Dec 6, 2010

Silly Bands

I had no idea those lil' bands around their wrists flattened out to collectible, unique shapes! A student gifted the one above to me during first period. For the remainder of the day:

"Silly bands? Waaaack.... [5 seconds later]... which one you got!?"

"I got some silly bands? Wanna see them!?" (Student proceeds to remove 3 from wrist and lays each on top of the worksheet he should've been working on).

"That's the pink hello kitty isn't it!? I got the red one. Wanna trade? Pleaaase. Pleaaaase."

"Hoooldup, you ain't got the lightning bolt though. Lemme show you."

It didn't matter how teenage girl, how hood, how gangsta, or how "I'm too cool for school" the student, the silly band movement is alive and well at this school.

Dec 5, 2010

Am I Doing Enough?!

I can't believe its already December. Thinking about how quickly the days are going by scares me. I start asking myself... Are we on pace? Am I teaching them everything they should have learned at this point in the year? Am I doing enough?

I have a problem with that last one though. When I first asked myself that question it came out so naturally. And now I am a little disappointed that it did. It should never be "Am I doing enough?" It should be "Am I doing everything I can?"

I know I could be doing more.

Nov 30, 2010

Classroom Conversations #1

Me: My tooth is really bothering me.

S1: Really? What's wrong?

Me: My wisdom tooth is growing in.

S2: Wow. How old are you?

Me: 17.

S1: LOL.

Me: Have you ever seen "Catch Me If You Can" ?

S1: Yeah, yeah! W/ Leonardo DiCaprio?

Me: Remember the scene where he pretends to be the teacher for weeks when he's really just a student?

Nov 18, 2010

Holiday Season

::Kanye's 'Blame Game' playing only barely audibly enough to maintain the focus::

Student, loudly: "Mr. G, when are we going to start listening to Christmas music during the opener?"


Oct 29, 2010

something i love.

Regardless of what has happened the day before, I walk into my classroom the next morning feeling blessed and fortunate that I get to do this. Yeah there is a never-ending to do list, a gazillion things to think about and paperwork galore, but I can honestly say that every single day I have FUN. Our job is fun!

I think that is pretty freakin' cool.

Oct 24, 2010

For The Cool In You

One admittance I'm hesitant to share is the decline of my cool factor. I'm not sure what it is, but I feel my teacher coolness has steadily declined these past three years. I come up with the following rationalization:
Year One - I came in after a teacher had left, so already it was a given that I was appreciated. In addition, many students were Juniors and Seniors and our humor stayed at the same level. They were accustomed to 'the other' math teachers who're typically older and old school. Mr. G was refreshing.
Year Two - My first batch I taught from start to finish, and the establishing coolness wasn't as easy without the assist. The coolness was there, don't take me wrong. I'm the coolest teacher out there. But, just... not THAT cool.
Year Three - My first full load of freshmen, where humor is somewhere completely different. Some even consider freshmen a completely different race from human being. The defenses are high when you're in your first year of high school. The adjustment was a difficult one. Again, still cool... but not THAT cool.
One goal I have for the year is to regain the cool. I have a new full load of freshmen, and I know the cool is somewhere in me. And while there is no objective measure nor "value-added system" to what 'teacher coolness' is necessarily, I feel things are so far so good. I attribute this change partially to the fact that I'm one year conditioned to freshmen personality and energy, but added to this I share:

For starters, I maintain the randomisity I share with class on a daily basis, one completely non-math fact to buy their attention. I've added music to open class. I make sure I do not go a day without standing at the door and to preserve those one-on-one interactions with each and every student.

--

More importantly, I've allowed myself to be more open and vulnerable. Rather than keeping my life completely mysterious, I answer the personal questions (to an extent, of course). Rather than responding with a sarcastic "Mister" when they ask my first name, I tell it to them straight. Rather than keeping my 'teacher' facebook restricted to Mr. G alumni, I'm letting them add me if they find me (which is a fun post all in itself).

But, most importantly, I let them direct my life in ways I haven't allowed before. In the past, I wanted a wall to separate my teacher self and my non-teacher self but what I've realized is the two can co-exist and intermingle quite beautifully without some great divide. When a kid asks me to do something that may require extra work an effort that might not even contribute to his or her math success, I say 'hell, let's do it.'

So, when A.X. recommends that I read a Manga book that she absolutely LOVES, I read it (my very first Manga book, by the way - 'Death Note' if you're curious). When the kids say they want to see me decked out for 80's day, I show up in chucks, knee highs, members only, aviators, and a headband. When B.L. asks if I could bring him a tennis ball b/c he lost his, I provide. When a N.P. finds out I'm an avid fan of chess and challenges me to a match, we schedule a weekly morning meeting and play. When an advisory class is hungry for some dodge ball, we set up a game and do it. (Readily evading the dodgeballs flying at my face). And when J.S. challenges me to a one-mile race afterschool on the track in front of HELLA PEOPLE, I race him. (And WIN... yes, I am simultaneously brushing my shoulders off as I type this parenthetical).

Anyway, the result of these added components to my teacher life is the most fun I've ever had in the classroom. Why not let my students drive what goes on in my life the way I drives theirs and the way the classroom drives us?

--

PS. It's spirit week this week and I'm excited.

Oct 21, 2010

So Much Hate (part 2)

He tells his parents he is getting bullied. I have yet to see anyone threaten or intentionally harm him. If anything, he is the one who does things that scare the other kids. I don't want to sound like I'm being one-sided, but everything I am saying is coming from what I have seen from him... EVERYDAY. But at the same time, I don't think he is simply telling blatant lies. He really does BELIEVE that people are out to get him. And that is what sucks. Big time.

I have a conference set up with his parents and the principal on Monday.

I am worried for this kid.

