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.


Weekend Work Well Spent

When I started at my middle school four years ago, the school had just taken on the challenge of become a Middle Years Program school under the IB program. At the time, just happy with a job, I thought little of it. I set up my classroom and focused on surviving my first year in the school.  I've spent the last three years talking about the program at staff meetings, sharing the stress of authorization, and trying to make sense of all the pieces of such a large program. Still, it didn't feel as though I had figured out what this MYP thing really stood for.
So, when a training made it's way in to town I jumped on it. How could I pass up a chance to get formal training from the IB program, from the people who know it best and understand all the pieces and philosophies? It meant giving up a weekend, but I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.
And what a weekend it turned out to be. I really REALLY read the IB mission statement for the first time. Not just a glance as I poured over documents- but a really good look at it:

The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.
To this end, the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment.
These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.

As our presenter said-- it's unabashedly optimistic. That phrase, "unabashedly optimistic", pretty much sums up my attitude towards public education, and reading the mission statement almost made me feel like I had found a kindred spirit. Suddenly, it hit me. This is not just one teacher I found to talk about how the world can be better through education- this is an entire global connection of educators who not only believe this, but have worked to make it a systematic and implementable thing

So, for three days, I just absorbed. Words I felt like I've just been floating in for the last three years became tangible and real. Ideas that felt unfocused and out of reach in my past MYP work became focused and doable.

I got the energy surge.

The surge. The desire to work, work WORK until I get this right. To go to work early, to stay late, to think, to struggle. The desire that drives me when I know something must be done because I can make things better and brighter for my students. I can make things stronger and learning better- and when I suddenly realize I have the tools and knowledge to do this, I can't rest until I do. How could I?


never ever ever

Today I remembered why I never ever ever ever let 8th graders pick seats. Seating chart ALWAYS. That doesn't mean I don't sometimes sit kids with friends or what have you. I just never ever ever ever let them pick their own. 
Today, because of strange circumstances, I did. 

Now my head hurts. 


Saying the same thing all day...

Parent/teacher conferences are over. Whew. All went well. Really well. Until the last hour... why did the crazy family sign up to be the last family of the day. It makes it all the harder to remember that we had 11 other hours of conferences WITHOUT crazy in it.



The weeks get long through September and October. There are few breaks and by October the honeymoon period passed long ago and we are truly into The Grind. Days end with me sitting in front of a desk covered with stacks of things I just don't want to deal with.
But then, there are these moments. These sparks that keep me going. Right now I'm well into a unit I particularly like. Square roots, Pythagorean Theorem, distance on a coordinate plan... some really wonderful topics that I've come to love teaching. Not only that, I believe I've become really GOOD at teaching this particular unit. I have a groove, a flow, a method to my madness.
So today, as we are working through problems, kids with mini whiteboards and me running around the room offering help, checking in, and having an all around good time, a student says, "It just really seems like you WANT us to learn."
Yeah. That felt good. Suddenly my tired feet were not so tired. Today, I just felt the good vibe in the room- like the students picked up on my desire for them to learn and love math and that vibe moved through them and radiated back to me.
And that's the spark that will get me through these next few dark and rainy weeks. Because, today it was a spark... but tomorrow... who knows?


Relaxing today

Relaxing today, because tomorrow I'm going into "the office" for four hours. But it will be worth it. This week marks year two of my equation stations and it promises to be better than every. Differentiation at its finest, and all invented by me. It just takes a LOT of up front work. I will have to post details of it, maybe even snap some pictures of stations in action.


