Week 4

A week short on days, long on emotion.

I spent the Labor Weekend grading papers, organizing files, and trying to plan ahead. I planned for one day. Boo. But organizing makes my heart happy, so I did make progress.

Tuesday and Wednesday we spent covering new material. I also spent the time trying to prepare for my substitute teacher on Thursday, when I had STI training.

Considering I was a sub for 6 months, I was doing my best to leave a ton of detailed plans so she would know what to do. It took a lot of time, but thankfully another teacher gave me a template to work from. Thursdays are my quiz day so I planned a quiz as usual. (This is where I interject that my teacher friend strongly advised me not to do this and I proceeded to ignore her.) After that a math journal writing assignment and goal setting worksheet.

Thursday I had training all day. The training was very helpful- focusing on improving our ACT scores in math. Illinois uses the ACT as it's high stakes end of year test so we go by ACT standards even though all our material is aligned to Illinois Standards. Smart, I know. So, we talked about pacing guides, action plans, pre- and post- assessing, analyzing data, etc. All things that bring joy to this math teacher's logically anal mind.

Training ends. Talk to my sub. She caught two students cheating on the quiz. One student passes a note with the formula on it to the other student, sub takes the note and shows me. I had already threatened warned my students that they would receive an immediate write up for anything negative the teacher wrote down. So I had to keep my word. Referral. Assistant Principal says school policy is, give them a 0. Ouch.

Thursday night. Grade tests from every class. They all bombed. BOMBED??? How could this happen!?!? (More on this later.) We only covered two days worth of new material! The other questions were review from last week. Depression sets in. I hit the twitterverse. Thankfully, I have a wonderfully supportive, creative, encouraging PLN. Tons of great advice that I want to incorporate as we speak.

Friday. I have to confront the students about the cheating scenario. They still maintain it was not cheating. 'Cheating would have been giving the answer, not the formula'. They turned it on me. I went over it 'like once' and they couldn't remember. If I was there, I would have told them the formula anyway. My mistake here was in calling them both out into the hallway. One on one, I am more intimidating because I'm the one in authority. Two on one, they are on a team, setting out to conquer me. Bad idea. I explained to them the policy and that if they didn't understand, they could have written a note on the test. It was one question. I explained the 0 would stand but I would give them a replacement test to take. I still don't know if this was the best way to handle it. I don't know what the fair thing to do is. I just don't know. But this was the decision I made. Right after I decided to NEVER give a test/quiz/anything important when a sub is there again.

The rest of the day I spent talking to my students about their goals in life, college, ACT scores, how low ours are, how funding relates to the scores, and about ways to prepare. Some ideas we came up with are:
  • Taking timed tests. The ACT is a 60 minute test with 60 questions. We can practice this by doing a shorter version. The textbook provides a 10 question standardized test at the end of every chapter that I could easily give in 10 minutes.
  • Multiple choice tests. As a rule, my tests are open-ended. At first, I thought multiple choice tests would make it easier for them to guess. But, showing their work is still a requirement and we decided that working it out and having choices to choose from would help them catch their own mistakes.
  • Review. The students asked that I give a sample test that they could work on as homework and that we could go over in class to see what areas we are weak in. As we do this for each test, it becomes routine and another way to study for the ACT.
  • Formula Sheet. Students are allowed to use a formula sheet on day of testing which is the Work Keys test. Also, with a formula sheet, I can avoid the cheating scenario. It feels against my nature to give a formula sheet but if they don't know how to use the formula, giving it to them won't help anyway.
Some other ideas of my own are:
  • Language I need to phrase my test questions similarly to the ACT and to speak and write the vocabulary they need to do well on the test. Even if they understood everything perfectly, they can't answer questions they can't read or comprehend.
  • Posters There are some concepts that my students just need to see constantly reinforced. I think putting up some posters around the room could give them something to look at. Even though that's not allowed for the ACT, hopefully they will see it enough that it will be embossed in their mind's eye for future reference.
Hopefully by starting in early September and preparing until April, we can make a difference!

I feel like I should burst into song.

Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya...

For more encouragement and reflection check out these posts by my math gurus:


  1. Just found your blog. And, as a first-year Algebra teacher, I, too, am feeling your excitement and pain for this new career.
    I've bookmarked you, and can't wait to read more!!

  2. Read all the blogs you can and talk to as many other teachers as you can. I've learned EVERYTHING from others who shared with me. Twitter is my lifeline!

