Monday, January 31, 2005

A Completely Useful Inservice

Now usually, inservices are a mix of useful information and a whole lotta something that COULD be condensed to take up less time. Today's, however, was engaging, useful, and time just flew by, and I didn't even mind (MUCH) that we had no time to plan for a teaching day tomorrow. Next year, our school is evolving into "smaller learning communities", and today was all about getting the staff up to speed about what it means and how it will look and what were our questions and concerns. ... I'm excited to be part of something new and potentially really powerful and "paradigm" shifting (if I can use that overused phrase). ... So we have about 2400 students at our school, and next year we will be "divided" into 5 smaller "academies". .... I guess whatever happens, things will work out somehow. I just hope I don't get stuck in an academy with grouchy/cynical/do-nothing teachers .... or maybe if I do, there'll be enough "excited" teachers to bring the wayward one around .... or maybe it'll just be another learning experience ... It remains to be seen.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

"That will be easy ..."

I've read David Johnson's 3 math teaching books, and I agree with his philosophy, and ironically, due to testing, some other teacher was in my room for one of my off periods this week, and I found myself cringing when he was going over an English assignment and scanning down the problems and saying, "yes, all of these are too easy .... yes, it should be easy ...". And what do I do??? As I was scanning over the math homework problems I was assigning on Friday, I said, "oh, #9 should be no problem ... or "easy"" or something like that.

Stop It!

That's a no win statement. If the kid gets it right, then she/he is like, "big deal, it was an easy problem". If the kid doesn't get it, then "I must be stupid, because it was an easy problem".

ARKHHHHH. I know this and yet, I did it without thinking. A girl (who coincidentally was also in the other teacher's class) called me on it inadvertantly, "Argh! I HATE it when teachers try to interpret everything".

Guilty as charged.

Friday, January 28, 2005

A visit

One of my really good friends is coming to visit for the weekend. This is good (I get to see her, the house gets it's once-a-visit cleaning that it never gets otherwise) and "bad" (we have to pretend we're interesting people and "do" things to show off our town) ... I guess we don't have to "do" things, but you always feel so boring otherwise if you do your normal routine which is just sitting around reading or futzing around the house. ... I guess the important thing is just to visit and enjoy each other's company.

School was fine yesterday, but it was just bla. Even though I slept solidly through the night (rare these days of my standard 4am wake up with a 1/2 hour or so of sleep lost ... and the occasional hot flashes (yea)), nevertheless I woke up supremely tired and was out of it all day.

Oh well, yippee ... it's Friday.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Freezer Shoes

Okay, smelly little secret .... but first let me say that I do NOT have a LOT of shoes as my husband keeps claiming, and it's perfectly okay that I just ordered a snazzy new pair of "boot shoe clog thingies" from the Sundance catalog as a 40th birthday present to myself .... so anyhow. I love (all) the shoes I have and have had most of them for at least 5? 8? years. Needless to say, some of them are getting kind of ripe/smelly/stinky/what-died-in-here. ... I hate the thought of just tossing the shoes because I keep obsessing about our landfill issue. And lord knows that no one will be THAT desperate at Good Will to take on a pair of shoes that look innocuous (sp?) but after you wear them for a while, whoa baby.

So the dilemma: how do you freshen up your shoes after the smell has been baked into them for a long time and you'd like a natural solution that actually solves the problem and doesn't just mask it? Google to the rescue. Apparently, the smell does NOT come from sweat, but from the bacteria that starts to grow in the ideal shoe situation. Solution: kill the bacteria and the smell will stop. How? Put your shoes in the freezer for 24 hours, and walla! Bacteria dead.

So I tried it, and lo and behold, it works. .... Of course you keep having to do it (or so I think) ... maybe I have horrible recurring super-stinky bacteria. But my shoes are fresh yet again. Thank you Google. I've been on the "freezer shoe" regimen for about 5 days, and aside from the eye-rolling of a certain spouse, I think it's a solution I can live with.

Note to self: the OTHER solution was to put baking soda on your feet and sprinkle it in the shoes. DO NOT TRY this again unless you like a soupy mess in your shoes, and you like sliding around your shoes all day, and you don't mind the crusty white cakey powder that collects around your toenails.

On that pleasant thought ...

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

A Teaching First (and not in a good way) ...

