Nov 7, 2011

the 65 hour work week

The summer before my senior year of college, I interned for breakthrough collaborative. The program places college students as teachers to low-income middle school students. The experience is a post in itself for another time. For the moment, I wanted to point out one story:

My master teacher at the time whose name was Ned. After our initial meeting, the interns stuck around for the remainder of the day while master teachers typically made their exit within the hour. Their role was minimal; ours was intensive. My master teacher, though, did not take that cue.

He was fixing up a classroom when I saw him, giving attention to every small detail of the class. He hung up fishes by string, each with a various math symbol with an accompanying definition. He paid special consideration to even their color and their placement in the room. Meticulous. I was impressed.

"Geez, you work hard. You're the last master teacher here!"

"It's part of the job," he said.


On a typical day, I step onto campus at 7:30am and do not leave til 5:30pm (10 hours). I work for an extra two while at home. On Sundays, I spend a good chunk of time grading and planning for the week (5 hours). In total:

12 hour day x 5 weekdays = 60 hours
5 hour day x 1 Sunday = 5 hours

A 65 hour work week -_-


I do appreciate the summers where zero work is a realistic option. 65 hours is a lot though. I question it's sustainability, and I wonder about the shortcuts veterans've discovered to lessen the workload.

It is up-and-down. I do put in less work some weekends and less work some weeknights. (I know for damn sure my Friday nights are free of teaching thoughts!) Some months are better than others (Sept/Oct/Nov are intense!). And, some years are better than other's too (last year my count was likely in the low 50's range). Maybe it's common knowledge that the workload of a teacher is atypical from other professions, but, until this past weekend, I've never quantified the hours I put into the job. Thus, this post.


[Just another vent for another night.]

Oct 31, 2011

165+ one-on-one interactions daily

Previous roommateships would have me awake and out the door by 7am, home by 6pm, grading and lesson planning until I'm burning the midnight oil while fellow roommate could easily sleep in til' 7:30 or 8, arrive home and relax with a beer, tv, video games and/or girlfriend. Damn you, roommate. Not fair.

Current roommate teaches at a middle school. It's convenient and it works. At this current moment, it is 9:58pm. I left campus around 6:30pm and still have a mini-mountain of quizzes to grade, but it feels ok since roomie is still at work too. I hear him disgruntled on his desk as I type.


We like to argue about who has to work harder. So, this year, as one of the few teachers at my high school who's taken on three preps (typical is two), I feel I've got the inside track on that title - "dude, I got it way tougher than you do. Believe me."

The predictable response: "I been teaching FIVE separate subjects, homie! 7th grade." 

"Well, I grade 165 different assignments by 165 students on the daily. 165 quizzes during the weekends."

"30 • 5 subjects each is still 150. I'm down 15, I agree. But, still pretty much the same."

"Ok, ok, but I've got 165 personalities to manage. 165 parents and families to keep track of. 165 one-on-one conversations at the door to catch up on days and nights and lives and check-ins to see whether or not they're having a good day or not. 165 potential phone calls I could possibly make tonight to see if I can get a failing student back on track. 165 interactions daily is exhausting, my sweet sweet roomie."

".... Ok, you got me there."


I guess I'm just venting. My parent log this school year has got me listed at interacting with 5 families on a nightly basis (through in-person conferences, phone calls, or e-mails). All extra interactions added to my day, but it still feels like I could do so, so much more. 

Oct 30, 2011

pencil policy - first two years vs second two years

My first two years - "Nothing should ever prevent a student from learning in my class. If they need a pencil, I will provide it. No questions asked. I won't hassle them or nothin'. You're in this class to learn, and learning you will do. Being pencil-less shouldn't prevent you from doing so"

My next two years - "Part of high school is learning the habits and skills to succeed in college and in life. If we take this stance, students MUST learn to have their materials on a day-to-day basis. Students must come to class prepared and if they realize I am not a pencil giver early, they'll meet my expectations and bring their pencils. Plus, I'm tired of giving out pencils."


I'd love to give pencils that say "I forgot to bring a pencil to math class and all I got was this stupid pencil." The irony.


I don't know where I stand anymore. What's your opinion? What's your policy for students who come to class without a pencil? And, if you ARE a pencil giver, do you have a specific procedure? (Are pencils in a cup where students can grab one? Do you charge a quarter? Do you take collateral? Etc Etc)

To give, or not to give (a pencil); that is the question.


Also, do you let them use pens? Goodness, the bag of worms we can open with that one...

Oct 27, 2011

school spirit

During my first three years, I had a hard policy against dress-up days. How I dress is connected to how the students respect me. Therefore, I must always dress professionally and never silly.

Twin day? Nah. Nerd day? I can't give up my dignity with silly tape on silly glasses. Gender bender? Hell no. St. Patrick's day? Ok, maybe I'll put on my green button up.

Last year, I thought back at my own high school years, and remembered why I loved it. The community, the culture, the friendships. Many of the most valuable lessons and experiences were not things inside the classroom. They were beyond.

I was voted "Most Spirited" of my high school class. Why have I not adopted spirit for my new home?

And so now, I go all out. Twin up with as many teachers as possible. Nerd out complete with retainer to give my talk a genuine nerd feel. Gender bender? Put that make-up on me.

If teachers are willing to dress silly to show pride in their school, a student is more likely to feel comfortable doing so too. In the end, the kids see a new dimension of your personality. They see a teacher with the versatility to switch from all-business to... all-business with some play! In the end, what you get is one of the funnest workweeks of the school year.

Tomorrow, at the culmination of this spirited week, look for the man with the red kicks, red face and red hair. All red everything.

Oct 24, 2011

count me in for year five

Hello world,

Here's another apology note to the edublogosphere. I'm still around, and I'm still learning from you. I'm still thankful for you. This year, I teach a new prep (advanced algebra), and it seems the best way I know how to plan for a new class is to listen to the ideas of my community. You, my friends, are my community. Without you, I'd be half the teacher I am today.


During a teacher happy hour the other week, a face I seldom see at teacher gatherings showed herself. We conversed. She's in her late 20's, originally of the TFA variety. And still here. So, I asked, are you a "life-er?" "A what?" "A life-er, you know, are you in this gig for the long haul... maybe for life?"

