Man, you talk about teaching as if it were love


Today is Valentine’s Day. I don’t really celebrate it, but it hit me that I recent conversation would make for the perfect post for today.

A couple weeks back, a group of colleagues and I were sitting around having a conversation about the teaching profession at my school. We talked about a lot of stuff ranging from our views on professional development, the transition that comes with changing schools, how to best reach struggling students, among other things.

I can’t remember exactly what I was talking about, but at one point I finished my thought and one of the relatively younger teachers in the group told me, in a matter-of-factly sort of way, “man, you talk about teaching as if it were love.

Wait, what? Did he just drop the L word?

He probably didn’t think twice about his remark, but I was caught off guard.

I never thought about it, but he was right. The moment was an unexpected self-realization. I was, and often do, talk about teaching like I would talk about love. It’s not far-fetched to say that most people would equate “talking about love” to expressing deeply held emotions that one holds for someone or something. I don’t want to sit here and try to define love, but I think it’s fair to say that it means to be strongly connected by means of admiration and devotion. It indicates an unbreakable bond and profound respect. It means embracing the inevitable struggle and hardship attached to the subject of your love.

All of that, and more, reflects the feelings I have for teaching and the teaching profession. It’s not just a job or career for me, it’s a relationship. It can be too heavy at times for certain discussions, but hey, it’s coming from a great place. A place filled with love.

Happy Valentine’s Day.


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Day in the Life: January 24, 2017 (Post #7)

I’ve decided to chronicle this school year through my blog. It’s part of Tina Cardone’s Day in the Life book project. This is the seventh post in the series.

5:30am | I wake up, tired. I was up late last night working on my Math for America Renewal Master Teacher essays. With plenty of reflection and a lot of editing, I’ve completed two of the required three. This morning I spend a half hour reading The Mathemetician’s Shiva, which I’ve almost finished. It’s a fun read. A good amount of mathematics and mathematics history throughout. I’ve also learned a lot about the Jewish culture.

6:15am | I crack open the laptop to start drafting this post, turn on the radio, and enjoy some brekky. I finish my maple nut oatmeal, eat my banana, hop in the shower, and I’m out the door around 7.

It’s going to rain all day, something about a Nor’easter. To avoid be drenched this morning and evening when I head to MfA, I opt to leave the bike at home. As a result, my commute sucks.

7:35am | I arrive at school. Today’s the first day of Regents Exams, a.k.a. state exams. They last four days. I enter the main office to move my time card and look for the proctoring schedule for the day. It’s posted daily and we’re supposed to check it to see if we’re proctoring that day. This is weird to me since at my old school we were given our proctoring schedule for the entire week up front. Whatever. The schedule isn’t posted yet. I’m told it’ll be posted by 8am.

7:40am | I go up to my room and sit at my desk to begin the process of finalizing grades. The Spanish teacher comes in and we chat for a bit about various odds and ends. I mention that, one semester into my new school, and I’m finally beginning to develop questions about how and why things are done here. It’s peculiar for me to be so overwhelmed that I cannot even think of a question about my surroundings. That was my first semester. Speaking to him, and formulating questions, is a tell tale sign that the dust is finally starting to settle on my transition here.

8:05am | The proctoring schedule is finally posted and I am not proctoring today. This is great news because I have several big ticket items on my To Do list.

Someone brought a small batch of coffee this morning for the teachers. Woohoo. A pleasant surprise. I sip my coffee and catch up with the department chair about a conversation we started yesterday. During our after school meetings, I had two of the aforementioned questions running through my head. I wondered why the third marking period (there are three per semester, six per year) is weighted double compared to the first two and why our school has “honors” classes. The simple answer to both of these questions from everyone was simply, because this is how we’ve always done it.  More on this later.

8:30am | I find a quiet, empty classroom to work on getting grades done. It’s really just a matter of data entry at this point. I manage to knock it out in a little over an hour.

10:00am | I hunker down to spend some time writing my third and final MfA essay. I really want to get this done today because I also have a Big Apple Award essay and video that I must finish this week as well. Not to mention lots of planning for next week.

12:00pm | Progress on my essay slowing. It’s a sign that I need to take a break. I walk down the hall and shoot the breeze with a few colleagues. Two of them are in their third year and one is grizzled veteran of 15 years. We talked about how long it takes for a teacher to “get” it, the impact of changing schools on one’s career, and George W. Bush.

