Thursday, December 30, 2010


I feel like I am saying this all the time in person, so I suppose it's natural to say it often on here too. Can't believe how fast the year is going by. It's almost 2011 and I'm in the middle of a blissful break. Blissful when I'm not having weird dreams about school or fielding emails about kids' grades or phone calls (only one) from a kid about how to finish an incomplete project.

School has so consumed me that it's hard to know what to do with myself on break. There are projects around the house to tackle but I lack the energy to choose one and get started. There are friends I haven't talked to in months but it's so hard to talk to non-school people about school that I put off calling them.

I've been seeking projects that make me feel like a whole person again, rather than just a workaholic teacher. Exercise is on the agenda - I've gotten woefully out of shape this fall/winter - and my wonderful husband is embarking on a jogging program which I am joining. Also I will someday actually get around to going to a yoga class, maybe starting this break. And I just signed up for a neat creative project with a May 1 deadline that I will have to force myself to find time to do. And I just finished blocking a knitted baby blanket for my new niece or nephew due net month, and I'm starting a hat to replace my beloved hat that I lost on the subway a few weeks ago.

As far as school stuff, I intend to start doing some work tomorrow. Grading first, then high-level planning for the rest of 2nd term, then detailed plans for procedural changes (yuck) at the start of the new year to hopefully make things go more smoothly, then lesson plans for next week. Hope I get through it all.

I started writing this intending to write about what I am resolving for the new year, both in personal and professional terms, but I've been rambling instead. I feel like I make mini-resolutions for myself all year long, practically every day, thinking of things I want to change about myself or my life, so it's kind of an artificial construct to take my issues of the moment and declare them to be resolved for the entire year. Regardless, here are my two high-level resolutions for 2011:
  1. Take better care of myself (make time for non-school interests, especially SLEEP!)
  2. Figure out how to make my class better and then do it. I have some general ideas about what I would like to change but no brilliant ideas (yet) for how to implement. 4 more days until school starts back up to figure it out for this go-around, and 6 more months to keep incrementally figuring it out before the year is up. And something like 30 more years to keep refining it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bare Survival

Wow, can't believe the year is 3/8 over already - second quarter warning notices were due on Friday, which I think means second quarter is half over, though I'm too lazy to actually do the math to see if that's true - and I also can't believe I was so naive as to think I'd write on this blog once a week or so. While it is true I have been ultra-busy, it is also true that I have been too overwhelmed and uncertain to write anything even when I do have time.

I don't really want to try to summarize the year to date, but I will say that things are both better and worse than I expected. Some activities go well, some kids in some classes seem to be learning something, some kids like me and like science. Definitely not all. Maybe 20%.

I am exhausted all the time. I am unable to force myself to plan more than a day in advance, which means I'm often making worksheets at 11 PM. I'm getting somewhere between 4 and 6 hours of sleep most nights. Not enough. The stress and lack of sleep is really taking a toll. My husband is a saint for putting up with me. And cooking dinner. And keeping track of things like whether or not we have heating oil left.

I have a giant pile of projects to grade this weekend. I hate grading subjective work. And I know I don't put nearly enough comments on the work I grade but it's just hard to find the time and energy to do it for all my students. And after I grade the projects I need to make phone calls to parents of kids who are failing. I hate calling parents most of all.

Only 4 school days left before Christmas break, though. And we're doing a fun project in class all week, building Rube Goldberg machines. Which might be a disaster but also might be fun. Actually it probably will be both, alternately, or perhaps even at the same time.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


I am pleased to report that my first 3 days were good! None of my nightmares came true: no floods of 20 extra students I didn't have chairs for, no in-your-face defiance as I tried to go over my expectations, no schedule mishaps where I dismissed class half an hour early, no losing my keys, no mental breakdowns. For me or the students. I did lose my attendance sheet on Thursday, but that's the worst logistical problem I have had.

We did a scavenger hunt on the first day where the kids looked around for evidence of rules and key features of the classroom; on the second day we went into more detail about routines and procedures and built towers out of paper (which the kids LOVED); on the third day we talked about respect and responsibility and wrote goals for the year and did a second round of tower building (which the kids were weirdly not into... I either need to do the followup round on the same day next year or else pump it up better).

Monday will be less fun, we're doing a pre-assessment and some rules/routines followup. The rest of the week (and the year....) I still have to figure out. I think measurement and unit conversion practice on Tuesday and then we'll start the first unit for real on Wed. Tues will be kind of filler because I think I'll need extra time to get my hands on the textbooks and figure out a new seating chart (unit project will begin on day 1 of the unit so they need to be sitting in their groups from the first day, but I need time to go through the pre-assessments and figure out how to group them). But I think the measurement practice will not be a waste.

I know we're still in the honeymoon phase, especially since they're freshmen just testing the waters of high school, but I am really loving my kids. They are sweet and hilarious and brilliant. The towers they came up with? BRILLIANT. Lots of cool tiered towers, an awesomely stable cone, a wacky curved Eiffel Tower-ish structure, and more. I told them that the tower had to stand up on its own and they could only use the supplies I gave them (one sheet copy paper, 50 cm masking tape, 1 pair scissors). They did things like tape the paper to the table, wedge the paper in the crack between tables, and, my personal favorite, use the scissors handles for support. BRILLIANT, I tell you. The tallest tower was 104 cm. Freestanding. Constructed from a single sheet of copy paper in under 3 minutes.