She looked at me, smiled, and said "good question, but I did say coming in that I'd commit 10 years to this high school, I'm in 7 deep now, and there's no way I'd be leaving when I'm this close."


And then I consider - what if all new teachers who've arrived on this campus stuck around for as long as she did. What if programs like TFA that wear "close the achievement gap" on their sleeve put down a more stringent regulation on their contracts and asked for TEN, rather than TWO.

What if the teachers our freshmen see today are guaranteed to high five them as they walk across the graduation stage?


I'm not raggin' on my teacher friend's who've taken a departure from this game; you know I love you. And, you know we'll always connect at a different level because of our time in the classroom.

But, for myself, I'm now on this new edge where I'm wondering how my contributions to my students, my high school, my colleagues, my community grow with each year of experience.

And now, I look over that other edge...

Count Me in For Year Ten?

Sep 1, 2011

6th Grade Wows and Wonders in East Oakland

I love teaching science to middle school because middle school kids still love science. There is still very little science-phobia in middle school, especially with 6th graders. They feed their natural curiosity by asking never-ending, out-of-the box questions and by touching, feeling, smelling, and even tasting everything. During lab demonstrations, I have students record a "Wow, Wonder, and Aha!". A "wow" is an observation of a phenomena, a "wonder" is a question about the phenomena, and an "aha!" is a "this reminds me of..." statement (in other words, a possible connection between the phenomena we witness and something we've experienced before as an attempt to understand the phenomena).

The kids are delightfully enthralled by why one yellow liquid (water and dye) and another yellow liquid (oil) react differently with a blue liquid (water and dye). They marvel at the surface tension properties of water (they were amazed at the fact that more than 30 drops of water is able to sit atop a leveled dime).

Curiosity is science, no?

I'm still feeling the waters in terms of how to teach science to 6th graders. I decided to start the course off by opening with a unit called "What is Science?" I wanted to introduce the topic of observations and wonder statements as the basis of science.

Their homework assignment during the first week was to look around their home and their neighborhood and record "data" about things that they see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. They were to then write a "wonder statement" to go with each observation. I admit, I had no idea what I was getting myself into -- I did not know that their questions would be so far-reaching.

Here are some of their data and queries:

-"I smelled my dogs poop. Why does her poop smell like that?"

-"I felt the Ipad? Why is it so hard?"

-"I hear my mom yell. What causes her to yell."

-"I tasted tacos from my mom's kitchen. What were the ingredients in the tacos?"

-"I smell garbage in my neighbor's lawn. Why does it smell like this?"

-"I feel sleepy in the morning. This makes me wonder why im sleepy."

-"I here happieness. How did I get here."

-"When did my enviorment become bad."

-"I smell smoke. How can I smell smoke but not see fire?"

-"I taste rice pudding with toasted bread. Why is rice white? Why is the bread brown? What ingridients does it have in it?"

-"I smell oil. Why do I smell oil."

-"I hear dogs barking and sometimes sounds like guns. I wonder what make those gun noises."

-"I hear the train when they go by. How is the train so loud when it goes by."

-"I can see the colesium outside. Why are the lights so bright."

-"I feel danger. When did my neighborhood become bad."

Jun 9, 2011

Compliments and Middle School Teachers

I had an evaluation meeting with my supervisor and colleague about my performance as a student teacher. One of the things said about me during the meeting was, "she has such a middle school personality."

Hopefully they meant "middle school teacher" personality and not "middle school" personality.

At any rate, that comment had me floating on Cloud 9 all day. My colleague did not say it in a particularly praising (or otherwise) manner, but I will take it as a compliment. I interpret it to mean that my ever-evolving teaching personality contains a bit of patience, strictness, wackiness, and a love for middle school students' quirkiness. Perhaps this is my interpretation of the statement because I know that I want to teach middle school students and this is is the personality type that I'm aiming for in order to teach middle school. I haven't yet had enough long streaks of teaching on my own for me to have enough of a meta-understanding of how I interact with my students or how they perceive me...

Also, this may or may not be what my colleague meant when he made that observation, but I'm willing to live with the ambiguity.

Jun 2, 2011

The Cogs and the Difference-Makers

Casual Conversations about Teaching. 

Him: "Wow, you want to teach in New York and D.C? Those are some tough areas. You know that those districts and cities are so big that you probably aren't actually going to make a difference, right? I mean... you know that, right?"
Me: "Umm... yeah, but... it's not about that..."

That was the best that I could come up with in the moment. I quickly tried to mask my flustered lack of response by spitting out my work-in-progress philosophy of teaching to my non-teacher friend:
"It's just that... I love teaching. I don't know how else to say this without it sounding weird, but I love teaching these kids. If I had to go back and teach at (*******) again [a "picture perfect", White suburban, upperclass high school where their biggest problems were kids cheating to get high grades and substance abuse due to pressures at home to get good grades... albeit, all big problems that need to be addressed, just not my cup o' joe], I'd quit teaching and find something else to do because it was not fulfilling for me.  
These kids... they make it so I can show up to work nervous, anxious, and recovering from a bad night or a bad week of teaching and completely turn my week around. Behavior and antics aside... I love my students."

So Why Teach?

How many adults can say that they love the people that they work for? I don't mean the people who sign your paycheck or the people who hold your employee contract in their hands -- I mean the 25 - 120 people you see from the time you "punch in" to the time you "punch out" every weekday. I mean the people for whom you refrain from hitting your snooze button one more time each morning. I'm talking about the people who give you hell and yet count on you to be there every day. I'm talking about...

OK, OK... This is starting to sound like another stereotypical sound bite. Self-righteous proclamations by young, privileged, green teachers in urban schools are a dime a dozen nowadays, so I'll stop there.

What I wish I had told him is I don't teach to change the world, a city, a school district, or even an individual. Who am I to single-handedly climb onto soapboxes and rally the crowds with romantic notions of "change" until they start thinking like me? No, no. I cringe at the thought. This is not why I teach, nor is it why I like to teach in urban communities.

