In my classroom: Five days until finals

When this blog goes up, Tom and I will be participating in the Color Run 5K in Queens. Honestly I’m not feeling it at the moment (T-11 hours until it starts…no turning back!), but I’m excited because a bunch of my teacher friends will be doing it and a few more will be cheering on the sidelines. And then we’ll hang out and chill (literally, as in icing our sore, out of shape bodies) for a while after the race. Here’s Tom and I at our first and only other 5K two summers ago!

5k

Anyways, a consensus of students and teachers at our school [and probably any school in America] would say that the past two weeks were hell-a long. They’ve been stressful and busy and long and…well, I mean, that’s typical for teachers at the end of May with final exams and reports coming up. We are down to 5 school days until final exams start. Like, what?!?!?!?

Last week, my Algebra I class continued with linear functions, focusing on figuring out if a point lies on a given line and finding the equation of line given the slope and a point on the line. This past week, we found where lines intersect (AKA solving systems of linear equations) by graphing and by substitution. They took the unit test on Thursday, and we started reviewing for the final exam on Friday.

I was so relieved when I finished creating, printing, and copying review sheets for both of my Algebra classes because that meant I was set for the next week. It also means that I have a pretty decent foundation to create the final exams. This week will be devoted to reviewing/studying for the final, so it’s pretty much just autopilot from here on out.

For Algebra II, I’m really happy to be able to say that my students have been using trig functions (all 3!) to find a missing side and a missing angle. I originally was only going to cover sine with them, but once we did some problems together, they told me that it was really easy. So we then worked through cosine and tangent problems and they have been doing so well. We even did some word problems with trig functions (you know, the shadow of a pole is this long and the angle between the ground and the top of the pole is the much, find how tall the pole is…). We also learned the Law of Sines because they were doing so well.

They took their unit test on Wednesday and we started reviewing for the final exam on Friday. Except they’re all seniors except for one and they seem to have checked out, so not much was accomplished during the last period on Friday. Oh well, I see them all 5 days until the final exam, so I think we’ll be okay.

Math in Everyday Life has been heavily focused on finding tax (we stick to 10%) and the total amount of a purchase with tax included. We’ll be reviewing in that class too so they feel comfortable going into their final exam.

Over the past 2 weeks, we had a Performing Arts Night and the school musical (it was Annie this year and the students did phenomenally!), I judged the middle school science fair, I attended a professional development conference in Times Square, and Mary and I have worked out four out of the five school days both weeks. Yeah!

As much as I’m looking forward to the end of the school year, the end of the stress that is at its peak this time of year for teachers, I will miss the routine and the people I get to see and interact with every day. It’s so convenient and easy to see these people I care about because we’re all under the same roof for 8+ hours everyday and we’re all dealing with similar issues. So as much as I’m feeling overwhelmed and can’t wait for June 19th (official last day for faculty), I plan on enjoying and savoring these next 3 weeks before people start scattering for the summer, some to return in the fall and others who will begin new adventures elsewhere.

In my classroom this week: Frustration, Budgeting, and Basketball

This week was seriously never-ending and super frustrating. But thank goodness it ended on a high note and I can’t complain too much. So I’ll complain just enough.

You know when you spend a bunch of time on something only to realize that all of that hard work (physical, mental, and emotional) was a waste? That happened a lot this week.

Students and adults alike who don’t want to/can’t be helped even after spending so much effort on doing everything in our power (within reason, duh) to get something accomplished. That’s the most frustrating of everything that happened this week, and I was ready to pull my hair out. It didn’t just start this week either; it’s been culminating since September, but this week just exhausted me beyond belief. I mean, I was physically drained by Monday afternoon, each day becoming more and more drained.

