Dear #MTBoS, Thanks.

Disclaimer…this is going to be mushy, full of emotions, unicorns, and glitter.

Like many teachers across the country I have been filled with so many feels. It’s been personal and real. Well it’s been very personal and real for me since September 11, 2001 – and for so many others across this country, privilege is hard to come by. The struggle has been real…for a very long time. None of this is new —  Not going to get into that now…

The interactions I’ve been having, the conversations that I am stalking, errr…lurking…observing, give me hope. Real hope. We’re literally educating the future. If you teach 8th grade and beyond, many of your students will be voting in the next Presidential Election!

However, this letter is not about the election…it’s so much more than that and today one of these (non-election related) interactions finally opened up the flood gates and I cried out of sheer joy for having this community in my life and in my journey as a teacher. It was a very simple gesture of kindness and support, but I couldn’t stop the tears from rushing out. I guess the emotional roller coaster finally went for a deep dive.

Dear MTBoS,

I heard about you not long after graduating from grad school thanks to the amazing Sam Shah, at a first year of teaching boot camp at the Math for America office facilitated by Chris. Years prior, I had a personal twitter account, but never thought I could use it as a teaching tool. I was heading into my first year of teaching…it was gonna be hell or so I was told, so I latched on to everything anyone threw at me.

I’ve witnessed how hard you work and so many of you inspire me to be a better teacher for my students…and well a better colleague and person too! Thanks Justin, CaseyBrian, Annie, Megan, Becky, Amy, Elizabeth, Andrew, Ilana, @Mr_Harris_Math, Meg, and soooo many more of you.

And now it’s almost four years later…I’ve had the honor of meeting a few of you at TMC, PCMI, Tweet Ups, or through Math for America, but I haven’t met many of you in real life (yet…). I didn’t expect to make friends with people I didn’t ever meet (#strangerdanger?), but here I am — I know who to turn to for some #gilmorechat  #cannoevenchat, #SWDmathchat, #msmathchat, #numbertalks, and general venting of teacher life and general commentary on life as a teacher working in NYC and/or life as a Muslim.

And even though I haven’t met most of you, I trust you.

I trust you because you have gently reminded us that we’re doing our best.

I trust you because you’ve spoken up when I’ve gotten same hate and shade thrown my way. I can’t express how much that means to me. Thank you.

You’ve validated my feelings without saying everything is going to be okay…because have they ever? are they really?  I hope I can say that some day…

You have called for action and taken action to provide equity for our students with disability, to provide excellence in instruction for all of our students by asking us to become better storytellers. You’re bringing awareness to the issues of social justice in the classroom or sharing some Tales from a Chalkline. Thank you.

I trust you to give me honest and meaningful feedback on my lessons…(even as I’m typing this.) I can tell how hard and tirelessly you work for your students. You push to me to reflect. You make me want and demand better for my students in all aspects of their learning.

You’re not shy about asking me questions about my faith. We’ve learned a lot about each other (I hope)! And I hope in the coming weeks, months, and years…you ask and reach out.

More than anything, in the last few weeks you’ve taken the time to listen to your students. To listen to each other. To reach out to each other. To care for each other. So many of you have checked in with me, either on facebook or twitter. And you continue to do so. I’m really not sure how to close, except by saying thank you.

Love,
Sahar
P.S. I promised there would be unicorns…

Being Human: No longer allowing myself to feel guilty. 

One of my year 2 goals was to work in a way that was sustainable. I failed miserably. Year 3 took the biggest toll on my body both physically, mentally, and emotionally as I had a group of my most challenging students. (I LOVE them to death, but they drained my energy. Every. Single. Day.) So needless to say my work-life balance was…well imbalanced. 

I really enjoyed my travel this past summer and did 0 teaching related work except for 2 days (and whatever I did in Utah at PCMI, but I’m not counting that as “work”). I came back to work relaxed with very little stress because I knew I didn’t do anything during the summer, so  there was no point in stressing over the fact that I had done nothing. 

In Urubamba, Peru — Sacred Valley close to Cusco

I didn’t really have time to do anything, therefore things wouldn’t be complete, and with only 2 days to prep for students, I wouldn’t finish everything. Duh. 

