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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Day in the Life: February 24, 2017 (Post #8)

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 eighth post in the series.

5:45am | Rise and shine. This is fourth consecutive Day in the Life post that is not a teaching day for me. The New York City Public Schools are on midwinter break this week. Traditionally public schools in US have two weeks for winter recess for Christmas and New Years. Instead, we only get one week and get the other week off in February. I love it.

I make coffee and read. Right now I’m in the middle of How to Bake Pi by Eugenia Cheng and Strength in Numbers by Illana Siedal Horn. I read some of the latter and sip my coffee for about half an hour and then hang out with the family for a while and eat. I also begin drafting this post.

8:30am | Today I have my Renewal Master Teacher interview with Math for America. It’s scheduled for 10:40am, so I get ready to leave. Am I nervous? A little. But my experiences with MfA have been so uplifting these last four years that I would say I’m far more excited than nervous. I have a lot to share. More on this later.

I shower and I’m out the door just before 9.

9:15am | I’m on the 5 train. I tap out more of this post on my phone and read more of Strength in Numbers.

After a few minor delays, I arrive at Union Square at 10:10. I have enough time to grab a muffin and apple from the farmer’s market and do some people watching for the next 20 minutes. I walk down the MfA offices for my interview. I don’t wait long. After a minute or two I’m called in.

11:10am | I walk out of the interview feeling pretty good about how things went, but you never know. It was really laid back. More like a conversation than an interview.

I’m meeting with another MfA teacher to map out an upcoming workshop we’re running next week. We meet up at the City Bakery and talk. We wrap up around 12:15pm and I head out to grab some lunch in the area. I get a salad from Chop’t and lounge at Union Square. The weather is stunning, 70 degrees with plenty sun. A total gem. After soaking up some rays and watching some skateboarders attempt trick after trick, I head to the train.

1:00pm | I’m on the 4 train headed uptown, back home. I brought both books with me, and I’m feeling rather mathy on the ride home, so I crack open Eugenia Cheng.

1:45pm | I’m back in the ‘hood. I run a couple of errands. I want to simply be outside for the remainder of the afternoon because it’s so nice, but I have to get some work done today so I meander back home.

3:15pm | This school year I’ve been putting off work on my National Board Certification Component 2 submission. Now that the MfA renewal is officially complete and out of my mind, I want to channel a lot of energy towards prepping and completing the submission. It’s a beast and it’s going to need my full attention to tackle.

I decided early in the year that I wanted to showcase my deserted island activity for it, but yesterday realized that I wanted to use some of my intro and graphing logarithms material for the submission. Well, after a solid hour and forty-five minutes of deep thinking, I’m still unsure about the route I want to take. Mind you I haven’t even begin writing up the 10+ pages that the submission requires…I’m still deciding on the activities. It’s due May 17. Pray for me.

Despite sitting in front of my computer for all that time more confused than ever, I do manage to make it back outside for more fun in the sun. Family time. The best time.

9:00pm | I’m in the middle of watching the Raptors and Celtics on ESPN and can’t seem to keep my eyes open. Off to bed I go.

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 am concerned about my NBCT submission. I would have really liked to have my two required activities pinned down by this point in the year, but I don’t. With that said, I know how I think. I’m a slow, grind-it-out sort of person. Things don’t usually hit me in a flash. So although I didn’t walk away with the answer today, I know that my time investment brought me closer to finding it.

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?

To close the first semester at the beginning of this month, I had my students complete a “report card” for my teaching. I asked many questions and there were different trends in every class, but one commonality was their dissatisfaction with how I pace the course. I got the same feedback last year.

I say that to say that I came to the realization that I must slow down. Moreover, I realized that, as is, I’m not going to finish the algebra 2 curriculum. It’s not realistic. This is a result of me adapting to the new set of standards and confusing myself along the way. Needless to say, Its been a rough go.

Anyhow, my students need exposure to the entire curriculum for the Regents exam. My solution to this dilemma is to organize video lessons for my students to watch that will introduce the material that we won’t cover in class. The students will watch the videos at the own leisure outside of our regular lessons. This is very disappointing – especially because the videos will cover of the entire statistics and probability units.

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.

This relational moment doesn’t pertain to any specific person. Rather, it’s about an organization – Math for America.

It’s remarkable just how different of a teacher I am after four years being given a MfA fellowship. My relationship with MfA has grown from one of deep admiration and respect to one of deep trust and responsibility. Summarizing four years worth of immense growth into a thirty-minute interview today wasn’t possible, but I hope the interviewers got a sense of my deep-seeded gratitude for how MfA’s impact on my career. I’ve been mindful of giving back to the community these last four years – beyond merely facilitating workshops and completing surveys. It’s the absolute least I can do for all that they’ve given me and my career.

There was interesting moment during the interview. I mentioned that I felt somewhat guilty applying for renewal because even if I wasn’t picked up for renewal, I would still take advantage of the MfA community by means of the Emeritus program – which doesn’t include the stipend. I’m certain that there are teachers new to MfA that would only be interested in applying and joining the community because of the stipend. In this way, I expressed that I openly accept not being offered a Renewal Mater Teacher fellowship. In fact, I questioned whether I should even apply for the fellowship in order to make space for someone new who otherwise might not get the opportunity.

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?

In my last DITL post I was disappointed at how little I was integrating instructional routines into my teaching, one of my big goals for this year. I’m proud of the fact that since then I have pushed myself to use at least one instructional routine in all of my classes…with more on the way. Things have slowed down at school and as a result I’ve been able to process the curriculum in a more structural way. I must keep at it.

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

In order to help bring a much-needed culture of mathematics to my school, I’m pumped about starting an after school math club. I surveyed my students and there is definite interest. I even attended a workshop to help me get it started. My hope is to have some initial meetings before the close of the school year. Worst case, I get things off the ground next year. Either way, I took concrete steps this month to make it a reality.

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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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