Posted in beginner teachers, middle school, relationship building

What’s with all the noise?

Taking a brief divergent from posting about math, I am addressing classroom management issues. This year, I started at a new school and am feeling like I am in my first year all over again. I get a lot of questions about how I am doing and if I like my change.

Going to this new school is a choice I made. I wanted and needed new. I wanted and needed things like structure, clearer expectations, a fresh look into my career, and just something different than the Kool-Aid that I have been given the last couple of years. So far I got what I was looking for. I had never felt less secure as to where I am suppose to be and what my expectations are. I feel like my creative side is kicking in again and I am making a different sort of difference.

But the tough things I am facing are all about relationship building and classroom management. I have been challenged almost every day by students who challenge my role and position. I have been challenged almost every day by students who don’t believe that I can help them become better. I have been challenged almost every day by the iPads that we issue to them. I try not to take these challenges personally, but I have. I have had a hard time telling myself that it’s them and their biological hormones and home issues that make teaching difficult. I have a hard time telling myself that it’s math class that makes them act out. I can’t help it but feel that it’s me. I feel that they don’t want to listen, pay attention, try, or be motivated because I am doing something wrong. Like I am not on my A-game. I feel that I lost some of my game.

I know I am trying . I know that I am doing some right because of the support system I have at work, at their homes, and at my own home. I know I am not alone and I know I need to keep treading. I don’t have any new tricks but I know what I know and need to use that.

  1. I never face student issues alone. I am in constant communication with my behavioral specialist, assistant principal, social worker, and their other teachers.
  2. I call home multiple times. I have set aside time every Friday to call home to parents, whether they are good or bad calls. I want their parents to know me and me to know them.
  3. I give them surveys. I ask them about what I can do better. I ask them to rate me. I ask them to help me make class better.
  4. When I send students out, I am listening to them first. At least I try to listen to them first. I let them tell me their side and what they think happened. Then I ask them if I am doing something wrong. I ask them if there is something I can fix about myself to make their learning situation better. I ask them about what needs to happen so that we can all learn.
  5. I take care of myself. I go home after school and not stay to mull over what went wrong. I move on. I start over just like what I tell them when they mess up. I tell them that they get a second chance tomorrow, but I tell myself that too.

Classroom management is hard. There is no one way that works. I struggle with disruptive behavior and are constantly redirecting students, but I can’t give up on them or me. I need to make sure that learning happens. I need to make sure that the 3-4 students don’t ruin it for everyone. Classroom management is hard. I know this is not reassuring but having a plan is what can help you and me get through the day.

Posted in beginner teachers, high school, middle school, relationship building

Math teacher communities, where is yours?

“I know that the best professional development is simply time to connect and network with other math teachers. I don’t need a program. I don’t need a PLC. I just need to regularly meet with enthusiastic teacher learners.” – Sara Van Der Werf, current MCTM president

I wanted to echo what I read in Sara’s article in the MCTM Math Bits this month. She speaks to many of us who feel the day to day isolation of teaching. We are not like many of our peers who lunch with, meet with, collaborate with, and sit next to their colleagues. We shut our doors (many of us do it for the sake of keep noise out) and teach children. We are lucky to talk to an adult for a minute between classes or passing by, let alone be able to spend 10 minutes of our lunch time with our colleagues.

This isolation is a reason why I am so excited to meet and network with math teachers in any situation. The connection I feel with other math teachers drives me to continue teaching with enthusiasm and to power through tough days. They are the ones who understand why I no longer teach FOIL, even though it’s what many of my non-math teacher friends remember from their high school math. They are the ones who get excited with me about new activities on Desmos. They are the ones who try to dissect why we “keep, change, flip” when dividing fractions. They are the ones who support my endeavors into using algebra tiles all year.

Where do you find people who continue to help you keep the excitement in teaching?Where do you find people who are not your PLC and are the ears you need? Where do you find people who understand what you do on a day to day basis?

Stay connected with through these events:

CONNECT Night Duluth – April 27th 7pm-9pm RSVP

CONNECT Math Mixer – Sept 2017 Time and Place are TBD

There will be more to come in the near future.

Posted in beginner teachers, elementary school, high school, middle school, relationship building

Connecting with students

One big thing that has been on my mind this year is the relationship I have with my students. I pride myself in knowing my students well, beyond the mathematical skills they display and don’t display in my class. I get to know their family dynamics and remember details about them, but of course, I don’t know this about all my students. When my principal or another teacher talks to me about students of concern, I have details and valuable information to add to the conversation. But I know I’m not different from other teachers in this aspect. We love kids and love our jobs, so we do get to know the students that we see every day for 9 months. We think about them when we get home. We write lessons with certain student needs as the focus while making sure all students learn. We go above and beyond for them.

Relationship building is probably the number one thing that any veteran teacher would tell you when it comes to teaching. No matter the age or subject, the kind of relationship you have with students make a difference in their learning. This really is the best piece of advice and lesson I have learned. I love teaching math and talking about math, but it takes especial people like you and me to love math. Students, at any age, also need to “love” you before they can “love” math. They need you before they need the subject. I know that I am guilty of putting the subject before the students at times due to pressure from state test scores, my love of math, or even keeping pace with the other teachers. Just like you when you decided you wanted to be a math teacher, you didn’t do it for the love of the subject, but some teacher in your past inspired your love of math and your love to teach it.

Building a strong relationship with students is not easy and may not come naturally, but it’s such an essential part of being a teacher. But how do you do it and be genuine about it?

Weekly Reflections: This is my favorite way to get to know students. In one of my courses, I teach some of the lowest and behaviorally challenging 8th graders in my school. They are assigned homework every day even on test days, but every Friday, their assignment is to complete 3-5 questions about the week’s learning, the class, or themselves. They  know that completion is all I ask for and that their responses will not affect their grades. With that stipulation, they are very honest when given the chance to reflect. When they write, I actually read it, which surprises students, because they think they are only doing it fulfill an assignment point. Through these weekly reflections, I learn more about their learning needs and wishes. I learn more about how they feel about themselves, their classmates, and me. I learn how to be a teacher that can and will meet their needs because they voice it. Some examples of more personal reflections I ask are:

  • Why do you do homework?/Why do you NOT do homework?
  • What do you think of Cornell Notes? (We always do notes in Cornell style.)
  • What was the best part of your week?/What was the worst part of your week?
  • Rate yourself from 0-4, how well did you understand this week’s lessons? Explain.
  • What kind of teacher should Ms. Vang be so that you are successful this year?
  • What kind of classroom should we have so that you are successful this year?
  • What is one math goal you have this year?
  • Describe how you feel about math.
  • What are you looking forward to this weekend?
  • What can Ms. Vang or the class improve on to help you learn better? If nothing, what is something you like about our class?
  • What grade are you getting in this class? Do you think Ms. Vang is fair in her grading?
  • What do you need to do in order to get better in this class? If you are doing well, what is something you want to keep doing so that your grade doesn’t drop?

Because of these questions, I feel that I building a strong trust and bond between my students and I. When they realize that I read them and use them to better our class, they feel that they are being heard and cared for. They acknowledge that I am trying my best to be the best teacher I can be for them. It’s my way to give voice to my students, and through it, I know that I’m being the teacher they need for success. I do have rules for when answering the question. I don’t accept “nothing” and “I don’t know” as answers. I know that students can answer the questions even if it’s artificial, but even those artificial answers become more real as the year goes by because they know I read it. I do have students who choose not to do the weekly reflections or forget to do them, but I don’t worry about it. I just continue to encourage everyone to complete them because it is homework and that I am doing it to help our class and especially me be better.