Monday, December 27, 2010

Singing Sewermen

Would be a good name for a rock band too.

Also, it would really be nice if every workplace was like this (yeah, like a sewer). People who take their job seriously, but not themselves seriously. It would be nice if my students can do the same too.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Lessons learned 2010

A different kind of bunny, but same Martinelli's for 2011.

It's been quite a year for me, personally and professionally. I...
- armed myself with my newly forged credentials and...
     - job hunted my butt off and...
          - still worked at part-time jobs until...
               - I got a job offer overseas! But...
                    - agonized over the decision and...
                         - buckled down for the harder, longer road which...
                              - turned out fruitful in the end, landing me my current teaching position!

Much, much better than 2009 was, hands down. And I see better things in the future too, so there's much to look forward to. I'm looking forward to watching my current students walk at their 8th grade promotion. I'm looking forward to a summer vacation full of nothing doings (can't get enough of those nothing doings apparently; I spent the past four days doing just that). I'm looking forward to (possibly) another year of teaching at my school.

Here are some things I learned in my first 4 months of teaching:

- The almighty CCTC (CA Commission on Teacher Credentials) doesn't really care what happens to you after you pay your fees and receive your online certificate, even though they seemed to care Ever. So. Much. During all the time before. I'm ok with there non-follow through caring of their graduates, actually.

- It might be just me, and the fact that I was part of a high school graduating class where 99% of the people I knew applied to at least 5 colleges, but the idea of quantity in applications seemed really logical to me. The chances of hitting one that will accept you increases with the number of applications you do. It's quite mathematically sound, and for me, it worked. I applied to over 100 positions, received four interviews, got two acceptances, and chose one.

People (that is, I) will still say all you really need is that one. However, it's hard to hit one jackpot just from a small sample set.

- If having materials and being on time is such an important part of my philosophy, then I better hold students accountable to it. I've been pretty lax about taking tardies (my rule is you have to be in your seat, NOT wandering around the classroom or rushing in through the door, when the bell rings) and I haven't done a materials/binder check since October. I just need to be more hardass with the tardies thing, but I haven't done binder checks because they are just. So. Time. Consuming. Of course, as I begin to slide in discipline, my students will slide as well.

So I've come up with a new way of doing binder checks! I'll just randomly choose one or two sentences and have students copy it directly from their notes onto their chapter quizzes, since these are open notes anyway. It puts more of the work on them (I no longer have to collect their notes and flip through them - MAJOR time suck, by the way) AND they become more familiar with their own notes, developing the skills to recall and hunt through their own writing at the very least, even if they don't choose to use that skill, they'll still have it in their tool belt. Plus, it cuts down on students being lazy during note taking time. I've caught several of them only jotting down the example problems we do and not all the definitions. And teaching vocab is a HUGE thing I need to improve upon. Sticking to simple, non-time intensive solutions? Yes, please!

I do have to transfer all the Algebra 1 hard copies of quizzes into digital format though (because Dept. Chair doesn't have them in digital format, boo). That's a time investment though, as opposed to a time suck, and I'll willingly do it because it means I can edit these assessments really easily thus tailoring them to the needs of each year's group of students. I don't have to do this for Algebra Readiness, since Leadership Colleague (the only one remaining at my school who had taught AR previously) is a 4th year teacher and knows her way around a computer, AND had the foresight to put her tests into digital form.

- Oh my freaking poohcow. I love my Teacher Web page! The possibilities! I don't expect technology to make teaching easier, but it sure makes it that much more fun. Oh yeah, and better learning for students too, um, yeah, that's right.

- I haven't talked about the topic of cultural/generation gaps since I started teaching middle school math, but it's definitely been on my mind constantly. Especially at my school where 60% of the staff are either over 50, or have been teaching for more than 20 years. Also, 80% of the staff is white while the student demographics are split 30% white, 35% Asian, 15% Black and 20% Hispanic (approximate, of course we have smatterings of other ethnicities too). I would also make a conjecture that half of the staff who are Asian (all 6 of us) are, in fact, white (I'm so going to hell for that statement, but seriously, you would agree if you knew them too).

I would like to bring this topic to the forefront, especially since my school struggles to teach the "minority" students, who are not actually minority in numbers. That goes for EL students as well. I deserve a good forehead-smacking because teaching these minority/low SES students was supposed to be my area of speciality. And I've just, well, kind of forgot.

No more though. If only because slogging through Kozol's The Shame of the Nation took long enough the first time around.

- The biggest lesson of all: KEEP STICKIES ON HAND because damn it to hell I certainly won't remember whatever stroke of teaching genius I had earlier in the day once 3pm rolls around!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Not my problem

Had the most impossibly horrific teaching dream last night. I don't quite remember the details anymore, but it was one of those dreams where I was being pulled in all different directions, trying to solve everybody's problems and, of course, ending up solving nobody's problems.

Which isn't even my job! Solve your own problems, students!

Ugh. I've never been hung over, but woke up today in a way that I imagine being hung over to feel like.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Blogger of the Week: Better D.C. School Food

In which your lunch shouldn't consist of a boxed lemon tea and Kinder Egg Surprises.

I really like Better D.C. School Food. It's such a informative, homey-kind of read. Kids make things from scratch here. There's gardening, and lunch descriptions, and policy, and economics.

And in a note related to my teaching field, there's got to be so. Freaking. Many. Math lessons here that I don't even know where to begin.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Orwellian, no joke

This video reminds me of those digital simulations of car accidents on Chinese television news.

Frankly, both sides that these "people" represent seem rather ridiculous. Come on, who on EARTH actually uses the word "Orwellian" in normal conversation? And Mr. Admin Dude, you are not better off, being so argumentative about everything except your own opinion.

Truly, it doesn't help the situation anymore than all the fights and hate and "I'm right you're wrong" mentality going on. Rather, the video kinda fuels it - just read the comments in Youtube.

