Week 14

Things definitely are looking up as Thanksgiving break gets closer and closer and then the ultimate...Christmas break! Then I will officially be halfway done with my first year! I also read somewhere that after winter things get better with the students and I so want to believe that. But I can't actually say that our weather here has been wintry. It will be in the 30s one night and 70s the next day. I never know if I should wear shorts or a parka. But ironically, the temperature in my classroom never changes. Hmm...

This week was full of adventures including a 12:00 dismissal on Wednesday,  a tornado/fire drill that lasted 45 minutes on Thursday, standardized testing on Friday morning, our faculty potluck dinner, and the opening day of shot gun season for deer hunting. Goodness, so many distractions and time out of class. But I'm not complaining.

In algebra, we are forging ahead with this whole slope concept. I've told them we are not going to leave it until they get it. I've presented it now three different ways: counting the rise over run, using the slope formula, and finding the change in y over the change in x from an x-y table. Now we are moving onto graphing in slope-intercept form. It's been a challenge but I think they're actually getting the hang of it. I'm pretty sure they have the slope formula down which is a plus. They took a practice ACT test type thing on Friday and a couple students mentioned they knew how to find the slope so if I've done nothing else right, I know I've at least taught them that one important concept.

In geometry, we practiced generating our own Pythagorean triples as well as learning the converse of the Pythagorean theorem. Actually, I think I taught this concept backwards so it's a good thing I didn't quiz them over it yet. Hey, I'm still learning here!

Classroom management has gotten somewhat better but fifth hour still makes me want to gouge my eyeballs out. One day this week, I literally had one student paying attention and taking notes. I gave a homework assignment that two people turned in. The other students were just sitting around having casual conversation as if I was not even in there. I literally had to face the SMART board with my back to the class while the tears burned in my eyes. How's that for emo? But again I gotta keep pushing through and not hold yesterday against them today.

One super duper trooper encouraging thing did happen this week. My third hour class went from 5 students to 2 and so they went to an online curriculum. My class sort of converted to a study hall and so one of my algebra students has been coming for extra help. She's more motivated than I expected and we literally work through problems for the entire hour. She knows when she needs one more time to practice and when she gets it, she gets it. That in itself is so valuable. Anyway, I preview the material with her a little but so that by the time seventh hour rolls around she is answering questions and participating more than ever. Her previous test scores have been in the 50-70 range but this week she pulled a 95%. She gets it! Hey Mikey, she gets it! I wish there was some way to give every student this kind of one-on-one instruction.

Speaking of third hour, how the heck do I give my students a grade in the gradebook when they do all their work online? Do I give them points for working every day, points for every module mastered, points for tests passed the first time, or what? This is new territory for me.

Also, how do you deal with amount of information shared with you by the students? I have a handful of students who come to me and share these things with me, and...what do you do with that? I try not to ask questions too much because I don't want to be perceived as the nosy teacher who gossips and gets in everyone's business. Do I confront students about things that I hear? Do I act like I know nothing? Do I give advice or just listen? I'm on drama overload right now.

I figured out this week that I need to put grades in on a daily basis for my warm ups and homework assignments. I've been doing them weekly, out of 20 points or whatever. But the thing is, if students are absent (and they are, for days at a time) then they don't do the warm ups. They can make up homework but not warm ups. If I was good about collecting and grading absentee work then I would just have them make up the warm up. But I'm not good about that. I've started grading in class assignments and that hurts the students that are absent. So I realized I need to start dating the work I leave for them to pick up so both of us know when it is due. Also, maybe I should save my SMART board presentations with my writing on them so students can use those to teach themselves. The problem with that is I don't write in a way that is so easy to follow, another thing I'm learning.

Am I the only person that feels like college professors are somehow more inspiring and life-changing than any other teacher? How do they get to be so profound and awesum? Do I need to get a Master's Degree to instantly become deep, mysterious, and all-around magnanimous? Inquiring minds want to know.


