A Day in the Life of a First-Year Teacher

Sunday, August 2, 2015

From middle school teacher to high school teacher

Blog readers, 

I was pleasantly surprised today when I logged on to this blog for the first time since LAST SEPTEMBER and noticed that I am still getting blog views from across the U.S. and even Russia, China, and Canada.

Here is your long-awaited update! 

As of June 2015, I have successfully finished my fourth year of teaching at the same middle school in the South Bronx that I started at back in 2011. I had four amazing years at my school. This past year, my Integrated Algebra (Common Core Algebra I) students achieved the highest pass rate in my school's history for 8th grade students on the Regents exam. Despite the new Common Core standards and tests, I had the least amount of failing grades in my 8th grade math course (and the most A's -- 40% of my students averaged an A for the year!). 

Unfortunately, in March, my principal, Ms. Lopez, informed the school community that she accepted a position as principal of a school in Westchester County, the suburbs to the north of The Bronx/NYC. Ms. Lopez has been instrumental to my success as a teacher over these past four years. She was the woman that hired me when I was 21 years old and fresh out of New York University. During these past four years, Ms. Lopez has provided me unwavering support and guidance as I navigated classroom management, curriculum, test prep, assessment, re-teaching, and the application of all of the education and developmental psychology theories that I studied at NYU. Ms. Lopez helped me gain admission to Columbia, my dream school since I was 12, for my master's degree. Finally, Ms. Lopez recognized my achievements from very early on and always focused on my strengths and providing constructive feedback on my evaluations. At the end of the 2013-2014 school year, I was selected for the new Lead Teacher position offered by the NYCDOE. In this capacity, over the course of this past school year, two of my teaching periods were spent mentoring the other teachers in my department, managing student data, conducting monthly department meetings, and coordinating best teaching practices. Being selected for the position at 25 has been a great honor and I am elated to say that despite some flaws early on, I thrived in my new role! 

With the departure of Ms. Lopez, I have made the tough decision of leaving the school that I have taught at for the past four years. Over the course of these four years, I have touched the lives of countless students and inspired them to believe in themselves and set high expectations for their future. Many of my former students have followed me on social media and continue to seek my counsel by e-mail and in person. My students from my first year of teaching will be entering their SENIOR YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL this upcoming school year!! (Scary thought, I know. When did I get so old?) I have found such great joy in instructing my students, passing on my passion for mathematics and education, and getting to know many of them on a personal level. Leaving the school was an extremely difficult and personal decision. 

In May of 2015, I was hired to teach 2 sections of Algebra II/Trigonometry and 2 sections of Pre-Calculus at a high school in the South Bronx! I will be in a similar area of NYC and, as a consolation, some of my students have gone on to the high school where I will be starting this year. With the help of Ms. Lopez and my track record over the past four years, I was offered a Model Teacher role and stipend at the onset of my new offer with the high school. In this capacity, I will receive a $7,500 bonus on top of a $5,000 hard-to-staff differential and a $58,903 base salary. As a Model Teacher, I will be "[using my] classroom to serve as a laboratory and resource to support the professional growth of colleagues." Exciting, no??? ;) 

It's August - which means one more month of summer and lots of prep work for the next school year!!! (I just got back from a week-long trip to South Africa with my former roommates and some friends from NYU.) I already have the first week of lesson plans done for both of my classes :) 

I hope to update y'all soon. 

-Mr. Yang

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Don't keep me waiting, this summer is fading...

Summer Break: the two words every teacher loves. It's the reward for finishing a hard and long school year. Every year, I feel that summer break is shorter and the school year is longer... that's not healthy, is it?? 

