Really Slow Boomerangs: 2016-2017 Wrap Up

It feels slightly weird to write a wrap up for the school year when my mind’s actually on wrapping up summer school (7 more days and everyone’s counting).

Big takeaways, largely parroted from other people:

  • If a kiddo can be saying it, why are you? Stolen from one of the teachers who I’ve taught with for a bit. One of the things I struggle with in my context is that, especially at the beginning of the year, many of our students (all of whom are emerging multilinguals) don’t understand that much English. So me saying instructions to them doesn’t always make much sense. However, one student read to everyone at least focuses their attention (and so much better if it’s a phrase or norm that’s repeated frequently or that they’re familiar with). (And they’re generally more respectful to each other than they are to me. Ha.) I maintain that this still works even if they don’t entirely understand what they’re saying (when reading classroom objectives, etc). And having them read and explain to each other is even better.
  • Randomness can lead to equity, if you’re thoughtful about it. I’ve always been antsy about calling kiddos at random. First year teacher used to do it to kiddos who weren’t paying attention, which probably wasn’t the wisest idea. I finally glommed on to a structure at our school where a student opens class by randomly selecting students to read objectives, agendas, and announcements. It’s fascinating seeing how this structure plays out. Students speak more and (largely owing to a collaborative culture at our school) will try and help each other read or answer questions. This works when the questions are pretty low stakes (either reading something off the board or choosing between 2 options). The goal is to get kiddos to speak and feel comfortable participating. Another helpful thing is the culture that our school has created where students know they’re supposed to help and support each other. At the beginning of summer school, I saw that students were really reluctant or scared to speak in class and it definitely took some supporting and needling to get them to speak and feel comfortable speaking.
  • When in doubt, lean hard into your structures. I’m pretty sure I stole this from Carl Oliver and it goes for both kiddos and adults. Since so much of school can be new and strange for our kiddos, having established structures calms a lot of nerves. It’s said at our school that kiddos are confused by the blue opening papers (a schoolwide structure where kiddos fill out the date, day, content and language objective, and do an opening) at the beginning of the day, but are pros at it by sixth period on the same day. I’ve also noticed, in my afternoon classes (which are almost always squirrely) that, as crazy as the actual class may go, things calm down noticeably when I ask them to take the last 10 minutes to write a journal (again, repeated structure). This plays out interestingly when thinking about direct instruction (“Copy this down in your notes”) versus groupwork where students have to step out of their comfort zones, but that’s a thought process for year 5. I’m also finding that structures work well for adults (or maybe just me). By a stroke of luck (good? bad? Undecided…), I ended up making meeting agendas for our grade level team this year. Figuring out what to actually covering in meetings was tricky, but certain structures popped up that made the process easier – there’s always a check-in question, someone suggested that we make time to celebrate our students, and having time for feedback, and to reflect on our process gave us a way to get ideas for the next meeting and to give people a chance to reflect on how the meeting went for them and to say things that might still need to be said.
  • It takes time. This is my fourth year as a teacher, which firmly puts me in “not new teacher” territory (where I think I’ve actually been for about 2 years, though it was easier to shirk duties in prior years. Ha.). This became clearer to me with some newer teachers on our team. Some of our school is just like any other school. But there are some very quirky school-specific structures at our school, specifically our intersession electives and our semester portfolio process. Whereas both of these structures have become “Oh, that’s just a thing we do” to me (after 4 and 7 cycles, respectively), I have to remind myself what it was like the first time I went through either of those cycles. (For intersession electives, I was lucky enough to get paired with 2 amazing teachers from my team and for my first round of Portfolios, I just stumbled through because I didn’t know any better). I somewhat try to think of how to share strategies, structures and work samples to make the process easier for new teachers, but mostly I just try to stay afloat amidst my stuff (a large part of my Portfolio process this year is storming out of the classroom to drag back 2 of my advisees who eventually saunter in on their own time. “They’re like really slow boomerangs,” the vice principal tells me.). I know there are probably better ways to structure weird processes, but for now, I can’t think of a way better than to just experience it.

And since I’m not entirely sure I want to end things on that note, here’s what I’m doing this summer:

  • One week of staycation (sleep, clean out classroom, watch friend teach, go to Julieta Venegas concert, sleep, host dinner party)
  • 4 and 2 half weeks of summer school.
  • One week at the Inquiry Schools Summer Institute (and then a week in DC).
  • One long weekend at the Knowles Teaching Initiative Summer Conference (and then a week in New York).
  • One week at a Geometry of Redistricting conference.
  • And then we’re back for PD week. And if that feels short to you, it doesn’t include a few optional work days that I’m missing (they coincide with the last conference) and does include an extra week of summer because our District is starting a week later (to accomodate December holidays).

