Sunday, March 11, 2012

Another week for looking forward

It's Sunday, and I am anticipating another week.  My students get a 3-day weekend; the faculty get a Monday ride to Charlotte for diocesan development.  I am not looking forward to the bus ride, but the inservice should be fine.  It never hurts to learn and relearn what I need to be teaching.  In my case, there is always one outstanding question: do I go to the high school math seminar or the K-12 technology seminar?  I usually go to the technology seminar since we have a total of 5 math teachers, myself included.  We shall see.

Last week seemed to be spring break for many of our alumni now in college.  There were several who showed up at the school last week.  I enjoyed spending a long time talking about college computer science with one of my former AP CS students.  After school on Friday, 2 more former Honors CS students came by to chat.  Frankly, I really don't remember them in Hons CS, but I do remember them in Algebra 2 (Honors or not, I cannot remember).  It's good to see them grow into their future, and it's great to know that my work was not in vain.  I think every teacher needs that now and then.

I chaperoned the Junior Class Retreat on Thursday and discovered that I have reached that age when I find I am older than I feel.  I jumped off a short wall with less grace than I expected to have.  My left leg landed fine, but my right leg kept on going to the knee.  Nothing really hurt but my pride and a small bruise.  Now I understand about those older people who try to do something again that they used to do well and end up with a broken bone.  Henceforth, all jumping off short walls will be done where the landing area is soil and not concrete ... just in case.

I'm back to feeling like a grading automaton.  If I'm not grading math, I'm grading programs.  If I'm not grading anything, I'm writing lesson plans.  It's just one or the other.  I also try to fit exercise into all of this, plus ironing my clothes and washing bathrooms and anything else I feel like doing at home to keep things in sync.  No wonder when the school year ends, I find myself at a loss for about a week with little structure in my life. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Another day, another ...

My alarm clock, i.e. my cat (my electric alarm clock is only a backup for when the cat can't wake me for her breakfast), starts my day.  The important things first: feed the cat!  Then I continue through my morning ritual:  start the coffee, start the oatmeal, take the meds, eat the oatmeal, drink the coffee, shower, and dress.  Only trouble today was the fact that I forgot not to get my hair wet since it's my off-day for washing my hair.  Not a good way to start the day. 

Since I must wait for my son, a.k.a. my carpool, I get on the internet to check out what is happening with my high school friends, college friends, and my extended family.  After which, I cringe and get on my school's email site.  It's not too bad this morning, but there have been mornings that started out with a parent's tirade.  I hate that, but, being a parent myself, I understand it, too.  Now, all I have to do is get to the school to continue the day of a teacher.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Substitute teaching days

When I finished working for my initial teaching license, I started substitute teaching at a local public high school.  My experiences showed me that substitute teaching should be a composite part of teacher training.  I learned so much from the regular teachers such as having a folder for make up work for missing students;  it makes helping students catch up so much easier.  (Now, I want to create some locked "box" where students can put their make up work.  Currently, the make up work gets mixed in with the on-time work.)

Some things I figured out on my own, and I use them for those who substitute for me now.  Not only do I include seating charts in my substitute folder, but I include seating charts with student photographs.  It is so easy for the substitute to know the students by sight.  Never underestimate the power of knowing someone's name when they are starting to make trouble.

One thing I didn't understand then was the difficulty of getting a math substitute.  At that school, one of the math teachers found out that I was licensed in secondary mathematics, and she got me to substitute for a conference day.  She said that she could never get someone to substitute who knew math.  The day came, and it was a rather easy task since math was one of my fields of expertise.  The situation of getting a substitute with math skills became apparent during the last class of the day.  An algebra 4 student came to me with a question about a problem on the worksheet.  I worked it out on the whiteboard with him.  He went back to his seat, and I overheard this conversation:  "Did she know the answer?"  "Not only did she know the answer; she knew how to work the problem!" 

I'm remembering all this because I will be out on the Junior class retreat on March 8, and I have asked a former math teacher to sub for me.  She can do all the math stuff.  The computer science classes will just have to work in the labs without me.  Maybe I can get the tech coordinator to do his "why not use wifi" presentation in the Honors CS class. Hmm.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Grace of God

My son-in-law has just reached the age that I was when I changed careers and went back to school full-time for two years to earn a secondary math teaching license.  I knew there was something important about that age to me; it just took me a while to remember.

During those years of very tight times with my husband working part-time, me working part-time, and our children heading into adolescence, I had many occasions to get a sense of God's grace, but there was one time in particular.

During that time I received a gift certificate in the mail from a local grocery store.  It was sent directly from the store, and the gift giver was "Santa Claus".  I did not recognize the hand-writing of the said Santa.

This was a dilemma for me.  If the certificate had come from an organization, then I could have sent them a thank-you and felt good about their generosity.  If the certificate had come from a friend, then I could have given him/her some home-made cookies as a thank-you gift.  I had no way to know from whom the gift certificate came.  It was a gift neither asked for nor earned.  It was the best representation of the Grace of God that I had ever experienced in the temporal world.