I also run into my department chair again, along with my AP. They’re gearing up for a meeting. Small talk ensues, but I do remind them of an idea I spoke to both of them about in weeks past: a mathematics elective course for next year. They’re both on board, but let’s hope scheduling permits it.

12:45pm | I grab my lunch from my room and head back to my bunker. I see an email reminding me that today is the first day of registration for the spring MfA workshops. Mental note taken. I eat my lunch and continue on my essay.

2:35pm | Still writing. It’s not that the essay is long, I’m just slow. I would say it’s 80% complete. At some point I call the DOE for a password reset on my email. I haven’t called in a while. It’s much, much improved from what it was years ago. I can actually hear the representative.

4:00pm | I register for a couple MfA workshops. Both are focused on mathematics, puzzles, and starting an after school math club.

The last session of the Racially Relevant PLT is tonight and I have to hustle if I want to make it there on time. I leave school in a haste.

4:30pm | On the subway to MfA. I swear I’m going to be late. I love my bike, but I really do miss riding the subway every day. At my previous school I commuted by subway over an hour each way. It was great. The people and culture on the New York City subway are so damn inspiring. Plus, I’m a total people watcher. I settle in for more of The Mathematician’s Shiva.

5:20pm | Surprisingly, I’m don’t arrive late. If fact, I have a few minutes to spare.

The PLT begins and the theme is Next Steps. The facilitators are Wendy Menard and Jose Luis Vilson. They’re awesome. The discussion gets fairly off topic after some time, but no one seems to mind. Everyone has openly accepted the fact that discussions around race and identity usually take a mind of their own. We talk about how we can extend our conversations beyond our small twelve-person group and into our respective schools. Some folks mention bringing the conversation to colleagues and administrators. Some vow to simply let their voice, and truth, be heard more. We talk about how best to engage white men in race relations. We share stories from our schools. We also touch on the Women’s March from this past weekend. This is the fourth and final session, and every single one of them has grabbed me, shook me, and sent my mind to place that I’ve never been.

7:40pm | On the train home. I complete The Mathematician’s Shiva and begin, excitedly, Hidden Figures.

1.Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day. Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming. When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of? What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

I brought up a few things in conversation today that I’m really proud of. The first was when I questioned the purpose of honors classes at my school with my department Chair. In my opinion, this structure has created a social hierarchy in which some students feel “less smart” than others. It’s a real thing, I’ve seen it and overheard students talking about it.

I’m also super excited about getting closer to teaching a legit mathematics elective course. Mathematics was one of the founding principles of my school and, sadly, there is a glaring lack of mathematics-based initiatives that exist right now. I want to try and change that. What’s great is that I got word from leadership at the end of the day today that there are plans for me to teach a Discrete Mathematics course in the near future. My pitch worked! It was due in part because of a follow-up discussion I induced today. There are still lots of moving pieces to make it happen, but I feel it’s slowly becoming a reality.

Lastly, I was really proud of the fact that I asked a colleague of mine to write a “guest” post right here on my blog. I’ve never done this before, but he’s quite the inspiration and I’d love to share some of this work.

2. Every person’s life is full of highs and lows. Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher. What are you looking forward to? What has been a challenge for you lately?

After a taxing first semester, I welcome the second semester with open arms. I feel that I’m in a much, much better mental space now than I was in for basically all of semester one. From a new curriculum to adjusting to a new school culture to collaboration with colleagues, it’s crazy how big of a difference one semester can make.

3. We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is. As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students. Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

Regents week opens itself to relational moments. There is no teaching for a week so all we teachers have is time. The conversation I had today with a few teachers was pretty interesting. It varied in focus, but basically centered around teacher development. One comment especially stood out.

I was talking about my first few years of teaching, comparing them to the gentlemen I was speaking with. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but after I finished my thought he remarked that when I’m talking about teaching…it’s as if I’m talking about love. I’m still gathering my thoughts on this one, so stay tuned.

4. Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What is a goal you have for the year?

Regarding the goals I set out for myself in September:

I recently expressed disappointment regarding my lack of use of Instructional Routines. This was a major goal of mine this year that I’ve essentially abandoned.

In honor of Black History Month and to build on my goal starting conversations around race and identity, I have hopes of developing a Black mathematicians project for my students. The goal is to get them to research and present one renown Black mathematician. I never design projects for my students, so this is a big deal.

