions. Sorry Taylor.

Sep 1, 2009

How To Stand Up on the First Day

Since starting this teaching gig, I've now lived through 5 first days. 5 first days of multiple periods where setting the tone, building community, and giving my students a good first impression of their newest teacher is of the utmost importance. It's common knowledge by now that whatever goes down on that first day can determine the behavior of your students for the remainder of the year.

Though I am privileged enough to be entering my third year, there's still nothing more nerve-racking than the first day you step in front of your new batch of students. Sunday night, I was in bed still wide-eyed at 4am.

Less than 4 hours later, I did the following:
1. Greeted students at the door w/ a smile and a formal introduction.
2. Randomly assigned seats by handing out index cards containing a number matching a desk.
3. Asked students to fill out basic information, then an interest survey.
4. Opened up my speech by throwing the image of Jenga blocks on the board (which I'll explain in a future post)
5. Shared carefully selected parts of my life through a "Mr. G is..." slide.
6. Gave students the opportunity to share their own selves through stand up & sit down*
7. Gave students the opportunity to interact w/ their new classmates through a human scavenger hunt.
--

*Stand if you agree w/ the statement. Sit if you don't.

Decided to give this a go on the first day with reluctance; now, I'll never go a first day without it. The rules are simple; the results are strong. Through this, students build community on the outset. Take for example:

1. I was born and raised in Oakland.
2. I speak two languages.
3. I want to be a doctor.
4. I was born in the year 1995.
5. I am excited about the school year.
6. I identify as black.
7. I identify as white.
8. I identify as latino/a.
9. I identify as arab.
10. I identify as asian.
11. I identify as other.
It takes a lot of courage to reveal your minority status to peers you've never met. I'm amazed at how steadily students stood when they were the only one who agreed with a statement. Further, mixing in the more intense is done as easily as the lighthearted:
1. I believe racism is real.
2. I, or a member of my family, have been affected by racism.
3. I have lost someone to gun violence.
4. I have seen a gun.
Even as a 3rd year teacher in Oakland and even though you expect it, you're still surprised to see the majority of the class on their feet with each statement.

And lastly, you can't help but feel good inside when you see not one person sitting with statements along the lines of:
1. I want to go to college.
2. I think I can go to college.
3. I think I can do anything as long as I put my mind to it.
--

I write this post in gratitude to all teachers who've allowed me to beg, borrow, and steal my way to my third year. A good teacher friend of mine shared stand up, sit down enthusiastically. Thus, I gave it a shot.

Paying it forward, I did the same w/ every teacher I walked passed that day. Today, 2 shared that they gave it a go. Appropriately so. Good methods like this should spread like wildfire, and it's only through sharing that they do.


A Fresh Start

New York City schools resume on September 8th and I for one am excited for all the possibility that lies ahead.

Teaching lends itself to a clear beginning and end. This work gives me an opportunity to redefine myself each year. I am not a first year teacher anymore (thank God!). My new batch of students have no idea what to expect from me. I can toss out all the practices that didn't work for me, I can improve upon what worked well, and I can try new strategies! The classroom is my oyster.

There is still a lot of work to do, but after a restful and oh-so-fun summer I am up for the task.

Aug 31, 2009

Thanks for the reminder

About a month ago, I volunteered for College Summit, an organization that strives to increase college access for youth from first-generation college backgrounds (among other underrepresented social identities). Soon-to-be seniors in high school were nominated by teachers or administrators at their school to attend a weekend-long workshop where they learned how to submit a college application as well as write a draft of a personal essay. Students chosen were described as "middle-level", not quite the top of the class but college-bound with some extra work. All of these students were also chosen because of leadership qualities or influential roles at school.

I worked as a writing coach; my role was to aid students in finding their voice and telling their story. I was brought back to my time in my Education 190 course. It was a democratic setting where teachers, or coaches in this case, stood on equal footing as students. Part of the process actually had me asking permission from students to coach them. The onus was all on the students to take advantage of the weekend.

The work that we accomplished was amazing and I am not surprised. The Peer Leaders (as we called them) were very bright students who have accomplished plenty despite facing major hardships. The next step for these students? As Peer Leaders, they were to return to their respective schools and use what they learned in College Summit classes. Because many were recognized as influential in their high schools, the goal is to have them lead by example and create a "college-going culture".