Um, I think I'll go back to my classroom now, to do what I can, with whatever I've got. k'bye.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Accidental delinquent actions

Today started with a visit to the dentist, and ended up with me climbing a chain link fence because I was locked in on school grounds.

All the in between stuff: not nearly as exciting. I ate some delicious bread pudding. I graded papers while watching Gilmore Girls on my classroom LCD projector. I waffled back and forth on the logistics of how to play a review game of Jeopardy (to powerpoint, or not to powerpoint?) and, finally decided on the low-tech version because I couldn't find a pre-made one just for my purposes online. I cleaned the closets in my classroom.

I meant to leave 2:30, but decided to stay because I felt energetic enough for more work. I prepped first semester final review stuff. I fiddled around with the benchmark testing tech. I cleaned out old papers to recycle.

Then 4pm rolled around, and it was getting colder (no heat in the classroom during break), and my hands were getting too cold and stiff to type anything anymore. So I left.

And all the gates were closed and locked.

And I couldn't go out the office door because it was broken.

And there was no one else around. I called the plant manager's office to no avail.

So I hopped a fence. Felt like a delinquent. It was kinda fun - fun enough to not want to waste the energy in begging an admin for a gate key.

But not fun enough to want to do it again. I'm not as spry as I was ten years ago.

Tomorrow is another work day, and I'm leaving well before the gates lock at 3pm.


Happy, and not so happy, at school. One of them obviously gets more rest.

How does one go about petitioning the Powers That Be to instill a different kind of school year calendar? One where we get a three day weekend every month? Of course, to keep the number of school days, we'll have to extend the school year. Which also means shorter summer vacations.

I'm also in favor of:

- longer spring breaks
- longer Thanksgiving breaks (I guess two weeks each should do it)
- longer school days ONLY if teachers and students get longer breaks throughout the day too. Because lunch HOUR really should be an hour long

Would anybody even go for this? Will I see this happen in my life time?

Well, one thing at a time. Gonna get on that three day weekend petition.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A day in a life of a Korean student, part 2

Holy cow. And I thought MY teaching day was long.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Winter Talent Assembly

Today, I was T-Boz. My students will never think of me in the same way again.

Also, my hair ROCKED.

Happy Winter Break!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

An Empty Bowl day

Today is an Empty Bowl day. I am emptied out. Out of energy, out of stamina, out of luck, out of ideas, out of brain power, out of an sense of giving a damn.

And it's really funny because yesterday was a really good teaching day. And today, when I really step back and look at it, wasn't all that terrible either. The good things that happened:

- I got some really cute gifts from some really cute students.
- Wannabe Basketball Boy behaved decently! And is all caught up with his work!
- Football Boys #1 and 2 were gentlemanly!
- Loudmouth Boy wasn't so loud mouthed!
- Singing Boy and his partner didn't burst out singing in class for no apparent reason!
- Rude Girls #1, 2, 3, and 4 were not the least bit rude!

However, one single thing happened that made me feel like an utter and complete incompetent ignoramus and it's stuck with me and I can't shake it off.

And it wasn't even my fault.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hard ass b*t*h

If they give you spice, then spice back!

My 4th period class is the most headache inducing class EVER.

I think I've solved the problem though.

How? Why?

There are literally 8 girls in this class of 29 students. The girls are angels. The boys, not so much, to put it in light terms.

I can't let the boys be jerks and get away with it.

So I cracked down on it today. Cracked down hard. Like the DEA on a crack house.

Don't really know if it worked or not, but it sure made me feel much better about teaching them tomorrow.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Everything but a bee costume

Into my fourth month of my first year teaching, I already have a list of things I'm going to change for next year. Including, but not limited to:

- The way I assign and grade homework. Seriously. I spend at least an hour a day logging in all that paperwork -- and I don't even use it as an actual, detailed gauge of what students know/don't know. It really is turning into a massive pile of busy work, for me and for the students. I've got several ideas on how to adjust it, but haven't decided on any one yet. I like the weekly turn-ins the most, I think. Also a variety of choices in problem selection.

- The way I do in class practice. There's got to be a way to carve out more time for this. Ten minutes a day isn't enough.

- The way I utilize technology. Basically, right now, I don't. Other than posting assignments and announcements on my teacher webpage, that is. It would be wonderful to have students submit assignments online.

- Focusing on meaningful connections more than the drill and kill methods.

No solutions yet, but I'm working on it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Not written in the contract

Unexpectedly not so bad.

When I signed up to be a teacher, I didn't know I was getting myself into unwritten promises such as:

- memorizing the rap to TLC's Waterfalls for a teacher talent show

- spending 12 hours per school day at school

- volunteering to present DATA walks to the rest of the staff and the PTA community.

Kind of daunting, if presented beforehand. But in when I just take action and get it done, it's not so bad.

I think.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Questions for the intarweb

It really should be as easy as bread pudding. Really.

Does anyone out there do weekly turn-ins for homework assignments in the 6th to 8th grades? How does it work, logistically speaking (i.e. grading, filing, recording, etc)? Is it effective for student learning? What is the general response from students and parents? From other teachers? From the administration? What exactly do you give as the homework assignments?

I want to know, please.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Technology rocks


I was at a loss as to what to do for my pre-Algebra class' block period this week - we were a day behind in lessons, and the students were getting WAY tired of taking notes from me, which was a mutual feeling on my part as well - until a sudden inspiration hit me: make use of that fancy, new mobile lab! Why would I spoon feed the material to students if definitions and examples can be found online?

So I did. I whipped out a structured organizer, copied it, assigned laptops to pairs of students, and we all had a grand ol' time enjoy the power that is Google Search for a very mundane (and very minor) lesson of getting definitions and examples of the properties of addition.

Most importantly, (at least on a logistical level) it ate up 30 minutes of a 95 minute block period that can sometimes seem like forever in pre-Algebra.

