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


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.


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.

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.