Monday, October 31, 2005


Hypothetically speaking, say you had a mother to whom you have not spoken for 5 or so years. This hypothetical mother has an alcohol problem, has forged family names to get illicit credit cards, has forged an ex-husband's name on an insurance form so that her current boyfriend/husband can use the insurance, has lied to get money that she never intends to repay, has her mother and one sister and father die within years of each other. Has a wee bit o' kleptomania. Now this mother has had an operation and at the same time had a stroke and heart attack. You know this person loves you in her own way, and yet what can you say to this person? Now, your hypothetical father and current mother's husband are trying to get you to call her and talk to her. Now if this REALLY happened it would probably be TMI. Good thing it's all hypothetical. Happy Halloween.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Free Day

You know, as in, Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh can we have a free day? My other teachers ...... it's Friday ........... it's halloween ................ I'm tired .................... there's a game tonight ................. you never let us have're going to make us work today? ........................ waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

I tell them that every day is a free day. I never charge them for teaching them. (and yet they STILL don't find that amusing). This was basically how it was all day on Friday. You'd think I was torturing them by making them work. I did get validation, though, at the end of the day. One girl piped up with, "whew. I've been bored all day. We didn't do anything in my other classes (student comments about other teachers/classes should always be taken with a grain of salt), so I'm glad we're doing something here." ......... Thank You.

I remember a LONG time ago during my first year of teaching, my supervisor would make the comment that the kids need a reason to be there (you know, last day before a holiday .... half days ... etc). I mean if no teacher is doing anything productive, then why SHOULD the students come to school that day? I also remember thinking (in my naive, first-year way) sheesh, what a hard-nose (or other part of the body), why not give the kids a little fun from all the structured, rigid scheduling we have every other day. ..... Now I've changed my tune.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Reading in Math

We're doing a short unit on parametric equations in precalculus, and yesterday I borrowed an idea from Foerster (how creative IS this person?) and was having them figure out the equations to draw all sorts of ice cream cones, cylinders, hemispheres, etc. I gave a little prep talk, and then handed them a sheet that had a great example and a definition of ellipse equations, and set them on their merry ways.

Well. How many times did I have questions and such about how to work the equation? How many times did I explain and walk them through how to read the definition and interpret what things meant/did? How quickly did I change my prep talk for my second (last & favorite) period?

So I think I'll be doing more of this where they have to learn how to read a math text. How scary would it be for them to graduate and be deficient in this way.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

ew ...

My treat tonight for working late and missing tap dancing and going to a school event (which turned out to be fun) was to go to my favorite burrito place and get take-out on my way home. Hmmm.

After a brief wait, my "food preparer" asked me what I wanted. As I was answering, I spied something in her nose. Not wanting to stare (why?) I glanced at and away several time to confirm that there was a boogy halfway on the way out of her nose (still in there, though). Okay, what do you do? Do you say, "I'm sorry, you can't prepare my burrito because I'm afraid I'll get extra ingredients I don't want"? Do you pass this person off to the next unsuspecting soul and wait for the next (cleaner nosed) helper? No, of course not, you keep placing your order and periodically checking that the boogy was still there hanging on for dear life at the end of the food process (whew! safe). But then WAIT. She had to turn around to a back counter to wrap it up (the burrito, not the boogy). So then I had to check her nose again .... where did it go? was it still there? argh, I couldn't get a positive i.d.

And to top it off, she told the cashier that I had a larger size than I ordered, so I had to pay more for the boogy experience .... maybe it was for the performance art. THEN when I came home and ate the burrito ... towards the end, something tasted funny. No. Not that. but more like a vegetable gone bad.

Ewwww. I decided some wine therapy was in order (and it will hopefully kill any germs I've acquired).

Getting Along

My cell-phone-cat-pee-snotty-comment girl was actually blatantly putting out an effort today so much so that she had to call me over and ask a question about a process they were practicing and then actually do it. Then after school, she came to make up a quiz, and I asked her what happened on her other quiz that she bombed. I assumed she just didn't study and was waiting for the re-test (blach! re-tests! don't get me started). But no; she SAID she studied the formulas but not how to apply them. She didn't practice with problems. Hmm.