The next level is to bring that structured organizer into the digital realm as well. How?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Boys make me pull out my hair

Is there pne of these for boys?

Or turns my hair gray. Or gives me ulcers.

I have some really great students who are boys. Smart, capable, funny, personable, likable, hard-working, polite, full of personality (which just happens to often be hilarious)-boys that make the teaching day great. Just really great people to teach.

And then there's the opposite side of the spectrum. Boys that drive me insane because they fail to understand the connection between their own work and their achievement.

"Why am I getting an F?" they ask.

Because you have turned in precisely ONE piece of homework in the past MONTH, I reply.

"Why are you giving me a detention? I wasn't talking. I was just asking him a math question." they say.

Because you asked in a way that is highly inappropriate, disrupting the class and disturbing other students from their own learning.

"Well, I just won't ask questions anymore." they say.

Frankly, it might do the entire world some good if you can keep your mouth shut for just one class period. But somehow, I don't think it'll happen.

It makes me wonder: what am I doing that isn't serving these boys well? How can I improve upon this? What is it that they aren't getting?

Because these boys are the kind of people who - if I were their parent - would make me want to send them to military school.

Hm. Maybe a more militaristic way of teaching is actually what they need. Because apparently, kindness, second chances, and patience just don't cut it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Media Mondays: Changing Education Paradigms

This is pretty interesting. I don't agree with all of it, but it's still interesting. And it just underlines how ginormous this education "problem" is. It's quite awful in some ways, but I like to look at it as a challenge.

Bring it on!

Also, I vaguely remember one of my teaching credential professors discuss Sir Kenneth Robinson and his ideas about education and the arts. Hm, might dig out my notes and see what's there.

Friday, December 3, 2010


A Day in the Life of a Korean Student

Otherwise known as my teaching life.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Money and such trivial things

This was only $4! Original price: $22!

I like to think I'm pretty good with money. I'm debt-free. I save. I invest - although I could diversify a bit more. I look for good deals. And I'm actually satisfied with my teacher salary.

Whoa. Say WHAT?! Isn't the news totally over-loaded with the pittance teachers get paid? How can you be satisfied with a teacher salary? With furlough taken out, on top of that?

It might just be California - we have one of the highest teacher salary rates in the nation. Well, depending on location (i.e. SF, LA), we also have one of the highest cost-of-living in the nation. But it's possible to get by - decently, not just squeak by barely - on a teacher salary. That is, assuming you aren't a single-income household with 6 kids.

That said, I would also like to point out that I've spent about $400 on supplies and materials for the classroom so far this school year. I've bought:

- pencils
- pens
- copy paper
- binder paper
- tissues
- disinfecting wipes
- a dustpan
- a mop
- hand sanitizer
- stapler
- staples
- post its
- stickers/candy/small prizes
- binders
- notebooks
- three hole punch
- filing folders
- labels
- sheet protectors
- card stock
- batteries (for the clock)
- window cleaning solution (gets all the residue off transparencies)
- paper towels
- transparencies
- erasers
- books on math/special ed/teaching activities
- felt triangular banners from colleges
- a timer

The above is all brand-new stuff. The copy paper, books, and transparencies are the priciest out of the lot. This list doesn't include all the junk I've complied over the past two years of my student teaching in preparation for setting up my own classroom. THAT list is as follows:

- used tennis balls (to put on the feet of desks)
- old calendar art
- fishing line
- thumb tacks
- an old bed sheet that I jimmied into a window curtain before maintenance installed my current blinds
- a lamp
- a fan
- an ethernet cable
- a power strip
- baskets
- clear storage containers
- books and magazines for the classroom library
- clipboards
- magnets
- those open box-things to organize papers
- whiteboard calendar
- posters
- cups to hold pencils and such
- large binder clips

And here are the things I got free from the school supply room:

- whiteboard markers
- overhead pens
- rubber bands
- whiteboard cleaner
- 4 reams of copy paper each month
- envelopes

This list is on top of anything the parents of my students donate to my classroom.

I have $100 from the PTA and $300 from the principal's personal stash of cash to spend. I guess I've just about spent it all, and the school year isn't even half over! I haven't filed for reimbursement yet - just because there might be some big ticket items later (I still want an overhead timer, but I don't know where to buy one without paying an arm and a leg for shipping).

But it scares me a little that I've already spent so much. I'm as frugal as I can possibly be about all the materials used in my classroom. I don't buy copy paper unless it's around $20 for 10 reams. I get everything on sale, or at discount stores. I'm a member of every teacher discount card in existence (which are quite misleading, because sometimes you can get things for a lower price than WITH the teacher discount anyway at different places that don't offer any teacher discounts). I hunt for deals online and through word-of-mouth. I haggle when I can, and I mooch off free stuff whenever someone feels generous towards education.

Still, in a nutshell, I have to spend that much money each year --> to do my job --> to get paid --> to pay for the next year of doing my job --> ..... Um. Does anyone else see the ridiculousness of this cycle? Most ridiculous of all is that I'm willing to involve myself in it.

I'm lucky enough to be in a school with rations of supplies. Can you imagine what it's like at a less fortunate school? It's terribly scary. We're just digging ourselves into our own financial graves this way.

Seriously. Doctors don't have to buy their own surgical equipment. Cops don't have to buy their own guns. What is it with teachers and buying their own tools to do their job?

Also: I've really got to look into the logistics of students turning in electronic assignments. It's a little tricky with math, but I'm sure there's a way.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mental health day

I'm not exactly sick, but I'm not exactly well either.

It's really difficult to find a sub who can teach math.

I'm not going to have another chance to have an "easy" teaching day (all classes are taking tests tomorrow) any time soon, and I KNOW I'm going to need a day off before Christmas break. Definitely over-exerted myself during the 1st quarter, and haven't quite recovered.