It’s taken 4 years to finally not feel guilty about getting an impossible amount of things done in an unrealistic stretch of time. 

I haven’t overplanned like I usually do or overstress my first month of teaching–which has done wonders for my sanity. I have less expectations, so when things don’t go perfectly I have less disappointment. I’m still working my butt off, my students are still learning, but I’m no longer allowing myself to feel like I’m not good enough. I’m allowing myself to be human–with human limitations of time, energy, and physical and mental capabilities. 

Year 4 Goals: By June 2017 my students will hate/fear math less than they do right now.

My goals for this school year came full circle while I was speaking to Brian P. I want my students to leave my classroom in June 2017 hating or fearing math less than they do right now. Perhaps even be a tad bit excited because they did something in Ms. K’s math class that reminded them that they do not suck at math. That they can still “do math” even if they don’t have the correct answer because their thinking process is just as important, or rather more important, than their final answer.

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Okay that might be a bit much, but a girl can dream, can’t she?

So I decided that this year, in order to meet this goal I’m going to focus so much more on establishing and cultivating the classroom environment. It’s always has been rushed the past few years because we “need to get through the material.” But not this year.

  • I started our first math class with Sara Vaderwerf’s amazing 100 numbers to get students talking
  • We established some group norms based on the previous activity and I refer to them often.
  • I’m spending MORE time on LESS things so that students have time to explore, engage, ask questions, and then explore those questions.
  • I’m modeling what talking in math looks like. I’m facilitating those conversations when I check in with students instead of pushing the conversation along.
  • And I’m trying to be okay with not “finishing” as long as I know that students fear math less and are willing to engage even when they are not sure what the correct answer is.

Hoping the best for a great 2016-2017 school year.

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Ramadan Lenscape: Shapes 

It’s been a while since I’ve shared, but end of school year craze is in full swing! Continuing my Ramadan snapshot..

Savory and very fried. Yum.


Samosas are a clear indication of Ramadan in my house hold. I don’t think I eat them much outside of Ramadan. Samosas can be meat or vege-filled in spring roll sheets which are squares (so yay more shapes).

While samosas are something my family eats most often in Ramadan and it’s great and delicious and all…there’s something special about being together for Iftar (breaking the fast meal) with my family and eating this kind of traditional food that is prepared in Ramadan. For starters, it’s a meal with most of my immediate family for a month. That is rare in my family…even growing up. We just have never been a “sit together at the table for meals” kind of family. To this day we’ve never even have had a dining table!!! We either eat sitting on the floor or at the coffee table in the living room. My dad worked/works inconsistent hours of the night so he was never home at the same time. The siblings and I had extra curricular commitments that never allowed all of us to be home at the same time for dinner. Our door was constantly revolving with people going in and out, so whoever happened to be home just ate their meal with whoever happened to be home or alone if our timings didn’t coincide. And that continues to this day…except in Ramadan. So unless any of us have an invitation to a friends house for Iftar, my entire family breaks out fast together (most often than not). That’s pretty sweet…a few more nights to go before the door starts revolving again.

Ramadan Lenscape: Parallel Lines, Symmetry, and Tiles

This is my first photo share post. Hope to share more as I experience the month of Ramadan.

Ramadan is a time where many Muslims increase prayer.

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Focus game on strong!

I’ll be spending many nights on this carpet standing in straight rows amidst hundreds of Muslims in prayer. Many mosques, including mine, have tiled carpet that are used in the prayer spaces. The carpet can vary from simple to intricate design, but usually have some sort of symmetry and tiling. Standing in straight parallel lines is vital for any prayer done in congregation.

Prayer Rug at the mosque I frequent the most during Ramadan.

Our differences sometimes divide us.

Islam allows for differences – different cultural norms, backgrounds, and even Islamic practices, but sometimes they become a point of tension within a group of people.

 

Perhaps we:

  • don’t pray like each other
  • begin fasting on different days
  • have opposing opinions about what we can or cannot eat
  • have opposing opinions about roles/gender norms
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Courtesy of Boston.com, Big Picture, 2013

Parallel lines never meet, but standing in straight parallel lines is a reminder of our unity.

