A Day in the Life of a First-Year Teacher

Monday, April 30, 2012


Today, on the last day of testing, I had my students write down on a slip of paper what they thought of the NYS, if they felt prepared or not, if they retained the material from this year/last year and could apply it to the problems, if the review project/activity helped, etc.

Here is my analysis of the feedback:
  • Most students said that they either felt "prepared" or "very prepared" for the questions and the material on the NYS exam.
  • Almost all students said that I taught the concepts and curriculum very well this year, and that my teaching methods helped them better understand what the concepts they were learning.
  • Most students said that we practiced applying our knowledge to real life and word problems a "fair amount". Goal for next year: make application more of a focus to get the kids more exposed to the types of problems they'll be solving with the concepts they learned.
  • Almost all students said that the activity we did in the two weeks leading up to the test was very helpful. This is definitely an activity I will do next year with my students.
I am extremely BEYOND proud of my students this year! All of them (Yes, even James!) have put in so much effort this year. My students did well on the practice exams and have exponentially improved their extended response skills. For some of them, this will be the first 3 or first 4 they have ever earned on a NYS exam. It's amazing to look back at the beginning of the year and see the tremendous growth that all of them have achieved. 

Guess hard work really does pay off!

**MR. YANG'S 2011-2012 class -- thank you!!!! ** :)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Absolutely disgusting.

Last night, while on Facebook (best tech invention ever! well, next to my blog, that is.), I discovered that one of my best friends from high school read an article on Yahoo! News. I am linking you to this article right now, so you can see and experience the disgust, dismay and anger that I experienced.

Here's the link: http://shine.yahoo.com/team-mom/stuart-chaifetz-secretly-tapes-autistic-son-school-discovers-220500111.html?fb_action_ids=10151012891620200%2C415348845144401%2C424201880925307%2C424201717591990%2C3057637488524&fb_action_types=news.reads&fb_ref=type%3Aread%2Cuser%3A15zeS4wqjgC-yUAt2d8mwe109Hk%2Ctype%3Aread%2Cuser%3AyKM2Qm_oePzj10slSsINSPO6F0I%2Ctype%3Aread%2Cuser%3AbwG4Cq027apcZf6dWCuyvzlprlo&fb_source=other_multiline&code=AQAsMtLwqvyuhmAXND6qUl7xScnq8_8AEoBhV6iQSbHtXVEZNHwbADxPSBQNiAOgO50AafVqEMaKTd4TxDB61Xns4IWlR7FPy0DCYK9cg0MBldBnerAj7cfcTw2xCJnlOfU7-mOU-a5WNR4BOESdikXW2ywHjT7kYso5aCrYEsGAQjljLfuYRqCjszHhQBSGaiIhXuzlJQOYIEOtVrFEVlfU#_=_
^Be sure to watch the video!

If you're in too happy of a mood to force yourself to watch something so sad, here's a less depressing run down of what's in the link:
Earlier this year, a father in New Jersey got notice that his ten year old autistic son had been violent towards his teacher and aide. The father was shocked at this news, as his son, Akian, has never been violent before. He scheduled a meeting with the school psychologist and a behaviorist, both confirming that Akian is a peaceful, calm boy. One day, the father sent Akian to school with a wire, hoping to see what caused the act to happen. What he discovered was disgusting. He heard the teacher and the aide abusing Akian - calling him a "bastard", telling him to "shut his mouth", saying that he couldn't see "daddy after mommy" and more. The teacher also talked about getting drunk the night before and complained about her husband to the aide... IN FRONT OF A CLASSROOM OF AUTISTIC BOYS. The teacher has not been fired, but from what I could tell, the aide was.

Teachers should NEVER abuse children like this. It is the job of the teacher to PROTECT them. The words and actions done by the teacher and aide caused Akian to go off on a 30 MINUTE EXPLOSION of crying. As if this isn't bad enough, Akian suffers bullying from his own classmates and (teachers) but isn't able to tell his parents at home because of his autism.

That teacher needs to be fired and imprisoned NOW. Nobody should be allowed to mistreat a child like that. This is just disgusting. Ughhh... people these days...  