Thus, I'm taking my first official mental health day tomorrow.

Will still go in, after school, to get stuff done. I might even go in the morning too. That's dedication, right? When I'm not feeling well and I still want to work?

My own health means I have more energy to take care of my students. So there.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ulcers all around!

Dear student,

You are not only giving me an ulcer, but you are giving yourself an ulcer. You have a freaking A in my advanced math class. You are doing WELL. Exceptionally so.

Just because you don't have an A+ doesn't mean you have to freak out.

Just because you are working your butt off, doesn't mean you can't relax too.

Yes, math is difficult. It isn't called ADVANCED MATH for nothing.

But you are doing well anyway.

Did I mention that you have an A? A high A, which will turn into an A+ once I've gotten the boat load of extra credit that you turned in today graded and recorded. So chill out. Please.

Ms. B

P.S. I think I'll name my ulcer after you.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving brain-drain

After today, the three weeks until winter break seems like an eternity.

Apparently, 9 days of Thanksgiving break makes me forget that I've ever taught before.

I was so indecisive today, I couldn't believe it! And then, after school ended, I changed my mind as to when and how the Algebra 1 students are going to take their chapter test. I was driving myself insane. My students remembered more about what we were doing in school than I did.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


I read this article today. It's a really interesting idea. Apparently, it works for African American students and their general studies too.

Hm. I want to try it with my Algebra Readiness students.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Of frivolity and fun

It's that time of year when the weather turns colder and the long-sleeves come out. Did a little shopping over the past month for some winter worthy teacher wear.

First up: houndstooth sweater with faux button up. 

It's not a terribly warm sweater, after wearing it several times. But It gets pretty warm in my classroom already, so it works.

Second up: the most HK-inspired style top I've ever seen on this side of the Pacific.

Seriously. Also faux-tank with sleeves. It's really comfortable. I wear it even when I'm not teaching. Which means it'll get worn out quickly. Hm. Maybe I can go back to the store and find another one. Or three.

Third, and last, up: London Fog baby!

I've wanted one of their trenches for such a long time. It's the perfect winter coat for those foggy Bay Area mornings. Not too bulky, but still warm. Water resistant, of course. HUGE pockets. Cool buttons and belt attached. One of my students complimented me on this coat one day. Good kid, you know your quality investment pieces.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Inherit the wind

The teacher who was in my classroom - and had my job - previously left a boatload of worksheets, notes, and lesson plans behind upon her exit from the school. Several rumors swirl around her - including the one about her hating the school about as much as I hate ants. Which is to say, a lot. It sounds like she wasn't that fond of the teaching profession anyway, and I guess it was best for all parties involved that she left it.

In any case, I've been trying to make heads or tails out of the crap she left behind. Most of it is, seriously, crap. Her lesson notes are presented in a way that I don't like (small, dense print, many words, few visuals). She made WAY too many copies for some reason, and had kept all the leftovers. And it was all jumbled together pretty messily.

I spent the first two weeks after I got the keys to my classroom sifting through all the papers. Managed to get through the first two chapters' worth of material for both Algebra 1 and Algebra Readiness, but since then I've basically done nothing about it except have students punch holes in the remaining papers and put them in binders.

Thus, I took home all the binders yesterday when I locked up my classroom and happily waved good-bye to the school for an entire nine days. So far, in my 28th hour of this week-long freedom, I've spent four of them trying to make sense of the contents of these binders. The other 24 were spent doing one of three things: sleeping, eating, and watching tv online. I've whittled through them quite quickly, considering the volume, and remembering how long it took to organize those two chapters at the beginning of the school year. But by this time, I had figured out already what I wanted to keep and what looked like kindling for fireplaces.

It also helps that the other Algebra Readiness teacher gave me a complete digital copy of her Algebra Readiness notes spanning the entire book - and then some. She even has CST review all set up. She is awesome.

I was thinking of lugging the binders back home-home with me too but decided against it. If I really feel like working on them, I can just go back to my apartment and spend a day there. I don't want to lug something home-home only to lug it back out again later. Really a waste of time and energy.

Long story short: I like inheriting stuff from other teachers only when it's useful to me. When it's just a load of crap, I would prefer that you didn't bother. 'k? Thanks.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Lunch with the teachers

Today was the second and last day of parent/teacher/student conferences. Overall, it was pretty fun. Fun as in getting to hang out with all the other teachers all in the same room as we waited for our conference appointments. Not really fun with the bad conferences - but there were only two bad conferences for my own students. And one bad conference for as a translator.

Since we had the luxury of something more than a 20 minute lunch today, some of the other teachers went out to lunch. It was so much fun! I work with some really great teachers, and great people too.

I'm sick once again. This time, I feel way more sore and achy - last time it was all sinus. I'm so glad I have a week off.

I'm also glad I stayed at school until 5:30 today. Cleaned up and did all the back up grading that had piled up over the past two days because I was so busy running around from conference to conference  and didn't really get a chance to sit down and do anything productive. The room is in order for Monday after the break. My mind, and my lesson plan ideas however, are not.

Ah~ I guess I have some homework to do over the break.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A series of one-liners

I'm beginning to hate my 4th period class.

Mainly because of one student.

He has ADD and Tourette's.

Which I suppose is not his fault.

But it's not his excuse either.

One of the students from 4th period wrote, "Ms. B sucks" on one of my desks.

I can say the same to you.

But I won't.

Not only because I'm the teacher, but personally, I'm just above all that.

It wasn't the ADD/Tourette's kid who wrote it.

Because he was outside the door at the time.

But I've narrowed it down to two suspects.

They will be taken care of.

I don't know how yet.

I don't know when, either.

But it will be taken care of.

And when it does, I will win.

I will win.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

It's the time of year for deep reflection

Beat up, but not broken.

