I think quite a lot about professional development. Whether I’m preparing to give or receive, I want it to be worthwhile.
A while back I was deciding whether or not to give the PAEMST a third shot. Yes. That’s right. My third shot. The first year I submitted, I was a finalist for the state of North Carolina. My lesson was terrible and my write up wasn’t much better. But there I was, a finalist. Two years later, I apply again. My score is double the score from the year I was a finalist, but it wasn’t in the cards. And oddly enough, I was totally ok with that. See, the growth I achieved during and after each of these processes has been the most growth I have ever made as a teacher. It is no less and no more than the personal growth I went through when I did my National Boards. (Note to the world—the most significant professional development a teacher can get is personal professional development through structured reflection. It should be recognized and recorded as such.)
So why am I applying again? I had to. Early this calendar year, I found myself in a terrible funk as a teacher. I had no confidence and my students sensed that and seized on it. That just made each day worse. I had to shake what was happening to me and in my classroom. I thought about when I was at my best and what made me my best and it all came back to serious, structured, self-reflection. Reflection on my foibles as well as my fabulousness. I knew I had to resubmit for PAEMST, so, on March 1st, I self-nominated. I am doing this for my self and for my students. They deserve my best and I was not at my best before I made this decision. I was an over burdened teacher who felt compelled to beat herself up over data. Data points that truly represent neither me nor my students. Data points that are valid in hindsight, but at the moment made me feel like a failure. I am now on a natural high that is propelling me forward as well as my learners.
For me data is emotional before it is informative. That is something every administrator needs to know about me, and probably about most other teachers. I take my job very seriously. Data is merely one dimension that defines me as well as my learners. We are so much more than one stinking data point. I could go on a whole diatribe about grades and end of grade scores and whatnot, but I won’t. People that don’t understand will not suddenly change their position on my rant.
If you are like me and need a structure to help you reflect and give yourself a significant career boost, then do some structured, self-refection. Use the National Board prompts or the PAEMST dimension prompts. It is so worth it for you and your students. While you’re at it, you might as well apply, right?
There was a time I thought radicals should be simplified. A factor of a radicand should never be a perfect square. To do otherwise was just sloppy math—so I thought. Now, I think differently. You should consider it too.
Making the square root of 40 look like 2 on the square root of 10 serves no real purpose in the mathematics of real life. You can readily estimate the square root of 45, but trying to do that with three square root 5 is a much more complicated task, and for what? If I am going to the fabric store and I am asked how much ribbon I want, I better not say, “4 root 2” and expect to get the correct amount. At the hardware store, I am far better reasoning that the square root of 32 feet would be a bit less than 6 feet, and a bit more than 5 and one-half feet and just say 2 yards. The lumber department does not want to hear this nonsense about radicals and square roots. They want to cut my lumber and send me to the register to check out so they can help the next person also get a reasonable amount of lumber.
Now, I know, one needs to simplify radicals to combine radicals via addition, such as the square root of 27 plus the square root of 12, but seriously. This is not reality. This is a contrived problem that I have never seen come up in real life. Ever. And I sew and measure and do real life things with math—at home. It does not come up. It’s clever, like a party trick, but not terribly useful.
I do make certain my Math 2 students can “simplify radials,” but just for the “man.” Not for real life. I used to “ding” my students (take off 1 point just to be mildly irritating to get them to conform to convention) for not simplifying radicals. I am totally rethinking that.
Reality says leave radicals as they are so they are easy to estimate to be useful and to check for reasonableness. Done.
I’ve heard it. I’ve said it. I’ve lived it. The equations section of Unit 4 of 8thgrade Open Up Resources 6-8 Math curriculum is a beast. It ramps up so quickly with little to no practice and students are lost. They are frustrated and giving up. So are teachers. So was I, until I got my head around it. Sheer conjecture, but this is my take on the whole thing.
This curriculum is designed for 8thgraders. All 8thgraders. We have three distinct levels of math classes in 8thgrade at my school. The Open Up curriculum is only being used for students who are currently at, barely at or below grade level. There is a narrow group of learners using this wide-ranging 8thgrade curriculum. Most of these learners have never truly been asked to perform work that is on-grade-level. This is the first time. They are lost and struggling and giving up.