I teach because I love having dozens upon dozens of interactions in one day, sometimes even in the span of one hour. I teach because I like feeling my problem-solving brain cells buzz with each new snag or new form of an old snag. I teach because I like the "ah-hah!" reactions of students after making a new science discovery. I teach because I love watching students interact with each other and lift each other up when their friends need a boost.

The Difference-Makers.

Yes, I am merely another cog in a runaway machine, but so are politicians, administrators, standardized test-writers, good teachers, bad teachers, hardworking parents, academically-prepared students, students with learning disabilities, students of Color, White students, janitors, counselors, drop-in tutors, and college admissions officers. They all are never going to stop doing what they do despite mass confusion about best strategies towards meeting ill-defined and oftentimes conflicting end-goals so why should I? Are they making a difference? If they are not, then why do they do what they do? If they are, then what makes them so different from me that I shouldn't try to, as well?

And if I don't "make a difference" (whatever that even means anymore), screw it. I'll teach anyway. I don't have the mental capacity to foresee what my kids', the nation's, or my future holds. Hell, that's another reason to teach -- because we don't know what the future holds, because the future is not set in stone, and because we can contribute towards shaping it.

But no matter. At my immortal-minded, naïve, inexperienced age, I'm not thinking long term. I can only focus on doing my best each day, enjoying doing my best, and giving my students enough encouragement to stay in school and continue their education for themselves just a little bit longer. When my days no longer are fulfilling, I'll quit. 'Til then, I'll teach.

- - -

Besides being inspired by that conversation to write this post, I was also inspired by the passion in the form of professionalism by a local teacher and fellow alumnus of Mills College. Please read about and/or watch the video about her research through teaching when (if) you find a free moment in your chaotic end-of-the-year teaching lives.

- - -

Apr 27, 2011

Help Wanted: How Do I Create Learning Opportunities for Students Who Need it the Most?

One problem I've been struggling with lately is that I noticed that my students can be divided up into the following student categories:
= = =

Student Type 1: I understand the material and I just got a [91-100%] on the test. I am ignoring you as you talk about ways to get help on the material.

Student Type 2: Agh!!!! I don't get it!!!!! HELP ME! I'M FAILING...AT LIFE! (*Student Type 2 comes in for extra tutoring before school, during lunch, during advisory, and after school; student also proceeds to take advantage of every extra credit opportunity and test corrections; meanwhile, their grade creeps up from a C+, B-, or B+)

Student Type 3: I got an F on this test. I am too far gone to do raise my grade. Also, before school/lunch/after school is my time, not yours.

= = =

Short of advising that I teach my students the material in such a way that they understand it the first time around (I'm working on it!), what can I do for my students who are unmotivated to put in the extra extra work that it takes to catch up and keep up with the material?

Many of these students who struggle from the beginning are already trying to cover more ground due to information gaps (e.g., some students learn how to balance chemical equations in middle school, others do not, yet all are allowed to enroll in high school chemistry). The longer that we press on in chemistry, the further they fall behind; the further they fall behind, the less motivated they are to take advantage of remedial/extra support. This, of course, leads to sinking grades which then leads to less motivation, and... yeah. You see where I'm going with this.

So how can I offer support to the students who need it most in such a way that they do not feel embarrassed to ask for help? How do we show these students that it's not hopeless and that we have not given up on them? How do I, every now and then, close my doors to the students who do come in for tutoring to get the C+ to B- grade boost so that I can give the students who are struggling the most a few moments of undivided attention?

I've tried a couple of things: I suggest to all students that they ask each other for help and that I am not the only resource in the classroom for learning science; I've tried having less drop-in tutoring and more invite-only tutoring sessions. I cannot tell if the former is working; as far as the latter, I end up getting a lot of no-shows.

I know that my question is nothing novel -- does anyone have any suggestions for me?

The Morning of the CST

We had an advisory period before today's math CST. The team decided to provide the kids with last minute review and tips. Each teacher would provide slides for their subject's test. Given that I won't be able to see the entire group today, to show face before they go on their big dance:
He gives tips too:
But really, I got the idea from their english teacher. So, I pay tribute:
And to lighten the mood, a guest appearance by the man I spent spring break with:

Mar 29, 2011

How to Employ Student Potential

A student asks "Ey G, can I erase the whiteboard?" In past years, I'd be reluctant. After all, the whiteboard is sacred teacher space. This year, though, I've allowed myself to trust: "Sure, go ahead."

It started with the little things. Writing down the learning target and the homework assignment, collecting homework, passing out handouts, erasing the whiteboard, and picking up the phone. The more and more I let go, the more and more I realized: students LOVE to do the teaching duties I HATE.

So, we create a structure where their volunteership becomes official. G's employees - classroom jobs for the willing. I'm surprised to see hands shoot up in the air after I describe the duties of our "HW Returner." Wow, they're really into this. I may have struck gold in my 4th year of teaching.


Fast forward from September to February. My Assistant Principal invites me to his room and requests that I join a team flying to Oregon in a (dun, dun, dun!) all-expenses paid, work trip! (My eyes sparkle - "Me?" I ask "You want me?") I'm privileged to join 4 other teachers, 3 admin, and a few district heads to an SLC conference in McMinville. I revel in the opportunity to step back from the daily grind of teaching to pick brains and collectively brainstorm the future of our high school.

I'm SMH'ing myself at my neglect to my edublogosphere. I should share more of my revelations, experiences, and observations this epic 4th year. (Note: If I stay in teaching for life, I may look back at this year as the one that did it for me.) My experiences in McMinville are some that must be shared. Amongst these things -

There, I witnessed an employment of student potential at even grander levels. I thought it was great that my students volunteered to do measly classroom tasks. Well, in McMinville, I witnessed:
  • A cooking class that catered for any school function requiring a meal (I'm talking restaurant quality)
  • A student-run kinkos where teachers could drop off templates to be copied and picked up at a later time or date.
  • A store with merchandise all designed and sold by students, where business is managed, budgeted and ran by students.
  • A snack bar with a similar setup.
  • An in-house bank with students as tellers.
  • A day care center ran by students.
  • A school garden beautifying campus, maintained by students.
  • Performing arts courses where students are called upon to perform and provide entertainment.
Student enterprises left and right! While administrators may wince at the idea of budgeting off money to hire personell to run any of the above, McMinville found a way to do it for free.