In the midst of the four-day weekend (yay to four-day weekends!) crammed full of cleaning, laundry, grading, lesson planning, eating, sleeping, shopping, and generally being as lazy as humanly possible, I went back and re-read some of my posts from around this time last year.

Around this time last year, I had my first heart attack teaching day (yep, had many more since then), learned about the only surviving WWI vet (wonder if he's still alive?), was intellectually challenged in the MA course (those who can't teach, just do - still feel that way), and griping about having to work with bad teachers (thank goodness all my colleagues are awesome!).

Lots of things have changed. Some things have not. Just like this time last year, I am prepping for parent/student/teacher conferences. I am up to my eyeballs in paperwork. I am looking forward to the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks with my whole heart. I'm so glad my school has more non-school days in the first semester than my student teaching schools. Mr. B took three mental health days between Labor Day and Veteran's Day last year - and who could blame him?

It's getting rougher as the kids get tired - and I get worn out. But I'm still enjoying teaching. It's fun, above all the stress and frustration and nervousness and heart attack days. I've been told more than once that teachers should quit once they believe they have nothing new to learn, and that philosophy has its own value. But I think teachers should quit when they don't see teaching as fun anymore. You've got to enjoy it - ESPECIALLY during the times when:

- You get into an hour long argument with parents about why an ADVANCED LEVEL math course is so difficult. Come on now, folks. If it was easy, it wouldn't be called advanced!

- Your proper desks finally arrive - three months after they were "supposed" to get here, so you had to make do with the 6th grade desks, which meant half my 8th grade students' could touch the underside of their tables with their knees, without lifting their legs up - and because the maintenance crew is understaffed as it is, they end up switching out the old ones for the new ones IN THE MIDDLE OF 4TH PERIOD. Can anyone say chaos? I'm surprised the students even finished the lesson that day.

- You get chewed out by your department chair for giving out extra credit. Only to find her much more amiable about it the next day. My head is still spinning from this mood change.

- You almost get run over by overly-aggressive minivans during afternoon yard duty. TWICE. IN ONE DAY. And when yard duty is over, and you think you are all clear, you get swiped in the head with the side mirror of a passing bus. Seriously. Tennis reflexes saves lives.

- You end up in a yelling argument with a 13-year-old child because he always gets in trouble in class for: a) being nosy about other people's business, b) allowing that nosiness to distract him from his tasks, c) not taking the hint and continuing the distraction when I give him a warning, d) whining and complaining about the consequences I give him for sticking his nose in other people's business and distracting himself as well as anyone within a 2-seat vicinity of him. And he thinks this is unfair, because he sees that I give other students a chance to self-correct. And I tell him that I give everyone a chance to self-correct - it's when they DON'T self-correct *ahem*EXHIBITA*ahem* that I hand out consequences, and this is totally fair and correct and right. But of course the kid is not really listening because 13-year-olds can be hot-headed like that, and I'm not really listening either because I'm tired and I just want him to sit in his stupid seat and be quiet for once. Nope, didn't handle THAT very maturely, did I? ::sigh:: Gotta make this right on Monday.

Um, wait, what was I saying? Oh, yeah, something about enjoying teaching. I think.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

PTA and hacked

Like a $3 afternoon tea set at a seedy HK-style cafe in seedier downtown Oakland.

Apparently, Google thought my account was doing some "suspicious activity" and closed it for a while today. Boo. Now I have to go through all my stuff and reset everything.

Tonight was also my first PTA meeting. I read out names and handed out certificates of students with 600s on math and/or science CSTs. I saw parents freak out over something the math department presentation said. It triggered much stress over college admissions. It was kind of fun and kind of irritating at the same time.

Tomorrow is my Friday for the week. I say this with the deepest sincerity my heart can muster: w00t!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Can't help but smile

Student: Hey Ms. B!

Me: Yes?

Student: You're my favorite math teacher this year!

Me: I'm your ONLY math teacher this year.

Student: But you're my favorite!

Friday, November 5, 2010

I have no idea what I'm doing

Oh yeah, I've started BTSA. Except my school district doesn't call it BTSA. And there's a whole boat load of paperwork. And I'm still not quite sure exactly what's going on, or what is expected out of me from the program.

Although it does look all too much alike with the Teacher Performance Expectations that I was graded on at UTEC.

And once again, I'm being told that I'm a good teacher AND not a good teacher at the same time.

Thus, the confusion. Eh.

So far, all that I've done with BTSA is watch a couple videos on differentiation, fill out a few papers, get observed a few times, and have hours long discussions on what went wrong in my lesson. I would like to talk more about how to fix what went wrong instead. I would also like to go observe some teaching in action. That would be helpful.

But the school doesn't have the money to pay for a sub for me to go watch other teachers during the school day.

Thus, the round-a-bout cycle of inaction.

Screw it. I'm going to do something about that, whether they like it or not. Rule breaker! Yeah!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Evals and whatnot

Why are there photos of food on this blog about teaching??

My principal has walked into my room at least once every week for the past three weeks now. He has given me no feedback as of yet - probably because it's not a formal observation.

But it makes me a little jittery anyway. Am I going to have a job next year?

Last week I was so stressed out. To the point of breaking down and crying in front of me BTSA mentor.

And then this thought hit me: Dude. Letting these students have a structured "failure" of not getting it right away is a valuable learning process too. Thus, I stopped with the hand-holding. Life was so much better after that.

I've also been leaving school earlier. Sometimes. Especially when I'm feeling totally unproductive in front of the massive to-do list before me. That's when I know it's time to go home. I would rather be unproductive at home, and get some proper rest, rather than be unproductive in my classroom in a very unrestful way.

Just so that it's out there: it's a very freeing feeling to not care about work after work is over. It's the key to my sanity this year.

I also have a boat load of papers to grade. Again. But I'm not going to worry if I don't finish grading them by tomorrow. Oh well, students, you'll just have to wait one more day. It won't kill you to practice some patience.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Last week, in grading land...

