Monday, September 21, 2009

Song for South Dakota Moves

July--I told Jackie and Kate I'd put this video up soon.

August--My students started school. I told myself it was a good time to put this up.

September--I'm starting school. Really, it's now or never. I'm moving on. New blog is over there. Bookmark it. Add it to your feeder. Remove this one except for archival purposes.

But before you do, a sense of what was going through my mind as I drove cross-country this summer. (With apologies to everyone who actually cares about moviemaking. I don't do even well holding a video camera.)

P.S. Sorry about using copyrighted music. It's the soundtrack of my South Dakota moves. For the proper feeling pull back your hair, roll down the windows, and belt it out. Alternatively burst into tears. I don't recommend the alternative.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dispatch While Moving

The new teachers are here. Interviewing right now. (My students are waiting for reports on what they're like.) They're asking for advice, wanting to know what I've picked up out here. The best I'll offer, build your support network. And then expand it.

Other people get by with less, but I've drawn support from across the board. Family and college friends, especially the teachers among them. Teachers at my school and the other TFAers in my state. Local people, be they from a church off the reservation or on the other side of the window at my post office.

The people who have surprised me most with their support are the ones I've found online. I would not have guessed that moving to the middle of the country, I'd connect with teachers all over. I had friends with LiveJournals, but didn't know about the edublogging world until I stumbled upon dy/dan

Ain't that the way it goes? One minute you're trying to remember the name of that site that lets you make big posters out of any-sized picture. The next you're going through archives and blogrolls, stealing lesson ideas along the way.

I immediately started building the connections. Joining conversations in the comments of my favorite blogs and eventually writing here. I discovered this group of people eager to share ideas and experiences. They represent the variety of schools across the country (even the globe). Urban to rural. One-to-one to we have computers? Preservice teachers to retirees. Sometimes it was important for me to remember that not every school is like mine. Other times they remind me that really, kids are kids and we're working toward a common goal.

Last year, I noticed people joining Twitter. I stalked them for months before signing up so I could write back. After sharing so many stories from our classrooms, the connections formed though internet cables begin to feel tangible. Sam Shah summed it up.
Okay, I know that these people aren’t my friends. And that I’m not ever going to meet them in real life, for the most part. But I’ve actually come to care when someone’s kid is angry at them or when someone’s husband was in the hospital.
When I start talking about the online people too much, people say, "But they aren't really your friends." Like Sam, I know there's truth in the statement, and yet when I broke down and joined Facebook the first people to actually ask to be friends (rather than accept invites) are people who I might never meet, oceans and continents being what they are. I have eaten their Christmas cookies and mailed them my mixed CD. If that doesn't qualify you as a friend who helped me face the challenges of teaching, I don't know what does.

Monday, May 25, 2009

True Notebooks

Since starting the class two years earlier, I'd had plenty of opportunities to wonder: What is the value of a positive experience if it is only temporary? How do you weight the advantages against the disadvantages of affection, or of aspiration? After all I'd been through with the boys--some of it wonderful and some of it terrible--all I could say was that a little good has got to be better than no good at all. That, I wrote Kevin, was my answer to his question of why I went there: not because I always enjoyed it, and not because the boys always enjoyed it, but because most of us seemed to agree that it was a good thing to do.

~page 323, True Notebooks by Mark Salzman

I copied this quote when I first read True Notebooks sophomore year of college. Found it in my journal this fall and was inspired to reread the book as a teacher. I'm finally returning the book to my friend and flipped though, just to find the quote again.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Prayer from the Last Day of School

I picked up my copy during third period. There is now a photo on Bebo of me reading it to two of my Blueberry Girls.

Friday, May 15, 2009

"Two Years"

Sam comes into my room early morning. She's here to have me sign her checkout form. "You're my last signature." Everything's in order for graduation.

"See you in class, Ms. Cannon." 
"Really? Are you done painting your senior tile? Will graduation practice be done?"
"I dunno."
"Don't make promises then. I'll see you later."