The 'free-ness' is not what's important though. What I love is that they've found a way to tap into their student potential.

Students are allowed a space for their talents and creativity to thrive in a real world context. Rather than digging their noses into textbooks every hour of every day, these students are given an opportunity to bring relevance to their learning experience - mirroring what they may see in a future job.

Don't believe me? See here:

Ladies and gentlemen, that is of 5-star restaurant quality.

Here's Orphal making a withdrawal from students on-campus.

Got a younger brother or sister you need to take care of, why not bring them to the in-school day-care!


Fast forward from February to April and we are in the midst of programming what we plan to implement for next year. The latest of these employing a similar philosophy of 'classroom student jobs' and 'McMinville's student enterprises.' If we're looking to change the culture of our school, why not let the students make it happen. I like it. Stay tuned.

Mar 24, 2011

Good Day Sunshine

OK, so there is no sunshine to speak of in Berkeley, but today was a good day!

I’m glad for it, too, because yesterday was such a bad day. I was “putting out fires” for most of the period and ineffectively chastising students.

I started off yesterday’s period with a Do Now that asked students to identify reactants and products, to identify a reaction as a combustion reaction, and to predict whether the reaction requires heat or gives off heat. We then did a pre-lab as a class.

Students were bored, antsy, confused, and apathetic. As a result, they acted out. And as a result to that result, I reacted. Heck, I probably reacted because I was bored and confused.

At the end of the day, two tips that I’ve received previously from veteran teachers came to mind:

1. Science is hands-on – it’s fun! There’s no point in disciplining a class all day long if there is no science being learned or done. Once you bring out the activity materials, students will be so excited and consumed in the activity that they will not have any reason to act out.

2. Engage in the practice of “need-to-know”; that is, only give students science jargon when there is a need to know it. Meanings for new words do not stick unless appropriate context is associated with the word. For students to understand its meaning, the word needs to be meaningful to the learner. Do not “tell” students filament and stigma, rather, give them a flower to analyze and have them describe and identify its parts. Only when a student asks, “what’s this skinny part?” do you as the teacher give them the new word.

I failed in both of these arenas yesterday. I made my students sit in their desks with nothing but a pencil and paper in front of them for the entire period. Their only opportunity for engagement and interaction was when I asked students to interact with me in “teacher ask, student answer” fashion.

I knew that I needed to scrap almost everything about yesterday (except for the Do Now! I’m never getting rid of that!). I observed my colleague, Natalia, at her student teaching placement yesterday after leaving my placement and learned a lot of tricks of trade. I was very excited to implement these strategies today. Her strategies included:

  1. Make it so students have no excuse not to do their work. Need paper? Here ya go. Need a pencil? I’ve got plenty. Oh, you want to use pen? I’ve got that, too. Forgot your book at home? Take mine. Can’t see the board? Try on my glasses.
  2. If a student is off-task, rather than badgering the student with: “get to work”, “stop talking”, “turn around in your desk”, approach the students instead with: “how are you doing on your work? Do you know what you’re supposed to be doing now?” Try to identify the reason for the students' behavior rather than simply addressing the behavior.
  3. Congratulate students often; do not let small successes go overlooked. When a student who is habitually tardy finally arrives on time, thank the student… etc. etc.

Anyway, all that to preface why today went relatively well. For my students’ Do Now, I had them finish the procedure section of their lab report. I figure, a Do Now does not have to be a problem to solve – it can be a silent task, too. Students entered the classroom slightly confused at the change of procedure at first, but I restated and clarified the directions over and over again and wrote the directions on the board until finally, everyone knew what to do.

Two of my students, D and T, are a tricky duo. They used to act out when they were separated, so I sat them together. That worked for awhile… and then it stopped working. I tried reminding them about how I am trusting them to monitor themselves and each other, to no avail. Finally, today I pulled them outside at the beginning of class. I tried asking them if they really are mature enough to sit together, but neither boy would make eye contact with me or answer my questions. I said “fine, I’m going to step inside for a moment and leave you two to decide with each other if you need to be separated or if you can sit together without disrupting the class.” I entered the classroom and attended to the rest of the class. Before I could return outside to check on the boys, they entered the classroom calmly and returned to their seats together. They were fine for the rest of the day. I made sure to praise them both, on separate occasions, for staying on task.

Students worked with chemicals today, exploring endothermic and exothermic reactions in Ziploc bags. Since they were only working with bicarb, phenol red, and calcium chloride, I could more or less leave them to conjuring up every combination they could imagine in various amounts. They had a lot of fun and acted very orderly because we had just reviewed safety procedures when in lab (handle chemicals carefully, do not walk around the classroom holding chemicals, take turns, etc.). They got curious and asked permission to add other things in their reactions to see what would happen (i.e., a lock of hair). I made sure to have them predict outcomes before running reactions and made sure that they notices certain physical changes lest they get too distracted by other physical changes (for example, “touch the baggie! Don’t be afraid! Remember, we are experimenting with endothermic and exothermic reactions today, what should you be paying attention to?” when they became too afraid that the expanding baggie was going to explode in their hands as it filled with gas).

We were all so involved in the chemical reactions that I did not have time to hand out their exit tickets. Instead, their exit ticket was to clean up their lab stations. The classroom has never been so clean!

I even assigned homework today and was met by reactions of “oh, that’s it? We only have to do this section, that’s it?”.

I love my kids!

Mar 17, 2011

"Letter to a Young Teacher"

Yesterday was a bad teaching day on oh-so-many levels. I'm talking kids out of their seats, chasing each other, cussing each other out... Never again. Never, never again will I let things get to that level. Well, if I can help it, anyway.

My head is still above water, though, and I am trying to congratulate myself for at least that.