I really should be glad my students are mostly making these types of errors:

But by the time I finished grading what seemed like the 300th paper with a subtraction error on it, I was pretty teed off.

The good thing is that many more of my students made fewer careless mistakes on their most recent test. Of course, they had to compensate that for making actual algebra mistakes. Doh.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


This year is my first year officially signing up and attempting this thing. It's going to be fun!

Monday, November 1, 2010

The non-equality of inequality

Black and brown and completely different in different ways.

One of the other Algebra 1 teachers at my school teaches graphing of inequalities this way:

"Make the inequality so that the variable appears on the left. Then graph according to which way the 'arrow' points."

True, this procedural method allows some students to get the correct answer more consistently. But I don't like it because understanding the meaning of the inequality is lost. How do you really know what the variable is greater/less than? And what the hell: an inequality sign is NOT an 'arrow.'

This method of teaching graphing of inequalities is So. Very. Grating. To. My. Soul. The beauty of knowing what those math symbols mean is gone. There is no thinking involved - it's all robotic work.

This is the same teacher with whom I got into a little spat with on Friday - in front of my students no less - with the way I give grades. I allow homework redos and extra credit assignments, but I don't allow test re-takes for a better grade. She allows test re-takes, but no homework redos and no extra credit assignments.

She thinks my way of grading is too easy.

I think the way she teaches is not accurate, nor rigorous enough.

That evens us out, right?

I, frankly, don't give a damn what kind of grades my students get. My priority is to have them think critically - and grades are not necessarily a good measure of how well students can think.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fill what is empty, empty what is full

Filling up on yummy things like crackers and hummus and peaches.

Oh dear.

I unexpectedly burst out crying today. In front of my BTSA mentor. Awesome and professional of me isn't it? And teaching isn't even going THAT terrible! Sure, I can do better, I can improve. Sure, I make mistakes on a daily basis. Sure, I've got some individual students who can do with a bit more "Mean Ms. Ng" and less "Sympathetic Ms. Ng" just because they learn better with more structure.

But overall, my students are:

- productive
- understanding the material
- well behaved, non-defiant, and energetic/happy about school

I guess I'm stressed out. It's the problem I had during student teaching too - the little things chip away at me until I've got nothing left. I'm also allowing the daily grind/traditional teaching methods/need to give, give, and give some more to get the best of me.

Well, I can't give what I don't have. And when I don't have anything to give, it's time to recharge and fill up again. That's my job tonight. That, and letting go of work things that consume my mind. Let it go....let it go....let it go....

Thursday, October 28, 2010

You killed a family all because of the wrong inequality sign

Please don't kill the cat cookies.

I was showing first period how to write and solve an inequality that represents this situation:

The maximum load that a truck can hold is 1500 pounds. How much more can the truck hold if it already has 780 pounds of cargo?

And thus, the following conversation:

Student: How come the inequality sign can't be the other way around?

Me: Because then the cargo would weigh more than the maximum capacity, and then the truck driver would get pulled over by the police and get ticketed, then the truck driver would get in trouble with his boss and lose his job, and then the truck driver wouldn't be able to buy food for his family, and then they would starve.

Student: And then they die?

Me: And then they die - all because of the wrong inequality sign.

Student: Whoa.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I would just like to say...

...October is the longest month known to mankind. Or at least to teachers.

That is all.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Those first few minutes of the day

The very first thing I do when I enter my classroom in the morning isn't turning on the computer, or opening my lesson plan book (well, that's already open usually, from where I left off the day before), or check voice messages.

The very first thing I do is just sit at my desk and gaze off into space for a few minutes.

I like to savor the quiet of the room, and how clean it is, and how calm it is. And I think about the productivity that's going to happen in that room throughout the day. I imagine the path I take when walking around, monitoring students. I move the furniture around in my head, wondering if I an rearrange the space for a different effect. I think about moving students - who shouldn't sit next to whom, et al.

I think I like those first few minutes the most out of my day. It's just nice to be the only one in the classroom sometimes. It's nice to gather my thoughts and gear up for the day. It's my own time - with no interruptions, since I arrive so early that the only people on campus are the custodial staff. It's a time of absolute potential, when I haven't yet failed at teaching a student that day. When I haven't made a mistake, or gotten pissed off by a kid, or parent, or both. When I haven't been drained of all energy yet.

So I just sit, sometimes thinking, sometimes just being. It is a really refreshing moment.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rain drops on the window

Eating out the stress is not a good idea - but it is a quick fix.

Last week was the tipping point of exhaustion. It sneaked up so unexpectedly! I was pretty energetic on Monday, then it all fell apart. I blame:

a) The block days. They aren't always awful, but it takes a whole 'nother level to handle them for me.
b) The earthquake drill.
c) The weather.
d) The new girl who got suspended on her first day because she got into a fight.
e) Parents.
f) Going to meetings when I would rather be doing something else.
g) Me.

I'm so glad for the weekends. And going to teacher-Bunko-night was a good idea. It took me out of myself for a little bit, and relieved some stress. Considering the racket we made, I think pretty much everyone is stressed out at this point. It sucks, but it's nice to know we are all in it together too.

It's also nice to know Monday is a fresh start. Everyday is a fresh start. And I suppose it's high time I had a bad week, after all the good weeks I've had so far.

Thank goodness for Veteran's Day and the furlough day after it. November has about 10 teaching days total. It's going to be lovely to be well-rested!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dear parents

Dear parents,

I'm sorry your child thinks 30 divided by 2 is ONE HUNDRED FREAKING TWENTY-THREE. This is all my fault, and in no way is it your child's own carelessness.


I'm sorry "my style" stressed out your child, especially when I teach the class how to use different methods to problem solve BECAUSE APPARENTLY THERE SHOULD ONLY BE ONE DAMN WAY TO SOLVE ANY PROBLEM.

