A Day in the Life of a First-Year Teacher

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Telling vs. Tattling & Updates!

I guess even in 8th grade, some students still can't distinguish between telling and tattling. One of my students, Jessie, tried to tattle SEVEN times in one class period.

The students were working on groupwork today and I came around to check up on each group, helping them with problems they didn't know how to do. Jessie is in a group with three other students. Each of the three students are really good students with strong characters and work ethic. In fact, I purposely placed Jessie, a struggling student, with them so she could focus more. Instead, every time I came around to her group, she would say something like this:

"Alejandro and Maria were flirting..."
"Josh used his sleeve to wipe off his runny nose..."

She tattled seven times during the entire period. Needless to say, I got so tired of it, I gave her a good talk about the difference between telling and tattling after class.

I find it so annoying that she (or any other student of mine) doesn't understand the difference between telling and tattling. This is middle school, and they probably should be more mature than that. I felt like a second grade teacher dealing with her.

Thankfully, she's the only tattler I have this year. My other students are AMAZING.

"The Four Gangstas" & James - recently, the grades of The Four Gangstas have dramatically improved. They have become more focused and less distracting. One of them has seeked the help of a peer tutor to catch up on everything we've learned this year to prepare for the NYS. However, James' grades and behavior have been stagnant. His mother has had three conferences with me & the guidance counselor about James' performance, but he's still slipping into peer pressure and apathy. I have been providing him extra help and following the guidelines of his IEP, but nothing seems to be working. Furthermore, James failed his NYS exam last year. This year, James improved his grade from a 28% in September to a 63.5% right now but hasn't gotten anything higher than a D for the quarter (He got a "D" last quarter too.). We'll see how things turn out this year with the NYS...

Following directions: We held an intervention! We talked about written response strategies! And... the kids caught on! I saw dramatic improvements in their written response skills from the exit slips on Monday! :)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

When my 8th graders can't follow directions...

On Thursday & Friday, I was at an all-day professional development workshop in Brooklyn, which means my students had two different substitutes on those days. I created a packet that reviews graphing inequalities on the coordinate plane, which is part of our current unit on inequalities. On the last page, I decided to create several "written responses" similar to what it would be like on the NYS exam for mathematics in April. The students were instructed to graph two inequalities, one parabola and one line, and shade the point of intersection. Then, they were to determine if two different points "made the system of inequalities true". On the bottom, students got a word problem that involved writing, graphing and solving a system of inequalities and were to write a two-three sentence explanation of their answer to the word problem. I thought the instructions were pretty clear and expected no problems.
However, when I came back from the professional development session after school on Friday to pick up the packets to grade over the weekend, I saw that answers on the packet were TERRIBLE. Of course, I only glanced at a couple papers, and my optimistic self thought "well, these are only a couple papers, I'm sure all the others are great.", so I took the papers, placed them in my folder and walked to the subway station. I took out my folder when the train arrived and got a thorough look at each of the papers in my stack.What I saw confirmed the "glance" I got at the school: only about one in five of my students fulfilled all the requirements of the problems. Many students blatantly ignored HALF THE PROBLEM. Others didn't show enough work and only wrote down the answer. Some clearly didn't read the directions, as their responses didn't answer a single part of the question and had wrong numbers, wrong graphs,etc.  I literally sat on the subway about ready to cry/rant/explode. When I got to the apartment, I was already so on the verge to cry that my roommates took my folder away from me for a good hour or so and helped me calm down.

The dreaded part came later that night and today when I actually had to grade the awful packets. Many of my students earned D's and F's on the packets, since I graded them based on how the state will grade them in April. I wrote "Make sure you read the directions and answer all parts of the question" countless times on countless papers. The only good part was the questions that didn't have multiple steps went great... my students understand the concepts and how to solve the problems, but are struggling with the written response aspect. Great. Well, the state isn't going to test how well my kids know the concept, they are testing written responses and multi-step problems, they are testing what I did on the last page... the page where 80% of my students failed.

