Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"I Was Never Good At Math Either"

Next Tuesday night is Parents Night.  We set up as departments around the school and parents move as grade level groups to each room (so we'll get all of the ninth grade parents together for instance).  We get ten minutes with each group of parents.  A lot of other departments hand out syllabi and describe their courses.  I wouldn't want to just hand out syllabi on my first day of class with my students, so I don't do it with their parents either.

I run a class.  I have a warm up on the board followed by a list of what I plan to get accomplished that day and then their "homework" (to read the syllabus and e-mail me with any questions).  My warm-up is usually something that their children did in the past week, preferably something without a lot of prior knowledge necessary.  I want them to experience the fast-paced energetic focused energy that their kids see every day (or at least I hope is what the kiddos experience).  Most of them appreciate the shift from being talked at, but some are definitely uncomfortable.

"I don't know how to do math," "I don't remember any of this stuff," "We weren't here for the lesson."  These are all common comments that I hear as parents wrestle with algebra and calculus.  I give them lots of encouragement, don't let them give up, suggest that they help each other, but make sure that they each understand the concepts.  It gives the parents a sense of how I help their student when they are struggling in class.

After our warm up, the "In Class" schedule usually includes a section on "Your attitudes about math."  I remind parents that their attitude and feeling toward math and how they talk about it will influence their children.  I implore them to please be careful to give messages of encouragement and not an "I never got this either."

I'm sure that I will have more questions about SBG for the ninth grade and about our connection to UVM for calculus, but I want to keep the focus on how we deal with discomfort and what we want to model for our children. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

First Day

We all know the days...the, "who am I to think I could be a teacher?" "why did I go into this anyway?" "how can I get through another day like this one?" 

At the beginning of the year when everything is new and shiny and exciting, we can ride the wave of adrenaline and forget about those days when we feel particularly challenged and exhausted and incapable. 

Yesterday was my first day of school with kids.  I had the ninth grade in the morning, and gosh were they doing their best to impress me.  I work at a tiny school (80 students in grades 7-12 this year) and the 7/8 grade math teacher speaks of me as a legend that students are preparing for.  "You need to be ready for Jasmine next year"  "Jasmine wouldn't stand for not showing your work like that" etc.  I certainly hold high expectations for my students and launch right into academics on day one, but I'm not sure that I have quite the intensity that my reputation brings. 

I started Math9 (a combo of algebra & geometry) with the question "Why do we learn math?"  I have obviously thought quite deeply about this question myself and I always look forward to hearing what the students have to say about it as well.  The best response this year was "to keep the world organized."  Many of them also spoke about it being powerful to lean a universal language.  I start the year with this activity to encourage students to think of math as more than "when am I going to use THIS."  I want to encourage them to see math as more than for cooking and careers and sports scores (though these things are also important of course), and I hope that they will appreciate the deeper problem solving and pattern seeking that is the beauty of math. I left class feeling energized, encouraged and excited for the school year!

In Calculus we started with the question "What is Calculus?"  They had a few minutes to write their own thoughts and then we shared as a class (the class has only 8 students this year).  Every student had some great ideas to share; they had clearly heard about this forboding subject for years!  The problem was not in their responses to the prompt, but in the way that they responded to one another.  This class has a reputation for snarkiness and sarcasm and they lived right up to it on day one, laughing at one anothers contributions and making comments.  I am clearly going to have to lay out some more clear expectations tomorrow.

Yesterday was not one of those days where I question my qualifications to teach, but calculus class reminded me of those times.  It got me thinking about how I cope when I'm feeling particularly down. I work at a school with a really incredible faculty who care for each other deeply.  My first line of defense yesterday was to seek out teachers I admire to ask how they have worked with this class in the past, and get some empathy and help with problem solving.  Coming home I did some writing for myself to process the day and then got engrossed in cleaning and organizing tasks at home.  For me, finding order out of chaos at home (a closet or shelf) helps to remind me that I can be in control and the craziness is not taking over everywhere.

When I have those hard days, I want to be able to draw on the memories of "keeping the world organized" and other insightful moments to remind myself of the important work that I'm doing.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Out of Lurking

I am a lurker.  Almost three years ago, I fell into the world of math teacher bloggers.  A previous co-worker sent me a link to a friend's blog (I wish I could remember who that gateway blogger was).  I was mesmerized by his ideas and then I saw his list of favorite blogs, and figured, "if he has great ideas he probably reads interesting people."  So, I started a literature crawl of sorts and stayed up until 3am exploring the great world of passionate, innovative, creative math teachers all over the globe.  I had done more professional development in that six hours than in the last two years combined.  My friends laugh lovingly when I tell them that I read math teacher blogs to rejuvenate in the evening, and I'm looking forward to telling them that I'm not only reading them, but that I have one of my own.

Ten years ago I studied aboard in England and in order to keep up with my family and friends in the US, I kept a LiveJournal, basically a primitive blog.  I loved to keep lists of things that I would write about in the computer lab...long lists of stories and moments that I wanted to make sure that I captured to share with my loved ones.  Although I have always loved to keep a personal journal, something about the accountability of the public record helped me to experience my life in a richer fashion...making notes to flesh out later.  As life has become more busy and I have had more people to process my thoughts with, the written record of my experience has been missing.

I took this summer off from direct service with students for the first time since I was 14, and part of that was that I also took a break from reading blogs.  Last week as I was working on fueling my fledgling excitement for the beginning of the school year, I remembered that blogs would be a great way to get back into the groove.  When I'm just going to read one or two blogs, Sam Shah is on my A1 list, so up came this blogging challenge.  For three years I have been lurking and peering in, snatching some great ideas and using this community to help me up when I was feeling down on teaching.  Bowman in Arabia helped me to take that last step to dive into SBG last year.  [I plan to dedicate a whole post to how I use it in my classroom on this blog soon.]  I feel so grateful to all of these people who I have never met.  And although I'm not sure what I'll write about or if it will feel useful to others, it will allow me to process my experience with more intentionality and give me a space to keep a written record of my ideas and thoughts. 

Thank you for joining me on this journey of coming out of the lurking closet and becoming incredible math teachers!