A Day in the Life of a First-Year Teacher

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sweetest Day Update/CHITOWN con mi amiga

Well, I guess it looks like we're back together for Sweetest Day.. (see previous post about what happened leading up to this) 

On a teacher-related note, my friend and fellow math education major from NYU and I are in CHICAGO right now for a professional development seminar on math education in secondary schools (special focus on grades 6-9... I teach 8th grade & she teaches 9th!) focusing on teaching strategies, assessment strategies and CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT. 

Some things we're thinking of bringing back and trying out in our own rooms: 

  • flowchart/"picture lecture" notes- for unit concepts that link closely with each other, kind of like a study guide that students copy down during the unit from the board (good prep for high school math) 
  • homework passes- if students complete (w/ quality and relative accuracy/effort) 10 checked assignments in a row, they earn a homework pass good for 1 small assignment of their choice (read: NOT a project, study guide, etc... only a daily 5 pt. homework assignment) 
  • using graphing calculators in the classroom- something I need to start trying w/ my Integrated Algebra class 
  • 3-2-1 technique- when the class starts getting rowdy or uncontrollable, I'll hold up a "3" at first, then a "2" and finally a "1". At "1" students should be silent and refocused... this will take some getting used to but I feel that it could work with some enforcement. If not, class may face consequences such as a written assignment, staying past the bell or after-school detention
  • A team boards- bulletin board for students who earned "A"s on unit tests! Multiple "A"s result in a special decoration like a star/sticker around their original "post" on the bulletin board... students would strive to emulate these students & get their names on the A team
  • period-wise competition - behavioral strategy to award "points" for good behaviors that the class exhibits (ex. 100% HW completion, staying on task during groupwork, average of 85% or better on a quiz/test, quieting down quickly, good report from a sub, etc.) & period with most points gets a reward (ex. a pizza party!)
  • peer critique- more for new Common Core standards, students "trade & grade" practice short answer/extended response questions and critique answers, a grade that THEY think the response earns, offer advice, etc. after being given a rubric and teacher explanation. Then, teacher collects critiques and original responses and adds his/her own comments and suggestions along with a final grade. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Where's Our School Spirit??

I saw this post on Twitter from one of my friends from high school: http://vimeo.com/75058173 

I thought to myself, WOW! That's some real school spirit!

The last time I saw school spirit this great was in high school, when my school's football team won the championship tournament. The entire school burst out in our fight song and everyone was proud to be a student at my school. I lived for those moments of school spirit, because, well... for those of you who don't know me, I'm super spirited and cheery. 

This video truly made my Friday because it really showcased so many of the different clubs and groups of Lakewood High School and how they banded together to make a GREAT video showcasing their school spirit and unity. I guess this is really characteristic of a lot of suburban schools - it was back at my Queens high school as well. 

I think school spirit speaks so much about the character of the school, its student body and its faculty - schools with more spirit are more unified and that's what schools should focus on more. Having everyone feel included is continuously shown to bring about higher test scores, higher attendance rates and fewer disciplinary issues. 

Even though I teach in a middle school, I would LOVE to see more school spirit like this. We should form a student council to bring about these issues to the administration and get teachers as well as the rest of the student body involved as well. 

Maybe I'll start something similar to that. 

HAPPY FRIDAY! And congrats to Lakewood High School in Colorado for winning a visit by Katy Perry on her birthday!! 

Re-Blog: Missing Headline: NYC Teachers the Best in State

This blog post was originally published on EDWIZE on September 17th, 2013. Go NYC teachers!! 

