Friday, August 29, 2008

The difference one year makes.

What a difference a year of teaching makes. I wrote my first referral yesterday and it was nothing like the first referral that I wrote last year. Last year, I wrote up Shakira (obviously I am going to use fake names here) because she refused to change her seat when I asked her to. I thought that I had to make a stand and show that I wouldn’t back down and be really firm and mean, etc. Little did I know, that the seat I asked (no, told) Shakira to move to was next to a girl that she had fought with the previous week (I found this out toward the end of the year, when Shakira and I were on much better terms.)

Well, Shakira refused to go to the office – made a big scene, cursed at me, slammed the door, came back in, etc. I had no idea what to do, and got lucky that my principal happened to be out in the hall. Have I mentioned that I didn’t have a phone in my classroom last year? And that I still don’t have one this year…

This year, I’m pretty sure that most students in the class didn't even noticed when I sent a student to the office (not that he actually WENT there…)

I’m a better teacher – my geometry lessons so far pretty much kick ass. My AP Stats class on the other hand… not as good. I don’t have enough time in the day to prepare everything that I need to. I’m up by 5:45 am and then working non-stop until 10 or 11, when I fall into bed. The AP Stats material is difficult and I just need more time to create good, meaningful and engaging lessons for the students. They seem pretty confused so far – which has to be my fault. Hopefully, this weekend I’ll be able to plan out the entire week and make all the worksheets/handouts/etc. that I need so that I’m not killing myself next week.

Anyway, here are my favorite parts of the week:

1. Making EVERY GREEN LIGHT on the way to school today. I’ve never done that. It was awesome.

2. Eating lunch today with a student who wanted extra help. I brought him in some pita bread and hummus to try and he LOVED it. (He had warned me yesterday that I should also bring him a bag of chips too, just in case he didn’t like hummus.)

3. “Ms. Smallest Twine, do you know that you look like Ricki Lake? … when she’s skinny though . . . not fat Ricki Lake.” Ummmm.. thanks? Also, I don’t think I look like Ricki Lake – at least, no one has ever told me that. I am, however, a white woman with brown hair. Ahh, if only the kids knew who Norma Shearer was – because that’s who I look like.

4. Student: “You cut your hair!”
Me: “I did! What do you think?”
Student: “Eh, it’s OK.”

I had forgotten how much kids look at you all day – and how much ownership they take in how you look because you are their teacher. Last year, I was asked several times if I had a “hot date” because I wore my hair in a ponytail instead of a bun. This also happened the day I wore a skirt. Thanks kids, for letting me know that I’ve let myself go.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Zzzzzz... and Happy Birthday to me!

I'm still exhausted. This year has gotten to a MUCH better start than last year with classroom management and pedagogy. A LOT better.

Like Teach Baltimore, and Baltimore Diary, I had a visit from Alonso yesterday, which made my heart stop beating for a second. (Seriously, is that man EVERYWHERE -- or does he just like bloggers?) He was with just my principal who introduced him to my class and talked to him about how I'm teaching AP Statistics this year, so it wasn't very threatening. I even babbled something about pi to him.

My kids are ADORABLE. I bet they wouldn't like to be described that way, but they really are. I've been so impressed by how hard they're working , and I even had a student come to coach class today and it's the first week, so that's impressive. Of course, it's Day 3, so I can expect a bit more trouble to come, but we've started very very well.

Also, it's my birthday today. I am officially 24 years old, which is exciting -- but my birthday today will NOT be that exciting. I have Hopkins classes tonight until 8:45. I guess I can hope that we get out early.

That's all I have for now. I need to get better at posting on school days but, as I mentioned, I'm EXHAUSTED.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

First day

The first day of school was exhausting. How exhausting? Let’s just say that I fell asleep at 6 pm last night and woke up at 6:15 this morning.

More later. Too tired to type.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dancing Queen

I’ve been complaining a lot on this blog and I haven’t adequately expressed how excited I am about this year. I’m excited to:

-finish setting up my classroom, which is going to be awesome now that I kind of know what I want and what I’m doing.

-get my class lists! How many kids will I have? Do I have enough desks? Which of my kids will be in AP Stats (that’s what I really really really want to know).

