Post 4: Defeat and Humility…I guess

While my tweet from yesterday was specific about a task, the feeling of defeat is something that has been lingering with me for a while. I have attempted to give my students tools to persevere in problem solving, but seeing so many of them give up so soon yesterday reinforced the feeling of defeat. While I recognize that there are so many factors beyond my control in order to make my students effective problem solvers, the little that I can control keeps me up at night. It’s all consuming of any (seeming) free time I have. I guess it’s a humbling reminder that we have one of the hardest jobs. We’re directly dealing with students and are their intellectual and emotional caretakers far beyond 8AM-3PM, even though some people may tell us otherwise.

One way to keep my self sane is to think forward and reflect on what I can do differently. It’s also that time of the year, where I begin seriously thinking and reflecting on what I need to do differently next year. However, I have about 2 months of school left, where does that leave my students right now? So while I am really grateful because, “there is always next year”, I don’t know how to get over this heavy feeling I have at this moment. Of course, recognizing that my students were not having a productive struggle in my first section, I made neccessary-ish adjustments for my next section. However, that seems more like plugging holes in a pipe, as an after thought — very half-hazard. So while part of the feeling deals with my students inability to problem solve, much of it is about my own teaching, my own planning, and my ability to control the things that I am in control of right now….not so happy with it and it’s a feeling that sucks.



Post 3: Trying to keep up with “time” when time is a struggle.

I’ve struggled with the concept of time my whole life. I struggle to get anywhere on time. I underestimate how long everything will take me. It takes me forever to say something aloud that I think will take me a few seconds.

Priority was a foreign word.

Related, I’ve always had trouble prioritizing. Everything. For majority of my life, that was never an issue. If I needed to get x, y, and z done, I’d get it done within milliseconds of their ultimate due time. Writing an undergraduate honors thesis? Done (research done two weeks before due date, written in 3-4 days). If I had to do a, b, and c things together no matter how intense, I would and I could. Taking a 3-day intensive weekend Islamic course the same week as mid-terms? Done. Help curating a photo gallery which required traveling 1.5 hours (one way) weekly for 2 months during my undergrad years and spending a bunch of hours learning how to use GIMP to photo edit while “studying” for Calc Honors, Linear Algebra, and Discrete Math? Done. All-nighters were my life because I decided all duties related to being VP of MSA, no matter how minute, trumped all classes. Sahar never said no to anything. “Sahar could you…?” Yes. Almost always. People asked because I never said no and I knew I would get it done. Everything. Without much compromise.

I got things done. I did them well. So there was no urgency for me to get my ish together.

That changed three years ago, when I started teaching. The inability to juggle everything thrown at me, inability to plan and execute my lessons in the best manner (as I was used to doing everything else in my life), and the inability to say no hit me all too hard. So much stress and anxiety manifested physiologically. My adult acne was at its all time worse and I had stress induced acid reflex and ended up going on meds to put both under control.

multitasking multitask multi-tasking
I wasn’t naive per se. I went through 5 years of undergrad/grad education, 3ish years of student teaching, so I thought I knew what to expect going into teaching. I also knew to expect the unexpected. Countless of teacher friends and mentors told me: you won’t truly understand what teaching is until you’re a teacher.

yes seinfeld true kramer correct
So now 3 years later, time, pacing, getting things done, and being an organized teacher are daily struggles. I’ve learned ways to cope and have grown somewhat. I’ve had to change my mindset about somethings. Perhaps if I have time, I’ll write about that later…

Because I felt like a plastic bag…

February and March are brutal months and recently I’ve found myself going down a negative slippery slope where the negativity just cycles. As I began reflecting on this feeling, for some reason this song popped into my head and I don’t think I have ever connected my life as a teacher to a song so strongly. So strong, that I’ve accompanied my reflection with some visual aids.

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag
Drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?
Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin
Like a house of cards, one blow from caving in?

Do you ever feel already buried deep six feet under?
Screams but no one seems to hear a thing

I feel like a plastic bag!