This blog post, written by one of my teachers and mentors, is helping me hang on to my vision despite thoughtless (and painful) side comments from others ("Still sure you want to go into teaching?"). In a letter to a disheartened young teacher, he says, in a nutshell:

We go back to work again and again for [these] goals... The joy of working with kids. The commitment to organizing and social justice. The pay is bad but, really, not that bad. One can have a decent, if modest, living doing this. And we may be scorned by idiots but we are revered by parents, communities, and students. (--Rick Ayers)

I need to keep reminding myself that I can only do my best, and at that, my best is pretty good. Next year, my best will be even better, and so on. The important thing is that I need to keep showing up for the fight so that I'll have shortcomings to learn from and successes to celebrate.

Mar 8, 2011

Past Midnight Meanderings

I was on campus until 5 today. I got home and graded for 3 hours. I made phone calls home to about 20 parents. It's a lil' past midnight now and I am not fully prepared for tomorrow's lesson(s) - (2 things to prep for - geometry & algebra). I've got some friends who request an update on my teaching life and half-expect a "yeah, it's easy now." When they don't get it, the follow-up question is usually "but, didn't you plan for everything last year? Can't you just re-use it.. and stuff?"

There's nothing quite like the first year, but the work load does not stop there. Yes, each year you get better & each year you get a better handle, but this will always be the job that never ends. One parent tonight said to me, "well, I thank you for your work. I don't think people give y'all teachers enough credit. I mean, you guys should be the ones w/ the salaries that these ball players get." "Thank you. Thank you. But, you know, I definitely don't do it for the money."


There's a lot on the teaching mind I'm bound to get on paper, but for now -

Did you know, each year...

1 in 57 doctors lose their license.
1 in 93 lawyers theirs.
but, for teachers, 1 in 2,500 lose their credential.

As an educator in public education thirsting for what next steps we can take towards positive reform of our schools, how do you think I digest this fact? Just food for thought that'll (hopefully) drive my next post...

Mar 5, 2011

Old School Tricks/New School Application

Even though, I've studied self-fulfilling prophecies before, sometimes it takes a certain context to facilitate new ideas. I just started reading Outliers. You know you are a science dork, by the way when you get more engaged by the footnotes then the text. Here is a footnote that really struck me:

The way canadians select hockey players is a beautiful example of what the sociologist Robert Merton famously called a “self-fulfilling prophecy”-a situation where a “false definition in, the beginning...evokes a behavior which makes the original false conception come true.” Canadians start with a false definition of who the best nine- and ten-year-old hockey players are. They’re just picking the oldest every year. But the way they treat those all-stars ends up making their original false judgement look correct. As Merton, puts it: “This spacious validity of the self-fulfilling prohecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning.”

At first, I thought of my experiences with Nelly this week as I read through this passage. Our relationship has changed in the past 3 weeks due to a series of events that have allowed her to make her own physical and mental space in the learning environment: a class job and the removal of a distracting buddy from class.

Her behavioral changes facilitated a rise in my expectations, my increase in patience with her cultivated a more intellectual relationship that has brought out a more intellectual engagement in class and in turn a greater understanding of biological concepts.

These connections between the Nelly incident and the self-fulfilling prophecy give me hope that I can create a self-filling prophecy for any student if I doctor the circumstances well enough.

Self-fulfilling prophecies in education are often discussed as a negative phenomenon often applied to lowered expectations of minority students and the criminalization or vilification of minority students especially African-American males.

It is time to use this cousin of reverse psychology, let’s call it front-loading psychology, in our favor as educators. In reverse psychology a person tricks the subject into doing what he or she wants by manipulating the subject into thinking that the idea was originally his or hers. The trickster does this by presenting oppositional viewpoints to incite rebellious desires in the subject driving this person to conceive his or her “original” idea.

Front-loading psychology would use the “self-fulfilling prophecy” as an advantage: trick the subject into believing they were chosen for their potential, when they are in fact participating in an open enrollment program that they selected. Educators could convince their students that they have been selected to participate in an “elite” small learning community or academic program. We could treat the students as though they had earned their way into a reward for their merit. Maybe students would react to school and teachers differently with this change in mindset. Maybe it will generate greater feelings of ambition, duty, and belonging.

This may seem like a simple concept and idea, I wonder how hard it would be to convince students of this though, since our program is open enrollment (as it should be in order to provide students of all backgrounds the equal access to high quality public education).

You may be thinking “Of course, I have high expectations of my students, that’s just good teaching.” First, I challenge you to consider who you punish during class the most and why and who is not succeeding in your class. Second, I am talking about a systematic and widely implemented application of this phenomenon to an entire school of approximately 2,000 students. Now, I just have to figure out how to do it.....

Mar 3, 2011


Each time that I post my mini-goal for the day, I am usually able to finish my day in a hopeful mood. So let's go.

Today, I will do a better job of setting my students up for success in their Exit Slip.
Today, I will encourage conversations about analyzing data.

= = =

I'm surprised that I escaped yesterday w/out anyone's hair catching on fire. For real. We're launching match rockets in class and students were having trouble staying clear of the runway and landing pad. Students were bouncing off the walls because they had just gotten out of an assembly, it was a minimum day, and there were big, bad high school students roaming the classroom visiting their old teacher. My kids just HAD to prove to the older kids how big and bad they could be, too. Did I mention I only had 15 minutes to teach something meaningful and catch it on video for my PACT?

Crossing my fingers, hoping that PACT graders find my students' behavior as endearing and my teaching as relentless.

Mar 2, 2011

Budget Cuts as Personal

I watch the news. I see the protests. I've participated. I have the discussions and read the articles. In the past two years, I've had new hires become friends... and then watched them become latest teacher whose enthusiasm for a blossoming career in the profession is transformed into anger towards a pink slip. Their stints at this school are reduced to but a year.

However, never have I felt the brunt of budget cuts on education like I have this year. Our principal held a meeting three weeks ago where he shared "we MUST cut 1,000,000 dollars from our budget." There's no typos here. 6 zeros. One MILLION.

This year, I've had the privileged to be more involved in the behind-the-scenes work of the school. I feel like a contributor towards it's future. We put in time. We have spirited discussions. Recently, I was part of a team of 8 to visit a school in Oregon whose models towards teaching fascinated us. We want something similar. But then we're hit with news like this.