So in this, my 8th year of teaching, it's still refreshing to know that new things, new unexpected things, new unimaginable things, can still happen. And don't let anyone TELL you that the full moon does not affect students' behavior. The day started out as usual, and I was actually in a good mood. Then my 2nd class of the day starts. It's a rowdy class with some ADD students in there, but generally a bunch that will work with me. Well. Today started out with more than the usual amount of chatting. Not too much of a problem. I got it under control. Then my ADD kid is doing his usual ADD thing. No problem. He's now sitting right in front of me where I can redirect him. Then as I'm explaining about their math concept of the day and writing on the overhead and having them practice, I look up and what do I see? Way in the back of the room .... A girl is ......... knitting. KNITTING. With big size 10 needles. (right now I'm chuckling because it IS funny), but at the time I did one of those bugs bunny double takes. In hindsight, I did not handle it well, but My God! Please. Knitting. ... I can now check that off on my list of teaching firsts.

On a related note. No it did not end well, I made too big a deal of it and it escalated and she ended up in tears. I did apologize later, but it still put a bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the day (which the godiva chocolate bar I had stashed away helped with a little) .... (maybe that was a 2 bar incident, I'll have to think about my supplies for the future). So, it's funny how just one incident can affect your whole day. Or I guess it's not the incident, rather how you let it affect you (so yoga), or maybe that's more like "blaming the victim" as if you don't feel bad enough as it is, you now have to feel bad about feeling bad ... or something like that.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Daily Brightspots

It's always interesting to me to note that a large proportion of the joy of teaching comes from the brief, off the cuff encounters with the students. Right before class starts, some kid might share, "miss, you'll never BELIEVE, but I was walking across the quad and tripped and my purse fell, and now LOOK at it, it's all scuffed", or as you're shuttling your class down the halls to the computer lab a student from last year might remark, "are you going on a math field trip?", or after class ends, one of your supremely awesome, polite, sweet, nice kids may come up to you and ask about your weekend and then share that they had a great one because, "I drove for the first time with my friend and we got to go see a great play", or a student from last year that does NOT have you this year, yet always stops by to chat and share your tea might check in to see if you have another flavor of tea because, "I don't want to be rude, but your current flavor is not my favorite".

Don't get me wrong. I love the actual (whatever that means) teaching part of getting it just right with the mixture of learning and practicing and "fun". I guess that's why they keep churning out those articles about how you have to connect with your students and show an interest and ask them questions and such. ... It seems like they leave something out, though. You can't just fake it. I'm wondering if there are some teachers that read those articles and don't "get it" .... if they say, "oh, okay, tomorrow I'll ask Johnny/Susie about their weekend" ... and maybe while they're doing that, their mind is on other things, so it comes off as disingenuous. Who knows. I just know that I'll have to (going yoga here) be in the moment and realize as these events are occurring, that I'm actually enjoying them and make sure to cherish the moments.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Friday Fun ...

I love playing the role of stern/strict teacher :) . Usually, on Fridays we review concepts we've learned previously in the week, and I do a bit of "Friday Flashback" to algebra 1 or geometry concepts to keep them fresh in their minds .... and I most often don't assign homework. Well, I figured since this week we had 2 days of benchmarks, and only 2 instruction days (MLK on Monday), I'd teach today AND (gasp!) assign homework. It was too funny the looks on some of their faces .... "but it's Friday....", ... "do you have the days mixed up?" ... and all the while I'm up in front playing the disbelieving teacher saying, "yes, and we're in school and Friday is a school day". ... I have to say that I have great kids this year in the sense that they'll work for me. I don't have to babysit too much and they're mostly all on task.

I had another success today with FINALLY teaching a concept (reteaching! / reviewing!) successfully. They were to "review" simplifying monomials/exponents ... and it's never a review but more like a, "when did we ever learn this?" type of scenario. Well. Today I gave each kid 10 foam colorful blocks and had them clear their desks and only have a pencil / "fraction bar" on their desk, and we went through the various representations ... (of course I read them the riot act about the fact that I'm giving them 10 pristine foam blocks and I expect 10 pristine foam blocks back) ... said with a stern face and ominous voice (tee hee). .... I did give them about 20 seconds to play with the ("what are these class?" ... "no, not foam blocks, not toys, ... they're learning tools" ) foam blocks, and then we got to work. .... That's not to say there wasn't the requisite pyramid building and trading for "better" colors and "look miss, a rainbow" going on, but I guess it was pretty harmless, and they seemed to learn the concepts given that they could work the problems on the handout afterwards. ... okay, so in the tradition of a typical teaching month/week/year, now I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop and have a crappy day come up soon. ... I can wait.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

After 8 tries, success ....

