About drfrankjosh

Love being in the classroom steering or being steered by young mathematicians.

Sure enough

Sure enough.

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Nine months

With no y-axis scale, you can wonder.

With no y-axis scale, you can wonder.

With the bank account shrinking below the counting numbers and into the integers, I checked some job postings in the area. There was one for a long-term sub for maternity leave. I applied for it, had an informal talk with the principal, toured the school, got a call back for a short interview with the principal and the teacher, and then was offered the position.

I’m not sure how it will all end up, but I am scheduled to start April 1. That is assuming the teacher does not have her baby before then. I mentioned the possibility of working to Declan over the weekend. He said, that I’ll owe him three months next year, that I am not fulfilling the full year sabbatical of being at his beck and call for the entire year.

I don’t subscribe to Dec’s thinking, but I am wondering how things will land. What time do I have to leave? Can I ride my bike that just got stolen? What time will I get home? Can I bring Bear to the classroom? How will the students adjust to a new teacher for the remainder of the year?

And how much will I get paid? Where will they put me on the pay scale? Since it is a long-term sub, it should be on their pay scale as opposed to the daily sub rate.

I hope for some answers in the next few days.

What I do

IMG_20130118_185616It’s funny how the day slips away. Today I did the normal morning routine, getting kids up, riding with Dec to school with Bear on the leash, getting back to the house to get Maggie out the door. Then comes the time of flux.

I always make a point of training with Bear for 15 to 30 minutes. This involves a lot of treats for Bear and quite a bit of slobber on my hands. Today I actually went to the gym for a workout first. Spin class. The only thing that makes my knee feel better. Last year I would occasionally do a spin class, but it was at 530 in the morning. It sort of ruined the afternoon and evening. It may have helped the morning in terms of energy level, but the tank was empty by the time I got home. And getting up at 515 to workout at 530 is sadistic.

So I have some luxuries now. I can workout in the middle of the day. The gym is nearly empty. The spin class was half full. Funny thing about the 530am class is that it is jam packed. It happened to me once where I got there too late and didn’t get a bike. That’s just pouring salt in the wounds. As if getting up at 515 isn’t stressful enough, you have to hustle your ass in to the gym to sign up in time to get a bike. Is that worth it?

I am also able to go to the store in the middle of the week, enjoying a less crowded experience similar to my gym experience. Today I went to Costco. I took Bear with me. Not sure if he likes Costco, but he is getting more used to it. Today was a full cart day. And lucky me, Bear didn’t poop inside the store like last time. I am not easily embarrassed, but that got me. The sweat forming as I tried to get Bear out of the pushing position. Unsuccessful.

I may be that guy bringing a half trained dog into the store, but at least I am prepared. So I yanked out my blue plastic poop bag to pick it up off the cold concrete next to the ground beef. I was thankful that it was a healthy poop, easy to pick up. And some guy thanked me. I can’t imagine leaving a number two in front of the ground beef. I see people leaving it out on the grass in front of our house, and I always yell out the window asking them if they need a baggie. Besides being outdoors, the guy in front of my house thinks he is alone. I’d have to be psychotic to think I could walk away from that number two without anyone seeing. First of all, everyone is a little surprised to see a dog in Costco, so they are looking at us. And on top of that, we are in Costco, which never has less than 450 people either shopping or strolling through for free samples.

I left the cart by the cheesecakes and took Bear back outside. But he was done. I disposed of the blue baggie and returned to my cart. But today there was not accident, just a lot of shopping. By the time we get home and unpacked it is lunch time. I do a little more training before eating. Bear settles onto his new dog bed.

So then what? Shopping, training, and eating are taken care of. The only must dos on the list are cleaning up a bit (I bought a new broom at Costco), and making dinner. Dinner and cleaning up will take up to two hours, no more.

There are several things that I work on depending on the day. Today I researched getting a tax ID number for a possible business. Yesterday I spent some time developing an application for people interested in working at the business. Last week I spent some time working on a camp I help run. Today I also spent some time watching youtube videos. I watched three on GeoGabra, which is a great math program I plan on using if/when I go back to teaching. I also watched a video on how to replace a broken iTouch screen. We have one in our home needing to be replaced.

The point is that there are no definite schedules occurring. I can get lost on Facebook (the devil), or I can go down some meaningless path on Youtube, or get absorbed on Instagram. But then I look back and it is like coming out of a staff meeting. It is simply lost time. I’ll never be ever to recapture that time and I have nothing to show for it.

Earlier in the year I dabbled in Codecademy. I also used to spend a fair amount of time on Livemocha, an online language course. Since New Year’s, however, I have cut that out of the routine. And it is partly because I spend more time on planning this business idea, but also partly because I’m not feeling significant progress in either of those “classes.”

Some things are much less stressful because of my lack of time commitments. We refinanced the home. I built some stuff outside. I keep the laundry moving through the cycles. I built some shelving unit for the TV.

This time also gets me thinking about what to do. What do I want to do? At the end of the proverbial day, whether it be life or when the kids leave the house, what are the things I want to be doing? What am I good at? What am I comfortable doing? What do I enjoy doing? On the flip-side, what are the things I loathe to do? What are the things I just never get to?

It’s interesting having this gap year. I can stop and think about these things, and some of the answers are not exactly what I’d expected, and most of them are not answered yet, but I’m working on it.

What is most important in teaching?

I started teaching about eight years ago.  My teacher program was very much a constructivist tilt.  I am not an expert, but I think teacher programs tend to be more constructivist leaning than the schools and districts that employ the graduates of these programs.