Oct 20, 2010

So Much Hate

I have a boy who thinks everyone hates him. A boy who thinks his parents hate him, I hate him, and his classmates hate him. A boy who will yell and burst into tears of frustration if anyone tries to point out the fact that he is not following directions.

He is EXPLOSIVE. The class walks on egg shells around him.

And here is my dilemma. Why should we have to do that? I have analyzed this situation many times hoping to find an explanation for his behavior. How convenient would that be if I could link his behavior to turmoil at home... but that is not the case. Here is what I know: His parents don't hate him, I don't hate him, and his classmates don't hate him. There is something within this kid that is raging, and I don't know why.

But there are 27 other kids in the class. Kids who are going through their own battles. And they are still genuinely trying to help him. I am trying to help him. But he doesn't see it as help. He sees it as an attack. And he attacks back.

I will keep trying to help you. I promise I won't give up on you. But I will not sweep 27 kids under the rug, for you.

Week 8 Reflections - Teaching as Evolution & Inspiration

Teaching is inspiring me.

I came into teaching after college as one of those "I'll teach in an urban area for two years, then migrate elsewhere." Yet, it is now year four and while I've seen many of my OTF cohort move onto new fields, I'm still here and I see myself staying put.

Only an hour ago, I was in a staff meeting. The principal presented recognition to our freshmen house and shared the new resources we're receiving because of the work we've done. I heard of schools across the nation looking to replicate a form of our model to better serve their student populations. The principal tells us we are the drivers of this school, we are the leaders in the culture change. I see it happening before my eyes.

In my first two years, staff meetings were not nearly the same. There was no direction nor purpose to what we did. There was virtually no positivity and way too much gritching (grief + bitching). A sliding door of principals and assistant principals led teachers to create their own solutions. What we see now is a blend of those teacher-driven projects with an administrative team whose finally got vision. It's refreshing and validating.

As I said in previous posts, there's something special in the air. I realize the benefit of teaching in an environment already well-established and conducive to student learning and teacher sanity, but undergoing and contributing to the process of the creation itself is something inspiring. My high school is still an ongoing project, but it's on the rise. I can sign off as witness to it's evolution and as a piece of it's legacy.

I realize the rainbows and butterflies and cliches I've presented in this post, but whatever - I've allowed this blog to be my go to spot for teaching thoughts and this is what I've got now. Holla.

Oct 1, 2010

Post-Quiz Noise Stopper & Mind Occupier

You give a rigorous quiz. To begin, everyone is working diligently. But people work at their own pace. Soon, the quick test-takers will finish, raise their hands and submit their finished product. You walk over. Collect. Then, a few more. Then, more. Suddenly, more than half the class is finished w/ nothing to do. The rest are still working hard and are normally the type who NEED the extra silent time to finish. Some finished students are getting impatient. Human nature pushes them to start actin' a fool.

How do I stop it? A post-quiz riddle. Hand in the quiz, I hand you a mind twister. Kids read, then proceed to sit dumbfounded (and silent). They've got something to chew on while the rest of the kids test-take. Periods later in the day, a few students STILL have their mini sheets trying to decipher the answer. I pass them to other teachers I catch in the copy room and we've got a topic to discuss for the rest of the day.

Answers aren't revealed til next week, on the next post-quiz riddle:The buy-in is zero in-class time but the pay out is immense and hella fun.

Sep 30, 2010

Week 5 Timeline



I'm considering updating supteach with posts similar to those I did on my first teacher blog. The reflections are therapeutic, as is the feedback. They keep me centered and remind me of why I'm here, especially on weeks when I'm dragging my heels.

So, here goes:

Weeks 1 through 4 were honeymoonish. I still smell "special" in the air now that I'm in week 5. The students have entered their "let's see what I can get away with" phase and this is manifested so clearly in other classes. Nightmare stories are being exchanged about how student A did so-and-so to student B. Or how student C said this and that when all I was trying to do was teach!

Students A, B, and C through even Z have thus far been fine in my classes. I'm happy. But, we're walking through a new zone of the school year where math deficiencies become relevant. I start to see students who, in their first year of high school, still have difficulty following the order of operations. I have students who still use fingers to add.

I gave my first progress reports today. No doubt, I had several kids angry and wondering what they could do to raise their grades. It's no longer about school, learning, and getting to know each other. Grades have come in the picture. When that happens, the ball game changes. After explaining to them how to read my progress reports, I had to show them a happy video. Perfect timing, I'd say. I needed to make sure all kids were still capable of smiling.

Anyway, I'm beginning to feel the monotony that is learning math "the traditional way." Teach something, practice something, review something, quiz. I mix in the fun stuff on a daily basis, sure. But I must begin contemplating more groupwork, more projects, and more real-world application so that this algebra and geometry is not so abstract. Any ideas, teacher friends? HELP ME!

Also, back-to-school night happened last night. It's become an experience that's transformed form something queasy to something enjoyable. I called all my advisees' parents during the day. I'm proud to say I spoke to several in Spanish... which reminds me of a story I must share at a later time. I love meeting parents. I love meeting siblings. I love shaking their hands and I love learning of my students' home lives.

There's so many stories to be told. Week 5. Marking period 6 coming to a close next week. Onward we go.

Sep 28, 2010

Make It Meaningful

I'm in my fifth year of running an outreach program at at California Community College and something that still continues to get me is when I let Student Ambassadors know they're hired. Their passion and excitement to work to help fellow and potential students truly inspires me to make their experience meaningful. We're not going to be young forever. Folks like my Student Ambassadors are the future of education.

Sep 24, 2010

Staff Morale.