Fourth period, last chance to attend class as a student, Sam sneaks in just after the bell. My plan this week is having students study old skills, present mini-lessons, and retake quizzes. I try to have her help some other students study a topic she's been working on, but when she ends up in a back desk, earbuds in, gazing at the word wall, I'm not bothered. Just curious what she's thinking.

"Two years this room."

From this desk to that one. From head-on-the-desk refusing to try to serious dedication getting things done. When I asked the vice principal about her two years ago, I was told stories of fights the year before. How a summer program transformed her and she was working for everyone else. I wondered how to get her to work for me.

I can't give you the recipe. It didn't work for everyone. But eventually, something clicked with Sam. After Failing my class last year (sorry), Sam made it through the first one and a half quarters this year. By third quarter she was back in the danger zone, with graduation requirements looming. I showed her exactly what she needed to do to get any grade she decided to aim for. It would take work, but we'd make it happen.

And happen it did. Up to passing in time for prom, Sam kept working. Celebrating each baby step along the way, passing wasn't enough. She wanted the best she could earn.

"Two years." 

At the Wacipi that afternoon, Sam hands me an envelope. Graduation invitation. Inside is another card that says "Thank You." The note inside is exactly what I needed to hear.

"You helped me more than anything."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Stay ability

If you click my profile, you'll see the Ethics of Service blog. Last year I was asked to contribute to the class blog for a class of the same name. Even though the class ended a year ago, I posted again in December about the decision to leave. Wanted to share this with you.

On Leaving

I don't know if anyone will read this, but this seems like the appropriate space for sharing my current reflection process. I'm struggling with the ethics of ending service.

I'm working on my grad school applications, planning to leave the reservation next year. Yet when the security guard asked me yesterday if I would be back next year, I said I didn't know. Although I do not feel called to teach for the rest of my life, and want to attend graduate school, I'm experiencing guilt for this decision.

They didn’t expect me to make it through my first year. On my first day of school, I allowed students to ask me questions. The most frequent question was, “How long will you be here?” Time and again they have been abandoned. By teachers. By family. By volunteers who are here for a week of their summer, leaving to tell stories of the difficulty of these people's lives.

My return from Christmas convinced some students that I would make it through the year; they never said the words, but their attitude toward me changed. Girls who had walked out of class refusing to do work, moved to the front of the room to work on the board and stayed afterschool for extra help. While I know my teaching has improved, my continued return has gained a trust that transforms my classroom. Stability--stay ability--is a gift they do not receive often enough.

When I leave, whether it's next year or 15 years in the future, I will add more instability to the system. My time here has been longer than the summer volunteers, but I wonder how much good we do. I have to believe that the benefits we help bring outweigh the cost of this unstable system. Have to hope that my presence for two years is more meaningful than the absence I replaced. Have to trust that someone else will fill in the void I leave.

TFA is sometimes said to stand for "Teach for Awhile." The program's only been at my school for 3 years. One-third of the first corps has stayed for their third year. And even leaving after two years we are more constant than the one year teachers who were here before us. Still, I'm afraid of this system that says, it's okay to be here a little while. A little while may be better than never, but some days I'm not sure.

Two Weeks Notice

Face-to-face friends know it. I told people on Twitter when I clicked the button. And have been telling students through a gradual process for a few months.

I'm not coming back next year. Not to the reservation and not to teaching. At least not directly.

I'm going to graduate school. 

FAQ (Minus the Q)

A1. Northwestern. 

A2. Human Development and Social Policy. 

A3/4. PhD program. 5 years.

A5. Interdisciplinary program. I'm excited to explore statistical analysis of schools and policy. Especially after seeing how the numbers play out in reality.

A6. I'm sure I'll keep blogging, but not here. This is my teacher blog. If I'm not a teacher at the time, then this isn't the place. There are two weeks left this school year. I'll transition to a new space online as I transition to the new place.

