Saturday, January 12, 2013

Good Teaching

When I first looked for a teaching job outside the one that I had at a residential program, my sister told me to join professional organizations in my field.  So I joined NCTM and have been a member ever since.

I got their monthly magazine on teaching middle school mathematics and devoured it every month.  I also scoured their archives for lesson ideas.  Some of my best units came from other teachers who submitted their great lessons and units for publication by NCTM.

I also read a lot of books- especially those by Marilyn Burns.  I brought manipulatives into my classroom.  I brought writing.  I brought reading.  I brought whatever I could.  I spent a lot of time planning lessons and a lot of energy delivering them.  My students loved my class.

But I got jaded.  And older.  Standardized tests and increased scrutiny made me nervous.  I worried so much about covering all the standards that I was scared to try new things.  I didn't have as much energy.  I found things to do in my spare time that didn't involve grading papers and planning lessons.  My effectiveness suffered.

Eventually I moved to a new state and left the school where I had earned respect, collaboration, and support.  I walked into a new school that had only seen outdated methods.  I tried some things that had worked for me in the past, but they didn't work with these kids.  The working conditions sucked.  I wasn't doing well.  So I looked for something else.

I wanted to get out of teaching.  I was becoming one of those teachers that had lost her spark.  I looked into other professions.  But my family encouraged me to stay in education so I looked there, too.

I found a job opening advertising a position for individual and small group instruction.  Perfect.  I do a great job working with small groups of kids.  This was a support math class so I wouldn't have a set curriculum to follow.  I could find out what the students needed and deliver my best instruction on those topics.

I left my job in February to start this new position.  I was taking over a class that the school's math coach was teaching so he could be a math coach full time.  The kids loved him.  It was high school which I had never taught.  I observed him and decided not to change what the kids were getting.  It wasn't NCTM style, but maybe it was just as good.  I loved the math coach, loved the school, and had a great few months.  I didn't take any risks, though.  I stopped looking to NCTM for inspiration.  Also, the job description lied.  These were full-size classes not small groups and definitely not individuals.

During our professional development before this school year, a consultant was brought in.  He had consulted with the school the year before, but he left me alone.  He comes in from out of state.  He travels all over the country training teachers to teach struggling students.  Great, I thought.  An expert.  I was doubting my effectiveness and was willing to try anything.  Also, I was no longer teaching a support class.  Due to budget cuts and a change to block scheduling, I was going to be teaching regular high school math classes.  The only part that stayed the same was that I would still be teaching the struggling students.

So, he trained us on how to teach math.  Quick, crisp review.  Prescribed note-taking.  Direct instruction.  Carefully created tests.

I implemented his methods faithfully.  Both he and the math coach said I was the math teacher that followed his methods the most.  They said I was doing great.  I got nothing but gushingly positive feedback.

But I knew my kids weren't learning.  I knew my class was boring.  I knew I wasn't reaching the kids.

At the end of the semester, they changed their tune.  The feedback was no longer positive.  In my private meetings with the math coach, I questioned the consultant's methods.  I tentatively spoke about current research.  I told him that this consultant's style didn't match what the experts were saying.  The math coach gave me the green light to do whatever I wanted.

So I went back to the NCTM website.  I ordered more books.  The math consultant likely won't be rehired for next year.

I've asked the math coach what the other math teachers are doing.  Note-taking with guided practice.  I want to try new things.  But it's scary.  I'm revisiting my books.  I'm revisiting the blogs of the teachers that inspired me way back when.  But I haven't changed anything yet.  I'm working in a school that embraces direct instruction.  I'm working in a school in which the administration thinks Kagan structures are the way to improve instruction.  Yes, they have their place. Yes, they get the kids moving.  But Kagan structures don't address the issue of teaching critical thinking.  Our math coach is only now educating himself about inquiry-based, engaging, and non-traditional teaching.  How can I be the change?  How can I try new things when the people evaluating me are stuck in the past?  How do I know they're not right?

So I've promised change that I'm not yet delivering.  I want to be in a school where I can collaborate.  I want to be in a school that embraces the kind of teaching current research supports.  I want some guidance from an expert.  So I'm frozen.  And I don't know what to do.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Comments

I don't write much so this isn't a big deal, but I now have to approve all comments.  I'm getting way too much spam in my comments.

