Sidewalk Math @ EdXEdNYC 2019

So I’m going to do something that I haven’t done in 13 years: present at a edu conference.

Other than being terrified and nervous and overwhelmed, with no idea how this is going to turn out, I’m pretty excited. I’m also thankful to EDxEDNYC for giving me this opportunity to share my experiences with Sidewalk Math tomorrow. I can’t way to see what results as we chalk things up outside Hudson High School for Learning Technologies.

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Dear H, (Student Letter #4)

To help me be more critical and mindful of the bonds I’m forging with individual students, I’ve decided to write letters to some of my current and former students. This is the 4th post in the series.

Dear H,

Yesterday afternoon, after school, as everyone tripped over themselves in a mad dash out the building for Memorial Day weekend, I quietly sat down to read my Friday Letters. Before penning any of my replies, I glanced through all of the letters, noting who decided to write this week. There were about 10 letters. I saw yours, and looking forward to reading it, placed it on the bottom of the stack.

After replying to all of the others, I finally got to your letter. It was written on a full sheet of paper, which was unusual for you, and it had a pretty traditional fold — halved three times. You started the letter with a brief response to my letter last week and thanked me for playing some good music during class. Then you grabbed me.

You were upset. You have written a Friday Letter every week since the beginning of the school year and you were upset that, because the year was coming to end, you would soon no longer be able to write them. You also mentioned that you have been felt seen this year. Not as a student, but as a person. You said that you appreciated my untraditional approach to teaching and how I work hard to get to know and support my students. You were bothered that in a month I would no longer be your teacher. There was more, but you know that already.

Before even finishing, I stopped. Feeling a surge of emotion preparing to swallow me whole, I looked up. Hoping to steady my thoughts, my eyes found the window and I focused on the balcony of a high-rise building in the distance. My mind couldn’t help but race through the challenges I’ve faced this year in reaching my students. Several key moments surfaced, along with several students — including you.

Through some stackable moments, I’ve gained so much perspective during the 2018-19 school year. I’ve openly shared this with y’all during class, but through my conversations with y’all I’ve learned to perceive my students so much more deeply than in the past. Heck, I perceive myself way differently, too. Mostly, though, I’ve been able to acknowledge and welcome the emotional side of teaching and learning, a side that the system says can’t and shouldn’t exist because our intellect should always be front and center.

But to hell with the system.

I’ve found myself attached to y’all in ways that are unlike anything I’ve known before. I’m bound to y’all through the human spirit, through love. A parental sort of love, one that extends beyond the Do Nows, uniforms, and exams. And this has changed everything. Like no other time in my career, I consciously deliver my authentic, flawed, sensative self to y’all each day. And I’m getting the same thing in return.

I’m so damn proud to be your teacher.

You should know that with this increased closeness has come earnest self-doubt and questions. And they cut deep. Mostly, I’m unsure about whether I’m in the right. Like, what purpose am I serving? Are my energies hitting the target? Am I too ambitious? Do I initiate conversations that are too aggressive, too forward? Should I be more practical, just like so many of the other stolid teachers that I feel so distant from? Should I play it safe and just teach? Does my personal responsibility to y’all even matter? Am I fighting a losing battle? Can I even make a difference, especially when there are so many factors that are outside of my sphere of influence? Despite all of the hope that I pour into room 227, my glass often seems empty.

I’m rambling. Sorry. My point is that, despite my haphazard uncertainty, your letter gave me faith that I’m fighting the good fight. You nudged me away from practicality. You assured me that my efforts to be an agent of change — to work passionately to understand and mentor y’all far beyond your abilities to create exponential models — have not been trivial. In short, your letter was so important to me. I needed it more than you know.

I did manage to finish reading your letter and write my response, but not without a couple deep breaths. Thank you for being so kind. Thank you for the inspiration. You have been a wonderful student this year, but an even better human. Know that I’m a significantly better teacher — and person — because of you.