Missing Headline: NYC Teachers the Best in State

Here is a headline that was missing in the NYC papers this past week:
NYC Teachers: The Best Teachers in the State. 
 And here is the missing lead to the article.
An analysis of New York State’s growth scores reveals that NYC teachers are twice as likely to be considered Highly Effective compared to teachers in the rest of the state, and about half as likely to be Ineffective.  That analysis is based on the results of the state’s teacher growth model and this year’s new math and reading tests.
And here is the missing sidebar:
2013 Growth Score Results
Percent of Teachers in City
Percent of Teachers in
Rest of State
Highly Effective
True, that story would be based on test scores in ELA and math, grades 4-8.  True  again, the state used its statistical growth model formulas to arrive at those results. And, true a third time,  test scores and growth models can never be the only measure of teacher effectiveness.
But still. When have those limitations ever stopped the press from publishing test-score stories about teachers in the past?
For example, two years ago, it was front-page news when some researchers tied the “quality” of  4th grade teachers to the marginally increased incomes of their students two decades later. We are talking here about a single study that made a cause and effect link between two events happening 20 years apart, and a salary increase of a few hundred bucks a year. Is that front page news?  Yet there is was, and it got the intended traction, too — trotted out at dozens of forums nationwide as a justification for firing teachers based on their students’ test scores.
That’s not the only example, of course. When schools — and implicitly their teachers — are labeled F’s and D’s based on test scores, the press is happy to carry those stories.
And let’s not even discuss all the eagerness around the value-added TDRs.
But when it comes to news that essentially says “Let’s stop the war on NYC teachers” ?  Nothing made the printed press. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the folks at Gotham Schools, we may never have known.
But to return to the findings on our teachers.  Here is what else the New York Post, or Times, or some other paper could have said:
Only one in 20 teachers in the rest of the state was found to be “highly effective” — but in New York, that number was one in 10 (11%).  And while the rest of the state had more Ineffective teachers than Highly Effective ones, in the city there were three times more Top Teachers than struggling ones according to their scores.  
 NYC math and reading teachers earned those results in spite of the intense challenges that their students often face. More city kids arrive at school learning disabled, poor, and new to the English language.
 These findings are based on a very large data pool of data  (about 40,000 teachers and well over one million kids).  And this is actually the second year that city teachers outperformed the state.  Last year, the differences seemed smaller, but  researchers attribute the widening gap to  improvements in the statistical models, which better capture the results.  
Really, and truly, I do know how scary it can be to validate our existence with any of that.
But in a world that is perfectly willing to debase us through scores — why can’t the world out there extol our virtues, too?
So, congratulations to our teachers, and our schools.  We know that tests can’t begin to capture what you do, and that growth models can’t capture all the challenges we face.  But they do say something — and it bears repeating in a public space.

Friday, October 11, 2013

When personal life tumbles, my kids (and roomies) are still the ones here for me

Last week, I left a relationship that sustained for over four years. She was my prom date back from senior year. (We went as friends.) and then we both parted ways, her to a pre-pharmacy program in Ohio and me to a psychology-secondary education/Spanish program at NYU. We got back together my junior year of college and have stayed together for the past 4+ years. Lately, differences have started to emerge that led to greater distance between the two of us, something neither of us anticipated. The pain of dealing with this distance and this fighting was too much and I decided that maybe it was best for me to leave. 

I'm 23-going-on-to-24, so this sudden change in my long-term relationship has been really devastating. The day I left the relationship due to those differences and my frustrations, I called a personal day from work. There's no way I could walk into my classroom at 7:40 in the morning and have the energy I needed to teach. I had a lesson plan written for that day but a substitute teacher could not possibly have taught a whole lesson to both classes and conducted the activities planned - so I wrote my students a letter explaining the situation (without too many details of course) and left a movie for them to watch, saying I would return tomorrow. 

Each of my roommates took the day off their own jobs, which is something I could never ask of them since they work corporate and/or private sector jobs. The act of doing so really reinforces how close my roommates and I are. If any of them were going through what I'm going through, I know I would do the same for them. We talked it out, went for some ice-cream therapy (well technically fro-yo...) and went for a jog together in Central Park. I felt so much better after I spent the day with my roommates and got my mind off of what was going on. I'm so thankful that I have roomies as great as mine. They say five's a crowd, but I honestly don't know if I would be back in my classroom right now if it weren't for them. Two of them went to the same high school as I did, one was from my graduating class and our newest roommate was a freshman when I was a senior. I owe them so much and the fact that they even took the time to do that really makes my eyes start to tear up.

