A link and some thoughts

Wow. Someone out there is doing this.

Well, maybe I’m late to the party, but this is pretty cool. I can see myself assigning some of these videos for students to watch, and then doing a flipped classroom activity. Not all the time, but maybe sometimes.

*****

Last weekend was CMC North at Asilomar. I went with a few colleagues from my school district. It was fun, and I had a good time representing Polyup. But I also felt a little sad that my favorite colleagues couldn’t go because our principal wouldn’t pay for them at first, even if the district was going to pay for our substitutes.

*****

Been listening to Harry Potter and the Sacred Text from the beginning again. Pulling out new thoughts and enjoying the fun that reading my favorite books from my teen years can bring.

*****

Recently, I purchased a new cage for my pet chinchilla. The new cage is a lot bigger, being able to fit the running wheel without scraping against the sides. But because it is bigger, it is slightly less easy to clean. And because the doors are the way they are, it’s much more difficult to both take Chin out and put her back after playing. So I’m feeling a little regretful of getting the new cage because, for some reason, it makes my interaction with Chin different. It feels less cozy, less close.

*****

Or maybe I’m just losing my mind and over-thinking it. My chinchilla is sitting at the corner of her new cage now, watching me type, like a little creeper. That much hasn’t changed.

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The house of small cubes

A few years ago, I was surfing good Pixar shorts to show to my students on the minimum day before winter break when I stumbled upon La Maison en Petits Cubes:

 

A few days ago, I stumbled up on this article about the Pine Island Bay glaciers. La Maison en Petits Cubes immediately came to mind and suddenly, a whimsical story without words about isolation and how the visible parts of ourselves are nowhere near as complex as our hidden depths, turned into incredibly real science fiction. Or, well, fact.

It’s a lovely short film. And if some form of it happens, I’m sure there will be beautiful stories too…but next time I go to a place where I can walk, or carpool, instead, then I’m gonna.

How to survive fall conferences

Conferences at my school site is a rather grueling task. It requires a lot of prep work on the teacher’s part, and a lot of talking at the actual conference. The hours are long and jam packed as well, but the hardest thing for me is to tell parents repeatedly what their students need to work on in order to improve: it’s either turn in more quality homework, study better for tests, or participate more in class. Often, all three. Repeating myself over and over is something that tires me out quicker than almost any other task out there.

So I’ve devised a way to handle conferences as gracefully as possible without melting down. Here goes:

Step 1: Get involved! For the same reason why I prefer to drive than to be a passenger, being in control (at least of certain things) allows me to guide the direction of conferences, making moves towards what I would like conferences to ultimately be: student-led, very little teacher talk, and more productive conversations. If you don’t want to sit through someone giving you a laundry list of things you’ve done poorly, but can’t change or make better, then how can we ask students to do the same?

Step 2: Gather info. As much as of it as possible. Who are the parents/guardians? What are their names? What is the student like? What classes does the student have? Activities and sports? Personality? Who is the student friends with? What was their academic history like? What is a sample of the student’s best work? Worst work? The more data I have, the better I can wrap my head around what needs doing.

Step 3: Get the other teachers involved. My site’s conferences already hold a round table of all the student’s teachers all at once. We have a contact person to arrange and schedule the conference, and a facilitator and note-taker on the day of. What I would like to move towards is to have some sort of pre-plan before the conference to match the student to potential interventions – from the lowest of the low interventions (signing a binder reminder, checking Aeries, etc) to much more high level stuff (after school tutoring roster, math boosters class, counseling sponsored by the local hospital, etc). It’s a team effort, and the more we count each student as ‘ours’ as opposed to ‘mine’ vs. ‘theirs’ then the better our collaboration will be.

Step 4: Have some sort of follow-up in place. Accountability is a great thing – it’s also time-consuming. A lot of worthwhile and effective strategies are, I’m afraid. But I like to check in with the students I have at some point after the conference to see how their goals are going, and whether they need further help. The check-in can be anywhere from 2 weeks after to…June. Did I mention the time-consuming part? Yeah, well, I’m open to ideas on how to get the follow-up to happen in a more timely fashion – leave a comment below!