Needless to say, things at school can get, well, er, rough. After a particularly bad end to week three, I took a day off to catch up. The resulting grading day finally gave me a chance to read my World History Assignment #1: The History of Your Life in a Paragraph. Here is the email that I wrote to the staff.

good people,

just felt compelled to report:

one of the first assignments in world history was to attempt to write your entire life story in a paragraph, as a challenge to understand how telling the history of the world can be at times be a silly and impossible task.

reading and responding to the paragraphs now (finally) has opened up my eyes, once again, to the incredible stories that our youth have to tell, stories that can only come from their voices in this specific time and place. It is both fortunate and intimidating that our task is to guide these young folks to the portals of their own minds and hearts.
so as school gets tougher, and we sweat and struggle and curse in between what can feel like breathless days, remember that it is OUR students who write something like this:

"Born from a small town in Mexico, and immigrating to the United States--California, to be exact--was not easy. Adapting to the laws, languages, and people was not a piece of cake. I'm the middle child of 3 girls, the daughter to a very strong woman, and a man that I would rather not speak of. There is a fatherly figure in my life though, like say they in Spanish, "mas padre el que cria, que el que hace." That means a father is not who makes the baby, but rather who takes care and supports it. I would describe my life in three words: Determined, Hurtful, and Love. Determined because I strive to break barriers that statistics have put me in. Hurtful because I've had many people taken away form me, and also people walk away. Lastly love: why love? Love is what keeps me going. The love my family and friends provide me with is enough to make the hurtful go weak the determination grow stronger."

Keep it with you.

peace&love always
A

As teachers, WE GOTTA LOVE AND SUPPORT AND INSPIRE EACH OTHER. It's the only thing that'll keep us alive.

Sep 21, 2010

Make Them "Your Students"

This year, my students became my students quicker than past years. I read this post from Kate, follow up by reading the comments, and notice trends from colleagues and other teacher friends. It's not an uncommon thing - to start, the kids on our roll sheets are not yet really our kids.

By the end of week one, though, I already felt connections with virtually all of 'em. Three things did it for me. Here's number one:

Make them write you a letter.

As a math teacher, I rarely see my students' personalities on paper. All I see are numbers and more numbers. This year, my first homework assignment was as follows:

I tell 'em:
"I want you to write me a letter. In this letter, you can say whatever you want. You can tell me a story, you can tell me about yourself, you can say 'whattup dawg' like I'm an old friend. You can tell me: Mr. G, I'll be honest with you I hate math and I hate homework - so don't expect much from me... At the very least, I want you to answer the five questions listed on the prompt. I want at least a page. Other that, tell me whatever. It's your chance to tell me whatever you feel you need to tell me as we begin this school year."

Reading the letters over dinner one night, I was thrown aback at what my students were willing to share once given the space. I learned their interests, their hobbies, their likes, their dislikes. I learned of empowering and disempowering experiences they've had in school and in life. I learned about families and friends. Mentors and role models. In one case, a student shared something deeply personal - to the point where I shed a tear. (Serious.) In another case, a quiet student had me literally on the floor laughing. Homegirl was comedy. All this after the third day of school!

--

I believe students should be provided the opportunity to critique / to give feedback / to express their feelings. In past years, this would manifest as:


But I've noticed, the numerical averages of those a through j questions are meaningless. Who cares if every student circled "5" for question "j." In past years, when looking through surveys, my eyes automatically floated to the words completing the questions below...

This year, I'mma get rid of all that. Why not allow their feedback to be all words? This year, when I want feedback, I'll just have them write me a letter.

--

Lastly, I'd like to acknowledge that my methods are likely methods already used in classrooms around the world. But I believe my hesitance to share my methods and what goes on in my classroom has been fueled by that awareness. In order to blog and to share, I must let go of that self-consciousness and simply write. So here I am; onward I hope to go. Thanks for staying w/ me.

Sep 19, 2010

Year 4 of I Hate Grading

My previous post makes my teaching life look like rainbows and butterflies. (Double rainbows, at that). Let me clear that up. In 3 years of teaching I've realized the following:

1. Teaching is a marathon. And this marathon usually starts off nice and easy. What I have now could easily be the honeymoon period prefacing some glorious shipwreck. I take the good of these first three weeks with a grain of salt.

2. I, personally, have started off every school year feeling good about the job. I realize (more now than ever) that my personal challenge is to sustain the enthusiasm for what I do. Previously, I said I wanted the year to be more "about the kids," but I realize this is impossible if I don't take care of myself first. I am 3 weeks deep but there are 33 still before me. Pace yourself, Mr. G.

--

4 years in, I feel I've become a more efficient and effective planner, speaker, presenter, builder of class communities, at matching their wit with better wit, trainer of procedures, designer of curriculum, manager of behavior, etc, etc. One thing that seems to NEVER improve, though, is how quickly I grade. This tedious task has been a constant battle. Granted, I am much improved from my first year where Sundays of 6 straight hours of grading quizzes were not uncommon. Since then, though, I haven't much improved at efficiency since year 2 or so.

I realize one option is to outsource the work to TA's or to the students themselves, but grading quizzes is my number one tool in examining student work, noticing common trends and misconceptions, and gauging each students' current performance. Anyone have any tips on how to fix this dilemma? I [still] hate grading.

Sep 18, 2010

The 4th Year Primer

I'm 3 weeks deep into the school year, my fourth year teaching. Happily, I come to you, blog, with the news: my fourth year teaching has thus far been THE BEST year teaching. I understand a teacher takes at least a small step forward in growth each year, especially in those first few, but there's something a lil' special in the air. It may be early, but I feel it.

On paper:

(1) Everything I teach now is something I've taught before.
Each of my past three years included the learning curve of delivering a new prep. 1st year it was geometry, 2nd year it was algebra, and last year it was strategic algebra. This year, no new prep. If worst comes to worst, I can always go back to 'what I did last year' - a comforting fallback but simultaneously a trap I must avoid.

