A Day in the Life of a First-Year Teacher

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mr. Yang and his students "got swag"

Happy leap year!
Today my students decided to celebrate the leap year by telling me something completely amazing... that I had what they called "swag".

For those you that teach middle or high school, I'm sure we know what "swag" means. My students CANNOT stop saying it. Literally, every other word my students say in conversations contains the word "swag".

"Swag" is usually a compliment to whoever is being referred to. For my students (the guys and the girls) to tell me that I had some "major swag" as their teacher warms my heart. I am honored to share that kind of respect with my students.

I also have reason to think that my students have "swag" as well. First of all, most of them have made tremendous turn arounds in their education and the progress they've made in school and in math. They also retain the material we learn as well! (I gave the kids a packet on Monday that was due today to help review what we've learned so far for the NYS. After grading 1st, 2nd and 3rd period's packets in my prep, I saw that they retained almost everything since September!) My students also have such a refreshing sense of humor and bring their bright, diverse personalities into the classroom everyday. They are HILARIOUS!

I wish I can hang on to these students forever. With every passing day, I can see the growth in maturity and education they are making. "Swag" is definitely reciprocal here. :)

Yesterday at parent-teacher conferences, the mother of one of the Four Gangstas promised me that she would try and intervene better in Shiloh's schoolwork. I am confident she will follow through. Her support can really help change Shiloh's attitude towards school.

I was actually suprised that more than 80% (!) of parents showed up to their conference yesterday. Inner city parents do care.

P.S. Yesterday between the last bell and the first conference, the teachers in my academy and I got our first try at Indian food in such a looongg time. The last time I had Indian food was in May... of LAST YEAR. Sooo good! (Curry in a Hurry on Lexington!)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

It's been released!!!!!

Here's a link to the recently released  teacher data reports for NYC public school teachers: http://www.nytimes.com/schoolbook/2012/02/24/teacher-data-reports-are-released/ 

This is a monumentous time in education reform. For months, the union and the Chancellor have battled over the release of the Data Reports. Since this is only my first year teaching, my data is not on the website. But I DID find some juicy (!) info about Mr. Buchell. Mr. Buchell has taught over 400 students in his "career" and is ranked in the 40th percentile. Pretty high for someone who really doesn't do anything, right? But in his 2010 data report, he's only in the 9th percentile. Wow.

I do agree that the release of this report is both controversial and unreliable. Many teachers have wrote that there has been a mismatch between the number of students on their report and the number they actually taught, etc. However, the release of this data might also be beneficial to parents and teachers. In many cases, it celebrates success, like in the release data report of Miss Gonzalez, the fourth year pre-algebra teacher at my school.

I believe that the public has the right to know about the types of teachers that their children will have next year. And while this may not be the best measure of teacher quality, and certainly FAR from perfect, it's more transparent than not having anything.

Attitude Activities, Part Two

Here is my finalized list for the attitude/teambuilding/character activities I am doing with my students Monday & Tuesday during "catch up time":

1. Shoe Game Have everyone take off their shoes and put them in a pile in the middle of the room. Mix the shoes up. Divide the students into 4 groups. See which group can find their shoes and put them on first. When they have their shoes on the team done first must sit on the floor.

2. Trust FallStudents sit in a close circle together in the middle of the classroom. Pair up students randomly to be partners for the activity. Each partner will take turns “trust falling” and catching their partner as they fall. Targeted skill: trust, friendship, character

3. Ball of String - While standing in a circle, pass a ball of string from one member to another. The rules are only the person with the string can talk about anything they’d like for 30 seconds. When the 30 seconds are over, they are to pass the ball to another classmate. At the end, there will be a web of string. This web illustrates the interconnected nature of class. Toss a balloon in the middle and have them try to keep it in the web of string. They are not allowed to touch it. Targeted skill: teamwork

4. Amnesia Game – Divide class into 3 groups. A participant is identified as suffering from amnesia. That person needs to pretend not to know anything about the past. The rest of the group tells some things that help the amnesia victim to remember and to become the same person as before. The amnesia person can ask questions to gain more insight. Targeted skill: character, teamwork