Step 5: Continue to take care of yourself. The 8th grade level team at my school does a potluck snack table for conferences. I make sure to stay hydrated, and caffeinated, as needed. Stretch breaks also help – get out and take a stroll around the quad in-between conferences. Make sure to get lots of sleep. If conferences are scheduled late (like at my school), then leave work at work that night. I know it’s a difficult thing for teachers to do – I worked throughout Thanksgiving break just this past week – but if you don’t say no, then no one is going to say no for you. So just say no, so that you can say yes to the things that really matter to you.

Quotes and thoughts

Not all teachers are effective, not all teachers are experts, and not all teachers have powerful effects on students (Hattie, 2009)

My thoughts: Experts are not necessarily effective. Effects are not necessarily powerful. Power does not necessarily come from effective experts. There’s a venn diagram somewhere here.

While an unprecedented number of societal responsibilities are being thrust on educators today, one fact is undeniable: it is their responsibility to teach students the academic knowledge, skills, and dispositions they need to succeed as adults.

My thoughts: Pressure. Triggered.

The law considers teacher in loco parentis – in place of a parent – in the classroom. In most educational decisions, teachers have much greater authority than parents.

My thoughts: Pressure. Triggered. Again.

While we are not suggesting that promoting continuing education and rewarding teacher experience are nonbeneficial, it is unlikely that these practices will significantly and sustainably improve core instruction.

My thoughts: Makes me doubt whether grad school tuition was a good use of my money then.

Additionally, three out of four teachers report that their evaluation process has virtually no impact on their classroom practice.

My thoughts: Word.

Ultimately, the goal of education reform is not to improve teaching but to increase student learning.

My thoughts: Interesting. My mind got a bit blown, but I’m too distracted and too tired to tease out exactly why right now. Will come back to this at a later date.

Bad decisions made with good intentions are still bad decisions.

My thoughts: I super appreciate the blunt honesty in sentences like these. There should be more honestly and transparency in general. And society needs to develop themselves into people who will be A) open enough to reflect on this honesty and B) supportive enough of each other as we each work through it.

All quotes are from Best Practices at Tier 1 by Gayle Gregory, Martha Kaufeldt, and Mike Mattos.

The story of my job search

Getting that first job can be a tough experience. For me, it was mainly because I had no experience. I’ve had previous jobs before, but I got them through networks like my college campus, or connections, like family friends. I’ve written resumes and submitted them, but I’ve never really had to interview, or do follow-ups. So I thought it would be a good idea to write and reflect about my job search history.

Three months before graduating from teacher credential school, I started sending out applications for jobs all over the globe. It was 2009 and the recession’s effects were taking a toll on any civil servant job. Teachers were getting pink slipped left and right, even those who had been with their district for 5+ years. It was a rather grim time.

My credentialing program took some initiative and encouraged their pre-service teachers to expand their credentials. Some of the people in my program got added credentials in foreign languages, science, P.E. I think I was the only one who got one in math. My credentialing program also spent a good amount of time training us on job application processes, resume writing, and interviewing (if we were ever so lucky to land one).

Fast forward to August 2010. At that point, I had sent out nearly 200 applications on Edjoin (the US’s major job posting site for all types of jobs in elementary and secondary schools, public, private, and charter). I got a total of 4 interviews that summer:

  1. An upper elementary position in Roseville, where 16 people were crammed into one dinky room. The door was to my back and there was just enough space for me to step in and sit down. I had apparently interviewed well, and was on their final list, but they were looking for someone with more experience.
  2. A long-term sub position in Lancaster, for which I drove 10 hours in one day.
  3. An English tutoring gig in Hong Kong [interviewed over Skype]. The English tutoring gig accepted me, and it seemed to be the best option at the time, so I had booked a flight everything.

Then, exactly 5 days before I was to board that plane, I got a call to interview for a public middle school math teacher position. I thought I should have disclosed that I had an offer already, but I didn’t say and went anyway.