My Priveledge. NOT my Burden

I am a public educator. I work at a school that has embraced the philosophy that every child can learn and has a right to the highest possible rigor. I am trained in ways to meet the need of each child individually in my classroom. It is my responsibility and my privilege to teach every student in my room regardless of race, gender, socioeconomics, learning needs, sexual orientation, or any thing else under the moon.
You, the parent, have one child to worry about. To take care of. To guide through the crazy world of 8th grade. Leave the other 99 to me. DO NOT make excuses for your child based on the other students who are in my room. DO NOT let your child make excuses for him/herself because of the biases and perceptions he/she has of other students in the room. I guarantee you, those perceptions are wrong.   I WILL NOT justify the number of brown kids in my room or the number of kids with and without learning disabilities.
I WILL talk about your child. I will talk about his or her learning needs and if they are being met. I will work with you and your child to ensure learning is happening and support exists in my room for him to be challenged every day... as long as he is willing to take on those challenges.
Do not assume you know my burden. It is not the kids with the IEPs. It is not the kids on TAG plans. It is not a single one of my students. They are my joy and my reason for showing up each day.

 And guess what, that kid you son thinks is dumb, that kid with the autism that says funny things in class... yeah, she  just kicked his butt on the last test... but I won't tell you that... that information is confidential and it's time for your son to worry about his own learning and his own ability.


A GOOD day. And a quality lesson.

My group of students this year seems game for just about anything. I feel like I have a willing band of mathematicians at my fingertips- or if not yet full fledged mathematicians, they are willing to listen and see where I'm going with all this.
So today I decided to jump into box and whisker plots. I have struggled with the entire statistics unit in the past few years. Stats. Blah. All math books turn it into lists of meaningless numbers or silly "real world" situations. I've struggled to make it mean something ANYTHING to all of us in the room. Which seems crazy, because stats should be the most applicable, the most real world thing I teach them all year.
But slowly, things have been shifting. A few good lessons here, a few "Ah ha!" moments for me, and some extra reading and research has all helped to lend new life to this unit. Lately, my book of choice has been Edward Tufte and I'm suddenly seeing the light as to why we graph anything at all EVER. So anyway, I'm starting to find my own passion for statistics and graphical representations.
Yesterday I did something I don't love to do- I taught something without much context. I threw five number summaries at my students, just wanting to get the vocab, the concept, and the process to the kids. I asked them to take a leap of faith, to trust that this moving around of numbers would lead us somewhere.
So today, we started to connect. We talked about summaries they write in Language Arts, how it is useful to take a large article and summarize it down to the main ideas. We talked about why a five number summary might be more useful than a list of data. We made vocabulary connections.
Then we calculated our age in months. Students wrote it on index cards and we marched outside. At this point, I started to get nervous. I mean, I could do this with a class of maybe 25 students, but how would I keep a line of 35 bodies engaged and listening? But, I decided, what's teaching without some adventure? I refuse to use class size as an excuse not to provide the very best for students.
We lined up from least to greatest. We figured out the student in the middle and he got to hold the "Median" card. Students found the quartiles and the max and min and each person in the five number summary held a card. With students lined up, toes on the edge of the sidewalk, I marked the quartiles and medians with yard sticks. The lower and upper 25% got a piece of yarn to hold (becoming the whisker) The middle quartiles crowded between the yardsticks. Suddenly, we were a box and whisker plot. And for the first time ever, I had students quickly seeing that our data was split into 25% chunks. That the range of the chunks might change, but that each quartile held 25% of the classmates. It was fun, it was visual, it was tactile. And somehow, it worked.
We trouped back inside to get our thoughts on paper. We drew what we had made and talked about what someone could learn about our class from looking at our visuals. Why it might be more useful than a list of numbers. And I think, just maybe, students really understood- not just wrote notes and memorized some vocab- but really understood, in their guts, the what and why of this particular statistical representation.
So tomorrow- how in the WORLD do I top that?


