Monday, October 20, 2014

Patience and breathing....sigh

Today was one of those days. It doesn't matter what your profession...it was one of those days...one where everything is irritating. By the end of the day, a ball of aggravation and anxiousness was inside. I felt like I was having a panic attack.

My students had gotten under my skin...

Argh...I hate when that happens!

I was feeling pretty good when the day started...I was wearing my newly purchased Flash Gordon socks for Homecoming "Crazy Sock Day..." I had arrived (almost) on time, had coffee, made my copies and was on my way. Upon arrival to my classroom, I found students already inside (ugh!), I had a student get huge attitude because I asked him to get his work out (tragedy), then had to explain to said student that the attitude was not really required.

The next classes made the day seem like it was going in the right direction...the students were polite...we got work done...we did a warm-up on how many candy corn would fit in a jar...all seemed good! Then my freshman came...inappropriate comments, blatant disregard for others. Really...I am sorry that my instruction is getting in the way of your conversation. Tomorrow may be time for a seating chart.

I really do love my students and my job, but on days like today I need to remember why I do this because I just wanted to bash my head on the lockers outside my room for most of the day....

Ahhhh...Homecoming...fall love...the honeymoon is over.

I know there is much to learn...much to reflect over...much to breathe about. It is time for the work to begin!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Teacher Crush in 3 Acts

Awhile back I discovered the 3 Act Math tasks. If you haven't checked them out, you should...even if you aren't a math teacher. They are really cool and a fun way to get kids interested in excited about math. Last weekend I went to the Northwest Math Conference. Although I realize that being at the conference doesn't bring you all to the same level of excitement as me, it really was amazing! I mean, really, how often do you get to see a teacher crush, meet a few more, see some friends, and, most of all, see some really great speakers!

Dan Meyer is an incredible speaker and the creator of the 3 Act Math tasks. AS a young teacher, he realized that the way he was teaching math wasn't reaching his students, so he created something else...something that he thought would be better, something that would reach his students, get their creative juices flowing.

Sometimes, I'm sure in every career, you get to meet your idol...this was one of those times. At a young age, he was able to not only capture his students attention, but the nations math teachers as well.

The NW Math Conference was an opportunity to meet so many movers and shakers in the math world...people that are seeking to move things forward in the math world, make math more reachable for students.

I think about my experiences as a math teacher...the years I have put into this career...the changes I have made in my practice. I look back when I began and, although I felt that I was a flexible, I realize that my beliefs about students and their learning was a bit rigid. I worked in a penal system of education where students had to prove themselves in a way that now seems a bit unfair. The idea that things were learned to proficiency was assumed but not really taught. Testing was on percentages and reteaching didn't really happen.

Now I am looking at the world from another view...I want my students to really understand the math...sometimes to the point that I am "being mean" (as they put it!). I am evolving and continue to evolve every year.

I'd like to think that someday I will refine my practice, but I worry that once I have reached that point it might be time to retire...

Until then...I continue to have teacher crushes, continue to refine my practice and continue teaching...it's almost my own personal 3 Act task...one act at a time!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Rehab...

I have a classroom full of addicts...they are addicted to formulas. It seems that they can't do math without them. These students, extremely bright...in an advanced math class looked at me like a deer in the headlights. Today I was giving a quiz and it began...

S1: "I don't remember the formula."
Me: "You don't need the formula...look at the picture...do the math."
S2: "But it wants us to find the Surface Area...I can't remember the formula."
Me (exasperated): "You don't need the formula to find Surface Area...think about it...WHAT IS SURFACE AREA??"
S: (Blank stares)
Me: "Look at this prism...when you need to find Surface Area, what are you trying to find? I mean, really you guys, do the math. I want you to think. This is not about the formula...this is about learning WHY the formula makes sense...doing the math without even knowing the formula..."
S3 (in jest): "Gasp!"
Me: "You guys are junkies. You just want the formulas rather than having to think..."
S4: "This is hard...."
Me: "Thinking is hard. I swear...you guys are in hard core...I am cutting you off from formulas."
S: (noooooooooooooo)
Me: "This year is going to be like rehab...you will have to learn why all of the formulas really make sense, not just plugging numbers in. That does nothing for your learning. I am going to force you to think this year. We are all going into rehab together. That's it!"

Sigh...they really are great kids but trying to pull advanced kids away from formulas is painful...I'm not sure who is it going to be harder for...me or them...but I am sure of one thing...

It will totally be worth it in the end!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Today I write...even if it's long...

It has been a long gap in my blogging life...probably the longest since I started writing a few years ago. For those who check up on me...thank you...

