Back...on track?

Another school year. Another start. And this one, so far, shows signs of being something back to "normal". We have people teaching in positions they are qualified to teach in. We have staff members that want to be a part of the staff. Some of the resentment of the past year seems to be lessening. We are focused now, not on survival, but on student learning and teacher excellence. Yes, things should be getting better.
I find myself back on a team, back in 8th grade math, and back to what I love. So, yes, this feels better, it feels hopeful, and that feels good. Even so, I find myself with a tentative tone. My start feels rocky, I'm already behind in my grand plans for the perfect year. I still see broken pieces around the school- things just a few more staff members could fix. Small holes that can become gaping crevices before a year's end. So, I move forward hopefully, but carefully.



I love Hey Girl, Teacher. Recently I found this:
Love it. Except one thing. I think what I do, I think the path I have chosen and the final goal of closing the achievement gap turns out to be more difficult that what Felix accomplished. For one thing, his endeavor was fully funded. So what does that say about education? What does it say that the mission of success and academic growth for ALL students feels more daunting and more audacious than free falling from the stratosphere? 
I've hit a turning point in this year. In this broken year of job loss, transfers, confusion, stress and upset. I've reached the point where I can't be upset all the the time anymore. I've reached the point where I need to focus on what works and what I can control instead of looking at the bigger problems each day. The daily challenge of education remains too exciting, too vital, and too real to not be fully engaged in the process. If I truly believe that I come to work each day to increase learning for ALL (and I do) then I no longer have the luxury of focusing much attention on the broken pieces of the system. Maybe at a later point I will... but that day is not today. 
So I want to make the posts this year about What Works. Even in all the chaos, good things are happening and I'm learning and discovering new ways to connect math and kids. Right now few resources exist for the Math RTI world and so I'm forging ahead with a trail blazing attitude. And that's exciting. I will have the privileged of working with a wonderful team this year of other math intervention teachers. And i will be thoughtful and reflective about what WORKS to help these students of mine. Because I do believe every child can and will learn math. But to make it happen? To close that gap? It's a bigger jump than even Felix will ever know. 


What will be the new normal?

Tomorrow. Tomorrow. Back to school. Back.to.school. Teachers report back and I am full of trepidation. Full of uncertainty. There is an anxious nervousness that I can't get a handle on. I just need tomorrow to come.

This summer. This summer brought with it an unexpected twist. A turning upside down of worlds. A storm, a hurricane, a tsunami, a disaster. Of course, it wasn't all a surprise. We knew positions were cut. We knew we would be serving 60 students more with 6 less bodies. We knew the contract said Reduction in Force would happen according to seniority. We knew... we knew... we knew.

but we didn't know. We never saw this coming. We never knew we could be reduced to just a piece of paper, to just a state assigned license. Just a number being moved about in a jumble puzzle of budget cuts, contract language, and seniority.

It's been about four weeks since I first got the call. Since the news started coming in. The news that my job had changed. That good people were out of jobs. That wonderful people- friends- had been transferred to schools unknown. That I would be left at a school that would have almost 50% new staff (all transfers in). That our art teacher would be teaching 4th grade, that our new 7th grade math teacher came from high school social studies. That our science teacher was bumped to humanities. That our new 8th grade humanities teacher used to teach 1st grade. That. That. That.... the list just keeps going.

Yes, it's been about four weeks. I can only really describe it by comparing it to the way I've observed communities from afar as they go through a large scale natural disaster. That feels almost arrogant, writing that. Almost audacious to compare work turmoil to life changing and destroying events. But that's how it feels. The initial shock. The disbelief. The denial. The paralysis. Frozen in disbelief as the bad news keeps rolling in. How can it get worse? Then it does. People tried to connect- try to find others still standing, still in tact. What pieces (if any) are left of what we knew?
For me I found myself flooded with anger and guilt and frustration. The world was spinning and I had nothing left to hold on to. I looked around at the school I have known and loved for so long and it felt barley recognizable. The careful structures were decimated. The expertise of the people I worked with had been scattered to the four winds- washed away like sand castles in the tide. With that realization everything turned to deep deep hopelessness. I wanted to give up. Pack my bags and leave town. Turn away from it all because it hurt too much to remember what we had. Because we had it good. So many tears.

True hopelessness eats a person from the inside. It's exhausting and scary.

So, I have to let that hopelessness go. I have to release it and begin rebuilding. There has to be something to believe in still. A chance we can still make this work. That we can still build a better school for students, even having less that we ever thought possible. Because I can't be sad any more. Even Mt. St. Helen's regrew the forests after the eruption. In that barren wasteland life took hold and bloomed again.

Thirty years after the violent eruption, the healing power of nature has brought new life to the ravaged terrain.
- Courtesy of Jim Hill

And so tomorrow it begins.