I took all the lessons to heart, seeing the merits of students teaching each other and figuring things out on their own.  I then took this perspective to my job.  My district was also on the constructivist side of the spectrum, especially in terms of teaching math.  Little side note here, teacher training in this country is a total mess.  Intensive classes at a university with time in a classroom student teaching and then they plop you in your own classroom.  Scary for a good reason.

What I came to realize quite quickly is that there is a place for the “just sharpen your pencil and bang out a bunch of problems” in math.  I can’t speak to primary or high school level, but most of the concepts students learn in middle school require quite a bit of automaticity in math facts, which most of my students do not have.

I continue to struggle with this give and take of letting students take time to figure things out on their own and giving them 20 problems to practice and cement the concepts down.  The struggle continues in part because I do not have a reliable source of practice problems, which forces me to spend a lot of time I don’t have making up practice problems.

Maybe in the past math was a “here is the skill now practice it” subject that the pendulum has swung to the other side, stressing the discovery of concepts.  Unfortunately, I came along after the pendulum swung, so while they were stressing the “figure this one out” method, I had not received the indoctrination of the “better sharpen your pencils ‘cuz we got a lot of problems” method.  I am now struggling to find the balance, and I find myself leaning more to the drill and kill side of things.  I see students struggling with basic math facts (“7+3 is…um” student pulls out fingers and counts, “7+3 is eleven?”).  The struggle puts up a barrier, insurmountable for some, to gain confidence in new concepts.

There are days, however, where I have swung to far back, with students spending too much time on becoming proficient on a skill they will ultimately forget how to use, or not now how to apply when the time comes.

I feel a discussion needs to be had about how to properly proportion the exploration part of math and the practice of math skills.  This year I have relied a lot on Dan Meyer and his Perplexity problems (I highly recommend his work).  I find that the perplexity problems can capture the students’ need to solve the problem.  I have also found that the lower students quickly give up with either a defeatist attitude or with just not having any idea how to get started.

I started teaching eight years ago, but I feel no closer to having a handle on this craft.  I believe it is partly due to my somewhat lackadaisical organization.  It is also in part due to the tug of war between giving students time to practice a skill and giving them time to discover a concept.

Meetings

I was in a staff meeting the other day.  Staff meetings are always fairly organized at my school.  This one was no different.  In fact, they had distributed the reading material the previous week.  I glanced at it walking from my box back to the classroom.  It had something to do with building relationships with students to minimize behavior issues.

A couple of years ago I would have been  much more excited about this piece of research, which was filled with real-life examples, and gave specific directions to help the teacher build relationships.  Truth is, I had a horrible year a few years back.  One of those years where I wasn’t sleeping at night because I was thinking about how to deal with one of my classes.  They got under my skin.  They knew it and I knew it.  They would walk in the class and smile a knowing smile as they saw me begin to cringe at the thought of the coming 55 minutes.

After deciding not to leave the teaching profession after that year, I came to the realization that sometimes student makeup in a classroom can affect the culture of the room, and that it is possible to request support from the administration.  In the extreme case, there are times when a student is unable to stay in the classroom.  More importantly, though, was how I learned to deal with students that see their job as finding the clinks in the teacher’s armor.  I learned to engage the student with humor rather than discipline; I joked with them in front of the whole class, making it a little diversion for everyone.

Instead of talking with the student one on one quietly, telling them how they need to be respectful to everyone, a message they’ve heard hundreds of times before, and have effectively come up with the appropriate responses (“Yes, I know.”  “I will listen from now on.”) to get this monkey off their back so they can more quickly enter their circus, otherwise known as a classroom.  Even worse than talking to them quietly one-on-one, I would call them out in front of the whole class, “You need to be quiet.  You are disrupting the class.”  Two proclamations that they were hoping I would shout out.  The classroom has suddenly become me versus them.  All the other students see the teacher picking on this one student.  He didn’t deserve that kind of treatment.  I can sense the tide turning, and I am left with fighting the current for the rest of the year.

So now, instead of pointing my finger at the class clown, the one looking for my chinks, I stop and take a dramatic breath with a big sigh.  I turn to the rest of the class with arms outstretched, palms up and say, “Is he like this in all the other classes?”  Ninety-five percent of the time I get 32 heads nodding agreement.  I then ask the class how many other classes they have with this student, and empathize with them having to endure multiple periods with him (I put a male pronoun for this student partly for generic purposes, but also because they are much more likely to be boys).

Keep in mind that I do this in a very joking mannerism.  I do not want this to be serious at all.  I want this to be a time that we can share the circus stage.  I want to show that I understand his intentions, and I don’t mind playing along for a bit.

So back to the staff meeting.  They distributed the article the previous week and then started the meeting by presenting “data” of students sent to the office in pie charts.  Other than the total number of visits, the data was nearly worthless.  One more piece of data was shown, the teacher of origin.  The underlying message was not to send students to the office.  After displaying the data, we went through the said article.

One teacher had the nerve to make the comment that sending students to the office may actually be improving the classroom culture.  All the other teachers were being good students, feigning interest.  All except for the one grading papers, who already knows she is being let go after this year.

Though I appreciate this discussion, I feel that it needs to be more action oriented.  It needs to have some clear actions that can be taken with some students, and tools for teachers having difficulty with a small group of students.  I also feel that this discussion needs to take place in August instead of February.

My last complaint is the fact that things aren’t so great in these budget crisis times.  We have up to 36 kids in a classroom, far from an ideal size, and they are discussing how to have relationships with students.  Rather than wasting an hour of our time, I’d rather have a very short meeting of nuts and bolts, and then sending us on our way to try and keep up with the mountain of paper work and parent emails.