When I see my classes on Monday, I'm going to give them a stern lecture about written responses and answering the questions. I'm going to need to set aside some time to work on extended response skills. Well, I thought I wasn't going to let test prep take over my life, but it is. I feel really overwhelmed with this. And the sad part is that my kids actually know how to do this!

Teachers, how do you improve extended response skills in your classes?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fans and dress codes... spring in action!

It's the first day of spring!!!!! (Though, here in New York and pretty much all around the country, spring has really started about 3 weeks ago...)

However, not only is today the first day of spring, it's going to be the only spring-like day for the rest of this week. We're expecting high 70's to low 80's each of the next three days... meaning it's going to be a t-shirt/shorts/all summer clothing mania in school.

I will be able to teach in a cool location because my classroom and my entire "team" is built in the newest section of the school, meaning that we will have access to a REAL fan/air conditioning system all day. The older teams will not due to the fact that our school is pretty old and isn't able to fund a renovation for the other three "teams" due to budget restrictions.

I honestly believe that this fan is a LIFESAVER for the teachers on my team. It blows soothing and quiet (!!!) wind into the classroom, calming down the energy of my 8th graders and curbing potential behavior problems. While colleagues in the other three teams are experiencing greater behavior issues, our behavior problems are being relatively dormant... which is great because now we're starting test prep for the NYS at the end-ish of April (really soon now!). Without this fan, we wouldn't be able to make it through the end of April, let alone May and June. [Fans = evidence of spring #1]

On a side note, more and more students are starting to violate the dress code because of the recent weather. Ms. Lopez and Mr. O'Klay have strict (and I mean strict!) consequences for dress code violations, meaning NO warnings. So when Mr. Parke (a colleague of mine & a 7th grade ELA teacher) and I were assigned to cover detention tomorrow, we were notified that OVER 50 students would be in the room as of right now and probably even more tomorrow since tomorrow actually will be hot. Interestingly enough, our school only holds Wednesday and Friday school-wide detentions. Efficient, guys. Really efficient. ;) [dress codes= evidence of spring #2]

I haven't actually confronted any of my students about the dress code yet, though today Ms. Lopez sent us a pretty lengthy email about how we are expected to uphold and enforce the dress code in our classrooms. Still need to ask another teacher how I can do that gently and in a non-confrontational way... it feels really uncomfortable and awkward for me! Any suggestions?

Friday, March 16, 2012

10 hours? Sounds about right.

recent article that I read reported that according to a national survey of teachers, teachers reported an average of 10 hours and 40 minutes of time spent on work - either in school or out of school.

From my experience, I have come to discover that this piece of data is completely true. Teaching is not "an 8 to 2" job by any strech of the imagination. Even though my school ends at 3:30, I'm at the school tutoring students/calling parents/coplanning with colleagues/doing professional development/helping students with personal problems/grading/recording grades in the gradebook... (the list goes on and on) usually until 5:00 between Monday-Thursday. I then go home and reflect on my day and lessons on this blog, finish up my grading and lesson planning... (again, the list goes on and on) for about another 2 hours at home.

Most people don't know about the extra work teachers go through to actually try and do a good job at teaching. We are constantly thinking about how to make our practice and our lessons better. We are reflecting and planning for next year. We are working tirelessly to make sure all students can benefit from engaging and effective lessons. I'm proud of the work that I do each and every day for my students. Many New York teachers are. Many teachers around this country are. I think the public deserves to know how hard we actually work.

Just the other day, some "friends" from high school called me and asked me when I would get a "real job". I was FURIOUS -- teaching IS a real job!! Just goes to show the ignorance some people have torwards the teaching profession.

At the end of the day, I'm glad that there are very many highly effective teachers out there working day in and day out to improve the educational outcome of their students. One day, others will be able to see, honor and truly understand the work we do for our students.

Go teachers! :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Middle schoolers need recess

In my school, each student is given a "team". They stick with their team throughout 6th, 7th and 8th grades for their core classes. Each grade on the team has 4 core teachers, 2 pairs of team teachers and special ed interventionists. Because today is a Tuesday, we are on what's called an "even day", which means we have team time.