Week 13

I don't believe in superstitious things but this was my thirteenth week of teaching that ended on Friday the thirteenth and was decidedly the week of my first year slump. Last week ended badly and the trend continue this week. By Tuesday I was nearly in tears and was on the edge of disintegrating the entire day. All my students noticed and thought they were to blame. So I let them think it. I can't really even explain what happened. I felt lost and stuck at the same time. Although when you're lost, you have no idea where you are. And when you're stuck, you're absolutely sick of where you are. I was both.

Here is an excerpt from an email that I sent, begging for help.

"I have not been strict in my classroom management and now they get away with things. My problem is fairness. If a student I really like does something wrong I won't write them up. If a student I don't like as much does it, then I want to write them up. That's not fair so I don't write anyone up at all. It's more than one or two students though. It's the general consensus of the class- they decide when to pay attention, when to be quiet, when to participate. I'm not in control of any of it. The only reason the classroom isn't ridiculously crazy is that at least they like me. If they didn't, I know it could be even worse. I have already earned the friendship of my students, probably too much of it, so it's not that I'm worried about them liking me. It's that I want to be known as a fair teacher but I've become fair in such a way that no one gets into trouble. I made myself write up two kids on Monday but that didn't change much come Tuesday. It's a start I suppose. I spent all day Monday and Tuesday looking mad and just not talking very much. The kids knew I was mad but didn't know why and so just kind of left it alone. In my anger, I tend to clam up and say nothing. I don't yell but I start to make sarcastic comments and just cut people short. Immature, I know, and not a good way to teach. In addition to classroom management troubles, I don't like my teaching very much. My lectures and guided notes aren't getting through to the kids. Class is boring and I know it and so I don't blame their behavior. I'm tired of lecture, notes, homework. I've tried some group things and they participate better but they aren't learning, just copying the smart kid. Their recent quiz grades have been low and every Monday, it's like they've been brainwashed to everything they've ever known previously. I am just battling feelings of being ineffective. There are only 2 math teachers at my school. I teach algebra and geometry and he teaches the rest. I get so much support and encouragement on twitter but it's still not the same as having someone who knows my kids, my admin, my colleagues, my community, and me. I have complete freedom to do whatever I want but in that freedom is lack of critique and feedback. I have literally nothing to build on and I create (or steal) my own lessons every day and even I don't like them. lol There are such better ways and ideas and projects out there to do but I can't do them at this point. I don't have the time or support to plan and implement them on my own. I feel like I am in this cycle that won't end until next year and yet I can't possibly keep going this way for the rest of the year. And that is how I feel about that."

I got tons of support and advice from my co-workers and my Twitter friends. I think it was just a low that I had to reach. Thankfully, Wednesday was Veteran's Day and we were out of school. I definitely needed a day to sleep in, chill out, and get myself together. I have to be honest and hurt my pride a bit here. I didn't think it could happen to me. Teaching is my destiny, all I've ever wanted to do, everything I've dreamed of and no one as good as me would ever have to deal with failure. Right? Now get off the pedestal and deal with reality. This crap is hard. You can't do it alone. Some of the best advice I got was to not let the bad students bring me down. But when I do get down, I have my twitter friends to pull me back up. That made me realize that I've got to keep trying every day. Not that I was ever going to quit or give up but I slowed down and let my thoughts get the best of me. I let perfection get the best of me. Life doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful and I don't have to be perfect to be effective. I'm here and I'm doing this, which is more than I can say for a lot of people. I've already achieved my life goal and I'm almost halfway through the hardest year of my career. It should be peachy from here on out, right? ;)

So Thursday comes. I taught a great lesson in Algebra on finding slope from a table. Even though I made it up in less than 20 minutes the night before, it turned out even better than I expected. The students made connections on their own and it was one of the first times I literally saw the lightbulb come on. That rocked. My day got off to a great start! I felt like I could do this again, that I was where I'm meant to be and hey, I'm pretty dang cute too! |(Sorry, just wanted to keep the ball rolling with all this positive thinking.)