We are taking a curriculum intended for acceleration, remediation and everything in between and using it exclusively for corrective and remedial instruction with enough access for on grade-level students to make progress. We are working hard to deliver the curriculum with fidelity. Our students are being challenged with grade-level material for, perhaps, the first time. They, in all likelihood, will not get it all. That’s ok. For many, this is their first exposure to grade-level material. Maybe they’ll get it the next time. We need to focus on the fact that students finally have access to grade-level material. We, as teachers, need to be careful not to let our well-intentioned actions take that away from them. When we take the opportunity for students to solve equations containing distribution and fractions and negative numbers and variables on both side and exchange it for 6thgrade-level equations, we are cheating our students.
And there I am, taking work that is at grade-level and breaking it down into bits and pieces that my students can understand and taking it off grade-level. I’m reading to them rather than having them read the problems themselves. I’m giving in. I’m using a curriculum designed to meet the needs of a diverse group of learners with a group of learners who, for the most part, don’t want to be there. I have got to do better so my students have a chance to do better. I’ve started giving out Life Savers to students for getting a good start on activities. Hopefully, only I catch the connection there.
Students do not know how to put in the sustained work required to do the learning that needs to be done to get on grade-level. They do not know how to reach longer-term goals on their own. Rather than getting frustrated with the students and the curriculum, we as teachers, need to rise to the challenge and be the bridge that finally gets these students access to grade level work. Yes. It will take multiple years, but I would rather be the start of their access to grade-level work rather than the continuation of subpar standards.
There is so much immediate gratification in the lives of students that gets in the way of the time it takes to do the work required to reach longer-term goals. None of these students fell behind in the last year or two. Fact is they were never caught up to start with. This is just the first time they have ever even had the chance to see and do work that is on grade-level. They are 13 and 14. Yes, they are going to struggle. Yes, we are going to struggle right along with them. We owe it to them to finally challenge them with what they deserve. All students deserve access to grade level content. Period. Taking Martin Luther out of context, “Here I stand. I can do no other.”
Tracking is the start of all this below grade-level activity. We say we want all students to succeed, but how can they? There is no way to “jump the track” they are assigned to if they do not have a crack at the actual expectations of the grade. At-grade-level progress needs to be accessed and assessed for all learners. Watering down standards and short-changing learners who have historically struggled will never get them where they should be. Please honor our students by honoring their access to grade-level material. It is probable that many may not get it, but some will. Chances are, the ones that don’t get it weren’t going to get the watered-down version either. At grade level material gives all students a chance to meet and exceed expectations. Expect great things from yourself and your students.
Kindergarten is my first recollection of school and with good reason. I had Mrs. Trout. She spanked me on the very first day of school. Me! We sat at tables. Someone was at the front of the room. I spun around in my seat so I could see. Mrs. Trout told me to turn around, so I did. The next thing I know, she tells me I’m not paying attention and drags me out into the hall and spanks me. This was a rural school in Marion, Ohio and we only had kindergarten in the morning so Mary Mantey’s mom picked us up in her dark blue station wagon before lunch. Three girls (Mary, Jenny Pitts and I) climb into the back seat, and Mrs. Mantey turns around and says, “So, did anybody get whacked today?” We all just sat there, heads down, not saying a word. I never told my parents, but they said they found out at a conference. That explained to them why I stopped wanting to go to school. For math, we had to take a piece of chalk and go up to the board and write over the top of a number that was already up there. Mrs. Trout did not like the way my dad taught me to make my 4s and my 8s. I also remember that we had to take turns counting. Mary went all the way to 100! I went to 80 something and then I sat down. I could have gone further, but didn’t feel compelled to. I wasn’t into pleasing my teacher.
One memory from first grade is Jenny Pitts had a snowball in her desk that she was saving for recess. That didn’t end well. Also, I fell from the top of the slide onto the cinders below and had to get stitches. Jenny was involved in the incident too. Mary went to the Catholic school with her three older brothers. I don’t remember who my teacher was and I don’t remember a single academic event. I do remember that I brought a giant bull frog to school for show and tell. It got loose on the bus. Jenny’s brothers were really scared for me because they were always in trouble with that bus driver. He just smiled as I lifted my frog from under the gas pedal. His name was Fuzzie and he liked me because he knew my dad.