The morale's been high, especially with the promise of continued positive restructuring in our school. But the morale is clouded when a dollar amount equivalent to 25 personnel positions is on the chopping block.

I love this job. And this 4th year has brought me to unprecedented levels of passion towards my craft, my school, and, especially, my students. I walk around w/ bags under my eyes like I have in past years, but there's a new willingness to do the work. There's a smile. There's investment.

It's disheartening to think this sort of passion (that's beyond just me and shared by my colleagues) is a passion not supported by higher ups in government. The folks that play the numbers game and say education must take a cut. These cuts run deep. My principal shared, "I've been in this profession doing what I do for a long time, but I've never seen it this bad." We are expected to do more and more with less and less. We lost two math teachers last year. How many will we lose this year? What if I'm on the chopping block?


During advisory today, we had a class meeting driven by this sort of discussion. I love to hear my students opinions and I love to hear them engaged in impassioned debate. The issues brought up mirror the ones I just heard in our faculty-wide budget meeting. The students know what's up.

Three of them have taken the role of mini-activists, leading students to participate in this March 2nd day of action. More power to them. Fist in the air.

Feb 14, 2011

Zoom In: Do Now

I borrowed a page out of Mr. G's book -- literally, more or less -- and made Do Now sheets for the students that they could hold on to for the week.

Until recently, I collected half sheets of Do Nows from students. I found, though, that students were getting confused about where they jotted down some of their notes or ideas because I did not give the Do Now half sheets back (shame on me). I hope that this way, with the Mon-Tues-Weds-Thurs-Fri Do Now sheet, they'll be able to track what we've covered over the past week.

Another way that I tried to improve our Do Now time is that I initialed students' sheets if they had finished/attempted the question. Even though I walked around and checked for progress before, the fact that I was now marking their papers motivated students to show me that they attempted it. I have a hunch that the students whose Do Nows were blank prior to today were attempting the problem in their head, but if they were not confident in their answer, they would not put anything down. Since I am giving credit for work shown, I get to now see students' thinking and reasoning regardless of correct answers.

Students have plenty of time to get from one class to another; as they enter our classroom, there is usually a minute or two of settling down before the bell rings. At first, I wanted for students to enter the room quietly and calmly. I'm starting to let go of that fantasy, though. The kids always file into the classroom excited about something: Valentine's day, a game that was on the night before, a project that we are doing in science, the fact that their dog just had puppies... the list goes on. They crazy. My friend gave me a nice analogy today:
"Sometimes, when I'm at home and watching TV, I put the TV on mute so that I can do something for a moment. When I'm done with whatever it was I was doing, I un-mute the TV. To my surprise, the volume is incredibly loud and blaring at me! I did not notice how loud the TV actually was until I compared it to complete silence. When students are walking into the classroom, they might be coming from a fun activity, or from the lunch room, or from the loud, crowded hallways, and they do not realize how much of that loud energy they are bringing with them into the classroom. I think that when students are in the classroom, it's important to bring the noise level down to complete silence for at least a moment; that way, students will have a frame of reference for their own volume."
I'm learning to allow students to shake off their crazies until the bell rings. Once the bell rings, I told them that that is a signal for us to be in our seats and working quietly and independently on the Do Now. It sometimes takes a moment, but I'm learning to be OK with that because the kids are 8th graders: they're silly and they're very emotional. My main focus in terms of volume now is to give kids a frame of reference of where our volume needs to start in our classroom before we can start adding volume throughout the period.

Feb 8, 2011

Convert Keynote to Powerpoint

Hello edublogosphere,

My colleagues and I have recently taken our collaboration to a new level through dropbox. We are ecstatic and encourage all teachers to give it a looksee if you haven't already.

Quick question, though - does anyone out there know how to mass convert keynote slides to powerpoint format? I already know you can convert individual slide sets into .ppt through keynote, but I'd like to convert MANY (I'm talking hundreds) and converting each set one-by-one sounds like a tedious task.

Can anyone help a brotha out!? I just wanted to give it a try! I know this type of question request has been successful before. You guys rock!

~Mr. G

Feb 7, 2011


I know that "they" say not to talk over people when teaching/giving instructions, but I think I'm going to leave room for on-task chit chat. At any rate, I'm done with sucking all the fun out of 8th grade by being a police officer at the front of the room instead of a teacher.

Student today asked if I was wearing contacts. That confused me for a second because I do not own contacts. Then I realized that I forgot my teacher disguise (a pair of über weak glasses) at home. These kids don't miss a thing.

My Do Now question for the day involved the students writing down a question that they might want to pursue for their science fair project. As I walked around, I saw that students had some really exciting and creative ideas. When I asked for a share-out, though, everyone was shy/uninterested in participating. So much for that. I need to find a way to make share-outs actually important and useful. I need for them to share out so they can hear each others' ideas and so their classmates and I can give public feedback.

Jan 31, 2011

The [Winter] Phase of Teaching

We're at the peak of winter. The end of a semester. But, the sun decides to show it's face on this occasion. Rays glimmer through the trees and onto the tennis court. "40-15!!" I yell moments before tossing a tennis ball into the crisp air. "Wuuuubiiing" "Game!... what is it now? 2-3?"


It's teacher buy back day. Our campus sans students becomes one giant playground during our hour-long lunchtime break. Your forget how cool your co-workers are and how fun it'd be to chill during the daily grind of teaching. As a good teacher friend in the Bronx once put it: "Eat, teach, breathe, sleep... repeat." You also forget how beautiful the campus can be. Someone sweeps leaves off the court. I like the sound. Redwood trees stand like giants overlooking our impromptu tennis match. The air smells fresh.

After it was game over, another teacher friend and I decide to change gears and shoot hoops right across the way. "Let's play P.I.G." "But, we gotta get back to the meeting. We got like 3 minutes." "Alright, howbout I.T." ".... Fine."