I started teaching at the high school this fall. It has been good. This is the first time in my teaching career that I have had the opportunity to have students for a second time. There are many that I had in 8th grade and now have again in 10th grade. They are different...I am different. This group...the group of 10th graders was a special one...some groups are. It fills my cup to have them again. I feel strong and inspired...for the first time in a few years.

It has been a strange beginning...good times and bad. My cousin, who I grew up with but have only kept in touch with through Facebook and occasional family gatherings, had startling tragedy this fall with the sudden loss of her 22 year old son. Seemingly healthy, he was jogging and had a massive heart attack. When I went to his service, I had a strange response...this young man was clearly amazing..He was on his way. A filmmaker who had already received numerous awards in college, he was expanding and laying down his future. He had an opportunity in college to go to New Zealand and visit with the director of The Hobbit. Pictures of his long and lanky body draped over Hobbit furniture exuded joy. He was experiencing something that so many of us search for...true peace and love over his passion...his chosen career. He was well on his way. What I also learned is that he was incredibly kind, gregarious, and loyal. He was the kind of son we all hope for. Watching my cousin in pain was heart-wrenching.

For twelve years, I have prepared in many ways to be that mother...the one who has lost her son. I have watched so many others suffer the loss, their heart breaking every day. Pictures of these sweet angel boys come over my Facebook feed every day...my heart breaking for them, breaking for those who wonder when their own time may come. No one is ever prepared for this type of loss...no one should have to be. Their child, wrenched from them...a piece so intimate that the hole can never be filled...the edges may get softer, the sharpness dulls, but it is there..the hole in their heart that can never be filled.

This fall has been a time of change. Relationships in my life, relationships in my work...the ebb and flow is always there. As an adult, I think that we forget that these things will happen. The closeness we feel with others can always change. How a relationship is built, the foundation, is crucial. The outside may change, but the core is what is important. I am looking at these. Most would say that I am outgoing...that I have many friends, but the reality is that is not true. Well, the outgoing part is, but true deep friendships? There are only a few. My time is precious and since I have very little of it to spend with others, I am finding myself choosing where I want to direct my attention. We all do it...choosing where to put our effort. I think the thing that I am realizing (I mean, really...I am not fifteen...why has it taken me so long) is that I can still have important people in my life, even if our time is limited. I have known this intrinsically, but am really seeing it come to light. For so many years I have just moved on...when the relationship wasn't close, I drifted away. Working on doing things differently takes effort...one that I am not sure I have been willing (or able) to do in the past. Learning new methods of doing things is difficult...especially when the way you've been doing something works, even if, ultimately, you haven't been satisfied with the results.

So...the year has begun...I am encouraged and full...busy, crazy, sometimes feeling like I am moments ahead of the students, but feeling like I have much to offer. I was given the opportunity to teach more than just Freshman...I have sophomores, juniors, even some seniors. I feel like I am well liked, but more than that, I feel like I am making connections with kids. I am telling them stories of their own success that they are starting to believe. I look into those shining faces and confidence is growing, even if that confidence is only to ask questions in search of understanding. I am building a safe space. I have some co-workers that value my opinion...have made me feel welcome. I am slowing organizing my space so that I can not only find things, but I also feel that the chaos has subsided. I am trying to teach from a place of joy, a place of learning, a place of support. I am teaching from a place where the love of math is overflowing.

Seven years ago I moved to my old school...the place where I felt my people were. I miss many of them...at times feel lost as to where I am supposed to turn for information. Just like the brain using the growth mindset, I am making new connections...I am expanding my brain and growing. This move, although a challenge, has made me feel alive again..my love of teaching is overflowing.

Today I write...there have been so many things that I have not been able to gather my thoughts enough to write. I have sat down at the computer more than once...starting a draft (that sit in my list of unposted posts), but have been in a cloud of words, too overwhelming to write. I haven't known where to start...haven't known where to begin. It feels like nothing has happened and yet everything is happening...

Today I write to purge my thoughts, feeling like this is a bit of verbal vomit. I have sliced open my head and revealed the whirling brain inside. I am excavating my brain, looking for knowledge from my past that will help me build this new future. A tornado inside, a whirlwind of thoughts being thrown out into the blogosphere for all to read.

Today I write because it is time...it is time to open my head and heart again, looking for the good in the world.

It's long and (possibly) torturous to read, but for those who are still with me...thank you for your patience...

I will continue to write...

Monday, September 15, 2014

Like the Phoenix...

There have been many stages to my teaching career...it has gone in a weird group of segments. The first segment was the one where I was still married to my ex-husband. I got my first job and then he joined the military. This meant I left to follow him to his next destination, California. After two and a half in California I came home. So the first segment was an (almost) five year stint.

