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!