I'm sorry your child's locker is the black hole for homework assignments.

I'm sorry your child is not 3000% confident in their math abilities. I'm sorry that humanity has such an unforgivable flaw as self-doubt.

In order to make this up to you, I will now prostrate myself before an on-coming BART train. I will sacrifice my first born upon the altar of Helicopter Parenting. I am unworthy to teach your precious, over-coddled child because all their faults are my faults. All their inconsistencies are my inconsistencies. Your child is perfect as the day is long, and I should be honored to even wipe the hand-grease that they leave behind on their desks every day.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Spirit Week!

Oh boy.

This week has been one of the most exhausting, frustrating, fun, and productive weeks ever. It's as if everything exploded and barfed out masses of butterflies, which are very, very difficult to catch and contain again.

First: Spirit Week. I have never seen so much hype over a middle school football game. EVER. Battle of the Valley is even bigger than the high school football games. And of course, we won! There is a trophy involved. It has a chicken on it. This fact alone gives my school bonus +1000 points.

Second: I got two new students from the Academy class. Academy, as some teachers say, is an elite-named course for non-elite students. So far, these two seem really eager to learn, and they ask a lot of questions.

Third: Oh. My Freaking. Pooh. Cow. My colleague Ms. H, the geometry teacher - and a very good teacher - has noted in the past that 8th graders are like kindergartners on hormones. Never have I fully felt the impact of that description until this week. They are needy, they are random, their are easily distracted, they are funny, they are gross, they are messy, they forget things A LOT, they are smart, they learn fast, and they remember the most obscure things that will ever come out of your mouth. They will also latch onto those obscure things and ignore all else.

Fourth: It is wonderful to be caught up on paper work, caught up and AHEAD in lesson planning, caught up on every single little detail involved in daily teaching. I've found my groove, after two months of school, and it's working well. I'm happy. But I worked like there was no tomorrow. Certainly at this rate, without a break, I will burn out.

Fifth: Evacuation drills are a pain in the ass.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

In case of emergencies

Monday afternoon, 6th period, while going over emergency evacuation procedures:

Student: What do we do if you die? Who do we get directions from?

Me: There will be other teachers will help you.

Same Student: But what if all the teachers in the building die?

Me: Then the principal and vice principals, and other office staff will help you.

Same Student: But what if they ALL die? How can we be officially released if every adult at school gets taken down?

Me: Dude, if every single adult on campus gets taken down, you have full permission to run away, screaming your head off.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I broke my own rules

I took work home for the first time this year. When I promised myself that I wouldn't.

But then, I never promised myself that I wouldn't give super long tests to all my classes all on the same day. Maybe I should promise myself THAT.

But then, I might not even get to the stack of grading. I might just spend the next hour relaxing and then go to sleep early. So very early.

Also: seriously. I hate yard duty.

That is all for today.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Happiness is....

Yellow is a happy color.

...when Shut-Down Kid is able to complete a worksheet all by himself, turn it in, AND write me a thank you note. I just had to give him a sticker AND a piece of candy. There was no way I was going to let this opportunity slide without positive reinforcement.

...when I teach extraordinarily well, full of energy and excitement, which led to a very hard-working, very chatter-free 6th period.

...when the awesomely l33t PTA provides delicious Italian food for lunch.

...when an old friend says some really kind words. Thanks old friend! =)

I wish I took a picture of the thank you note. Next time.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The mean is the average

Will making more spectacular breakfasts lead to more spectacular teaching days?

Today was a mediocre teaching day. It wasn't bad, but I wasn't completely on the ball either.

5:30 AM - Wake up to alarm. Spend some time writing to "mind dump" thoughts.

6:40 AM - Leave for school. Prep, prep, prep! Finally got bad emails taken care of, as well as fully integrated the eleven new students into my filing system.

8:00 AM - SST meeting with 8th grade counselor and other teachers. We talked about 5 students, 3 of whom are mine. It seems like things are progressing for all students, but they still have a long way to go.

8:40 AM - Rush to bathroom and finalize the day's plans.

8:50 AM - Advisory! Video broadcast on the consequences of bring knives to school. I read the bulletin.

9:02 AM - 2nd period. By far the most well behaved, best self-monitoring class to date. Might change in the future, but this class is great.

10:41 AM - Bye bye 2nd period! Hello 4th!

11:15 AM - I still feel like I'm not making enough connections for Algebra Readiness. Most students did very well on the Chapter 2 quiz though. As and Bs were most common with only a couple lower grades.

12:23 PM - Bye bye 4th period! Hello lunch!

1:01 PM - ::sigh:: Lunch is way too short. Spent it prepping. SSR time for 6th period!

1:16 PM - SSR over! 6th period is by far the rowdiest class I have. Is it because it's the last class of the day? Is it because of stuff I'm doing? Or not doing? Gotta rein it in more.....consequences time! But to be honest, there is no need for further consequences after I give them a warning. It's just that they need a warning EVERY DAY. How to remedy this? Tally marks? With a prize at the end of the week?

2:55 PM - FREEDOM. And first bathroom break in SIX. FREAKING. LONG. HOURS.

2:56 PM - JUST KIDDING about the freedom. Grading papers, recording scores, and figuring out activities for the mobile lab. Made copies, lesson planned, cleaned up the aftermath of today's lessons (also gotta figure out a more efficient method of keeping things organized throughout the day - I tend to get messier as the day progresses), did paper work, cleaned transparencies.

6:05 PM - Leave for home. Eat dinner, shower, blog, check email.

7:35 PM - Sadly, I will probably be asleep within the hour.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Smart Goals

Comfort food for failed goal setting.

My school has this thing called Smart Goals. It's basically student centered goals you want your classes to accomplish this year - goals that are measurable, trackable, and has a time limit.