Yes, Katy Perry…I feel like a plastic bag! When not teaching, I can be found running all over the building trying to accomplish 73652 things during my preps. I teach on the 4th floor and make at least 5-6 runs between the 1st and 4th floor each day.  I find myself in self-preservation mode trying to make it through the end of the day, end of the week, to a 3-day weekend. YES! I want to start again. By February of this year, I’ve been ready to start the new school year with a new set of students and a revamped curriculum. We finally have all three grades in the building (6-8 since we’re a new school) and I look forward to tweaking vertical alignment. I am so ready to start again! I’m buried deep in papers that have to be graded. I have one section, where I am so drained and feel like I am wasting my breath (I hate the fact that I dread walking into the room some days…I constantly narrate the positives, I set clear guidelines and expectations, etc. and I’m drained and exhausted and feel like a first year teacher with them sometimes). I’m definitely not screaming at children…but no one seems to hear a thing.


I’m a firework DAMMIT!

I’ve had to check myself on that point. It’s not true. There are students who are listening and working really hard. There are students who are trying really hard to ignore the usual foolishness, which I need to acknowledge. There are good things that are happening. I’m working my butt off. Students are engaged and excited about math. They are persisting and engaged in math conversations in class.

That’s clearly how I need to enter a room and begin teaching. #highlyeffective #danielson3c

‘Cause, baby, you’re a firework
Come on, show ’em what you’re worth
Make ’em go, “Aah, aah, aah”
As you shoot across the sky-y-y


You don’t have to feel like a wasted space
You’re original, cannot be replaced

Thanks, Katy, for reminding me I’m not a wasted space. I need to remind myself that everyday I show up to work, it makes a difference. It makes a difference to Student B. who craves maternal attention and his dad is so emotionally detached that he doesn’t realize that his son just wants him to say “I am proud of you” and doesn’t realize what an intelligent son he has. So he responds by acting out. It makes a difference to Student M. who is moving through transitional homes and mom while there are some domestic issues, so she misses a lot of school, but she manages to catch up by speaking to her peers and getting help outside of class and has one of the most genuine smiles on her face. Makes a difference to student J, who probably has gone through most schools unnoticed because she is really quiet, usually does well, but is super shy and doesn’t mingle as much with peers. But then she asks to come up with you during lunch with a small group of students and forgets she’s an introvert. I might not be original and maybe I can be replaced, but then again maybe I am. Either way, I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do and there is always at least one moment every day that reminds me its all worth it. Bad moments and bad days are just that: a sliver of time when things seem to be the worst and we deal with it (or decide to not deal with it — learning to choose my battles) and then we move on. And then it gets better. And then…


So thanks Katy Perry, for reminding me that I don’t have to feel like a plastic bag, because I’m brighter than the moon and I have it within me to deal with it. Just got to let it shine from within. 

Data, Data, Data…

I work at a data driven school so we collect and look at data ALL the time. It drives our instruction. There’s definitely acknowledgement of qualitative data as well and we pour over student work, we conference with students, so we do make informed decisions using both qualitative and quantitative data. However, sometimes the sheer amount of data overwhelms and bums me (and the students) out.


Case in point: my advisory/homeroom class. I’ve seen their math growth with regard to the math practices (as well as math content), but that is not really evident on their mid-year benchmark (which probably isn’t the best benchmark to begin with). Thankfully, we’re a SBG school so I can show them their math growth, but I can’t take the look in their eyes when they see that they haven’t made growth based on this one mid-line benchmark. I’ll be the first to admit my students are not where they need to be. Many are 6th graders reading far below grade level. The same is true of their numerical fluency.  So….I get it, but then I don’t. I know the mid-line is just a snapshot of how they did on that one particular day. So, I have a lot of feels about the message that they get when they see that. It’s a conversation that’s developing at my (fairly still new) school about how best to measure student growth, specifically in math. There’s fairly straightforward DRP (Degrees of Reading Power) to measure their reading growth. And when the DRP doesn’t give us helpful information we do running records, an oral assessment that accurately tells us students’ decoding, fluency, and comprehension of text. We have a pretty well developed rubric for argument writing, so we can see their growth and for what it’s worth it actually means something. Measuring math growth isn’t comparable to the other two. Growing 12% just means you got 12% of the questions correct or you guessed 12% better this time around. We’re using SBG and it just “feels right” to somehow incorporate that when we are trying to analyze student growth in math. And it would give me back teaching time…

New things in Ms. K’s classroom: WODB and Plickers

This is my third year teaching the same 6th grade curriculum. This is the first year that we’re trying block schedules at my school. This brings up my time with my students to 76 minutes per day instead of 45 minutes. I’m excited to be able to do some of the things that I’ve wanted to do in years past, but was reluctant for a variety of reasons. Feeling like a newb and time among them.