Her cohort in class who is basically an attention grabber in all sorts of ways, tried one of his tricks of putting his head down on the desk. Usually I'm on him (everyone) to keep their heads up. But with him, I have to physically go over and nudge him up. What a fun game. I finally realized a while ago what he was doing .... "Hey, I'm the center of attention, and I'll do all sorts of things to make you & the class whirl around my orbit". Well, this time (as much as it galled me) I let him keep his head down and didn't make one mention of it but kept watch while I proceeded with the lesson. Everyone else was working. Whew. How peaceful that made it. ... I wonder what will happen today.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Cheating! Cheating?

On Friday I gave a quiz, and when the students were done, they walked up their quizzes to the front of the room. As one boy was handing it in, I happened to look at his arm, and big as anything, he had some of the formulas scrawled on his forearm (sp?). It was so big and blatant, and he saw I was there and he wasn't acting suspiciously, but I had to comment on it anyway. His rejoinder was that it was there to study all day. Hmmm. He's a smart kid, and he really didn't need to cheat, and I'm apt to believe him, but what a poor decision .... or maybe it never crossed his mind to cheat, so he wouldn't even think it was suspicious. Trust me, I've had cheaters before, and you can sort of spot their "shiftiness" and "guiltiness" in their actions.

It reminds me of when I was a freshman in biology, and our teacher had given us previous tests to study from during class, and we were to turn them in at the end of class. I ditzed out and took the tests home and didn't even realize it until class the next day, so then I went up to the teacher (thinking nothing of it) and handed them to him and said I accidentally took them home. Well. You should have seen the look on his face, it all but screamed, "CHEATER". His words were basically to that effect, too. I still remember it to this day. For the rest of the year, I shut down in his class. ....

I don't want this to happen with this kid, so I guess I should have a discussion with him.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Air Show Thoughts

On Saturday we went to an airshow that benefits a worthy charity. It was a beautiful day, and I lost some of my indoor-teacher pallor. One of the wild things was this 23-year-old girl who was a wing walker. Apparently, there are only 5 in the world (?). Sheesh, I'd pee my pants doing that, but it was sure fun to watch her get up onto the top of the plane. On take-off (a biplane) she was lying down on the crisscrossed wires connecting the wings. Then after they were in the air, she walked up to the top wing and strapped herself onto an upright bar and was there while the pilot was looping and rolling and doing all sorts of things. Ach. Scared for her, but fun to watch.

Now of course, I couldn't just go and enjoy myself, I had to bring precalculus quizzes to grade - or "tuizzes" as I call them because I never give tests, and they are always asking if it's a test or a quiz (all mine have about the same point value), so I said they're tuizzes. Blach. Some of the kids I had last year or for 2 years in a row who used to just get by on sitting in class and absorbing, are now really struggling. They got so used to not having to study for math, that now they've met their match. Some stepped up to the plate, but others seem to be stuck in their lazy ways. I keep trying to encourage them to study, and I mention that precal is not like what they've had before, but .... to no avail apparently, based on how some are doing on the quiz.

I guess that's a life lesson. Hopefully, they'll learn it at some point. I guess I wouldn't be doing them any favors by easing up on them. They have to learn the hard way .... but it's still painful to see them fail/flail. .... Then that got me to start thinking about how adults/parents probably do more harm than good by taking care of all the obstacles (in various forms) for their kids. The kids then think that *poof* someone else will make all the bad stuff go away and they can just coast and have fun.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Time Warp

What is it lately that my age keeps coming up in classes? I was goofing around on Thursday when a student asked, "raise it up please" refering to the transparency on the overhead, and I made a goofy gesture of pumping my palms in the air hip-hoppy style (?), "please don't do that again" they all laughed (so I did it twice more). But that made me think of "The Gong Show", and I asked them if they knew of it (seeing as all the old shows keep coming back). No, it's too "old" for them.

