When There Are No Words

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” ~Aristotle


With a month to go before school begins (wow) I have busied myself this week beginning preparations for another school year.  I have planned those first few lessons to try and show reluctant learners that math can be magical, I have bought the first of many discount school supplies, and have flooded my Pinterest board with ways to make my classroom more warm and inviting for the 120 students that will spend a year with me.  What I have not been able to do is come up with the words to say to make life any easier, the world any less scary, or things make any more sense for those sweet faces this fall.

As many of you know, I teach 7th grade students.  If you remember yourself in 7th grade or have survived a 7th grader recently you know that it is  a HARD time for all kids.  They don’t know who they are yet, they are hormonal, they want to be both adults and children at the same time.  It is a year of internal growth, struggle and self-discovery and we love them through it.  We tell the parents every year at open house that they will survive their 7th grader just like their own parents did when they went through it.

This fall feels different though.  When I think of this fall at school I feel more lost for words than usual.

I don’t have the words to comfort the students that have seen the events on the news and worried that their fathers or family members or even themselves will be racially profiled and may not make it home.

I’m speechless and sad about looking into the faces of students whose families are terrified they will be deported after the Presidential election.

I’m at a loss for how to provide security and safety to the students whose parents protect our country as police officers, serve in our armed forces, and are first responders who worry that their mom or dad may not make it home after a day at work.

I’m worried that I don’t have the expertise or skills to help any of these children navigate their thoughts and feelings and the world they live in.  I pray I can help them learn to see the beauty in their differences and teach them that we all bring our own insecurities, fears, and doubts into room 406 every day and that we must learn to build each other up rather than tear each other down.

If you’ve ever heard one of my presentations or spent much time with me you’ve heard me say that I am an entertainer first and educator second.  This fall seems different.  This fall I think I will need to be so much more than I ever have.  I don’t even know what I’m going to have to be first this year… mentor, mediator, care giver, or healer I honestly don’t know the word yet.  I do know it will involve a lot of loving on kids that desperately need it after a very hard summer for our nation.

I challenge you to think about how you will support the kids in your classroom this year.  It’s about more than teaching content.

“Education breedsconfidence.  Confidence breeds hope.  Hope breeds peace.” ~ Confucius










There is No “New Math”

I’ll go ahead and estimate that on average my blood pressure rises about 10 times a week discussing the topic of “new math” with someone.  Be it on social media, in line at the grocery store, or even on a date my days are riddled debating the merit of Common Core and “new math” in education.  I thought’d I’d just write about it here, print out 42 million cards with the web link on it, and then hand out as needed to save time in the future.

Not long ago, I had a spirited discussion about the merits of this “new math” we are teaching.  His thought was valid in his mind that if he could perform skills using a standard algorithm then why was it necessary to understand and explain the process behind it.  I asked him to subtract 59 from 87 to which he stacked the numbers on top of each other, borrowed, and regrouped to find the correct answer.  I asked him curiously what borrowing from the 8 to make it a 7 and then changing the 7 to a 17 really meant to which he contested it didn’t matter as long as the answer was correct.

Here’s how I explained it to him… imagine that I know every historical date associated with World War II.  I know the dates of every battle and every minute detail of the War but I have no understanding of why the war happened, who was involved and why, or what the short and long term repercussions of the war were.  Does memorizing the dates have any meaning without understanding the why?

That is exactly how many of us (myself included) learned math.  We memorized facts, procedures and algorithms and “did” math with no meaning.  As a result I meet people almost daily who say, oh I am terrible at math, I hate math, or I was never a math person.  The math being taught today isn’t “new math” at all.  It is instead a focus on teaching meaning before teaching skills and algorithms.  I promise you your child will be shown the standard algorithm for subtraction just like you learned it, the difference is your child is being taught the meaning of that algorithm before memorizing steps of borrowing and regrouping.

My son is in 3rd grade now and can subtract with ease in spite of not being taught the standard algorithm.  How?  Well instead of doing 87 minus 59 the traditional way he counts up from 59.  He says to himself, I need 1 to get to 60, then 20 to get to 80, and then 7 more to get to 87 so the answer is 28.  I can’t argue with his theory and justification there.  He will be taught the standard algorithm soon enough and I am sure he will see the merit there as well but the beauty is then he can decide which way he prefers to do the problem rather than the way we were taught which was the standard algorithm or nothing.