Now, that's not to say I don't have my work cut out for me: only a single student out of all 4 of my classes scored proficient on last year's science state test, zero scored advanced, and well over half of them failed it outright. I have students with documented learning disabilities, students who are beginner level English Language Learners, and a student with severe anxiety disorder. And those are only the obstacles I already know about. There are kids who are already testing the limits of my bathroom policy, my hand raising policy, and my homework policy (and I am none too certain that I have set any of those policies correctly). And then there are the kids who haven't shown up to school yet, some of whom are repeating the 9th grade and probably won't be model students. I've already made several errors in judgment and I am sure I'll make plenty more.

But, the year has started, and it has gone fairly smoothly so far. I am hugely relieved. It's going to be a hard year but most of my anxiety is gone, replaced with a refreshing sense of possibility.

Monday, September 6, 2010


2 days to blastoff. I have been fairly calm but I'm starting to freak out. I have a solid plan laid out for the first three days, plus Monday of next week is pretty well set, and then after that I have zero plans.

So that's what I should be worried about. But I'm not, I'm worried about what I'm going to do wrong on the first day that will then blow up in my face two or three weeks from now. Or what I will do if a kid tells me the class is boring on the first day. Or what if a kid asks me how to get to a classroom and I tell him the wrong thing. Or what if I find out some school policy tomorrow at professional development that will require revamping of all my plans.

Also, my sweet wonderful calming husband is going out of town tomorrow morning and not coming back for a week. So I'm on my own to get through the jitters of the first week.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Physics, not math

I had no news for a long time and now there is plenty of news. I finished my masters at the end of July, and more importantly, a few days before I graduated I landed a job for September. It's teaching high school physics, not middle school math as I had ideally hoped for, but I'll be licensed for it and I'm getting excited about it. There are a ton of cool physics projects and demos and experiments. I've been flipping through the textbook and buying other neat books and trying not to freak out.

Yesterday I went to get a tour of the school building, ask questions, and see my classroom. Very exciting, although still totally overwhelming.

Will write more later as I start to get serious about planning the year. School starts after Labor Day but I really only have two and a half more weeks of time off until I start training and PD.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

June already?

The school year has flown by - I can't believe we only have 6 days left. On the other hand, I can't believe it's mid-June, 89 degrees and humid, and we still have 6 days to go. Where I grew up, school would have been out two weeks ago.

My job hunt continues, fruitless so far. I have had 3 interviews and at least two of them will not become jobs. Haven't heard back from the third so far. There's also a job opening at the school I'm student teaching at, and I would LOVE to be back at the same school next year, but there are a lot of reasons why that may not work out (new principal and other interesting things going on districtwide and at the school). There is also a hiring fair for the whole district this Thursday, so hopefully presenting my resume and my face to a bunch of hiring principals will bring me some new leads.

The bad news is, our eighth grade graduation is this Thursday at the exact same time as the hiring fair, so I have to miss the ceremony. I have gotten really attached to my eighth graders this year so I'm sad about that.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Interview Portfolio: Philosophy of Teaching

• Student learning…
  • * matters above everything else. This is how I judge my success as a teacher.
  • * is best tracked by collecting data and evidence, either through small or large formative assessments or observational data from class. I need to know what my students have learned.
• Mathematics…
  • * is a set of connected ideas. Whenever possible, I link new concepts to students’ prior experiences in or out of school, and I keep familiar ideas fresh by using them in current work.
  • * requires creative thinking. I want my students to learn to see the math in the world around them, and use math concepts to find ways to solve problems.
  • * includes communication skills. Finding the answer is not enough; to be successful students must be able to explain what they have done and why.
  • * is an active pursuit, not a spectator sport. Students learn more and retain more when they develop their own strategies, justify their work, and practice their skills.
• Students…
  • * benefit from positive reinforcement. Identifying what students do right, giving them recognition for it, and communicating their successes with their families are great uses of my time.
  • * have different backgrounds, different experiences, and different learning strengths – but all students will learn math in my classroom. Differentiating instruction allows students at every level to be challenged and meet high expectations.
  • * need to know what is expected of them. I endorse a code of conduct that emphasizes respect and responsibility, as well as a set of routines and procedures that make class run smoothly. That creates a safe, productive environment for all students and keeps the focus on learning.
• Teachers…
  • * must constantly reflect on their own practice in order to improve. There are things to be learned from successes, failures, and everything in between.
  • * are stronger when they work together. Collaborating about students, content, and pedagogy allows teachers to improve and innovate faster.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Interview Portfolio

I have been thinking about starting a blog for awhile now. What has been stopping me? Mostly the intimidating prospect of writing an introductory post.

I'm trying to put together an interview portfolio for the teaching interviews I hope to have in the coming weeks or months, and it's daunting for the same reasons. It's hard to sum myself up in writing. But since the anonymous blog introduction seems less consequential than the interview introduction, I will start with this one.
  • * I am student teaching in middle school math in an urban public school this year. I hope to get a job doing the same in September.
  • * I used to have a very different kind of job. I was pretty good at that job but didn't find it satisfying.
  • * This year has been extremely difficult. I want to be an inspiring, fun, effective teacher, but it is not easy. I wanted a challenging career, and it remains to be seen whether I will be able to rise to that challenge.
  • * This year has also been a lot of fun. The kids are hilarious and earnest and sweet and exasperating, sometimes all at once.
  • * I have been really lucky to be placed with some amazing mentor teachers. If I am half the teacher these people are in a few years, I'll consider myself a success.
  • * I am both excited and terrified about having my own class in September.
This is my honest take on teaching right now. I think for an interview portfolio I need a little less angst, some more specifics about what I've accomplished this year, and copies of lesson plans and student work. Piece of cake, right?