Nov 7, 2011
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
Oct 30, 2011
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
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
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
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
Jun 2, 2011
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.
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
Mar 29, 2011
- 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.
Mar 24, 2011
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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
Mar 5, 2011
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
Mar 2, 2011
Feb 14, 2011
"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."
Feb 8, 2011
Feb 7, 2011
Jan 31, 2011
Jan 29, 2011
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."
...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!)