He also knows his multiplication facts up to 12.  No one has taught him multiplication, we don’t do drills, and he’s never seen a flash card.  However he does know that if one dozen is 12 then to get two dozen you add another 12, and three dozen another, and four another.  It thrills me to know end to think how much more easily those 12 times tables will come to him than me.  He developed the number sense associated with multiplication before memorizing the routine facts and in my mind that’s way more important then memorizing numbers on a flash card.  (On a side note my 12 multiplication tables nearly killed me in school)

My point here is isn’t to say that anyone was taught wrong the “old way”.  My point is that there is no “new math”.  Your child will see that standard algorithm that you are dying to teach them, that way isn’t “old” and the teacher’s way isn’t “new”.  Instead the processes you are seeing are all apart of teaching your child not to be afraid of math and instead to be a problem solver and use math as a spectrum to view the world.  I challenge you to embrace their way of thinking and maybe even flip your own perspective on “doing math”.



Missing the Boat

( I don’t think this one will do much for my popularity or likability but it’s been on my mind for a while now…)

Scrolling through my variety of social media news feeds I can’t help but feel like parents and teachers alike are missing the boat on  teaching our children a valuable lesson.  I get completely that this election is very divisive.  All Americans seem to be even more passionate and vocal this year about their candidate, the lack of good candidates, or the state of American politics.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it is awesome for all of us to take an interest in the future of this country but my question is this…how are we teaching our children to treat people with differing view points.

I have friends on both sides of the aisle and it is eye opening to scroll through Facebook and see people from both parties name calling, sharing half truths, and throwing punches at people of different view points.  This really came to light for me this semester at school as we began to have  conflicts with children over this year’s election.  From hurtful words to inappropriate polictical “cartoons” I can tell you with 100% certainty that our children are learning from the way we are handling this election.  Our kids hear the things that are said at the dinner table, they see the posts on social media, and pay attention to the half truths said on the news and bring them right into the front doors of school daily.  Perhaps this would be ok if they had the maturity to handle differences of opinion but in middle school it just hasn’t happened yet so instead it leads to a whole lot of drama in the hallways and classrooms.

It makes me nervous that we aren’t even down to two candidates yet and I already hear children picking at each other over what will happen when so and so is elected.  As parents, teachers, and adults I believe this is our opportunity to teach our children how to talk about issues without throwing punches.  We should be setting an example for our children in what we share on Facebook, what comments we make to others, and the way we frame our discussions at the dinner table.  Let’s teach our children to be passionate and energetic about what they believe in without unnecessarily offending others.  Let’s teach our children to be involved in the political process but also about how to handle it when it doesn’t go the way they wanted.  Let’s teach our children that it’s ok to disagree without being disagreeable (Thanks Dr. Heersche for teaching me that)!

We’ve got a long time left in this election cycle.  Someone will win and someone will lose.  I get that this election matters and matters big but lets spend some time teaching our children about this process and how to handle it along the way.  What example are you setting?






Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”.  ~ Winnie the Pooh

This time of year hurts my heart and soul more than I can express in words.  I have been a people person since the day I could talk or maybe before.  Saying goodbye has never been easy for me, when I was little I would cry  for days before my grandparents would pack up to head back to Iowa, I cried when Full House ended, and I cried every year on the last day of school.  I guess in some ways that explains why I have been in tears hourly this week as the end of the year draws near.

The Kids

This year wasn’t always easy for me student wise to say the least.  I have no doubt that I was a grumpy pain to them some days just as they were to me on others but today as I watched them participate in one of our last team parties for the year that I realized that I will miss them just the same.  The good, the bad, the indifferent, they all weave their places in my heart the same way regardless.  I started getting cute notes from them today about my singing, dancing, and otherwise ridiculousness and I pray that is what they remember.  I hope they look back and think that lady was crazy but she loved us and she loved teaching us math even when we didn’t realize it.

My Kids Teachers

I cried writing Jackson’s teacher an e-mail today.  As a teacher I realize maybe more than most just how precious the hours teachers spend with my little ones are.  I could write a million different blog posts about the things she has done for Jackson this year and thank you will never be enough.  And then there is Embry’s Preschool and the teachers there who loved her and all of us through a time of transition.  I am not sure there is a way to say thank you or goodbye to the people that touch your children’s lives.

