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:


That is all.