I used the gift certificate with the help of my family to make a wonderful Christmas dinner, and, no, I never did find out who sent it, but the memory of the blessing still haunts me after 20 years.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Paper Shuffling

This past Friday I noticed just how much paper shuffling teaching takes.  When I was in private industry, there were papers to shuffle, but they were not in the same realm as the ones I deal with now.  I have papers to grade, both homework and tests/quizzes.  I have papers to write: homework, tests/quizzes, lesson plans, and student recommendations.  I have other grading to record: programs and projects from computer science classes and online work for math classes.  Then, I have to put all this on the online grading system ... plus I have to put assignments, etc. on the internet ... plus I have to create a certain amount of online work so that my math students get more practice.  Also, in the modern American way, I have to send out either by email or the post office progress reports in case a student is failing or close to failing.  Aaaagh!

I am working on moving our school to an LMS (Learning Management System).  I personally like Moodle, partly for its free software and constant upgrades, etc. from the international Moodle community, but our school would need to have it hosted by someone else ... and that is where the problem lies for Moodle.  Or for any other LMS around.  Any suggestions, anyone?  I could certainly use them.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The teachable moment

I've been watching the History Channel and MSNBC with their 10 year 9/11 anniversary shows.  It brings back how I handled the situation as it unfolded at the school.

Students to my next math class came in at the bell demanding to have the classroom monitor changed to a news channel.  They said that there had been an explosion at the World Trade Center.  I refused, noting that it wasn't the first time a bomb had gone off there and it wouldn't be the last time.  I was wrong.

When an office worker came by to pick up my attendance, I asked her about the students' comments, and she said something really big happened there, so I changed the monitor to a local station and we watched and listened about the planes hitting the towers.  Then we watched the first of the towers to implode.  My brain was in logic mode, which is normal for me under stressful situations when in public, and all I could talk about was how someone managed to get the tower to implode rather than explode.  I did try to call my husband at home, but he did not answer since he was still asleep.  We then saw the smoke coming from the Pentagon, of which the news anchor was not aware.  He kept on asking someone to tell him what was on the screen.  He did get his information after we had seen some of the Pentagon damage.  It would be nice if the anchors had one monitor facing them that showed what the viewers were seeing.  Class ended, and I finally got my husband on the phone.  I told him to watch CNN right then because they were, at that time,  the network that would spend the entire day on the situation.

I went to the cafeteria during lunch and found it rather empty of the many students that were usually there.  The dean of students said that parents had been pulling their children out all morning.   I guess that fear takes hold when the unthinkable becomes real.  By the way, our student population was up to par the next day, so the parents must have felt better by evening.

In my remaining classes after that first class, I did not have the monitor on the news.  I told my students that they needed to learn everything they could in order to help make a better world, that we needed all the good people we could get.

I had a graduate class that evening, but it was cancelled by the instructor.  Many of my classmates had pushed for the cancellation because they were still in shock.  Still in logic mode, I felt that my classmates had wimped out, but I did not know that my instructor had been trying to contact his father who worked in downtown Manhattan.  FYI: the father was all right, but had spent all day walking from his office to off the island so he could get home.

How was this a teachable moment?  It allowed me and my fellow teachers to help our students understand that when one cannot offer help immediately, one must do whatever is possible to be ready to offer help in the future.  In our Catholic school, we also helped students to understand that it was possible for God to make good come out of this tragedy with our help.  Of course, our school and students started working on ways to help the people in the midst of all the tragedies the next day: making/collecting money needed to keep the help coming and special prayer services including an all-school mass.  We have a framed pastel picture drawn by one of our art students that has on the left side a firefighter in front of the World Trade Center twin towers falling with the smoke and dust around and on the right side a blood donor in front of a local donation center.  It fits the school since 2001 was our school building's first year of use. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

What's this about a teacher's short day?

There seems to be a misconception that a teacher has a short day because an official school day is usually 7 hours long.  Well, those 7 hours make up the students' day, but not the faculty's day.  I start my day at least 1/2 hour prior to the "official" start of school.  Actually, I have already checked my school email from home and dealt with some of the issues in them prior to leaving home.  I do not leave the school until about 45 minutes after the last bell.  I see students before school and after school to help them and to let them make up their tests and quizzes. 

Then, there is the grading.  Wednesday night was the open house for parents of current students to meet their children's teachers, so I really had no time to grade the homework I took up that day.  Hence, on Thursday night I stayed up an extra hour just to grade the waiting homework plus the quizzes I gave that day.  I plan for when I will grade work, so make up work is pushed to the end of my to-do list and may take some time for me to grade.  I usually do make up work on the weekends.

With the grading comes the responsibility of keeping an eye on which students need more than most.  I discovered in grading the quizzes that I have a student who will need extra effort on my part to help the student demonstrate the math skills he/she has learned.  That means more meetings with parents, the student, administration, etc. outside of the official school day.  Plus I need to make sure that that student's tests and quizzes allow the student to legitimately succeed.  I do not believe in false grades, but I do know that not everyone has good math logic abilities.  I'm so glad my art teachers didn't grade just on my ability to shade properly -- because I didn't shade at all usually -- but also included my best art skills, i.e. structure and form.  I try to remember that gift when teaching students who care and work hard to succeed.  They need to know that they have math skills, just not necessarily in the same way as their classmates.  St. Paul was right: we are all parts of the same body, but we each have different gifts to share in that common body. (My interpretation.)  Besides, nothing succeeds like personally-achieved success.  I have faith that this student will strive to achieve as much as possible in math when he/she knows what is possible.  I've seen it happen before.

After saying all that, I guess I lost track of my original subject, but I regained my incentive to be the best teacher I can be.