This experience brought up 2 things. 1) This work makes me happy and I really should keep access organizations in mind when I job search. 2) The idea of a "college-going culture" intrigues me. I assume that some schools have this culture inherently. Schools in upper-middle to high-income neighborhoods. Schools with a majority population. Schools where a majority of parents attended college and understand the application process and college experience. Schools that have connections with institutions of higher education.

College Summit is trying to create something that doesn't exist at these schools and they are doing it in a grass-roots way by starting with the students. I'm still forming my opinion on this strategy but I can't argue with empowering the students. There's nothing more powerful than seeing students fighting for their own education and opportunities. Now, if we could only get some help on the admissions and assessment side of the question...

My experience was definitely worthwhile and I encourage all of you to check out opportunities to get involved with College Summit. With all of my jabber about the college-going culture, I'd love to hear about aspects of your schools that help to foster a college-going culture. Does your school promote this type of culture? What are the challenges? What are some opportunities to confront those challenges?

Aug 10, 2009

Still kickin'

It has been 2 months since I received my teaching credential (YAY)! Now let me tell you, somewhere around January, we aspiring teachers were hit with the hard realization that we would not be getting jobs this upcoming year. When you're halfway through a grueling program, hearing those words don't really provide you with the FIRE you need to power through. You could see people fading away...

It's tough. It's tough knowing that once you finish, there's no definite light at the end. But then you realize that that's life. How often do things ever go according to plan anyway? You joke about it. You come to terms with it. And then...

You decide what you really want. Some people continue on to get their masters. Some go back to their accounting jobs. Some sub and keep their eyes open for any rare opportunities to arise. But this is when people take some good time to think about whether or not they want to stick with this.

My plan for the upcoming year hasn't been set in stone, but long term, I know exactly where I'm headed.

:)

Aug 9, 2009

Less Than A Month Away

...before the marathon begins once again. It´s been all quiet on the SupTeach front, but I anticipate a need to get thoughts down on blog on the horizon.

I´ve still been keeping up w/ your blogs too, and just to get us warmed up, here´s a fantastic quote found on dy/dan:

The teacher and the student listen to different music and wear different clothes and worry about different problems but curiosity unites them.

Even though I´ve been halfway across the globe since the day after the last day of school and I'm extremely grateful for this opportunity to rest, relax and re-energize, that´s the type of thing you read and cannot help but be reinspired to re-enter the classroom.

Happy Summer y'all. Feliz verano para todo. Milk the rest of it for all its worth.

Jul 7, 2009

Jun 11, 2009

More on (Moron) Classroom Management

This is a follow-up to my last post on sharing my classroom with teachers who are weak in classroom management:

I empathize with one of the 4 teachers because she genuinely tries to make an effort. In fact, from where she started in the beginning of the year, her classroom management has come a long way. However, she's a 3rd year teacher. Come on now.

It's tough. It is. 90 min. 5 days a week full of eye rolling, calling out, talking back, constant fist fights, neck rolling, sucking teeth, throwing inappropriate hand gestures, cursing, getting out of the seat, being off task, being defiant, etc. One student called me a "bitch" and another student pushed me into a wall. All in the first two months of school.

And now, there is NONE of that. No gum, no attitude, everyone is doing their work. It takes my students literally 40 seconds to sit down and start their "Do Now" assignments (I time them every day and if they beat or reach their previous time, they earn minutes which go into our "Time Bank" used for class movie time once they accumulate 60 minutes). They can read 45 minutes straight in complete silence. They speak respectfully, and if I have to call a student out for talking or being off task, I immediately get a genuine, "I'm sorry Ms. Sapida." Everyone raises their hand before they speak. When someone is speaking, everyone else knows to put their hand down. There is no, "SHUT UP." Only "Please be quiet."