Which one doesn’t belong?

We’ve been having 3 day weeks due to holidays. Even though school started September 9th, my first actual math class (where we weren’t doing advisory or giving benchmark assessments) was on Thursday, September 17. I decided to allot the first 20 minutes of class to have students determine which one doesn’t belong? I first learned about this website at TMC15 and was eager to use it throughout the year.

I posed the following set to my students. My classroom is set up as quadrants, so I had students move to the quadrant that corresponded with their shape. I figured that most students would gravitate towards quadrant 4 (bottom right), but I was shocked that almost all of them chose that shape. In my first block all, but ONE student chose the pentagon. What was more surprising, is that some students refused to accept the reasoning of the sole student who chose the top right shape as the one that didn’t belong. His reason that it was the only shape that “had designs” inside was not mathematical enough for some of the students. Other students responded by going back to the original question “which one doesn’t belong?” and gladly accepted his reason. Thinking back, I wish I had them pause and reflect on what it means for evidence to be “mathematical enough”.

I changed the task for my second and third block. First I gave students 5 minutes to independently decide which one doesn’t belong. Then I assigned quadrants to them. When they moved into their groups, there task was to come with as many reasons why the shape did not belong. The groups that moved to the top and bottom left struggled the most to come up with reasons, but someone eventually was able to share that the top left was the only one where all the sides weren’t of equal length.

We reflected on the this exercise for a bit after everyone settled back in their seats. I asked them what there take away was from this exercise. Students in all my blocks shared that each could have a reason for not belonging or that there was more than one correct answer. There were still a few students who were convinced that there was only one lens through which to look at these shapes and that there was only one right answer. Others acknowledged reasons why the other shapes didn’t belong, but believed there was one shape that didn’t belong more than the other, (the pentagon in this case). I didn’t push too much because that is a notion that has been reinforced for much of their math experience and one exercise was not going to change that. I’m eager to try this again next week with another set and see how it goes.


I’ve decided to use plickers for a quick midpoint check-in. Plickers are essentially “paper clickers” that can be scanned through a mobile device. I tried them once last year, but made them mistake of laminating them with glossy pouches and they were a total waste. This year, I had them laminated on matte and so far I’m happy with them. I was a bit nervous it would take a while to scan them, but here is what I learned the few times I used them:

  • I can scan them by standing in one spot as long as students don’t block each other. To make this easier on me I’ve asked my students in the back to raise them up high, the ones in the middle to cover their face, and the ones up front to hold them low so I can scan in one or two swipes across the room.
  • It scans so much faster than I expected and the students are really excited to get the immediate feedback. I use the graph to reveal the answer.plicker2
  • Yes, it’s multiple choice, but having this immediate feedback is a kick off point for math discussions. In the above example, it led us into a discussion analyzing student error.
  • Use “live view” (love live view!) to keep track of which students have been scanned. As soon as their card is scanned, their name is checked off. Now I know after my second swipe, I need to focus on scanning student #14’s card.


I learned that there is a class set of electronic clickers somewhere in the building, but I like the fact that I don’t have to pass/collect the plickers. It saves time. The students put it in the flap of their binder which never leaves the room. I’m able to give every student their own plicker which I wouldn’t be able to do with the electronic clickers. I’m planning on using a sound cue that indicates, “It’s plicker time – take ’em out” and another to tell students to put them away. We’ll see how this goes and if it doesn’t work out…I guess I’ll have to try out the electronic clickers.

Three Days in. Third Year Plans.

Third Year Reflection
I can’t believe that I’m in my third year of teaching. Sometimes I can’t believe that I’m entrusted with the future of my students. It’s surreal to me. Every time students listen or are working on the appropriate task, it amazes me that they actually listen. Other than that feeling, this has been the best first week of school. I’ve felt the most confident walking into a room full of students. This may be in part to that fact that the past two years, I was sharing an advisory (think homeroom) with more experienced (and truly inspirational) teachers than me. I’ve always been hesitant dealing with students when they have conflicts with each other (and middle schoolers do that A LOT). I was able to deal with my first conflict resolution session this year without having to think through it. It just felt natural. I’m not really sure if that is the right word for it, but I can’t think of anything else. It’s a hard feeling to put into words.