  3. I absolutely enjoy your blog, reminding me to remember back to my first year(s) of teaching and my steep learning curve in the classroom. I know I have posted lots in your comments, and I am hoping that my comments are helpful. ;) I clearly do not know the intricacies of your issues and the actual events in the classroom, but love to offer an opinion ;P
    I have to agree with the students on this one though in terms of cheating. It is a good time to check in with the students and ask them and yourself what actual learning is and the point of learning. Will memorizing an equation help them to understand the math, or knowing how to use the equation? (Which I think you hit on when realizing that even if they did have the equation, they would need to know how to use it!)
    If you are trying to change the tire on your car so you can get to work, do you hold back and not look in the manual because you cannot remember or look for a tutorial to help resolve the problem ? An equation is simply that... a tool to help get to the answer. Perhaps what would be better learning would be to understand the purpose of the equation, when to use it and how the equation works. After all, the mathematician that created the equation did so for a reason. So passing an equation... At least they were passing content about math, and not something else, indicating their lack of care for being in school at all. ;)
    The fact of the matter is though, if you were clear in telling them they had to memorize the equation for the test, well, then they cheated!
    As for being fair, well as a parent I have also quickly learned that you never back down on a consequence, you will sabotage yourself. Students (people) quickly learn to manipulate the situation if you give them leeway for clearly breaking a rule with a consequence. If it was clear.. then stick to the consequence and do not soften it. If it was not clear, sounds like it is time to review the class policies and consequences.
    Finally, as for practicing for these tests...I have most often found that students could care less about the funding, test scores, and such in the schools. It is not in their realm of caring and has little to do with their lives. There are several theories in practice in classrooms out there that recognize learning separate from skills for test taking. They engage students in learning at high levels through their interests. The content they need for the tests will be there.
    In terms of test taking skills, well Peter Papas writes a great article posting about how to work those tests: http://peterpappas.blogs.com/copy_paste/2009/08/learn-math-thinking-wrong-answer.html

  4. Chum,
    I'm sure I'm naive but I hope to think that what I talked about with the students did connect it to their lives. The students complain a lot about things wrong with the school and how other schools around are 'better' so I hoped to explain some of how that happens. Also, we use the ACT test so it is very relevant to those who want to go on to college.

    Although I do want my students to learn concepts and not memorize formulas, I also want to emphasize the importance of doing well for their lives, the teachers, and the school.

    I checked out your link and it was amazing! It's something I know but never thought about explaining to the students as a test-taking strategy. Seriously, my insides are excited by that concept. :)

    On the cheating thing, thank you so much. Your words gave me the perspective I needed to understand how the students feel. At the beginning, I said the consequence for cheating was a 0 but I never truly defined what cheating is. I felt like I had implied they needed to know the equation but I never did come out and say it. This issue also stems from the fact that I was not here at the beginning of class to review and answer any questions. I've decided to give students a practice test to study and hopefully that will better define what I expect them to know.

  5. Hi! I just discovered your blog and I LOVE it! I'm in the beginning of my third year, and I want to let you know: it gets so, SO much easier. This is the first year I feel like I'm not in "survival mode" - I actually have a handle on my lessons, the kids, the administration, etc. rather than just getting by day to day. You seem to have a really great outlook and a great teaching philosophy - I know you'll love this profession as much as I do.

    About the cheating: in that kind of situation, even if it does become a little gray, don't back down. They knew they shouldn't have done it, and you were right to give them zeros. Always strive to be fair, but don't compromise your position of authority by letting excuses sway you. This is something I still deal with as a young, female teacher. Whenever I start feeling like I'm being mean or unfair, I always remind myself that I'm the teacher, and not all the lessons I teach will be easy or fun.

    Anyway, I love your blog and I hope you'll check mine out, too :) I deal more with the financial aspects of being a teacher (ie, how to deal with being broke!) but I hope you enjoy it!

  6. Hey Ms. TeacHer,
    Thanks for checking the place out. I also appreciate you affirming my decision, it as a tough one to make but I think it played out okay.

    I checked out your blog and it looks so fun! Love the pink. I've never heard or thought of doing a blog on personal finance as a teacher. But, I recently joined a coupon club with my mom and it's so much like a game that it's fun! I want to live wealthy and like you, I agree that that has nothing to do with income! I will definitely be checking yours out.