I'm really proud of my management, but it took A LOT of work on my part to get to where I am with my kids now:
  1. I spent many hours and months before I became a teacher asking veterans for their top tips they wish they'd known their first year.
  2. I read 2 books about management. I highly recommend Robert J. Mackenzie's book - Setting Limits.
  3. I spent an entire month creating and practicing structures with my kids. I even had lesson plans written for things like paper passing, accountable talk (e.g., "That's a good point, but I disagree with ____. In my opinion, ______"), asking clarifying questions (e.g. "You said, ____. I'm confused. Can you please clarify that?), raising your hand, etc.
I've approached these teachers (who've each been teaching in between 5-12 years) about the level of disrespect and disorder in the classroom, and I kid you not, their responses have all been, "Well, what's the point? It's the end of the year" (even though it was only April), OR "It's not my fault he can't behave." I'm THIS close to snapping, "Really? He can't behave? Because HE CAN IN MY CLASS."

I understand that procedures and habits change as students get older, but even so, there are things like practicing accountable talk so that students clearly know how to have meaningful, respectful and effective discussions in class (In fact, I'll post my lesson plan up for this soon).

I also understand that it's harder to start good management in the middle of the year.

BUT IF YOU'VE BEEN TEACHING FOR 5-12 YEARS, by now you should have done something to address the issue. Otherwise, a young first year teacher will judge you and assume that you are either lazy, ignorant, or just plain incapable. Observe classrooms with good management. Build structures. Read theory. Practice, rinse, repeat. If it works for you, keep it. If it doesn't, try something else. There's something for everyone. You just have to put in the time and effort.

Ugh. I probably sound b*tchy, but these teachers really need to be proactive about these things. The kids aren't learning anything and so many hours are COMPLETELY wasted with them arguing with the teacher or each other or just staring at the wall or gossiping. On top of wasting valuable learning time, it's very negative to the school community and their personal growth in general.

As a first year teacher, I also feel limited in addressing the problem. I think administration also needs to do a better job with giving professional development opportunities to help improve this aspect of our teaching. Who's there to blame really? Everyone.

Jun 10, 2009

I just want a quiet place to work

I share my classroom with 4 other traveling teachers.

It's horrid.

Some have pretty horrendous management.

This classroom is my only personal workspace in the building. The kids yelling and screaming in the other classes taking place while I work here make me feel like 1) it's my responsibility to stop it or 2) it's out of my control.

I always ask politely if they can lower their voices so I can work. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

It should work 100% of the time.

Come on teachers. Up on the defense. Learn how to manage a class. I shouldn't have to be responsible for telling YOUR class to quiet down. I should have a place to work where kids are yelling, screaming, cursing, getting up out of their seats whenever they want, or straight up getting ghetto. It's not their fault. It's yours.

Jun 9, 2009

Students Don't Want to Leave Mr. G

S1: "Mr. G, are you switching classrooms next year? Why are you taking everything down from the walls."

Me: "Yeah, they're moving me to a new portable nearer to campus."

S2: "Oh, I guess we're all moving w/ you then."

Jun 5, 2009

Outrage

How was Mr. G not nominated as a Comcast SportsNet Bay Area All-Star Teacher?!

Jun 2, 2009

Your Voice Must Be Heard

Support Community Colleges and Save Cal Grants

Let your legislators know what's up. Everyone can make a difference!

Top 5 Things I Lost During Year 2

I still see myself a baby to the teacher game. Yet, I'm fortunate enough to be notching a 2nd year under belt so early in the game. This means I've got 2 years to reflect on as I shape myself up for year 3. Looking back, here are the top 5 things I wish I carried over from year one to year two. Ensuring their return during year 3 is top priority.

1. Starting EVERY Period EVERY Day Greeting Students at the Door
Leaving the first year does not signify the end of 'hard work outside of work.' Though I've grown more adept at winging lessons out of thin air, and I've learned to switch up flawed lessons mid-delivery, nothing replaces a well-planned, well-thought lesson plan. Students have a sixth sense for unplanned teachers; conversely, students know when a teacher means business. Engagement rises, off-task behavior lessens, class runs smooth. Additionally, starting off class completely planned eliminates the need to scramble minutes before students enter the room, opening up the opportunity to spend precious (& ever elusive) one-on-one time with each individual as they enter the room. I should strive to make this happen EVERY period EVERY day. No excuses.

