Tuesday, January 29, 2008

It's not always my junk

There's been junk going on with some of the staff at school. Nothing that needs to be recounted here.

I managed to put it aside as an irritation for a large part this weekend. But when this I finally started dealing with it Sunday evening, it hit hard. Yesterday I went to school hoping to talk things through with my assistant principal, but he was out sick. I just felt more and more frustrated with the situation and didn't have a sense of how to handle it.

Was able to talk to the a.p. before school this morning. He reassured me that this is not my junk. It's a simple conversation, really, but one that can happen all too rarely.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Excuse or explanation? You decide.

School Schedule This Week

Monday: Off for MLK Jr. Day

Tuesday: Full day, normal schedule

Wednesday: Early release, 11 am

Thursday: Full day, Weird Assembly Times (9th and 11th graders for one hour, 10th and 12th graders for a second hour--note, hours not aligned with bell schedule). Tutoring canceled on account of basketball games.

Friday: Apparently half day, Release at 12 for funeral. Mentor Groups during 3rd period. Apparently going to 4th period to wait to be told to go to lunch.

Given that, coming up with three posts is hard. On the plus side, I had three students sign up for tutoring today. Even if they couldn't stay, there may be hope? (Of course, one of these also refused to take her quiz. "I don't remember any of this." Furthering my suspicion that her A on the midterm was due to some level of cheating.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Goodness gracious

Classroom management becomes much more difficult when all of the other schools in the area are having a snow day. Then my students came into third period (the one where I was scheduled to be observed today) telling me of an early dismissal in 30 minutes. Lovely.

After the buses left, I stopped by the office to check my box. Some of the sample textbooks I requested a week ago have arrived. I jumped up and down, clapped my hands, and said "Goody, goody gumdrops." Wow.

The timing means I actually have time to look at the books. Not thoroughly, but enough to be excited to have more materials to draw on for inspiration. I should have started requesting samples earlier.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Making good on my resolution

I didn't start off the year completely following through with my resolution to post positive stories from this year. I made it half-way--writing entries but not editing them enough to post them.

Today we had inservice. I tried out my new mindmapping program to take notes on the speaker and edited the posts. They're all uploaded now, and backdated so that when I go through this blog to review the year I'll know when things actually happened. I don't think I have enough readers yet to worry about upsetting anyone. If it offends you, sorry.

No longer paying attention to inservice...

I think part of my bind with the General Math is not knowing what the class is supposed to be. I don't know how students are sorted into general math versus pre-algebra.

Yesterday, I gave a lesson on using the Order of Operations. The two boys who I suspect are ADD were done with the assignment before we'd made it through the first example. (And of course I couldn't find the right puzzle to keep them going for the rest of class.) On the other end of the spectrum, one student couldn't multiply 7 and 1 without looking at a multiplication chart. Obviously I need some serious differentiation.

This weekend, I'm heading out of town. Some friends convinced me to buy a ski pass when they were on sale in October. I've never been downhill skiing before, but I went ahead and bought it knowing that I need to take myself away from town sometimes in order to give myself a mental break.

I'm taking the computer with me, but I don't know if I'll have internet access. Hopefully I'll be able to step back enough to get a sense of where this class (and all there others) are going to go.

Reflections during inservice

The prayer at the beginning of the day. The songs on the drum, so solid that the room buzzes with the vibrating sound. These are the moments that help me remember that this area is a separate nation. A reminder that I am living in a foreign land.

We talk a lot about the native language dying. What I rarely hear is a discussion of how quickly, how easily, languages die. Preventing one generation from learning the language is really all it takes. The next generation the grandparents know the language, but the parents don't. Children are able to understand bits of the language they hear from grandparents, but so few are able to speak it themselves. I think any skill works this way--I didn't grow up baking bread the way my grandmother did. But I've been able to learn how to bake from cookbooks and the little experience I had when my grandmother was younger. I wonder what resources will be available in the future to help my students learn their language.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

When a test makes me happy

The ASVAB was being offered at our school today. When they were calling students to take it, Z was on the list.