Especially with the presence of the Common Core standards, work days are almost as long as they were my first year of teaching (when the Common Core didn't exist). Don't get me wrong, however; I am a huge proponent of the Common Core. I think it is critical to get our nation's students prepared for college and an increasingly globalized economy. I truly believe the Common Core was created with the best interests of students in mind - something that's rare in public education nowadays. Teaching with the Common Core has definitely presented more than its fair share of challenges. First, when I was studying at NYU, we did NOT study the Common Core at all, because ... it didn't exist! Over the past two years, I have been figuring out the Common Core largely on my own and with my colleagues. Most of this prep time has taken place outside of school (on weekends) and in my graduate school program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Two years of state test scores show that implementation of Common Core instruction has not gone so smooth in NYC - students, especially African-American and Latino students, are still struggling to meet state standards in both ELA and Math across the board in grades 3-8. 8th grade math proficiency went DOWN this year in the district - to 22.8% proficiency - because 8th grade students taking Integrated Algebra no longer needed to take the NYS 8th grade math exam. My scores are up 15% from last year in NYS 8th grade math, but that amounts to just short of 50% of my students passing. (This puts me in the 92nd percentile for math teachers in the City...) Pretty dismal if you ask me as my goal was 80% last year. But hey, there's always this year ;) 

That being said, summer is fading FAST (title is a reference to a song I heard playing in H&M Saturday while doing my Labor Day weekend shopping) and I'm trying to enjoy every minute I have left. Tomorrow I am heading back to school for Chancellor's Conference Day & my first real day as my school's Lead Teacher for math. Because I am a lead teacher, I only have 3 sections this year and NO CIRCULAR 6, which I am both happy and sad about (happy because NO CIRCULAR 6!). As a Lead Teacher, I will be overseeing math education in 6th, 7th and 8th grade and working with teachers to reach the educational needs of all students. I'm really nervous about this role, so I will definitely be updating you guys throughout the year on my progress. 

Happy last day of summer, NYC teachers! Here's to a successful 2014-2015 school year! 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

And Year 3 Comes to a Close!

I can't believe I'm saying this, but tomorrow is the end of my 3rd year of teaching in the NYC Department of Education and at my middle school in the South Bronx. So much has happened this year and it was truly eye-opening to see how much each of my students have grown academically (in terms of their math skills), socially and interpersonally throughout the past ten months. 

I've become so close to many of my students and it's evident  how much they trust me when they beg me to be their teacher next year (at all of the different high schools across NYC that they will be going to!) and throughout the year when they seek my counsel, ask about my personal life and open up to me about their personal lives. My students helped me validate all of the reasons that I chose to become a inner-city math teacher and it is truly sad to have to say goodbye to my amazing 8th graders. 

The end of the year is always an exciting time, from school pep rallies to the annual field day to "senior" trip to "senior" prom to "graduation"... and it brings true closure to a year of hard work and dedication. For teachers this year in NY, this year has not been without struggles. As Common Core has fully kicked into effect in the DOE, the stress and pressure are on for NYC teachers, principals, STUDENTS and parents. 

All in all, I couldn't have asked for better colleagues or better students. Good luck in high school to all of my students in Room 203!! 

As for me next year, I will be a (newly tenured!) Lead Teacher at my school. That means that I will not be teaching 5 classes a day, but rather 3. The two teaching periods that I have been relieved from will be used to work with other math teachers at my school and share my expertise with them in an effort to improve teaching practices across the board at my school's math department. This is bittersweet for me, as I am certainly in awe of how much of an expanded, albeit indirect, difference I can make in all of my school's students and I definitely love the additional $10,925 (plus the raise & hard-to-staff school differential earned from the new contract) provided by the position, but I know I will miss teaching for the full day and I will miss being able to make a large direct impact on the lives of my students. Because I am teaching only 3 courses, I will be splitting the honors-level Integrated Algebra course with another teacher, I will take 1 section & he/she will take the other 2 sections (I find out tomorrow!). The remaining 2 sections will be 8th grade math. 

