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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Post 9: Finding Silver Linings on Monday

Mondays are tough to get through. I almost feel entitled to get a girl scout badge for surviving Monday. Each week. However, today I was determined to take notice of good things that happened. Thankfully there were more than just a few. Here are a few things that made me happy, smile, or just be thankful.

  • I was on time to our morning staff meeting. Yay!
  • Students were taking their final unit exam of the year (testing always sucks), but I was able to play music throughout the entire hour for each of my classes.
  • At the end of the day,  my advisory students sat through a demo lesson. Our 8th and 7th graders are used to this since we are a growing school, but this is the first of few for my kids. This is how I pitched it to them. -Me with a completely serious face-

    Okay 654, you have been given a great responsibility. You will play a role in deciding who teaches YOU at our school. After this lesson we’ll share some glows and grows. I want you to consider if you want this person as your teacher next year when you are 7th graders because you never know, this person just might be your teacher!

    We got a bit rowdy after a while, so when I mentioned maybe the responsibility needs to be passed on to another class, I heard a unanimous cry…

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    Okay, so they weren’t that passionate about participating…
  • During the debrief the last comment.

    I would want him to be a teacher because he explained well, but no because I want you as my teacher and I would miss you.

  • I got to see my math coach at the beginning of the week. He usually comes in on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but with a modified testing schedule we won’t be able to meet, so he came in today. We were able to sit down and work together for an hour or so. Also Rob rocks!
  • Speaking of Rob, one of my students asked if we go to the same college, “because he’s really good at math too” because duh–all people who are great at math went to the same awesome college.
  • Hands down, it’s really the people that I work with that help me make it through tough weeks and make me love the place I work! Today a bunch of us stayed back to watch demo lessons and debrief about them. We had a team member out sick today and the 6th grade team flawlessly took care of all coverages within 5 minutes. Reminding me day in and day out we do the BEST for the children and the team even if it may inconvenience us. I’m glad to help because I know when I need them, they will pull through for me!
  •  A bunch of kids have started come up with me during lunch to play Heads Up, a combo of charades and taboo. Today the category they were playing was animals, so needless to say it was entertaining. Especially when my student made a werewolf sound when the word was elephant!
  • I did the “I’m watching you” signal to one of my students today when he was trying to be sneaky and he kept on doing it to me, but he did it by poking his eyes every single time. He’s not with it just yet!
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    I didn’t look as creepy.

     

Bring it on Tuesday!

Post 7: Impulsive? Yes. Jerks? No.

At this time of the year it’s good to remember that my students are impulsive and make poor choices in the moment because their frontal lobes are still developing. They lack the same amount of white matter as adults, which leads to slower communication between the brain.

“It’s the part of the brain that says: ‘Is this a good idea? What is the consequence of this action?’ ” Jensen says. “It’s not that they don’t have a frontal lobe. And they can use it. But they’re going to access it more slowly.” ~ Read the full NPR article here.

It’s reassuring to know that this is developmentally appropriate — it doesn’t make it easier, but it helps me reassess my empathy and patience for my students, like student Kay. Or this latest example, which is the inspiration for this post.

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Yesterday, my advisory (sort of like my homeroom) had a substitute for Science. We do internal coverages, so it was a full time teacher, but she didn’t teach the students. A nasty verbal altercation happened between 2 students and a bunch of students decided to go cuckoo and make the matter worse. Said teacher tried to calm the situation, but eventually the Dean and our parent coordinator had to intervene.

The following class they had was math. I was fuming at MY advisory. We reflect a lot at our school, but I was not in a place to do with them at that time…so the class worked silently the entire period. I remained upset at them the entire period for choosing to instigate and react in a way that made a bad situation worse. The covering teacher came back today during our advisory period at the end of the day. We reflected and pretty much every single on of the students had so much guilt in their eyes. A few of them apologized for their behavior and reactions on behalf of the entire class. I found out a few of them had already approached her privately prior to this time.

It was refreshing to be in the room to witness this. I let go of the anger. I had towards them. I felt less tense because I was reminded my students are impulsive, but they are also able to reflect and recognize (after the fact) the choices they make. It might take some a while to get there, but most (not all, of course) take responsibility for their actions. 

They’ll be impulsive again. But this time, I’ll think about the spotty connection in their brain. Like most wifi in New York City, it’s pretty slow.

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Post 6: I overreacted, I engaged-I’m human and have feelings.

It’s hard to stay emotionally constant, especially with middle school students, though I try really hard to do so. My student (we’ll call her Kay) is an emotional child, who struggles to trust adults, but we generally have a semi-descenti-ish relationship. Today, I engaged. I overreacted because it’s tiring to be an emotional punching bag for 12 year olds. It wasn’t my best performance and I could have handled it so much better.

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Tell ’em Channing!

My students were working on some practice problems that they needed blank scantrons for. I asked multiple times if anyone else needed one. I gave a bubble sheet to anyone who raised their hand. Made it clear I would only address silent hands. I walked around and assisted students and reminded others to get back on track. One of my students called out my name. I gestured raising my hand to let her know why I wasn’t walking over to her. She didn’t call me over again.

This episode took about 3-4 minutes towards the end of class. At the end of the period, I had students collect the work and a student (let’s call her Kay) grumbled and mumbled under her breath. “Can’t finish my work because no one gave me a scantron.” I went over to her desk with a scantron and put it on her desk…and she responded with a tone.

-Kay: “I got one cuz I had to get one myself from the back.”