2. More Consistent Grade Updates
Last year, students appreciated grade updates. They were thankful for a teacher who updated them regularly, and I questioned the teacher who failed to provide it. If students know their exact grade ALL THE TIME, they know exactly what they need to do to raise it ALL THE TIME. No excuses. Students understand the fluidity of their grades. Gratification granted for hard work as they catch their grades literally rise. Negative feedback pushes the student who's fallen off their winning formula. Students know when they're doing well and students know when they aren't. All of this is driven by consistent grade updates. This year, I became the teacher I questioned a year ago. Enough w/ the laziness, Mr. G. Give the kids what they need. More consistency, please.

3. Stricter Enforcement on Binders & Notes
I can't decide which chore I hate more: washing dishes or checking binders? Why go around sticking mini-star stickers on kids' binders when they should know organization & note-taking is essential to success. Notes? Just take them. Quizzes? Just be sure to put em in the right place. Easy, right?

It doesn't work that way w/ high schoolers. They NEED to be guided in every dimension of their learning. Last year, kids' killed for those mini-star stickers. Why did I move away from them? Training students towards better organization and opening their eyes to the benefits of good note-taking and organization is as important as teaching them to solve for x. Major fail on my part. 10 minutes a period, once a month is well worth the effort, no matter how chore-ish a duty it may be.

4. Stricter Enforcement on Concept Checklists
For those out of the know, I'm an adopter of the dy/dan assessment method. It's a system that assesses for mastery while leaving the door open for remediation, differentiation, and constant re-learning. I see no other effective way to assess my students. Year 2 on the system's been as successful as the first, aside from one major hole. Again, I'm at fault. I did not enforce updates of concept checklists the way I should've. Concept checklists send the message that YOU CAN recover from a bad test day; YOU CAN master concepts you've struggled w/. Students see progress in front of them. Students KNOW what they need to do. But all this is to naught if checklists aren't updated. Next year, checklists will be the most important sheet in each student's binder. No exceptions.

5. Call Home More
When teacher and parent are on the same page, a student is more likely to succeed. I've been an advocate of this since day one, yet, this year, I neglected to call home time and time again. I think I fear long-winded conversations that lead to nowhere, or pushback from parents who put up defenses against apparent teacher attacks. I don't question your parenting, ma'am. I just want to keep you updated. I should set up a script that keeps things quick and to the point. Calling home needs to happen more regularly. In fact, how about this commitment - make a minimum of 5 calls a week. Year 3 Mr. G, no exceptions.

May 31, 2009

No Better Than They Are

With one week of instruction and finals remaining, I've become no better than my students. Attendance rate have grown lower, homework completion rates virtually nonexistent, attention spans shorter, overall interest in mathematics dangerously low, Likewise, my interest in teaching has disappeared, patience thinner, overall interest in my students' math success dangerously low. We all look towards summer, and we count the days til June 11th. I can't allow this however, I can't. Must. Activate. Passion. Interest. Care. Now.

We need to finish the year strong.

--

And the last few days of instruction allow for straight talk, the type where teacher can be real with his students. I'd like to impart drops of knowledge I hope some will carry with them into the future. I want to explain why I've chosen to teach, what I hope for them, give 'em my advice, really let 'em know who I am and what I'm about before I bid them farewell when they leave my classroom for the last time. Cus there's no other time than now where I can do that. I maintain my mysteriousness for the majority of the year, only allowing kids to see certain sides of me. It's become part of my teacher creed. Can't share too much of myself otherwise they might take advantage of me. But sharing my story to students contributes to their overall growth the same way everything else does. I want my students to understand I'm more than just a teacher; likewise, they're more than just students. There's a time for play and a time for work. In the classroom, I've held my own & they've held theirs. They should know people juggle lives within one life on the regular just like they do. Even their teachers. Even this teacher.

--

I realize these are mindless meanderings. I do know one thing for sure, I've failed on the blogging front these past few months - a front where I reflect and grow as a teacher more than anywhere else (dy/dan captures this thought here). I intend to get as much reflection in these final 9 days of school, regardless of how incoherent or disconnected the posts may be. Gotta start somewhere.