A Day in the Life of a First-Year Teacher

Thursday, May 31, 2012

One of the fruits of teaching!

They say that being a teacher is one of the most rewarding jobs there is. That's why I became one.

As if I wasn't completely in love with my schedule, colleagues, subject, administration and my students this year, I was able to realize to even greater depths how much I love teaching, my job and my students.

On Monday, my students took a test over the probability unit we finished last week. Overall the test grades were very good. However, Ramon, a student in my 1st period class did not do so hot on the test. Although I communicated to my classes in the beginning of the year that they are allowed to retake any unit test to improve their grade, most of my students never really took advantage of that. Some didn't really need to take advantage of that... and some just really didn't care all too much about getting a 78% on a unit test (one of my students even told me that a 78 was the highest grade she'd ever gotten on a test before). However, what really brightened my day Wednesday was when, after we went over the test in class, Ramon took the initiative to come to me and ask to do the retake test.

Three periods later, when I was doing my study hall duty and Ramon was in the big study hall, he got together with three students from my afternoon classes to help him review and study for the retake test.  The four of them really made a good study team. I observed them helping Ramon, quizzing him for the test, encouraging him, etc. It was really an amazing sight that truly defines the character and dynamic of my students.

To be honest, I was kind of scared when I first began teaching at my school. My students live in the South Bronx, the school has a 85% poverty rate, some of the students had a history of underachievement and behavior problems... the list goes on and on. But now that I'm basically at the end of the school year, I see that I made the right decision. Teaching is that rewarding job I was looking for and finally found. I know that I am making a difference in my students' lives. My students trust me to give them good advice. My students are amazing and have made my first year of teaching a success!

Today, Ramon took his retake test before school. I graded the test during my prep... and Ramon got an A! Not a low A... but a 96%!

Which brings me to one of the "fruits" of teaching... seeing students grow, improve and reach their potential. This isn't something I can get anywhere else.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Umm, you live in New York... and you've never shopped in Times Square before?!

I was completely shocked today.

As most of you already know, I teach middle school math in The Bronx, New York. That's New York City! So, in my mind, I kind of expected that my students have a pretty good knowledge of some of the main areas of the city - outside of the Bronx, but not too far out of reach. Places like Times Square, Central Park, Greenwich Village, the UES, Harlem, etc. Places I constantly go to, even considering my busy schedule. Appearently, however, many of my students have never stepped outside of the Bronx to experience some of these places. And, let me remind you, these places are LITERALLY a 15-30 minute subway ride away. And they get free subway Metro cards from the school...

I'm sure it's safe to expect that your city students have been to some of the most intriguing, interesting, diverse and exciting places in the city. Nope! I feel really bad for them though. Some of my students can be really inspired by what's going on in other parts/neighborhoods/areas of the city, and by some of the tourist attractions that native New Yorkers (like me) still go to (the museums, etc.).

But, this can change this year! Our administration is offering to any student earning a "3" or "4" on the ELA and Math NYS exams a "day out in the city" - for only $20. Some of them will finally be able to see the light!

I'm thinking for homework this weekend... go and experience New York City like never before! ;)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Up to my knees in paperwork


I am extremely overwhelmed right now. Like, no. Up to my KNEES - wait, scratch that - MY HEAD - in paperwork, grading, data, etc. 

I didn't really anticipate this much work so late in the year and I genuinely thought I was done with the bulk of the work for the year. But apparently not. Our administration is loading us up with piles and piles of paperwork and data reports for us to complete. And worst of all, this is all due on June 1st! 

On top of that, because of all the good weather we've been having lately and a greater number of social/personal life events, I've fallen behind on my grading and updating my gradebook & class calendar. This isn't really good for the end of the year and 4th quarter where students are cramming all the late work they can to me to boost their year/course grade up to the next letter grade (or keep their grade from falling to the lower letter grade). That's about 1.5-2 hours of work per class period - another 10 hours gone. 

Looks like I know what I'll be doing during my Memorial Day weekend...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Yeah, sure, it's cool not to do your homework

It's the end of May. I get that.

It's after the NYS. I get that.

It's warm and nice outside. I get that.

Students have a life after school. I get that.

I teach middle school. I get that.