It was the easiest, most candid interview I’ve ever had. The principal and I talked for over an hour. I didn’t feel awkward or stiff like the other interviews. I didn’t even get that feeling of needing to impress anyone. The principal asked pretty much the same questions that the Roseville panel did, but for some reason, I didn’t answer in exactly the same way. My practiced, pat answers for classroom management and engaging students and families felt less robotic, even if the meaning in my answers were the same as before. I was just able to be a bit more comfortable about it. He did ask some questions I had never been asked before, not in a previous interview and not for interview prep. Here’s one that I remember the most:

Principal: What is the one word you would use to describe middle school students, and why?

Me: ::thinks for a moment:: I’ve never thought about this question until now, but I think I would use the word ‘searching.’ Middle school students are not little kids anymore, they are coming into their own and starting to be aware of things outside of their immediate consciousness. They are searching for what they are good at, who they get a long with, what their role in their family and friends circle could be. It’s a pretty exciting time to explore, but it can also be rather intimidating. Yes, I would describe middle school students as ‘searching.’

Principal: That’s a really good way to put it.

As the last part of the interview, I was asked to teach a mini-lesson on factoring a trinomial. Which is the usual. And I thought I did ok, considering that most of the math teaching I was doing up until then was 4th and 5th grade level stuff. Unfortunately, I made a mistake, and I didn’t realize it until I was already on the road home.

However, the next day, the principal called me and asked if I could come in for a second interview the following day. So it ended up that 3 days before I was to board a plane for my secured job tutoring English in Hong Kong, I found myself sitting in front of the principal and both assistant principals. The very first question I was asked was to reflect on my previous interview:

Principal: So tell us what your thoughts were on your previous interview. You can also do a summary of it for the APs.

Me: Well, first off, I would like to say that I made a mistake on the mini-lesson.

Principal: ::grinning broadly:: Yes, you did.

AP1: What happened?

Me: The mini-lesson was on a problem about factoring a trinomial. There was a common factor of 2 in all three terms to start with, and I had factored that out as my first step. But in the middle, I forgot all about it, and didn’t bring it down in the final factored form. The factor of 2 had dropped off the face of the problem when it should have been there and accounted for.

Principal: ::still grinning:: Yes, exactly right. If that had happened in your classroom, what would you have done next?

Me: Well, I would tell my students that mistakes happen, and mistakes are ok. It would be a teaching moment for me to help students understand how and why a mistake happened, how to fix it, and then how to prevent it from happening next time.

The APs asked me a few other questions about my other skills (Cantonese and technology), and whether I would be willing to coach clubs and sports (yes, math clubs and tennis or volleyball).

I was rolling onto the freeway entrance not 15 minutes after the end of the interview when the principal called me to offer the job. I said yes right way. I’ve been at this job and this school since.

Four years into my career, the principal who hired me retired. When he retired, he told me that he knew 100% that he would offer me the job from the moment I mentioned my mistake in the mini-lesson. That every other interviewee that year had also made a math mistake, but I was the only one who caught it and spoke up about it on my own.

My first principal, the one who hired me, has been my favorite principal to work with. He was always supportive, checked in on not just my classroom and how teaching is going, but with me. He made sure I had everything I needed, from something as small as a pen holder for my desk to something as grand as colleagues who I could work well with. He backed me up when parents complained about my classroom policies. He gave me opportunities to grow and develop professionally. I got into the habit of going to conferences and seminars because of that. My two favorite education quotes from a person I actually knew came from him. When speaking of behavior management:

“Manage the little things – the gum and food in class, tardies, dress code, cell phones – and most big behaviors – fighting, stealing, substances, weapons – will take care of themselves.”

When speaking of the workplace environment:

“No matter what, I’m on the teacher’s side. If they want a fridge in their classroom, get them one. If they don’t want individual codes for the copy machine, make that happen. The teacher is the first line of defense. When they know I’m on their side, then both them and I get to focus on fighting the battles that really matter.”

