Saturday, October 28, 2006


A student was recounting to me her "horrible, awful, very bad day" of a few days ago and just generally venting about things. One incident that happened was that a counselor had given her a key to the teacher copy room to go retrieve something. Now at our school we have a variety of hall wanderers and kids skipping class and not being where they are supposed to be, so it's easy to get into the habit of treating every students you see outside of class during the day as someone who's "doing something wrong" since they're not in class. This student is not that type at all, but she got flustered when a teacher started giving her the 3rd degree about why she had a key and who's was it and what was she doing there. And I guess he said some off the cuff remarks to her.

As she was recounting this to me, she said, "you know, teachers should know the power of their words to students - whether they're good words or bad, they greatly affect us. Maybe you guys don't know how much".

It also helped remind me not to treat every student I see in the halls as "criminals". I've put on more of a concerned air (where are you supposed to be, sweetie?) as opposed to a police air (where's your pass!?!). This has led to some interesting short conversations with kids:

- my teacher kicked me out of class because I smiled and she thought I was being disrespectful.

- I was kicked out of TMC because I had my head down, and the teacher said, "Robert, put your head up", and I didn't respond because my name is not Robert, and the other kids laughed, and the teacher thought I was being fresh.

- I have to go to the school store to buy "female supplies" but I don't have money, and I can't find my sister, and the next period teacher won't let me be late because she's mean.

- (in response to my question of "what's so interesting to look at out there" to a boy who was in the halls just staring out the window at the lunch time crowd) "girls", he said bashfully.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Beginning about last week I started to notice that I was unnecessarily stressing myself out about everything.
- Things to be graded? What? They must be done RIGHT NOW.
- Certain students not doing well (even though they're not coming in for tutoring or doing their homework)? What can I do? It's MY issue.
- More duties that eat into my prep periods? Why I'll just wake up extra early and do my work at home.
- Dust bunnies moving in with us at home? Grumpily clean house instead of napping or sleeping.

Then all my dust bunnies must have been in alignment, because I read about BRFWA, which I remember as "barf"-"waaaaaaa" (as in how I can make myself feel), which stands for
Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow. .... That and my new mantra, "I'll do what I can do, and that's all that I can do" (not to let myself off the hook, since I still work hard, but to cut myself a break). ... riggggggghhhhht, let's see how long this inner peace will last (1 day and counting).

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sayings & Young Students

The other day a student and I were discussing teacher salaries, and he was mentioning that teachers don't get paid nearly enough, and that I probably don't earn much. I responded (thinking of how it seems to not be getting any better), "yea, it's all going to pot". He got a disbelieving look on his face, and after I understood his confusion, I explained the meaning of the saying. ... Now whenever he sees me, he teases me on how I spend my paycheck.

Another student was semi-grumpy because I wouldn't let him leave class to go to the other side of the campus to get his math notebook. After some grumbling about how life was unfair, he looked at me and said with a stern voice, "ENGLISH Rocks".

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Differentiation: part 2 (3? 4?)

In my AB/BC stacked AP calculus class, I have a wiiiiiiiiidddddddeeeee range of abilities. The same holds true for my 2nd AB class. I've tried various things, but the "lower" end stays at the lower end. I just finished grading and handing back the latest test, and the "low" scores were still low. I'm talking about 4 kids out of 19 in one class and 6 out of 28 in the 2nd class. The others are fine. So I threw it back at the class and asked them to write suggestions on how to make sure EVERYONE understands every topic. I got great feedback.

Some student ideas:
* have study buddies in class. after a day or so of instruction, have a practice day where lower and higher students are paired up.
* don't teach the "tricky" stuff in class, just go over the basics so we get a good grasp.
* for homework, also include varying levels of difficulty from basic skills to AP level type questions.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Monday Blues...

You know it's time for seat changes when every 4th sentence out of your mouth is, "Shhhhhh".
You know it's time to reteach a topic when most of the students got that type of problem wrong on the test.
You know it's time for an ethics discussion when after you hand a test back, a student asks why she got one problem wrong ... and you can see the erasure marks and "revisions" on her test from her freshly updated answer.
You know the school tardy policy is not working when a pack of 15 kids are cutting and roaming the halls yelling and disrupting your class.

It was one of those days. Monday and raining and in the October slump.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


I love my tap dance teacher. She's the ultimate professional who cares about her craft, and she expects the best from us. Me? I'm usually just happy I get the steps and can remember them and string them together when the music comes on. Her? She keeps "harping" at us: "it's not a drill, folks. Dance. Listen to the rhythm. Listen to each other. Don't fake it. ....". She has high expectations for us, and I appreciate that and want to do better.

Of course, then I think about my teaching. I have kids that are happy just to pass my class. This would be perfectly acceptable for them. I have to keep remembering to "harp" at them: "you can do better. THINK. Do your homework. 70? You can get an 80 ... a 90. Put out more effort. Come for tutoring."

On another note. Usually this year, I make all my handouts either by cutting and pasting from various resources, or by hand. When I get something typed up, I'm excited to share. I have a trigonometry "shifting, period, amplitude" type sheet for sine and cosine graphs all "perty-like" that uses Winplot for my graphs. If anyone wants a copy, please send me e-mail:

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"Favorite Class"

It's hard to bypass the following question gracefully:

"Ms. Cookie, are we your favorite class?"

Some of them ARE actually my favorite class, or the favorite class of that day, or year, or such, but I'd never tell them either way, so I say,

"Yes. You are my favorite 3rd period class. This year. In this room." That seems to get us all past the topic.

I do have to say, that I LOVE my last period class of the day. Today I had to "sneak" out about 3 minutes early to make a mandatory meeting across town that started 15 minutes after my school day ended (that then happened to be canceled after I got there!). I left them with my student aide, and I was completely comfortable knowing that they wouldn't be "bad". They're good kids and goofy and sweet, and they try hard, and it's just a nice way to end the day.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A Funny

I was walking around my precalculus class while they were graphing y = arcsin x, and I was trying to inject a bit of humor into the lesson. I didn't know where I was going with the joke, but it turns out I didn't have to.

Me: Knock Knock
Class: Who's There
Me: Radians
One Girl: Go Away

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Different Perspectives

Some history: In one of my first few years of teaching, I was at an upscale school where the challenging courses were actually challenging. A student in my geometry honors class was debating whether or not to switch to an easier track, and she decided to stay in class. She struggled all year, and I believe ended up with a C. At the end of that year I had the students write a letter to my next year's students telling them various things - what to expect, what to do to succeed, what to study harder than they think they should, etc. The students also put in their own comments on other things. (I would give these letters to the students at the start of the next school year). Well, this one girl in her letter mentioned that she was really happy she had stayed in the class because it proved to her that she could do something challenging. So even though she didn't get a "good" grade, she felt she was successful in this endeavor. This stuck in my mind.

This year I have a couple of students that were debating early in the year whether or not to stay in precalculus preAP. They were struggling and had/have low algebra 2 skills. I told them that I can't tell them what to do, but that as seniors, if they skip a year of math, it will be extra hard the following year in college to get back into it. They both decided to stay. One is doing fine and is coming in for tutoring. The other is still struggling with basic concepts. This morning his mother sent me e-mail basically saying, "I'm sorry he decided to stay in the class as it looks like the rest of the year will be a struggle filled with low grades". That made me sad for her and for him. I wrote back to her about how it would be extra hard the following year in college for math placement exams if he missed a year of math. I suggested tutoring for algebra 2 skills, and she asked for names, so hopefully they'll follow through.