The Colleagues

We had our retirement breakfast at school this morning and here is a shocker…I cried.  It is such a time of celebration for the people that dedicated their lives for 27 years plus to kids.  They are the people whose families missed out on time with them, the people who spent hours at school on weekends, the people who spent money they didn’t have on supplies their students needed, and the people who made sure new teachers survived their first years.  For me it is a time of not only being happy for them but knowing how I will miss their smiling faces in the halls, how the kids will miss the hugs and love they provided on bad days, and how our school will miss their dedication and leadership.


There is one teacher in particular leaving this year that taught me more about living life and teaching than she will ever realize.  I won’t name her here because that’s not the kind of person she is.  She is the person who has stood in the shadows so others, especially her students can shine.  When I hear Tim McGraw’s new song “Humble and Kind” she is the first face I see because she if always humble and kind.  It will just never be the same without her.

The Best Friends

This has by far been the hardest part of teaching for me…the colleagues that have become lifelong friends.  I never fully recovered from my main man Joe Payne leaving me and this year my “other Joe” is spreading his wings and going as well.  This quote summed up my feelings on this quite well:

“It’s painful to say goodbye to someone you that you don’t want to let go.  But it’s more painful to ask someone to stay if you know they really want to go.”

I remember discussing in an Educational Leadership class that the true mark of a good leader is helping others become strong leaders.  I am not conceded enough to believe any of these individuals are better leaders or more successful because of me, but I do think it speaks to the kind of people I have been able to surround myself with.  They are game changers and the finest educators I have had the opportunity to work in a building with.  It has been an honor to work with you.

If you see me anytime in the next two days I will be a mess for the record…I will be trying to figure out how I now have a 3rd Grader and Kindergartener, I will be trying to figure out how to say goodbye to some kids that really touched my heart, I will be trying to figure out how to go to work next year in my pod without one of my favorite people, and I will be trying to figure out how to say goodbye to lifelong friends.    However the beauty of teaching is that it is like an eternal spring, after the goodbyes are said and the classrooms are packed up they will be unpacked again and ready for a whole new group of people to touch my heart.  In the meantime I will be thankful I have people and a profession in my life that make it hard to say goodbye.

The Problem With Teaching

I taught some lessons I was really proud of last week.  I taught the Mathalicious Cartogra-Fail lesson about the Mercator Projection map and its inaccuracies which the kids LOVED (please try Mathalicious if you haven’t!!)  and then the Warriors won game 73 beating the 95-95 Bulls record and providing us with a great opportunity to use Statistics to compare the teams and debate the better team!  I went home exhausted and fulfilled last week and then let some bitterness set in.  I thought to myself, “those were awesome lessons but yet they are recognized no more than the days I teach the not so good ones.”  I had a little pity party for myself…why work hard and be an effective teacher if it isn’t valued any more than ineffective teaching…I thought “That’s the problem with teaching”.

I pulled myself out of the pity party but can’t get that question out of my head…what is the problem with teaching?

The problem with teaching is that when you’ve spent hours developing a lesson and you think it was totally lost on your class that one student stays after to say thank you Ms. Powers I loved that.

The problem with teaching is that when you have nearly given up on developing a positive relationship with a student and fear you will never reach them they bring you a video of them winning their last track meet and beam with pride as you watch.

The problem with teaching is when you think the kids aren’t learning anything from you and you are ready to throw in the towel  you get an amazing e-mail from a parent about how their child came home talking about wealth distribution in America and thanking you for making math both real and exciting.

The problem with teaching is the student teachers that come into your life and when you feel unappreciated and unimportant thank you for being their mentor and pushing them to be better teachers.

The problem with teaching is that when you have nothing more to give and your own life is falling apart that your co-workers will pick you up and carry you over the finish line.

The problem with teaching is when you are scooping goldfish into bags after dinner to get ready for an activity the next day instead of playing with your own children your son will say, “mom I hope I have a math teacher like you when I am in middle school”.

The problem with teaching is there is no problem with teaching.  It nourishes me, it fills my soul, it makes me complete.  There are problems a plenty in education…policy, evaluations, politics and more but trust me there is no problem with teaching.