The swing of things

One week in and the swing of things has started to fall into place. I'm getting to know the personality of the classes. We finally are on the normal school bell schedule. Buses have started coming on time. I'm finding my rhythm in the day.
This year it's going to be about training the students to handle transitions. I have TONS of transitions during a class period. I have the luxury of an 82 minute class period and I use it to the fullest. I try to fit a few different types of learning into one class period- partner work, mini whiteboard time, group discussion, individual practice time. That means about every 15-20 mins I need to give new directions and have students execute them quickly. I've noticed this year's bunch likes to stop and chat along the way and that getting settled back in TAKES SOME TIME. But not too worry, I'll get them trained.
I'm particularly proud of my ability to take a boring worksheet and turn it into an interactive experience- which is usually where many of my transitions come from. For instance, yesterday I wanted to review proportions. I had, in my possession, a math riddle sheet. I have tons of these. Worksheets that, when the right answers are produced, give the answers to funny riddles. Okay, fun and such, but it's just the same old drill and kill with a riddle.
I took the sheet and cut the riddle part off. I then cut the problems in half- making two half sheets (A and B) of problems. As students came into the room, they were instructed to pick up one or the other, based of last names. In theory I had half the class with one sheet and half with the other. Right away, this creates interest. Students start comparing the sheets and figuring out what's different. As they work to finish the problems I have time to walk around and work with a few kids individually.
But still- it's just been worksheet time. Kids who already understood the work haven't been challenged. Students who were lost MAYBE got a minute to work with me, but nothing that will keep the math stuck in their heads. At this point, the students got to get up and move. The task was to get into groups with two A half sheets and two B half sheets. Movement- always wakes them up a little. Choice in groups (with some limitations)- always a bonus in middle school. Once they were in groups, I gave them the riddle portion of the sheet I had removed. As a group they worked to fill it in. Automatically, answers are being checked. I hear comparing of strategies. Conversation leads to deeper thinking.
So great, the riddles are worked out, the math is done- but let's take this deeper. Each group now had to come up with one rule or hint to share that would help someone solve a proportion problem. They recorded it on a slip of paper. I then warned them I would be calling on group members to share the strategy AT RANDOM, so they needed to make sure EVERYONE in the group could explain what was written. Cue the more capable kids quickly coaching and teaching the rest of the group how to explain what's on the paper. Beauty. And I did call at random- remember my "No Raised Hands" rule? I pulled names from a jar.
So we shared work, made an "proportions hints board" in class, and BOOM- a boring math worksheet turned into something so much more. It was 50 well spent minutes.


precious weekend

And suddenly, my weekends are precious again. In summer, weekends drift in and out, simply marking the time when more friends and family are more available to hang out. Suddenly, weekends are again my time to get things back together. The way weekends are for most the working world. Laundry. Dishes. Grocery shopping. Quiet time. Sleep. I actually enjoy getting back into the routine of them. Having a purpose for these hours away from the school.
This first weekend of the school year also allows me some time to process. What happened last week? Did I cover what I needed to? Can I remember any student names? What will come next in my plans for the year? Week one sits as a blur in my head. A blur of students, lockers, rules, procedures, names, and... HEAT. Last week felt stuck at a temperature much too hot to really get anything done. My classroom sat at 85 degrees, and I have one of the cooler rooms. So everything literally has melted in my mind. I hope the cooler temperatures rolling in next week help the students and I adjust to the reality of this new school year. Because this week we get serious. Pretests, homework, 8th grade expectations. Here we go.


Remember Mr. Rogers?

Remember Mr. Rogers? Fred Rogers- hero of children's programming, in his quiet unassumming way. Remember how you knew exactly what he would do when he walked in the door singing his song? He would change his jacket, put on the sweater. Zip it all the way up, and then half way down. Change shoes- always tossing the show from one hand to the other. Remember? It took me over 20 years to figure out that his little regular activities may very well have been the key to his success.