Especially moving for me are the notes, letters and words that my students gave to me the day I returned. My desk was piled with "feel-better" and "I'm sorry" cards from my students, explaining to me how the sub read them my letter and that they understand that I'm going through a lot right now. I cried twice that day: once in my classroom that morning and once on the subway ride home. They say that it takes a true New Yorker to cry on the subway and after living the majority of my life here, this was my very first time I cried in a subway car with other people. But it doesn't matter. The simple fact that my students were there for me and helped me in my time of need really strengthened and accentuated the kinds of relationships that I build with my kids each year. I'm so thankful for them and even though they are only in 8th grade, those acts of kindness have made the whole recovery process a lot smoother. 

In the end, I'll be okay. I'm only 23 and I have plenty of time to get my "life sorted out". However, the support systems that I have (my friends, family, roomies, students, principal, colleagues, former teachers, former professors, current professors, parents of kids I tutor, the kids I tutor, my former counselor...) and everyone who has been there for me EVER are relationships that I've worked so long to build and can never lose. 

Thank you to everyone who has helped me get through this. I promise that I'll be back to my normal self soon. 

Bonding With Mah Kiddos

My third year of teaching, aside from some personal life complications is going SWIMMINGLY. I really am close with my students this year (in all 5 classes!) and we've already seen so much improvement in terms of grades and conceptual understanding that make me really excited for this year's round of NYS testing. 

I've been trying a lot of fun activities like capstone projects and 360 degree math (which I'll touch on later) to really make students apply the knowledge and math concepts from the textbook and the NYS curriculum to real life. Through both these methods, not only are they developing collaboration skills with their partners and groups, but they're also using their math knowledge in hopefully a meaningful and applicable way. 

I'm a firm believer in high expectations and high support, and this year with finally being able to implement those expectations I think I'm seeing great results :) 

This year, my students are really the ones that are there for me. While I'm writing a whole post on this later tonight, the "living, laughing and loving" that my NYU professors preached during my senior year that I get from each of them are really making my difficult personal life more tolerable. I don't know where I would be with my students especially since so much of what I've come to be used to in terms of my personal life slowly deteriorated. 

I think more than ever I'm pouring my energy into my lesson plans, students, teaching, tutoring and helping my kids prep for entrance exams to selective NYC high schools. I really couldn't be happier with this group of kids and I TRULY love teaching more than I ever have. 

I miss my former students though! A lot of them are coming to visit me now and say they're doing much better than they thought they would do in high school because of how much I and the other teachers on my team have inspired them!! Aww!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Always that ONE CLASS. Ugh.

I'm writing this right before I leave my classroom for a quick meal somewhere uptown and a grad school class at Columbia. 

As you probably noticed from my title, I am quite flustered right now because my 7th period is ALREADY DRIVING ME BONKERS. And don't get me wrong - I have 25 amazing, dedicated, funny, bright students in that room - but this group of 4 students (2 BOYS AND 2 GIRLS this time)... 

1. never stop talking
2. never participate in class
3. don't focus when I ask them to
4. don't listen to any of my warnings
5. don't do their assigned homework
6. make fun of me and other students in class
7. disrespected the assistant principal when he came in to give me some papers I missed because I couldn't attend an after-school meeting (you could only imagine how EMBARASSED and ANGRY I was)

All that and just soooo much more in the little over a week school has been in session. I thought I had my discipline skills down pat after I tamed and even grew to like my difficult group of students last year but I don't even know where to begin with this group. And it's distracting from my teaching - 7th period is so far behind the other 8th grade math classes that I teach. We don't get much done because I'm ALWAYS redirecting their behavior. I feel so bad for the other students because they have to deal with this. Also, 7th period is my second last class of the day, meaning I'm physically and mentally DRAINED after the bell rings for the end of that class. 

I've really had it with this group and I feel like a first-year teacher --no wait, my first year students were PHENOMENAL  (the vast, vast majority of them) -- when I say that I'm stumped on this group of students. Have I not connected with them? I feel like everything is going swimmingly with all the other classes and the other students in 7th period.. 

and i just really dont want to do an office referral on the second week of school

and detentions don't work well this semester because of grad school classes Tuesdays and Thursdays... 

Friday, September 13, 2013

so far, so good

First week of school: check! Everything went well. 
No major problems yet.
Loving my students, their personalities, their intellect, their humor and their potential. every second I get. 
Having a great time with my co-teachers. 
Lesson plans were all successful this year - even the new one I wrote for Pre-Algebra 8 and the two new ones I wrote for Integrated Algebra. 
Baseline Diagnostic Test scores - for MC at least - better than I thought. 

