Monday, February 3, 2014

Day 93: The Day No Math Was Taught

During the 2-hour delay this morning, I had an extended conversation with an adult in the building about race relations.  I'm not sure what title to give him.  He is here as part of a program to reach out to African American males and, from my understand, to teach them to be leaders and positive role models.  He and I have a strained relationship mostly due to me being overly rude.  I have tried to reach out several times this years, but I will freely admit that it has been a half-hearted effort.  Today I went to talk to him in earnest.

It began by asking him if he had heard of Rafranz Davis, an educator who is an outspoken advocate of race relations in education.  I told him about the Global Math Department presentation from Anne Schwartz about her struggle to "suck less."

I asked him about my pre-algebra classes, and we talked about why I was so opposed to hearing their message last year.  We had a very candid conversation about race that is just the start to figuring out the host of things I want to address.  I'd like to write a post about how race plays a part in my teaching, but my thoughts are nearly as organized as I feel they need to be.

I will say that I have been focusing very heavily on the decisions being made above my paygrade of which I have no control.  He reminded me that since I can't control them, it doesn't matter if I agree or not.  It doesn't change my goal here, which is to help educate the kids as best as I am able.

While I agree that I shouldn't worry about them, the decisions that I don't understand or agree with put into a challenging spot.  I know how to teach a certain way.  I need some serious help in teaching another way.  I feel as though I am so lost, I don't even know what kind of help to ask for.

Perhaps this is what it feels like to be "bad at math."

My desperate need to return to normality and regularity in my classes was thwarted again by the 2-hour delay.  My normally receptive geometry students were VERY high energy.  I didn't ask them to do much, just a few deep explanations of the theorems regarding relative sizes of angles in a triangle in relation to their opposite sides.

After several discussions this weekend about rubrics and behavior, I decided that I needed to do something with my pre-algebra kids.  If things continue the way they are going, I'm going to end up wasting this year and being just as unhappy as I was last year.  The plan for today was to not talk about math at all.

We were going to talk about good behavior and what it looks like.

I don't want to grade students on their behavior and I think that what class participation grades and homework grades end up being.  You are giving an assessment based on their habits rather than their knowledge.

So the plan is to come up with a behavior rubric on which they will rate themselves, submit it to me for feedback, but not for a grade.  If they rate themselves low on the scale, they will be asked to think about why they did and how they can improve.

They are developing the guidelines with me so they have ownership of this process and the outcomes.

I wrote down the categories that they felt were important and we began to flesh them out.  It was an interesting discussion for two reasons.  First, the majority of the kids freely acknowledged that their behavior generally wasn't good.  They also knew what behavior was expected at school and, more importantly, WHY it was expected.

Second, even during a discussion about what behavior they think is appropriate, there were several students talking loudly and carrying on.  I asked them for their opinions, which they happily gave before going back to talking about football, or shoes.

All in all, it went well.  I'm going to write up what they said and we'll have another talk about how THEY developed these and it would be super if they could stick with them.

At the end of the period, I asked students how they would rank themselves for the day.  There was a surprising amount of honesty, which I find encouraging.

Me: "What score would you give yourself for paying attention today?"
S: "A 1, I think."
Me: "Why a 1?"
S: "I wasn't really paying attention at all, except for a little bit.  I should pay more attention."

I thanked him for his honesty and his self-reflection.

I also asked them for expectations that they have for me and I will do my best to stick to those as well.  Some of them were very interesting and also give me much to think about.

Pd. 8/9 didn't like that I would seem angry when they go there, knowing it was actually 4/5 that caused my anger.

This day has provided much for me to think about, including an anonymous email to the faculty regarding the new vice-principal that is about to be hired.

Clearly, she should be doing my drawings in the morning.


  1. Hey, so under the umbrella of love and "trying to suck less" I figured I'd comment!

    I'll say that my impressions of this post likely don't reflect what you intended since I assume you write these after a long day of teaching, and who writes at their best then? That said, the way we communicate when we're not being extra thoughtful communicates things too so maybe it's worth commenting and thinking about.

    I work in a place where we have racially specific role models like you describe here & their title just seems dependant on their qualifications and the school they are working in. The way you frame your interactions with this man, you come across as frustrated with your African American students, so you talk to him & then you try to fix your African American students' behaviour. I won't speculate as to what your frustrations are with your higher ups, but I can't really see how they'd be related to either your relationships with this man or your students but it seems that they are and that I couldn't agree more that you should let it go in these areas.

    Now there are a few scenarios possibly playing out here 1) almost all your students are African American so the above is not odd at all. 2) Your problem students are so it's only a little weird. 3) These two issues are not exactly related except for in the title of your post.

    Regardless, this gentleman and his job exist, and in my experience he is likely one of the most important people in the school. So USE him. I would invite this man into my classroom to help facilitate conversations about appropriate classroom behaviour, bullying etc. etc. I mean, as a quick fix conversations with him will likely be enlightening if he has connections with your students and can provide you with helpful information to help them succeed. But in the long term, he is an ally and I assume dedicated to making sure your students are able to succeed and be leaders.

    Now if it's only a small portion of your students who are causing issues, again this man should be able to provide interventions for these kids one on one or in small groups. His job is to teach them how to be good students & leaders. If it's not necessary to hijack your entire class because the behaviour stems from a few, target the few. You have an ally to help you! Not that we can't all use a little reminder every now and then, just after awhile it becomes tedious.

    It sounds as if things are complicated at your school - you reference "race relations" as a thing (perhaps this is my Canadian ignorance showing through?) but it also sort of sounds like your students of colour can tell you're working through things as well. Which isn't overly conducive to them trusting you or working hard for you. I hope you & your colleague are able to work together in earnest and that you are happier with your classes.

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