It made me smile. I've been encouraging him to sign up for it since he mentioned wanting to join the arm last week. I have no idea how he'll do. I don't know nearly enough about the test. He's smart, but I still wouldn't be surprised if he didn't score high enough to enlist. At this point, I'm excited that he actually signed up. Evidence that somehow the constant encouragement (which I won't take all the credit for, but want to claim part of) is making a difference. He's taking steps toward the future. Signing up for the test is a baby step, sure. But even baby steps can get us somewhere.

I hope he was here to take it.

Edit: He was.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Requesting Curriculum Advice

Last Wednesday, while I was teaching Algebra II, I was informed that I would be teaching General Math starting this week. Or rather, I was asked to teach it at the same time that I was teaching Geometry. I refused to do that, but was put down for it anyway.

Things have worked out so that I do not have to teach two courses in one period, but I am up to four preps. Only one has a textbook or any curriculum that's worth using.

I am figuring out where to get resources online for the algebra and geometry courses. I've gotten in the hang of pulling material from my shelf of sample Algebra textbooks. They're not outstanding lessons. Not the most interesting notes. They're plagiarized left and right, but it was working for me.

I have no resources for this new course. The principal told me that he thought it would be "easy to teach." The curriculum coordinater directed me to edhelper, but I can't help but feel that students who have been worksheeted on the same material since elementary school are not going to learn it any better this year if I just give them worksheets.

For my diagnostic, I used California's released questions for fourth graders. (South Dakota doesn't release questions.) The students told me that they want to work on fractions, decimals, and percents. They want to learn exponents. Looking at the first part of the diagnostic, they need to learn multiplication and division first. Or alongside. Or....how do I work this?

I've requested sample textbooks from various companies, hoping that I'll find something that will help me with this latest class. (My favorite, based solely on online descriptions, is Fantasy Sports Math via my mother and Only a Game.)

Any resource recommendations from anyone out there? What do you use to help teach high schoolers who are at an elementary level?

Attitude workout

My resolution to write regular positive posts is supposed to be an exercise for me in part so that it's easier for me to decide to come back next year.

This week the exercise is a challenge. We have a new semester starting with the new class schedule (that I'm unhappy with). We have G-Testing in a set-up that frustrates me.

This week, my attitude's not where it should be and that's my fault. Hopefully this attitude workout helps.

The students in my new class are mostly freshmen. The students in my other classes are predominately juniors and seniors. Spending the classtime with the younger students gives me a better perspective about the differences between age levels. It helps me remember that all of my students are on a journey and that I am only with them for a short walk along the way. While we walk together we shape each other paths, but it such an incomplete picture of each other. Remembering that perspective, remembering how much my students walk apart from me and how much I walk apart from them is valuable.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Getting my priorities straight

I haven't kept up on my resolution to post more. Or rather the posts I have need to be edited before I publish them.

I haven't gotten all of my grades in the computer (they're due in the morning).
I don't know what in the world I'm doing with the general math class that starts tomorrow (I was told last Wednesday that I'd be teaching it).

Actually, I'm not 100% sure what I'm doing with my other classes either, at least after we've reviewed the midterm. Having a standardized test go on during one class period means all the Algebras get out of sync if I continue with plan. My out of sync geometries are getting combined. And advanced math, who knows.

But I couldn't stop thinking about Dan's contest. I've had sketches for a week and the deadline's in two hours. Sneaking it in before getting the last grades in and getting some sleep.

Disclaimer, this isn't where I want it to be at all. Colors. Charts. Lines. Pictures. I just got Keynote and Number and am still trying to figure out how to do everything I want. Really, this is the first draft on the computer. I just knew I'd regret it if I didn't get something pulled out now.

And for what it's worth, this is pretty much the conversation I had on the plane to point Q 3.5 weeks ago.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Topping it off

Another day with two highlights. I'm going to keep naming these while I can.