We moved to Delphos, Ohio around Halloween of second grade. My first day was unremarkable. I do remember that Kent Brewer and I had the same birthday. We got to play his game, but not mine. I also remember that this is when I began to hate reading. We had SRAs, whatever that stood for. There were colors that indicated the different levels. I was always significantly behind all of my friends in color. They were purple and teal. I was tan and brown. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Hoverman and everybody absolutely loved her, except me. She was tiny, well dressed and grey headed and she preferred boys to girls. That’s all I got. Oh, and the art teacher grabbed the paintbrush out of my hand and put bars over the animal I had drawn. I had the bars behind the animal. She made them go in front. That’s not what I wanted. I was in the cage, not looking from outside!
Third grade I had Miss McClure. She was young and I liked her. I fell on the playground that year the day before St. Patrick’s Day. I know the day because I had on green socks the next day when my dad took me to get a silver cap on my front tooth. I don’t member who my reading teacher was, but I do remember that I had to miss recess sometimes to be in a reading circle with a couple other boys. That made me mad and didn’t make me read any better.
Mrs. Shade was my 4th grade teacher. She was sweet and took on the look of every character in every book she ever read to us. I don’t remember any other teacher ever reading to the class. We made valentine boxes and I stepped in dog poop on my way to school and I passed a kid’s lunch box up the isle one day, just because. I had never sat in the back of a classroom before and I just couldn’t resist. Somebody else got blamed for it. I still feel bad.
We went to the middle school for fifth grade because there wasn’t room at the elementary school. A new high school had just opened so the middle school got moved into the old high school. It was the best building ever. It had three floors and a secret hallway that served as a fallout shelter and went over to the gym/auditorium. I don’t remember my main teacher’s name, but I remember I liked her. I wrote a lot of poetry. I wasn’t good at spelling though and we just had spelling bees constantly. I was always out early so I just sat there. I didn’t care about stupid spelling anyway. I had a different teacher for math. It was cool to switch classes. I was good at math, except when we had to match shirts to skirts and determine how many different outfits could be made. I totally disagreed with the teacher because, you see, two of the outfits she claimed were possible didn’t match. Other than that, I liked math. I got in trouble during study hall and got detention. Mr. Policki was the 8th grade math teacher and he was in charge of detention. I had a terrible cough and he yelled at me and said, “What’s the matter with you Baumgardner? Do you have whooping cough?”
In sixth grade I had a lady with only one hand for my reading teacher. I liked her. We did projects about what we read and I made a ukulele with my dad’s help. I got to play it for the class and I still have it. I had Mr. Morris for math and he was my first male teacher. Seems like he always had the book in his hand though as if he had no idea what he was about to do. I think he was new.
I was in trouble in 7th grade too. I remember having to stand at the chalkboard in study hall holding a penny to the board with my nose. Seems like the Reds were in the World Series that year. I had Mrs. Wager for social studies and we studied South America. I remember making a green bird out of dyed rice that I glued onto a board. I probably copied something right out of the encyclopedia and we called that a report. I may have had the one-handed lady for math that year.
My first authentic use for math came in 8th grade. Mr. Polocki had moved away, thankfully, though my sisters said he was a really good math teacher. I had a lady with long black wavy hair. She taught us how to balance a checkbook and how to actually write a check. That’s the only time I ever learned that and I use those skills regularly to this very day. She had power of attorney for her dad and so she had to do all of his bills and she just really thought we needed to know this too. That was a good call. We had Krotzer for history and he was a legend. Mr. Fleming taught science and he was fun and we got to build a bell that ran on a battery we made ourselves. I remember girls cheating in that class by memorizing answers. I thought that was crazy. It was so much easier to just learn the material rather than an ordered list of 20 ABCDs.
