A Day in the Life of a First-Year Teacher

Saturday, June 30, 2012

First year... check!

Last week, I saw my very amazing, soon-to-be high school freshmen students graduate at Hostos Community College. While all of them were dressed up in their graduation robes, the girls with their makeup and hair done, and the boys looking all grown up and professional, they were ready for the biggest day of their entire middle school career: graduation. Some (not all, of course) of their parents and relatives were there to make their graduation special and to tell them about how proud they were of them. Some of these parents were parents I had never seen before: not at parent-teacher conferences, not at Open House... never. Watching my students graduate was very... bittersweet. I visualized how each of them came in to our team in September and how many of them had changed SO much during the course of the year. The graduation speeches were extremely inspring, and students who were voted in one of the 'Senior Superlatives' each gave a short speech to their "graduating" class.

After graduation, the kids separated into their homeroom classes and walked to the subway station. We took the kids out to Manhattan for lunch and did a couple activities where we got students to think about themselves, about their friends and about their future. One of the activities we did was the "Clique Activity", where we put students into groups that are separate from their 'clique' - so they can mingle and meet new friends they might have never talked to before. I think some of them have some very good new friends!

On Wednesday, in the midst of all the heat that was going on that week, the students finished their last day of middle school and I finished the last day of my first year of teaching. From the blur of all the things going on that day, I remember:
  • tears
  • food
  • laughter
  • partying
  • goodbyes
  • yearbook signing like no tomorrow
  • picture taking... and lots of it
  • making a very emotional goodbye speech to each of my five classes
  • more tears
  • getting gifts from my students and colleagues
It was, needless to say, an extremely emotional day. My students - who I had taught and raised like they were my own kids - would be leaving me. But I also knew that my students really respected me as a teacher and as a person... especially the many students who took time out of their busy schedule to write me thank-you cards and give me gifts.

I too, gave my students a good-bye gift. Each student got a "yearbook" from my class with some of the pictures I took during the year, their class pictures, graduation, prom, etc. Our team treated them to an ice cream party.

I witnessed my students truly grow up this year. So much that in homeroom, my students and I were discussing the Ann Curry debacle, the Karen Klein bullies, Healthcare reform... things you wouldn't even expect an 8th/9th grader to be interested in, let along to be talking about.

To any of Mr. Yang's students that happen to be reading this right now: (unlikely since my last name isn't "Yang" and I haven't told them about this blog...)

Thank you so so so so much for being such a great group of students. I am honored to have worked with you this year, and honored to be a part of your life. I hope that, not only have your skills in math grown, but you have also grown as a person. You have taught me so much about teaching and about the students that I work with... and I sincrely hope I taught you as much as you taught me, though I highly doubt it. I respect and admire all of you, because the challenges that you face day in and day out don't even come close to what I went through when I was your age, or with what I face right now. Your hard work, persevereance, sense of humor, intelligence and optimism really defines who you are. I know that life in the Bronx is not easy, but you are making it work!

I know ALL of you have what it takes to be successful. I want all of you to go to graduate from high school and go on to great colleges and do great things. NEVER give up on your dreams & don't ever stop dreaming. I am here for you and know that every one of you mean so much to me. I believe in you and don't ever let ANYBODY tell you you can't make it out there!

Oh, and make sure to come & visit me often! :)

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." -Eleanor Roosevelt
"You must be the change you want to see in the world."-Mohandas Gandhi

All the best,
Mr. Yang

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Results are IN!

I am so proud of my students. I know I say that a lot, but I am extremely proud of them right now.

Of my 160 students, over 130 of them passed the Mathematics NYS exam this year with a score of a 3 or a 4. Of the 28 students that did not make it to a '3', 15 of them earned a '2' on the test. 50 students were able to earn the highest score, a '4'. That equates to an 82.5% passage rate! (for my first year!) By contrast, only 68% of my students passed their 7th grade NYS exam.