After a few years now in this job, I've found the key remains in having a routine. Wait. Strike that. In having routines. Plural. Routines for everything. It's the challenge I'm finding being in a new classroom. What are the routines? I tried to start this morning, even though I didn't have students today.
 Walk in. Hang jacket in closet. Set down bag. Turn phone to silent. Turn on computer as I walk by. Go to windows. Open them, turn on fan. Come back to desk. Unload bag- lunch, important items, etc. Put bag in closet. Sit at desk. Check email. Look over to do list from day before. Breath. Start Day.
Having routines for myself, important, yes. It's what keeps piles from building up on my desk. It's what keeps me caught up on grading. It's what ensure I'm not forgetting anything. BUT, even more important, routines for the students. Routines that are sensible, logical, teachable, doable, and easy to maintain.
I think the advantage I have in this point of my career over the myself from the early part of my career is understanding exactly what that last sentence means. It means NEVER assume students will just figure it out. It means NOT changing systems mid year, even when the system in place could be improved- wait until next fall for that change. It means taking the first two weeks to slowly and methodically teach these routines as they organically appear during the lesson.
What do I mean by routines for everything? To name a few: Starting class, turning in work, handing back work, bathroom breaks, sharpening pencils, test taking, group work, daily flow of class, giving of information, ways for students to ask for help, partner work, portfolios.

My goal in planning to first two weeks is to let the oppertunities to teach these routines arise naturally. Going over every routine in the first two days is A) BORING. For the students and me B) POINTLESS. Students won't remember something taught out of context C) A waste of the best few days of school- the days you have the most captive and eager audience. Let's learning something, do some math, get our brains going.
So what I do is put all the routines/rules/classroom details that need to be taught on little post-its. Then, as I look over the lessons I have planned, I see where they will fit. Oh, are we coloring our "Who I am" poster on day two? Stick a post-it in my plan book. What a great time to teach where student supplies are and where they are NOT (Read: don't touch my desk). Turning in our first homework assignment? Stick a post-it in my plan book.  Great time to show off the turn in baskets and talk about my crazy homework policies.

So anyway, that's what my brain is full of now. Do I have everything in place? Have I figured out all the bits and pieces that need to be taught? Do the first couple weeks look smooth, interesting, and informative for students? I sure as heck hope so, because I've been thinking so much my brain hurts.


A small classroom tour

My classroom is ready. Almost. There is still a ladder the custodians left when the awesomely moved my overhead screen to a new wall... I'm picky about set up. I haven't put out kids names on tables. I still have a few odds and ends around the rooms. I haven't labeled everything. But it will get done. It will. Tomorrow will be busy- but it's 6th grade only, so I have one more day to get the last pieces together. And then... I don't know why, but it doesn't seem real yet.

In the meantime, I thought a tour of my almost finished classroom was in order.

Entering the room... to the left
Entering room... to the right. My desk shows in the corner
I guess I could have turned some lights on. Or waited until the light was better... but that doesn't meet with my want for pictures NOW. The top picture shows off the big big panels in the room. These can actually be folded back so that my teaching partner and I can open up the rooms into one BIG monster room for team time and such. Awesome. The whole room was an atrocious, eye burning, almost neon blue when I moved in. Instead of dealing with the classic butcher paper or painting, I opted for the cheapest fabric I could find. It should last a long long time. It did end up costing more than I'm going to post here. But still, not bad. Paint wouldn't have been much cheaper.

Okay, on the panels....
First, the board with my latest and greatest classroom guideline. I'm a believer and follower of Dylan Wiliam. Such a great, great man. This article talks about no raised hands a bit: Daily Mail UK- No Raised Hands. I finally did it last year in it's true form (read: when I got tired and cranky I didn't just fall back on letting the kids raise hands and calling on the kid I knew would have the answer). I loved it. I used mini white boards to allow all students to answer. Or I called names at random from Popsicle sticks I drew from a can.

The article that started all this research for simple solutions to engage all students in learning can be found here: Inside the Black Box. I plan on rereading it before the year gets too far on.
Below the sign in my learning target board- right now it's got kitchy start of year goals for kids, but soon it will be filled with our math goals for units. The idea? If kids know what we are trying to learn, they have a lot better chance of getting there.