-do a really awesome first day of school activity with my AP Stats students.

-meet my new Geometry students and make them like (or even love) math.

Two students came to visit me today while I was working on my classroom. I was listening to my favorite part of Nina Gordon’s “Bad Way” and was really dancing like crazy around the room. Hands in the air, stomping my feet, spinning around, etc. All of a sudden I thought, “I hope no one walks in the room” because I had my eyes closed (I was really into dancing). I opened my eyes and saw one of my students standing in the doorway laughing. No one had even been in my hallway all day, and then as soon as I started dancing… I really have terrible luck.

But this means I got embarrassment out of the way for the year, right? RIGHT?

Morgan State, Getting Little Done, and IKEA

I’m getting frustrated because once again, I got very little done in my classroom. The day began at Morgan State, where we listened to a fairly interesting talk about student/teacher relationships. To me, the interesting (and shocking) part was the statistics, especially about the over-representation of Black students in special ed, and the under-representation of Black students in gifted/ AP classes. Have I mentioned how excited I am to teach AP Statistics this year?

I was whispering to my awesome friend about the statistics when a teacher sitting behind me shushed me pretty rudely. I think there are polite ways to tell someone that they’re being loud (especially because we had NO idea), and she was not polite. Since she arrived late and left early, I was a little bit annoyed that she was rude to me when clearly she didn’t care enough to stay for the whole thing.

To me, the best part of the talk was the “questions” time. I have questions in quotes because I’m not sure that anyone actually asked questions. Instead they used the time to preach their own opinions, and several “question-askers” got some pretty rousing applause. That was fun.

After a pit-stop to Dunkin Donuts (where I got my iced French vanilla coffee with extra cream and extra sugar – mmmm), we made it back to school where awesome friend and I tried to put up the dry-erase boards that I bought at Home Depot. We used Liquid Nails to attach them to the wall, since I don’t have the tools to drill into concrete. This was kind of a disaster, because we had to lean against the dry-erase boards for 20-30 minutes until the adhesive dried. Ms. Awesome’s dry-erase board kept sliding even after 30 minutes, so we finally put a file cabinet under it to keep it from falling. We’ll cross our fingers that everything is still on the wall tomorrow.

And that’s pretty much all I got done before I left at 3 pm to help Ms. Awesome buy furniture for her new place and now I’m off to help build some IKEA furniture. Which, by the way, I am really good at. It’s one of my best talents. Yes, I’m an awesome friend.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Day 2... and I need better titles.

I finally got to spend a whole day in my classroom… and I got very little done. Here’s how to have one day go by more quickly than you would imagine:

8:00. Arrive at school. Lug in a whole lot of crap from your car. Feel like you’re dying because you are out of shape.

8:45. Awesome friend arrives and helps you lug stuff in. Sit around to talk and listen to good music. Do no work during this time.

9:30 – 11:15. Departmental meeting. Talk A LOT because you have A LOT of opinions. Then wish you could make yourself and others stop talking because this meeting is almost 2 hours long! When will it end? Continue talking anyway because don’t know how to shut up.

11:15-11:45. Machete way through storage closet. Search for Geometry books and other hidden gems. Find very little, sweat a lot (storage closet is not air conditioned).

11:45-12:00. Paper and border one bulletin board.

12:00-12:15. Need music immediately. Go through entire library of songs to make an awesome preparing-the-room playlist.

12:15-1:30. Go to Subway (mmmm Veggie Patty). Come back and eat food with colleagues and catch up some more.

1:30-2:15. Paper other bulletin board. Make a list of things to get done instead of actually getting things done. Work on syllabus.

2:15. Principal and Asst. Principal ask what you are doing from 3-5 pm. Say, “whatever you want me to do!” Laugh at self for agreeing to do everything, but don’t actually mind.

2:15-2:30. Pack up.

2:30-3:00. Drive to Digital Harbor

3:00-5:00. Go to a meeting dressed in a bright green “Ithaca is Gorges” t-shirt, capri pants, and flip flops while all others are business casual.

That’s just the regular day. Then I went to Home Depot to buy tile-board to use as a dry erase board. I had it cut into two pieces. One of the pieces didn’t fit in my car, so I had to slightly-shame-facedly go back in to get it cut smaller.