Then in another class someone was talking about concerts, and I asked which they were going to. I don't know why I asked, I don't know any of the current artists. Then I started listing the concerts I'd been to, and they were joking with me by naming old bands. Hmph, those old bands were bands when I was in high school.

Then! My (favorite) last period class of the day tried to break out into "happy birthday" while we were discussing the homework, and I shushed them, thinking they were singing to a student, and I didn't want the distraction at that time. Then a while later in that class, there was a knock at the door, and a former student comes in bearing a birthday card for me. (It wasn't my birthday). Someone had apparently text-messaged her, and she got me a card ???? Made my day, but she was embarrassed that it was only a joke (on who/whom?).

I guess (know) I'm at least twice as old as the kids, and maybe even older than most of their parents. Ew. I could even have children myself that are their age or older. Ew. Who's old?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Things my students teach me

Various random snippets of conversation came up today ... all courtesy of my students.

* I burned my tongue. You know how when you burn something, you can blow on it to cool it off and make it feel better? You can't do it with/to your tongue (my suggestion of sticking the tongue out and blowing with/through the nose was not appreciated).

* I saw on TV this study they did where math problems were projected on the ceiling and first students had pillows under their heads, and then they had pillows under their feet, and they learned better with the pillows under their feet. I hate these school desks, so I wish we could learn like that.

(immediately following that conversation)

* I saw on TV that students learn better if they have cookies, so I think you should bring us cookies (my retort was that that just goes to show that they shouldn't believe everything they hear).

* You know that e-mail I sent you last night, miss, about freaking out because I couldn't do the math problems? Argh! I did one problem for over an hour, and I kept getting different answers, so I just needed to vent. I'm better now.


Did I mention I loved my last period class of the day? It's filled with great people. On Monday towards the end of class I'm walking around to help them with word problems, and I (half) jokingly ask, "did anyone bring me cookies? I'm starving." Now I said this because 1. I was starving, and 2. they're always asking me in a variety of ways to bring them cookies. One of my favorite students pipes up with, "I have oreos. Do you want some oreos?" ... then I felt bad/rude and replied that I was just joking, but I thanked her for being so nice.

When class was over, she walked up to me and said that she left something for me on my desk. I looked over, and there was a baggy containing a bunch of oreos. ... and that's one of the reasons she's one of my favorite students.

Monday, October 17, 2005


(okay, nothing to do with the post, but I like the word: chi-POt-le).

On the plus side, it wasn't a full moon, on the minus side, the kids were lethargic today ... mostly. I did have some lively encounters. While I was manning the halls between classes, one little kid on his way to class sees me and calls out, "I haven't been to TMC for a week, miss" (our tardy place for kiddies where they sit) .... He'd been in there a couple of days when I had my weeklong duty a while back, and I started talking with him (I don't remember about what), but I'm sure I somehow brought up the fact that he needs to be in class or he'll end up repeating it or some such thing. I guess he remembered me, and wanted to sing his praises to someone. Yay.

Then my funny/goofy last period class, we're all milling by the door before class starts: me to shut it and lock it promptly when the bell rings, and 4 of them just to gab with me and each other. So we have about a minute before the last bell will ring, and as some kids walk in, they sort of question why those 4 are hanging out by the door in a line. I look at them and say, "they're the welcoming committee.". Then they start to get into it. All the remaining people that were coming into the class were greeted and their hands shaked and clapped for and cheered for. We all started laughing. A nice start to class.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


Okay, Friday was MUCH better than stinky Thursday. It started off in 1st period while we were doing the ambiguous case of the Law of Sines, and one girl while practicing and getting the right answers bursts out with, "I love this stuff". Then I was talking to another child, and she mentioned how hungry she was because of various things and that they didn't have food in the house (said all matter of factly), after giving her some pumpkin seeds, I don't know how we got on the subject of her FFA class, but then we started chuckling and saying that when she goes to class to care for her animal, she'll have these thought bubbles, "heeeyyyyyy, you're looking pretty tasty", and go out back and have some "food". There also was a girl that raised her hand and showed us all a visual way to remember which side of the triangle can "swing" to create your second triangle. Yay for students contributing and teaching me new methods.

