A Day in the Life of a First-Year Teacher

Friday, August 31, 2012

Back in the groove of things

The school year has officially started for NYC teachers! After about two months away from the classroom (but not away from teaching, as we have all spent at least part of our summers planning and getting ready for the year, mind you), we headed back to our classrooms this week to set up for the new school year (2012-2013!!!).

I have a new colleague for 8th grade math this year - "Mr. Carter". As I previously posted, Mr. Carter is a first year teacher from Chicago beginning his teaching career here at our school in the Bronx. Appearently, Mr. Carter has an AMAZING record as a student teacher with the Chicago Public Schools, and we're very excited to welcome him to our team. This should be a very nice change for our new eigth graders, who (finally!) do not have the risk of getting Mr. Buchell.

In my school, every teacher met with our amazing principal, Ms. Lopez, and our assistant principal (discipline AP), Mr. O'Klay, to discuss expectations they have for us this year, create goals, answer questions, introduce new school procedures, go over test scores, go over our schedules, take a look at our summer prep work, among other things. We met our new staff and did some teambuilding activities as a large group of faculty! Even cuter... Ms. Lopez got us each a t-shirt with "motivational" words on the back and our school's colors - words like "persevereance", "dedication", "initiative", "character" and "integrity" - that define our school's core values. We are to wear our new t-shirt on the first day of school to remind our students of the character traits that we will cultivate in each of them and expect to see from them.

I have my classroom fully set up and ready to go this year. I'm in the same room as last year, so this task wasn't too difficult. All my posters are up and running, my boards are set up, my technology is working (thank goodness), a new Facebook page has been created and all my lesson plans are up on Engrade. I'm very excited to get started with the new school year! After a pretty successful first year of teaching, I am really looking forward to seeing the challenges and successes that I will be faced with my second year. I'm starting to have dreams about my students,and classes, colleagues and the school year... and these anxious feelings are only going to continue to build and incrementally increase up until the night before school... by then, I probably won't be getting too much sleep...

They say your second year of teaching is filled with applying the lessons learned from your not-so-successful lesson plans and days from your first year of teaching. While I have blogged about many of those, I mostly blogged and experienced positive things last year. Is the second year of teaching filled with using that - and cultivating it to make the success even greater? Or was I just lucky last year? After all, it's no secret that my classes and students are harder this year: greater percentage of student discipline problems, lower average NYS scores (some two to three grade levels behind), family problems, HUGE increase in special-ed population, less pull-out support...

How is this year going to go?

Well, at least I know how my schedule is going to go:
0- Advisory
1- 8th grade math*
2- 8th grade math
3- Planning
4- Integrated Algebra
5- Integrated Algebra
6- Lunch
7- 8th grade math*
8- Free: meetings, conferences with mentors, department chair, principal/AP, lesson planning time, occassional duties, meeting with push-in teachers

* Due to higher numbers of special needs students (9 in 1st period and 11 in 7th), a push-in teacher will be provided during these periods specifically to meet the needs for my special-ed/IEP students.
**Many, many goods to this schedule! Maximum of only two class periods in a row (as opposed to three), and average class size of 30 (as opposed to 32).

How is this year going to go? It's going to be what I make of it. Regardless of what they say about my new classes, I'm going to go in just like I did last year. Build relationships and trust with my students. Ensuring that all my students are understanding the material. Going back for them. Being there for them. It's going to be a great year. I'm their teacher - someone they will remember for their entire life.

Well rested and well prepared, I'm back in the groove of teaching :)

Monday, August 20, 2012

So Soon!

In just a little under three weeks, New York City public school students will be returning to the classroom. Seeing bright new faces, reuniting with friends that they haven't seen since school let out June 27th and meeting their new teachers.

For my students, they are beginning their 8th grade year - and their last year at the school (it's a 6-8 program). Which means, for the time being, they're "SENIORS"! At this point in the beginning of the year, they are all over the place in terms of maturity, physical appearence, mental abilities, personality and attitude. Last year, I had some students who were still under the 5 foot mark, and some students who were nearing the 6 foot mark (yeah, I know, that's kind of scary...). They have a whole new chance to redefine themselves as a student and start on a fresh, clean slate.

Many of them have already had their eyes set on their schedules. Snippets of this conversation - "I want Mr. Yang for math next year" - can be heard all throughout the halls. Guess I'm a celebrity in my school! Last year's 7th graders knew about the three 8th grade math teachers and ALL about the reasons why they do not want Mr. Buchell. But what they don't know is that we got a new math teacher (Mr. Carter) this summer who will be joining us! Mr. Buchell is now in 7th grade math for all five teaching periods. (I feel bad for the poor 7th graders.)

3 weeks! I am so excited to meet my new students this year. I'm already dreaming about what my classes will look like and what my students will be like. They have such unique personalities and needs. I'm entering my second year of teaching, which may not sound very impressive to some, but is actually a big jump from entering the first year. Yet, I still feel like I did last year at this time for the most part. Guess that's a good thing right? 3 weeks. 3 weeks until I meet my students, begin my second year of teaching and get back into the "school year routine"! Can't wait! September 6th, come faster!!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Preparing for a year of teaching Integrated Algebra

As I reported at the end of the year, my principal, Ms. Lopez moved my schedule for this upcoming year around a little bit. In 2011-2012, I had five sections of 8th grade math (pre-algebra). In 2012-2013, I will have three sections of 8th grade math and our school's very first (!!) two sections of Integrated Algebra. Integrated Algebra is essentially the equivalent of a traditional Algebra I class here in New York, except intermixed with some geometry, measurement, data analysis/statistics and probability. Integrated Algebra is generally a class for high school freshmen, but is offered in NYC to accelerated 8th grade math students with a recommendation and a test-in.