While at school sans students, springtime teacher talk begins to infiltrate our conversations. I'm talking the type that goes like "so, you planning on coming back next year?" "you looking around for something new?" "did you know you could make 10 grand more per year if you taught at ____ district!? Oakland, man, I'm tellin' you... Oakland. [SMH]"


Monday. Start of a new semester. Excited to see my students. Happy to see my students. But am brought back down to reality when frustration meets me. "y = -3x + 2"... simple enough, start w/ the y-intercept. Down 3, over 1. "y = 5"... oh no, now you doin' too much Mr. G.

You forget the level of patience required to teach. You forget the subconscious mantras you must repeat: "They're only 15. They're only 15. You can't expect them to act 25." You forget the never-ending bell-to-bell flurry that is one period of teaching, juggling a multitude of tasks while meeting the needs of each student and maintaining composure in front of your soul-hungry audience. They're ready to throw tomatoes at you at any second.

And you remember the friends you came into teaching with. You remember how they've laid down the ultimatums: "This is it. This is my last year. I mean, 4 years is more than good. You can't blame me." For a second, you wonder how much greener the grass feels on the other side. It must feel so soft on your feet to run barefoot.

Then, you feel pressured to do better. To teach better. To plan better. You're challenged for not putting in enough effort and you question everything about your teaching self. The CST's are looming, your students grades can be higher, and you're wondering quite frantically what more can you do. Have you put in your all, Mr. G? Have YOU?? Really!?

Copy room afterschool and you can't help but participate in a venting session with another young, like-minded teacher. It's a tough time of year, we conclude. A tough time of year. Fittingly, in the copy room is posted this sign:

[Edit, graph should not be titled 'first year' of teaching for this happens annually]


Though, you must accept that this sort of winter to springtime thoughtfest is part of a teacher's natural cycle. Start at August. End at June. Teachers have the liberty to rethink and readjust paths each summer. That's a good thing! Coming back for another go round makes it that much more meaningful.

As for me, I'm 95% sure I'll be back on this campus overlooked by giant redwoods. No doubt though that I've stepped into a disillusionment phase and am looking forward to getting past.


Jan 29, 2011

Tiger Moms

Amy Chua, love her or hate her. Regardless, I still think "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" is a great little read. (She's pretty funny too. Ruthless, but funny.)

Pushing aside all those moments where my jaw-dropped, my eyebrows furrowed, and I mouthed "WHAT?!" in shock during my first read of this essay, this resonated with me:

"Western parents worry a lot about their children's self-esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't."

I agree.

...for the most part. Two days ago I experienced a little taste of Tiger Mom action. A parent greets me as she arrives to pick up her son from the classroom. She asks if her son gave me the pancake fundraiser form. I say no. She calls her son over. "Why didn't you turn in the form?" He replies "I don't know... I forgot." Uh oh... I knew what was coming. Run, Maddoxx, run!

She looks at him, pissed, and says "This is EXACTLY what I was talking about." She then goes on to tell me how he has been driving her crazy at home. How she reviews all his work and can't believe when he gets -1 on his papers instead of 100%. She then tells me that every time he gets a problem wrong, he has to write "I will double check my work" FIFTY times. She says she does not understand why he keeps missing problems. She takes away his toys, does not let him watch TV, and makes him stay up late redoing his work. She then says, "I even thought about having him stay with my parents for a while because I can't stand him right now."

Poor kid is standing right there throughout this whole verbal bashing. I get that she expects him to do well because she knows he is capable of it. But as I stood there and listened to her talk, I couldn't help but think, "minus one ain't that bad!"

Amy Chua would probably look down at me for promoting "mediocrity."

I would probably look down at her for acting like a b*tch. (Must be that Western side of me!)

Jan 25, 2011

Taking Care

This semester (and forevermore), I promise to take care of my whole self, not just my teacher self.

This way, my students will have a more put-together teacher standing in front of them each day.

Finally, Effective Afterschool Sessions

One key piece still missing at my school is a space designated for peer-to-peer tutoring and peer-to-peer collaboration. Each time my math team comes together to brainstorm 'math intervention', it seems we are chasing an elusive white rabbit. I tell 'em "I say we set a time and a space where we get kids comfortable to visit and work collaboratively."


I've had a few attempts, but the most effective thus far is what I've seen these past three weeks. Tuesdays and Thursdays til 4:30 afterschool in Mr. G's room. Find yourself some tutoring.

In past years, I've felt aversive to tutoring. After all, it's unpaid, extra work with students who [some may claim] should've 'got it' if they had put more effort during class time. Don't get me wrong, I understand the effectiveness of one-on-one student to teacher time as much as the next teach. I just haven't found a way to make it a regular habit for myself nor my kids. Aside from this, the past 3 years of what some may claim "the teacher hazing process" would always leave me pretty exhausted and in need of non-school thoughts and nap time by the end of the school day.

But now, things are on the up. Now, we've got both. Each Tuesday and Thursday, I readjust the seats to accomodate group seating by 3:05 and students fill the space. What normally provides house to 54-minute algebra and geometry periods becomes a relaxed afterschool atmosphere where students are welcome to give and receive math help. You should hear the conversations in this place! Students are at the white board doing multi-step problems. Students are seated in groups of 3 or 4 focused on specific concepts and teaching each other. Not just current students, but ex-students as well. Not just students of Algebra & Geometry (the subjects I teach), but Algebra II'ers as well. This is what I call a community of learners:

What am I doing during this time? I'm sitting at the desks with them. And I help where I can. I advise students on how to become stronger students. Of course I can't conduct a 1 on 15 tutoring session, but I can pair students up where I see fit, and I act as the last resort "ugh, I really really don't get this... let's ask Mr. G" answer giver.


Lastly, these relaxed spaces for math help act as a relaxed space for fun, cool interaction. In today's session, for example, we had another one of those age-old dialogues concerning my youth:

S1: Mr. G, how old are you anyway? You must be like, either 25 or in your early 30's.
Me: Hah, those are two very different ages.
S2: So, you started teaching right outta college right? When you were 22!? What did the kids think about you then?
Me: They thought I was either 25 or in my early 30's.
S1 & S2: LOL.
S2: Here, tell me what year you were born. I'll do the math.
Me: 1968.
S2: Aright, what year is it? 2011... (3 minutes later)... No, you lyin'!