The math team chose to keep track of homework assignments coming in. Each student should turn in 80% of all homework assignments. My classes have had 14-15 homework assignments so far. 80% of 15 is 12. So each student shouldn't have missed more than 3 assignments so far.

Have I just set myself up for failure?

There are definitely students who are missing WAY more than 3 assignments. I counted them today: the record is 9 missing assignments.

Oh boy. I suppose I'll have to figure out something like a work day to get that number righted. The students with missing assignments will spend time in class completing a make-up assignment. The students who have all their work turned in can play math games with the mobile lab.

Oh yeah. I have a mobile lab in my room. It's a cart filled with internet-ready MacBooks, as well as installed with software called Study Island. It's great!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sub vs. Students

Broken cat, broken trust.

So of course there has to be some sort of conflict with the sub.

Sub's story:
- a stack of homework passes that I provided for the sub to give to "good" students went missing
- said any of three students could have taken it
- had put the stack on the overhead projector, and then the next moment, they were gone

Now, I've only taught for a little more than a month, but I'm pretty sure of these two things:
a) It is a seriously DUMB ASS idea to put anything temptation-worthy in an open, high traffic space without intense supervision.
b) I believe those three accused students slightly more than the sub.

(Side question: Does this make me gullible? Or does this make my students really good liars? Or have I fallen into the trap of believing my students because I want to see only the good in them, and thus I've become blinded to their faults? This worries me....must do more reflection on this topic.)

I did speak to all three today. I also spoke to my "eyes and ears" (the students who I asked to take notes of what happened during the class) who were surprisingly detailed. Nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. According to all records (even the sub's notes; minus the theft of course), it was basically like I had been there.

In the end, I decided to make all homework passes invalid, as well as cutting off using it as a prize for the rest of the term. Homework passes are a privilege. I give them out because I want my students to have a meaningful reward for their hard work. But somehow, that failed. They were too greedy, and now the system is ruined for everyone.

On a related note: I've got to balance give students a second chance/self-correction with having them serve the consequence of their actions. So far this year, I've only given one detention, and I had a student write a formal apology letter to another student. By this time last year, in the 5th-6th split class, I had given out AT LEAST 10 recess detentions. There is no comparison in maturity with elementary and middle school. There must be even less in high school.

But still. Gotta work on cracking down and following through. I don't want to be too much of a softie on them. They need to follow through with their actions too.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Sub day

Not in the pool, but thinking about swimming.

Today was my first sub day of the year. I wonder how it went? Were the students well behaved? How did they do on their tests?

Why on earth am I worrying? I'll know soon enough once the weekend is over - and the weekend is usually over way too soon.

Totally feeling achey today from the flu. But I can tell I'm getting better, which is good. It's too much of a clue that I'm a control freak because I don't want a sub to teach my students crazy math things.

But then, the other teachers tell me it's really difficult to find a good math sub. I wonder why?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

How is it possible?

Turtle wants to go home.

Q: How is it possible that - being sick - I feel worse at home than I do while teaching at school?

A: Adrenaline, probably. Ugh. I hate being sick. Nyquil is my best friend. The worst part of being sick this time was that having a fever on top of the heat totally wiped my brain of any functioning brain cells. 6th period yesterday was basically an operation of instinct, habit, and sheer force of will.

Q: How is it possible that I've got all the supposedly "bad" kids under control, being responsible, and engaged in class, but the "good" kids are not so much?

A: My training under UTEC, probably. And maybe also because I believe in my students - and the "bad" kids are the ones that have rarely ever had a teacher believe in them. Although you would think it would work with the "good" kids too.

Q: How is it possible that I'm loving this job so much, when only a scant year-and-a-half ago I was seriously thinking of quitting to become an accountant?

A: Miracles happen.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Iriguchi, deguchi, Taguchi desu!

Title of this entry is from a running gag, meaning "That's the entrance, that's the exit, and here's Taguchi!"

Setting: 3rd period pre-algebra class

Context: Reviewing rules and expectations of the classroom. I tell my students to grab lots of tissue before they sit down so that they don't have to get up to get it.

Student: But what if my nose suddenly starts running?

Me: Then you better catch it.

Half the class got it, half didn't. I thought it was pretty clever. Heh.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Record breaking speed

Sick in the 5th week of school! It's a new record! Middle school students are just as gross, if not more so, than elementary kids.

Nyquil, here I come. Good night.

Friday, September 24, 2010


I am totally meeting-ed-out this week:

Tuesday -- PLC groups to make Smart Goals. 3 hours.
Wednesday -- BTSA orientation. 2 hours. District board meeting. 3 hours (but I only stayed for 1)
Thursday -- Morning PLC group to plan. 1 hour.
Friday -- Staff development day for training on benchmark testing system. 6.5 hours.
Total for the week -- 15.5

I hate meetings. Especially the type where, for some reason, I can't get a grasp on what the speaker(s) are talking about, and then I get resentful because I wish I was in my classroom rearranging the seats of my two pre-algebra classes.

Because one of the other pre-algebra classes from another teacher is getting broken up to make room for an additional geometry class - a geometry class that should have been there on the first day of school any way because there is no physical possibility to fit 37 students in that classroom to begin with.

And thus, I'm absorbing 11 students from that class into my pre-algebra classes. It's going to be crazy on Monday. But I think I can handle it.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Stronger today

A bit clearer.

Today was better.

I would not mind it at all if I taught two half days every week. That would be awesome. I don't even care about the pay decrease. I teach at such a higher quality when well rested and the paper work isn't piling up constantly.

Monday will start fresh - but first, tear apart the old. This makes completely no sense, I suppose. But I see Thoughts Notebook Kid on Monday. I need to make things right with him.

And yes, Thoughts Notebook Kid has a "thoughts" notebook. As in the kind therapists use for emotionally disturbed people. Yeah. A whole school year worth of that. Let's gear up for the fight.