(2) A better start and end routine.
I'm committing myself to be on campus an hour before class begins (7am) and staying 2 hours after (5pm) on a daily basis. Those added hours before and after class are becoming golden for my sanity and my need to build a line between home life and school life.

(3) It's all about the kids.
I experienced varying levels of 'surviving' during my first three years of teaching. New parameters that'd affect my need to find ways to stay sane. As a fourth year, I no longer feel I'm merely surviving on a day-to-day basis. I now feel a renewed commitment to the students I work with. I want the shift the focus from me and keep the focus on them. Everything I do is towards becoming the best possible teacher for them.

(4) So much Mr. G alumni.
Catching an ex-student in the halls is like seeing an old friend. They are no longer your students, so your interactions go beyond what they once were. But, in some ways they will always be your students. The freshmen I taught my first year are now seniors. What a thought. No walk down the hall is done without some sort of "whattup Mr. G!" And no morning, lunch break, nor after-school session is enjoyed without an ex-student paying a visit.

The after-year results of our year one experiment are astonishing. Rises in test scores across the board. Higher retention. And, as a teacher, incredibly strong connections with a community of students. In our second year now, we tighten screws and strengthen everything else that worked last year. I'm still a believer.

(6) A new administrative team.
Our current principal is our 5th in my 4 years, but (again) there's something special about the team we now have in place. Last year, our school hired on a stellar leader as a one year deal as we sought to secure somebody committed for the long haul. We got our person now, and already you can see and feel the changes. I feel school spirit. Weird.

More later on everything. But for now, keep doing your thing out there my teacher friends. Your work never goes unnoticed.

Aug 26, 2010

My new pal!

Wow! After 4 years of teaching and 3.5 principals (one was an interim principal for a few months; he's the half), I finally have an experienced principal who's going to be here for awhile. Not only is he going to be here for awhile, he has a great vision. I am so excited for this year and to see how it turns out.

He has committed and demanded double digit gains on our test scores each year for the next six years. And as I looked around the room, everyone looked inspired. I have never seen my faculty so unified. I hope we can mantain the enthusiasm throughout the school year!

Aug 12, 2010

Only in California

PRESS RELEASE August 12, 2010


Community College Transfer Degree Bill Unanimously Approved by

Assembly Appropriations Committee

The student-centered initiative designed to streamline the transfer process can be implemented by the community colleges in record time and available to students by fall 2011

SACRAMENTO, Calif. As community college students prepare to head back to school for the fall semester, the California State Assembly Committee on Appropriations today in a unanimous vote approved the Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act, Senate Bill 1440. If the initiative passes the Legislature and is signed into law, community college students seeking to transfer to a California State University will have a streamlined process by fall 2011 that will save them time and money while generating resources for the two systems of higher education to serve more students.

The important bill, authored by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), is strongly supported by the California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott and California State University Chancellor Charles Reed.

“Students attending our colleges often express concerns about the complex and confusing transfer process,” said Chancellor Scott. “This transfer initiative will put an end to the confusion and serve as a student passport to the California State University system.”

Currently, each of the 112 locally governed community colleges sets its own requirements for graduation and each CSU campus determines its own prerequisites for accepting community college transfer students. The requirements and prerequisites vary by campus and can also change each year. Senate Bill 1440 charges the two systems with establishing a set process that guarantees community college transfer students with a 2.0 GPA admission to a CSU campus at junior status while also granting them an associate degree.

California students and taxpayers will benefit from transfer reform. Many transfer students take up to a full year of classes beyond the semester units required for a bachelor’s degree. These extra units cost the public millions of dollars. By standardizing the transfer process, students can take fewer classes at the community colleges and CSU thus increasing efficiency in both systems.

During the hearing the California Department of Finance estimated the transfer efficiencies will generate approximately $75 million annually in cost savings for the California Community Colleges and $85 million for the CSU. The funds would be used to provide access to roughly 40,000 additional community college students and nearly 14,000 CSU students each year.

To date the bill has not seen opposition in the Legislature. It was approved by the California State Senate on June 1 in a 35-0 vote and by the Assembly Higher Education Committee on June 22 in a 9-0 vote. Next the bill will head to the Assembly and Senate floors where it will be heard before August 31 and is expected to go to the governor’s desk to sign into law in September.

The California Community Colleges is the largest system of higher education in the nation composed of 72 districts and 112 colleges serving 2.9 million students per year. Community colleges supply workforce training, a basic skills education and prepare students for transfer to four-year institutions. The Chancellor’s Office provides leadership, advocacy and support under the direction of the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges.

Aug 3, 2010

¡viva el verano!

A few days ago, I had to make a budget for ordering curriculum materials. I had to think about my curriculum for an hour just to remember what I had planned and figure out where I’d left off. Now most people would be annoyed that they had to get this work done. But it really warmed my heart to realize that I hadn’t thought about school long enough to forget my plans.

Jul 18, 2010

boob tube: source of sedation or inspiration

One of the big questions I think our administrators (district and state) are missing is

"how do we utilize and network the talents of our faculty and staff to develop professionally and to develop communities?"

This may seem a bit silly, but my inspiration was an episode of "Deadliest Warrior." They had pitted the GSG9 against the SWAT team. One of the differences between these groups that resonated with me was related to specialization. The GSG9 had a minimum bar of performance their soldiers were required to learn and then they could specialize. The SWAT team members were equally trained and if one member had been killed, then any teammate could take that person's place. Now this seems a bit of an exaggeration compared to our experiences as teachers, but I find this to be a pretty big question. Should a school systematically train different teachers and staff in different specializations? Specializations could be in the topics of technology or literacy or mentoring teachers. Or should the schools train teachers equally to be prepared for the untimely exit of teachers?

I like the idea of specialization better. There is so much to master and learn about in this profession. Seems that we should share the intellectual workload. But the SWAT team did win that episode.