High school was much better. I quit getting in trouble so much, or at least, I stopped getting caught. I remember only one English class. I had the football coach and I was tired of getting not-so-great grades in English, so I wrote a story about a football from the perspective of the football. He loved it. I had finally succumbed to playing to the audience rather than being my own person. I was a sellout and I felt dirty. I took chemistry and civics a year early because I got out of Spanish 2 by doing poorly my first year. I was such a clever girl. I did not like Spanish 1. Math was the best though. I ended up having Mr. Wolfram for all four years of high school. We had algebra 1, geometry, algebra 2 and then trigonometry which was really pre-calculus, we just didn’t know it. I remember proportions and then mixed rate and mixture problems in algebra 1. That was fun when it finally clicked. Geometry was fun because it was like putting together a huge puzzle. By the time we got to trig, there were only 9 of us left in the class. Me, Kathy, Paul, Big Drew, Pacco, Trevor, Bruce, Sam and somebody else. I had a bookmark that I made that had trig identities on it. I used it all through college. Except for Pacco, I still see these people once in a while when I am in Delphos or on Facebook.
So, what finally made math fun and memorable? It was a challenge. I was pushed to think. Mr. Wolfram was full of energy. He loved what he was doing and it showed in how he did it. We did a lot of work at the board, getting feedback and helping each other. We loved helping each other understand. It was absolutely the best part of high school.
In college, I worked hard and made Bs and Cs. The only As I recall were in Managerial Accounting (the prof said I couldn’t get an A since I got a C in Financial Accounting so I had to prove him wrong) and Basic. The final was to write a program that had to do with rounding numbers. I wrote four lines of code and turned in my paper. The prof looked at it, and said, “Oh. I never thought about it like that. You can go.” I may have gotten an A in Money Credit and Banking just because somebody told me it couldn’t be done. I got As here and there in math, but mostly Bs and I was ok with that. I learned and I understood and that was all I wanted out of it.
In graduate school, I loved learning and being around other people who were enjoying school rather than enduring school as I had done twenty years earlier. Graduate school was the first time I ever recall a teacher actualy wanting me to succeed. It was like this big secret, that all of my teachers in the seventeen prior years kept, was uncovered. Teachers want students to succeed. They really do. Who knew? I seriously saw most teachers as an enemy that had to be defeated and that is how I got through. I finally got better at this reading and writing thing in graduate school–in my forties. I did ok in college, but reading was a real struggle that I did not enjoy.
Take-aways…adults need to take the time to see and hear a kid’s perspective. Now, as a teacher, I need to understand situations before I react. The actions of teachers matter, even after many years. The extreme actions of teachers are the most memorable. How do you want to be remembered? Is this different from how you will be remembered? Make an action plan to reconcile any differences. I know I have some fixing to do!
I was inspired to go through this exercise as I am reading Tracy Zager’s [@tracyzager] Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had. Tracy takes me into so many classrooms and it stirs up many memories. Some of these memories are funny and some are painful, but they are all just part of what makes me, me.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you. I encourage all teachers to take some time to think back grade-by-grade and see what sort of memories you have. What sorts of experiences had lasting impact on you? Do you ever teach the way you were taught? Yikes!
So, it’s that time of year again. That time when I get so fed up while searching for lesson and activity ideas and clicking on links to should-be swell articles only to have them lead me to the dreaded Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT) site with all its evil.
I hate TPT more than just about anything related to education. I hate it more than testing. I hate it more than late work. I hate it more than interactive notebooks which almost killed me a couple years ago. I hate it more than cotton candy—well maybe the same as cotton-candy because that is what it is.
TPT is sweet and fluffy and full of nothing of real substance when things heat up. It’s good for the seller and the sales platform but does nothing for the consumer in the long run. It’s a quick fix.
Here’s my short list of rants on TPT:
Teachers pay the host (TPT) to which the second teachers post stuff and that posting teacher gets pennies.
Teachers show up at NCCTM and other places of professional development as speakers and actually do their TPT commercials there. They try to turn other teachers onto the site. I walk out of those sessions. This boils my blood. NCTM is about educators supporting and inspiring one another all to advance student learning. It can all be tied directly to student learning. Not to some price-point.
I don’t even search Pintrest for educational resources because Pintrest keeps taking me to TPT stuff. Just stop it.
The products I have seen from TPT that other teachers innocently share with me lack depth. They lack rigor. They lack my touch. My ownership. My love. They aren’t me. They are someone else. They are not for my kids and I can resist them easily, just like cotton-candy.
Teachers I’ve asked, buy entire units and whole year curriculums from TPT “because it’s so much easier.” Easy does not equate to good. Easy does not mean it meets the rigor expectations of the district or state or even the school or the teacher. Yes, the purchasing teacher didn’t have to work. That is the worst feature of all.
