Jan 29, 2012

The Teacherpeneur - Part Teacher / Part Everything Else

What if Arne Duncan taught in the morning?

Nothing will ever take away my respect for a teacher, especially a great teacher. But, it's undeniable that something is missing when one's leaves the classroom.


At the start of the school year, the administrative team collected all the math teachers into one room. We could tell they hoped to set a tone towards "progress in math." A valid goal, since CST math scores took a slide and grade distributions in math classes are appalling. I was actually excited. Finally, admin's eyes are open and they're committed to providing support.

But, as the weeks have turned into months have turned into an entire first semester - we've yet to see the type of support we hoped for.


I wonder how different it'd be if all our 5 administrators taught 2 periods a day before tackling their administrative duties. Would they feel the sense of urgency we feel as teachers? Would it be easier for them to find answers to the question "What's going on? Why are so many students failing?" if they had to strategize how to raise a failing student's performance in a classroom they're currently teaching?

I wonder how much more receptive our teachers would be when they share strategies "that work" if they had proof of it working in their OWN classrooms. My principal has said time-and-time again that he's a "hell of a damn good teacher" and wants to "coach." Well, the only we we'd all know how great of a teacher your are is if you taught.


This is not an attack on my administrative team. They're doing a fabulous job given the circumstances and are progressively improving. However, it is a challenge to the structure of our education "ladder." Why must our ed-policy writers, administrators, curriculum writers, and coaches leave the classroom to fulfill their duties. At the very core, it is great teachers that we need. Do we need to take great teachers away from the classroom?


I first heard of the term teacherpeneur through my colleague Dave Orphal and I am completely intrigued by the idea. If I am to take on a new role (like District Math Coach), I'd only do so if I'm allowed 2 to 3 periods a day where I am still a teacher.

He makes a great point: are we asking too much from our new teachers and not enough from our veterans? If so, how can that change?

Jan 21, 2012

The Many Reasons Why Good Teachers Leave the Classroom

A teacher friend invited me to Disneyland after my third year of teaching. His co-worker had won  tickets off the radio and they had a few extra to spare. Good times.

It just so happened that all the teacher friends on this Disneyland trips were on their way out. I was the only one returning for another go round. And, during dinner that night, a non-teacher friend of my teacher friend directed this question to me:

"So, he's going back for his PhD in education, she's going to back to school to study to become an administrator… Ian, what do YOU plan on doing next?"

Obviously, it rubbed me the wrong way. The tone sounded as if entering the teaching profession is only a temporary thing or as if it is  merely a stepping stone to something "bigger." Or as if a response of "Well, I just want to stay a teacher" would be inadequate.


I don't like when good teachers leave the classroom. But, it's not uncommon. For those who I've seen leave since they've started, here's what I've witnessed:

1. Teaching is a burnout profession. What's required is far too great to keep sustainable year-in and year-out. Hellish students, hellish co-workers, hellish administrators, hellish parents become far too much to juggle for far too little pay. 
2. Job opportunities that are more lucrative to someone holding multiple degrees are offered. It's too irresistible not to take. 
3. Good teachers are promoted to a higher position (as an administrator, a director, or a teacher on special assignment). 
4. Good teachers feel their talents are not being put to work since, at the very core, their responsibilities remain the same since their first day on the job when they were 23. They don't feel respected and want something more. 
5. Good teachers go back to school and seek out larger opportunities in education. 
6. Some good teachers become famous and go on lecture tours (Yes, I'm looking at you, Dan Meyer).


I'm currently being recruited to become a math coach for my district. The pros are obvious - The ability to stay involved in education and the classroom without experiencing the exhaustion & stress from the daily teaching grind.

But, the con, is far too large to overcome the pros - it would take me out of the classroom.


I will not leave the classroom to become a coach. Nor will I leave the classroom to become an administrator.The only way I'd ever consider such a position is if I become (as Dave Orphal calls it) a teacher-peneur.

We'll discuss, but I say let's save it for the next post...

Jan 8, 2012

@igarrovillas on twitter

Hi all,

I know I'm in-and-out of the edublogosphere in terms of posts. But I'm always reading and learning and growing from you and your blogs. I'm also doing it on the edutweetosphere. I've decided to make an attempted to participate. So, if you'd like, follow and interact with me here:


Hope to see you there!

i want a math classroom full of life.

In this 5th year, the classroom that excites me the most are the ones where genuine student interaction is commonplace. It's a classroom where students share their thinking with other students, so they can debate, teach, learn, and problem solve collaboratively. This is a stark contrast from how I felt in those opening years when a quiet classroom of note-taking, "I do's / we do's / you do's," and well-behaved kids is what brought me home with a smile. Nowadays, I want a classroom that's full of life. 

At the end of the day, math is math. The kids who enter my classroom on day one either love it and are great at it or are not and hate it. The former group typically maintains their abilities. The latter group may or may not change their perspective, despite all my efforts.

However, I know in 10 years, the vast majority of my students will care less about whether or not a triangle is obtuse, acute, or right given the lengths of three sides. I know it from experience. In fact, I myself only know this information because it's in my students' curriculum. So, at the very core, what valuable takeaways do students gain by being in my classroom for a school year? (It's a good question...)

These collaborative interactions in the classroom are skills that are applicable in the real world. The problem solving skills they apply, especially in an interactive setting, are skills they can use for life. When these types of interactions are structured well in my classroom, where students of all skill-levels are comfortable to participate and interact with math, my teacher self is smiling.

Jan 5, 2012

math teacher's response to @kanyewest

Updated: 1/8/12

I've struggled more and more so with the question: "what's the point?" I read articles upon articles about curriculum reform and I listen to strategists and TED speakers debate about what we should teach our kids. I know times are a'changing rapidly, but at the end of the day I'm still a teacher in a math classroom bounded by the years-old NCLB system that's facing imminent change. Tonight, I still must complete my lesson plans for tomorrow, because it's still required that the students in my geometry class learn the pythagorean converse. This way, they can determine whether or not a triangle is obtuse, acute or right when given the side lengths of a triangle.

Kanye went on a 80+ tweet spree (Why he didn't just blog? I don't know). In four consecu-tweets, a tired idea:

Yes, Kanye, as a math teacher I see your point and I can agree with you. But something still rubs me the wrong way about people who propose bold statements about education, without ever geting their feet wet.  All I'm hearing is name-dropping and sexy words and ideas. "Real life," "new forms of curriculum", "kids should be able to start taking majors." It's the same ol' script. Nothing new. Kanye, teach my class for even just a week. Be Mr. West. Get the experience. Manage a classroom full of 30 mini-Kanye's who may have no regard for what you've got to say. Then, maybe you'll have a better idea of what it'll take to lay out what you mean by "real life." Then, you can show me your "new form of curriculum."  Then, I'll welcome your tweets with open arms.

(Of course, he IS Kanye and probably wouldn't have too tough a time connecting w/ my Oaklanders.)

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.