Then I went to Pasta Mista for dinner. Ahhh, it was a good day.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Show me the money! (yes, this title embarrasses me)

Apparently a lot of cities/states reimburse their teachers for classroom supplies every year. Teachers in Florida, for example, are upset that their allotment has decreased to $200, when last year it was $269. I think that teachers in New York City are being reimbursed for $150 worth of supplies this year (again, a decrease from last year).

So far, I’ve spent about $230 on school supplies, and I’m going out shopping again tonight, where I will probably double that amount. How much with Baltimore reimburse me? That’s right, $0.

To be honest, I’m not that bitter about it. I live and breathe teaching, and since I don’t have a family or anyone/thing to take care of (besides, of course, my cute cute cute guinea pig, Hamlet), I don’t really have a lot to spend money on. I mean, I’m trying to save up to buy a house, and I should probably start saving for a new car (a Honda Fit, please?). So yeah, maybe I’m a little bit bitter -- because I DO live and breathe teaching, but I also am trying (please note the trying there) to have a life too. I want my classroom to be a great environment for my kids, and I try to use DonorsChoose as much as possible to make that happen, but it would be really nice if Maryland cared enough about education to give teachers some money to work with. I can’t even imagine how much money English teachers spend setting up a classroom library.

Last year, when I signed on to teach in Baltimore, new teachers were told that we were going to be given $200 for classroom supplies. That never happened. At least we finally got the laptops which were promised, and then un-promised, and then finally re-promised and given to us in April. Of course, this was after I bought my MacBook (but I can’t regret that… because once you go Mac you never go back… it’s true).

Anyway, I went to my classroom today to drop off some stuff that I bought and to get a head start on setting up my room. Setting up a room takes approximately FOREVER, or at least it did last year. I made a list (of course) for myself of all the things I need to get done, and it takes up an entire sheet of 8.5x11 paper, and I write small! Blech. I don’t know why I’m complaining though, I’m secretly really excited about this. I AM SO EXCITED TO START MY SECOND YEAR! AHH!!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The plan

Teaching 2.5 hours of SAT prep after being up until 3 am at a bachelorette party, waking up at 7 am to drive 3 hours home, preparing for the class and then going right there to find that there is no board space, just a small easel with chart paper and magic markers and 15 kids in the class? Not the best day ever.

However, the kids did laugh at all (ok, most) of my hilarious jokes, so that made it better. I try to make my SAT classes as fun as possible because I know how miserable the kids are to be there – forced by their parents to lose a precious 2.5 weekend hours to take a class – during the summer (ugh!) It’s much different that the GRE classes that I teach, where the students are paying for the expensive class themselves and are highly motivated to do well/do all the homework.

Lately I’ve been thinking about having fun in the classroom. Harry Wong talks a lot about starting the year by procedur-ing students to death (my words obviously, not his). You’re supposed to spend the whole first day teaching the students all the rules and procedures of the classroom, and then you’re supposed to repeat all this throughout the first few weeks. He scares new teachers, telling them “What happens on the first days of school will be an accurate indicator of your success for the rest of the school year.” AHHHHH!!!! Like I’m not under enough pressure, right?

Anyway, you’re not supposed to do anything fun the first days because it gives kids the wrong idea or something. I completely bought into this my first year because I was scared to death of not being in control of my classroom. Really, I bought into everything that people told me, because I wanted something, ANYTHING to cling to.

Now that I have a year of teaching under my belt, I have a plan – but it’s my own plan that has to do with my students. Baltimore has a major attendance problem. I want my kids to want to come to school. I want them to leave on the first day and think that their math class was their favorite class – and I want them to keep that attitude throughout the year. Of course I don’t want discipline problems in my classroom, and of course I want there to be certain procedures that we follow, but I don’t think you need to shove that down kids’ throats the first day of school. Especially in high school, when students are shuffling from one class to another to hear teacher after teacher drone on about rules and procedures.

My plan this year is to give my kids a brief overview of the course and go over my one big rule (respecting yourself and others). But then we’re going to do an activity. As things come up, then I’ll introduce the procedures (what to do if you need a pass, calculator usage, etc), but I want to start off with an engaging activity so that kids are into being there.

