Another First Day

It's hard to believe that I have just completed my ninth first day of school as a teacher and twenty-seventh first day of school overall. The first day has always been a whirlwind for me, and it never feels as if there is enough time to do that which I had planned. Some periods I met for less than 30 minutes, another met for the full 42 minutes, and I saw my 9th period kids for all of 3 minutes. I often wish that we had a different set up for our first day, but when all is said and done, there really isn't much you can do different from what we are doing with what we need to do. In the end, it's just a matter of dealing with what's given.

And, of course, that is the problem I am facing this year. As of today, there will be 178 student enrollments (some students come 2-3 times a day) that roll through my classroom on even days and 161 on odd days (my study hall numbers vary), and I am wondering how I will meet the needs for each of these students. Each of these kids is going to have a different need that I must meet and adjust for. How will I be able to do this?

Luckily, working in a flipped classroom will make up for some of the necessary adjustments. Students will have a choice in how to receive the information to apply to the content. They could view a podcast where they can see problems and hear me talk about the topics. They could work through the slides for the podcast without the audio and try to figure out the steps and create reasons why those steps work. They could take the notesheet and work on filling it in by trying things out and verifying it afterwards. This is a process that worked quite well with my Integrated Math 2 students last year, and I'm curious to see how it works not only with my Geometry students, but in classes that are as large as they are. The big question is will I be able to assist the students that need it in class, or will I not be able to get around to them? Will they step up and collaborate as I envision they will? Time will tell.

In order to deal with both the sizes of my classes and the potential for collaborative learning, I've adjusted the way my classroom is set up. No longer will I arrange in rows and columns, but instead in clusters that allow for students to better work together with those around them and allow for me to move around the space. I had used a very similar configuration last year, and it lent itself quite well to work in the classroom.

The next question is how do I adjust for assessment (or should I even do so)? I would love to be able to trust my students so that they do not borrow work and answers from each other and truly see what they know and don't know, but we all know high school kids, and the temptation to look at another's paper is something that is difficult to overcome. I don't have the time to adjust desks for every assessment, and different classes will be assessed on different days, so how do I account for this issue without driving myself crazy?


The importance of reflection and what it means to be a teacher

All too often, I find myself running from one place to another, often feeling like a chicken with its head cut off. There are days where I am moving constantly from the moment I wake until I am finally able to fall back asleep. I am sure there are many more teachers out there that find themselves in the same position every day, as well.

Yet I find that when I get a chance to look back on what has passed, I find that there are many things that I have missed, be it some of the connections I used to make with my students or a better way to get my content through to my students. This is such an important part of who I should be as an educator, but by not taking the time to reflect, I miss the chance to grow.

One week from now, my classroom will be full of students once again. That means I need to be at the top of my game. Anytime I am with students, if I am giving any less than my best, then I am not doing my job. That is the pressure of being an educator, and that is what I knew what I was getting into when I enrolled in the math education program at Millersville University back in 1998.

This push to remember to reflect comes from a summer where I attended two weddings where former students of mine were getting married. These two students were class officers for the class that I co-advised, which also happened to be ther group of students that started high school when I began teaching at A-C. Through planning prom to announcing some names at graduation, I grew quite close to those two students, and as the bride of this couple was looking to become a teacher, I was also able to give advice toward doing so. They are such a fun couple, and I was so pleased to know that they wished for me (as well as many of my colleagues) to celebrate their special day with them.

The second wedding was this past weekend, also for a couple from the same class. I knew that these two former students had also thought highly of me in their time here, and I was able to help them and their families through some difficult times. The bride from that couple gave me a thank you card while she was a junior (I keep all cards, photos, and other keepsakes given to me by my students), and I just happened to reread this card today as I was setting up my classroom. She thanked me for the help she received, but there was one statement that really hit home, where she wrote, "Thank you for being someone I trust. And the only person who has never let me down." How powerful a statement is that? I don't know of any other profession where such an impact can be made on a young person. Again, it was an honor to be able to celebrate their wedding day with them.

Of course, I have many other letters and thank you's from parents and students that I reread or post to remind me why I became a teacher. I need the reminders that the long hours are worth it, especially in today's climate where teachers are being blamed for many of the ills that we face. Well, I say, blame away. I will ignore those statements and continue to fight for what I know is right for my students.

So this year, even though I only have 12 graphing calculators for my class of 32 students, I won't complain about it. I will deal with it. I will press my students to try and find a solution to the problem, as I know there are other tools out there I can use, such as the Desmos, Inc. free graphing calculator. I will continue to work on my flipped classroom by trying new things, work at making more connections to the real world, and reflect on what works and what doesn't. And I will remind myself that my willingness to do things differently and trying to make math interesting is what made me a good teacher in the past, and continuing to incorporate those ideas will help me grow into a great teacher.