5. All Aboard – Divide the class into two groups and give each group large sheet (butcher paper, etc) and spread it on the floor. Have all the students stand on the sheet together. Once they have done this fold the sheet to make it smaller. Again, have all the students get on the sheet. Continue this process. Eventually, the sheet will be so small that the students will need to use a great deal of cooperation, teamwork, and ingenuity to get the whole class on the sheet without anyone falling out/off the sheet. Targeted skill: teamwork

6. Clue Card Game – Divide class into 2 teams and 12 participants. Each of the 12 participants will get a notecard with something from pop culture on it that they have to act out. The 2 groups will write their guesses on a sheet of notebook paper and trade with the other group at the end of the activity to see which group wins. Targeted skill: cooperation, teamwork

7. Your Values, Your Life – Have students partner up. Each pair will get 10 cards depicting common difficult choices and decisions students may encounter as teens (ex: bullying, sneaking out, friendships, relationships, etc). They have to pick a solution from the scenario and explain to their partner why they would use that choice. Targeted skill: values and character

8. Tug of War –Divide class into two groups and give them a rope. Play tug of war. (teamwork)

9. Character development/attitude discussionswww.goodcharacter.com

Friday, February 24, 2012

Attitude Activities and More

The transition out of mid-winter recess and back into the groove of school is not easy for anybody. On top of that, the schedule situation that many teachers at my school have to deal with because of the "hazing assemblies" makes the return even more dreadful.

For my classes that are one (or even two) period/s ahead, I have been looking up some attitude activities to share. Attitude and character are things I really try to stress in my classroom. I believe these are fundamentals for achieving success in school. However, I have not been helping my students develop their characters. These activities below might help them really understand what it means to have a good attitude.  These include teamwork simulations, discussions on teen issues, personality, conflict resolution, etc.

I found a couple of really good activities and lesson ideas here:

http://character-education.info/resources/lesson_plans_curriculum.htm(values we wish every middle schooler had...)

http://lessons.atozteacherstuff.com/76/teamwork/ (this is too young for my students, but I can do something similar!)

http://www.oakharborcheer.com/TeamBuildingGames.html (really good teamwork activities!)

I'm also considering watching an inspirational movie sometime this quarter. This quarter will be very stressed due to prep for the NYS and the growing intensity of the pre-algebra curriculum as we prepare our students for the NYS & Integrated Algbera. But we have to have some free time right?? ;)

I'm really hoping these attitude activities will appeal to my students. They look like a lot of fun and will teach them the skills and traits necessary to be good citizens and good people.

Teachers, have you ever done any attitude activities with your students? How did it go?

It's also (almost) report card time! Grade analysis for 2nd quarter...

Total # of students: 160
A's: 75
B's: 60
C's: 20
D's: 5 (guess who?! The 4 Gangstas and James...)
F's: noneeeee!

Overall, I'm pleased with the way this quarter has gone. My students are learning a lot, and they're showing it with their grades.

Here's to a great third quarter! Hopefully some of the parents will show up on the 28th (a half day of school!) to the parent-teacher conference. That will be a GREAT present for my 22nd birthday! (yesterday...) :)

P.S. look at this new song I discovered! Reminds me of songs from when I was in middle school :)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkCPgK_8rlU

Monday, February 20, 2012

Day One: Mid-Winter Recess

Happy President's Day/first day of mid-winter recess!!!
I am so excited to have the day off, especially after last week's schedule mishap. Every teacher needs this break so much.

Today, I've made it a commitment to keep up with watching some of my favorite shows ever... Good Morning Miss Bliss, Naked Brothers Band and Zoey 101. I really miss these shows, guys!

Here's to a full week of destressing and sleeping in!!!! :)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Newsflash: hazing gets in the way of learning... and ruins Friday night plans

The whole dilemma with the "knockout kids" has gotten progressively worse. Acting as if this is the first time such a thing was discovered in my school, the discipline AP and my principal have decided to interrupt classes for THREE DAYS IN A ROW to try and correct the problem.

It has finally (finally!) come to the administration's attention that the "knockout kids" are violating the section in the student handbook titled "hazing".

So, on Wednesday, Ms. Lopez and Mr. O'Klay (the discipline AP) called all of the 7th and 8th graders down to the gym to have a talk about this - during 3rd and 4th periods. Therefore, my 3rd period class fell 1 period behind because of the unannounced assembly.