Keeping Teachers in the Classroom, My Thoughts From ECET KY

Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers

I had never been to an ECET (Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers) conference until last weekend.  I was excited when I got the invitation and Meme Ratliff and her team certainly did not disappoint.  I think any opportunity I have as a teacher to be surrounded by other teacher leaders is always important as it inspires me and nourishes my soul and ECET did that.  However ECET also left a lasting impression on my thoughts of teacher leadership in Kentucky.

Moving Up the Ladder

I feel like it is human nature to believe we are all supposed to “move up the ladder”.  From corporations to public service it seems in order to be deemed successful that we must always be looking to moving on the next big thing, project, or promotion.  Teaching is no different.  We seem to encourage our best and brightest teachers to become administrators, curriculum coaches, district specialists, curriculum writers, and more in order to acknowledge their effectiveness.  However, each time one of the teachers makes that move we are also robbing classrooms full of students from the inspiration, expertise, and attention that teacher once provided.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying teachers shouldn’t make the move up the educational ladder but I am also intrigued by thoughts of giving effective teachers incentive to take on larger leadership roles while staying in the classroom.

I loved hearing Robin Thacker’s story at ECET.  Robin was a teacher who did what so many of us do and moved to assistant principal, principal and beyond only to find her heart and soul remained in the classroom.  I thought it was amazing to hear how she finally followed her heart instead of her head and went back to the classroom whether it was what people believed to be a good career move or not.  Robin’s students are lucky to have her as is Kentucky education as she is a powerhouse teacher leader but the thought remains in my head, how do we keep teacher’s like Robin in the classroom?

Here I Am

I would venture to guess that I hear at least 15 times a week that I won’t stay in the classroom much longer.  I am not sure what drives people to say this to me but I feel there is always a voice in my ear telling me to do curriculum work, to consult, to be an administrator or put my “talents” to use being more than “just” a teacher.  Here’s the problem…I don’t want to.  I love walking into my classroom everyday.  I am exhausted, perpetually behind, sometimes feel like I could do more but I love that classroom.  I love the look on kids faces when they finally get a difficult topic, I love how excited they are when I show up at their basketball game, I love that they go home and occasionally share with their parents a cool real-world lesson we did for the day, I just love them…even the ones who make it hard.

Do I lack motivation or drive because I am content spending my days in a classroom rather than in meetings?  Maybe I do I have no idea, but I do know I love teaching Kentucky’s kids.  For now I fill the need to “move-up” by volunteering in many teacher leadership roles which is very fulfilling as well.  Conferences like ECETKY definitely help do this for lots of teachers across the state, as do things like Hope Street Group, EngageEd Kentucky, and lots of others that are too numerous to name.  However I also think it is time we think of more ways to keep Kentucky’s teacher leaders right where they should be…in front of kids.

For the record I have no idea what the solution to this problem is.  I don’t fault any of my great friends who have left teaching for other education pathways.  They did what was right for them.  I don’t doubt the need for good administrators just as much as the need for good teachers.  However I also think there is a need to continue to cultivate the power of Kentucky’s teacher leaders.  There is a need to give teachers an incentive to take on larger leadership roles at a local, regional and state level.  However there is also desperation to keep our best and brightest in the classroom for Kentucky’s kids.

Classroom Happenings 2.1

I can’t believe it is February!  I am excited to wrap up the percent part of ratios and proportions this week and head into Geometry!  I think we have some cool stuff going on this week I thought I would share!

Weekly Math Coversheet 2.1

I don’t think I have paid enough attention to the generating equivalent expressions piece when it comes to percents and was determined to get it worked in better this year.  Those games you used to play in elementary school when you come up with as many words as you can from a given word and thought it would be a great way to kick that off.  You can find the worksheet I made here!  Equivalent Percent Expressions

Other things going on this week are the Mathalicious lesson Biggest Loser.  Please note this is the one Mathalcious lesson that I don’t use the teacher or student guide for.  I focus strictly on the percent of change and why that is a better measure for selecting the winner than pounds lost.

I will follow that up with this great Illustrative Math task.

By the end of the week we will have some review stations set up as well but I haven’t gotten those quite figured out yet but will post when and if I do!

Stay tuned for some great Algebra I stuff from my friend Jill as well!  What are you doing this week?