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

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.