I made a list last night of posts before I leave, but this is your warning that a bookmark shift will be in order soon.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Song from the Mean Teacher

Paul Ford's six-word description is "Perfect for prepping for your finals." Video below for easy listening, but download at SXSW.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Why I Haven't Shared More of the NaPoWriMo

April 30

It's the students who tell the counselor, "Yeah she's a fair grader," even though they're still failing. (But getting better.)

It's the "I'm going to get a bunch of people to tell you to come back next year." (Followed by threats of leaving too.)

It's the dropping in and chillin'. Talking 'bout what's wrong with the rez. (Gang violence and I look at the blue shirt, the matching hat on backwards.)

It's the celebrating milestones, baby victories along the way. Asking "Who should I call to brag on you."

It's the knowledge that I will not lower my expectations no matter how who bullies.

And it's some kind of hope in those convictions that bring me in day after day.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


It started innocently. A student sighed saying she couldn't wait for graduation. I asked what she planned to do next year.

The conversation quickly turned to what you're allowed do to on probation. You can go to school and do your basics. You cannot join the National Guard. Huh. Not information I was equipped with. And then I learned more.

At the mention of probation another student joined the conversation. He brought news of a classmate who's been out dealing with legal troubles. 

I knew there had been a hearing, but I didn't know about the house arrest. Nor did I know about taking off the ankle bracelet. Disappearing. Running away. Becoming a fugitive. He doesn't want to make it easy for them, but I worry about making it harder on himself.

I watch the growing hopelessness, his poetry pleading with Creator.  I imagine him hiding from the feds, and shake my head. Smart kid, dumb decisions.

"He had everything going for him," they say. But everything here isn't always enough.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Observers Comment on This

Not that I get observed frequently. But at least two people have commented on my trick of writing on the desks. When I'm walking around the room helping students, I carry a marker and an eraser. If students want to use them to do the work,  I have extras. I'm not sure how I started doing this, but it's one of my favorite teacher tricks.


What do you see here?
9. MacArthur Lock is 80 feet wide.
Right angles.
Either I hadn't prepared my class for this or else I had trained them too well.
Show us. Where are those? What else do you see?

A prism.
Parallel lines.
After a few more conversations along this line.

Is that really the first thing you see when you look at this? Because the first thing I see is a boat.

Oh, yeah. I see that too.
Last week was a rough one for me. I'd done enough prepartion the weekend before that I could coast until Friday. But Thursday night I was not up for planning. Most classes needed to practice. There were worksheets I could photocopy. It wasn't going to be a day I was proud of, but I'd get through it.

I wanted to do something better for my Geometry class. We'd gone over basic formulas for volume on Thursday. The dozen practice problems felt too light to me. I flipped through the textbooks on my shelf for inspiration.

The textbook problem (Geometry Concepts and Skills by McDougal Littel)
Lake Superior is about 22 feet higher than Lake Huron. In order for ships to safely pass from one lake to the other, they must go through one of the four Soo Locks. 

Water is added to the MacArthur Lock until the height is increased by 22 feet. To find the amount of water added to the lock find the volume of a rectangular prism with a length of 800 feet, a width of 80 feet, and a height of 22 feet.

How many gallons of water are added to the MacArthur Lock to raise the ship to the level of Lake Superior? Use the fact that 1 cubic ft~7.5 gal.
I've read Dan's evangelism about What Can We Do With This? and rants against textbooks enough to see a good set-up.

During my prep, I found a couple of photos of the lock. I pulled them into Keynote. I memorized a couple of numbers, tagged an animation of how locks worked for good measure.

After the class had finished listing what they saw in the original photo I flipped to the second. Same lock. No boat. And the water level was lower. 
What's going on here?

The boat's gone.

The buildings are gone.
Yeah, this was last minute. I didn't find the perfect pictures shot at the same angle. We acknowledged that.
What else happened?

The ground's higher.

