I was going to continue my year by year (by year) retrospective, but I decided that the last four years can be considered as a block. Which is good, because if I did a post per year I’d never catch up.
tl;dr Years 4-7 were all about happiness.
I began at this school in late August of Year 4, just a week or so before school began. Utterly desperate for work, I would have accepted any offer, anywhere in a 35 mile radius and really, by late August, 50 mile drives weren’t out of the question. That I got my first choice, a school that had actually offered for me the year before, seemed almost a miracle.
And really, I’ve been happy ever since. Teaching has always been a joy. The previous schools, with all the challenges, never dented my belief in my own abilities or the faith that kids were benefiting from my teaching. But at the other schools, the administrators didn’t agree. It’s not that they thought I was a bad teacher. I just wasn’t what they wanted–someone younger, ideally. Here, for the first time since student teaching, my bosses also thought I was a darn good teacher. May this bliss last at least eight years more.
So in those four years, what changes and accomplishments can I point to?
As mentioned in Year 3 retrospective, I’d begun to establish the same ambiance in my school classrooms that existed in my test prep and enrichment instruction classes. At this school, the process was complete and I never looked back. From day one, I was unpredictable, flexible, friendly, ruthlessly sarcastic, and damn funny, which is where I live the rest of the time. The second year there, I introduced a meme: I am the star of my classroom. I get a guaranteed audience three or four times a day. It is in my contract. Students are the audience. Their job is to attend. If they’re lucky, they might get some lines. A walk on part. But mostly students are to watch. To listen. Eh…learning would be nice, but that’s up to them.
Someone somewhere is going to take this as a serious statement of priorities, rather than a mindset. Remember that I spend very little upfront time teaching. It’s more of an attitude. It allows me to be big, overblown, demanding attention, dammit, whether you learn or not. Students enjoy the spin on the usual pay attention because education is good for you. Hell with that, kids, your attention is good for me.
I count it as a good sign that I’m regularly in the Teacher Awards section of the yearbook, and for fun things: Storyteller, Unpredictable, Mostly Likely to Lose Whiteboard Eraser. May that, too, extend through the next eight years. I’m a geek; popularity is a nice change.
Building Curriculum–Never Be Satisfied
I vividly remember in the spring of year 4, my first year at this school, when I was looking ahead to linear inequalities. I was just about done with my new method of modeling linear equations which had now gone well twice in a row (remember, this school does a year in a semester and then repeats).
But at the time, I did little more than go through the procedures on linear inequalities, and felt a twinge of shame the first semester, as we moved from a unified modeling approach to…here’s how you test a value. And suddenly, out of the blue, I remember my ed school professor saying “You should never be satisfied. You can always do better.”
At the time, I rolled my eyes. She was saying this in the context of our first year of teaching, to never feel satisfied. I think this is absurd. “Good enough” is fine a lot of the time. But at this moment, I realized it could apply to an entire career (and in fairness to the professor, that’s probably what she meant.)
So I challenged myself in that moment to come up with something different. How could I introduce linear inequalities in such a way that would build on the linear equations, while showing their differences? I still use the methods I built that day, although I’ve developed them somewhat.
But from that point on, I always take that moment, that wince away from a piece of curriculum I don’t like. What can I rebuild? How can I make it better? I’m not a perfectionist, not a driving careerist, definitely not hard-charging in approach. (my affect and opinions, whole different deal.) Just one of many ways in which my pricey ed school degree has transformed me well after the fact.
I’ve written about many other curriculum improvements over time. All of these were done with that same spirit of yeah, the old way wasn’t working, let’s try this:
I’ve completely reworked quadratics and exponents as well, but haven’t written them up. It’s been fun.
I don’t have one approach to curriculum, but if I have a go-to process, it’s the “illustrating activity” or problem, which can be seen here in the Projectile Motion writeup, or this lesson on proving the pythagorean theorem and geometric mean activity. I began to write it up as part of this entry, but decided no, do a separate post. (I do apologize for my scarce blogging lately.)
This is the first time I had my students “work in the round”, which is how you’ll find my class at least 12-15 days a month since then. My current classroom has whiteboards all the way around. The walls have a 5 x wall-length strip of white board paint (which is really cool). I have small white boards with coordinate planes etched in. I also have a wonderful donor who sends me $100 worth of whiteboard pens every year, so the kids can always be working on a big surface, with plenty of room for mistakes.
There must be whiteboards. Working constantly in class, moving around, reduces the risk of math zombies. Earphones are allowed to shut out the noise, provided I don’t see the student enjoying the music more than the work.
The December of Year 5, I got a look at the new Common Core tests and laughed, again, at the ludicrous notion that the new mean achievement would be centered around these ridiculously difficult standards. Except…..
I noticed that many questions required more than one answer. They weren’t simple multiple choice questions. “Identify all the solutions.” “Select all the equivalent expressions.”
Hey, now. That’s interesting. And my first multiple assessment test was born a week later.
Thanks, Common Core! sez I. My kids, not so much.The tests are really helpful for lower ability kids to show what they know, but the strongest kids have to be on their game to do well.
Here’s my first post on the topic, but I’ve revisited it often. They allow flexibility way beyond the usual multiple choice–I can mix and match between freeform and formatted response, or include both in the same question. I can create one question with varied procedural tasks, or one question that dives deep into one situation. They also allow me to greater access to student thinking.
I’ve also had fun redoing my quizzes in the past year. Typically, my quizzes have been straightforward affairs that contain no surprises. But I’ve started to mix it up.
These are nice stylistic changes, even if the underlying question is still straightforward.
While I mentioned that my third year saw fundamental .changes in my approach to teaching, I completely forgot to mention that the year also gave birth to this blog. While I began blogging at my last school, all but eight months of it have been here. The blog itself is a constant insight into my teaching practice–among other things. I’ve kept it primarily on education, whether it be policy, practice, law, or the reality, which often violates all the others. And occasionally Trump, of course. But then, a good chunk of my Trump support is also related to teaching.
I was not terribly popular with the head of my ed school, but on at least two occasions, she mentioned my gift for writing about classroom experiences. My second year out, I was telling one of my ed school professors about my administration woes, and he told me that he wanted me to keep teaching so I could write about it.
“You’re a very good new teacher. But writing about teaching will be your unique contribution to the field.” I was immensely complimented, and said so–wondering how I could possibly get someone to ever be interested in publishing my thoughts, and how I could get my thoughts down to 750 word chunks.
Turned out I could do first part myself, making the second (ahem) unnecessary.
I try to avoid doing too much with clubs or other school activities that involve stipends.Mentoring credentialed and student teachers1on the other hand, fits in well with my temperament. I’ve spent most of my life being paid for opinions. Consulting new teachers carries on that piece of my past. I’ll be doing induction this year, and hope to find another student teacher soon.
And so, I move onto years 8 and beyond. Looking forward to it.
1My student teacher got at least two job offers from the district; I’m assuming he took one of them but haven’t talked to