Day 172: Bikes on Bikes on Bikes

Context the 1st: School Without Walls is our elective/credit recovery program. I co-taught a 2 week class called Bike and Hike.

Context the 2nd: #MTBoS30 is Anne Schwartz‘s challenge to the Math-Twitter-Blog-o-Sphere to blog each day for 30 days. By traditional standards, I have failed this challenge (4 days out of 30, none of which are mathematics related)


I would do well to remember that teaching is an exercise in listening and trying to figure out what students are trying to tell you.

We (or rather, Y-Bike, a super awesome non-profit through the YMCA) are taking the kiddos biking.

It is a long bike ride, especially if you are not ready.

Fernanda, who I’ve had for 2 years (and introduce accordingly; to her teachers next year, to the nice person at the rock climbing place when she refuses to get shoes, to anyone she makes faces at, to my parents when they volunteer in my classroom, etc), complains (loudly) that she can’t do it. We adjust gears. Nada. We bike in the back. Nada. One of the nice Y-bike people comes back to conference with us (“Well, we trust you to know your students best,” she says, which feels like an accusation in the heat of the moment, but is actually a gentle reminder that I need to listen). As we conference, Fernanda continues to moan. And walk.

I swear she will walk her bike through all the pain. Maybe out of instinct, maybe out of blind rage, maybe to prove she can.

I take a deep breath.

“We should go back,” I say. I wait for Fernanda to disagree. She doesn’t say anything, so we bike back.

Later, when we are sitting and waiting for everyone else to come back, Fernanda says that she has exercised before, but it has never hurt like this. I tell her it’s a good thing she listened to her body. We look at the route the other kiddos are taking and talk about all the teachers she’s had and what she wants to do after high school.

I would do well to listen to the kiddos.


During one of many random bus conversations, I tell Ning that my new favorite game involves what time we can get the field trip back to school. I am trying to get us back as close to the bell as we can (none of these dumb Price-Is-Right rules. Close as we can, even if it’s over, which we frequently are).

We are only about 5 minutes late on our return from the biking trip, which is pretty good considering that trip takes us the furthest (farthest?) away from school. As we walk up to school, the week-long camping trip is exiting the school.

“How was it?” I ask Carlos, one of my kiddos from this year.

“It was good,” he says, “but the mosquitos bit me here (he points to his arm) and here (he points to the other arm), hasta me picaron los huevos (they even bit my balls).”

I’m listening.

It’s definitely time to go home.

Photos: Bikes on bikes on bikes, even if we didn’t ride them the whole way

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Day 169: Rhythm, Energy and Peanut Butter

Context: School Without Walls is our intersession elective class. (This is all the educational jargon I can handle right now) Because our kiddos arrive at various points in the year and because our master schedule is arranged to maximize content classes, our students don’t get as many elective classes. They need 2 years of PE and 1 year of Art to graduate. As a typical 4-year plan (let alone a 3.5 or 2.5 year plan) won’t get all these credits, we take the last 2 weeks of the year and run PE and Art classes so our students can make up credits. I’m currently co-teaching a class “in the style of” Bike and Hike. In one version, we were kayaking a lot.

#MTBoS30: Online challenge to write a math blog a day for 30 days, inspired by Anne Schwartz. I’ve missed quite a few days and am going back and adding in as I go.

Our class is called Bike and Hike. Today (errr, Tuesday) is a hike day. We take the bus (one of the same buses as yesterday, then a different bus) to a beach far away from school. I’m pretty sure I’ve gone to this beach at least once a year for School Without Walls. It’s comfortable, yet the kiddos always seem to love it.

Everyone seems tired today (and to be fair, we went biking yesterday). One kiddo is absolutely done, though she later says that buses make her moody (and is fine the rest of the day). I forget that School Without Walls has a certain rhythm and energy level to it (damn hippy Californians).

We do a potluck, which is somewhat successful. Maybe having new kiddos bring food the second day of class was a bit of a pipedream. A trip to the local Walgreen’s results in decent food. We try to dip everything in peanut butter, which goes well, up until the BBQ chicken.

We hike around some paths. Kiddos climb rocks that I think are a bit too high for my comfort and turn their backs to the ocean (I can already see my Hawai’ian aunties shaking their heads). One of the kiddos lobs a dead bird at another, at which point we usher everyone back onto the bus.


I am back at school, doing whatever it is I do after school (I still don’t quite know what this is). At one point, Antonio, who I taught last year, wanders in to charge his phone. He sits on my desk and I forget that he is there. His friend Chavez, who I taught this year, also wanders in. I make Antonio talk to Chavez about what 11th grade portfolios are like. Antonio explains that they prepare 3 class topics and the teacher picks one for them to explain. Chavez says he hopes he doesn’t have to explain math. I withhold my stank eye. He gives me an explanation to the effect of “it’s not that I don’t like your class, I’m just don’t feel good at it.” Miles to go…

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Peanut butter goes well with everything.

Scary Sprites (and Something Else)

Another teacher at our school is organizing an awesome writer’s workshop for teachers at our school over the summer. Here’s what I’ve written so far:

Sam’s[1] first day at school is my first day at school and it’s hard to say who is more confused. I ask my advisory[2] to fill out a “Get To Know Me” sheet. 18 sets of blank eyes stare back at me, including Sam.