While I get and understand where my students are coming from, and have experienced the desire not to do my homework before when I was in school, this is ridiculous. I have communicated to my students NUMEROUS times about how I check homework EVERY day and that homework is so important because it gives them a chance to review, apply & practice the skills learned in class. So when I went to check homework today, I expected it to be more or less of a normal day... a couple (meaning five or so) of students didn't do it or "forgot" about it, but the rest of the class had it all done with beautiful work shown, etc. Here's what I got instead:
  • First Period: Eighteen students out of thirty did not do their homework.
  • Second Period: Twenty-three students out of twenty-nine did not do their homework. Yuck.
  • Third Period: Twelve students out of thirty-one did not do their homework. Ehh, better, but still not good.
  • Sixth Period: Fifteen students out of thirty did not do their homework.
  • Eighth Period: Ten students out of twenty-eight did not do their homework.
I broke down first and second periods and gave my students a long lecture and "the package" about homework and why their dismal showing came to me as an insult to all the hard work I did making the worksheet, blah, blah blah. But I stopped after second period, because I figured that seeing the zeroes in the gradebook for all the homework they didn't do and how badly it effected their grades should be motivation and reason enough for them to finish their homework every night it's assigned.

I try not to assign homework every night. Usually, I will assign it every other night, or after class periods where we introduced a concept or learned an important concept. Homework usually takes about 20-30 minutes. After the NYS, our curriculums give us SO much more freedom that my students' homework loads are even lower than usual.

I wish my students would still be the same motivated and driven students that I had before the NYS. It's May and towards the end of the year, so I do need to cut them some slack. It's also been very hot recently and will be getting even hotter in the coming weeks, which also takes a toll on them. But if I'm still doing my "homework", they should too. What we learn at the end of the year is basically going into the Algebra I curriculum in high school - and I really feel that if I get them prepared and on the right track for high school math, they will see similar success next year and in the future that they saw this year.

But they ABSOLUTELY have to do their homework. It's soooo important!!!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What are the chances that...

Because so much of the school year is geared towards preparing students for the 8th grade NYS, teachers do not get to teach probability as part of the curriculum until mid-May (that would be now). Probability is actually one of the most enjoyable units/topics to teach because there is so much that we can do in terms of activities. While just about everything we learned this year is applicable to real life (well, I might be a little biased on that...), usually middle schoolers really enjoy learning probability.

In the probability unit, we cover: expected value, counting possible outcomes, basic probability calculations, conditional probability, theoretical vs. experimental probability and even introduce students to the basics of factorials.

I just finished planning with Miss Gonzalez a "class fair" that will include a variety of games (six different games) set up in stations for students to practice the probability concepts and to have fun actually playing the games. These aren't necessarily unique, but rather common carnival games studens may encounter at a fair (Wheel of Fortune, spinner/dice games, etc.) I might add a "trivia" section to the "class fair" with questions like "If there are 5 numbers in a zip code, calculate the number of possible zip codes if the each number in a zip code can be from 0-9."

I think the class fair is a really good idea for the end of the year, because it coincides with the more relaxed environment of the average post-NYS classroom. Some of these probabilty concepts will carry with students through high school, so it's really important to give the kids a firm foundation for this now.

Probability is, in general, really fun to teach and fun to do as well. It's not terribly difficult either, which makes the students like it even better! I wish I could have taught probability earlier on in the year... but I guess now's better than never.

P.S. Next year, my school's adopting an Integrated Algebra "honors" program for advanced math students to take during 8th grade. Students will have to take the NYS in April or May, and have the option (based on teacher recommendation) to take the Regents exam for high school credit. I will be teaching two sections of this class next year to balance out the more rowdy pre-algebra classes I will have. :)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Making treats! & Teacher Appreciation Week

Quick blog post on a Saturday night...

Tonight, I came up with the BRILLIANT (if I do say so myself) idea of "making" chocolate covered pretzels for my students Monday. They've worked so hard all year, and this is just one of the little ways for me to express my gratitude to my amazing classes.

Last week was TEACHER APPRECIATION WEEK at my school. And boy, were we treated like royalty. Not only did we get amazing, FREE food every day of the week (pastas, salads, ethnic cuisine and more!), but we got recognition and tons of cards from our administration, colleagues and our STUDENTS! The administration and students were very sincere, genuine and HILARIOUS (well, the students at least...) in their cards. My students shared the memories and laughs we had this year, and our administration actually individually wrote us LETTERS (that were different for each teacher!) for Teacher Appreciation Week.