Calculus went MUCH better. I got a great book in the mail and flipped through it and modified one of the activities to use with my kids, and they all had light bulbs over their heads. (Yay for Lin McMullin). Then in my last classes, I had some good application problems for them to work on while I called them back one at a time to discuss their current grades. I got a chance to put in a plug for doing homework and boosting their will to succeed (we'll see) and a chance to talk to kids I hardly ever talk to (you know how there are the kids that are always participating in one way or the other, and then there are the quiet ones).

After school I had some kids staying (Friday! I missed yoga!), and at the end, when I'm walking one kid out, I asked her if she was going to do anything fun on the weekend. She said that no, she'd probably just be arguing with her sister. Turns out they'll be arguing about public vs. private education. Hmmmm. I told her to put in a plug for our side (go public.).

Friday, October 14, 2005


Thursday was a crappy day generally in the teaching department. Is it an October thing? Is it a teaching a course for the first year thing? No. It happened in about 3 out of 5 classes yesterday. In one class a student sits there tearing up paper ... it's noisy, I'm talking, I'm annoyed and pseudo-nicely tell them to stop. In another class (same seat ... hmmmmm, bad seat karma) a kid sits there with a TI83 and just taps at a key. Repetitively. ... it's noisy, I'm talking, I'm annoyed and pseudo-nicely tell them to stop. In a 3rd class after class is over, I see that a student has used white out to write a message on the desktop. In one of those same classes, one snotty child walks in at the start of class, right in front of me and sighs/groans loudly, as in, "oh my GOD, I have to sit here for a whole period". ... So that just set the tone for most of my day.

But then I had good interactions with other kids. One says she has a new nickname for me, Nerdilocks. Others stopped and talked with me in the halls. Yet others stopped after class and had to tell me their latest joke (hmmm, something about gas ... used in both senses).

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Chance Encounters

Wednesday was one of those "plus" days of being a teacher. I was in a good mood, well-rested, the "tester" kiddies didn't annoy me, and I had good/interesting encounters with a variety of students.

We did the PSAT as a school-wide, 3 period event. I proctored 2 different rooms with students I did not know. It's so interesting to see wariness on the face of the students when they see a new adult, so distrusting. Now these are kids that may have reason to be distrusting, so maybe their past experience has taught them to be cautious. However, I smiled and didn't bark at them, and things went okay. ...

Then I see a kid in the halls who should be in class AND he's on his cell phone. I have a 50/50 chance that those type of encounters will go okay. I jokingly said, "wow, a cell phone out during school hours. That's weird." He grinned and put it away. I asked where he should be, and he said class. His eyes looked funny, so I asked him if he was on something. He started to tell me that he was very tired since he didn't get to sleep until 4:30am. We discussed health and such ...

I also had 2 great kids stay after school. One girl has not been turning in her homework and had come in for help. We had a nice long conversation about procrastinating and goals and such ... all initiated by her.

So ... one of those smile-making days.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Morning Moods...

Practically every morning I feel a low-grade dread going to work. I love my job, there's nothing else I'd rather be doing. I think it's honorable work that betters society. The kids are funny for the most part, and I get at least one laugh because of them daily. It's rush rush rush all day, but that makes the day go by faster.

So. I guess it boils down to 2 things. One, I never think I'm quite doing the best I possibly could. It's always, "oh, you could have taught it that way", "ooh, that's more engaging and grabs their attention and makes things stick", "ach, you could have handled THAT better". And second, you never quite know what quirky teenagery things (besides the full moon) will conspire to make various kids change the whole mood of the class/day/encounter.