-Me: (somewhat passive aggressively): I’m sorry you didn’t hear me TWICE when I asked who needs one and sorry you weren’t paying attention to raise your hand when you needed it, but your tone is completely out of line and uncalled for.

-Kay: I was calling you over and well you didn’t listen.

-Me: Again, not really appreciating how you’re speaking to me, especially considering I asked anyone who didn’t have one to raise their hand. (While she’s still talking over me.)

I don’t know why I kept bringing that up…it’s silly. I’m pretty sure she didn’t hear me and wasn’t paying attention, but reflecting back, not really worth holding over her head at this point. She needed a scantron and was pissed that I didn’t give one to her when she called out to get one. Understanding that she can get very emotional over stuff like this, it would have been so much easier on my sanity to let her huff and puff under her breath at her seat and then checking in with her towards the end of the day…but no. I engaged, because I’m human and have feelings.

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-Me: I’m no longer having this back and forth with you. You’ve always been honest with me about feeling disrespected by your teachers and now I’m feeling that from you. We need to spend some time together, I’ll see you in detention…

I walk away…

-Kay: These teachers always …something, something, something <yelling at me from across the room…

-Me: and now you’re yelling right at me…we’re done. We’ll talk later.

-Kay: <still yelling across the room> Because you walked away while I was still talking to you…

I gathered my things and walk over to my next class. Half way through the period, I see her at my door and she asks to speak to me. My current class was working independently, so I agree to speak to her while standing at the door.

-Kay: Sorry about my reaction. I didn’t really mean to offend you. I didn’t hear you earlier.

-Me: I really appreciate that, but can we agree that you over reacted to not having a scantron?

-Kay: Yes. I overreacted.

-Me: I did too…our back and forth wasn’t really helpful or necessary. We still need to spend some time together so this doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for detention, but since we both overreacted we might need some space to to cool off before we talk about this. So how about we talk at lunch tomorrow instead of during after school detention?

-Kay: Okay. (Smiles)

We shake hands and part ways.

Till tomorrow…

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.

 

Week One: One Good Thing!

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Last week, I pledged to participate in explore #mtbos’s blogging initiation. I’m really glad blogging about one good thing is one of the options this week. It reminded me to dig up an old blog I used to keep (infrequently) for myself my first year of teaching: now renamed Positive Vibes. I’ve copied over my one good thing from this week.

One Good Thing: Persistence Means Not Giving Up!

I gave my students their performance task this week. This is the first time (ever) that I have completely let go and did not offer explicit help. I stole something I got from my colleague that she uses for students to write independently called “Try 3 before Me”. Instead of asking 3 people for help, the students are doing three specific things before they can ask for help. For my students that included utilizing their INB, math work book, creating a K-W-L chart, and mindful breathing. Their options were outlined on a poster.

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As students worked I circulated and answered only clarifying questions or re-read the question. I did ask some probing questions to some of my students who were ready to extend their thinking, but I kept hands off as much as I could. I was really proud to see the persistence of my students the past two days. By no means is their work perfect, but students were using the resources I provided, attempted problems, and struggled through them without giving up! I’m also proud of myself for letting go because it’s really hard to see students struggle. 

This upcoming week, I hope to blog a day in my life…but I’ll do that when I am a bit more sane.

Ms. K and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Week

This week has been Terrible, Horrible, and No Good on so many levels. 

Final grades were due on Tuesday, so despite having a Monday off I spent all of Monday grading the things I haven’t gotten to and so my week started out with a lack of sleep.  I’ve had students act up and then had to have many one on one conversations with students and then follow up with parents regarding those behaviors.  My lessons were epic fails on the distributive property.  Even after spending three days on that, I feel like I don’t have a sense of what my students have actually learned so it feels like a wasted three days of teaching.  We have parent teacher conferences coming up next week and they are student led conferences, so preparing students has been another layer of stress.  Chancellor, mayor, and superintendent  are coming to our school next week for a ribbon cutting so preparing our school for that has been cray-cray as well.

What I will do to counteract “The Terrible, Horrible, No Good Feelings”:

So I have already vented my feelings to people that I trust and those that give me some great advice after I have vented to them. I have also reflected on the math lesson with my co-worker and math coach and I’ll be discussing some next steps with my co-worker tomorrow.  But here’s what I am doing/will do to counteract the general terrible, horrible, no good feelings I am having.

(1) Consider my highs of the week:

    • Student hugs are pretty awesome, especially when given to you randomly.
    • During a coverage for gym, I was able to see other sides of my students and I even sat down with a few and just spoke to them.
    • After school, I had to give something to a student. I walked into the gym and it just so happened it was the dance program and some of my students were dancing. It was nice to see them in a festive mood.
    • A few of my Muslim students have asked me to pull them out during lunch and their elective periods after school so they can pray. I feel happy to see that they feel comfortable with their beliefs and who they are at such a young age.
    • I had a positive conversation with one of my student about her behavior and we’ve set some goals for her for next week.
    • One of my students who I have been having such a difficult time with has finally turned it around. The boy who was once my main annoyance and disturbance in class is now the one that is the first to be prepared and silent when asked. He is also trying really hard in math class and asking for help.
    • I had dinner with a few friends in the middle of the week. On a work night. I socialized. Outside of work. With people I don’t work with (Granted they are all teachers, but still).

(2) Netflix and TV binge

(3) Take some pictures

(4) Go through my albums and pick a few of my photographs to get them printed