Every year in some class or another, I've "taught" or "re-taught" or "reviewed" the simplifying of radicals. And finally, FINALLY, I've come up with a way that has about 90% success rate with my classes, and I'm tickled pink.

In the past I've taught "trees" or breaking down into prime factors and gathering "pairs" and all sorts of various ways, but invariably some kids (more than I'm comfortable with) are confused and it doesn't stick and wa wa wa, "we don't get it". Whew! This year, my key thing was, (amongst other things), first having them come up with the first 6 perfect squares (we discuss how to get them and list, 0, 1, 4, ...) after they try on their own .... then I have them box or highlight, 4, 9, 16, 25 ... then say that any time they want to simplify radicals, see if 4 is a factor then if 9, and so on and then (say) stop at 4 and DON'T take it down to 2 x 2 ..... and bla bla bla .... and it seems to stick. Practically ALL of the class got it and kept getting it for days on end and even when I "spiraled" it. Go me! Go them :)

So, all in all, a pretty good day.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Anti Stress Relief ...

So one of my new year's resolutions (okay, my only resolution ... I make one a year) was to start taking tap dance lessons. I used to as a kid, and stopped and started various times as an adult, and thought that it might be something fun and stress relieving (besides the yoga that I already do) from the "toxins" that are a byproduct of teaching. I've been to 2 classes, and I LOVE it. You can find me throughout the week practicing my riffs and beat counting. ... So today was "tap" day, and I was SOOO looking forward to it after school.


My car was having troubles this morning, and I made it to school, but it seems like it would have been very risky to go to tap class instead of straight home after school. Aaaaaaaaarrrrgh. Can I tell you how cranky I am right now? What does that say about me that one little blip in my plans tosses me into a tizzy? .... I can see how much the yoga is REALLY calming me down :) .... deeeeeeep breaths ... deeeeeeep breaths.

Today was the last of 2 days of benchmarking, so tomorrow it's back to the regular routine. That was one good thing about testing all day. I had time to actually plan for classes before the last minute, and have come up with some useful things.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Random Tuesday Thoughts

Even though it's hard going back to work after a luxurious 3 day weekend (can you say sleeping in and reading and watching movies and daydreaming...), it wasn't SO bad today because my poor little kiddies were being MOYed. Yes, apparently it's a Texas tradition not JUST to give an exit exam (the TAKS), but to give two 2-day benchmarks scattered throughout the year to see how they are progressing. I think the comment on one of my little kiddie's booklet sums it up, "I HATE benchmarks". So today I MOYed them (middle of the year benchmark) ... to add goofiness to goofiness, I have 3 different preps this year (geometry PAP, algebra 2 PAP, and precalculus PAP), and in each of those classes I have various grade levels of kids. So even though, say, they may take a 9th grade TAKS in April, they are benchmarked with the 10th grade or 11th grade TAKS depending on which class they're in.

I have to say, that I'm pretty lucky with the kids I have ... or how the year has progressed and we've
bonded together. For the most part they all took it seriously and I kept stressing that this was their chance to see what we had to work on before April ... and since they're the "creme de la creme", it's not just enough that they pass the TAKS, they should shoot for "commended" .... they all rose to the challenge (work wise .... let's see what their scores are like) ... and worked bell to bell. ... I learn or relearn this "fact" every year .... even though you may REALLY despise a kid (or the kid's behavior) for the longest time during the first part of the year, inevitably, they turn it around and become, if not lovable, then decent towards you and actually fun to be around sometimes. ...Some of my snottiest kids from the beginning of the year ("I REFUSE to do this" ... "GOD! this class is SOOOOOOO long" ... "Ehhh!" .... ), are pretty polite and attentive now. Who'd-a-thunk?

Monday, January 17, 2005

A New Adventure ...

I'm jumping in feet first with my nose plugged into the world of blogging. Maybe I can make it to the other end of the pool, or maybe I'll have to swim to the side halfway through realizing that, no, I don't know what I'm doing. Either way, I'm looking forward to a fun learning experience.

I'm an 8th year math teacher teaching in Texas (my 2nd year here), and lately am loving it. I've kept thinking for the past 7 years that I really should write down all the crazy/funny things that happen at school, so that I can look back and chuckle later ... so here it is.