Two cons: 
1) HAVING TO WAKE UP EARLY. I hate mornings and everything about them. I'm not talking about 8 am wake-ups here. I'm talking 6:15 wake-ups, 6:45 out the door to the subway station, 7:30 arrival at school and 8 am ADVISORY. Ugh. 

2) THE HEAT. Please go away now! 

More updates to come soon. Stay tuned! 

I wonder where my roomies and I are going for dinner tonight. It's my turn to pay...

Poll Everywhere... Why I Wish All My Students Had Smartphones

This week in one of my grad school courses at TC, Columbia University, we were talking about using Poll Everywhere in the classroom. Poll Everywhere is a tech-savvy and innovative app that students can install on their phones that will allow them to respond to questions on my PowerPoints in real-time. Responses can be multiple choice and extended response - and will immediately pop up on the  PP screen. All students need is their own phone, tablet, laptop, etc. with the Poll Everywhere app. Poll Everywhere is free for teachers because each class has less than 40 students and we can make as many classes as we want :) 

If I was teaching on Long Island or in Yonkers or in Jersey, I would have my students download Poll Everywhere in a heartbeat. 

Poll Everywhere could serve INVALUABLE to my classroom because I can see if students are learning things as soon as we are finished discussing a concept- rather than relying on traditional exit slips, quizzes, etc. This is an opportunity for me to integrate technology into my classroom, the big 21st-century-we-must-do-this topic in education. 

Additionally, with the new Common Core currently in its second year in NY, my students can get real-time practice with Common Core like multiple choice and extended response questions, and allow me to critique their responses and modify lesson plans if needed to spend more time on a concept or area they are struggling in by Common Core definition. 

However, teaching in the South Bronx means that every kid having a phone is not a guarantee. I DEFINITELY don't want to alienate those who don't have the technology to participate in this endeavor, so I guess this is an opportunity I have to pass up. Maybe in the future.

Learn more about Poll Everywhere: http://www.polleverywhere.com
Maybe if you teach in the suburbs, you learned a new way to spice up learning and your classroom environment :) 

Sunday, September 8, 2013


At 6:30 am tomorrow morning, I will be beginning my 19th first day of school and my third as a full-time teacher in the NYC schools. Thankfully, that's not when school starts (though my school is starting at 8am this year which is definitely an unwelcome change!... I thought we talked about starting later??? What happened to 13/14 year-olds needing more sleep?) but that is the time when I need to slip out of bed, take a shower, get dressed, pack up and head out of Queens and take the subway into the Bronx. 

At this time, all systems are go for the first day of school. It's after labor day and I'm well rested. I've studied up on the Common Core and learned new teaching methods/techniques from TC, Columbia University, where I'm completing my master's degree. (I will be done by summer!!) I recently racked up $180 on school supplies, teaching supplies, lesson plans/activities, etc. for my classroom - all of which I will be reimbursed by the district. (However, inevitable additional spending will not be reimbursed for the remainder of the school year.) I have new outfits picked out from all my favorite NYC stores (Century 21! Gap! American Eagle! Nordstrom! Nordstrom Rack! Banana Republic! Old Navy! Kohl's! Aeropostale!...) as well as old outfits from student teaching and my first two years of teaching. My syllabi are typed up and printed out. My class calendars are typed up and printed out. Lesson plans, activities, objectives, tests, quizzes, etc. are written for the first three units (subject to change, however). All necessary information and logistics have been coordinated with my push-in teacher. Common lesson planning time has been planned with my co-teachers. 

I've never felt more prepared for the first day of school. However, there's still that bug in me right now. What will my students be like? What will my classes be like? Are we going to get along this year like in the past two years? How much are we going to learn? How long will the honeymoon phase last? Are we going to have hurdles in the beginning of the year? All of that is uncertain. Tomorrow, I will most likely begin my first year of teaching/first day of school in which I'm not visibly/outwardly nervous. Nevertheless, deep down inside, there's always the uncertainty, the hope, the what-ifs. 