Seeing that the assembly didn't really help mediate the situation, Ms. Lopez and Mr. O'Klay tried again the next day (Thursday), in the morning - during 1st and 2nd periods. This time, I was assigned to help facilitate the "hazing activity" they planned. Personally, I thought the assembly was a success, but the administration did not.

Because 1st & 2nd periods missed class and 3rd period was 1 period behind, I only actually had to teach 1 class period on Thursday. We played hangman/elimination/watched Youtube in my 2 afternoon classes.  Sounds good, right? It was... until, at the end of the day, all teachers received an email saying that Mr. O'Klay would hold another assembly (for the entire school this time) in 2 time sessions: 1st-2nd and 3rd-4th periods.

As of today, I only saw my afternoon classes. We didn't do very much today either.

From what I've heard from my students and seen myself, the situation with the "knockout kids" hasn't gotten much better... even after the 3 ASSEMBLIES.

And to make matters worse, I have:
  • 5 classes of the same subject on 3 different timetables as a result of the hazing assemblies
  • 2 new students added to my roster with IEP's and a failing record from the school where they both transferred from that I'm responsible for
  • a parent-teacher conference with James' mom, Ms. Lopez and the guidance counselor after James received ANOTHER(!) "F" on a unit test... despite the combined 5 EXTRA HOURS OF HELP I've given him during the unit and before the test to help him prepare
Looks like I have my work cut out for me this weekend... but there's NO SCHOOL NEXT WEEK!!!! Mid-Winter Recess :) :)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Pre-Algebra, will you be my valentine?

Middle schoolers (actually, 14 year olds...I was a sophomore when I was 14!) say the cutest things.

Today I observed one of my students in my first period class had a Cupid valentine with the words "PRE-ALGEBRA" written on it.

Me: "Valeria, I see you have a very nice Valentine's card there."
Valeria: "Yes, Mr. Yang! It's for my "Pre-Algebra"?"
Me: "Wow! And why do you like Pre-Algebra so much?" ;)
Valeria: "Because it's my favorite class! It's so fun and I love my group! We learn a lot in this class!"

At this point, I seriously wanted to recommend Valeria for International Student of the Year. No, it doesn't really exist, but I'm going to MAKE IT exist after this conversation.

Who will my valentine be tomorrow? Well, I'm single (and loving it!), and this may sound very cheesy, but...
  • MY STUDENTS! - they inspire me so much every day. It is an honor to teach them... every. single. one. of. them. I couldn't ask for a more rewarding set of classes.
  • MY FRIENDS! - without them, I would be nowhere. They have supported me countless times, and hopefully I have supported them too! :)
  • MY COLLEAGUES (AND COOPERATING TEACHERS)! - they have helped make me the teacher - and the professional - I am today. Without them, valentines with the words "PRE-ALGEBRA" on them will not exist in my classroom.
  • MY FAMILY!- I love you all! Thank you for everything. <3
And some closing thoughts.
* RIP Whitney Houston - I grew up (and still do!) listening to your music. You are an inspiration to my students, to me and to countless people around the world. Your legacy will remain in our hearts forever.
*Jeremy Lin - Wow. Just wow. Way to represent New York!!!!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

My second job: tutoring GED

When I'm not enjoying my lovely adventures teaching middle school math (that's my day job!), I help adults who were high school dropouts earn their GED's and create a better future for themselves.

I recently helped a 23-year-old woman from Harlem earn her GED. She texted me today saying that she got the letter in the mail saying that she passed the test with flying colors!

I feel so good to have helped an adult make a better future for herself. Making a difference always warms my heart!

Good luck, Tynesha!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Checking Homework = Learning Experience

During student teaching and so far into this year, I have developed a comprehensive procedure for checking and correcting homework.
I make clear to my students that I will check homework every day any homework is due. I usually only assign 20-30 minutes a night, a reasonable amount of homework I feel really helps reinforce the concepts taught in class. I believe that homework is crucial to helping students remember the process they will need to know going into high school, as well as provides a tool for me to check student understanding of concepts in the curriculum.