5. What else happened this month that you would like to share?

She’ll probably never read this, but I want to express my gratitude for my assistant principal for being so supportive of me this year. From our initial contact last summer when she enthusiastically volunteered to help me lug all my junk up to my classroom (which was no easy task), she’s been but an outstanding AP. She politicked her way into getting me signed up for the Dan Meyer PD series. She got my room a printer. She’s supporting my math elective idea. She’s also completed a couple of recommendations for me. She’s always got a gigantic smile waiting for me. At some point this month I realized that I may have been taking her for granted. Thank you Ms. K.


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Hey, instructional routines, where are you?

This is my midyear wake up call.

At the beginning of the school year I developed some goals. They were ambitious, to say the least. It was around the start of December that I realized how unreasonable my expectations were for 2016-17. I’ve been in the game for a while, I should’ve known better. Shame on me.

Despite my lack of judgement and setting myself up for failure, three of my goals came with a higher priority for me. This post serves as a self-critique on my progress towards one of those three: my use of instructional routines.

I worked on these routines a lot last summer through New Visions (here and here) and at TMC16. I had a crazy vision that they would transform my teaching this year. They were going to help my students leverage mathematical structure like never before. Being routines, I was going to get better at using them as the year progressed. I was going to learn to lean on them.

Well, next week the first semester is coming to a close and my use of them has been pitiful. Sure, my first unit in algebra 2 held much promise. I used the routines five times over the course of a few weeks, which was a huge win in my book. I started off strong. Slowly, though, I got bogged down with the curriculum. I got consumed with more immediate concerns and stressors, like being at a new school, running around to three different classrooms during the day. In the meantime, I forgot all about the instructional routines that I so zealously committed myself to back in September. I’ve used Connecting Representations one time since that first unit. I haven’t used Contemplate then Calculate at all.

Accepting this isn’t easy because of how much I really wanted to use these routines. That said, I know that it’s normal to unintentionally forget about goals. But I also know that if I recognize the struggle, write about it, and let it breath, I can begin realigning myself to the vision I had back in September.

What’s great is that I’ll soon begin digging into Routines for Reasoning and have scheduled a workshop with New Visions, both of which should help me find the routines that I so desperately want to implement.



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Where it all began

Being first a student for seventeen years now a teacher for ten, I’ve been in and around school for fairly long time. Call me crazy, but I wanted to dedicate a post to my first memories, and feelings, of formalized schooling. Two distinct memories come to mind.


Clark Elementary School

The first was my first full year of kindergarten and Clark Elementary School. It was a neighborhood school not far from where I lived at the time. The kindergarten students were scheduled to attend only half of the standard school day. My cohort came in around noon and stayed until 2:30 pm. My mom worked long hours and couldn’t afford to take the day off work to take me into school, so my caregiver dropped me on the first day. And I was off.

I don’t remember a lot from kindergarten. I don’t remember my teacher’s name, but it may have been Ms. Wiley. Not sure. My first solid memories involve me playing house in the back of the room, memorizing my ABCs by connecting small cubes together, and saying “president” instead of “present” when the teacher called my name for attendance. On the first day, I recall sitting at the edge of a table crowded with 5th and 6th graders during lunch, not knowing where I belonged. I don’t know how I ended up there because soon after an adult redirected me back to my classroom where all my classmates were.


Lafayette Contemporary Academy

The second memory comes from first grade at Lafayette Contemporary Academy. Unlike my kindergarten school, LCA was not a neighborhood school. In fact, I took the school bus an hour each way. The school was on the east side of Cleveland and I lived on the west side. I now know that it was a Magnet School. I’ve also learned that it has been demolished.

I attended LCA up until fifth grade. I loved it. There are so many awesome memories that come to mind during those early years of my life. But this is a post about firsts, and I’ll never forget my very first day. I don’t remember the morning bus ride being all that eventful, but it was different story when I arrived at school on that first day. What happened?

I cried. A lot.

I distinctively remember my first grade teacher, Ms. Malloy, wearing a white dress with large pink flowers consoling me the morning of the first day. She was so nice. (She ended up being my fourth grade teacher too.) I attribute my waterworks to being so far away from home around strangers in a place, and neighborhood, that I knew absolutely nothing about. Like many kids that age, I was pushed out of my comfort zone and scared.

There you have it, my first memories of school. What did this post accomplish, I’m not sure yet. But it was fun to go back to where it all began for a little while.

And now that I think about it, my confusion in kindergarten and vulnerability in first grade do seem to be good analogies for my entire life. All is not lost. Cheers.




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Books Read in 2017

Read in 2017

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