Day in the Life: March 24, 2017 (Post #9)

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 ninth post in the series.

5:15am | I wake up, make some coffee, and put my lunch together.

I sip coffee and read for half an hour. I started The Classroom Chef yesterday and it left me wanting more…so I hold off on finishing How to Bake Pi until this weekend. Reading two books that relate mathematics and mathematics education to cooking and eating  just isn’t right. I’m hungry all the time now!

6:00am | I draft this post, turn on the radio. On any given day, I listen to either sports talk or NPR. Today it’s ESPN radio. I’m a lifelong sports fan, yeah, but I also really enjoy the fact that sports talk radio removes me from all the dark holes of the world. They’re not going to talk politics or hollywood gossip. Other than books and writing, sports and sports talk is my quick getaway.

I eat breakfast and shower. I grab the bike and I’m on my way to school by 7am.

7:15am | I walk in the building, move my timecard over and see a colleague from the math department. He’s making copies in the main office. I think: how crazy is it that my school only has one commercial grade copy machine? That’s not a new thought by any means, but it always crosses my mind when I see someone making copies. Anyhow, we greet one another briefly and I head up to my classroom.

I thought I left my school keys in my classroom yesterday, so I ask another teacher to unlock my classroom door. Inside, I realize the keys were in my bag all along. Nice.

Today is parent-teacher conferences. In NYC public schools, parent-teacher conferences happen on back-to-back days in the fall and spring. The first of each back-to-back is always on a Thursday evening, which runs from 5pm-8pm. That was yesterday. Today is the second day (Friday), which runs in the afternoon from 11:35pm to 2:35pm. School is let out early; I will only see my first period students today.

I finish up some paperwork left from yesterday and plan a quick review RISK game for finding a trigonometric ratio, given one. On top of parent-teacher conferences, my school is having our quarterly awards event. It’s pretty cool and all student run. The show starts in the middle of period 2. The seniors are organizing and hosting today’s show. Guess who primarily makes up my first period class? Yep, seniors. My my first period is going to be small.

9:05am | First period was quiet and the game sort of fell apart, but that’s ok. Sometimes its just great to have the opportunity to talk to students, get inside their head. That’s kind of what happened. Anyhow, I’m back at my desk and finalize more paperwork (see a trend?) before I have a few minutes to begin thinking about my next unit that’ll start on Monday, quadratic functions. At 9:15, everyone’s called down to the auditorium.

10:30am | The awards finish. I’ve only experienced a few of these things, but the show is pretty good this go around. The seniors do their thing. One interesting tidbit: the awards themselves focus on strictly academics (e.g. most improved in science), but the seniors elected to also hand out awards recognizing non-academic attributes. I really, really liked this. Too often my school stresses academics to the point that every other aspect of a student’s life gets bypassed. They highlighted this with class and the whole school appreciated it.

11:35amParent-teacher conferences start. It’s pretty straightforward, but with some interesting takeaways this year. More on this below.

2:00pmThe traffic of parents slows to a trickle. The Friday of parent-teacher conferences is usually pretty mellow…and today is no different.

Between parents I find some time to continue pinning down my quadratic functions unit. As things wind down, my assistant principal and I have a great, impromptu conversation in my classroom about a variety of things. We speak of our pasts, our journeys through teaching, and next week. Our relationship this year has really taken off and I’m so proud of the bond I’ve created with her. Her support has been just what I’ve needed to offset my new-school struggles.

2:35pmThe conferences officially end. As everyone rushes off for their weekend, I stay behind to polish off my planning and to make copies. I’ve never been the type to hurry out on a Friday. Actually, I love when everyone else does because its quiet and gives me time to be in my thoughts, uninterrupted.

While my copies are running, I manage to finish grading some exams. I also manage to post the next person in my “Mathematicians Beyond White Dudes” project in all three classrooms in which I teach.

5:00pmI leave school. I make it home in fifteen minutes, bypassing all the drivers stuck in Friday evening traffic. (Mindfully not owning an automobile is one decision I take great pride in.) During the ride home I consume myself with what I hope to accomplish during my Big Apple Award visit next Thursday.

9:00pmI hit the sheets. Goodnight.

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?

On Wednesday and Thursday of this week our school restructured both days to mimic the Regents exams. Students were scheduled for two- or three-hour blocks for Mock Regents exams in each of the four major content areas. I decided early on that:

  1. I wasn’t going to spend class time reviewing for the exam.
  2. I wasn’t going count the exams towards students’ overall class grades.

Based on who I spoke to, this was not what others at my school were planning on doing. This did make me feel a certain way, but I wasn’t going to budge on my philosophy. Why force an low-stakes exam to be high-stakes? Why review? By cramming the day or two before the exam, wouldn’t that give me an even less representation of what my kids actually know? Why not use the exam strictly for feedback? Why does everything need a grade? Isn’t the goal to learn and grow from the experience? If I tag their performance with a grade aren’t I just reinforcing a system that is failing them already?

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?

There was a crucial moment during yesterday’s conferences that I know will stay with me for a while, for both good and bad reasons.

I was speaking with a student from my first period class and her mother. She’s quiet, respectful, but struggles to grasp some of what we do in class. I’d like to think we have a decent student-teacher relationship, but the dynamics of her class have prevented me from connecting with her on any significant level.

With this in the back of my mind, I open by asking her how things are going for her in class. I never really get to speak with her, so I’m really interested in her answer. She says in a very simple, straightforward way, “It’s alright. Alright. I’ve never been good in math. I just never have. That’s ok.” 

I’m shocked. Maybe shocked is the wrong word. More like disappointed. I told her that I didn’t believe whatsoever that she wasn’t good at math. I told her that she was very insightful and her mathematical perspective was worthwhile. I told her that I valued her. I also let her and her mom know that I haven’t done the best job at putting her in a place to feel successful and valuable in our class. To her, I’m sure this all probably sounded like blah, blah, blah. Actions speak much louder than words.

I know that I’ve heard this from a student in the past. But this time was different. A lot of things feel different these days.

I was humbled. I realized in that moment that I have so much more work to do when it comes to building meaningful mathematical mindsets in my class, something that I’ve been increasingly aware of this year.

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.

Something really cool happened today. During the conferences, a brother of one of my students noticed my Mathematicians Beyond White Dudes posters and pulled out his phone to snap a photo of them. We talked a little bit about the motivation behind the project. He sincerely appreciated the fact that I was showcasing underrepresented mathematicians. It was a great moment.

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?

I’m slowly realizing that my goals for the 2016-17 year are coming to fruition, just not how I originally expected. Not all is lost.

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

Since today was parent-teacher conferences, I’ll close by saying how different I feel about the interactions that take place on days like today. I have a completely different perspective on these conferences now compared to earlier in my career…even up to just a couple of years ago.

A lot of this is related to how my teaching philosophy has evolved. The fulfillment I get from PT conferences goes beyond meeting and speaking to the parents of students who are knuckleheads or who aren’t living up to their true potential in my class. My fulfillment comes from somewhere far more intense, far more wholesome. It’s comes from a place only a parent can truly understand.


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