Day 61: The Day After


Morning after the election. A colleague (Hi Joe!) is observing and I prepare them for all the things that might happen with the kiddos.

I do not prepare him for the former student (now a 12th grader) who runs in at about 8:20, shouting “This is a protest! We’re all walking out!” Lots of confusion. Someone asks the student to translate into Spanish (this is what happens with 9th and 10th graders). There are lots of questions. “Can I go to my locker?” “Can I go to the bathroom?” (“It’s a walkout,” I want to say)

After the majority of the school walks out, our team of teachers moves into one classroom. I take my prep (and will be the only teacher from our team to do so during the day, guilty sigh) and work with my planning partner to finish homework and prepare for the next part of the project.

Back in class, the other teachers have prepared the kiddos to do a community circle, in hopes of building empathy and understanding what other students are going through and why some kiddos are protesting and what they are protesting. (I check Twitter every once in a while and watch the stream of kiddos progressing towards City Hall. Friends who are visiting the city will confirm that they also saw the stream of kiddos)

I end up in the Spanish speaking group. Kiddos hit on the nuances of being born in the United States versus elsewhere (all American, but they don’t quite know the term to differentiate them. I think we settle on “resident”) and why people voted for Trump (“jobs,” they decide on). One kiddo speaks of his country as “having the resources, but not the organization to make it work. The rich want to get richer.” (Heavily paraphrased and translated from the Spanish). At least 2 other kiddos talk about violence from the maras (gangs) in their home countries and how much violence could be inflicted on a family if one person insists on trying to be independent and do the right thing. I am reminded of how much more some of our kiddos will speak if they are in homogenous groups where everyone speaks their language.

The groups come back together and speak and listen. It feels successful. Even with most of the morning, I wish we had more time.

After lunch, kiddos start trickling back. “We realized it wasn’t a field trip,” they say. “We didn’t understand what was happening. We didn’t want the school to call our families.”(The District has already called home; most families ignore the call or don’t understand it since it comes through in English) One of the more experienced does a community circle with them to help them process. (It ends up being a lot of “But we didn’t understand!”)  I am torn between saying “Well, you walked out, and sometimes there are consequences” and saying “Consequences don’t matter! You made yourself heard!” I imagine this is what parents of teenagers everywhere feel like on a daily basis.

When I come back, another teacher is helping them write their Business Plan Project essays by doing a participation quiz (lots of positive narration and awarding points to people who are writing and working).

Photo: Reflections from the first community circle, right after the protest.2016-11-14-19-43-56

Days 58 and 59: Gabriel’s Reflection, Mateo’s Transformations and the Patty Paper Men


Gabriel's Reflection

Friday: Gabriel’s Reflection

Mateo's transformations

Tuesday: Mateo’s transformations

It’s been a crazy-packed two days. Friday, we had short periods (40 minutes instead of 65). Plus an assembly. Plus observers. Plus finishing the Mobile Project (mostly).

Today, we had normal periods. But we balanced the mobiles (finished or not). And changed seats. And started a new unit on transformations. The day after a 3-day weekend. Where our soccer team won the city championships.

So, crazy-packed.

Given Friday’s craziness, class was average (which was tough considering all the potential of Thursday). One of the tree-truck students was absent. Students didn’t work with the urgency I would have hoped for. Other students did work for students who weren’t finished rather than helping them (we talked about this as much as I could, but I was spread pretty thin at that point).

Friday’s photo is Gabriel’s homework reflection. Gabriel came in with his homework. He hadn’t finished it in on time and was still working on it when I passed him in the hallway. We talked about the graph he was drawing and I told him I’d be around if he needed help. He came in five minutes later to turn in the homework.

“You didn’t finish your reflection,” I told him. (Because I’m a stickler for completion. And because students should think about what they’re doing.) I half-expected him to shrug and hand it back to me.

“OK,” he said, with a shrug (’cause adolescence). He came back five minutes later with it filled out, which I thought was cool.

Today’s photo is Mateo’s classwork. We used patty paper to transfer (translate) a parallelogram and a rubberband to stretch (dilate) a trapezoid. We’re not using the highest academic language, but I believe this compromise gives our students access to what we are doing. I never say “isometric transformation” or “dilate”, so I’m not sure if my students would remember it on the first day of a new unit.

As a side note, when I handed out the patty paper (a type of paper for hamburger patties, hence the name), one student said, “oh, I thought you were going to give us hamburgers.” Another student cut theirs into the following (though I can see their transferred shape on it, so no complaints, I guess).

Patty Paper Men

Patty Paper Men


Grades are due tomorrow at 3pm (don’t worry; it’s more of a progress report). The last two people out of the coffee shop tonight were me and a student from the school where I student taught last year.