At the end of the day we (i.e. Muslims) all have the same core belief and goal of building our relationship with God through the 5 pillars and same values – treating family, friends, neighbors, and the larger community with the dignity they deserve and being of service when necessary…and well just being a good human. Regardless of where we stand on matters such as above, when the time for prayer comes in and the prayer call is made we stand together feet to feet – shoulder to shoulder. 

 

 

Post 11: STOP and Stepping Back

While others enjoyed the beach, I was grading in a coffee shop is Astoria. Thanks Gossip Coffee for your amazing AC and banana bread muffin…

I wasn’t sure where to start? Equations? Subtraction?

Anyways, I became really disheartened when I came across the above work (It’s not the ideal set of questions, but it measures if students are able to solve equations given decimals or “not so friendly integers”). This reminded me of something I tweeted not too long ago.

I thought to myself, “How do  I get this student to solve for a variable, when she can’t subtract? Should I be reviewing basic operations with her? And if so…when? #overwhelmed

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Overwhelmed is an understatement. And while I was slightly hyperventilating and dismayed, I heard  Sadie Estrella’s  voice in my head (mainly because I was just listening to her on ChalklineAt some point, she said:

“I have a really hard time when teachers say that these kids don’t know anything, even the basics. STOP.” ~Sadie

Even though the context for this was slightly different, hearing her say “STOP” allowed me to stop, take a step back, and look at my students entire work for this set of questions. This time, I tried to not focus on what she did not understand, but focus on what she DOES understand and start from there. This time, I felt proud of this student. Unlike others she was using the appropriate inverse operations to solve the equation. She just struggled with following through. She can’t apply algorithms because they don’t make sense to her.

Student work_solving equations

Even though, there are still gaps in her understanding…I have a better course of action to support her, and it isn’t going to be worksheets on worksheets practicing the standard algorithm for adding and subtracting, because that has already failed her. Time to take on some number talks and bring out some manipulatives!

 

Post 5: Being Candid…

Our school is looking for a few new teachers for the following school year and I have been watching some demo lessons and have gotten a chance to speak to some of them. Everyone has asked at some point to share my experience working at the school and it seemed like a great prompt for a blog post.

  • There are high expectations: Thats usually the first thing out of my mouth. This is the first school that I have worked at, but from what I’ve been told by teachers who have worked at other schools, we are asked to do a lot more than at any other place they have worked at. For example, implementing cross content instructional tools, looking at student work protocols weekly, keeping in touch with parents, assisting special education teachers in completing IEPs by giving them current student info on academics/social emotional behavior. All of this can be really overwhelming sometimes.
  • With bullet mentioned above, it can get pretty intense in our building at various times of the year, but it’s okay (and very encouraged) to reach out for support.
  • We hold our students accountable because we believe we are stakeholders in their success and many of us do that on our own time. Our AP and principal have standing detention with the students during our extended day, but I usually opt to hold my students. It’s just more meaningful that way, especially because sometimes it’s “we need to make up work because you chose to not finish it in my class” detention and that is just silent work time detention, “you didn’t do the work because you were so lost and shut down and then started goofing off” detention and the looks more like one on one support, and other times it’s “you had a bad day, so let’s just talk and reflect” detention, and sometimes it’s not “detention”, but come hang out with me and “let’s build a relationship” kind of thing. This too can be very, very overwhelming.
  • We collaborate A LOT, we get a lot of feedback, we give a lot of feedback, we are up in everyone’s business and that’s great for us, but might not work for everyone. We have time built in our schedule for much of this collaboration to happen.
  • We use SBG and there tends to be a learning curve (3 years in and I’m still towards the beginning of that curve).
  • We really emphasize supporting diverse learning needs and in an ideal world would love to have every single class be in an ICT setting!
  • From knowing my colleagues, working with my admin–majority of the people are happy here.
  • I’m happy where I work and with whom I work. I feel really supported and consider the people I work with an extension of my family, who really understand what I go through every day.
  • I work with really smart and awesome people who make me reflect on my own teaching constantly and who remind me I can do better each day.