Next up- my Welsh Pride. My first teaching experience was across the pond at a wonderful school in southern Wales. I still put up my flag every year. Cymru am byth!!

Below, calculators. In a clear shoe holder. This way, it's easy for me to see if they are all back at the end of class. Oh yes, this is not my first time around the block. Things leave the class so easily. Not because 8th graders are out to steal things, but because they are SO SPACEY they will simply pack my supplies up with their own and walk out. I often get it all back at the end of the year when locker clean outs happen.
A panel of this and that. Posters I like.
Quotes about math.
A painting I've always loved.

You know. The random stuff in every classroom that reveals a bit about the teacher. The stuff to make the classroom interesting and in hopes that when the students space away from my lessons (because, let's face it, it's math class. I'm going to lose them from time to time) they have something interesting and worthwhile at which to look.

My whiteboard. You can see brackets above it... that's where the overhead screen used to be. But see, it covered my whiteboard, diminishing space for awesome math scribbles and figurings. So my fantastic custodians moved it for me. You will also see three computers I begged, borrowed, and stole from around the building. Two crash at regular intervals. Oh well. We'll get something better someday, in the mean time, this counts as my technology station.

Okay, some of my favorite posters. When I first started teaching I found these about to be thrown out. They are from the Apple "Think Different" Campaign. I wish I could get more- but apparently they have become collectors items for Apple Nerds. I found the quotes and typed them up and added them. I also have a Miles Davis, not pictured here. They ALWAYS lead to great discussion at some point in the year.

There's more to the room. The posters by my pencil sharpener (I figure, hey, they are standing there, sharpening their pencils, may as well give them something interesting to read). My wall of victory. The homework board. The bookcases. But maybe another day. In the meantime, time to travel into the future and get this school year started.

To work

Sitting in bed. Cup of tea. Sleeping cat. Quiet holiday Monday. Somehow I have to work up the energy to get myself into school. I promised myself I would go in today. Staple up that last bulletin board. Clean the last clutter off the counters. Bring a plant in the brighten the room. (I can have a plant! I have windows! Glory glory glory!) Maybe make some copies. Fully plan the first few weeks- weeks full of get to know you, name learning, rule giving, pretesting, and general observation of who these new students are.
Anyway... I guess it's time to leave this cozy day and get my mind around SCHOOL. School tomorrow.



Sitting in the media center (library) for hours at a time remains, with out a doubt, the hardest part of the week back to school. The stuffy, windowless media center just seems to suck Suck SUCK the energy out of me and turn me into a cranky, eye rolling participant. And the thing is, the things we are being told are important. The team building we do matters. The personality survey actually gave me insight to myself and my coworkers. It's just sitting and counting down the minutes to get into my classroom, to sort through things, to plan the exciting first week. That's the hard part. Knowing a classroom waits for you on the other side of professional development. 
So, I survived a morning of presentations. A morning of what our vision is at our school, what the vision is of the District. How we will continue the work we were doing last year. How we will move forward with amazing work in education, even as the budget shrinks and our class sizes grow. 
I can do this. I feel strong as a teacher this year. I am strong. I'm a freakin' 5th year teacher. I'm not the new gal any more. I have more materials than I know what to do with. I have a tool box of ideas. I have sound, strong philosophies and a good idea how to put them to practical use in my classroom. 
So the morning, as painful as sitting and listening and staying focused was... it did get my brain on track. It got the vocabulary back in my head (MYP, standards based learning, formative assessment, assessment for learning, individual student growth, rigor for all, etc, etc etc). I made my way back to my classroom after lunch and got to work. I cleaned, I filed, I hung posters and I THOUGHT. I thought about the first week. The first month. The first unit. The foundations for the year. Because there are just a couple more days to get it all in order. Then BOOM. We begin. 


are we here again?