Starting in late July up till now, I have started to educate myself about what to expect in teaching Integrated Algebra: scowering the NYC DOE website's "educator resources" and reading up all I can about what Integrated Algebra is and how to teach it. I browsed through the item analyses for the past years' Regents exams as well as analyzed previous questions, jotting down teaching ideas and strategies in a notebook. I also attended two professional development sessions on best teaching practices in and tips for Integrated Algebra. Who knew it was so complex? This new placement is definitely a tougher challenge than my first year of teaching - since 8th grade math is a lot more spelled out and easier to understand.

My Integrated Algebra students are in for a very rigorous year - since they have to take and pass both the 8th grade NYS and the Integrated Algebra Regents exam (to get high school math credit). It kinda reminds me of an AP class in high school, where we had to take the Regents as well as the AP test. Back when I was in 8th grade, we didn't even have the option of taking Integrated Algebra in middle school... if we wanted to get ahead in math, we'd have to take it over the summer at a college and test out in school. I know my AP teachers had significantly more work, and I have more work to do in Integrated Algebra than in 8th grade math. But, on the plus side, teaching accelerated students possibly means fewer/minimal behavioral disruptions! I don't know though, because from what I heard from their 7th grade teachers, my 8th graders next year are going to be tough across the board.  :(

The 7th grade math test scores at our school went down this year, meaning for 8th grade math I'm going to have to do more review to get them up to speed. But, because I'm entering my second year coming off a very successful first year and student teaching experience, I feel very confident in that subject. However, I'm still a first year teacher in a sense that it will be my first year teaching (and our school's first year offering) Integrated Algebra. I'm kinda excited to still have that "first year feel" in my attitude though, I believe it helped drive and motivate me to be a great teacher last year. There's a lot to learn (good thing I'm getting a head start now!) and I won't have a colleague to go to this time (well, except for my mentor, but he's never taught this before...) if I need any help, but I am determined to do an excellent job with this class! And, of course, if it doesn't work out, I can always stay with having five sections of 8th grade math.

Last summer, when I was applying to teach in the NYC public schools, I watched the I TEACH NYC recruitment videos from current teachers on their advice for new teachers. An English teacher in Queens said in her video, "... you have to be the rookie of the year, every year." I've always kept that with me, because it's true. Having that mentality drives you do great things. I will always remember this quote during my years of teaching. You have to be the rookie of the year, every year. There's always something you don't know... always something you haven't mastered yet. This year, that "something" is Integrated Algebra. Next year, there's going to be something else. My fourth year of teaching, another thing. Thank you, Ms. Cabrerra-Carrasco!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

New Standards for Teaching Certification

In an New York Times article entitled "To Earn Classroom Certification, More Teaching and Less Testing", NYT reports on how New York and 25 other states are changing the way that traditional-path teachers are being licensed.

When I was in my undergraduate Math Education program at NYU, my professors and advisor told me about how I was required to pass the LAST (Liberal Arts & Sciences Test) a teaching pedagogy/strategies exam and a special exam for mathematics to obtain my licensure in New York. This, along with successful completion of student teaching and my Bachelor's degree, would allow me to find a job as a teacher.

When I first read this, I thought to myself, "Wow! This new assessment system is really really bold." And by all means, I support it. In fact, I actually wish I could have made a video demonstrating me teaching than sit through all those tests. We HAVE to make sure that new teachers are going into the classroom prepared to teach and knowing the realities of urban classrooms and how to reach inner-city students. Teaching pedagogy, theory and methods classes are absolutely necessary as well. And while I was fortunate to be in one of the strongest undergraduate teacher prep programs in the country, many students are not.

Having prospective candidates create a teaching video demonstrating how much they learned, retained and can apply will give principals a panoramic view of that candidate's teaching ability. (Although I sincerely believe Michael Mulgrew is wrong when he says that new teachers leaving schools of education "unprepared to teach is one main reason our attrition rate is so high". The main reason why is because of stress, conflicts with the administration and with colleagues and lack of support in general. The best teachers, the Irreplaceables as they're called by The New Teacher Project, are often the first ones to leave. Get your facts right, Mulgrew!)  With the issue of teacher quality so important, what principal isn't looking for that?

However, why stop here? Why not reform the way that teachers are being trained right now? For example, in college, I had to sit through classes like Calculus 3 and Linear Algebra to complete my 36 required NYS credits in math. Yet, I'm teaching MIDDLE SCHOOL math. None of that really helped me, and quite honestly, a lot of what I learned in those advanced, math-major designed classes has left my system after three/four years. We should be training teachers to review what they learned in school - things they will actually be teaching - like Algebra II, Precalculus, Calc 1 and Calc 2... things they may actually be teaching (if they teach high school that is). NYU had 2 semesters of student teaching, and the benefits of that program was invaluable. Shouldn't every school of education value the benefits and learning experience of student teaching to institute a 2-semester, 2 level program? (Elementary ed students can do a program in two different grades. In a 1-6 certification, maybe do an early childhood (1 or 2) and a middle childhood (4 or 5)).

Teacher ed is a hot botton issue now. I'm really looking forward to seeing what it has in store for us in the future! My oh my, education is a rapidly changing field!

Happy August! 1 month till school starts, and I'm busily preparing for it while enjoying the time left that I have "off"!!