Since then, I’ve seen 2 other principals and 4 other APs. They all have their own strengths of course, but I have yet to learn as much from them as I did from my first principal. And I know that the fact I’m more experienced myself when I met these other admin has a role in how much I can learn from them. But still. No other admin has inspired quite as much.

What was your job search like? Are you living through a job search yourself right now? Share your stories in the comments below!

How to set up sub plans

I just had my first sub day of the school year. Instead of teaching, I spent 7 hours in a room with some of my favorite colleagues working on big picture items for my district’s Math 8 course.

During my first two years of teaching, I regularly took a sub day every 6-8 weeks, even if I didn’t have a full on cold or flu (like I do now). It was something my master teachers and pedagogy professors instilled in my cohort during teaching credentialing: It’s impossible to take care of everyone and everything that you need to in the classroom, when you don’t prioritize taking care of yourself.

But planning for a sub is not easy. There’s so much that happens in the classroom, so many routines and signals, on top of the actual lesson plan, not to mention classroom and behavior management that it’ll take pages and pages to note it all down. Assuming the sub that you get – a sub that is paid ~$100 per day, most likely without a teaching credential, nor have a teaching philosophy aligned with yours, nor required to arrive earlier or stay later to understand these pages and pages of sub plans – has the desire to read through it all.

Which is why I didn’t get a sub this time when I got sick, especially so close to the previous sub day I took to work with my colleagues. It’s not the first time I’ve done that. And it won’t be the last. And I’m not the only one. But I’ve made enough sub plans, and taken those days off enough times, to have a few do’s and don’ts to share:

  1. Don’t wait until the last minute to put your sub plans together. The best thing about counting out 6-8 weeks and regularly booking a sub is that the earlier I book the sub, the more likely I’ll actually get a sub in my classroom, rather than relying on my colleagues to cover my classes on their prep. Oh? I didn’t mention that sometimes (and when I mean ‘sometimes’ I mean approximately 1 out of 3 times) when I’m taking a sick day, there is no substitute that will pick up my job? Yeah, that happens.
  2. Do save your previous sub plans. Once you get going, it’s easier to build off of what you already have than to start from scratch all over again. Save the plans that you had previously for next time. Then you can just delete the content and keep the formatting. Whoever is subbed for you before might pick up your job again at a later date, and it’s easier for them to read something that is formatted familiarly.
  3. Do keep a page of general information that applies to all your classes throughout the entire school year. What so you teach each period/in each time slot? When is your prep? Who are the people in the neighboring classrooms? Who are the people the sub can call for backup? Is there a referral system? How would a sub use it? Is there a rewards system? How would a sub use that? Here is a free sample template I made for myself. It’s not fancy like the ones you can find on Teachers Pay Teachers. But it doesn’t have to be fancy. It just needs to be, and it needs to fit you and your sub’s needs. And it should be flexible enough so that you can either keep it in your sub binder/folder throughout the entire year without needing to print out a new one each time.
  4. Do keep all materials in a binder or folder marked ‘For the Sub.’ The general info page should go in here. Then the page for lesson plans, any master copies and answer keys, the previously mentioned rewards and referral system documents, and any seating charts or rosters of your classes. I also like to keep some extra binder paper for the sub to take notes of what happened in class.
  5. Do prep your students for a sub. I didn’t used to believe in this, but my Super Colleague does this all the time so I tried it out…and it worked really well for me. I had much fewer problems to deal with after I get back now that I prepare my students for a sub. It can be as simple as reminding them that the sub is a guest on campus, and they need to show respect to all guests. I also remind my students that the sub may or may not know the math they are learning, so they shouldn’t react poorly when the sub can’t answer their questions like I would normally do. We do an activity where we brainstorm some of the confusing or ‘unfair’ (to the student’s point of view) things that they’ve seen from a sub before, and we try to figure out why a person would react that way, and then role-play it with the proper way to react. When it comes down to it, I tell my students that they are not to argue back with the substitute in that moment – but if there’s anything out of the ordinary, then they can tell me when I come back. I usually just listen and don’t do anything about it – because the student’s point of view can’t always be trusted as complete or accurate, right?

How do you make your sub plans?