A Day in the Life of a First-Year Teacher

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Approaching Test Prep Month

March 25th, 2014 means three things: 
  1. Staff meeting after school today. 
  2. Time to think about what I'm making (read: seamless.com online food ordering) for our "roomie potluck" night tomorrow. 
  3. Roughly 6 days before "TEST PREP MONTH" commences. 
That's right... I'm into my third year of teaching and I already call April "test prep month." 

Don't get me wrong; April is a great month. The weather finally starts acting like spring, leaves grow back on trees, flowers start blooming, t-shirts start rolling out, graduation is closer, summer is closer, SPRING BREAK is closer... however, test prep is imminent. 

Over the past two years, my team (A "team" is composed of 1 ELA, math, science, history, special ed and Spanish teacher plus a team interventionist for each grade. Thus, my school has 9 teams as each of the 3 academies is composed of 3 grades/teams.) has thought of creative and innovative ideas to motivate test prep in our students. Even though this is the first year the Common Core standards are being applied throughout the nation, this is the second year New York State is using them. Therefore, we are more prepared as to what types of questions students will be asked on the state exam. It is our goal to continue using these innovative strategies to hopefully move ALL our students to Levels 3 & 4 this spring. 

That being said, we still have some material to sift through.  During my first year of teaching, I never felt behind on the material. The following year, my students came to me with a lower skill set than the kids from my first year, meaning I had to review/bend over more. That, coupled with the days lost from Hurricane Sandy, meant that our entire school, and many other NYC middle schools, did not finish the state curriculum in time for the late April test. This year, I am ahead of where I was last year, and finishing the curriculum is in plain sight - it will just require cutting a few lessons out for the sake of finishing all the material. My goal is to have 2 weeks of pure test prep: review days, activities, games, practice tests, practice extended responses, strategy days, etc. leading up to the April exam. 

Test Prep Month is extremely hectic for all teachers. I can't even imagine what it's like for administrators as their entire job performance is judged by how well their schools do on the NYS and/or Regents exams. It is a month characterized by anxiety for everybody at school and lots and lots of #2 pencils, scrantron bubbling and direction familiarizing. 

But we will overcome it. Second year is the charm with these new standards :) GO NEW YORK STUDENTS & TEACHERS! Happy almost test prep month. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I'm Back!

After a long hiatus from blogging, let me just say - it feels GREAT to be back again! 

The past few months have been a whirlwind, both professionally (teaching my 8th graders & finishing my master's degree at Columbia University) and personally! 

My students are still funny as ever. Every day I see evidence of hard work, perseverance and dedication. They seek me out if they have any questions. In general, we get along really well, which makes for an amazing classroom dynamic. My students are developing into leaders both in the classroom and outside of the classroom. Not to mention all the slang/"hip things" my students have taught me

I am trying several new things this year, which I believe I mentioned in my last blog post (all the way back from October! ahhh!!). One of the methods that is working extremely well is 360 Degree Math. This is an idea that I borrowed from a Participant Media movie I watched in September called Teach. I highly recommend it for all teachers & non-teachers alike! 360 Degree Math is an idea that I borrowed from Miss Lindsay Chinn, a Denver 9th-grade Algebra teacher. I had full support and funding from my amazing principal for this teaching strategy. Under 360 Degree Math, all four walls of the classroom are installed with white boards. The students all have ownership of a specific section of the classroom and have their own marker. About once a week, my students spend the entire period working on their white boards. Here's what it looks like:

  1. Students work on their warm up as they enter the classroom. Go over warm up as a class.
  2. Students get up and go to their assigned section of the classroom. Rapid-fire practice begins, starting with basic level "easy" questions to boost their confidence. 
  3. Mini-lesson / lesson reinforcement: teacher active component reviewing main concepts and objectives & demonstrating problems that they will encounter on tests, quizzes, the NYS/Regents exam, the SAT, etc. 
  4. 360 math practice using pre-written questions. Teacher stands at the center of the room and monitors all students' progress in "real time." Verifies answers; helps students who are struggling. Students are encouraged to help others around them who may be struggling. 

We still do many of the same activities in my class - including class notes, partner practice and team competitive games... 360 Degree Math is just another tool in my arsenal. Test & quiz grades have increased this year from my first 2 years of teaching, so this is definitely a strategy I plan on keeping :) Thanks, Ms. Chinn! 

It's verified! I am a candidate for spring graduation from TEACHERS COLLEGE, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY! 

Ms. Lopez, my principal has also confirmed that I will be recommended for tenure come June!! 

Effective next school year, I will be assuming a position as a Lead Teacher for the math department at my school. This qualifies me for a fairly generous raise, along with a differential for my new Master's degree. Hopefully, all this will be in further addition to a UFT - DOE negotiated raise for our upcoming new teacher's contract! Along with my tutoring income that I make right now, these new raises will put my salary into the upper $70,000s, which means I will be faced with a tough decision between staying with my current roomies in the Queens house share or moving into my own apartment in Manhattan (or Roosevelt Island). What to do, what to do?!?!!?! :( :( But hey... $78,000 gross income at age 24 ain't too shabby. Who says teachers are "poor"?! Plus, I get to make a significant difference in the lives of my 160+ students. 

I'll be back soon, I promise! Thank you so much for your patience! 

-Mr. Yang