First day back for teachers. I love coming back to the school. Setting up my classroom, getting organized, planning the year. Everything feels fresh. Feels like a new start. This year I'm in a new classroom. I have windows. I have a little more space. I have...boxes all over the place from moving. So that will be my day tomorrow (after whatever morning stuff the admins have planned for us). Sort. File. Email. Begin to think about the first day with my new students. A new beginning. Here we go again.


The end

Another year, drawn to a close. It came so fast and furious, I didn't even have time to write. This year ended perfectly. With the adding of the first annual TRIEDUCON event, we kept the students busy, engaged, and learning until the last possible moment. And the event couldn't have been more FUN. A triathlon of the mind- students were in teams of four "training" for the big competition. Team names, team flags, team cheers. Teams had to register at the race booth- where they received bib numbers (to be worn at all times) and a training packet (mostly just study review guides in math, science, and humanities.) After a day of training (studying, obstacle courses, team building) came competition- an intense day of teams working together to remember concepts from the year. What kind of fault does a composite volcano form on? What is the vertex of that parabola? How many members of congress are there?
Bib Numbers- hand crafted by husband and I
Finally, the closing ceremonies- the procession of the teams and flags- think Olympics, when the countries enter the arena- and a final competition of the top three teams, watched by their peers. Jeopardy style and intense to the last question, when the second place team came back from behind to take the gold medal. And thus ended the first Trieducon, an event that will be repeated in years to come.
What followed was the typical end of year stuff. Team awards ("Most likely to lose his locker combination on the first day of high school" "Most likely to someday take over for Bill Nye" "Most likely to score a goal in a world cup soccer match" "Most likely to wrestle a grizzly bear in Yellowstone Park", you know the normal stuff), handing out of year books, and the beginning of goodbyes.
The final day of school is all about letting out 8th graders enjoy their last moments together. We had a morning carnival, a BBQ, and plenty of yearbook signing time. The day ends with a school-wide assembly. The 8th grade choir sings, the Jazz band plays, and the final slide show of the year. The lights come on to 8th graders in tears. This is goodbye. And as much as I tease every year ("hey, won't you be seeing your buddies at the mall tomorrow?"), I get it. This ends an era for them and it's bittersweet. The relationships with their friends will grow and change and probably even get better- but they will never be the same. High school will be full of new experiences an adventures, but it will never be the same as what they have at this moment in time. So I give out hugs and handshakes and herd them to the buses. The teachers stand a wave as the buses leave and another year comes to a close. Best wishes to the greatest group of students I have yet had the pleasure to work with. Go do great things and make every moment your own.


Plans for the Futur {part 1}

A student approached me with a black spiral notebook today. "This was left by someone." I grabbed it without paying much attention. My priorities lay in getting class started, greeting students as they come in, and just catching my breath between groups. As I headed to my desk to mark attendance in the computer, I glanced down. Etched into the front in ball point pen were the words, "Jennifer and Robins plans 4 the FUTUR" (yes, without an "E")

Further reading led to some of the most hilarious and, in many ways, the most touching student document I've ever had my hands on.

First: the Table of contents. Colored coded. Of course.
Did you see the key at the bottom?

Now. The serious Stuff. Page one. General ideas.

 A little background. A week ago the science teacher took a note between the two girls. Robin was explaining to Jennifer what is great about college and what a "masters degree" is. It's this thing where you can study different topics, like art or computers. And Jennifer should get one. And they should get an apartment together. Etc. Etc. I believe from that note, this journal was born.

And this is just part 1. More to come. And don't you forget to visit YOUR friend's Grandma's every once in a while.



Oh my goodness. I am tired. I am tired all the time. And I'm so behind. How am I so behind? I was caught up just days ago, but now I feel months behind. I'm at school early every morning, but the first hour is eaten by emails and such for the 1,000 too many committees I'm on. Department head. Content Facilitator (that means I go to lots of district meetings). Ski bus organizer. East coast trip leader. Team leader. Building Union Rep. District Union Rep. Math articulation team (that means more district meetings).
And when that part is done- I still have a classroom to take care of and teaching to do. And it's finally catching up to me. It's 8:00pm and I'm going to bed.