Jun 30, 2010

An Update from Mr. G

Greetings teacher bloggostwittersphere. I realize I've been MIA for months, but I'd like to come outright and say: I'm not dead, I'm alive, and I'm still a teacher.

This upcoming fall, I will be entering my 4th year at my Oakland public high school. I am 2 weeks into summer, a summer I intentionally left free of responsibilities. During the latter months of the school year, opportunities surfaced left and right to work or to teach. I feel this is commonplace for any math teacher at a struggling district like Oakland, but I denied each and every opportunity. I needed time to relax.

Let me recap the previous seasons of my teacher life:
Spring 07: Last semester of college
Summer 07: OTF Summer Institute
Fall 07 to Spring 08: First Year of Teaching
Summer 08: Algebra Academy Summer School
Fall 08 to Spring 09: Second Year of Teaching
Summer 09: Volunteering Abroad
Fall 09 to Spring 10: Third Year of Teaching
Since entering the teaching game, I've yet to allow myself proper time to digress. And I've felt the effects. You see it here yourself. No blog posts for months. In the classroom, I fell into the third year trap. Re-using stuff from last year over and over, b/c my teacher self slowly gave way more and more to my mid-20's self that starved to leave 'adult life.'

I disliked my newfound attitude. I hated it, in fact. I looked at the older folks of my department who seem so jaded to the job and, more importantly, to the children and wondered if maybe decades or so ago they came into the job looking so fresh and enthusiastic like me. I wondered if maybe one day I'd suffer the same fate and look just like them.

So I knew I needed this time. To regather myself and regain my teaching legs.

And, I'm happy to report, I'm getting them back. I'm dusting off the "education" folder of my google reader and am finding gems like this post (on homework) by @samjshah. I also see my own thoughts and passions on the teacher bloggotwittersphere put into words by the same author. And have those same thoughts and passions re-validated by a follow-up homework post by @i_speak_math.

Now, all I want is to throw myself back in. 4th year this fall, I no longer have the "well, I'm new to this" excuse I've had these past 3. It's time for the next step in my teach[r]evolution. Readers of this blog, thanks for sticking with us. I hope we can find ways to contribute to this community the same you've contributed to ours.

May 3, 2010

A teacher's prayer

Dear Lord,

Please guide me to be an instrument of your love and peace. Help me to understand the fact that my students are just children, and they still have a lot to learn. Help me to teach them which is the better choice to make when they're faced with right or wrong decisions.

I don't want to be the one to cause them to fear or hate themselves or others. I want to be the one who inspires them to love one another as you love us, and to forgive as you forgive us.

This work is difficult, and I think the reason you chose me to do this work is because you know that it's something that I would eventually be able to handle. I hope that I'm learning how to be a better teacher. Please grant me the strength to practice patience and kindness when it comes to my students and helping them to be not only better learners but also better people.

You are my stronghold. Through your Word I find joy in hope, patience in suffering, and perseverance in faith. Rather than seeking to understand, help me to seek how to be best understood. May all my life, my words and my actions be a testament of your perfection and your unconditional love.

Also, please watch over my students. When I can't be there for them, or when they're being tempted by evil, please send your Holy Spirit to guide and protect them.

Amen.

P.S. I just confiscated a notebook from one of my students who was "taking notes" while he was supposed to be reading. After his 3rd warning for not reading, I took his notebook away. On the cover it says, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." Proverbs 3:5. Oh, the irony.

May 2, 2010

Too many hormones in 7th grade

Just when I felt like I had finally waded through the muck of teaching 7th grade (i.e., the attitudes, the nonchalance, the laziness, lack of discipline, lack of accountability, lack of honesty), here I am, stuck in the mud again.

I keep hearing over and over again, "7th grade is the worst grade to teach." Is it really true? Is it just this particular group of students? Is it me?

I know this is a pivotal time in their lives (though, what time in our lives isn't pivotal). It's a time when they're just coming into their own and learning to find out where they fit. This is the time when they begin to decide for themselves what they value as "right" and "wrong." So where is my place in this? I'm supposed to be teaching English Language Arts, but I find myself teaching them more about respect, how to make good choices, how to have courage and be accountable.

It's taking a lot of patience, patience that I've had to build up because I didn't have much of it to begin with. It's also taking a lot of energy that I should be using to teach content and ELA skills. Teaching 7th grade is so emotional. I wish I didn't take things so personally, but it's my personality to take things personally. I wonder if I'd feel differently about my role as a teacher if I were teaching another grade or if I were more...detached.

May 1, 2010

Three Little Words

Next time you feel the urge to say I heart you, why not put it more simply - "solve for i"

Apr 28, 2010

What Comes With Community

In October, I wrote a post highlighting structural changes for our freshmen class. In sum, we want to bring the pros of a small school to our large school setup. I teach at the largest high school in Oakland; students falling between the cracks has become an all too familiar story.

With the new setup, I know all of my student's teachers and speak with them on a daily basis. We monitor our students' progress and strategize how to catch those falling behind. I know more about my students and have met more of their parents than I've ever before. We are personalizing education and bending to our students needs.

And we've created a community of freshmen.

But, as with every community, there are pros and cons. Specifically, 2 things:

1. They've caught on to all my antics.
All my teacher habits. "I understand." The sarcasm. The management strategies. Students can talk about us the same way we talk about them. Once one student catches a trend, it seems every student's figured it out. Now it seems they use "I understand" on me more than I on them. "E, I need you to come inside right now." "I understand, Mr. G." Ha, ha... funny.

2. They're all friends (or enemies...) with each other.
I guess becoming friends is ok. But now that we're approaching the final 6 weeks, every sort of classroom culture developed in other classrooms has seeped into mine. Positives and negatives. The discoveries in lack of admin support they've made in their english class is the same sort of stuff they can push in mine. And vice versa. It's become harder to quiet em' down and keep em' focused. And their freshmen.