I guess I have to give myself a break and know I'm doing the best I could be doing at the moment, and just the fact that I reflect and change things up is positive. But that's an analytic knowledge ... I'm sure I'll still be feeling that low-grade dread/worry/knot almost every morning.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Break from Routine

I LOVED having Friday off to go to a math workshop ... and then driving with a great "book on CD" for 3 hours to have a relaxing evening alone (me time) with terrific Vietnamese food (I would have licked the plate if it was appropriate) and then ANOTHER 3 hour workshop on Saturday to be followed by cool mystery book store shopping and a trip home (again with the hilarious book, Hard Eight, on CD). Today (Monday) we had inservice all day. I guess that's a Texas thing where the kiddies get off on a day early in each month, and we all get professionally developed.

It was meeting, meeting, meeting all day (with a mix of useful and such), so I still have papers to grade, but I beat the traffic, and here I am. Procrastinating.

The workshops on Friday and Saturday were useful really only because I was with other calculus teachers and through some persistent questions, got some good ideas/suggestions for one of my main concerns: how do you get the kids to go beyond just regurgitation of steps to solve a problem and to the state where they can use those "steps" to solve less straightforward problems without whining (too much).

I'd just given what I thought was a straightforward test, and they had bombed. They don't know that they don't know the material in some cases, so they come in all cocky and self assured. In other cases they don't realize that they DO know how to solve these "hard" problems, they just have to step back and think and realize what they know.

Some suggestions: 1. group quizzes structured so that everyone participates and learns and is held accountable. 2. a preview of all possible questions (challenging and not) to work through and study, and then they come into the room and blindly pick a question out of a hat to get graded on. 3. give 3 problems and they can pick the 2 to solve on a quiz. 4. BIG time curving so that they are not penalized if they at least try and make some progress. ...

Thursday, October 06, 2005


Another human nature post ... or a human *something* post. For 2 years in our copy room, the hole punch has been neatly tucked away in the corner butted up against the wall and squeezed between a big copy machine and the paper cutter. A wee bit of a tight squeeze, but, whatever, it worked, it was there, it made holes.

Today I went in to the workroom, and the hole punch was moved just 3 feet more into the room, to the other side of the paper cutter and microwave, and AHHHHHHH why in the heck did we not think of this sooner? SPACE. Is it that you just take what you're given? Is it that it's not really your property, so where it is is where it is? Is it that we don't see it as a problem to be fixed, but just one more little annoyance in our daily existence to bear, and bear it we do?

I don't know.

... but the "funny" post note is that later when I went back to use it again and was happily punching away, someone came in to use that space for an official purpose and politely said they'd just move the hole punch back into the squished corner.

Tap Dancing Lessons

How much do I love my Wednesday tap dancing class. AND there are lessons I can learn/relearn/reitereate for my own teaching practice. She taught us a small portion of a dance. We practiced. She helped out struggling students. We were then confident that we knew the material. She taught us a bit more of the dance. We practiced that portion. We practiced the 2 portions together. She assessed and fixed subtle misconceptions. We experienced success. We learned a bit more. Practice. Put it all together. Praise.

I'm thinking that I have to carry this over to my calculus class. I have this underlying rush rush rush feeling because I HAVE to cover certain topics in a certain amount of time because it'll be on the AP exam in early MAY. Rush. Rush. Rush. I feel "guilty" if I slow down and reteach or have a day I let them practice because, oh my goodness, I'm running out of time. It's only October. I think I need a reality check. They need to have it in smaller chunks, practice, feel confident, before I move on.

In other news, how excited am I that I get to go to a math workshop on Friday, and then I'm "treating" myself by signing up for yet aNOther math conference 3 hours away this Saturday ... so I reserved a bed and breakfast for Friday night, and have already checked out my book on CD for the drive and am SO looking forward to my mini math nerd vacation. PLUS there's the best mystery book store EVER in the city I'm going to (to which I'm going, ahem).