The other 8th grade teachers and I have decided that since our kids have been borderline RAMBUNCTIOUS and way too energetic, they need to go let off some steam. We took all 160 students on the team to the park accross the street for team time (2:45-3:30). They could do whatever they want in the park as long as they remain in the park. Each of the 8 teachers then dispersed to different areas of the park to supervise the kids, in case any fights or what not would occur.

The students, needless to say, really enjoyed being out with the other students on the team and going to the park. It was a nice way to relax and unwind after a long day. This was probably their first "actual" recess since elementary school.

The transition between elementary and middle school is pretty difficult. However, I think if we incorporate more of these "free time" recesses for our students to just chill and relax for a while, it would improve their behavior and calm down their energy. June is coming faster than a speeding bullet. If we want our school to be fight-free and to have positive energy, I think it is absolutely essential to give the students some time of their own to channel out all of their energy.

There were no incidents today whatsoever. There's no question that we'll be having more of these "recesses" later on. But as test prep is starting to shift into full gear, we'll have to keep true to our promise. The kids all had really positive reviews on our idea.  Ms. Lopez didn't even need to worry at all!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Professional Development From Your Own Home

Recently, I discovered https://www.teachingchannel.org/, an AMAZING website for teachers of all grades/subjects to get access to professional advice. This ranges from classroom management to building classroom culture to differentiating instruction. The videos often feature a teacher getting help from the mentor on a certain area of teaching. The mentor provides advice to the teacher that all teachers can apply to their classrooms. Sometimes, teachers even attach their lesson plans & activities for viewers to download, modify and use in the classroom. You can also sign up to be a member on this website and get access to a free lesson planner.

I recommend this website for ALL teachers. My principal loved this so much that she's actually showing all the teachers at my school the website at our next common meeting. We can all improve in our own ways, and the suggestions and scenarios presented on this website are very relateable and very applicable.

Seeing the difference we make

I've taken a big long break from blogging since the beginning of this month. I have had a really long week with a mixture of problems with new students, IEP complications, helping students go through tough times and department meetings.

But between all this business, I have experienced something so rewarding that it's almost impossible to put into words: seeing firsthand (on three different accounts!) the effect of my teaching and my impact on my students.

One example I saw earlier this month:

Jose and Pas'Qual (my new student) are in the same study hall. Pas'Qual was starting to get frustrated with his math homework to the point where it was borderline violent. The study hall monitor was right about to call for security when Jose, one of my 3rd period students, walked over to Pas'Qual and calmed him down. He then went on to help Pas'Qual with his homework. Thus, Jose applied one of the strategies we discussed in class to help resolve a potentially dangerous situation.

My students are getting a lot more energetic and talkative as the weather is getting sunnier and warmer. It's been a nice winter and is spring is basically already here. I'm a little bit worried that their behavior will get progressively more difficult as April and May roll along, and by June, their attitude would completely deteriorate. But for right now, my classes are still going strong. The rapport between my students and I have only gotten stronger since the end of February. I guess parent-teacher conferences can have an impact! Hopefully, my influence can inspire my kids to keep on working hard the rest of the year... so far it has! :)

Recently, I paired up my students based on results on an inequalities exit slip. The exit slip was given at the end of day 2 on the topic. I was SHOCKED at the results - about 1/3 of the class got a 10/10. At the same time, 1/3 of the class missed all 3 problems and scored a 3/10. I was using the same lesson plan from my student teaching days, including that same exit slip. When I was student teaching (at a middle school literally 5 minutes away by subway), almost all of the students got a 8, 9 or 10/10. So I paired up students the next day to have the "stronger" students help the students that struggled on the exit slip. What I came out with was cooperative learning, helpful attitudes and new strategies that my kids had developed or adapted themselves from the strategies we discussed in class.

Written from Central Park on this AMAZING day in New York, Mr. Yang could not be having a better first year. And since I student taught this SAME class 2nd semester in student teaching last year, I don't even have to stay up that late with lesson planning... I already have the bulk of it done!