Writing not publishing

I”ve been writing, but for a number of reasons not hitting the publish button.

I used to know how to fix education, now I don’t so I stopped telling everyone how to teach.

I used to have deep thoughts on what was coming next. Now I don’t.

I’m not sure what I want and I’m not sure what you want, so consequently I don’t have anything.

I have some great ideas, but usually when out walking. This is bad for two reasons. I don’t get out and walk enough; I don’t write them down when I get home.

I have noticed a big thing abut my teaching. It isn’t nearly as good as I want it to be.

When I left the classroom I got into blogging and twitter which taught me so much about the classroom and what it could be, that I longed to get back and try it out. That really didn’t happen for about 7 years. I spent a lot of time in the classroom, but not as the writer of lessons and not as the teacher of lessons.

I’ve been back for 3 years now and I”ve learned a few things.

  1. Teaching without a textbook is not fun.
  2. Writing curriculum while teaching is almost impossible
  3. Focusing on teaching is wrong.
  4. Worrying about the future doesn’t help

The first two are related. I’m using a quasi textbook right now (engageny) and I’m finding that when I’m not spending an hour or more each day trying to create a lesson from scratch that Ijust have so much more time for the students.

Having a curriculum written out means I spend more time critically thinking about that curriculum and making positive changes for my students. Sure next year I might toss 90% of the lessons, but having that starting point is what makes it possible.

Right I can’t make changes to my students, so I have to focus on changes in my behavior. The changes in my behavior are not limited to adjusting the method of teaching. In reality that is just wrong. What I really need to do is focus on building relationships with my students. Then they will adjust to me and I will also start making changes that are more personalized towards them.

I worry constantly about the future. Mostly, “will my students get a good enough education from me?” I might be that one teacher they think about 20 years from now, but most likely not. I’ll just be another math teacher and that means I have to focus on bringing the math alive.

I’m back in the classroom now and relearning how to teach. LIfe has changed, but in many respects life is still the same. Lessons are still a hook, a body, and a summary, but more people are thinking about the overall flow and that is improving teaching. INdividual comments are still king even when people talk about standardized grading or PARCC testing. Students don’t learn until they do and they wont do until they want. My job is to make them want to do math, then give them the opportunity.

I’m starting the next chapter, relearning how to teach. My journey towards National Board certification starts now.

Charter School Worries

The other night was a special school board meeting for North Chicago School District 187. A charter school wants to open another K-8 school in the neighborhood. When the first charter opened 4 years ago, the school was in bad financial state and was forced to close several schools and lay off over 100 teachers. The district has not had a positive reputation for many years so it wasn’t a surprise.

 

My first job in education was in this district 15 years ago and even then the advice was to look for a job in a better district. (I didn’t quite follow that advice, I had a child and left education for a year. After 10 years, three districts, and one edtech start-up I finally returned.) In 2012 the board was replaced by an appointed financial oversight committee. Which still sits on the board today. After 4 long years the financial situation is finally starting looking up.

 

I, and many teachers in my school, feel this charter school will hurt the students in North Chicago. It will increase choice, but the choice isn’t any better. It will also divide an already too small pool of money between three schools, forcing all of us to spend too much time asking for extra money (three teachers have raised over $8,000 on donors choose so far this year). We banded together and showed up at the meeting and made our voice heard.

 

More importantly, and more powerful, many of our students showed up and made their voice heard. At first I worried because the Charter showed up in force, asking people to sign petitions and giving them t-shirts. They brought students and asked them to speak and they spoke well. However, as soon as our students started to speak, time and time again the story was, I love my school, I feel supported by my teachers, I am learning. It was hard to deny that for many of the students the public school was the better choice.

students

 

Many Navy parents also stood up (children in families living on the Naval Training Center are in the district) telling us of stories they were told about how horrible the schools were in North Chicago, and how they learned the hard way that those stories are not true.

 

One mother cried as she told a story of homeschooling her son for years while he languished on the waiting list. When he was finally accepted into the charter school he changed from happy and outgoing to unhappy and inhibited. She pulled him from the charter and enrolled him into AJ Katzenmaier where he was transformed back into a loving happy child.

