Friday, January 31, 2014

Day 92: Drained

I cherish the conversations and questions that come out my geometry class.  While going over orthocenter and centroid today, students began asking questions about proportional area and whether or not those points would be the same on polygons other than triangles.  We did an informal proof about whether the area of the two triangles created by the median were of the same area.  The inquisitiveness and willingness to explore that some of my students possess fills me with a sense of longing for all that we could do if we only had the time.

I was SUPER excited about their homework assignment and MAY have rushed through the lesson a bit fast so that I could give it to them.

S: "Is this like the assignment we did at the beginning of the year?"
M: Yes it is. "I don't know what you're talking about."
S: "The one where you and a friend have two jobs and you need to find a place to live that's halfway between."
M: "Yes! Except this time, since you're living in LA and it's more expensive, you need two roommates.  The locations at the bottom of the paper are where the three of you work.  Find the intersection where the three of you should get an apartment so that you are all the same distance from work."

It was homework, but most of them worked on it, and finished it, in class.  Several students thought the map was too cluttered so they found the points, transferred them to the back of the paper and found the circumcenter that way.  I should have made them justify to me why the circumcenter would be the same for the reflected triangle.

Oh well.  Hindsight...

They were VERY excited about this, so clearly, I should be doing more activities with maps.  Next up to try with them?

Triplets of Cellville from Mathalicious!

I feel as though I'm losing my focus with the pre-algebra classes.  My frustration and disappointment is starting to come to a head.  Today, I gave them an assignment and put myself in the corner of the room, willing to answer any questions.  A few kids worked VERY well.  Others did not.

I need this weekend to compose my thoughts and develop a plan so that I don't give up on the pre-algebra class.

I hate the frequency with which I think that previous sentence.

I'm feeling that I need to spend some time teaching at another district to determine if it's me or the kids.  A large portion of it IS me because I don't believe that there are students who are unteachable.  But I don't believe that I have a realistic grasp of how much more I could and should be doing.

If I'm going to feel this way no matter where I am and what I'm teaching, then I need to change careers.

If this is just a function of the time and place, then I will continue to work my hardest and help who I can help.

I hate the idea of waking up in 30 years to realize that I should have picked a different career that would have made me happier.

Report Card Data:
In the 8th grade, there were 18 students who received a 4.0, 6 are in my geometry class (33%)

The average GPA in that class is a 3.6

Thank goodness the grades came out when they did. I don't want to have to wait until the standardized test scores get here to know what my students are worth.

1. How long have you been at your current school? Maybe it's time for a change, because you sure sound like an amazing teacher to me! I think it would be horrible for our profession to lose such a passionate and dedicated teacher.

Before I started teaching I always pictured myself teaching in a public school because I'm all for equal opportunity for education. But now I'm in a private school and I listen to my colleagues in the public system and I know that I wouldn't be able to handle the disrespect and disinterest that they face from some students every day. Like you, I care too much to give up on a student, even if they're not willing to make an effort themselves. Teaching a whole class of students like that isn't everyone's forte - it sure isn't mine.

But I'm incredibly happy in my job - I might not be teaching the students who are the worst-off, but I do everything I can to make a difference in the lives of my students. Even the ideal student needs someone to help them reach their potential. I don't think it makes someone less of a teacher if their forte is pushing these top kids beyond their own expectations rather than inspiring kids who are disinterested. I do think that it makes someone less of a teacher if they choose to work in an 'easy' school, and then slack off because the kids will learn the content regardless of how poorly it is taught.

Sorry, vent over! I just think it's crazy that someone like you - a maths teacher who is so inspiring to us newbies - can be thinking of leaving the profession all together.

1. This is my 5th year in my current district and I've been having these kinds of internal conflicts since I started there. When I first started teaching, I was in a high-income district in New Jersey and, according to my mom, I was just as unhappy.

If that's true, but with my interest in education, I have to at least entertain the thought that maybe I shouldn't be in the classroom. Perhaps I would be better suited to a teacher-coach position where I could help teachers and interact with students in a way that wouldn't require grading.

I'm incredibly happy with my geometry class. Not just because of the academics, but because it's fun to teach that class. It's not a struggle to get them interested. The struggle is to keep pushing them and finding ways to extend what we do in class.

I never want to fall into the trap of thinking that because the kids are eager, I can just give them an assignment and take a nap. I happily take on the challenge of pushing these kids beyond their limits.

That class is the first time since I've come to this district that I have consistently had fun. I've had other classes that had good and bad days, like all do, but this is the first one that I look forward to on a daily basis.

No one needs to be sorry for venting on here. I'm trying to provide a place for me and for other teachers to be able to express their concerns.