In other news, I love my new job.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

New Job

Just an update to say that I got a new job, and it's fantastic!  Thanks for all the support.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

New Job, New House, New Life

So I've been asked to write. First the bizarre: when logging into my blogspot account, my backup email showed up as my name and my former fiance's last name @ cablecompany.com. I don't remember ever setting up that account.


But anyway, how's the new living?


Driving cross-country was amazing. I was worried about the stress, but I loved it. We settled in at my parents' house, and took the summer off.


Living at my parents' place was great. Yes, we were squished into two rooms, but I really loved living there. Good company, good food, comfortable living.


So lived there, eh? Yup, two weeks ago we closed on our first house. We tried out a few realtors, ended up going with a recommendation from my boss, and she bent over backwards for us. We made an offer on a house on our first day together, and we accepted the counteroffer the next day. The closing took forever, but we got a great house for a green-with-envy price and the lowest interest rate I've heard of. The best thing I ever did was join the military. About 13 years after joining, my military service enabled us to do something I never thought I'd be able to do- buy a house. Thanks VA loan.


Because this is mostly anonymous, I'll chat about my husband a bit (if you're reading, Dad, just keep in mind that you're one of the only readers that knows me- so I can vent). We've had a tough couple of years. He was unmotivated on the job front and is horrible when it comes to financial responsibility. I will say that buying a house has mostly been good for him. He still thinks I can pay all the bills by myself, but he's motivated to work on the house. More than I can say for myself. I sit around and watch HGTV.


And my job. I'm not happy. These are the most difficult kids I've ever worked with. My Algebra kids don't do anything. My eighth graders are up and down, and my seventh graders can't stay quiet for more than 10 seconds. I've never had behavior management problems, but I do this year. Luckily, my principal has only seen good lessons. Speaking of principals, the administration is amazing.




Adoption

I'm blogging about adoption back at my adoption blog, Not Mother.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

I Got a Job!

Last week, I went to Arizona hoping for some interviews. I had planned the trip months before, but almost canceled because my job search had yielded nothing. It didn't seem worth it to spend the money with nothing lined up.

That Monday, I got two calls to set up interviews. I had my suit all ready to go.

I had the first one on Friday. I knew it went well when they set up my second interview right then. The principal was at the NCTM conference so they were waiting for her to get back. I'm so glad I took a personal day on Monday to save money because that was my only opportunity for a second interview.

This time, there were four kids and three adults. I was so nervous after. Did I say something wrong? Did I relate to the kids well enough?

My flight left that afternoon. I was so overwhelmed on the flight, playing the interview over and over in my mind wondering if I'd screwed up.

When I landed at 12:30AM, I had a message on my phone that they wanted to offer me the job.

I called Tuesday while someone watched my students, but got voicemail. I broke the rules by leaving my cellphone on and she called back about 5 minutes later. I shushed my students to take the call. I had already decided I was going to take it no matter what the pay was, but I could tell she was nervous about telling me the salary. The thing is, the other school I interviewed with told me such a low salary that I was prepared for the worst. The salary still sucks (though not as bad as the other place), but they're going to add a stipend for me to do curriculum work.

She cheered when I said I'd take it.

So far they've emailed me every day asking what I'd like them to buy. I asked for some manipulatives. They're looking at some intervention programs, but I'm having a hard time saying yes. I hate spending other people's money. I finally sent an email on Friday with a definitive answer.

They are already taking my input so seriously that I'm a little nervous. I can't work miracles though I'll certainly try. They said the kids are really low (25% pass rate on the state exam and Arizona is 48th in the country on national exams).

They also said that the teachers' biggest complaint is discipline. I guess the kids there will actually swear at teachers. I know this is common at other schools, but it doesn't happen at my school. Kids sometimes swear, but never at a teacher. I'm already reading some classroom management books even though I've never really had a problem (until this year, but that's a whole other story.)

I'm really excited about the opportunity to help them improve their math program even though I'm very nervous.

But mostly I'm thrilled to be moving with a job in place, and I'm thrilled to have found a job in a school that I actually feel excited about even if they might have unrealistic expectations about what I can do.

