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?

 

 

 

Classroom Happenings 1/25

7th Grade Math

Funny story….

We only went to school one day last week due to Winter Storm  Jonas and its precursor storm so this week I am going to do those things I said I was going to do last week.  There is a slight chance that one the one day we went to school I got a wild hare and did the Mathalicious lesson PayDay.  The kids always love this lesson and think it hilarious to learn about how many years it would take me to earn what Lebron James does in a year.  (Here’s a hint I’ll be dead before it happens haha!)

 

I will add in a Mathalcious lesson this week called Time of Your Life mainly because my Facebook Timehop reminded me I did it this week last year and it is one of the best so I will teach it this year and add more of a percent twist in my questioning and conversation.

 

Algebra I

We are working on polynomials right now, I have two quick activities to share thanks to my wonderful teaching counterpart Jill!

The first is a Adding and Subtracting Polynomials Partner Activity  You give each student one of the polynomial cards (or you could even have them write their own which I did one class period when I realized the other class threw the cards away.)  They then travel around the room “partnering up” up with people and following the directions on their sheet.  This is a great way to get the kids up and around the room!

 

The second is a simple factoring Bingo activity called Matho that is just a more fun way to do some of that GCF practice.

 

What are you doing in your room this week?

 

 

Lessons From a Sellout

When I moved back to Kentucky after five years of successful teaching in Virginia I found myself basically unemployable by every school I applied to. I am not sure if it was my lack of going through the Kentucky Teacher Internship Program, a license that seemed to take forever to get accepted by Kentucky, or my lack of inside connections in any school system but I literally only got one interview and job offer that summer that I quickly accepted. By all accounts the school I was hired at would be labeled a “failing school” by our current legislature but I loved it. I was excited about the opportunity to help the students that needed me most and can honestly say I gave those kids everything I had for 177 days, and then at the end of the year like so many teachers in these “failing schools” I left.

I have felt like a sell out since the day I walked out of that school and into a school that would be labeled as a “distinguished school” by our current standards. My plight has supposedly always been to teach the most struggling learners however when presented with the opportunity I fled. Today each time I turn on the news or open the paper I am bombarded with thoughts on Governor Bevin’s plan to begin charter schools in our state to fix Kentucky’s “failing school problem” and I can’t help but think we are missing the boat. I felt like it was time to share my story as the teacher that sold out on the dream of teaching in a failing school and what is keeping me from going back.

My Own Reasons for Leaving

You’ll hear many people point to behavior issues as the reason teachers flee these failing schools. I can tell you that wasn’t even on the radar for me. I loved those kids. I taught five classes a day and four of them were amongst the “lowest level” math classes in the building but those kids learned EVERY DAY. They wanted to learn, they wanted to participate, and they wanted to be loved and cared for. I am telling you right now you put a loving, energetic and positive teacher in those rooms and those kids will learn. I guarantee it.

Did they do their homework? Rarely.

Were they angels every day? Not even close.

Was it exhausting? Beyond it.

Did they learn? Absolutely.

I remember when K-Prep test scores came out the following year I was desperate to find out how my kids did. Finally when the scores became public I got the validation I needed. Those lowest four classes had knocked their previous scores out of the park. Were they the highest in the state? Hardly, but those kids GREW and in my mind it was all that mattered. In my mind I had proven that those perpetually “failing kids” and “failing classrooms” weren’t hopeless but at the same time it was too late for me to help them I had already sold out and gone somewhere “better”.

A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

The first issue for “failing schools” is that label of failing. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy; you label something as failing it is sure going to fail. Why can’t we implement a growth mind set approach just like we do in our classrooms with these schools. It is time to stop calling them “failing schools” and start calling them growing schools, yet schools, schools of the future, anything but failing. Kids aren’t stupid and take a great amount of ownership in their schools, they aren’t going to work hard at a school that we carelessly judge and label as failing, that’s a fact.

If we want to fix these failing schools the solution isn’t charters as Governor Bevin suggests, it isn’t overhauling the Kentucky education system, it isn’t repealing Common Core, it simply comes down to believing that all students can learn at a high level and deserve a quality education. Districts need to put their best administrators and teachers in their neediest schools and give them the freedom to make change. Too often we take the best faculty out of these schools and put them in “better schools” because that is seen as a step up or a promotion. When I taught in the “failing school” I frequently felt looked down upon as if I was a better teacher I would be teaching at a better school and to be quite honest now that I am in one of the better schools I feel that my ideas and philosophies are given way more merit than when I was at failing school.