2. It's so crazy to have met someone whose thoughts so closely mirror my own. When I read, "I need this weekend to compose my thoughts and develop a plan ..." the thought that came to me immediately was, "Boy have I thought THAT a lot." So your next sentence ... like whoah.

I have a little bit of hope with that class right now ... not much, but a little. My parent mentor (who I haven't called for ten days and need to check in with today) brought me this "Elementary Algebra" textbook by Harold Jacobs, and I immediately liked it. She had been saying that I maybe ought to use the class textbook more, but the problem is I kind of hate our class textbook--it's a Pearson Common Core book ... You know, she told me something about our students--that they have come to believe that their teachers are trying to trick them. Well it occurs to me that that is how I view many textbook authors--that they are kind of assholes who don't really care. Getting a good textbook is analogous to finding a good teacher. It's like, alright, this is material that I trust might actually teach me and my students.

So I've been copying lessons out of this supplementary textbook (because I just have the one) and I've instituted weekly quizzes. First semester there were times when I went weeks without quizzing them because my attitude was, shit, let's be real, I know they haven't learned anything. But weekly quizzes seem to help them be constantly reminded that their time in here counts--because somebody is counting. It's a way for me to take notice of them.

1. Pretty much from day 1 of teaching, I've been using the textbook as more a guide of topics rather than a student resource. In my current district, there aren't enough for kids to have a copy, so I don't assign homework in it.

I use their supplementary materials for practice, but the lessons never come out of there. The kids like the safety net of the book, but don't mind at all that we don't use it.

3. But then, and this was also ten days ago, I had this incident with one student being horribly disrespectful--one girl was having an anxiety attack, and the kids were telling me, "Call the office! Call the office!" but I dared to try to talk with her one-on-one first, and this one student's just yelling at me, "What are you DO-ing??!!" and ... the office did get called and some folks came to escort her to a nurse's office to decompress but ... in the meantime I'm just like, WTF did that kid just ... my head was spinning a little bit, and I didn't even talk to the yelling kid about it because I don't think I would have dealt with it appropriately on the spot. And I had a talk with him the next day about how unacceptable his behavior was. It wasn't a great talk; I think his first response was, "Is that a threat?"

But THEN ... minutes after speaking with him, I noticed him talking to this other girl with whom I also had a strained relationship, and so I took them over to one side of the room and said, "You guys are too of the most math-capable students in this classroom, but you're also too of the least respectful toward me. And I think the three of us might think about how we can impact this class and make it a better class together." And then the next day I tried a plan where, instead of attempting to teach a lesson to the class, I taught a lesson to just those two kids, and told them to teach it to two others, and then those two would teach to still more others.

The classroom for the most part still has a difficult culture, but there have been a couple of changes. The first DAY on which we did that was great. Just much better. I don't think the momentum has been sustained as much as I would like, but we had a great Wednesday, Jan. 21. So there was that.

And that one student's behavior has been absolutely way better ... he just shot the other direction, and has taken to telling other students to get serious. "Don't you want to graduate?" I heard him asking another student yesterday. Really great to hear.

I am writing this all up more as something I want to sustain myself. It's still in many ways a train wreck, and this is me, using your awesome blog to ... well, the next step is to compose my thoughts and develop a plan so that ... we don't give up in that pre-algebra class.

So thanks for providing a place for me to do that. Love you bro.

1. What I find so fascinating about the disrespect that I get from my students is that it doesn't exist AT ALL outside of my classroom.

Interestingly, when I cover other classes, I often hear MY students telling kids I don't have "Yo, that's Mr. Aion. Don't fuck with him. He doesn't take it."

It tells me some interesting things about how the kids see me and other teachers. I've tried pulling a few aside and asking them why, if they are encouraging others to behave for me, they can't do it themselves. The conversations are frustrating and confusing.

Clearly, I'm doing a good job of conveying my expectations and they are doing a good job of understanding them. It's hard to remember what it was like to be a middle school student...

Sadly, my kids are too far away from graduation to have that as a credible threat/promise and enough of them repeat grades due to failure that it doesn't have the stigma that perhaps it SHOULD.

I'm happy to let you write whatever you want/need to write. I was talking to Jami this past week about how talking to people who only have success, or only talk about success, isn't really helpful. It's important to know that others struggle with the same or similar things that we do.

I take strength and heart from the struggles of other in a way that makes me think "If they are dealing with this and can keep going, so can I."

If you want to write a guest post, I'd be HAPPY to have it on here. Sometimes, it's easier to write on someone else's blog than on our own. I know that there are a few things that I want to talk about, but because I'm worried about how they will be perceived, I don't.

I can't tell you how glad I am to have connected with you. I wish you lived closer so we could actually hang out! Nothing but love for you too, brother!