Three Days In
The students have been back at school for three days and we already have a 4 day weekend. Due to Jewish and Muslim (yay!) holidays, we won’t be having a full week of school until the last week of September. Throw in a bunch of benchmark assessments, there isn’t much teaching going on right now. I’ve used this time to set expectations and some routines for my students. I’m taking my time with this because my first two years I was just trying to just make it to the end of the day without losing my sanity, but realized too late that rushing through the introductory stuff (expectations, norms, routines) added to the chaos that was my room. I need to slow things down with entering 6th graders so, I’ve literally been narrating and modeling all week.

Some things I’ve taken into account:

  • desk organization – expectations of what students have on their desk as soon as they enter.
  • sound cues – last year I had a transition songs for the beginning class. This year I plan to have more sound cues.  So far I have introduced the entry ticket song: Peter Hollen’s cover of Bastille’s Pompeii.  Thanks to Matt Vaudrey, I’m planning on using some shorter sound cues for things other than work time.
  • Expectation of listening to each other – I’ve been cold calling students to summarize what they heard a peer say. I’ve found that many weren’t paying attention initially or couldn’t hear what was said. I then had a student who did hear summarize and then go back to the original student. Then I cold call another. I’ve also modeled to them that they can raise their hand and ask a peer to repeat what they said because they couldn’t hear or didn’t understand.
  • turn in bins – I’ve more or less been a traveling teacher every year so I didn’t think it would be helpful to have a place for students to turn in things. I would just collect everything at the end of the period or have a student collect and then give it to me. There have been times when things have not made it back to me because students put it on top of my laptop, somewhere in front of the room, or I misplace them. NO MORE! Students will turn in things in the turn in bin. This way even if I have to rush out of the room to my next class, I know exactly where they will be.
  • student roles – I’ve been doing way too much and this year my goal is to train my minions…errr my students as much as possible with day to day tasks. This year, I had students apply for house jobs and will be letting them know who was hired by next week.
  • accountable talk – this is a school wide expectation/goal for our students to be engaged through meaningful discussion. Our plan is to roll out a few accountable talk stems. Right now, I am focusing on I agree/disagree with —- because…. and I’d like to add on…

Top 3 Priorities for Year #3:

  1. My #1TMCthing: Vertical Whiteboards (or Vertical non-Permanent Surfaces – VNPS)
    I went to TMC (Twitter Math Camp) for the first time this year and my mind was blown. I want to do everything! But then again, I want to also not burn out by the end of this year. Everyone at TMC could relate to this and thanks to Mattie B, #1tmcthing was born. I didn’t tweet out (oops…) my 1TMC thing because up until the end of August I didn’t know what it was. The vertical whiteboards are the thing that I have been the MOST excited about this year. One of my colleagues also jumped on the bandwagon. And then the teachers whose rooms I travel to, agreed to let me hang some whiteboards in their room!I’ve always found students to be more excited writing on the board. The pairs that worked at a whiteboard during work time also seemed to be collaborating the most. I didn’t realize this observation was backed by research (Peter Liljedahl).  I think the amount of tweets on VNPS and this pushed me the most to make it happen in my room.

    I’m still in the process of hanging them up, but I’m super excited to see how it goes.

  2. Interactive Notebooks: This was the one thing that I knew I wanted to do sometime in June. I was tired of giving students guided notes every day that would end up on the floor. While I won’t be using everyday, the INBs will be used for students to synthesize a few days of class in some sort of graphic organizer, a place to put reference materials, and work on some guided practice problems.
  3. Being ORGANIZED: This is my personal goal for the year.
    • creating lists: I’ve been creating lists and crossing things off as I do them. I give myself at most 3 priority tasks to finish for each day. If I don’t get to the others, it’s okay because they weren’t the priority.
    • labels: I’m in the process of labeling things in my room so that each group has its own items that they are responsible for.
    • Place for everything: I’m trying to give everything a home in my room and then being conscience of putting them away immediately. I also have specific nook for students. They can take things from there when I am not in the room instead of allowing them to go into the supply closet.
    • Having multiple of things: I’m traveling to three different rooms this year, so instead of moving things around, I’ve gotten multiple whiteboards, markers, and manipulatives.
    • Using preps wisely: I never really plan what I want accomplished in my preps. This will change this year!