The first day of school draws me back to why I became a teacher in the first place: to touch the lives of children, especially those from low-income backgrounds in neighborhoods ridden by crime and low educational attainment where the status quo is "you can't". My crusade over my four undergraduate years, two years of full-time teaching, student teaching and my long-term sub experience is changing the status quo to "YOU CAN". My parents, family members, EVEN FRIENDS  still ask me when I'm going to "get a real job". This is my "real job". I've had the chance to touch the lives of so many young people and really change their life trajectories. This is an opportunity - a privilege- offered to me by no other profession. Three years entering, I'm still as wide-eyed and idealistic as I was the day before my first year of teaching. The dream is still there, the passion is still evident. I'm being offered 180 days to make another set of 180-degree turn-arounds in my students. To inspire Jose and Juan to study hard and work towards their dreams. To impart to Maria and Daniela that their life doesn't have to be like their mother's - teen pregnancy, dropping out of high school, working two jobs in order to make $40-45k/year to support a family of five. To do everything in my power to keep De'Shaun off the streets. I'm not only imparting math knowledge and closing the achievement gap, but I'm inspiring my students and building lifelong connections with them. 

Yep, tomorrow's my 19th first day of school. Tonight, my roomies and I will do what we have for the past two years before the first day of school: they are leaving work early (in fact, arriving about 10 minutes from now!) so the four of us can go for a bike ride in Central Park, go to a nice restaurant in Manhattan and watch a movie/play/show together. It's a celebration. It's a new beginning.

Wish me luck tomorrow :) 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Prepping for YEAR #3!

We're back from our little "Tour USA" roommate-bonding-vacation experience! 

Back just in time for the start of the new school year! Apparently, I've forgotten how much work it takes the month of August to prepare for the new school year starting in September. 

On my to-do list this past week and this weekend: 

  • move in all my supplies to my room in the Bronx (shout out to my roomie for letting me borrow his car for this... he's the only one that owns a car out of the four of us in the house) 
  • buy classroom and school supplies (aka deal hunting across four boroughs)
  • get lesson plans finalized, units finalized, IEP's read and discussed, push-in teacher support discussed, Common Core integrated into my lessons, new classroom policies and procedures, class Facebook account updated, student surveys made... 
  • get my first day of school outfit ready!! 
  • meet with my in-school mentor and Teachers College, Columbia University mentor
  • get grad school course schedule prepared and finalized
  • write a letter to parents
  • meet with my principal to discuss goals for this year
  • co-plan lessons with the other teachers
  • meet our school's new teachers for this year
  • hang out with old friends from high school (ahhh they were freshmen when I was a senior! yeah we go back way far!) 
  • analyze scores of my incoming students on their NYS exams and prepare lessons to remedy common errors and weaknesses 
  • rewrite my Integrated Algebra syllabus to update it with changes I've came up with over the summer 
That all being said, I am SO EXCITED TO MEET MY NEW STUDENTS. Unlike last year's students, this incoming group is commended by their 7th grade teachers as well-behaved and eager to learn meaning my job will be significantly easier. Now that I'm entering my third year with 8th graders, third year teaching 8th grade NYS math and second year teaching Integrated Algebra, I no longer have that "first year teacher" feel. The students know me and I already know some of them. And most of all, I feel completely confident in front of the class.

I remember student teaching up until this point in my career now. Each year brings new faces, new challenges and new rewards. 

To supplement my income this year, I am still tutoring GED with the City but also privately tutoring middle/high school math (including AP and SAT/ACT) and middle/high school Spanish (including AP and SATII)... on top of finishing up at Teachers College, Columbia University. 

I'm REALLY going to keep my readers on track this year with my teaching adventures... so consider this the before-school year post:) 

now, time for a nap. i am exhausted. #teacherproblems 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Tour USA con los ROOMIES!!!

AHHH! It's the ultimate teacher summer dream! With some lesson planning and preparing for the school year already underway, some summer classes towards my M.Ed. in Curriculum & Teaching from Columbia University (it was Summer Session A if you were wondering...more on that later) completed, my roomies and I are officially planning a trip across the United States! 

