November: I Teach Independent PE?

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November, 2019.

In my 7 years of teaching, I’ve mostly taught mathematics and it’s still confusing for me to answer the question, “What do you teach?”

I taught an integrated 9th and 10th grade Algebra and Geometry course for 5 years and then switched to 11th grade to teach Algebra 2 and a surprise numeracy course, focused on supporting students with gaps in their mathematical education. At our school, 11th graders change their schedules at the semester and take an internship outside of school to expose them to the world of work in the United States. They also took an Early College course at our local community college. I ended up teaching sections of both of these classes, which was a fascinating look into what our 11th graders learn and the structures on that team that even those team members don’t necessarily see.

This year, we get a lot of kiddos and we get them early. Our PE classes are now offered year-long, but when students from both teams get put into the same section, we find ourselves over-enrolled. A new section is created of “Independent PE” for students who are older and have more credits (and can sign a waiver to waive the credits). I also end up teaching this section.

Because the class is basically a study hall, I have the freedom to design the course however I like. With limited time, I decide to survey the class. Many students say they want to learn more English. Some students (though notably, not all) want to go outside and play soccer and basketball. So we try and go outside, based on the weather and whether the actual PE teacher needs to take his class outside. I try and pull some of the English Language Development structures we have and modify some of the health curriculum that is offered to me. There are moments where I feel like students are engaged in asking each other questions and building friendships across differences and there are moments where I feel like the class is crashing and burning (to be fair, this is how I feel in most of my classes, so…)

A fun yet intriguing part of this course is getting to know the students. I am extremely lucky that all of them are 10th graders and, for better or for worse, know a little more English and have a little more experience with school. I start to have a sense of which students are more dedicated to school and which students want more support with English. And the students (as always) are able to read me right away. “Mister,” complains one student (on the third day), “we do the same thing every day. You put a picture on the board. Then you ask what do you notice? What do you wonder? Ask 4 people.” His voice sounds extremely close to mine. I suppose I don’t mind.

On Reaching the Kiddos

I’m a bit late to #MTBoS12Days, led by Druin and Pam Wilson. The goal is to post 12 times over break,  possibly in a response to a series of prompts. We’ll see if I make it; we go back on Monday.

Prompt: What are your strategies to reach “that kid”?

First, I gather all the information I can on my students. I have my advisory fill out forms about themselves. I look at the scant information the District sends us (all our kiddos* are recent immigrants, so, to be fair, the District doesn’t have a lot of information to send us). I observe them in class. Looping, or teaching many of the same kiddos 2 years in a row, is a huge help. Kiddos who I taught the year before help establish norms and smooth over rough patches (I distinctly remember a kiddo my first year of teaching tell another newer, more rebellious student “You need to do what he says!”).

I listen to what kiddos say and do in class. Even if they aren’t 100% into the math, they talk with friends. I hear about everything from hobbies and social media usage to relatively confidentialish stuff like immigration status.  Sometimes this gives me an in to connect with them or gives me an insight into why they might not be participating as much or how I can better frame things to them. (Side note: I speak Spanish, so I can eavesdrop on about 2/3 of our kiddos. At least one student has reacted to this with some mortification: “%$!& I’d forgotten you speak Spanish!”)

If that doesn’t work, I ask other people at school. I work on a(n amazing) team of teachers who teach the same students, plus an advisory (also consisting of our kiddos). Generally, one of these teachers will have suggestions or insights and we’re lucky to have time built into our weekly team meetings to talk about this. Our (amazing) paraprofessionals are also a great resource as they see our kiddos in various settings at various times of day and they often connect with kiddos in ways that don’t include yelling at them to get seated and take out papers (granted, this isn’t the main way I intend to interact with kiddos, but generally the ones I don’t have great connections with are the ones who I end up yelling at, so). Our (amazing) Wellness Center staff is key here, too. On more than 1 occasion (twice), I’ve had meetings with the Wellness Coordinator where she has basically asked me what my goals are, then facilitated a meeting between a student and me to get us both where we want to go. (Side note: This was also a great way to show a new student that I anticipated struggles with that I was invested in his time and his learning. It helped a ton that our Wellness Coordinator is the person he trusts most at school).