Between the three 8th grade classes at my school (mine, Miss Gonzalez's class, Mr. Buchell's class), an average of 73% of the students passed the NYS with a '3' or a '4'... THE HIGHEST PERCENT PASSAGE RATE IN THE HISTORY OF THE SCHOOL! :)

There were definitely some surprises with the scores. One of my brightest students who I thought for sure was going to pass - most likely earn a '4' - only scored a '2' on the NYS. She's extremely smart and hard-working and consistently has one of the highest grades among all of my classes, but I guess she just wasn't having a good day during the test or is the type of student that suffers from test anxiety. On the flip side, three of the "Four Gangstas" earned a '3' on the NYS, which was definitely unexpected.

Now, I'd love to congratulate and praise myself for yielding such successful scores, and maybe I did contribute to my students' success, but ultimately, it was my students who took the initiative and made the effort to work hard this year. This is their reward just as much - probably more - than mine. I am so proud of all of them for the work that they did this year.

In the beginning of the year, when I was making my "beginning of the year pep speeches", I told my classes that if they followed my expectations and cooperated with me, that I would be able to lead them to the path of success. One full school year later, this is one of their rewards. They did everything I asked of them and made teaching them a joy. Not only do they have stellar grades and '3''s and '4''s on the NYS to show for it, but they also have the knowledge of the concepts we covered in class, pathways to countless application situations they have under their belt now and the character, moral and teamwork skills that we worked on this year.

In the end, I know that I helped to challenge my students to be the very best they can be, to show them that they can and should reach their potential, and taught them to never stop chasing their dreams. My students have grown so much this year, and have changed academically, physically and characteristically.

It will truly be sad to see them go... but I'm proud and confident in each and every one of my students.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

When your teacher sweats, you know something is up

I can't take this weather anymore. Ughhhh I really can't! I spent half the day - in my classroom - sweating during my lessons. The air conditioning is working on and off and is unreliable at my school right now. And even with the fans blasting cool air in my classroom, and the door wide open, it is still extremely hot in there. The sweating became uncontrollable and visible to my students and it was utterly ridiculous - both how I felt and how much the heat got in the way of my teaching. The students got more and more restless as the day went on, and by the afternoon, they basically refused to participate in our classroom activity. Not that I could blame them, because it's almost impossible to concentrate in that room.

With sweaty teachers (no, it was not just me, the majority of teachers at our school were sweating!) and restless students, not too much learning got done today. And tomorrow's going to be EVEN WORSE. (Yeah, I know, it can get worse from here???) But I'm gearing up for the fight. I've refrigerated three water bottles in the mini-fridge in my classroom for my personal use tomorrow. I have towels ready and paper towels for my students. As a reward for the kids, I have popsicle sticks (!) for them too.

I'm going to redo the lesson from today for tomorrow. It's very important, because my students are gearing up for their exit exam from 8th grade Math and preparing for Integrated Algebra next year.

Goal for tomorrow: keep sweating to a minimum, keep students on task, reward students for being on task and find a way for all of us to cope with the heat. Let's try getting done at least the first three of those goals. :)

Ahh... I can't believe the year is almost over and SUMMER offically began today!!!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Middle school grade configurations: K-8 or 6-8?

As my readers would know, I teach 8th grade math in New York City. Recently, education experts, professors, teachers and the community have started to debate about whether middle school should be included in the K-8 grade levels or the 6-8 grade level. My school in the Bronx is a 6-8 school. Today during my lunch period, I came accross this article in the New York Times:


Read the debate and tell me what you think!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Tales from the supply room

Well, it's definitely the end of the year! As my students' attention spans slowly diminish by the day and their preparation for the end-of-the-year events starting to take full control over their lives, our administration is starting to get lazier too.

Three days ago, the discipline AP notified all teachers that there has been a surge in the number of discipline cases he's had to deal with - as is the case every June. In his memo to us, he told us that we are still expected to continue full swing with our lesson plans to "keep students busy in the classroom with academic endeavors". To reinforce that, Mr. O'Klay has started to CHECK our lesson plans randomly and, so far, wrote up two teachers for not having their lesson plans.