If you are new to my blog, I live in a four bedroom house that is shared between three other 20-something professionals and I. There are two males, including me, and two females. Our vacation together will begin this Thursday and will last until Sunday, August 25th. 

Here are our sites: 

-from NYC to the Jersey Shore! 
-from NJ to Boston
-from Boston back to NY (we're playing "tourist") to Washington, D.C./N. Virginia/S. Maryland
-from D.C. to Nashville (country concerts galore!)
-from Nashville to Cincinnati, Ohio (my roomate's boyfriend lives there) 
-from Cincinnati to Chicago!
-from Chicago to Albuquerque (lots of Spanish for a Spanish minor who LOVES Spanish!) 
-from Albuquerque to LA and San Francisco!! 
-from Cali back home :) 

As for my previous mention about grad school... yes, I am going back to school. I'm enrolled in Teachers College, Columbia University. However, no worries, I AM still teaching and plan to keep teaching for at least a few more years after graduating from my M.Ed. program. 

See you soon! I'll try to update on my vacay with the roomies but I'll be too busy having fun. Oh and not too much computer access. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Teachers being moved around

One of the perks of our union contract is that our principal must notify us of our schedule, the classes we will be teaching, sp-ed/ELL population and push-in/pull-out teacher information on or before the last day of school. 

I am remaining in 8th grade next year (three years in a row), with 4 classes of 8th grade math and 1 section of Integrated Algebra. (I had two sections this year but with the low state exam scores due to the implementation of the Common Core, some students had their IA recommendation rescinded since they have to get a level 3 or level 4 for 8th grade IA.) 

2013-2014 school year schedule: 
0- Advisory/Homeroom
1- 8th Grade Accelerated Integrated Algebra
2- planning period
3- 8th Grade Mathematics
4- 8th Grade Mathematics*
5- lunch
6- duty period (TBD)
7- 8th Grade Mathematics
8- 8th Grade Mathematics

*4th period has 6 special ed students and 5 ELL's. There will be push-in support on Tuesdays and Thursdays for sp-ed and on Wednesdays for ELL. 

My amazing colleague of two years now, Miss Gonzalez -- soon to be Mrs. Gonzalez-Fernandez (name changed as usual on this blog) is being moved to 7th grade. Mr. Carter is being moved to a 6th/7th grade split. Mr. Gorbett is staying in 8th grade. Mr. Buchell has been transferred to a different school (FINALLY). A new teacher, Miss Davidson, a first year teacher from Upstate NY and a graduate of my alma mater, NYU, has been hired to teach an 8th grade math/6th grade math split. Surprisingly, my principal even moved my mentor, a rising ninth year teacher from 6th grade to 7th grade in her last year of teaching. What goes on in a principal's mind about moving a teacher's schedule is foreign to me, but somehow, I don't understand why my schedule hasn't been altered severely yet. Maybe I want to ask for new grades during my fourth year of teaching? I wonder what 6th and 7th grades are like... but what if I miss the familiarity that I have developed over the past few years with 13 & 14 year olds? 

Friday, August 9, 2013

2nd year of teaching & how Room 203 fared in New York's Common Core state test!

Ahhh... it feels good to be back to my blog! After a particularly EXHAUSTING school year (which, unfortunately, I have not nearly been able to tell my readers about AT ALL), this summer has been nothing but relaxing, welcome and rejuvenating. 

While some of my classes this year were pleasant and well behaved, two of my five class periods were absolutely horrendous. As in straight-from-the-bottom-of-hell terrible. As any teacher will tell you, in a class of 30 students, only about 10 students are the real troublemakers. In the case of my two classes, a total of FIVE students in each class caused the trouble that I, and my 25 well-behaved, eager to learn students had to deal with. Frequent trips to the discipline AP, who has been nothing but supportive, were necessitated. I even set up meetings with my professors at NYU to discuss their tips for classroom management. My amazing mentor, entering her ninth (and final :( :( ) year of teaching come September has saved my life countless times in my unruly classes.