To the family of Akian: My heart is with you. I am deeply sorry for your troubles and hope that all is well with you and Akian. Best of luck with any further course of action you will take on this matter. Akian is a great boy and I wish for his well-being now and in the future. He has what it takes to be successful and definitely did not deserve any of the things he has experienced in that classroom. Please feel free to contact me if you need any help.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mr. Buchell's effect on his students

In a couple previous posts, I blogged about one of my colleagues (who we'll call for purposes of this blog Mr. Buchell). Mr. Buchell is a twenty-third year teacher in the New York City public schools and has been teaching longer than every teacher in my school. Now, for those of you who did not read about all of the crazy things about Mr. Buchell, his experience has not really served him well when it comes time to students. His students are significantly behind students in my class and in Miss Gonzalez's class (a fourth year teacher). They often score about 10-15% lower than my students on department-given tests. And it's not their fault at all. During my prep period and adminsitrative period, I sometimes walk past his classroom and see absolutely NO learning being done. None whatsoever. He sits at his desk reading the New York Times or on his laptop reading the latest in sports or on Facebook... basically everything except for TEACHING when he is supposed to! The students, sometimes sit in groups trying to figure the material out on their own. Sometimes they play hangman on the board or texting or chatting.

Yeah, no wonder why their scores are so low. Ms. Lopez, my principal, is not oblivious to this at all. In fact, she tried to remove him for the past three years. However, the paperwork and everything attached to the removal process is too much that it never actually gets completed because somewhere along the line it gets more and more complicated and usually the removal process gets terminated sometime before the end of June. Thus, when school resumes in September, a whole new set of 150 students are left to suffer through a year of no learning and an awful, ineffective teacher. And, no, "U" ratings don't really help here.

For bascially the entire year, some of his students come over to my classroom before or after school for extra help. I usually do the best I can for them to ensure that they can pick up the much, much, much needed material for success on the NYS, school material & tests and preparing them for high school math. I tutor them the material, help them review for the tests, pass out my study guides and notes to them, etc during these after school sessions. Sometimes we pair students in my class and students in his class to "buddy teach" some of the material. This is the same for Miss Gonzalez too. She also teaches in the "8th grade department" and helps out as much as possible with the students from Mr. Buchell's class that come over seeking/begging for help.

We devote countless hours to his students, treating them like our own. Feeling responsible for them like our own students. But, we don't get any extra money. Meanwhile, Buchell makes over $100,000 doing absolutely no work.

This is not fair at all. 150 students are being hurt by this process. While Miss G and I are helping, we can't possibly help them grow a whole year's worth of learning in only 30-45 minutes before and after school three days a week. I am confident that all my students can pass the NYS. Miss Gonzalez is confident that all her students can pass. But Mr. Buchell's students' chance of passing is significantly diminished with the complete lack of learning going on in that classroom.

I am really liking the new developments in New York for tying part of a teacher's performance rating to student performance and giving more weight to observations. Maybe that way teachers like Mr. Buchell can be booted out and kids can finally get what they deserve: a good, hardworking teacher.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Good teachers: willing to do anything for success

As I have previously blogged about, I live in a townhouse with four roommates in Queens. One of my roommates, a self-declared "gossip diva" gets weekly subscriptions to People magazine. She usually leaves the magazines on the coffee table in the living room for the rest of us to read in our free time. Yesterday night, I went through the magazine and found a new segment/feature: The People Magazine Teacher of the Year award. The feature article underneath the announcement described the teaching adventures of an eighth-year science teacher in Washington state. He teaches students primarily of Native American descent. The article centered around the teacher's willingness to do anything for his students to be successful. According to his students, he goes to them if he sees that they are struggling. He sometimes visits homes or calls students to make sure they understood the lesson.  When standardized tests come around, he bets anything that's "not dangerous" to his students in return for a 75% passing rate... things I would probably not do - like dying his hair rainbow colors, shaving his hair off and kissing a pig.

However, reading that article really made me think about myself as a teacher. Good teachers really do sacrifice if students achieve at high rates. I really admire the fact that they are willing to do things that may make them uncomfortable or "looked at" if it helps motivate student success. That's what true dedicated, passionate and selfless teachers do.