No, the water's lower.
These aren't classes that are usually that engaged. But all my students were involved in this discussion. Someone in each class knew what a canal was and could describe how it worked. I never used that animation.

I asked them what the math question was. They went for volume. I asked them what information they needed and provided it as they asked. Happily the numbers I memorized were in different units.

I enjoyed that different periods were more varied than I usually have while both reached the major objectives. One of the classes converted to gallons the other was happy to leave it in cubic feet. In one class we estimated the width of the boat and how much wiggle room it had in the canal, the other class didn't inspire that question.
So how did you like this method compared with the usual?

I really liked it! Look at how much we got done! It's like we've already done all our homework.
And then they chased each other around the room instead of practicing a few more problems. Guess I can't win all the time.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dose of Cuteness

Cabin fever sent me to town today. Perusing the local bookstore I discovered Norton Juster's The Dot & the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics. It's cute, cheesy, and nerdy all at once. In other words perfect for my current mood. I read the entire book in the store, bought it, and just ended a skype call with storytime. 

Apparently the book, originally published in 1963, was made into an Academy Award winning short. It's on YouTube. I prefer the book, though given that the movie is the exact text I think it reveals my  preference for the print medium. If you aren't familiar, acquaint yourself.

This is for Stormy*

It's been five and half years since I had Stormy as a camper. It was the last week of summer my first year as a full-fledged counselor. Stormy was one of five girls in my cabin that week. One week out of the dozens I served on staff. But when I think about being a counselor, I think about Stormy.

She was the camper from hell. It was my worst week as a counselor. I didn't know how to handle her. Running away from the group (not a smart move in the woods). Language (I worked with the little kids where we didn't hear swear words). Violence (I don't think I'll ever forget the sight of her chasing another camper with a burning torch). Even now I shake my head thinking about it.

I can only imagine the hell she grew up in.


My mother serves on a board that offers camperships to my camp. She asked me this week about the program that sent Stormy. No hesitation. Send them. Please.


She told her contact from the program about my experience. Asked about Stormy. I wasn't surprised to hear that even for the inner-city kids the program works with, Stormy comes from a "compromised situation." Bouncing from home to home. If you call any of them a home. Brother in detention center. You know the story. We don't want to hear it, but we know it.

For five years I have hoped for the best for Stormy. I know it's unlikely. One week of camp cannot counteract the entirety of her situation. Camp should be an outlet. A chance to escape. As much as camp shaped who I am, I don't expect it to be life-changing for everyone else. Even now, reminded again of the magnitude of her drama, I pray that Stormy can find a long-term way to emerge.


And so I teach. I'm a believer in the power of education to change lives. A week at camp is a pebble in the river, but a year of school is at least a decent size rock. My students are around the age that Stormy is now. They live thousands of miles from her, but their situations aren't far removed.

I’m afraid of the times when I hear how former students are doing. I don’t want to be disappointed in them. Disappointed in me, that I wasn’t enough to launch them to some hazy vision of success. But I’m more afraid that Stormy won’t have a teacher who tries.

*Name changed. Though I did have a camper named Stormy. I hope she's blossoming into the confident young woman I saw.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Critique Needed

Today's entry for NaPoWriMo. I want to write structured poems, but this one has been bouncing around my head.

Warning: this includes four-letter words I don't say around students. (Though milder than what I hear on a daily basis.)

April 5
Not metaphorical, though it could be

There’s a pile of shit in my backyard.
Call it whatever you like,
It’s there.

Buried, for the first time, by eighteen inches of--white--snow,
I am still bothered by the thought
Of the pile three months wide.

They didn’t even dig a hole when they “fixed” the plumbing.

Other stuff is back there too.
Whatever goes down the drain, I guess.
Can’t clean inside without increasing mess.
It makes you think differently about the chemicals.
Shower suds.
Spilt milk.
Listerine, twice a day.

Is this even legal?