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Deciding Point

Since I've taught different levels of math in high school, I've seen various students come to the realization every year at various grade levels that just sitting in class and paying attention won't make the grade. The kids I've taught are pretty bright, and in the past for most of them, they've been smart enough to just do class work and not study for quizzes and actually do pretty well (A's and B's). Of course some of them always do work and study for tests and come in for extra help if they need it, but then there are the lazy ones that get by on their brains.

The bad part is that all of a sudden, that doesn't cut it. Now if they want to get A's and B's they actually have to put out an effort. Gasp. ... I'm seeing that this year in precalculus with a former A/B student. Now, he's not turning in work, he's not studying for tests, he's barely squeaking by with a C. He's not stepping up to the plate yet, though. I'm crossing my fingers for him because I've seen changes in others in the past where they have the work ethic enough to realize that they have to change their sorry ways.

On a totally unrelated note, we did hand stands in yoga on Sunday. Too exciting. If someone had told me ahead of time that that's what I would be doing, I wouldn't have believed them. I've shied away from them in the past because I just picture my arms buckling, cracking my head/back/neck/... BUT. What good teaching this person did. He started us off slow. We practiced. He upped the bar. We practiced. And all this time, he did not say where it was leading. THEN. He mentioned the "H" word. We all looked at each other in class. Right. But, sure enough, we attempted and did (against the wall, of course). WooHoo. How exhilarating. He always gave us an out and let us stay at any of the previous levels. ... Of couse, then I started relating it to teaching. I should force (nicely like he did) the students to do hard things, because when they attempt it (and not necessarily 100% successfully, but at least with progress), then they'll be impressed with themselves.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Squeaky Annoying Wheels

What is it about the one or two kids that change the whole mood of a class? What is it about a teacher that allows the mood to be changed by focusing on their bad behavior? What is it about human nature that you KNOW this is irrational, and yet it happens over and over again.

I should reread Fred Jones' book, "Tools for Teaching" to get some inspiration to deal with these boogers.

On a positive note. I LOVE my last period class of the day. What a sunny way to end the teaching day. They're so funny and positive and they work hard and work with me and even laugh at my jokes.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Math Party

I frequently joke with my kids and start statements with, "at your next math party ... ". As in:
* at your next math party, you can use the word "asymptote"
* at your next math party, you can impress the babes by being able to work fractions
* at your next math party, you'll get dates by proving a pythagorean identity.

Well, last night my husband and I went to a math party, one given by a math teacher at our school. Teachers were there, spouses and s.o.s were there. I didn't realize we did this, but about an hour into the party, we started talking math. Now, I'm talking math puzzles or thought provokers. I mean who WOULDN'T be interested in such things. One of the sig. others starts chuckling, and his s.o. (a math teacher) says that he had actually not wanted to come to the party because he thought that all we would be doing is talking about math.

Then later, I'm sitting in another grouping, my husband, 2 retired math teacher / friends, and me. Okay, okay, the talk found its way to MATH. So sue us. My poor husband (though he's a computer geek himself), meandered away on the excuse of refilling his drink and never came back. Whew! free to talk math without apology.

Who's a nerd?

Saturday, October 01, 2005


When I was a kid and in high school and even throughout college I ALWAYS went to the movies. I was a movie freak. Loved movies. In fact, one spring break, my goal was to see 10 movies during break. "Going out" movies. Theater movies. Not rental movies. I did it, and I have the frame of movie stubs to prove it.

These days, I can't tell you the last movie I went out to see. This saddens me. I'm guessing it's because I go to sleep at 10pm, get up at 5:30, get home from school at 7:00pm (if I haven't gone to yoga or tap) or 8:00ish if I have, dinner, slight relaxation and then bed. The weekends seem so short and are filled with school work and chores and naps and just being quiet after a noisy week, that I hoard my time and seem to "resent" possibly wasting 2-3 hours of it on a potentially bad movie when I could have been reading or "surfing" or doing puzzles or such. ... What an old fart I've become. I need to break out of this mold and do something totally different. ... Or not :).

Quote I read, and believe, and will put up in my class:
"Do your best. Even when no one is watching."