I want to come up with something I can do for my students if my students reach our goal of an 80% passing rate (3 or a 4) on the NYS. Some of them have never earned a "3" before on the NYS math test. And for most of these students, I am very confident that they will be able to attain that score this year. They have the content down, but now it's time for the final touch.

I do believe that excellent educators are willing to do anything for their students. And so am I. Maybe someday I can be one of the People Magazine Teachers of the Year!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Too busy for a real update - but side stories!

We're half way through April! It's so close to the end of the school year already... :(

I'm really busy right now, so I don't have time for a real update. But, I do have some observations/stories!

1. Meeting an old student...
Appearently one of my students from when I was a long term sub at a high school in Manhattan found where I lived and came to visit the townhouse where I live with my roommates during spring break. One of my roomies almost called the police on him but I was able to recognize him before that happened... so that's good. We started talking and he explained that the teacher I was a long term sub for (who was waiting on a trial for sexual harrassment charges) was acquitted and allowed back in the school. But he and a couple friends were able to present some evidence that caused him to actually be put back on investigation. I really admired that sense of leadership and desire to do what's right for the common good. He's a junior now, and is going through a lot of stress with jump-starting the college application process. But, on the bright side, I'm starting to brainstorm for my FIRST rec letter as a teacher!! He will actually be in my classroom towards the end of the year to volunteer to earn his school-required volunteering hours.

2. My middle schoolers know a lot more about technology than me

3. My principal had a pre-conference with all teachers to "pre-discuss" our subject assignments for next year. I'm most likely staying at my current school. (It's actually a great school, with good students, professional colleagues and a effective administration. :)) She suggested to me that I will be staying in 8th grade, but only for 3 or 4 periods and 7th grade for 1 or 2 (respectively). I might also get a CTT classroom next year too. (I think it would be interesting to have a teaching partner!)

Thank you to all my loyal readers. I will try and blog more but teaching's getting much more intense right now. But in May through June, it will get a lot better, I promise! Have a great Wednesday!!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Memory Joggers - Home Strech!

As we're winding down our time before the big Mathematics NYS exam, the three 8th  grade math teachers and I are becoming increasingly stressed. (Guess it really isn't possible to not let test prep take over your mind...)

In Book 1 of the exam, students are NOT allowed to use their calculator. This will definitely present a struggle to some of my students, as quite a few of them are struggling with mental math, fractions, decimals, etc - skills they should have mastered in elementary school. Strangely enough, my students are able to factor quadratic equations and graph systems of inequalities. But, I'm afraid that they won't be able to show off these amazing (!) skills on the multiple choice section if they're struggling with the mental math. Our department and most schools allow students to use their calculators on the tests, so they don't ever encounter a time where they are forced to do any of the problems without a calculator. For the first few days after we get back, I'm going to feel like I'm teaching third grade... "Now, let's go over how to multiply two digit by two digit numbers...". Joy.

Furthermore, retention is the name of the game for these standardized tests.The Test covers material from sixth and seventh grades, plus mental math, plus all the material we've covered this year - which, if you ask me, is a TON of information. It's easy to forget some of this if students don't keep practicing and getting exposed to those problems. That's why I spent some time over my break planning for the mini-review unit.

My ideas:
  • Days 1, 2 and first half of 3: go over mental math and arithmetic/computations needed for Book 1 and how to do it without using a calculator. Start by a diagnostic game (board races, around the world, whiteboards...) to gauge what students know & don't know. Then outline concepts needed to go over with the class, creating a poster. Break down the concepts, discuss, practice. Reassessment: jeoprady or other competititive review game, clickers.