I started collecting vegetable peels, fruit rinds, bread
Crumbs that ease my mind--
even a little--
To compost.
Way I see it my landlord, the schoolboard, can’t complain.
This is the material that is listed on the “Do” list.
Pet feces are on the “Don’t” list.
Human? Not even mentioned.
When I take my good stuff back there,
onion skins fly away.
Sure, it looks like they are blown by the wind,
but I know they’re just as repelled as I am.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Teacher Me Envies Knitter Me

The new Knitty came out today. Knitty is the online knitting magazine that has been my go-to for patterns, techniques, and inspiration since in high school.  The arrival of a new issue is a drop-everything-and-take-an-hour-to-enjoy event.

First click, the patterns. My ritual takes me through each of then before I savor the columns. I'll imagine the possibilities and move back to the work I was doing before.

Today I noticed a change in my routine. As I'm going through patterns, I am clicking a bookmarklet in my toolbar "Ravel This." 

Ravelry is the social networking site for yarn people. That bookmarklet takes me to the site. If the pattern is already in the system (and everything I've clicked for it is) I'll go to the main page for the pattern. I can save the pattern to my favorites. Add it to my queue. Cast on and put it on my projects page.

I can see other projects from the same designer. See what other people are saying about the project. Find other people who like the project. Read blog posts from people who are making the project. Look at their photos. See their ratings. Easy or Hard? Heart or Ugh? Examine revised versions of the pattern.


When I bought sock yarn over Christmas, I entered it in my stash. I can browse projects others knit with the yarn. Buy extra from someone if I didn't have enough. Ask questions on the discussion boards. Or in one of the groups I'm in. Or by messaging one of my friends.

Where's the equivalent site for teachers? 

There are so many lesson planning libraries. Resourcing sharing sites. Wikis. Nings. TFA has one, but requires I downgrade my Firefox and is exclusive to TFA people. (I'm not comfortable with that.) 

I want the place I default to be THE place where teachers go online. To have access to all the conversations. So that when I add new slides to Dan Meyer's Geometry Curriculum I can upload them, write a quick comment, and know that anyone who looks at that week can see my revised version without changing the original for anyone. Or when I'm looking for a lesson on exponents, I don't end up looking through the variety of folders on my computer: "from Dan Greene," "from Kate, "from Nick," "from Sam," "Dan Greene Algebra 2"... I want to click the tags. Search within them. Browse a few links and be inspired. 

Please tell me where I'm supposed to go.

(Though I feel like if I haven't found my site, it's not THE site yet. Take my ideas and run. Alternatively, I'm still flexible in my plans this summer. If someone is good at web programming, I'm willing to think more about design.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Another Song for the February Break

Keeping with Dina and Kate's theme of driving, I went to my playlist "Go." I'll see you in The Middle of the World.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Warrior from the Rez Ain't Never Gonna Quit

The New York Times has a video story about a girl from the Lower Brule Reservation. It's amazing how familiar the first half of the video is*. I haven't been to Lower Brule reservation, never met Cheryl, but it captures some essence of life here.

The second half is more positive than I often feel. I see too many of my students going down without a fight. The crab story, told frequently here, doesn't quite fit. I feel like we climb half-way up the bucket, lose grip, and slide back down.

*The drums at the beginning don't sound as familiar. The ones at the pow-wow sound right.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Checking the Annual Report Off My To-Do List

I really like Dan Meyer's annual report contest. (Even though I treat it more as a meme.) Despite it being a change in the calendar, January never feels like the change of year to me. My life calendar always seems to shift in the summer months. So pausing mid-year to reflect on the changes reveals interesting behavior patterns to myself.

I wasn't sure I'd get slides done this year. Last night I sketched out some ideas in my journal and created them this evening. I'm not totally happy with everything--slides aren't as consistent as I'd like--but tweaking them to perfection is not going to be the best use of my time this weekend.

So for now, here you go.

Edit: Feb. 2, 10:56 pm. Realized last night that the labels on slide 4 were incorrect. Not that anyone else will care, but the corrected version is below.