Ok, maaybe on a path to becoming a bitter old teacher. Try 30 weeks straight of 5 periods worth of teaching freshmen, and you tell me if your patience wears a lil' thin. These mini-communities we've got here is a great thing. I consider the option of jumping ship to another school in a new place but am hesitant it won't provide the same type of setup we've got here. It ain't perfect, but it's in the right direction - in a place and a city that needs direction.

--

6 weeks til freedom. 6 weeks.

Apr 27, 2010

Test Time

Context: Classroom full of freshmen hunched over at their desks. On the surface they are calm, but their minds are hard at work. California standards test for mathematics, here we are.

Student 1: "Achooo!" (Loud sneeze)

Other Students: ::look up, distracted briefly::

Student 2: "Uh uh. Nope. Hell nah."

Me: "Uh, you're supposed to say 'bless you'"

Student 2: "Nope."

Me: "Bless you student 1."

Other Students: ::smile::

Apr 14, 2010

Sharpen Your Saw

I meet a man in the forest. His eyes weary, his shirt sweaty, his entire energy communicated exhaustion. I ask him, "What're you doing sir?" He answers, "I'm sawing these trees."

I observe a dull saw and a tired tired human spirit so I ask him, "Well, why don't you take a break to sharpen that saw?"

"There's no time," he says, "there's no time. I gotta saw them into logs."

--

I've been caught in a routine that's kept my head above water. I'm hanging on til the end, but I've lost the strength that was my momentum months ago. Nothings changed, but my saws become dull. It's time to take a step back.

--

Don't count down the days; make the days count.

Apr 3, 2010

Once again, procrastinating

My assignment: Take a current policy issue and examine it through the lens of EE Schattschneider or James Madison. What is the conflict? Who is the audience? Who are the protagonists? Predict/advise the outcome.

I chose to look at NCLB - bad choice because since I'm interested, I'm gonna get dragged into tangents such as policy debates, letters to the editor, angry blog posts, etc. I rehashed this Google Reader share from my buddy on Bill Maher and John Legend's take. My thoughts follow.

Just got in a good viewing of this since I've been reading herra stuff on the subject. Funny how the final line is "In the battle to reform schools, whose side are you on—Maher's or Legend's?"

This ending line is indicative of how people have been framing the issue - that it's one-dimensional, that there is a black and white, that there is a silver bullet. Nah uh.

I appreciate some things that Maher says, but he is a pundit with a myopic, white male, middle class view of the situation. The Ledge acknowledges the good points and nuances with some situational information. In the end though, he's not a teacher. He's a singer, albeit a good one who does an amazing throwback to the days of Motown. Damn, I love tangents like Mr. G. Anyhow, the views aren't at odds.

In short - it's a much more complicated issue and requires buy-in across disciplines and institutions outside of Education. Also, it requires a paradigm shift to make education a true value - no more lip service.

In shorter - we're f*cked.

Ok, time to get back to my homework.

Mar 17, 2010

A Purposed Endeavor

I remember the very first day I sat in a room full of teachers. I was with my fellow first year OTF mates, and we were sitting through speech after speech while enjoying fine refreshments in one of Oakland's historic buildings downtown. It was a proper send off to our summer "now it's time to teach you how to teach in 6 weeks" boot camp.

In one speech: "I enjoy being a teacher because my life's become simple. Each day I know what I want from my kids. Each year I know what I'd like us to accomplish. And in this profession, I know my ultimate goal."

--

I'm fresh off a meeting w/ my entire staff - a room full of teachers. We come together to discuss the progress of our school and a plan for it's future. The entire 100 was sectioned off into 5 groups and I was put in charge of one. And though the agenda was dropped on me so late, I did my best to encourage fruitful discussion between those teachers in my group. Push-back from the veteran's is expected by now when I'm put into these types of situations, but fruitful discussion was still had.

--

I share the same sentiment: I feel purpose in this profession. And when I feel purpose, things become simple. The powers that drives great teaching are multi-faceted and the lives that drive my students are even more so - complexities upon complexities. But I do know my ultimate goal and this is a goal I am invested in.

I want my students to succeed. All of them. I want this school to improve. I want this district to improve. I want all these kids to get the education they deserve. All that mumbo jumbo about closing the achievement gap is mumbo jumbo I dedicate myself to.

--

Thus, what I felt so strongly only a month or so ago feels difficult to do. Jumping ship to another district. Uprooting myself to a new place because, really, I'm too young to be here too long.

A part of me wants to stay and see this purpose through. Teaching, you've got a hold on me.

Mar 12, 2010

Happy Hour

Once upon a time ago, I was told in a faculty meeting that, I couldn't just recommend to my students to come to tutoring; I had to make them. But what about when 50% of your students need tutoring. Here I am at 5 p.m. on a Friday afternoon finishing up my prep because three of my students needed tutoring. And one of them, who was on a self-sabotaging wild streak the first semester really needed the help. I just didn't have the heart to turn her away. She is finally starting to turn around academically and behaviorally. How could I squash her efforts by refusing to help, when I "made" her do the all the conferences and "made" her share accountability for her education.

This tutoring thing really has my wheels spinning. The most qualified person to tutor is the classroom teacher that knows how his/her assignments should be completed to affect learning. The least likely person to tutor after school is the worn out classroom teacher that doesn't want to stay after school to accommodate all their students after they spent so much time prepping the lesson in the first place.

I know my tutoring efforts have really helped several of my students develop into more organized self-directed learners. This is why I keep doing it. I just wish there were 10 more hours in the day, so I could get enough sleep, get my prep done, and still have a life.