Then I returned home to Oregon, daughter in tow. After six months of healing, I began subbing until I found a part time job. This began the second portion of my career. Four more years and the second portion of my career was done.

The third portion of my career began when I was hired in my current district. Now on my fifteenth year, I am in my third "rotation." I have almost done it all, alternative HS, middle school, and now high school. Each of these positions have brought me a spark. Getting the first job (a job I thought I didn't want) turned out to be a gift I didn't even know I wanted...an opportunity to find myself, my love for teaching and the ability to make a lasting impact.

My move to middle school was impulsive yet so important for my growth as a teacher. It was the beginning of a new era, opportunities to take on leadership...opportunities for personal and professional growth. I learned a great deal about myself and my teaching. I began to get connected with mathematicians at the State Level, opportunities to get involved with the growth of mathematics at a broader level. These connections brought me to the present, the HS.

Moving to the HS was a scary move. A place that I had concerns about in the past was now part of my present and future. Leaving behind my friends and the foundation I had built was frightening. Moving toward the unknown left me with feelings of uncertainty, the foundation I had built was not going with me but rather I was forging it alone. I didn't know if I was ready...if I could stand on my own. Over the last few years my spirit had been broken, the fire intense and left me doubting. Could I grow again? Would I be able to bring my best to someplace new and foreign?

Sometimes, like the phoenix, rebirth comes from the fire...the hottest flames refining. I have been reborn and a better version of me has come from the fire. I am ready to rebuild into something stronger...a better teacher, a better teammate, a better person.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What starts here changes the world...

Today I was watching the 2014 University of Texas Commencement Speech by Admiral McRaven with my students. It doesn't matter how many times I watch it (or how much of a military girl I am not), I love his speech.

One of my goals this year is to build a strong sense of community within my classes. I have been preaching that we leave "no man or woman behind." The inspiration for this is my class from four years ago, this year's seniors, a group that built a community of learners and, for me, created on of my most powerful teaching experiences.

I have had the best start this year than I have for awhile. Every day, I drag my exhausted, but exhilarated self to my desk. I stand through most classes, walking my small strip of carpet while I talk. I see many old faces and many new. Seeing my old kids is inspiring...seeing how they have grown into young adults is amazing!

I have on of my old students who is coming into my room during lunch, then goes to his math class after. He is doing the required work just because. The passion that I feel I helped instill years ago is fueling my own passion.


I am ready to change the world. According to Admiral McRaven, I only need to change 10 people, then they change ten and so on. It's a little like the shampoo commercials of the past but it is an exponential growth model of change...simple, yet powerful.

This is the year...I really feel it...I am excited!

If you haven't watched Admiral McRaven's speech, I recommend it...what starts here changes the world...let's change it...together!


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Projecting forward...

One of my most recent mantras is to practice kindness and gratitude. The idea that each day should be approached with these two gives an entirely different meaning to every moment. Being grateful and acknowledging it brings a smile to not only others but also makes my heart sing.

As students begin to attend, I want to continue this practice while also acknowledging and encouraging each of them to do the same.

Assuming the best in others and treating them accordingly often causes people to rise to expectations. I have started on a personal healing journey this summer, trying to heal some of the wounds from the past few years. Healing is a process that has had me re-examine who I bring on a personal level, professional level, and emotional level. I want to find myself...I have been lost. The person I have been showing recently can be likened to an injured animal in the corner unable to function, unable to put a person forward that I could be proud of.

I am committed to re-discovering the person inside that I want to bring forth, the person who is enthusiastic about their job, who sees their mission as one to teach, encourage, coach, support. I want my students to feel supported, cared for, challenged, and encouraged. I want to push them beyond the edge of their comfort zone, engage them in productive struggle, challenge their beliefs about themselves in a positive way and celebrate their successes.

Treating students as the people who I believe they could be and should be will give them a different lens in which they can view themselves. This lens will be one of success and positivity, one that shines a light on what they can achieve rather than what they haven't achieved. This is the lens I must view everyone through, including myself. Giving permission for people to be human, make mistakes, have feelings, struggle, find joy, find their spark, and open their hearts is crucial. Growth occurs when we allow ourselves to struggle but not live in the space of struggle. It is being able to draw the line when necessary and seek help when needed.

This is a new year...one that I am nervous and excited about. This is a year where turnarounds are made and lives are changed...First and foremost I am hoping that one of those lives is mine and that my life will be filled with gratitude and positivity...I have learned a valuable lesson...I am worth it and I will do whatever it takes to show my students that they are worth it too.