I also came up with a new classroom management technique. I hate the cussing. I don't cuss and I absolutely detest it and think it is the epitome of ignorance. So I started the gift jar. Now if you cuss in my room, it's going to cost you. $.25 per word. If they can't pay today, their name goes up on the IOU list on the chalkboard. If they don't pay it the next day, it's a referral to the office for them. I told them that the gift jar money would go to the assistant principal who deals with discipline. Obviously no student wants that. lol Actually, my principal recommended I not do this because parents would get mad at me taking money from the students. My view, albeit a wrong one, is this: don't cuss. It's a rule. You're breaking it. I'm giving the students a second chance. It's their choice. Quarter or two hours of after school detention. Better yet, watch your mouth. They can't argue (although they do) because I should write them up the first time and so I'm doing them a favor. It has been 100% easier to enforce because I am offering them a second chance. If they refuse it, I'm off the hook for feeling guilty. Plus, it's fun because the students catch each other and make each other pay when I don't even hear. I just go along with it. The students asked if I would use the money to give them a party but I pointed out that I did not want to reward them for dirty language. So then they decided I should keep it for myself. :) Hey, a girl's got to keep her options open!

In other news, I'm getting to the point of geometry where my students are learning stuff they haven't previously known. Which makes it interesting and frustrating at the same time. They get frustrated with the struggle and shut down while I want to prolong the struggle and get them interested in thinking. Baby steps.

That'll do week 13, that'll do.


Week 12

So I decided that I tried to cram entirely too much material into last week, and a short week at that. Absolute value equations, inequalities, and solving functions for a variable? A little bit crazy. The test was so complex that it took me a week to grade them. And I had to force myself through each one. Note to self: never do that again!

I was looking forward to this week, a new topic and only one: slope. I started out by just teaching rise over run. We used shapes drawn on a coordinate plane in geogebra and counted the squares to find the rise over run for each piece. I gave a creative (yet stolen) assignment for homework that worked out pretty well. The next day we transitioned into finding slope using the slope formula. I had an awesome lesson thanks to @sweenwsweens! I, Elissa Miller, rapped in front of my class. You literally would have to see it to believe it. But since you can't, you just need to check out his version or just steal the lesson and do it your self. It was empowering to say the least. I explained to the students that my point was that to make the slope formula memorable because it is something they will use over and over again. And after hearing my rapping ability (or lack thereof) I think they truly believed that could be my only possible reasoning.

Next, I tried one of my fellow blogging buddy's methods. Her math department recently redid their entire math curriculum based on packets called skill activities. It starts out with review activities which lead into the main focus skills and ends with secondary skills. While it looks like students are just filling out worksheets, these teachers are truly following Dan Meyer's mantra to "be less helpful" and further to "create crisis". Students work in groups or partners and teachers literally don't help until they have struggled to work things out or if the entire class is struggling. Teachers circle around to remediate and guide and students present problems at the end of class. I attempted this method and the students reacted strongly to the fact that I wouldn't help them. I surveyed the class and they all knew why I did it, they just didn't like it. We compromised and decided I would lecture less and they could do partner/group work more with more help from me. A little bit more anyway. I was disappointed with one class- I gave them one full class period and even went over the answers and they couldn't even bring themselves to write down the answers.

In geometry I tried a couple different worksheets dealing with triangles and proving that the formula for area of a triangle is derived from the formula for area of a rectangle. But due to extenuating circumstances, that was an epic fail. We worked on measuring with rulers and protractors and finding perimeter and area as well as classifying types of triangles. I decided to do something I've been wanting to try for a while: individual assessment (for lack of a better name). I had each student come to my desk and work out a quiz individually. They had to show me they knew how to use a ruler, protractor, perimeter formula, area formula, Pythagorean Theorem, and classification names. It taught me a lot because students were more cautious but more dependent on my reaction to their work as a way of deciding what they really knew. I doubt I will ever do this again, it took me 3 days to get through a class of 10 students. Maybe next time just one question, quick and dirty?