Mar 4, 2010

March Today

Let's march for education today. There's no need to explain why this is so important--we all understand. Please don't flake. Enough is enough! I'll be at Civic Center in San Francisco at 5:00 pm.

Mr. G, please don't censor this post.

Feb 28, 2010

I'm a pro at crastinating

I've decided to make a website for my program Capstone project. Really had to fight the temptation to use Angelfire or Geocities (how sad!). Yep, AsianAvenue all the way.

Feb 4, 2010

We Can't Sit Still

6th period...

Student A: ::Shakes body with ruler in hand as if he's having a seizure::

Student B: ::Tapping ruler on desk::

Student C: ::Whistling::

Student D: ::Grabs student B's pencil to play keep away::

Student B: ::Stops taping ruler to retrieve pencil::

Me, thinking to self: "I can't believe I have to live through 5 periods worth of freshmen doin' this type of thing every day." So I voice: "Man, you freshmen got so much energy. I can't match it everyday."

Student C: "Yeah, it's like we in kindergarten."

Me: "Yeah, I agree.... cept, the thing about kindergarteners... at least they're cute."

Student D, directing comment to Student C: "OoooooOooo, Mr. G just called you UGLY!"

In response, Student C: "Yeah, you too."

Feb 1, 2010

Faculty Meeting Pet Peeves

3 come to mind at the moment:

1. Old school veterans who absolutely have to preface anything they say w/ "You know, I've been teaching for 15, 20, 25+ years, and... [insert comment here]"
-You're a wily vet and I respect that. But do you really have to say it every time?
-[Or maybe I'm just jealous cus my 2.5 pales in comparison to theirs.]

2. Presenters w/ text-heavy or animation-heavy powerpoint slides.
-Today's professional development crew presented slide after slide that looked a lil' something like:

-Quick message for you: Just b/c you're using powerpoint does not make your presentation more effective and professional. Your audience is silenced not b/c we are enthused over your amazing new methods but rather b/c we are bored to death.
-I heart this comedian for speaking some truth.

3. The phrase "research-based."
-Not only that, said powerpoint users appended the word "research-based" to virtually every sentence. "And, you know, all of this is research-based!" Congratulations on whatever research article you read, but we educators don't get automatic edu-turned-ons just cus you're droppin' that word.

... Sorry, but had to get that out...

Jan 29, 2010

Students Helping Students

I haven't had a chance to blog much because of school starting, but now that I have some time, I'd like to share a cool story. Last week, the weather in the Bay Area was horrendous. In San Mateo we had high wind advisories and hail. Needless to say, it was pretty damn wet and cold.

I was working in the administration building which houses many of our student services programs such as admissions, counseling, and transfer. In the late morning, I noticed a woman in a wheel chair being helped into the building by a young man--both were pretty wet from the storm. As they passed me, she said: "This gentleman walked me all the way over here from the bus stop (about 350 yards away from the building)." That was really neat to see. Our security office does have a golf cart to drive students with disabilities but the young man who helped the woman in the wheel chair realized that by the time they got there she would have been late for her appointment. He wheeled her to the elevator and upstairs for her counseling appointment--on time. Good people are awesome.

She shoots. She scores.

First game of trashketball happened with 2 out of 3 of my classes this past Tuesday. One class is a pain in the behind, so we did the test review for that class in true test mode (aka, quiet individual work time). Hey, if they're gonna be punk students, I'm gonna be a punk teacher back!

This ain't just any school in the Bronx.

Anyway, they looooved it! I can't believe I pulled this off in an English Language Arts classroom. So for all you non-math teachers, have valiant faith that this game will surely have students furiously thinking and working in order to beat your amazing score, no matter what class you teach.

However, I found that you actually have to be decent if you want to play class vs. teacher. In addition, more often than not, you may be accused of cheating if you're wearing high heels while playing this game. I had to take my heels off and switch into my flats, and then they accused me of cheating because I was wearing flats (?!).

Fortunately, with my 9-in-a-row 3-pointers, I have now been dubbed "Ms. Kobe" by my students. Seriously. It was unwarranted, but I secretly love it.

I also discovered that a few of my students who were born and raised in NYC are actually big fans of the Lakers. I asked them if they were band-wagoners (a term we learned during our persuasive writing unit), loving the team only after their 2008-2009 championship. Jose said, "No! I've loved them my whole life!" Makes me shed a tear of happiness and pride.

Jan 20, 2010

Math + Sports = RAAAAAAD

First, props where props are due: Dan Meyer, the creator (for all intents and purposes) of Math Basketball, a versatile masterpiece applicable for all teacher needs, whether it be formative and summative, or if you are just feelin' lazy and need to kill some time without resorting to a worksheet.
It is the teacher's dream: lively competition and ACTUAL practice, good and real, working in concert to make something as dreary as the properties of special quadrilaterals seem like an on-the-edge-of-your-seat NBA thriller... yes, dramatic, I know.
But if there is anything at which the Youth of America excel, it's getting bored of even the most riveting of academic games.
So to feed the insatiable beast: Welcome to Math Football, Math Soccer, and today's newly minted gem, Math Tennis.
Understand that I am not that creative:
Step 1: Use Math Basketball rules... I like to play teacher vs. class.
Step 2: Replace shooting points with juggles on a soccer ball, football through a hula hoop, or rallies against the wall.
Step 3: Be prepared to get a pretty solid proportion of math practice to youthful energy and enthusiasm.
I will be the first to admit that you can and will lose some time to off-task endeavors... accusing the teacher of cheating (most common), maybe even a tennis ball inappropriately directed towards you.
However, I ask you, in those times, to pay attention to the quality of work and dedication during those two minutes of focus, as well as the palpable joy that grows from building a loving and fun community during those moments of chaos.
Sure beats a worksheet.