A few final reflections.

The background picture is busy. But I wanted something that fit the "Comfort" theme. I'm waiting for some slippers to arrive, but planning on spending this weekend cozied up in PJs. You don't get much more comforting than a baby blanket.

I like not having the scale shown on these. Full confession, I did not track all of this data, so some of the numbers are guessed. My personal favorite slide is the one with the least fact behind it and my least favorite is the one where I can tell you the numbers exactly. Go figure.

Thanks to Dan for putting the challenge out there. And thanks to everyone else who got their entries in before me for the inspiration to create mine.

(A note to Alice Mercer: I really liked the text as background on your slides and originally planned on adapting that idea. I had planned on using my parent's pizza recipe (I freestyle mine anymore), directions to a friend's ranch, the pattern for the lace shawl I knitted, and the text from last year's entry to the same context.)

With that, I'm off to bed and the rest of the weekend.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

What We're Up Against

"Ms. Cannon, how old are you?"


"Man, if I was twenty-three, I wouldn't be teaching. I'd be living it up. What are you doing teaching?"

"Because then I get to see your face make expressions like that one."

"I'd be living it up. I wouldn't be a teacher and I wouldn't be teaching Indian kids."

"Wait. Why wouldn't you be teaching Indian kids?"

"Because we're dumb, man."

It's not a unique conversation. But it's the internalized negative stereotypes that we work to prove wrong. 

Monday, January 12, 2009

Welcome Back (Part 2)


I'm beginning to hate the word. I don't care why you're not here, I just wish you were.

It's an epidemic here. Students who had 90 percent attendance were honored at last year's awards ceremony. (For any nonmath people, that's rewarding students who missed a day every two weeks.) As the first semester ends, I have multiple students with 20+ absences. They've already missed a month of school.

For today, I'm not worried about how to change that behavior. Though, if you have suggestions I'd love to hear them. I want ideas on how to welcome students back.

What I'm Doing to Cope with Absences

A list of various techniques in no particular order.
  • Using an adaption of Dan's concept quiz system. You need to know the material. I don't need you to make up every worksheet.
  • Providing two nights to complete "homework" assignments.
  • Listing all assignments on GCal. (So that I can see what you missed when you return. Few students have access to internet.)
  • Maintaining a filing system where for notes. Students are supposed to go to the folder and find anything they are missing. (Often we work on one set of handouts for two days.) They ask a friend for help or come in for...
  • Tutoring after school. Or before school if you make sure I know you're coming in. Or during lunch if you let me know in advance*. 
  • Sending work home. I'm not as proactive on this as I aspire to be. But I try to have something ready for students coming by with an advanced makeup slip. Seen one student actually do the work.
  • Trying to remind students of what they missed. While they're doing warm-up journals I try to visit with everyone. It's a brief chat, but hopefully allows me to tell them  I missed them, find out why they were absent, and let them know what we did.
Still Short

Some students do not need to be in school everyday. One of my top students was dropped over the weekend. It doesn't change the fact that he's aced all the concepts.

But most students aren't that lucky. When they miss school, they fall behind. They don't know what's going on, feel dumb, won't try the next assignment, don't learn it, miss more school... Vicious, vicious cycle.

I hope this isn't as big of an issue elsewhere. But I know very few people make it though a year with perfect attendance.  What strategies work for you to help students get back to class? Thanks for any inspiration.

*The last one is rare because by that point in the day I really do need to go to the restroom/microwave food/visit with other teachers for support.

Welcome Back (part 1)

I came back from Christmas break to have four of my students suspended. They'd gotten in trouble with alcohol and drugs over break. Later in the week another two were suspended for drugs, one was suspended for fighting, and one is no longer coming to my class because she's pregnant and struggling with morning sickness.

They started coming back today. It's the same old game of catch up, but with the added pressure of grades due on Thursday.

I know these problems are everywhere. I know I sheltered myself from them at my high school. I wish my students could hide from them too.