We ride the bus back from Target. I talk with Sam and another advisee (probably in Spanish) about speaking Mam[3]. Sam speaks it, the other advisee, Grace (also from Guatemala), does not. I don’t fully understand what this means.

I make my advisory, The (one time) Crazy Ghosts, tell me their favorite song in hopes of making an advisory playlist (This doesn’t happen). Sam’s favorite song (at the time) is “Scary Sprites and (something else)” by Skrillex. In what will be the first of many “I Am Old” moments, I recognize the name Skrillex but am unsure whether it is a person or a band. I make a mental note to Google it later. (Update: Skrillex is a man)

Many times, Sam wanders into my classroom a few minutes before first period and helps to take down chairs. When you’re new, being early to first period is probably better than being alone.

At some point, Sam stops coming to school. I call home, but am only able to reach Mom a few times and with limited results. I see his name on a Wellness[4] referral. I leave a folder for him during Portfolios, which remains empty.

We switch the order of our classes at the semester. Sam’s first period (my class) becomes his last period and vice versa. At some point (March? April?), after many months away, Sam randomly wanders back into my class. Cristina, who was in Sam’s class (originally first period, now last period), but switched back to first period, recognizes him. “What are you doing here, maje[5]?” (I’m pretty sure she says it all in Spanish, despite being one of the better English speakers in the class) I send Sam to English class, not thinking to check in with him. I ask him how he’s doing at the end of the day. He says “fine”. I don’t see him again for a month.

3 of my advisees, including Sam, get SARBed[6].

We plan an SST[7] for Sam. I call Mom. No one picks up. We hold the SST anyway.

I’m in the office during prep (probably forgot to take attendance again) and I see Sam and his mom. I crouch by his chair and ask how he’s doing. He says he’s moved. I write down Sam’s address and phone number (I later find out that I accidentally wrote Sam’s number under another advisee’s name. Oops). Sam asks someone in the office, in English, if his mom can go home. They don’t hear him so he asks again in Spanish.

A few days before the school year starts, I see Sam’s name on my advisory list, but not my class list. He gets transferred to another advisory where there is another Mam speaker. I go to give his Portfolio to his new advisor, except that there’s nothing to give.

Sam comes back on the first day of school. He looks happy. I grab him outside class and write down his actual phone number.

Sam walks into my classroom, most likely stalling on his way to actual class. Another student jokes with him about something inappropriately adolescent. They leave to go to actual class.

Another teacher and I talk with Sam about being 18 and whether he’ll be back in school next year. We push for him to come back.

I hear another teacher pull Sam aside for ridiculousness in the halls (my words, not theirs). I wonder if this is a phase that he was supposed to go through last year. I hope he grows out of it quick.

The other team calls a flock of students, including Sam, to the stage during the end of year assembly. The other students walk up. I don’t see Sam. I worry that he’s stopped coming to school again. The other team reads Sam’s achievements and calls his name again. Heads turn. Sam walks down the aisle quickly. I think I see a sheepish grin on his face. I chide myself for doubting him.

[1] Not their real name. Obvio.

[2] The 18 students that I am responsible for supporting socioemotionally. Like a homeroom.

[3] A Guatemalan indigenous language.

[4] Students can be referred to the school Wellness center for a wide rage of health-related issue. All public high schools in our district have them.

[5] Vaguely Salvadorean for “dude”.

[6] Students who are truant are referred to the Student Attendance Review Board (SARB). This is an intervention along the spectrum of truancy intervention.

[7] Student Success Team (meeting). The student, teachers and other people who care about the student talk about how best to support the student.

Five Paragraph Essay

These days, I’m fascinated with David Coleman, and not just because he shares a name with a dear friend from Peace Corps. Ed policy wonks can read more here (hat tip to journalist Dana Goldstein, whose writing I just can’t get enough of). The short story is that he helped write the Common Core and was recently named to head up the College Board.

The quote that most sticks with me is one he retracted (it was that good, I guess): “It is rare in a working environment that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday, but before that, I need a compelling account of your childhood.”

Very little of the writing I learned in high school (5 paragraphs, although/because thesis to some extent, concession paragraph, and a concluding paragraph that I still don’t know how to write) comes into play today (to be fair, I work in nonprofit operations). I’ve learned (through ever-patient college newspaper editors and a line-editing boss) to trim my writing down to drive the main point home. No narrative at all, really. Quick, effective writing and supplementary formatting/bolding.

That being said, quite a bit of the work we do externally involves narrative. Our blogs, our emails, our speeches all involve telling stories about what we do and the people we do it with/for. People don’t relate to numbers, they relate to other people. This is especially true (I think) when teaching students – if you don’t engage them, they might not care enough to learn. The takeaway for me is that you need to master both the facts and how to tell them. What’s that saying about silver bullets?

Speaking of narrative, check out “The Experiment” about schools in New Orleans (decidedly pro-charter, but most of the schools in New Orleans are charters these days, apparently).

Things I Did Today:

  • Return phone calls (no one there)
  • Draft emails (short, sweet, to the point)
  • Draft memo on our current evaluation process
  • Do massive revision of financial procedures (almost done)