Survival of the Brainiest

In 8th grade science, students study adaptations and natural selection as evidence for Darwin's theory of evolution. It's a great unit, very well planned and executed by the 8th grade science team. At one point the students have an assignment to create a "build a beast". This is a made up creature that must have adaptations for survival in a randomly selected environment.
In the spirit of cross curriculum work, I decided to have some fun with this. At the end of a test students had the option of creating a creature specially adapted to survive in a math classroom. The following list represents some of my favorite adaptations:

big brain, for thinking
big eyes that never close
an extra set of ears for listening
calculator built in to tummy
ruler limbs and a slope intercept body
graphite tipped nails for writing
flat butt for sitting all day (HAHA)
powerful Chuck Norris roundhouse to solve fractions
a digestive system that makes it so he never goes to the bathroom (which would interrupt learning)
weak legs, taking away the temptation to do sports, leaving more time to study
a small mouth to prevent the temptation to talk

The pictures students drew were fantastic and the names of creatures where great:

Sometimes teaching is just plain fun. 



There are moments. Small ones. Unexpected. Unplanned. Moments when I remember why I got into teaching. I'm talking about the very very first reasons I got in to this job. Before I found a love of teaching Algebra. Before I realized I loved teaching middle school. Before I had a passion for imparting learning. Before all that. Freshman year of college. Picking a major. When I imagined I could make lives better. I could make students happy. I could, if I did this well enough, change the world. It didn't matter what subject I taught or even how I taught it. I just wanted to be a part of education.
It's not that I don't still hope for that. It's just, as I get deeper into the practice of education the focus of my passion has shifted. I think it had to. The hardest truth in teaching is that you can't save every child from the world just by wanting to. Not every student will love my course just because I care about them. The problems outside the classroom are big and so many lives, even in a nicer school like mine, are sad. It can consume me if I don't put a little distance between me and the outside world. So, I focus on what I can control. I can control the math. I can control the instruction. I can control my room. I make my classroom safe and I keep my standards high. And if I do my job well, I can give each student a fair and equitable shot at taking control of his or her life through a better education.

But then.....

one moment, one conversation, one goodbye reminds me that i am still effecting lives.

 that i do more than teach math.

i can still give hope to students that feel hopeless.

suddenly the day stops. for just a moment. It gets real. i see a student clearly, really clearly, for the first time.

Then, I pull it together. Wipe away a few tears. Put my head up, put a smile on, and head back in to my classroom.

A moment like that feels so bittersweet. So full of regret, so full of hope. I am so thankful to this student, this unexpected student and this unexpected moment.



Everything has changed. It's Sunday morning and I'm getting myself mentally ready for the week. Lessons planned out, papers graded, the continual countdown of days until summer break. But, as I do all this, my baby girl sleeps in my lap. Snoozing on the bed with me on this lazy Sunday. Out of nowhere, five months ago, I became a working mom. For three months I stayed home, nurturing and loving my newborn baby. Someone else took over my classroom (it didn't go well... and I'll leave it at that) and I focused all my love and energy on FAMILY.
Then, in March, I started back in the classroom. It's all the same... but it's all different. I don't have the luxury of long hours any more. And I need them. How do I do what I used to do from 7am to 5:30pm in a time slot of 7:30am to 4pm?
I'm tired. Always. Always. Always. My patience hovers precariously close to nonexistent. Always. My brain moves in and out of focus. Always. I have visions of curling up under my desk and sleeping during lunch time.
I give up 15-30 minutes of my plan time each day so I can pump milk for my daughter. Again, I must find ways to do what I did pre-baby in less time.
I still have to find a way to do it all, because one thing hasn't changed. My devotion to this job. I refuse to be anything less than excellent as an educator. So even with the challenge of finding the balance of work and motherhood, I will find a way to do my job and to do it well. Every day. No excuses. I give my students no free passes- no excuses for late homework because of sports, illness, babysitting, family events. So I don't get one either. They still deserve everything I can give.

So, as always, I look for balance. I leave work at work and come home and let myself be all mom. At school I put up pictures of my daughter and I think of her when things get tough. Because it goes both ways. As much as I will work hard every day for my students, I will give my daughter the best of me as a parent. That will always come first. I guess that's what has changed. I still love my work. I still care about it above almost everything. Almost. That "almost" represents the new part of my life. Because one little girl gets the spot right above my work. From there, I'll find a way to get everything else to fall in to place.



A chance to breath- Thanksgiving weekend. Four days that every teacher and student desperately needs. Once November hits, the days are dark, the work is hard, and everyone is getting ready to buckle into the next three months of winter. You can feel it in the hallways and classrooms. Sleepy students in the mornings, tired teachers in the afternoons.
I sit this Thanksgiving weekend and prepare for a winter different than I've ever had. In three weeks I say goodbye to my students for three months. In three weeks, my own child will join this world and I will hold her in my arms and love her and begin my own journey as a parent. But it means leaving my classroom, something for which I am terribly nervous and anxious about. I know these students will be fine and they will be in capable hands. It's just..." teacher", as an identity, has been who I am for five years. Yes, I've learned to balance that role with things like friend, daughter, wife, etc. But always, as an overarching theme- teacher.  Now, I am going to let "parent" take a front seat. When I return to school in March I will have to find a new balance in my passion and love for this job and for the new role I am about to take on.

I'm excited, nervous, and happy. And oh so Thankful this long weekend is here to allow time to think, rest, reflect, and get ready for my new journey ahead.