Yup, this is what I'm meant to do.

"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
Alice in Wonderland.

Yes. This week came together so beautifully. So splendidly. So wonderfully. And yes, I have fantastic students this year that just go with things and work hard and get the job done. But even so, I'm going to take most the credit for this week. Because this week, in my classroom, I proved why not just anyone can do this job. Why it takes training, practice, and specialization to really teach and to really teach well. Yes. I'm tooting my own horn. toot. toot.

This week I looked across a room of 30 some students and for five days each student worked on assignments tailored for him or her. Every student worked at his or her own pace. Every student got attention from me. Every student showed growth. And it seemed to me that every student felt success. Even I, with all the planning I put into this week, never thought it would go THIS well.

A little background. This is 8th grade. At my school every student takes the same math and learns the same things until the very last trimester of 8th grade when we split students based on the high school class they are going to. Many students will go on to Geometry next year, but about 40% who have struggled with the math this year will take Algebra next year. This does not reflect poorly on the student. Geometry is considered ahead of grade level. My school paves a different path than other schools by pushing every student to the highest level until the last moment possible.

But the fact remains, I have one class(those students that are bound for Algebra) that now has a WIDE range of abilities and has ALL of my lowest students, where before those students were spread out in all my classes. I have students that are behind by many grade levels and students that are almost geometry ready but just need a little more practice to get the foundations in place.

It presents a challenge. The greatest kind of challenge. The kind of challenge that any passionate teacher should get excited about (even if they get exhausted by it) HOW DO I MEET THE NEEDS OF EVERY LEANER? How to I let the high kids fly ahead and explore topics deeply? How do I provide the review and concepts for the students who struggle not just with math but with reading, writing, social skills, motivation, etc, etc. And how do I do it in a way that allows me to keep my sanity? I can't sit down at 4:00pm every night and make 35 lesson plans. But at the same time, I need a system that allows for 35 different abilities.

And this week I did it! The unit was solving equations. I made use of every resource I have. The help I get for 20 minutes three days a week from the ESL aid. And the help I get from the SPED teacher for 30 minutes three days a week. They were kept busy. I sent out a call for computers sitting in classrooms and managed to put together a "mini lab" of five ancient computers that I start up when I first get to school because they take 20 minutes to boot up. (Not to mention, they are squeezed into a corner of my packed classroom... but they are there! And working!) I had files of assignment choices at all levels, every student had a plan that was partially taylored by me based off of pre-tests, but also allowed for choice on his or her side.

Yup, this week felt great. It all worked. Crossing my fingers for success again next week. But seriously. I wish I could show this to the public. The careful planning, the execution, the work that goes into a truly successful classroom. I am public education. Hear me roar.


schools in crisis

I'm exhausted by budget talks. Budget talks. Budget talks end with lost jobs, lost pay, bigger classes, less supplies, more work and stress. So much stress. The cuts we must make will go so deep, will hurt so bad... I have trouble understanding how we come back to normal. Will there ever be normal again? Every time we cut, things don't come back in better times. We have rooms in our schools that were used for wood shop, home ec, photography... cut in hard times... and never back again. So when we lose media specialists, when classes go up to 38, 39, 40, 41... we will ever see a return to now? Or will this become the norm? I long for classes under 30. A classroom I can walk around easily in, the time to meet with each student, the energy to grade a set of tests in one evening. All I see ahead is exhaustion.
And with it all comes guilt. Guilt I can't be happy it's not worse. We're not losing 12 days like a near by district. We haven't all been fired like the teachers in New Jersey. We aren't left without a contract and about to strike like some other chapters in the state. We aren't wasting precious classroom time to fight for basic rights like the teachers in Wisconsin. But really-- if I'm supposed to be grateful because my district has managed to avoid falling that far into trouble-- we have depressingly low standards for what qualifies as job satisfaction for educators. 