So, that’s my plan. You know what my other plan is? To never, ever, sign up to teach an SAT prep class on a day after a bachelorette party. Ever.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Teaching is My Girlfriend, Teaching is My Boyfriend

Teaching consumes my life. It is what I do for a job, what I go to graduate school for, what I dream about in my sleep, what I think about when I zone out, what I often read about, and what I write about (clearly). I’m not sure what my motive for this blog is – self-absorption? I think there must be some of that in every blogger. Part of it is that for a chunk of my first year of teaching I felt a little alone in my struggles. There’s also the fact that I kind of hate a lot of teacher movies (not including Chalk, of course).

As part of the Baltimore City Teaching Residency (BCTR! Wooo!), I definitely had people to turn to who understood my struggles. During the first month of teaching, I overheard a girl at Hopkins admit that she had cried in front of her students. My best-teacher-friend and I turned to each other and cringed together in empathy because that was our greatest nightmare.

But, I also had conversations with first year teachers who claimed that they had no classroom management problems. I am obviously very upfront and open about my problems, so when I share them, I think it’s pretty crappy to pretend that your life is perfect. I would say “blaaahhhhhhhh I had a terrible day and I said this crazy thing and my kids did this out of control thing and kept asking me how old I am and didn’t believe me for some reason when I told them I was 77 and then I called my mom and cried.” Or, you know, something to that effect. To which, I once heard, and I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. “Oh, that’s so weird because my kids never ask me how old I am or act out of control but they do tell me all the time that I look like Justin Timberlake and/or Hugh Jackman.”

I was later asked to help this person out with their classroom management and then this person left teaching. SO IT’S NOT LIKE THINGS WERE PEACHY.

So yeah, I like to be upfront about my struggles, and my ideas, and everything because I know that it sucks to be lied to about how teaching really is. You know how it’s not? It’s not like in the movies or in a lot of the lamer books. Movies and books about teaching in urban environments are so often of the vein – young white teacher swoops into the rough/scary city to save the (minority) inner city kids – teaching them a lot about math/English/whatever, and learning a lot about herself in the process. BARF. Oh, and that teacher “struggles” at the beginning, but by the end of the year they’re a freaking teacher of the year and amazing and the really bad kid who was in a gang has completely changed and it’s all because of the teacher! Yayy!! Yeah, not like that. It's less than that. And it's more than that.

Also, Stand and Deliver? That teacher was a total perv and I can’t get anyone to agree with me on that.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


If you haven’t seen the movie Chalk yet – you need to get on that. If you have Netflix you can watch it instantly on the “watch now” thingy. It’s a mockumentary about teaching . . . and it is awesome. Clearly, I should not be a professional movie reviewer. Here’s the trailer:

I love when Mr. Lowry yells at his students because it reminds me of me. I am totally ineffective when I yell, and I sound ridiculous to boot. My voice gets kind of high pitched and I can never think of good things to yell so I really just sound stupid. I think I yelled a lot in the first two months of teaching – to be honest, I was kind of out of control (just like my students, since I was doing such a crappy job of keeping the class in order). I also cried once or twice, but (THANK GOD) that never happened in front of my students.

Whenever my Hopkins supervisor (who I'm kind of obsessed with – he’s an amazing and supportive guy) came to observe me, I would (pretend to) be very calm and I never yelled. He always complemented me on that and said that it made me an effective “classroom manager”. So, I stopped yelling even when he wasn’t around, and lo and behold, he was right – it made me more effective.

Although, when that kid threw a marker at me toward the end of the year . . . yeah, I yelled.

Monday, August 4, 2008

YouTube Math = Awesome

DonorsChoose is kind of amazing. So far, I’ve gotten a class set of MIRAs (a cool geometry tool) and an 8 x 4 foot dry erase board donated to my classroom. The proposal writing is made very simple by the template that the website has set up for you, and the DonorsChoose people are very accommodating (I had to extend my “feedback deadline” twice since it took about two months to get that dry erase board up on my wall – don’t even get me started).