The senior capstone at my school is an extended research paper. Students choose their topic and take a semester to write it. I've been asking my seniors if I can read them as they get done. I'm not an English teacher for good reason, I don't think I could face that many papers of that low level of writing on a regular basis. Reading the journal prompts from my class can be disheartening enough.

But the papers are still beautiful. Because they choose their own topic, students are amazingly personal. C arrived in class late with her freshly printed final draft in hand. She asked if I still wanted to read it. I took a break from grading to I read an account of the Bloods on our reservation.

Weaving C's own story into the larger stories of gangs on the reservation and across the country was quite a feat. C account renews my hope of somehow reaching all students. C's currently failing my class--missed a fair amount this fall and gets frustrated because "all you do in tutoring is give us problems to practice." This essay makes it clear to me that C is in the process of changing in a good way. Somehow we're going to get through this year. C needs to pass. C needs to graduate. Let's go.


Today is midterm day. I'm working on grading previous classes as the current one tests. There are plenty of students who I feel like I've just failed as a teacher. At least they're failing my class. Even though I can tell they've learned something, it's not as much as I expect. Claiming the success seems all the more important to help encourage me. Otherwise, I'm not sure where to find the energy to keep encouraging them.

D stayed late for tutoring last night. She stayed about an extra half-hour after other people left. Grading her test was exciting. There were all these concepts that had finally clicked. The highlight from her test was watching her struggle with one of the questions I'd included to challenge my top student. It was a question pulled from an old test, but not one that we'd reviewed this week. (It was an equation whose solution does not exist.) D fought with that question, asking "Why isn't this working for me? What does it mean?" I finally told her to leave it and go on to the other questions. Because, really, she got it right. The difficulty is learning to recognize situations where you just can't go any farther.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I've actually had kids come out for tutoring this week. (Probably related to the fact that grades are due next week.) I feel overwhelmed somewhat when suddenly there are all these people in and out of my room wanting different things and always expecting me to explain everything. At the same time, I'm amazed that they're finally getting to the point of coming. Because after school, I can be more relaxed and feel like there's a better atmosphere overall. Hopefully that carries on.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Two posts today. A reminder why I'm back.

I'd said hi to Z this morning and saw him on my way to lunch. "See you after lunch?" "Think about it." "I hope that's a yes."

My classes are small overall. (Student load is not something that I should complain about.) But it's really when I'm one-on-one with students that real conversations take place. They're high schoolers. They've gotta act cool the rest of the time.

Z's class started off with three students, but with one student transfers and another one in trouble, Z's been the only one in his class for a while. That time has really allowed us to connect bit by bit. He knows that I'll give him a break at the end of class if I see that he's done the work and understands the material. Today he was complaining about having been up all last night. I was impressed with how well he did on his review. Even after his extended absence, he remembered the concepts we went over when he was last present.

He was nodding off. There wasn't time left in class to want to teach new material, so I gave him space to work on one last problem, take a break, chill, whatever.

I went back to my desk; he started putting stuff up. And then he started talking. I don't know what he did while he wasn't in school, but I was astounded by how personal our conversation became. I'm not sure what I did to deserve his trust, but the more I know about him the more I want to keep encouraging him.

Return to school

I haven't taught a class yet, but already have a hopeful post for the day.

Z stopped coming to school in October. Dropped out. A senior who I loved to brag about how smart he is, but was failing most of his classes from absences already. The school had a meeting to get him re-enrolled in November and he came for a couple of days afterwards. Only a few though. Then he was gone again.

He's back today.

I have a midterm on Friday. He's missed two months. This isn't going to be easy.

But he's back.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Resolution 2008

The general ideas:
  1. To actually use this blog
  2. To make myself think of the positive and not feel overwhelmed by the negatives
  3. To share ideas of what's working for me
The plan of attack:
  1. Write at least three times a week about something good that's happening at school. When there's a related resource that I think is worth sharing, do it.