  • Days second half of 3, 4 and 5: introduce a review project for students that covers indicators and objectives students need to master before the NYS exam. Print out a list for each student so they can keep for reference. Have students get together in groups of 4 for the project. The project will involve having students, in their groups, create some sort of review mechanism (skit, powerpoint, video, song, etc) that clearly and effectively reviews four or five of the assigned indicators each group gets. During day 4 and the first half of day 5, students will have class time to prepare their projects - outlining it, creating it (if necessary), practicing it. In addition to the review, students also need to come up with five practice questions for the class - generally one per indicator. They are required to look back in their textbooks/notes/study guides/returned quizzes or released former NYS exams for questions. During the second half of day 5, each group will have a conference with me so I can make sure everything is covered correctly, thoroughly and effectively so the class can benefit from the presentation. Groups that need to add stuff will have the weekend to finish it before presentations on Monday.

  • Days 6 and 7: Students will present their projects!! Each student will have incomplete notes boxes to take notes during each presentation. I think this method is more effective than having me drone on and on. I've tried this two different times (once in student teaching and once this year) & it's been very successful both times. :) After each group, we will have a brief discussion as a class to make sure all the main points are sinked in before moving on to the next group.

  • Day 8: go over test taking skills, strategies and answer any final questions! BOOK 1 & 2 ARE TOMORROW!! yikess

This is the home strech! Time to make it meaningful! Any comments or other ideas? :)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

How are we AHEAD?!

I was in Washington Square Park today looking at curriculum and doing lesson planning all the way up until the NYS (that's basically in 2 more weeks!!), and I noticed that we have basically covered everything that has been assessed in the last six years. (Yeah, we had to look and carefully analyze each one of those tests in one of our meetings. #nycteacherprobs) This is extremely surprising, however, considering we start school several weeks after most school districts upstate. I was expecting to be still teaching material for the NYS up till the day before the test...

Guess we're having two weeks to review for the Big Test! I have a bank of activities thought out to prepare for the test, review activities I sometimes use to review in class for unit tests and for the midterm, so students should be able to remember the routine for those activities. We will definitely be doing some practice with the multiple choice when we get back from spring break.

One thing that should be really exciting for my students is that this year, our administration is offering a D.C. TRIP for all students who earn a 3 or a 4 on the ELA/Math/Science NYS exams this year. We looked over the interniary and it looks pretty exciting! Parents get half off what it would be for a normal school D.C. trip since our school found "extra money in the budget". Students who earn a 3 or 4 on the tests who choose to not go on the D.C. trip get a DAY OUT IN THE CITY for only $25! I'm definitely signing up to chaperone one of those activities!

I am confident that the vast vast vast majority (like 95% of my class) will be able to at least earn a 3 if they are able to retain all of the concepts and material we've discussed this year. I really hope that my review activities will help solidify and clear up anything students were previously struggling with. Next year, I'm going to get my first value added/TDR report. The TDR's are scattered all over the place in my school - some teachers are at 10's and 20's and some are at 90's. Three are at the 99th percentile! (Hopefully someday I can get up there! ;)). But my goal for this year is definitely at least an 80 to put me in the "above average" category. Now, there's no doubt that these reports are erroneous and unreliable, but it still feels good to know my "value added" is high. We need to set big goals for ourselves. :)

When I didn't lesson plan, I had tons of fun at home, catching up with old friends, visiting professors from NYU and hanging out in the Big Apple! Oh, how I love spring break.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

April Fools Day!

It's April and spring break!!! Yet another milestone that I've reached in my first year of teaching! (I have heard numerous stories about first year teachers not even making it to spring break in NYC. Well, I did!)

What's even more special is that April Fools Day falls in spring break, which means two things:

1. I don't have to worry about silly middle-school April Fools Day jokes and pranks.
2. I get to celebrate one of my favorite days with my roomies! April Fools was a big deal back at NYU, and it's still with me now.

We're playing some hilarious (yet friendly) practical jokes on one of my roommates today. Shh! We've got five of us in a townhouse in Astoria/Sunnyside. But ya know what they say, five's a crowd! ;)

I'm also meeting some friends from high school and college this week, so that should definitely keep me busy. Besides that, I'm getting back in touch with some "mentees", inner city students who I mentored and worked with as part of the America Reads/America Counts program back when I was at NYU. They were in sixth grade then, so they're right about to start/finish high school now. It'll be great to see how they've grown!

Just thought I'd like to share these bits of my life with you! To all the NYC teachers out there, have a safe and RELAXING spring break! We all deserve it! :)