I’m human, so I’m not perfect either – you wanna know how many times I created a lesson, typed up the note/worksheets, and made copies only to realize that I had made some sort of mistake that wasn’t easy to just have the students make small edits? Too many. For example, in Algebra II, the coordinate grid I included on the word problems didn’t work with them (totally Desmos’ fault because why, oh why would they only put 3 grid lines between 0 and 5?), so then I had to re-make the grids, re-print, and re-copy the notes. I know it sounds like I’m complaining about stupid little things, but as a teacher without much time to spend doing something more than once, it’s annoying. I just made so much extra work for myself because I wasn’t careful and instead I hurried through. Dumb-y.

This week was all about introducing functions to my Algebra I class – we talked about what functions are, practiced filling in function tables given a function rule, and on Friday we learned how to create the function rule given a full table. They’ve been doing really well, and even those students who struggled in the beginning have improved so much!

Algebra II focused on solving, graphing, and answering questions about systems of linear inequalities word problems. They’ve been really disliking this mostly because each problem is very involved and takes quite awhile to solve. But they’ve also liked it because they get to use colored pencils to color in the shaded regions.

My Math in Everyday Life (MIEL) students finished their budget component this week; I asked them to each choose two jobs: one was a job they really want to do in the future, and one in a fast food restaurant. They chose movie actress, veterinarian, TV sports broadcaster, ASL interpreter, and surf-lesson instructor for their desired jobs. For fast food, they chose places like McDonalds, Starbucks, and Five Guys.

They were asked to find the average salary for each of their two jobs, and from there we calculated the monthly salaries. I then gave them a list of expenses they could choose from and the corresponding prices (estimated, of course). They could choose things like owning a car versus buying a subway ticket every month, owning a pet, having a cell phone, having cable TV, and other things.

When they added up their expenses, they then were to calculate the amount left over every month when subtracting expenses from their salaries. They quickly realized that they were spending way too much, even with higher salaries at their “desired” jobs. None of them could afford their desired expenses when working solely at fast food (which we calculated came to about $15,000/year or about $1250/month).

My student who wants to be an actress realized that with the starting salary, she would not be able to afford her expenses, so I asked about where she thinks the term “struggling actress” comes from. She made the connection that usually actresses are also waitresses, and that’s because they can afford their expenses if they work two jobs. This was true with her acting and fast food salaries combined. It was really cool for them to see all of this and realize that they can’t always have everything once they’re out on their own.

Finally (FINALLY!), yesterday was Friday. We had a student-faculty basketball game after school to raise money for an organization in Red Hook – people had to pay to play and to watch. I signed up to play but was actually quite nervous because I’ve never been good at basketball. I’m better at the endurance portion necessary for running back and forth, bursting down the court to knock the ball out of students’ hands. I don’t think I played horrible, but I didn’t play amazing; I did a good job on defense, and also almost made a basket.

But it was really cool being in a different setting with students, seeing their talent up close, and having fun with them while also getting to be aggressive with them. Teachers won by about 5 points, still holding the championship 2 years running now (it started last year, so teachers have had it from the beginning). We also had a great crowd including a bunch of awesome teachers with signs and other paraphernalia to cheer us on. It was a great time.

This week is going to be crazy – we have a volunteer project Monday, regular day of school Tuesday, half-day with parent-teacher conferences following Wednesday, full day of P/T conferences Thursday, and a regular day on Friday. Only 2.5 days of lessons to prepare, but P/T conference days are exhausting. I’m just hoping it’s not as frustrating as this week was.

I hope everyone had a great week; what was the most (or least, we can be positive here!) frustrating or fun thing that happened to you this week? It’s good to let it out, get it off your chest, and seek help of others – I’ve learned that big-time this year working at my school with some amazing co-workers acting as my rocks to vent to and lean on.

In my classroom this week: Good news!

This week was a short one, but it felt oh. so.  l   o     n       g. Most schools in New York had this week off for their “February recess” or what-have-you; we had it back when I was in high school. However, my current school only had two days off, and I think this is because we get a full two weeks off for spring break every year, whereas all of those other schools don’t.