Both of my unruly classes were the standard 8th grade math class. However, it would not be fair to those classes if I didn't acknowledge all the positive aspects of my students. For the most part, they were bright, funny, eager to learn, perseverant and EAGER TO PLEASE. Never would my friends, colleagues or my family guess how eager to please some of my 14 year old students were! They were always completing their homework (most of the time SHOWING THEIR WORK!!) and even put aside personal differences to work together with their "enemies" during group and partner activities. We had a lot of fun this year and I know I will definitely remember so many of my students - 8th grade math and Integrated Algebra students. (I had one 8th grade math class that was literally ANGELIC. I wish I could loop with them next year in high school. Of course, I wished I could loop with my students from my first year in high school as well.) 

On top of some difficult classes, I had two new big things to worry about this year: New York State's adoption of the Common Core (which all states are adopting next year) and my taking over the school's first 8th grade accelerated Integrated Algebra program. 

GREAT NEWS! Integrated Algebra was a success! Despite hours of planning, conference calls, late nights, early mornings and yes.. some tears as to why I was naive enough as a second year teacher to take over a pilot program at our school -- Integrated Algebra Regents exam scores were absolutely AMAZING. Over 85% of my students will be earning high school credit (some at schools like Bronx Science, Stuyvesant, Townsend Harris...)!!! 

The Common Core -- I had a lot of support with. My mentor, principal, AP, department chair, co-teachers, NYU professors and of course, THE INTERNET all helped me get through the tough transition to the Common Core. NYT/Chancellor Walcott & Mayor Bloomberg and Michelle Rhee have all commented earlier this week about NYC's miraculous state score improvement. We are almost caught up with the rest of the state :) Sad news - I believe the state proficient/advanced rate is 31%. NYT says that NYC's is 29.6%. Our school's rate for ELA dropped significantly to 19% and math dropped to 25%. My students' scores - across the board in all 5 classes- were 40% proficient/advanced, 41% level II and 19% level I. Huge drop from last year... but then again, Common Core's standards are exponentially higher. 

I wonder how this is going to affect my value added/my tenure portfolio... 

I'm really going to go out of my way to blog more next year - I promise! Thanks for reading my newest update :) Check back for more soon!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Re-Blog: How to Save our Educators

This infographic was first published by University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education and is entitled "How to Save our Educators". Here's the link to the original infographic and the School's website: http://rossieronline.usc.edu/how-to-save-our-educators-infographic 

USC Rossier Presents New Infographic- How To Save Our Educators

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How race plays a factor when you are teaching in the Bronx

I am an Asian male, 100% Chinese. In elementary school, my family (well, just my parents and I) immigrated to NYC from Shanghai so my parents could each take a job in cancer research at Columbia. I was taught that it didn't matter what race I was in America. I was taught that in America, people valued who I was on the inside, not the color of my skin.

Fast forward to junior year in high school - specifically "Career Day" - I announced to my friends, teachers and guidance counselor that I wanted to be a math teacher in the inner city. I spent a few minutes discussing the achievement gap, the crisis in public education, the disparity of educational inequity... without a single regard to the fact that I am an Asian immigrant from a middle/upper middle class neighborhood in Queens looking to teach a majority African-American population in a lower/lower middle class neighborhood. My announcement drew warnings and concern from my peers and the adults at my high school:
  • "Dude, you are so smart. Why do you want to reduce yourself to teaching in some poor area?"
  • "The kids will never listen to you. You are Asian and they are... black. You think they will respect you?"
  • "Trust me. It sounds like something worthwile but you will come to hate it once you realize the realities in those schools. This isn't like [insert Queens neighborhood here]."
  • "Are you kidding? It's dangerous there!"
And then there were my parents, who wanted me to enter some pre-med program and become "a doctahr". My grades and test scores were good enough to get me into Columbia's pre-med program. They were even willing to support my minor in Spanish if I just went into pre-med.

Six years later, I came into contact with the first of my racial discomforts while student teaching at a similar middle school in the South Bronx. The students, just like my students now, were mostly (aka 97%) Hispanic and African-American. It took a while to adjust to me being the only Asian in the room. Even their teachers and the principal were of the same race as the kids. The custodians, secretaries, teacher assistants, school psychologist and nurse were of the same race as the students. It's difficult to command respect and be taken seriously when you are the minority - the misfit - in your own classroom. Eventually, I was able to earn the respect and following of my students. Both last year and this year, the beginning of the year started off rocky when the students were just beginning to adjust to the fact that their teacher wasn't "one of them". I got comments from students saying that "I [don't] understand what it's like to be them... what they have to go through...". And the truth was, I didn't. I'm not from the same neighborhood as my students. I have never experienced poverty, family breakups, etc. My neighborhood didn't have gang activity, drugs or a prostitution problem.