I love my job so much. I love being a teacher. I love it. And I'm good at it. But after meeting with the principal, meeting with the union, and meeting with the staff... all to discuss... really depressing prospects... I'm tired.



The term slowly comes to an end. Deadlines students thought would never come...are finally here. For three weeks students have had the oppertunity to retake quizzes to prove they've learned a target. Today I had a line of kids during homeroom that waited until the last possible day to do anything about quizzes they needed to retake. Two kids were worried they couldn't retake ALL the quizzes they needed to, because there wouldn't be time. Sorry kid. Natural consequence of waiting until the last minute. Your grade will reflect accordingly.
Middle school is the ultimate learning ground for time management. Time still means nothing to a 13 year old, but deadlines have meaning in middle school. So every year it's the same. Watching the painful lesson as a 13 year old realizes that for the first time she can't do it all in one day, or that being absent for one day out of 12 is not a reason to be late on a project. And I get it, I've been that kid. It sucks. But it's life. 


lazy Saturday

Sunshine today. I thought it would create a super productive me. Instead I still feel exhausted from the week that just ended and I've crawled back into bed to watch movies and laze around. I keep thinking about the math tests I could be grading at this moment, but I think I need a couple more hours before my brain can even think school again. So those tests will wait and I'll continue to enjoy this lazy day.


my first chance

NBC nightly news came to school today. And I interviewed about... I don't even know what. It was nerve wracking and crazy and I'm sure I said all the wrong things. But at the same time, I hope I represented my profession fairly and honestly. Because I hope I find many more opportunities to be an advocate for this profession I hold so dear.
But then it was over and I got back to the business of teaching. Copies. Seating charts. Grading. Meeting with kids who need a behavior reality check. Planning a department meeting. Getting emails sent out.
And oh yeah. At some point I actually had to teach. Excuse the cliche but thank GOODNESS it's Friday.


February, dark and dreary.

The rain, the cold, the dark, the day in day out. Ugg. I have the blahs. Dark mornings I trudge into school, dark evenings I trudge out. Students are fine... but also not fine. Lessons are good... but not great. My cute professional outfits give way to jeans and cozy sweaters (or sweatshirts). We need change. We need energy. We started a new unit... but even that feels old. New seats for the students... but already they seem stale. Grading piles up- mocking me from the turn in basket. But who has the energy to attack it?

We need a shake up. Sunny days, outside lessons, inspiration and connections for the learning.
And... I could use smaller classes. The 37 kids are wearing me down. It feels awful even complaining about that, my students are so awesome this year. But, no matter how awesome, 37 wears a person out. I start to worry about next year. More kids, same small classroom. 

With two weeks left in trimester two, I'm just hanging on. Trimester three brings big changes. Class schedules shift and we start the final push to get kids ready for high school. As important as it is to finish this trimester strong (and believe me, we are working hard!) I'm already anticipating what comes next. The start of trimester three. Fresh start. New lessons. Sunshine (fingers crossed). 



Was winter break really only one week ago? Five days can shock that holiday right out of the system. I felt a little like a zombie off and on this week- which made for a shaky week of teaching. But, in the end, it felt good. We made progress. Plans came together. Lots of work ahead of me this weekend. I have this dream of linear stations--- but there are a lot of hours of pre-work time that needs to happen before the stations are student friendly. So, the weekend will be a quiet one. Me, the husband, the cat, and lesson plans.



Tomorrow I enter my room again. I turn on the lights, I go to my desk, and boom- the school year continues. I don't know what I will find on my desk. Can't remember what piles I left. I'm not even sure what I will teach tomorrow. I see that as a good sign. I let it all go this break. I relaxed. I saw family. I enjoyed each day.
But it will be good to be back. Good to see my co-workers. Good to see the students. Good to start the year with a fresh mind and new determination. I will attack differentiation with new energy. I will push each student and create opportunities for every student in my room to access quality, high level learning. 2011. It will be a good year.