 

Nearing the end of the meeting I was feeling pretty good, especially as our deputy superintendent and chief learning officer gave a presentation using hard numbers. They showed clearly that not only has the current charter school not done any better at educating students, they have hurt the district by splitting funds. They explained how we are at a crossroads, if we don’t reach the threshold of 20% naval student enrollment we will lose 3 million dollars in impact aid. This will be devastating for a district already on rocky financial grounds.

 

Then right there at the end they said something very scary. If we don’t approve the charter, as they didn’t approve the first charter, then the charter would appeal the decision to the state, which will almost certainly approve the  charter, just like they did the first time, and this new school would be considered a separate district.

 

What they left unsaid was that the new district would almost certainly siphon off many of the students from navy families making it impossible to earn this impact aid from the federal government.

 

So basically the district is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Approve a charter that will slowly bankrupt the district, or deny a charter and watch as they appeal to the state, get approved, and bankrupt the district in just a couple of years.

 

Doing Less

I’ve been teaching for a while now and I make a lot of mistakes. The mistake I think I make most is trying to do too much.

Dan Meyer says be less helpful. I say don’t try to teach everything at once.

His advice is probably better for most of you.  (Ok that was just name dropping)

 

Seriously though. At the moment we are teaching students to write and solve two-step equations. If I were working on my own I would have basically jumped into the two-step equations and let the kids struggle for a while wondering why they weren’t getting it. Instead my coach has helped me write lesson plans (read that as doing most of the work), while I’ve been teaching. While the lessons are ending up being mostly me talking and guiding students through examples, and I would like to do less of that, they have been more focused.

 

Small steps, first spend a whole lesson just exploring the connections between words and operations. Second, spend a whole lesson with one step word problems, (Use an Andrew Stadel video for fun and excitement [yes it could also have been a two-step equation lesson]). Third, just model two-step equations (I tried to jump ahead and solve, but that didn’t work). Fourth, reboot from yesterday, but now we can solve. Fifth, review of the distributive property and guide students through writing a two-step equation with distributive property.

 

Five days to do something I might have attempted to do in one day.  Are the students better prepared? According to the exit slips everyone is keeping up just fine. What I do notice is in my word problem for the daily warm up, students are still jumping right to the answer.

On Monday, 324 students went on a trip to the zoo. All 8 buses were filled and 4 students had to travel in cars. How many students were in each bus ?

 

Everyone wants to say 40 (or 40 1/2 ). So I go back and ask how did you get that? We write something like (324-4) / 8 = 40. I ask is that what is written on the board or is that how to solve the problem? After some thinking time we discover that what is written on the board is 8s + 4 = 324. The word and is easily seen as a plus not a minus. Finding the multiplication is a bit harder, but, as almost half my students are bilingual, I can point out that translating isn’t always a word for word thing, sometimes you have to get the meaning.  (Would you really like to put were on your word wall and say every time you see this word think multiplication?)

 

I’m really pleased that by teaching slowly, doing less. we not only have a stronger understanding of writing equations, but we are also teaching how to solve equations within the same context. Actually, I can point to the ease with which my students get the right answer and say, the right answer is like a grade of C, getting the right equations is like a B, and then being able to do everything backwards (writing a good word problem) is like an A. This works because some of the word problems we have seen while practicing have been very difficult to understand.

 

Four Legged Guest

The tails of the two four legged guests this week.

(just ignore the grammar)

We have two house guests this week. Gracie and Austin.

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Austin likes to climb

Gracie likes to play.

Let me tell you about Gracie’s day. She goes for a walk at 5:30 AM, but she doesn’t walk she wants to jog. Which is great because I need the exercise, but I’m old and fat and slow. She keeps looking back lie, “Umm, do you think you can pick up the pace old man?”

Whatever, you’ve got four legs, I only have two.

When we get home she goes to sleep on the couch.

At 9 ish my son gets up and takes her for another walk. She comes home and goes back to sleep on the coach.

Later the neighbor comes over with his dog and Gracie goes out again and the boys chase each other around and around the yard. Eventually, rolling around in a big pile in the mud.

Luckily for me he takes her right upstairs to the bath and cleans her up. I can tell because he leaves a bunch of wet towels and dirty water in the tub. The dog is clean though.

Now it’s 6 O’clock and she is back sleeping on the couch. Sometimes it’s good to be a dog.