End of the 2016-17 school year

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-2. I always enjoy writing my end of school year post. It’s a great way of wrapping my head around all that has happened during the last ten months.

-1. It’s the last day of school – what a difference a year makes! This time last June I was finishing off a ten-year tenure at my previous school, eager for a new beginning. Well, this year was eventful, to say the least. No lie, part of me is surprised that I actually survived it.

0.  I should start with how whiteboarding transformed my instruction this year. I’ve had small, desk-sized whiteboards for years, but usually only pulled them out for review. After Alex Overwijk’s session last year at TMC16, I knew that I had to use some VNPS and VRG this year. It only took until March, but I did. I dabbled with creating flow and it was  a game changer!

1. All the classrooms are shared at my school so this is a stretch, but I’m thinking of completely defronting my classroom next year. It probably won’t fly next year, but I want my desk in the middle of the room.

2. After I hit my groove with the large whiteboards, it was all downhill from there. We dry-erased ourselves to death. I was also lucky enough to have desks in my room that are dry-erase friendly. I also picked up these sheets, which came in handy while sketching trigonometric and polynomial functions.

3. Through all of this, I discovered the immense learning value and functionality in dry erase. Kids were far more willing to get an answer wrong, to take risks. They knew their work wasn’t permanent. In fact, not only was it easy to edit their work, it was downright fun at times. At a deeper level, they stopped caring so much about being wrong.

4. My standards-based grading ran into a wall this year. This deserves a post in and of itself. But to make a long story short: I made my SBG marks cumulative for the year. What a student learns (or doesn’t learn) in October is still reflected on their grade in June. This means that they had the opportunity retake any concept from any point during the year with no penalty. At the same time, they could also lose proficiency if they demonstrated a lack of understanding on a particular concept – even if they first learned in back in October, say. Most kids didn’t like the system, but I REALLY did. Hmm…

5. Three other bits about my SBG this year. First, as the year progressed, I began to drift away from SBG with my non-Regents (non-state tests) students. It got so hard to make their retakes a priority over my Regents students. This is a problem that I hope I address next year. Second, shortly after the year began, I started requiring students to reserve their seat ahead of time for retakes (instead of just showing up). Before this change, it was a mad house of 25 kids after school trying to retake their concepts. I limited it to 15 students and then it was ok. Lastly, I never found a way to for students who initially demonstrated proficiency to move up to mastery. My focus was on moving kids up from developing to proficiency. The solution may lie in not requiring them to tutor with me before retaking. We’ll see.

6. For the first time in my career, I wrote an end of year letter to my students. I write them all the time anyhow, so I figured why not end the year with one final letter. Each class got their own and it was almost two pages. I included a remark about every student in each class. It really hit home with the kids. One student even said that she was going to frame it.

7. I blame this on my first year blues, but I let too much go this year – especially with my first period class. They were off the wall for much of the year and I was pretty embarrassed by the lack of control I had. I gave them too much latitude early on and it came back to bite me. Across the board, I need to tighten things up next year.

8. Being naive, I attempted to have a parent newsletter. Just like last school year, it went strongly for three months and…flopped. Badly. I don’t want to give up on this idea, but it’s not looking good.

9. I need to call more parents. Maybe instead of a damn newsletter, I make an effort to call each and every parent at the start of the school year. And then follow up as necessary.

10. Being the first year that I’ve taught Common Core Algebra 2, I struggled in knowing what to exactly teach the kids. Let’s just say that I learned a lot of mathematics this year. And I was good until around December…and that’s when the pacing calendar went out the window. I was forced to omit two entire units.

11. For the past several years, I did my best to preplan entire units. I’m talking having detailed handouts for every lesson before the unit begins. Th goal was to think ahead and build strong connections between lessons and key ideas. Because of my struggles with the curriculum, I came to the realization that this practice actually causes me more harm than good. By trying to follow the road map that I constructed prior to the start of the unit, I didn’t leave room flexibility in my students’ thinking that naturally occurred as they learned new things. This whole situation makes me think of this nugget of wisdom that Patrick Honner dropped on me a couple of years ago.