Jan 20, 2011

Chaos and Confessions

Chaos. Never before today have I been more thankful for the invention of the word 'chaos'. I'm in such bewilderment over the happenings of class that the only comfort that I can find in the day is in the fact that I have a word to describe said happenings.

OK, so I'm exaggerating a bit. By the end of class, no one was hurt, no one was in tears (including me), and I think I even succeeded in acknowledging and touching base with every student in the class.

Just to update everyone on my current situation, I am currently a pre-service science teacher. Last semester, I worked with 9th-12th grade chemistry students. To call what I did last semester "teaching" would be a bit of a stretch. For the past two weeks and for the next five months I have been and will be teaching (for real teaching) 8th grade physical science.

I have the best situation that I can ask for, really. The kids are generally motivated -- albeit, to different degrees -- they are curious, and they generally do their work (they even turn it in!). My cooperating teacher has given me free rein to plan as I wish, discipline as I see fit, grade as I deem fair, and so on. The classroom is interesting. The kids are sweet. My CT is patient with me. Everything's great.

Today, the problem was me. I had absolutely no control over the class. It hurts me to confess that I had no control today, particularly here in the open and to an audience of experienced teachers, but it is the truth. Kids were walking around, yelling across the class, using extremely offensive language (or at least, as offensive as you can get as an 8th grader still exploring your creativity with newfound derogatory words), climbing on tables....

Now, I'm sure that you read this, your eyes are picking up speed and skimming across my complaints because it's nothing you haven't heard before and nothing you haven't seen before. By that same token, I thought I too had seen this all before and that I knew what to do to bring everyone back together. I thought I had a full bag of tricks: I specifically called out people who were acting out. I rang the little bell/noise maker. I said that we would not begin until I had everyone's attention. I allowed for a little bit of give because, after all, they are only middle school kids and not high school kids. I waited and waited and waited. Lesson-wise, I thought I put together a string of activities/assignments that were engaging enough to keep the class at a busy level of calm.

The only thing that saved me today was the bell at the end of the period.

Despite the fact that it was my lack of management that caused learning to come to a stand-still, I still need to keep my focus on the students. I'm still learning how to be a real teacher, but I want to keep my learning student-centered -- not teacher-centered. Yes, that's right -- I just ranted for some six or seven paragraphs about what I did wrong today, yet my closing paragraph is about my students. It matters less what I say to keep the class calm, it matters less that I envision my class to be a room full of silent, smiling, learning kids, and it matters more that my students are safe, are learning, are curious, are applying their knowledge, and are thinking like scientists.

What does this mean?

It means that when I reflect on my day, I need to think about what works for my students and what it takes to get these specific students to learn science and to control themselves in the classroom. I can take notes and carefully study every teacher in the world, but none of this matters if I don't know my own students. They are my informants. In a way, I am experimenting with various methods of teaching and managing a classroom, and they are my data. When lessons fail or succeed, I need to look to them for hints as to what to change or repeat next time.

I'm exhausted, but I'm not defeated. Tomorrow is a new day.

= = =
P.S. My second confession is that I did not threaten the class with punishments for misbehaving. My third confession is that I do not know what the school policy is for misbehaving. My goal tomorrow is to become very familiar with this policy and make sure that my students are familiar with the policy.

Jan 16, 2011

As Seen on Postsecret

Came across this secret in this week's collection on Postsecret.

Wouldn't it be interesting to have a Postsecret: Teacher Edition?


Jan 14, 2011

Teacher Man

I've got these ideas and stories thirsting to get out of my system and onto this blog, but I'm on that "I'm feeling too self-conscious about my writing ability that my ass subconsciously refuses to sit and my fingers refuse to type" part of my blog cycle.


But fuck that.


I was sick last Wednesday. I slept from 6pm Tuesday to 1pm Wednesday. With maybe 2 hours of consciousness inbetween to eat, drink medicine, and create sub plans. The sub I requested went by the name of "Sheppard." Whatevs I thought.

He e-mailed me later that night, sharing that it was only his 2nd day on the job as a sub. He shared his history as an EE major with 4 years worth of calculus experience. He wanted input on his performance as a substitute for the day and he shared what went on w/ my students while I was out. Nice, I thought. A sub who cares about his work.


I knew Thursday would be a "lemme get through this" kinda day cus I was still sick. But my students are awesome and it was great to be back. I asked about the sub. The kids all shared that they liked him. I looked forward to relaying the message.


Just now, a bearded man (white beard) walks through my classroom door, lookin' like a nerdy version of Santa Claus. But a cool nerd, though. Smily when he talks. Made me feel happy right when I shook his hand. It's Sheppard.

What I thought would be a quick 5 minute check-in of his sub day becomes a more than half hour conversation of teaching, histories of our lives, and why we're now here. He's a man of 62. Previously a software developer who made bank, so he stepped outta work for 10 years cus "let's just say, he had enough money to do so" (his words, not mine). He looked around for a new software developer position when he felt antsy, but said it didn't feel right. He only half-liked his previous two jobs. He shared that the only interaction he got was w/ his computer and with "nerds" (his words, not mine). He wants something that's got a mission, that's got direction, that's got impact and purpose. He's got the bug to be in the classroom. He wants to be a teacher. He wants to be a teacher for kids like the kids we've got here in Oakland. So, after reading a few books on teaching and on subbing. He's here as a sub....

I'm a man of 25. Yet, this man 37 years older who's got the beard of a wise man is here now asking me about my passions for teaching, my methods, and picking my brain to see how he can better himself in the classroom. We talk about schools and kids and classroom management plans and etc. I applaud him for his desire to step in and teach. I share that I firmly believe a teacher is the one factor that can make the most immediate impact to students... to get them interested in school again... to get them interested in the content your teaching. I say, if there's a place that needs great teachers it's Oakland. He knows it. We're on the same page.

Jan 5, 2011

Happy New Year!

We've been stagnant on the edublog front. I've got posts in mind and hope to get around to them soon. But I would like to say I've got the best team of teachers and the dopest students on the planet. Teaching will always be teaching. The workload hasn't changed, but Mr. G is having a dandy good school year. Just wanted to share.