This year has so much potential. I am looking forward to it on so many levels...the chance to reconnect with students, the opportunity to reconnect with myself. Finding my love of teaching again is crucial to moving forward...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Planting Trees...

Education is similar to being gardener, you plant the seed, then wait to see the results. I have been teaching at the middle school for the last seven years, planting seeds, then walking away. You may get glimmers of success, maybe even glimpses of failure, but you often don't get to see the final product per se.

Today was our first day back to work...I met my girlfriend for coffee and we caught up, but the strangest part, for me, was when we were getting ready to leave, it really struck me that we weren't going to the same place. I have officially moved.

I am moving to teach high school, a place where I will get to see some of my kids again...a bit like revisiting the garden that was planted years ago. I am not going to lie, it will be a bit gratifying, getting to see some of what I built long ago, but I also realize that I am still just a place to pass along their journey. I may, or may not, get to see them get to their destination, but I know that I have been a stop along the way.

Sometimes it is easy to feel pensive in a career like education...each year hundreds of children pass through your classroom, some you make deep connections with, while others you may be unsure of your effect. Each day you bring content forth while also hoping that you are building a relationship that might empower, encourage, and enlighten them. They may be vocal about your impact or they may fade away like a ghost, rarely to be heard from again.

Although I have been teaching for a long time, I was really struck by the thought of how we are all just a street sign along one another's path. We do not know how the seeds we plan will turn out...they may be beautiful flowers or a large tree...we know that we have planted, we know that we were there, but it is only the other that can welcome us back to see how the seeds turn out...

We have to be satisfied with the not knowing...the uneasiness of the chasm of unknown. That is the hard part. Often we might be temped to give less along the journey because of the not knowing, but that is the hardest of all. We need to be willing to give our all with each and every person whose path we cross, we have to be willing to be open and giving. We have to be willing to leave every seed we have along the path with the knowledge that we may never reap the rewards of the knowledge of what lies ahead...we have to be satisfied that the love of the planting was enough to make a difference...we have to love the giving and be willing to walk away with the deep knowledge that we were there...and that was enough.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Fanning the Flames...

I have already begun having back to school dreams. This is a little scary considering my room is nowhere ready for student occupants. It is a giant disaster, filled with boxes which are filled with stuff.

This is a room that I want to be a place of inspiration, a place where students find their way.

I am taking this year especially seriously...I have left behind my friends and students I love to help create something positive. I am excited and terrified.

The last few years I have done these things with my partner in crime. Working with her strengthened me and my teaching. It is a strange thing to have one person impact my teaching practices and attitude at the level it has. It will be strange not to see her in the halls, after school, with the kids. She is the one who has helped me open my mind...re-discover my love. She is the one who was there during the depth...throwing a rope with the promise of being at the other end. I am taking the fire baton that she has passed and creating something for our students as they move forward.

I will be fanning the flames...the flames of my passion, the flames of others. I will be taking my fire with the hopes of setting others aflame. One day, one step, one moment at a time, I want to fan the flames of knowledge, support and expectations. I want the fire of excitement to spread, the flames to lick at the doors wanting in...knowledge passed on, on student at a time.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Give an inch...build a mile...

Today I went to see the Portland Thorns play their final game of the season. It was a must win in order to go to the playoffs. As you may know by now, I am a big time soccer fan. The World Cup at my house is a time of reverence...getting up early or staying late, whichever needs to be done, but soccer isn't really what this blog is about...it's about wanting something so bad you can almost taste it and fighting for it.

I am working on a new class for incoming Freshman with a group of other teachers. It is an interesting experience beginning to form a team with people I have never met. This class may become one of the most integral classes that freshman at our high school take...an opportunity to learn skills that they are lacking, study skills, coping skills, problem solving skills.

I want this class to be a foundation of something that they see in their future and work hard to achieve. Similar to the Thorns today...a goal in mind, hard work, and then success. These are skills that we encourage in students, want to exhibit as adults, and hope for those in the future.

I take my job very seriously...I am teaching those that are our future. I want a future of critical thinking, problem solving, enthusiastic life long learners, young adults who want to take charge of their future, our future. I want them to build great things, think beyond their perceived limits, invent fantastic ideas, grow incredible things...I want them to be builders of the world, rather than consumers of space. I want them to do whatever it takes to leave their world better than when they got it.

I know when I look in their eyes that they don't see themselves and powerful and knowledgeable, but I do. I see all the potential wrapped into a hormonal unit, squirrelly, confused, and sometimes frustrated, I want them to work harder than they have ever thought possible, experience success to the highest level, I want them to come back and ask for more, even when there may not be any.

I want them to be students who when we give them an inch, they build a mile!