This applies to teachers too!!!
Shouldn’t the school, district or state have something to say about an entire sequence of curriculum that is being used on a set of kids? Or shouldn’t they at least be aware of what the teacher is using? Educators use the standards and find supporting learning activities and strategies. Educators work to do what is right for the kids they teach rather than fitting their kids’ learning to someone else’s fluff materials.
If the TPT products are that good, shouldn’t the school system pay for the resources rather than the teachers?
From what I see from TPT materials, the teachers creating these materials and selling them are playing school rather than teaching school aka helping students learn. It’s all-pretty, but that’s it. Full disclosure: I have not done enough investigating to make this bold statement as fact, but this is my blog and I’ll do it if I want to.
In the professional learning communities to which I belong, teachers support teachers. Teachers help one anther become better educators. Teachers take one another’s’ lessons and activities and use them and improve them and share back the improvements. They do this willingly and enthusiastically and it’s received that way. Educators feel the love and effort others put into their materials.
TPT does not share experiences. My professional learning communities do. They do this in person, on twitter and in blog posts. And it’s priceless. I love you tweeps and bloggers and flesh and blood colleagues too.
Thank you to my professional learning communities for helping make me a better educator for my students. Thank you for doing all the right things for all the right reasons.
Every year there is something. (Jesus and Jello ) This year it is footwear. It’s just so fun. I tell students I want to see their best socks on quiz days (Friday) so I can pic them as I stroll around. It’s going to explode. Soon.
In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I want to give a shout out to the following people from my past. I credit my core as a teacher to them.
Mr. Wolfram was my math teacher all through high school. You read that correctly. I had the same math teacher for four years. Fortunately, he was amazing. He was so amazing that all of my kids from the past seven years (since I’ve been teaching high school courses to middle schoolers) know the name of my high school math teacher from 36 years ago. From Mr. Wolfram I learned that you earn As and get Bs. Even though you place for a cash prize in a state geometry test, that was not good enough to get put on his Math Hall of Fame wall. That was all good to know before college. I wasn’t quite the big fish I thought I was. Math was fun. Math was cool. Math was worth the effort.
Paul Humke—Humke was a visiting professor at St. Olaf my first semester of college, Fall 1980. He was a great teacher. I got a B, which was generous, but he was the first teacher I ever really talked to. He knew I was having a tough time—so lonely; so poor at a rich-man’s school; so just not a good fit. He told me to quit studying during Chapel time and actually go to Chapel. What a concept! He was also the one to tell me that I could actually major in math. He was a difference maker. He also wore sandals and socks—in the dead of winter in Minnesota. So cool.
Dr. Pilgrim was my adviser when I transferred to Luther. He never got over the fact that he misspelled—dang, some word that stared with an i—all throughout his dissertation. (I actually know that he is still living in Decorah, IA (Luther) as does my aunt. She goes to his nursing home and tells him that I’m finally teaching and other bragging points that my mother feeds her sister.) Dr. Pilgrim set up a tutoring opportunity my junior year with a high school geometry student. (I think it was the daughter of his dentist.) I had no idea what I was doing, but I got paid for three hours each Saturday morning. I spent way too much time getting ready for Heidi (my student) and loved every minute. But I was a math-econ major and had no sights on teaching. You could only get el-ed at Luther so I never even considered teaching. But Dr. Pilgrim knew—even though it took 25+ years for me to figure it out.
Dr. Triton was my senior paper advisor at Luther. He was the one professor that scared the daylights out of me. My mother somehow convinced me that he needed to be my senior paper advisor. Seriously mom? It was good though. He only looked scary. Great guy. Gentle giant. That experience taught me to be not afraid of those who first appear scary. That was not the point of my paper, but it was the take-away. (1984)
Fast forward to 2006…Alex K. This was a high school kid that was the bother of one of my daughter’s friends. He needed help with his algebra 2. It was a win-win. I helped him and he helped me figure out what I was really supposed to be doing. I. Loved. It. Done—I enrolled at UNCG and got my masters in middle grades math. Why middle grades? I fall in love with my son and his friends when they were in middle school. So cool—weird but cool emerging individuals.