Something that I don’t consider particularly special, but has proven to be helpful is calling home. More often than not, families want to know what’s happening and want to get involved. It’s both surprising (and sometimes heartbreaking) the number of times families will echo the concerns of our teaching team (because so many of our kiddos are recently immigrated and/or reunifying with their guardians for the first time in ages, this situation can be especially complicated). If the guardian doesn’t respond (or responds, but there’s no noticeable follow-up), that’s at least another data point for the puzzle. Side note: Teachers frequently express surprise at how ready I am to call home. I…don’t really have an answer here, other than to say that guardians tend to be the experts here. And if I had a child who was not doing well and their teacher didn’t call me, I’d be a bit peeved, too.

Sometimes, I’ll ask another student (always a trusted student, generally one of my advisees who (mostly) trusts me) what to do. Something along the lines of “I’m trying to get better at helping Gordon** with mathematics. But I’m not having any luck. He likes working with you. What do you suggest?” I’d approach this one with caution, since there’s a ton of status and feelings involved here. I’ll sometimes ask the student in question a similar question, though I need to be careful about framing (this tends to work better with kiddos I’ve taught for 2 years, but are going through a rough patch).

2 quick points: #1: This was one of the interview questions I had to answer for my current job. I didn’t remember at first (I was probably in a state of panic), but one of my interviewers reminded me of it after the fact.

#2: My mom made a comment to me over break that one of my cousin’s kiddos was in a class with lots of “bad kids”. This is a fascinating comment to me and we had a long talk afterwards about how, if adults can identify kids as “bad kids”, how must those students feel about themselves? Adults are really good at subliminally (or not subliminally) showing what they’re thinking and kiddos are really good at reading it. And if a kiddo doesn’t feel like they’re accepted or have status in the class, why should they make an effort to belong in a system that has already, pretty clearly, showed them where they think they belong? So I guess my point, and I’m seeing it a bit this year with kiddos that I struggle to connect to, is that kiddos can be really sensitive to being “that kid”, no matter how much they try not to show it.

*Our principal says “kiddo”, so I say “kiddo”. Force of habit.

**not their actual name. Or an actual kiddo that I have in mind, really.

Where did that paper go?

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Handing back papers so the kiddos can finish ones they haven’t finished and can get some feedback on the papers I have gotten around to grading (spoiler alert: not as many as I’d hoped).

I collect the papers at the end of the period so that I can go home and grade them. Many kiddos don’t have all the papers to turn in. I ask them to check backpacks and notebooks. Sometimes they get lost.

One kiddo in particular insists that he never got his papers back.

I check his notebook 5 minutes after class ends.2017-07-05 17.35.12

What do you observe? What do you wonder?

The One with Homework after School

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We do partner problems with solving equations with algebra tiles, which is all well and good, but also hard to document.

One of the kiddos who is routinely late to first period and another kiddo who is new and grappling with the idea of a weekly homework packet (“Problem sets”, I think of calling them in attempt to sound more like college….pft) come in after school to work on homework and are joined by a third student who mostly watches and probably just wants somewhere to be after school.

Trying to figure out how to make this happen on a more regular basis.img_20170111_131838

“Mister, I’m Shy”

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We work in leveled groups on solving bags and coins problems with tiles (moving towards solving equations with fewer scaff0lds) but my favorite part of the day is when one of the kiddos comes for help at lunch. He sees that there are 11th and 12th grade girls in the room and refuses to come in.

“Why?” I ask (probably while multitasking).

“Mister, I’m shy,” he says, looking at the girls again. (He will repeat this phrase when I ask him why he doesn’t practice English with his uncle. It’s adorable.)

And that’s how we end up sitting on the floor outside my room, solving equations with algebra tiles.

(He is not shy, but I will OK, whatever in the name of student voice.)