Time to Invest

There are some amazing teachers showing up at “failing schools” every day. They are there early and stay late. They are giving those kids everything they have. They don’t look at their kids or schools as failing they look at them as growing but they need support. It is time for Governor Bevin, the legislature, and district leadership to gather around these failing schools. Bashing these failing schools and calling for their replacement in the media isn’t the answer. Throwing money at the problem isn’t going to address the issue either. Instead investing time in believing the kids in these schools deserve the best teachers and administrators will. A charter school with poor leadership and support will fail just as quickly as a public school with the same issue. It is time to invest in the future of our most struggling learners.

Classroom Happenings 1/18

I have decided to try (notice I said try) something new for a few weeks and share what is going on in my classroom.  I know teachers are always looking for resources to put to use so I thought I would try and make it a bit easier to find some of my go to things this way!

We are currently wrapping up 7.RP.3 in the ratio and proportions unit.  Last week we focused on mentally finding percents and estimating tips.  We did lots of silent teaching which I promise to blog about soon and a lot of mental math.

 

One of the things I have started doing is giving the kids a weekly cover sheet for keeping track of vocabulary, tracking goals, etc.  You can find this weeks here:

Weekly Math Coversheet 1.18

We are going to be doing a lot of real world problem solving and you can find lots of the activities linked below:

Jock Tax

Dueling Discounts

Homework Assignments:

Double Discounts

Tax & Tip

25% sale

 

I have one last activity I am still working out in my head that I will share when I decide if it is brilliant or terrible!

Have a great week!

 

 

Core Advocates

A big thanks to the Student Achievement Partners for including me in their Core Advocates weekend and for featuring me in their newsletter this month!

Until last Saturday, I thought I was pretty successful at teaching the Common Core Math Standards. I have written numerous blog posts about how Common Core has transformed my classroom into a stronger learning environment for all learners, praised its effects on learning to parents, and have been a champion in my district for its implementation. After having the opportunity to attend the Core Advocates weekend put on by the Student Achievement Partners, it is safe to say that I now realize I have just begun to tap the potential of the Common Core’s power.

 

In many ways, it is humbling to walk into a room with some of the most inspiring teachers in Kentucky and national Achieve the Core leaders; however, there wasn’t much time to stand in awe of their power as we had our learning cut out for us over the course of the next two days.  The big idea of the weekend was examining the shifts in the Common Core Standards, specifically focus, coherence, and rigor. Each of these pieces provided me with another lens through which to view the Standards that would enable me to be a better and more effective teacher leader.

 

Without a doubt the focus aspect blew me away. I have read the focus standards repeatedly yes but somehow never connected the fact that 75-80% of teacher time was supposed to be spent on these specific standards. For example, in Kentucky’s 7th grade math unit, we only dedicate 60% of the time to these focus standards as we have divided the time up equally among the five domains. Furthermore, our state test is modeled in the same manner with 40% of our assessment covering the content standards we are only supposed to spend 20% of the time covering.

 

I have been as guilty as the next person of pointing my finger at prior grade levels and lamenting that “if only they had done a better job teaching Common Core I could be more successful”. The Core Advocates convening showed me that beauty of the Core comes in the coherence it achieves. No matter what happened previously the Standards always give teachers a chance to wrap that content and bring it right back around to where you need students to be. We had the opportunity to work with teachers from numerous grade levels to see the innumerable connections that were woven into Common Core. From as early as Kindergarten children are on the pathway to success in Algebra and it is our job as teachers to keep weaving those connections in for student success.

 

As a seventh grade teacher I have complained for four years about how disjointed the 7th grade math standards are. I felt like a complete Common Core novice after working through the coherence piece with my state colleagues. Absolutely every standard K-8 is intentional, is linked, and is necessary exactly where it is placed. Those disjointed 7th grade standards I once complained about are actually perfectly aligned. The geometry standards link right back into all three focus units while the probability standards can be directly related to the number system standards. It would be impossible for me to ever look at the standards the same way again after seeing the intentionality that was placed in writing each one.

 

The rigor piece is definitely where I was in my comfort zone since rigor has been my passion since I implemented Common Core in my classroom. It was still so very valuable to have meaningful conversations with other teachers about the true meaning of rigor. No it isn’t harder worksheets or more work but instead equal focus on concepts, skills, and application. No one piece of the three is any more valuable than the other and all three must be present to truly achieve any of the Common Core standards.

 

Here’s my big takeaway from the weekend; it is time to start working with each other to put the Common Core back together. We have spent four years deconstructing, replacing, clarifying and blaming; now, we have to go back, reconstruct, and start looking at the big picture. It is time to stop pointing our fingers and blaming the Core or the content that came before us and start seeing the beauty in the coherence of the Core and the ability to constantly wrap the content around for learners. It is time to stop looking at Common Core as about politics, money, schools or teachers and start realizing it is about learners. Our students deserve better. Our students deserve the Common Core how it was intended in its entirety, not just as a deconstructed check list of skills.