We had Monday off for Presidents’ Day and then Tuesday was dedicated to professional development; overall it was a great PD day. We had a child psychologist come in and talk about recognizing the signs of ADHD and how to teach students with ADHD. Then we watched a really great documentary about bullying called Reject which made me kind of emotional; hearing these families and friends of victims of bullying talking about their unfortunate experiences was difficult. I started thinking about the possibilities of any of my students or even my own future kids being bullied to the point of hurting themselves and/or others. Let’s squash bullying!

On Wednesday, I reviewed Circles with my Algebra I class, continued systems of linear inequalities with Algebra II, and continued working with money in Math in Everyday Life (MIEL). That afternoon, my group of advisees and I went to read to a group of elementary school students from our school system. It was cute watching my five junior boys reading to pairs of 4th and 5th graders. It really shows their character when they get to work with younger kids; it takes down their “I want to be treated like an adult while still acting like a kid” and “I’m too cool for everything except basketball” walls and replaces them with enthusiasm and sincerity. They get to be like cool older brothers for 20 minutes, without the real-life responsibilities of older brothers.

After work, I got to hang out with one of my co-workers whilst checking out a venue for our all-faculty end-of-the-year party. It was great getting to talk for a couple hours, chatting about our pasts, presents, and futures. However, by the end of the night, I could tell that my voice was starting to get weak from talking all day at school and then talking over the music at the venue.

When I got home, Tom noticed that my voice was a bit raspy, but I figured it would be fine after a night’s sleep. Thursday, I introduced word problems for systems of inequalities in Algebra II and continued with money in MIEL. My voice started out okay but progressively got worse. By the time I got home, my voice was super raspy and squeaky, cutting out every other word. And trying to speak with inflection? Forget it.

And Friday, I had no voice. I started out the day whispering. It was great because it really made them stop and listen to what I was asking or telling them. It was also funny because I found that students ended up talking very quietly, even to the point of whispering, because I was unable to talk so they followed suit. I told them they could talk normally, but they still were weirdly quiet.

I had the help of Read&Write for Google, an extension that can be used for text-to-speech on Google Docs. It’s also good for speech-to-text, translating to and from different languages, defining and suggesting words while writing, among other things. My  MIEL students got a kick out of it, asking me to change the voice of the computer, to type their names so they could hear them on the speakers, and wanting to hear my message in different languages.

I was supposed to lead the lesson in Chemistry, but I wasn’t able to because I had no voice. After lunch, my advisees along with 2 other advisories got together and made posters for a food drive we are running at school. This coming up week, we will be collecting goods to donate to a local food pantry or soup kitchen to supplement our volunteer work at the FoodBankNYC. My last class of the day, Algebra I, took their Circles test. And then it was Friday afternoon and I was going home to relax the weekend away!

Although out of order chronologically, I had my supervisory meeting Friday morning, and this is where the good news from the title comes in. I know there is a bit of anxiety among teachers at my school because “contract season” is upon us. April is the time when people are either offered a contract to teach next year or are politely (and with difficulty) excused.

Private schools don’t have tenure, so even after three or five or ten years, your job is still not entirely secure. This is actually a great thing because this keeps teachers much more accountable (education buzzword!) than those in public schools who are protected from losing their job that they totally suck at. They might get lazy knowing that they can do [practically] no wrong in terms of their ability to teach their subject.

Good news though: she said there is absolutely no doubt that I will be given a contract to teach again next year! When I acted somewhat surprised and extremely happy, she asked if there was any indication that I wouldn’t be offered the position again for next year.

Well, I mean, I think I’ve done well since starting in September. I think I have good rapport with students and coworkers. I absolutely love my job. However, I’m “only a teacher” and I don’t have the power to make contractual decisions on behalf of myself. In the realm of teaching, you just never know. So as long as I don’t do something royally stupid between now and June, I have a job next year!

In my classroom this week: “Can of worms”

Sometimes, it’s important to take a break from the academics for five or ten minutes and focus on outside stuff that students are dealing with, see others dealing with, or have genuine questions about (that’s the beauty of having the freedom to create your own curriculum!).