AND I AM SO READY FOR SUMMER -- already bought my tickets for Toronto and Barcelona/Madrid! (The Toronto trip is with my roomies!!!!, the Spain trip is for personal time) 

Monday, April 28, 2014

How to Join New York's Brightest! (Advice for grads looking to teach in the NYCDOE)

It's the time of year again when the DOE is releasing hiring needs for the upcoming school year. If you are about to graduate from an undergraduate/graduate teaching program, I definitely recommend looking into the New York City Department of Education. First of all, it's New York. I can go on and on about how amazing NYC is, including all the culture, diversity and activity that happens within the 5 boroughs. In fact, whole blogs are devoted to worshipping the great city 8+ million Americans call home. The NYCDOE is the nation's largest school system with over 1.1 million students and 1,000 schools, meaning that there is a school out there for every prospective teacher candidate. Teaching in New York is life-changing, because not only are you given the keys to unlock the potential of so many bright futures and truly make a positive impact on the lives of your students, the resources & experience from teaching in NYC will teach you about yourself. It is one of the best ways to grow professionally. Now, nobody enters education for the money. However, I can say that the salary in NYC, while it could be higher, is manageable because of the perks/benefits that you can receive, especially if you advise clubs and activities. The UFT and DOE are in the midst of contract negotiations whereby teachers may be eligible for 4% back pay (although I won't be because it will only be for '09-10 and '10-11, and I came to the DOE in 2011-2012) as well as a RAISE!!! Also after 3 years, you may be eligible to be a Lead Teacher (which I will be next year), that offers a nice $10,710/year BONUS. I would recommend that for the first few years that you teach in the DOE, you find a second job that pays a relatively lucrative hourly salary. The best example is tutoring. I work with an agency that provides tutors for (wealthy) Manhattan families. I tutor AP Calc, AP Spanish (I was a Spanish minor), 6-8th grade math, Algebra I, SAT and ACT for five families. I am paid $40/hour through the agency, and the parents are charged $60/hour. 

Teaching in NYC really does make you among New York's Brightest. Around this time is when prospective applicants should be applying. Applications are ONLINE - do not apply through paper!!! Visit www.teachnyc.net for the I Teach NYC website for more information about the steps of hiring. 

Okay, my TIPS!!! 

  • Put a significant amount of effort into your essays. Principals truly evaluate how you answer the essay questions as well as your quality of writing. If possible, take your essays to education professors, the dean of the school of ed or your University Career Center for assistance and another pair of eyes. I can't emphasize this enough!
  • Meet with principals one-on-one. The hiring process is principal-active, which means through mutual consent hiring, the principal is responsible for the hiring of each new teacher in the building. School-based openings are not online, so in order for a principal to know your name & consider you for an interview, set up an appointment with the principal of SEVERAL schools that you are interested in. Bring your resume and separate cover letters. Bring copies of score reports from teacher licensure testing. Be prepared to discuss your student teaching experience, any internships, your education classes, sample lesson plans/course syllabi and your teaching philosophy. Build a connection with the principal & possibly the department chair of the department you wish to teach in. 
  • Attend the career fairs offered by the NYCDOE. A first-year teacher at my school got hired on-the-spot by Ms. Lopez at the Bronx career fair! 
  • Include several powerful recommenders. 
  • Discuss your coursework from a double major and/or a minor. This shows that you are a well-rounded applicant who can contribute to the school culture. 
  • CAREFULLY research each school before interviewing. Check out insideschools.org for school reviews and community commentary. Schoolbook, which is found in the New York Times, is also an excellent resource. 
  • Have questions ready for when the principal asks, "Do you have any questions for me?" A great litmus test for you to try is "How does [insert school here] support its early career teachers?" Ask about school culture, teacher professional development, the principal's educational philosophy as well as how much freedom you will be afforded at the school to create your own lessons. 
  • Think about applying for Teach NYC Select Recruits. It's a launchpad for teaching careers! Do this if you are graduating with your degree on or after winter 2015 as the deadline has already passed. I was a Teach NYC Select Recruit & lined up my current job before graduation from NYU in May 2011. I also got hired as a long-term substitute for a month at a different middle school through Select Recruits! 
Have fun interviewing! Submit your applications ASAP... the earlier the better. JOIN NEW YORK'S BRIGHTEST. TEACH NYC! 

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 

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.