And my mom. Dr. Baumgardner. My biggest fan. Ever and always. She never pushed me into anything and always fully supported me in everything I have ever done. It’s not until I am much older that I realize how special that really is. Uh Oh—I’m feeling a mother’s day post coming on. Don’t fret. I probably won’t. I’d cry so much I’d dehydrate.
Thank you teachers. That’s not enough, but that’s all I got. Virtual love, hugs, kisses and sincere public appreciation to you all.
BTW, this post was inspired by Meg Craig—thank you Meg @mathymeg07.
Inspired by Favorite Things, OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN LIL RICHARD RODGERS
Favorite Things of this Math Teacher
Domains and ranges and intercepts and zeros,
students that don’t lose odd negatives are heroes,
linear functions each graphed with green strings, (I prefer spaghetti but it didn’t rhyme)
these are a few of my favorite things.
New sharpened pencils and eager new faces,
field trips and class trips and visiting new places,
Garfield’s proof and the ah-hah it brings, (Seriously!)
these are a few of my favorite things.
Expanding binomials with gigantic powers,
cheering on students at sports after hours, (LOVE!!)
functions that model bizarre plats and dings,
these are a few of my favorite things.
When the office calls,
when email stings, (man, do I have a few of those!)
when I’m feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
I teach math and I’m so glad.
Sorry to do this to you. I couldn’t help myself. Just don’t tell my family! They say “life is not a musical,” but I choose not to believe.
I really thought about 1)seating charts, 2)step function grading, or 3)fun math songs that lead to no real learning, but this came out of my fingers.
Four classes. Still trying to figure out their personalities. Strangely, I know all names in my core 2, but NOT my homeroom. Guess I’m too busy with paperwork junk to know my own kids. I hate that.
I was talking to my husband tonight about my classes (Math II kids–8th graders taking 9th or 10th grade math and standard Math 8 kids.) I strive to challenge the top in those Math II classes and I always get incredible growth out of the kids who were previously underperforming in those classes. In my Math 8 classes, I teach to the bottom of the pack. (WHY??!!) I take the Truman stance — “the buck stops here.” They are NOT going to high school not being able to multiply, divide and ‘do” fractions. That comes before functions, exponents and transformations. I will not let them not learn the basics–again.
Growth in the Math 8 classes is mixed. Growth is amazing for those who finally decide to work. It’s acceptable for the higher kids in that class. Too many lower kids eventually end up hating me or math and I swear, they intentionally get 1’s on their end of grade tests. (They know way more than they perform.) Do they hate me for making them work; for having high expectations; for expecting them to do SOMETHING? I really think that I may be the first person that ever believed they could succeed. And yet…
Here’s where I need serious feedback. Should I treat my Math 8 kids as I do my Math II kids and move on? I think not. This is the class the state requires them to pass–AND they need to become true problem solvers. (I want both my brain surgeon and my mechanic to be good at solving problems!) I feel so responsible for the lower kids that I ache (aka cry) every day. When I focus on them, the rest of the class goes Bat Crazy. Everyday I feel like a bad teacher.
I REALLY like these kids, yet I feel like I’m not reaching them. I do my seating chart so the neediest kids are closest to me so I can support them. I’m keeping school. I’m not teaching and my kids aren’t learning and I feel like a failure. Just as bad, the higher kids are getting nothing–or at least very little. Behaviors are such that I can’t set up individualized lessons on tablets that the higher kids can get while I work with the kids that need remediation. All 32 kids need constant attention and supervision. Again, I feel like a failure. I’ve been doing this ten years and I can’t figure this out.
When I think back about when I first taught algebra to kids who weren’t ready, I approached it as if they were fully qualified for algebra because I didn’t know any better. (I do remember stupid-Steven my first naive year. Steven didn’t get it. I announced to Steven that I would “not leave him behind” when he didn’t get it. Best I recall, he got a fare bit.) I suppose I didn’t notice that other students didn’t get it. Amazingly enough, lower kids grew like crazy. I was too new to know they were low so I didn’t teach them that way. Now I know too much? Is that it?
I also think kids are different now than ten years ago when I started. There wasn’t the constant instant gratification of social media. That’s a lot to compete with. I own Math II. Math 8 is seriously troubling.
Sad thing is these are the kids that need the most.