Each homework assignment is worth 5 points, and can be in the form of textbook problems, worksheets, online quizzes, etc. There are bigger assignments as well, such as unit study guides, poster/video/PowerPoint projects, etc. I check homework as students are working on their warm ups, as a way to maximize class time. When I check homework, I look for both:
  • Completion
  • Work shown/quality - did they show their work? Is their work complete? Is their evidence of using the methods taught in class?
My way of correcting homework, has, so far, been one of my class' favorite procedures. Students pair up into groups of 3 or 4 and receive a blank half sheet of overhead plastic paper. They usually copy 2-3 problems down from the homework from last night or last night & the night before with their group, with work shown. Each group puts up their half sheet of overhead paper on the overhead after 3 minutes in their groups. The group directly clockwise from them in the room would then collectively look at the half sheet on the board and identify mistakes. They are to use a red overhead marker to correct the mistakes, and then score the group out of 10 points. We then discuss as a class and move on to the next group and repeat this process till all groups have gone up. The group with the highest number of points gets to pick a treat from the "goodie bag".

I only do this activity every other day or so, and though it takes about 15 minutes in total, I feel this is an AMAZING review tool having students help each other identify their mistakes and then having a class discussion about how those mistakes are made and identify strategies that I have (or that the students have) to avoid making these mistakes.

Well, that's what I think.

Today, however, I was eager to find out what my students thought of the activity. Overall, the responses from my informal survey were very positive. My students said it helped because a friend could identify the mistakes, so it's less pressure on them, working in the small groups can help them catch their mistake beforehand, they like bringing out their *positive* competitive natures and that peer grading is fun because it helps the graders avoid common mistakes also.

Well, guess that's a "so far, so good" activity I have pretty nailed down! :)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

SO MANY UPDATES! follow ups...

As promised, I have many updates today that I've been blogging about this past month and five days!

1. My unexplainable bad day yesterday...
Yesterday, I blogged about how I had an extremely unexplainable bad day. Nothing happened with my students, or the administration, or my co-workers... nothing. I don't drink at all (never did and never will! :)), and nothing bad has gone on in my life recently. It was just a bad day in general. I was low on patience, exhausted and less enthusiastic and energetic than usual. I actually had to take 1st through 4th periods off today (good thing I had wrote up those sub lesson plans last night just in case...) to rest and cool off the remnants of my headache. But now it's so much better! I think it passed away somehow...

2. James and the "Four Gangstas"
James' behavior has gotten a little bit better since my last post about him and since his one-day in school suspension. His grades have slowly been improving, but he's still not at the level of most of my other students. Unfortuanately, the behavior of the "Four Gangstas" has not been getting much better. All four are on behavioral contracts with me at this point. I've been reviewing their IEP's and talking to their teachers (ALL of them) from last year and from 6th grade. Hopefully, they can begin to improve as well... hopefully by my 22nd birthday! (in 15 days!!!!) I reallyyy want to see improvement in them - and will not stop trying until they have met my expectations.

3. My man Tito...
After the Tito incident/disappointment and the out-of-school suspension, I have been dreading his return. He returned on Monday, and from what I could tell, attempted to learn from his (not so little) mistake. He still has command of his respect that he had pre-incident. He even tried to rekindle our rapport. I can't hold grudges against my own students, so I supported his decision to start fresh. Even though I wasn't in my 3rd period class today, the sub said that he was very helpful to her in getting attendance done, etc. Meanwhile, the rest of the teachers at my school heard ALL ABOUT the Tito incident (gossip spreads like wildfire in NYC!): including the details of the hook up, what the discipline AP said to him and to me, his e-mail to me and his return. Some have stopped talking to me because I tried to help him learn from his mistake and allowed the student-teacher rapport to continue on mostly uninterrupted. But most supported me through the entire process, including my department chair, Tito's 6th and 7th grade teachers and the teachers in my academy's 8th grade division. One person who didn't support me, of course, was Mr. Buchell.

4. Ms. Lopez (my principal) is starting the teacher removal process -- on Mr. Buchell!!!
I am lucky in that I don't have to deal with a poor, ineffective principal. My principal, Ms. Lopez, was a math teacher in the South Bronx just like me. She's supportive, helpful, tough (yet reasonable) and fair. She's generally pretty organized and doesn't make rules that are terribly crazy (well, except for the fact that we're not allowed to leave the school at any time except for lunch, even if it's to get supplies for a lesson). Today, Miss Gonzalez and Mrs. Hoff told me that Ms. Lopez is beginning the (terribly, yucky, complicated, tedious, stupid...) process of trying to transfer Mr. Buchell to a different school. I WENT CRAZY... in a good way. I started jumping up and down, super excitedly. It would really make my day when I find out that the most incompetent teacher in our school can finally stop hurting students at the school. Now, it's just a matter of stopping him from hurting students ANYWHERE.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Such a bad day... just gotta move on

Guys, I had a bad day today.
And no... it wasn't because of the students, the administration, my coworkers, etc. I'm not really sure why it was such a bad day.