In my opinion, flexibility is a super important quality to have as a teacher. I wasn’t born with it, believe me; it took work, but I’m so glad I’ve gotten better at it! And I’m not talking, like, physical flexibility, like touching your nose to your knees or anything like that. I’m talking about flexibility in planning and time and such, if you didn’t pick up on that. Rigidity is necessary as a foundation (having a routine, knowing when it’s time to re-focus, etc), but can be the biggest enemy of the teacher.

Anyways, my students and I talk about a lot of stuff, math being number one, obviously. But I like weaving in real-life stuff, letting them discuss issues in the country or world around them, hearing their opinions, giving my own, and just allowing them to have a safe space to talk about school and non-school things.

However, because I am their teacher and not their friend or older sibling, I make sure to keep it on the “school-appropriate” side as well; I can’t make them feel too comfortable!

In the past, my classes have discussed race, religion, sports, politics, and things that have happened in their lives. When asked, I have also shared the story of how I met my husband, how he proposed, and what my college experience was like.

My Math in Everyday Life students tend to ask the most questions and get the most off-topic because they have the most need of discussing and being made aware of math and non-math concepts, phrases, and other everyday occurrences than my other students in Algebras I and II. They also make me more cognizant of the words I use and the tone in which I use them, which helps me to become a better teacher in the long-run.

This week, we were discussing budgeting, a part of our “money” unit. I asked my students (comprised of freshmen, a junior, and a senior) what kinds of expenses they might have to pay when they are out of school (including college, if they choose that route) and living on their own. They brought up the usual – apartment/house, bills (electricity, water, gas), food, and extra expenses (clothing, movies/theater, etc.).

One student then raised her hand and asked, “What about kids?” I reiterated that we were focusing on their personal expenses post-school and pre-children; it’s just them on their own with a job. “That’s a whole ‘nother can of worms,” I joked. They all chuckled but gave a kind of confused look.

“Have you ever heard that expression, ‘A whole ‘nother can of worms,’ before?” I asked. They all shook their heads.

I was wondering why we were talking about worms,” one said.

Oh boy. I explained that it just meant I didn’t want to bring in a whole other situation into the mix. They would have enough to worry about after school living on their own without bringing children into the mix. They nodded, but it was obvious that they didn’t get the connection between a can of worms and having a baby.

I mean, I’ll admit it is a very strange phrase, and I couldn’t find the origin or history behind why the heck ‘can of worms’ was chosen over pretty much anything else. I did, however, look up images of them for a possible featured image. They all made me a bit grossed out and queasy, so I decided to use that white board design from my student instead. But I digress.

Another great conversation happened on Wednesday; four or five times a year, we dedicate an entire school day to a different topic and organize workshops in-school or off-campus field trips surrounding each topic. Usually it’s something about social justice or history, but this week we focused on math (yeah!), specifically the powers of 10.

Towards the end of the day, we watched a 45-minute long video called The Blue Planet. During the movie, a student whom I have never taught or interacted with very much (other than the usual “Hi, how are you?” in the hallway) was in my group and openly asked questions about the concepts discussed in the movie. He mostly asked about certain weather phenomenon:

  • Can we see tsunamis from space? Answer: Not unless it’s super clear and the satellite camera is zoomed in closely. I also Googled images and there aren’t any real pictures, although that would be super cool!
  • Can we have earthquakes here in New York? Answer: Of course! Usually the earthquake starts elsewhere, but it has reached NYC – this actually happened a couple years ago!

And I was able to correctly answer them all! I honestly surprised myself in my ability to answer him, bringing my knowledge up from the depths of dusty high school cobwebs and past/current events. I Googled stuff after I answered, to make sure I wasn’t misleading him and the other students in the room. And, by golly (another strange phrase), I was right!

It’s funny and a little scary when the kids think I’m a genius. Another co-worker explained to his math class why we get tired after we eat – a lot of our blood goes to our stomach and our energy goes toward digesting the food we just ate. The students were blown away at this new knowledge and how much it made sense; they told him he was so smart and that he knows everything. He assured them that he didn’t know everything but they weren’t convinced.