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Day 60: The One With Community Circle and Demand

I spend the night of the election texting other teachers about the election and how drastically our largely undocumented kiddos (and lesson plans) will be affected. A million scenarios run through my head. Proceed with the lesson? Cancel everything and just give processing space and community circle all day? Will kiddos cry? Will there be fighting?

As it turns out, the day is mostly normal, which is probably just another indicator of how long our kiddos have been putting up with these feelings of feeling unwanted or discriminated. We do a community circle in first period. Write for 5 minutes about what you feel, what you need, and what you wonder. I have kiddos write on the prompt at the beginning of the rest of the classes, but honestly, the most helpful thing for them feels like to proceed with the lesson and the structures we’re used to. (Also, we vote on designs for t-shirts they designed to illustrate the concept of demand)

Some written responses. Shared without permission, but anonymously. These are all written by emergent multilinguals, so please be forgiving with spelling and grammar; I translated where I could, but didn’t edit for spelling or grammar. (There are more, but I’m about to be late for a meeting and will type them in later)

“I feel bad because…lost Hillary Clinton and won Donald Trump the electins but at the same time I feel calm because I do not think it will get all the immigrants from the country because practically the immigrants support the United States.”

“I feel sad scare angry and worry about me about my family about all my Hispanic and about the future of USA of America. I need some space.”

“I feel worry because I don’t want the new predicent be badly to us nad I hope that he don’t change our life.”

“Today I feel worry, shot, and angry because Donald Trump won the elections and we don’t know the good and bad things he will do in the country and will all immigransts people.”

“Today I feel angry because the teacher ask how do yo feel and they make me feel bad beause think more about.”

“Today, I feel normal because even thought we have new president we still need to life.”

Photo: Students vote on Business Plan Project Designs and whether they’d buy them at certain prices:

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Day 43: The One With the College Trip

Field trips are simultaneously awesome and complicated.

Every year, we take the kiddos to a local college. For many of them, it’s their first time actually spending time on a college campus. This year, it feels like the first time I’m actually asking them if and what they are thinking about college.

***

Miguel (who opts to go by “Mike” these days, presumably to keep things easier at his work) and Pedro miss the field trip departure, which is not entirely surprising, especially since Miguel works a lot, has late hours, and has stated that he wants to work full-time after high school instead of going to college. As we bus towards College, I notice Alex, another advisee, texting. This is also not entirely surprising.

“OK, who are you texting?” I ask as we near the College.

“Miguel,” he replies.

We wait around the student center prior to our tour. I am not entirely surprised when Miguel and Pedro run up to us, having taken unknown buses for at least half an hour to meet us. I’ve lost kiddos on field trips before, but this is the first time I’ve gained them.

***

Probably the most interesting part of the College Tour (other than the food court and the video arcade, sigh) is the part where the college students actually talk in small groups to our kiddos. These students are part of a program through the College and come from similar backgrounds to our students (first generation college students, often Spanish-speaking, often low-income).

The chaperones circulate throughout the room and I find myself in Mike’s group. Our kiddos are quiet, probably because it’s such a new place. The student they are talking to presses them for questions.

“Some of our students are thinking about working full-time after college. They have debts to pay and families to support,” I say (I think in Spanish). “Why should they go to college?” I shoot a pointed glance at Mike.

“That’s a good question,” says the student (also in Spanish). “If you work after high school, you’ll be making money sooner. But you’ll always be working for less money.” (This is a horrible, horrible paraphrase of what he actually said, which was much more thoughtful and eloquent. And in Spanish. But he said it in front of Mike, which was what I was hoping for)

***

The bus we’re supposed to take back to school doesn’t come, so we walk to another bus. Alex leaves to go to a dentist appointment, but we’re far away and he doesn’t really know the buses, so he texts Mike and comes back. As we wait, I notice Mike, deep in thought, standing apart from the group. I pull him back and make him board the bus.