Jan 19, 2010

Teacher Wit

When the mood's right, I sometimes talk to myself. Students are on point behaviorally but the mood needs some lightening up. We go through an example. Students try it. Then I dialogue w/ myself: "Geez, Mr. G. This stuff seems so easy cus you explain things SO clearly." "Aw, thanks. I appreciate that." Kids roll their eyes.

Anyway, I decided to include a weather update during our daily dose of randimosity today. Immediately, negative responses were abound similar to the type we hear at the news of an upcoming test, almost as if I controlled the weather. So, to counter:

"Hey, Mr. G. You're such a great teacher for giving us weather updates IN class!"
"Thanks class. I'm just trying to look out."


Stay dry, California!

I Love My Job

It's that time of the year--the start of the spring semester. As an outreach coordinator, I work all year long. The first couple weeks of each semester (fall, spring, summer) usually mean 12 hour work days. A friend asked me this morning, "Don't you get tired of it?" HELL NO!

Today the power is out on campus which is why I'm blogging. I knew there was an 80% chance that classes would be canceled because my co-worker, who lives in campus housing, called around 5:45 am and told me that there was no power in his building. He even took the time to drive the perimeter to check on the college (there was no power in most buildings either). Despite this, our small community relations staff, from our director to our student assistants, were working from 6:00 am on to communicate with each other and provide our students, faculty, and staff with updates. As I made my way up to campus today at 6:30 am, the police department and public safety were there to inform students who did not get the emergency e-mail or text about the closure. A couple of our students who work in outreach were also out and about trying to help fellow students out--talk about dedication. As their supervisor, I had to send them home (if you saw the weather conditions, you would too).

As of early Tuesday morning, it looks like the first day of class will be postponed until tomorrow. Until then, I'll work from home. I can't wait to be back bright and early, rain or shine--surrounded by individuals who are passionate about serving students. I love my job.

Jan 15, 2010

This keeps me going :)

Financial Literacy

I think that kids who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds are the ones who need the most exposure to new technologies and entrepreneurial skills so that they have an equal opportunity in competing with those from more affluent backgrounds in the future.

Although my school does not offer computer or technology classes (this REALLY saddens me), I've been working with an amazing friend and curriculum writer to bring financial literacy within the four walls of my English Language Arts classroom. Let me tell you. I knew my kids were bright, creative, motivated, and passionate. BUT MAN. I've now got to the gumption to say, "My kids are brighter, more creative, more motivated, more passionate, smarter, and will be more successful than yours." Hmph, take that prep school punks.

Allow me to bring you some very cute anecdotes from this week:
N: "Ms. S, what happens if I get hurt before I'm 65? Do I get my Medicare money?"
me: "No."
N: "Aww that's MESSED UP! I'm going to college so I can get a job that covers my health insurance."


Z: "I like gross pay."


E: "That was fun! I'd rather be an employer, even if I have to hand out paychecks and make sure all the bills are paid on time. I'd rather call the shots."


J: "It's important to know the components of your paycheck so you know where all your money is going. What if they did a miscalculation?! They'd be stealing all your hard-earned money!"


L: "Net pay is the money you get to keep after all the deductions are made. So if you originally had $2800, then your net pay would be about $2000, because you have to pay federal income tax, social security, state tax and medicare."

Now tell me, could you give me all that at the age of 11? Highly. Doubt. It.

When people work together, we can make Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream fly even further than he ever could have imagined. People who came from the projects, with parents working 2 or 3 jobs, English barely spoken at home, and no hot water until 3 in the morning, working alongside or even above people who came from 6-figure household incomes, private schools, and fancy zip codes. That's my dream. It feels good to make it come true a little.

Have a happy weekend in memory of our dear hero, Martin Luther King, Jr. and his dreams :)

Jan 6, 2010

What Keeps YOU Going?

I know my practice is evolutionary. I know my lessons undergo a gradual development process. Unlike my first year, where I blindly moved forward with the planning process, I now have years to look back on. Time to teach slope? I got an activity for that AND I can anticipate where my students will have trouble. Let's make things better this time around.

The trouble now is committing myself to that process of evolution. I admit, there are days where I don't think about teaching AT ALL the moment I step off campus until I step back on. All that's required is opening up those digital files I toiled over in years past and, BAM, a lesson plan is in my hands.

It's a beautiful thing, I know. But, it's a trap. The last thing I want is to become a robot teacher who rehashes the same ol' plan year after year. I want evolution.

It happens, it does. (The x & y-intercept lesson I taught last year pales in comparison to the one I did this time around.) But, not all the time. The process is fueled by motivation, and it's difficult to maintain that motivation when you tend to your non-teacher self's non-teacher needs. Why spend any time at all on my planning when I don't need to? Why better myself when I don't need to?

How do I stay motivated?

Thus, I wonder what other teachers do to keep up their process of evolution, hop on supteach, and blog about. What do y'all do? How do you stay motivated?

Jan 4, 2010

The First Day After a Break

I tell 'em...

I understand this is the first day after a long break, and on the first day after a long break, we gotta re-adjust. We're not used to sitting in class for 6 hours a day listening to teachers, doing work, studying. We're not used to waking up early. We forget how to enter class the right way or how to just raise your hand. But as your teacher, it's my duty to remind you what we need to do. You know what I expect. So be patient with the process. We'll get back in the routine before you know it.

I tell 'em...

I also understand we can forget a lot over 2 weeks time. But, re-learning something is always easier than learning it the first time around. So, you might look at this problem and be angry with yourself b/c you know you know how to do it, but you forgot the steps. It'll come back. Trust me. But you gotta put in the effort, you gotta put in the work, and you can't get frustrated. So be patient with the process. It'll all come back before you know it.

But really...

More than anything, I say these things for myself.

Welcome back, Teachers.