Day in the Life - August 12th

I am contributing to Tina Cardone's Day in the Life series this year. I'll be writing about the 12th of each month.

Today was the second day of school, which is like the first day of school but better because there is less chaos and also it's Friday.

Today I got to school around 7:30, drinking my second large coffee of the day, and ran through my lesson. Here is my day:

1st: Pre-Algebra

2nd: Free

3rd: Pre-Algebra

4th: Pre-Algebra

5th: Algebra 1

6th: Academic Strategies (study hall)

7th: Free

Last year I had 1st period off which felt great but was bad for me. I'd spend that period prepping for the day's lesson, so it gave me an excuse to slack off the night before. I much prefer this year, where my last period is free. That gives me a chance to prep for tomorrow (or write a blog post about today)

I started all of my classes with a Number Talk. I am using the approach recommended in Making Number Talks Matter, and so far it's going well. We are just counting dots so far, but the kids are getting used to explaining their thought process and offering multiple solutions, which is exciting. We will move on to arithmetic next week at some point, but for now I just want to hear as many voices as possible

The main task we did in class today was a math autobiography. Yesterday I read my own to the students, and today I shared my colleague's autobiography. She is a Language Arts teacher with a math phobia, so it was great to get the kids to hear two very different autobiographies. I told the kids that the most important thing is that they are honest.

And boy, were they! This is without a doubt the best getting-to-know-you activity that I've ever done. I had to cut kids off after 20 minutes of writing and some kids were upset they couldn't write more! I mostly got a full page from each kid, even (especially) those who struggle in math and hate it. A lot of the stuff I heard is the sort of stuff that would take weeks or even months to find out in class. Some telling quotes:

"I can do most math problems but I don't understand them. I get all As and I do my homework. I just don't understand math"

"I like math, I'm just not sure that math likes me"

"I'm really in between a weak and a medium student because every time I get confused I get headaches and give up"

"I used to hate math, but since the problems got more challenging I have started to love it more"

I could be here all day, quoting from every single one of my 80+ autobiographies.

For most of my classes, I ended the day with the Pitcher Problem: You have a 5 gallon pitcher, a 3 gallon pitcher, and an unlimited supply of water. Using only these things, how can you get exactly 4 gallons of water?

Nobody solved it in class, but we will revisit it on Monday and work it through. The goal is to promote discussion and group work, so I am going to structure our discussion on Monday around tips for productive collaboration.

We didn't get to this in Algebra 1 because our class is split in the middle by lunch, which I HATE. I seriously can't stand getting interrupted in the middle of a class, or having to make sure my lesson has a clean break 20 minutes in every day. The struggle is real.

In my study hall, I only have 2 students, which is silly. There is nothing worse that the awkward silence that settles in on 2 or 3 middle school students who are stuck in a room with a teacher, especially when it's the second day of school and they have no homework to do. I might just go join a new class with my 3 muskateers.

Reflection Questions:

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.  When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

One thing I did this year was really try to find ways to start a conversation with my students, especially those that seem a bit hard to reach at first. I know I would never have thought to do this in my first year. I was so overwhelmed with the work of teaching that I ignored the whole aspect of making relationships until much later.

But now I know that relationships are the absolute most important element of being a middle school teacher. If I get that part right, everything els gets much more manageable.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

I am on such a high. I actually have decided that I hate the summer. Or rather, it is far, far too long. I wish summer were only 3 weeks long. Then I could recharge and rest without feeling terrible about wasting so much of my free time. With a 9 week summer, I have all the ambitions to complete these enormous projects, but not the structure that a school setting provides for actually getting things done.

I get a little depressed in the summer because I just don't feel as useful if I'm not teaching. I feel like an athlete who is on bed rest. I need to teach for me, not just for the kids.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

I have a poster in my room that says "Math is Beautiful" and has a piece of mathematical artwork I made. I'm not much of a freehand artist, but I can wield a ruler and compass pretty well. I noticed a really quiet kid doodling in my class yesterday, so I told him that if he made any mathematical artwork I'd be happy to add it to the board. He's really opened up to me today. 

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.  
First post: What is a goal you have for the year?  

My goal this year is to totally reorient my teaching of expressions and equations. I HATE the way I taught expressions and equations last year, where we combine like terms for a couple of days and then add in the distributive property and then negative coefficients and it's weeks and weeks without any big-picture conversation about what this all means. 

So I am trying to approach expressions and equations from a literacy angle, meaning that I want students to be able to read an expression and understand what it means before they try to manipulate it into a simplified form or a solved equation.

I have some beginning ideas about how to do that, but they haven't cohered yet.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

Not much, since I wasn't in school yet. I moved, but moving is one of those things that is simultaneously terrible to experience and boring to talk about, so I'll leave it there.