I'm starting to think it should be teacher appreciation week every week... who's with me?? :)

P.S. I'm going to look soooo wierd toting around a bag full of 150 chocolate covered pretzels to school Monday morning...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What the popular crowd says, goes

Five years ago, at my high school graduation, I was voted by my 450+ classmates as "most popular". Looking back, I was never the snobby, stereotypical popular high school kid. I hung out with people from all groups: the jocks, the "nerds", the preps, etc. In turn, many of my classmates were inspired by my hard work, positive outlook on life and my grades, and tried to shape their lives to be "just like me". Many of my friends would walk with me down the hall and say, "Wow, you can't even go 2 minutes without someone saying 'hi!' to you.". 

So, naturally, when I became a teacher, I was able to easily identify the cliques at my school, and which kids were considered the "populars" and which kids get bullied on.  I felt able to have a natural connection with each one of these cliques as I observed lunchroom and classroom behavior.

The group of "populars" are split between guys and girls - each gender having about six or seven true members. In the past, some of the popular kids have been the school's best students: the boys were sports stars and stars in the classrooms; the girls introduced the most sweeping fashion changes and inspired the other girls to work hard in class. However, the popular crowd for both boys and girls is highly organized into the "Mean Girls" fashion - with definite leaders, people who look up to/kiss up to/do whatever the populars want, and some people who openly defy them. The popular students definitely have a say in what goes on in terms of drama, gossip and other teenager things at school... and generally they always get their way.

To join this group of students, is, without a doubt, difficult. Being in the popular clique is highly selective... and rejection can be publically humiliating and degrading. I've had two students who tried to join but were rejected. Clearly the social atmosphere of middle school is a lot harder than I remembered...

After talking to some of the populars, I've tried to help them use their popularity to improve the social strands of school - by reducing bullying, making the social scene more open to others, accepting diversity and different people and avoiding hurtful gossip. Hopefully my efforts will work, but, I do know that if the "populars" are on board with this new plan, the entire school will be in a split second.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Blog feedback

Four months into my blog, I have decided that I want to find ways to make my blog even better for my loyal readers. In just four months, my blog has received more views than I ever could have imagined. The following two sites will help me in my quest to further improve the quality and content of my blog:

blogs rating: www.blogsrating.com

blogs archive: www.blogsarchive.com

BlogRateDirectory: <a href="http://www.blogratedirectory.com/Dir/Education.php" title="Education Blog Directory"><img src="http://www.blogratedirectory.com/?act=in&id=97698" alt="Blog Directory" title="Blog Directory" border="0" /></a>

Readers, please feel free to send feedback as well!!!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

My classes: post-NYS

Well guys, we've made it past the NYS!!! May is here, and so is the end of the year!

The end of the year comes with some interesting stories...

Today, Alex, a student in my first period class, asked Lola (the girl almost every boy in my classes have huge crushes on) to the "Senior Prom", or our school's fancy-shmancy-all-grown-up name for the school dance that happens at the end of the year for all "graduating seniors" (8th graders)... in my class! (Boy, do they make graduating from middle school twenty times more formal than it really is! Granted, this is a big accomplishment for my students and I am very proud of each and every one of them.) Needless to say, it was a BEAUTIFUL, very mature moment in the year. It really shows how much the students grow up and develop over the course of the year - Alex was a very jumpy, energetic, carefree student in September, but now, he's basically as grown up as I am - possibly even more. All of the girls went "awwwww! that's sooo cute!". The boys patted/chest pumped (is that even how you say it?)/high fived Alex after Lola said "yes", saying, what every middle schooler these days say: "get some bro!" or "ya my boy's becoming a man" or "SWAG". During lunch, Miss Aguilera came up to me and told me that her class heard everything that happened & the reaction in my class during the proposal. "Wedding bells, anyone?"...

Mi'kyeah's mom brought in a cake for my homeroom class to enjoy in the morning. After the prep work was done, Mi'kyeah and two of her friends went up to the front of the room and started putting cake onto plates and distributing the cake to the other students in homeroom. Around halfway into the service, Mi'kyeah's friend, Sarai, had a "mini-trip" which caused the slice of cake to fly out of the plate and landed right on Juan's face. The other students around Juan, including Mi'kyeah and Sarai, went over and starting using their fingers to get cake off of Juan's face and eating it... until it became almost a mini-party! We all got some really good laughs out of that. This is a birthday Mi'kyeah's going to remember for a very long time. :)  

Life after NYS: soooo much more relaxed! Happy May everybody!