12. My homework structure got better this year. Unit-based DeltaMath was good. Having students check the paper homework it was a success. I realized, though, that I gradually stopped lagging it. This may be related to the curricular issues, but found it hard to plan the homework each night. Next year, I might give the students homework on Friday and make it due the following Friday – with all lagged problems. Then again, I’m now toying with the idea of no homework at all.

13. My A.P. is outstanding. She was the breath of fresh air.

14. Dan Meyer was equally outstanding in his three-part PD series that I attended.

15. A huge professional accomplishment this year was submitting component 2 of my National Board Certification. Damn that thing was work. OMG. I just remembered that I have to submit two more of these next year.

16. Math for America honored me with a Renewal Master Teacher Fellowship. My growth during these last four years has much to do with their influence on my career, so I’m thoroughly pleased that I will be continuing to grow and lead through this dynamic community. On a semi-unrelated note, I co-authored a post on the MfA blog.

17. In March, I was named a Big Apple Award Finalist. Frankly, I don’t know how the hell this happened. I’m grateful though.

18. At the beginning of the school year, I had every student write me a letter introducing themselves. I gave loose guidelines of what I hoped they’d tell me and said that I would write each of them a personalized letter in return. Well, it’s June 28 and not only did I not write everyone back, but I didn’t even read many of the letters until last week. (Reading their letters after a year of getting to know them was pretty interesting, though.) Shame on me!

19. The Token of Appreciation was lost on two different occasions in two different classes this year. Nonetheless, it was still a great year in appreciating the small moments that exist between us.

20. As I stood outside my classroom door this year, I started dishing out high-fives to random students (and staff members) as they walked by me. It was spontaneous, fun, and a total mood-lifter. Also, my fifth-period class always gave me a round of applause at the start of class. I gave them an applause as they exited. It was strange – and totally unforgettable.

21. The estimation wall was a total hit. And thanks to the inspiration from Sara VanDerWerf, so were the random problems that I posted in the hallway. From students to staff, everyone was doing, and loving, mathematics. This is genius.

22. The Mathematicians Beyond White Dudes initiative was a huge success this year. At the end of the year, I even had a girl present a mathematician that she learned about on a school field trip.

23. I learned how far we need to go, as a school community, to deliberately address race and other social issues with students and staff. A lot goes ignored. Too much in fact. More to come.

24. I’m super excited for next year. I should be teaching the first ever mathematics elective at my school, which will be treat. It’ll probably be filled with kids that need a class and not because they’ve elected to be there, but I’m still eager to explore mathematics beyond Regents and A.P. exams, which is all they know. Also, I hope to kickstart either a mathematics or Educators Rising club next year. I’m on the fence about which it’ll be. The summer will help me decide.

25. The Day in the Life series that I wrote this year challenged my will at times, but I’m glad I stuck it out. It was a wonderful way to capture what was probably the most pivotal year of my career.

27. During a group quiz towards the end of the year, I took notes on student discussions and specific things that students did as they related to productive group work (explaining thinking, showing work, asking good questions, being helpful, etc). At the end of the quiz, I spent three minutes sharing one outstanding thing that I witnessed from each group. It helped push back against social status and helped show them what’s important…which isn’t to know lots of mathematics. I want to do more of this public acknowledgment of student thinking.

28. I learned a lot about my goals this year. Looking back at the goals I set back in September, I made reasonable progress on numbers 2, 4, 6, and 8. If I go ahead and say that I “achieved” those goals (which is pushing it), then that means I had a success rate of 4/10. Whatever. In the end, what I really take from all this is that my focus this year was far too broad. I wanted to change way too much.

29. If I’m honest, it’s the end of June and I’m bothered by the fact that I still don’t feel rooted in my school. While I feel the wheels turning in the right direction, right now I’m not completely invested in what’s happening here. I suppose this is normal given that I just finished my rookie year. But still.

30. Anyhow, year 11 is now in the books. Here’s to making 2017-18 great. See you next June.

 

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