I got another call for an interview when I got home, and it felt good to say I had accepted an offer at another school.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wedding Weekend

The pre-wedding:

I got a manicure and pedicure from an amazing girl. The pedicure was decided last minute and was great. I'd never had either so it was a nice treat. I was so happy that my nails made it up to the manicure.

Rehearsal Dinner:

It was a success. Other than the odd fact that my parents were not seated at the main table with us, everyone had fun. The food was delicious. My daughter, having declared that the flower girl should be seated next to the bride, spent a good portion of the night sharing a chair with my sister and I.

The wedding:

Despiter my fears, my hair and makeup came out perfect. We enjoyed mimosas while we got ready. I left my veil at the hotel, but my sister's boyfriend went to get it. We arrived at the Country Club and had more mimosas. My sweetie's mom showed up really late, delaying our pictures by quite a bit. Finally, I got ready. I had to wait a bit for everyone to gather at the bottom of the stairs so that I could make a proper entrance. We were taking the pictures before the ceremony, but I wanted to have a special entrance before the pictures.

My daughter and my sister looked amazing.

The weather cooperated. Despite freezing rain in the middle of the week, the day was warm enough to take pictures outside. Although my fiance hated the photographer when we first met him, he fell in love with him that day. The photographer was terrific.

I waited upstairs to begin.

The ceremony began and went off beautifully. Although we had bought a video camera, my fiance's brother had left it in the car. I looked around and noticed no one was videotaping. I almost stopped the cremony and wish I would have. Luckily, my niece took some video with her camera. I watched it today (my friend made sure to get it copied by the photographer right then and there) and my niece had filmed our vows. I cried when watching it. Though I was disappointed not to get the whole thing, I felt a lot better knowing she got the important part. During the vows I got teary. W held hands through the whole ceremony. Later everyone said they wanted to marry him because of the way he looked at me the whole time.

We mingled during the cocktail hour while one of the staff followed us around the whole time with a tray of hors d'ouevres.

I delayed the introductions because I found out the camera was still in the car. I started crying again, this time because I couldn't believe that after the ceremony mishap, the brother messed up again. The staff took care of it and then my sister made sure that she captured the rest of the important moments.

The food was great. I wasn't nervous. Everyone was terrific. At the last minute, I sang for him. We danced and made merry. My junior high friend took me out on the dance floor twice to spin me around.

A lot of people left early, but plenty stayed. It was a little weird celebrating during the daytime. It made the party atmosphere a little less so, but I had plenty of fun.

After the wedding, we went to our favorite little place in Providence with my sister and his brother.

Then we checked into our hotel, courtesy of my sister.

Our two days were wonderful. Last night we treated ourselves to room service- champagne and strawberries. We also had our first married fight that day, but we lived.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Obama at School

Yesterday, I showed McCain and Obama's speeches in my math class. I thought it was really important for my kids to see them. Some of the kids were clearly uninterested, but many were really engaged. The kids had a lot of great questions and comments.

One class in particular really got into it. They were clapping and cheering during Obama's speech. One girl kept saying how much she wished she could have been there. She also mentioned how nice it was that the Obama rally was so "colorful".

I'm glad I showed the speeches.

On the flip side, there are a few staff mothers that have major issues about how race is being handled. Comments like these:

"He's not even black or African-American. Why are they calling him that? He's not. We don't say he's white."

"Who was he raised by? His WHITE mother and his WHITE grandparents. And where was his dad- back in Kenya."

"You can tell who he's talking to because he changes how he speaks depending on his audience."

"Everyone's saying it's not about race, but all the black people voted for him because he's black, so it IS all about race."

I get what they're saying, but for me it just shows that so many people still don't get it.

What bothers me the most is the assertion that he doesn't deserve the title of African-American. First of all, Obama has the right to classify himself however he wants, though I suspect it's more the media making the decision than him. Yes, it is more accurate to say biracial, but would we make the same argument about any other group? If your mom is hispanic and your dad is not, does that mean you can't call yourself hispanic? How about Native American? How about Irish? French? Portuguese? Seriously, is it necessary to argue that point? When Obama is a stranger out on the street, do you think anyone would say he's biracial? No, they'd call him a black man because in his case it's not obvious that he is biracial (and even if it were, there are plenty of folks, especially the racist ones, that would just call him black). Finally, I can't think of a better description for him than African-American. He literally had an African father and an American mother.

/end rant