I’ve had the same reaction and, though it feels good to feel smart, I am by no means a genius! I wonder if this is what my mom felt like when I was growing up and was amazed at the amount of stuff she knew and could explain to me. I was always in awe of the stuff my mom told me, and the fact that she could do the majority of the crosswords in the newspaper without consulting her crossword dictionary was incredible.

Most of all, I love the times when my students blow me away with their knowledge or ability to think and reason critically. When they make connections from what they have learned to new material, or when they are able to express their thoughts and opinions in a clear and concise manner (especially when it’s difficult for them to do so in math), those are the best moments.

Granted, it doesn’t happen all the time or even every day. Some days I wonder if they’ve remembered anything I’ve taught them. But it’s on the days when they make those connections to new concepts, have their “oh my gosh, that makes sense!‘ moments, or ask those questions that make me think about how and what I have learned in the past (can of worms, anyone?) that make it all worthwhile.

Ultimately, I hope I’m doing a good job in helping my students become well-rounded, knowledgeable citizens so that, when they leave my classroom, they will be capable of managing the world around them, of asking questions and finding answers, and contributing to the betterment of our world.

End the cheesiness already!

My first semester as a full-time high school teacher

What a whirlwind couple months!

If you had asked me five years ago (during my first semester at SUNY Geneseo) where I thought I would be in five years, there is absolutely no way I would have had any inkling it would be where I am. My roommate Becky and I were too busy annoying the obnoxious girl next door, making our room into “A Little Girl’s Mind” for my art class, and getting used to living together.

I would never have imagined living in New York City with a teaching job that I enjoy as much as I do. I wouldn’t have said I would be married to an amazing guy like Tom, or that I would’ve received my Master’s degree (let alone from Columbia U).

It’s so cliche, but I don’t care. I have been blessed beyond my wildest (within reason) dreams or (realistic) expectations. I mean, I can think of crazier things to include in my wildest dreams, but I am much more of a realist (like Iggy Azalea, duh).

But anyways, I love my coworkers, I love my students, and I love waking up and going to my job. Sure, Mondays are usually difficult, and 6:15 comes way too quickly most mornings, but I have never had a job that I was actually happy and excited to go to every day. Until now. [Disclaimer: I also love my friends, family, and my husband and our future puppies and kitties and children and so on, but that didn’t fit so much seeing as this post is mostly about my job.]

From my first job as a newspaper deliverer at 12 years old (that lasted a couple months), to serving at Dunkin Donuts (for a year during college), cashiering and supervising at Walmart (4 different times over the course of 4 years because of college), and my two long-term substitute jobs (7 weeks and 10 weeks), nothing has been as satisfying as my full-time, first-year teaching job.

And I know how rare and wonderful that is. I’ve heard so many teachers complain about their first year(s) being hell and beyond stressful. Yes, of course I’ve been stressed and sleep-deprived and run ragged some days/weeks, working 12+ hour days, taking work home, and learning how to work with each student and each coworker individually.

BUT. Overall, I am completely content at this point in time and feel like I’ve been successful for my first semester of teaching. I’m actually contributing to the lives of young people, and I’m hoping they take at least one positive thing away from my time with them, whether it’s math-related, life-related, a sense of humor, or higher self-worth (or, bonus, all of the above).

Holliday is the Best

And not only that, but they’re contributing to my life as well – they make me laugh, but they also challenge me and make me think and re-think my ways, both in and out of school. They make me a better person…just don’t tell them that, or they’ll get big heads.

It wasn’t always this way, especially in the beginning of this school year.

I worked at my current school last year as a student’s personal aide, so I already knew all of the staff and most of the students (except, of course, the incoming freshmen this year). In that sense, it was a little easier getting more acquainted with my coworkers because I had already interacted with them and gotten to know them last year. They invited me out to happy hours on Fridays even though I wasn’t technically part of the faculty.