***

Ultimately, I don’t care if Mike goes to college (this is a lie; I want Mike to go to college, but I also understand that I only know the surface level version of his circumstances and that he will make the choice that is right for him). But I want him (and the rest of the kiddos) to understand the benefits of going to college and I want him to keep that door open for as long as possible.

Photo: Going up to the lookout during the College tour.

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Day 21: The One With Simplifying Algebra Tiles and Perimeter Challenges

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Curriculum partner and I sensed that 10th graders and students who had seen more simplifying with Algebra Tiles were getting restless, so we split the kiddos into homogenous groupings. We always try to frame this as letting students challenge themselves with students who need similar challenges.

FASCINATING to watch some of our newer students who frequently hide in the shadows start to step it up (and also to see 10th graders using tiles and expressions in a more meaningful way).

Photo: “We don’t speak any English!” said one newbie (in Spanish). But that didn’t stop them from a) using the tiles and b) saying the names of the tiles in English.2016-09-13-10-45-24-2

Spent about 45 minutes after school with the Littlest Advisee, revising a quiz. It’s a slow process that (currently) involves me reviewing the problems they missed and then them showing me they can do the problem (with help). If they can do the problem, I’ll give them half credit (up from 0, in this case). If they can do a different version of the same problem, on a different day, I’ll bump their score up as if they had just taken the test.

Spent another few minutes helping one of last year’s kiddos with his homework. Compound interest. What is that even? #PleaseHelpCantMath

Objectives:

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Bowtie Tuesday. Because yes:

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Day 17: The One With the Review Day

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Having just given a group quiz, Curriculum Partner and I spend the next day giving the kiddos some structured study time.

We often joke that in a different world, in a different school, with different kiddos, this day would look different. Our kiddos would take their group tests home and figure out the answers and study on their own. So many of our kiddos don’t have those study skills or don’t have someone at home who can help support those study habits (though they have figured out how to send me messages through our school’s grading system, which is pretty cool) or have to work hours that put public school teaching hours to shame (one of my advisees has such a schedule and I tell him not to do anything in advisory except homework, but then he does the binder organizing and the poem reading anyway).

But we aren’t, so we have our review day.

The review day has changed the most of all the days of our 3-day testing cycle and that might just be because our student body changes throughout the years.

We currently start off by explicitly pairing the kiddos with someone who speaks the same language (Sorry, Russian speaking advisee singleton) but is at a different level of English. We have the kiddos make a dictionary and translate the words they don’t know. They then use the rubric to grade their own quizzes and make a perfect test (we’ve had them do this separately, but they kind of bled together this time and I’ll take it, I think). Then, then check for periods and capital letters, which aren’t a thing yet, apparently.

They all put their quizzes in their binders, so here’s the rubric, the task card and some extension problems (“Make up your own problem for the test,” I said. It’s a start anyway):2016-09-07-18-54-51

Gotta say, though, I was more impressed with this kiddo’s note sheet, largely because he took the time to write everything out, translate it, then write it again for a specific example:

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Objectives (in which I basically made the kiddos use their notes. #MathsHairDontCare):2016-09-07-18-54-19

Day -1: The Secret Reason I Ordered Another Bookcase

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Friday was our last day of professional development before the kiddos arrived. During team meeting (around 10am), I said, out loud (oops), “Yeah, I think I’m just going to leave at 3:30 and be done with it.” The rest of my team was, um, flabbergasted (I can’t ever get myself to leave  at a decent hour.”

It’s tradition that seniors come to school on Friday for their orientation. It’s crazy to see this class, since they are the first class that I taught as freshmen. My first advisees are seniors (it’s a bit mind-blowing to me, and I tell them as such on a pretty much daily basis).

By 6:30, most of my team had (rightfully) left and I was just starting to round the bend on Things That Needed To Be Done Before Monday (namely, seating charts). I gave up and decided to come in on Sunday.

A while ago, there was an offer at our school to get more bookshelves. I asked for one. Mostly so I could stand on it to change my seating charts (out of the range of kiddos, though an advisee last year tried to jump in order to switch seats, so…).2016-08-12 18.28.51