How could I expect to be taken seriously by my students? When I'm telling them that college is in their reach and they have everything it takes to make it in the world, break the cycle of poverty and close the achievement gap, was that message really getting through to them? I know that last year, these motivational words broke some of the barriers separating me from my students. I formed a close relationship with my students and that definitely eased A LOT of the difficulty of my first year of teaching. A couple months ago, the same thing happened to this year's group of students. They took longer, but the bonds are stronger.

Yes, race will always be an issue. It's inevitable for me. There are still parents who don't value what I have to say. I still have some students who don't like me or believe that I don't understand them. Race is a sensitive topic and an intangible challenge. But it's one we have to fight as teachers.

Monday, March 25, 2013


I swear, for a moment in the past two months, I forgot that I actually had a teaching blog.

So much has gone on in my five classes since I last wrote in January that I couldn't possibly fill you guys all in. This year has definitely been my busiest.

However, I can say that my students are demonstrating tremendous growth. I have seen grades rise from as low as 64% first quarter to B's this quarter. My classroom has became the sanctuary of learning and confidence that I have always dreamed of. I am closer to my students than I was before break and my students are coming to me to talk and get advice on school, relationships, family matters and their futures.

As a side bonus, with looming NYS exams and Regents exams, I have done something different this year with my classroom. Towards the end of each big unit in both Pre-Algebra and Integrated Algebra, the students break into groups to create a poster of each of the major concepts covered during the unit. The poster includes a summary of the concept and all the crucial points that go under it, any formulas to use, possible shortcuts and example problems with worked solutions. I have many pretty colors and (new this year: glitter!!!) for the posters -bought out of pocket-, so I expect them to be aesthetically appealing. I hang the posters up around the room for the students (Pre-Alg has the left and front sides and Integrated Algebra has the right and back sides) to see. It definitely demonstrates the breadth of material they have been learning and serves as kind of a "visual fossil" of their learning and progress throughout the year. Here's where the side bonus comes in: half of my review planning that begins in... oh just a 3 weeks or so... is halfway complete!!!

We've made it through so much of the year already. I do love my students. Even though we started off shaky, by the time mid-February rolled around (just in time for my 23rd birthday!), the magic sparked and everything fell into place. Now, we just have to make it through the test prep month of April, testing weeks in May and we're set! The month of June, judging from last year, is stress-free and easy breezy :)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Back from break!

In with the new year! 2013! :)

My students and I went back to school after a one week long winter break. One of my new year's resoultions was to take stronger control of my more difficult classes this year - namely 1st and 7th periods (that's 2 out of only 3 pre-algebra classes that I have this year). I started the new year by creating and copying color-coded calendars for both Pre-Algebra and Integrated Algebra with dates of tests, quizzes, major activities, VERY important lessons they should try their very best not to miss, major projects and project due dates and review sessions. I believe that this calendar will allow them to properly plan ahead for what to expect in class and will allow me to be more organized in assigning important dates.

Another thing I am trying to do is to for my "needy" students (those with grades at or below 73%, which consists of significantly more students this year - accross all five classes - than last year) is to let them know about the websites that are available for them for extra help:
  • Khan Academy
  • YouTube
  • Regents Prep
  • the NYS website
  • Hotmath
  • Coolmath
I always make myself available before and after school for students, but I don't normally see these "needy" students at the help sessions. The students who come are the ones that are more self-motivated, and are struggling with minor things or coming because they were absent for a class. However, it's these "needy" students that I'm trying to reach, and I am thinking about a program in which I can *gently* "force", for lack of a better word, extra help upon them. Any ideas?

A homework help blog recently contacted me on my blog asking me to tell my students about the availability of their free service for asking questions on homework in any of the core subjects. Link will be up soon for you guys!

Here's to a great 2013! (And to more blogging too!)

P.S. one year anniversary of my blog is coming up TOMORROW!!