Since I'm a first year teacher, disobeying my AP was definitely a no-no (I would never disobey my supervisors!). So today I carefully planned a lesson for my students for the last unit of the year: the Integrated Algebra transition unit. In this unit, we focus on the skills, strategies and concepts students need to have a firm grasp on before moving into high school Integrated Algebra. I planned out six five-minute stations, of which students will rotate from station to station to review and apply a specific skill covered in the unit. Then, during my lunch period, I made a quick trip down to the supply room on the first floor where  the "staple" supplies for lessons are stored. Earlier in the year, teachers could come in as they pleased and could pick out as many supplies as they needed for their lessons. Today, however, we were notified that the supply room is low on supplies and that, get this, all teachers wishing to use the supply room must pick up a ration card limiting them to only 5 selections per day.

Wow, way to ruin a perfectly good lesson plan. You expect me to follow your orders of "keeping the students busy" but decide not to support me in carrying out that demand by essentially closing off the supply room? Talk about bad administrators. Normally, Ms. Lopez, the amazing school principal, would be able to get us out of sticky situations like this, but she's using up her vacation days this week to spend with her toddler and make sure graduation events are secured and organized for the big days. So, I had to leave the building (with only 30 minutes left in my lunch period) and walk two blocks to the dollar store near the school to buy what I needed for my lesson.

When I came back, sixth period was right about to start - and I lost my lunch today.

And to think the supply room used to be the easiest, most stress-free place in the school.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

June 27th's almost here!

What the end of the year brings at my school:
  • report cards data work
  • finishing up grades
  • reflecting on the year
  • last minute stressing over grades/late work/make up work
  • the DC trip and Day out in the City
  • "senior prom" -- the big annual 8th grade dance!
  • the senior awards picnic
  • prepping for graduation
  • "senior" t-shirts and yearbook signings
  • graffiti - lots of it!
  • paint parties
  • spirit days
  • take-a-picture-and-hug-your-teachers ritual
  • course evaluations
  • movies
  • the "make sure you're ready for high school" speech and the success speeches
  • graduation!!!!! and goodbyes :(

Yep, everyone, June 27th's almost here... and so is the end of the year.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Tryna' Get Yolked

Conversation between Martin and Mr. Yang - 8:10 a.m.

Martin: Mr. Yang, I'm tryna' get yolked for the ladies today.

Mr. Yang: afraid this is something sexual/inappropriate/too personal. What does 'yolked' mean?

Martin: Ya know, doe, like big muscles and strength and abs.  I wanna get yolked like Yema.
           * Appearently, "Yema" is a nickname the girls give to Juan, who fits the definition of "yolked", according to Martin...

Hmm, shows how mature my kids are. Good luck with that, Martin! :)

Mr. Yang: walking into the teacher's lounge before first period - 8:20 a.m.

Mr. Yang: Guys, guess what new teenage word I learned today!

Ahhh... Wednesday mornings.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Why can't there be a math field trip?

I've spent the entire year telling my students about how math is actually useful in the real world. Shopping! Eating! Sleeping! Transportation! Roller coasters! Movies! (insert job here)! (insert another job here)! (insert another job here)!...

But while my students can physically see how science/social studies/English/Spanish, etc. are useful in the real world, they can't physically see how math is - well, except for taking my word for it and in the word problems we do in class. The reason why my students can see how science, social studies, English, etc. are useful is because they either 1) speak it and know people that speak it and 2) have been on FIELD TRIPS.

I sincerely believe that my students can gain a better appreciation for math if we had a "math field trip". I'm thinking maybe a "math in the City" day during the last week of school. We did several scavenger hunts in school during the winter for certain units, but the students know that Miss Rodriguez and I planned and created the entire hunt. To be honest, my students probably put up with math/pretend they actually enjoy it mostly because of me as a person and me as a teacher. But when they move up to Integrated Algebra and higher, they may not have a teacher that they respect as much (or actually teaches). They need that inner motivation. What's that word? Oh yeah, intrinsic motivation.