Too late, I’ve started. So, my dry erase board arrived very quickly. I gathered some students to help me bring it up to my classroom. And then there it sat. For two months. Any time I needed something from my closet (so, several times a day), I had to slide that monstrous box to one side, and the slide it back again. I wrote note after passive aggressive note to the person-who-said-they-probably-couldn’t-get-it-up-until-summer. The notes went something like this:

Hi M. ------- ☺

It’s been a week since we last spoke, and I was wondering what the status is with getting the dry erase board up. My students are really excited about using it, and I think it will make a big difference in their achievement!


Ms. ------ ☺

Smiley faces, exclamation marks, student achievement – I laid it on thick. Annnnnd got precisely nothing done. Then I started pleading with my principal to help me out, and that wonderfully, amazing woman got it up for me in no time. I learned a lot about teaching – when nice-ing someone to death is fruitless, get backup.

And now for my next DonorsChoose project. I’m trying to get a digital camcorder for my classroom so that my students can make math YouTube videos like this calculus one:

Ok, so probably not that awesome, I really think that it will be the COOLEST THING IN THE WORLD and that the kids will be way into it, and they’ll obviously learn a lot. Feel free to donate five bucks (or . . . one million dollars? ← that was said like Dr. Evil, obviously). Am I shamelessly trying to get you to donate? YES. Am I OK with that? DOUBLE YES

Here is my proposal, which you will donate to if you want to be a good person and raise student achievement!! :) :) :) Do you see those smiley faces? Those exclamation marks? The reference to student achievement? The passive aggressiveness? I'm good. Also, if I don't get what I want I'm going to tell on you to my principal!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

3.14159265358979323 et cetera....

I’m working on making a very long poster to wrap around my room – it’s pi to a whole lot of decimal places.

I have 95 feet of the poster done so far, which includes 510 decimals. I have more to go, though I’m not sure how much since I never measured the dimensions of my classroom.

Last year on pi day (March 14 – get it?), I held a contest where students recited pi out to as many decimals as they could remember. The prize was a $40 gift certificate to the mall – so kids were pretty into it. I also offered five thousand dollars (although I might have offered 1 million dollars to one class) if they could break the world record. According to Wikipedia the current record is 67,890 digits, which is pretty unbelievable.

One of my favorite students (yeah, yeah I know I’m not supposed to have favorites) won -- but he didn’t want the gift certificate. Instead, he asked if I could get him a burrito from Chipotle. YES! Food? Chipotle? Do you see why I love this kid? So we had a nice Chipotle celebratory lunch. Mmmmm Chipotle… although I really prefer Burritos En Fuego. Oh Burritos en Fuego, how I wish you were open later than 7 pm. I think that if I do the pi day contest again next year I'll keep the burrito lunch as the prize.

I need to up my pi game though. I can only remember 3.14159265358979323 – that’s pathetic for a math teacher, regardless of the fact that I was not a math major.

Friday, August 1, 2008

HIV in America -- Statistics

Earlier this summer, I took a course called "Teaching Social Justice in the Secondary Classroom" (or some variation of that), and as part of the class, I had to create a curriculum project that incorporates some aspect of social justice. Math teachers always get a little screwed in classes like these -- English/History and even Science teachers might find this project difficult only because there are so many ways that they can apply social justice in the classroom. Whereas math teachers -- well, it can be tough -- we have to be extra creative. And if I was still teaching just geometry, I would probably be in a bit of trouble.

And it's not about just completing the project to get the grade. In fact, my favorite professor told us that if we weren't going to actually use the project, then he would rather we just didn't pass in anything at all. Actually, I could write an entire blog post about how well this professor inspired us to do our best work.

I came up with a project where my AP Stats students will read an article about HIV in America from, use the Internet to research HIV statistics, and then create "public service announcement" posters which include tables, graphs, pie charts, etc. to describe the information that they learn -- all to be posted in the common areas of the school. The project lets the students choose the most appropriate graphical displays for the data that they find most interesting, and lets them (obviously) learn about the HIV statistics in American, specifically among African Americans.

In theory, I am really excited about this project -- I think it will spark some really interesting discussions and the students will gain valuable skills in representing data.

But I'm also worried that a lot of my students have enough negativity pushed on them everyday, and that this might just be depressing -- that maybe we should look at the positive. Similarly, I think that looking at Baltimore crime statistics may be interesting and relevant, but maybe school should be a "safe space" away from all that. I'm torn.