And we still go to happy hours every week – sometimes, we don’t all go because we all have our rougher-than-usual weeks where we would rather just go home and crash at 6 pm, but that’s completely understandable. But I love that our faculty is such a close-knit community. Even within our school system, the elementary and middle school faculty don’t seem as close as we at the high school do. Yay for community!

As easy as it’s been to incorporate myself into the faculty, it wasn’t as easy among the students. I think they still saw me as ‘that girl’s aide’ and couldn’t see past that to see me as a competent and college-educated math teacher. But I think we’ve gotten past that because the amount of trust and respect I’ve gained since September is significantly higher. I mean, check out the amount of chocolate and cookies I got from them yesterday!

Teacher haul

The last two weeks were especially stressful with meetings, covering fellow teachers’ classes, and scrambling before the upcoming break. And now we’re off for 2 whole weeks for winter break. Ah, the perks of being a teacher.

Calling all guys! (Girls, you can come too!)

Men, I would like to ask you a favor. It only requires you to do what you do best – think like a guy. I guess I will begin by giving you my motivations for writing this post and asking this of you.Uncle Sam

First and foremost, I am a female. It’s as simple as that. I always hear guys say they don’t understand women, and I totally get it; we are complicated creatures with complicated feelings and ways of thinking and acting that even we don’t understand most of the time! But the same goes for guys; I admit, you seem much more simple, laid-back, and easy to read, but sometimes you make it difficult because (this is my theory, so you can correct me if you disagree) you don’t want to hinder your masculinity or the way people view you as a “manly man”.

Second, I am an educator and have dealt with, am dealing with, and will deal with in the future adolescent and teenage boys. Over the past two-ish years, I have been a student teacher, substitute (per diem and long-term), and am currently a teacher assistant for students ranging from seventh through twelfth grades. So I have been able to witness the difference between the younger boys and the older ones. I admit, they do a lot of growing up in those 5 years (which sometimes may seem unbelievable, but they do).

Third, I hope to have children of my own someday, and I am hoping some of them are boys.

And finally, I have been reading this great book by John Eldredge called Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of A Man’s Soul. In the introduction, Eldredge speaks about the purpose of the book, saying, “I believe it will help men get their heart back – and women as well. Moreover, it will help women to understand their men and help them live the life they both want” (p. xii).

So with this said, I want to ask you guys what it was like being a young and/or adolescent boy. Working with my current students (eighth and fifth grade boys) I have been trying to figure out their strengths, weaknesses, what makes them frustrated, what gives them motivation. A lot of the time, I also look for what makes them constantly talk/move and distract/bother others during class, causing the teacher or I to incessantly ask them to “stop [being rude; talking; etc]” or “don’t [hit him; flip the chair upside down; etc]” or whatever. I look at these boys’ behavior not only in terms of math students, but also looking at them as people and if these behaviors stem from something more than just disliking math or disliking school in general.

I try not to nitpick every act of defiance or every little annoyance because, honestly, I would be so tired and I think it would do more harm than good. I understand that boys (and girls, for that matter) would rather go outside and play, or watch TV, or just run around with no purpose. I get that; I was an active kid too. Eldredge addresses three desires that are universal of males: “They may be misplaced, forgotten, or misdirected, but in the heart of every man is a desperate desire for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue” (p. 9).

So I, in no way, will expect my students or future children to sit perfectly still, not making a peep, for more than 10 seconds (unless you make it a game and the winner gets ice cream or a new Tonka truck, or something). I get it; kids need to move and be kids.

So here is where you come in guys (and I completely open the floor to women who have insight as well!). Do you remember what you were like at the middle and high school ages? What makes boys tick? Is there a way to handle “hyperactivity” (medically diagnosed or not), whether you used it on your own students/children or it worked on you growing up? Any other tips or insight into the minds of boys is greatly accepted and appreciated!

Also, I am not even halfway through this book, but I highly recommend it to guys and girls alike! Check it out here on Amazon (there’s a Kindle version!).