I just felt frustrated and both mentally and physically exhausted today. Some of my impatience might have rubbed off in class, but mostly it was to myself.

I have a really bad headache, and I'm really not sure why.

Well, tomorrow's a new day. A full night of rest should do the trick (hopefully...)! And if not, I can take a half day or so off tomorrow to relax. Probably leaning more towards that... it's just that I am completely unsure what's causing this feeling inside of me. UGHHH I really want it out of me!

Maybe I've hit the lowest point in my first year? Just not sure why though!

Well, I'm going to start writing sub lesson plans just in case. I have a lot of updates, so I'll be sure to blog more about it later this week. :)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Sub Report

When you have a sub in class... the most beaming reward ever is coming back to a GREAT sub report on all 3 classes she substituted for! :) Maybe my behavioral impact has spread to the kids! 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

I'm so glad I don't teach in the suburbs! :)

Today one of my best friends from NYU called me during lunch to tell me about his students.

He teaches freshmen at a high school in Long Island, only a couple miles from where I teach. The school is suburban, relatively diverse and pretty wealthy.

He told me about how his students overuse the word "gay". Now, contrary to urban definition (well at least my experience as a student in NYC and a student teacher/long term sub/first year teacher), "gay" in the suburbs  is MUCH different than that of the inner city in that it doesn't always mean "homosexual", it deals with the way people dress, talk, walk, act, etc. According to him, "gay" is used almost as much as "like" or "ya know" in the suburbs. Whereas, I, only teaching 1 grade level below him, almost never hear the word "gay", he hears it every day, 7.8/5. (like my use of decimals there? teaching has gone wayy too far in my head...)

Side note: I actually banned that word from my classroom in the beginning of the year. Tolerance and respect are my number 1 priorities in classroom management.

My friend, also a first year teacher, said that today a group of students (2 students) ganged up on another student -saying he was "gay"... because he walked and talked "like a girl".

Immediately in my head, I'm like, "umm... that's not what "gay" means... and furthermore, WHY ARE YOU USING THAT LANGUAGE WITH OTHERS?!". If I were him, those 2 kids will never be saying the word "gay" ever again in their life!

Fortunately for the kids, it was settled with a detention for both of them.

I think these kids in the suburbs often feel sooo entitled and better than everyone else that they don't think twice before saying something. Most of the kids in my class all get along great, but in the suburbs, bullying, peer pressure and disrespect occur at far more alarming rates.

I genuinely feel sorry for the student that was called that HORRIBLE word... but also for my friend, who has to deal with this type of bullying on a daily basis.

And they say the inner city is so much harder... uh, well at least we don't get this type of behavior.

I'm SO glad I don't teach in the suburbs and have to deal with these snotty, stuck up kids.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Scattered Thoughts

This is not a real update... just some thoughts floating around in my head:

*Lately, the weather in New York has been unseasonably warm and really sunny. It makes me SOOO happy. Both yesterday and today hit the mid-60's which is amazing. It's a mini-April in January! The kids can definitely see this in my teaching, as I'm EVEN MORE happier and energetic than normal and I can see it in them that they are much more enthusiastic as well.

*Like I said yesterday, some friends from high school came to visit!! They're in grad school right now but don't have classes going into this week, so they're spending some time with me! :)

*Still not quite sure what to do about Tito...

*James's behavior has gotten a little bit better, but not as much as I'd hope and definitely not by any significant amount.

*I recently discovered the intense BO some of these kids have. Eww. Middle school...

*Our class' Facebook page is going GREAT!

*Trading classrooms with another teacher can sometimes be a fun experience. I traded with a history teacher at my school because she needed my smartboard. Her room overlooks a window which brought in SUNLIGHT for the first time!!

It was a lot of fun doing this "scattered thoughts" post; I will definitely try to do more in the future. :)

Thanks for reading!!