Talk soon,

Mr. P

Haiku #3

As an alternative means of capturing my thoughts and reflections, I’ve been writing Haiku about my teaching practice. This is the third post in the series.

It’s always during this time of year that I feel closest to my students. For 45 minutes a day for five days a week, we have helped one another shoulder life’s highs and lows. We have been through battles. We’re different people now than we were 10 months ago. We’re stronger, wiser. We’ve grown together. We’ve learned plenty of math, too.

And just as I feel the comforting embrace of these thoughts, like now, the Regents rears its ugly, formidable head. And then I am disheartened.

Compound interest

With a soaring rate is at

Odds with a scaled score

 

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I’m selfish about writing

As teachers, we are constantly being pushed to write. At any given time, we have mounds and mounds obligatory writing. Things like lesson plans, student evaluations, and email(!!) are always lurking, waiting for us after we collect our exit tickets. Our students leave, we sit in front of our computer, and we’re attacked. Most times, at least for me, writing becomes a chore.

But despite all the rudimentary writing that’s required in teaching, there is hope. Some of us find the motivation to expand the walls of our classrooms through our writing to help start (or join) a larger conversation around tracking or teacher tenure, say. The focus here is on the bigger picture. Often times this includes writing about educational policy. Things like Op-Eds come to mind. Some teachers — and this is becoming more and more common — even contribute to the larger teaching community by assiduously writing a book. Yes, a book!

There is a definite lure to this sort of writing. It can affect change that goes far beyond writing a lesson plan for a superintendent’s visit. Our written words can motivate. It can trigger tough, but necessary, conversations with one another. It helps us to unite teachers from different schools and districts. From some of us, and this has to be said whether we want to hear it or not, it also feeds our ego. It amplifies our own voice.

I’ve never been interested in any of that. I write for me. This blog was born 5 years ago and each post is almost always an intellectual or emotional purge. A brain dump, if you will. I squeeze my thoughts from my head down to my fingertips and tap them out on my keyboard for no one other than me. Is that bad? Maybe. Is it selfish? Definitely.

But I don’t really care. I’ve found that writing for myself helps to clarify what I think I’m thinking and to better understand my own complexities. This is not unlike what Marcus Aurelius did in Meditations. I’m always better teacher after I write. (To get all meta, this post in itself is a great example of this.)

Twitter, originally popularized as a micro-blogging platform, serves the same purpose for me. When I tweet, most times it captures a moment — something that I’m thinking about or want to write more deeply about. I usually carefully construct my tweets. If there are replies, I don’t mind connecting with others, but I usually tweet for reflection. A micro-brain dump.

I’ll even extend this to non-blog, non-Twitter writing. I especially enjoy the hand-written reflections and Friday Letters that I write to students, which have become more and more important to me through the years. Student recommendations letters are also a refreshing change of pace for my writing. While I used to view them as a burden, I’ve come to appreciate their reflective nature. It is there that I can formally channel all of my thoughts into a single student and summarize their experiences with me.

I’ve stretched my reflections further by auditing an English class at my school. Instead of planning my own engaging lessons or replying to the 217 emails that I get each day, I selfishly attend everyday 7th period, take notes, study for vocab quizzes, the whole nine. I’m a student again! It’s a fun and reflective class — and there’s plenty of writing. Right now I’m crafting a profile on my colleague Patrick Callahan. I’ve admired him and his work for a while. Writing about him is not only helping bring me closer to him, but also to the teacher that I want to become. The class involves research and structured reflections that I wouldn’t otherwise do or make time for. I’m thankful for it.

 

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Haiku #2 – Sidewalk Math

As an alternative means of capturing my thoughts and reflections, I’ve been writing Haiku about my teaching practice. This is the second post in the series.

My students and I will be doing some Sidewalk Math this week. Inspired by one of my exceedingly poetic students, and in the spirit of my recent interest in haiku, I wrote this:

With a little chalk

Pattern and logic emerge

From a shy sidewalk

 

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