Trying to find math inside everything else

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Day in the Life: October 5th, 2016

This is part of the Day in the Life Project.

5 1/2 AM – alarm goes off

5 11/12 – I actually get out of bed and start getting ready. I always get home late from trivia on Tuesdays, so Wednesday mornings are the toughest. On top of that is this being the first day of the school week thanks to Rosh Hashanah, and it was a struggle.

6 11/20 – Out the door. Even though I got my bike fixed yesterday, I’m not taking it today because I’m carrying my laptop, all my student work, and the five packs of markers I bought online. I head to the subway.

7 1/20 – That took much longer than it should have. If I had gotten on the first local train, it would have beaten the express I waited for. But the express did wind up beating the second and third local that passed through, so I guess it was right to wait.

Because I’m teaching Mathalicious’s Sweet Tooth in Calculus today, I spent the subway right reviewing the assignment and lesson guide. (Since I taught it last year, it was more of a review than a deep dive.) While I read it, I decided that I needed to add some supplemental questions to more explicitly tie it to what we’ve been doing with area functions and Riemann sums. So that’s on the agenda.

I got off the train, loaded up a podcast (Within the Wires), and started walking to school.

7 7/12 – I arrive at school (after also stopping to get breakfast). As soon as I get in a guidance counselor pops in and asks me to find a room in the school for the attendance meeting they’re having today. I run up to my classroom and grab my SAT book to prep for my problem solving class, then settle into my office to get some things done.

8 – Official start of school day

8 7/15 – I’ve written up the supplemental sheet for Sweet Tooth, adjusted my lesson plan, and decided what we were doing in SAT Problem Solving. I also had to print a schedule for a student who didn’t have one at the request of a different guidance counselor. Now to get some printing and copying done.

8 4/5 – That was surprisingly painless, considering it’s the equivalent of Monday morning. Maybe it’s because I went at the end of 1st period instead of the beginning of 2nd, when there’s a line. Now the morning announcements are going on, which make me very grateful I don’t teach 2nd period (and, thankfully, it is in my power to make sure I never do).

9 23/60 – I stapled all my feedback slips to the assignments I graded over the weekend and looked into some of the IEP Compliance issues that need to be corrected soon, as well as a few other miscellaneous programming tasks I had to do. Now I’m just last minute prepping myself for class.

12 1/2 – Well, that was a mess. SAT was fine, but Calculus – I tried to do too much. Sweet Tooth was a really great lesson last year, but it was much later in the year after the students had had more time to grapple with the ideas. But because of the holidays and the fact that I may have jury duty next week, I was feeling pressed for time, and so I tried to squeeze the lesson that should have been a follow-up to Sweet Tooth into the same period. And now I’ll need to take another period (or at least another half) working through those ideas anyway. During 4th period my AP came in for a formative observation (not rated), and I’ll be meeting with her tomorrow for feedback. Not the best first lesson to see.

I’m also having a hard time adjusting to not being in my classroom all the time. I spend most of my day in my office and carry all my stuff to the classroom when it’s time. So I feel like I’m spending so much class time doing things like setting up my computer, putting all the papers in the right spot, etc. Most days the SMART board markers don’t work, which was always something I could check before class started but now I can’t, and if they don’t work, I just have to roll with it. It’s a little stressful.

After class ended I went out to Trader Joe’s to grab some lunch, which I am eating now – though my lunch period ends in 5 minutes.

13 2/5 – I’ve spent all of 7th period trying to figure out exactly what needs to be changed and what doesn’t for compliance purposes. Usually the students are getting all the services they need, but the documentation doesn’t match up, so it’s a lot of getting all those ducks in a row. And the systems for doing it are, of course, not all neatly aligned and in one place.

14 4/15 – Just had to do some schedule changes with one of the guidance counselors and chatted with the AP of Special Education about next steps for the compliance process. Then I futzed around on the Internet for a bit because I’m running low on brain capacity. I was intending on staying late today to do work, but I’m not sure I have it in me, thanks to my lack of sleep last night.

14 1/3 – Official end of the school day.

14 4/5 – I made copies of the assignment that I’m going to do either tomorrow or Friday – I’m not sure yet. I had originally planned it for today, and thus made it yesterday, but decided yesterday to move in back in favor of Sweet Tooth. Based on how today went, I’m not sure I want to move forward to it – but I might also want to, as it might let me clarify some things in a new way rather than sitting on the same ideas in the same way.

Either way, I’m heading home now.

17 – Made it home. I took the long way around, playing Pokemon Go and getting a lot more walking in, and stopping for a snack at the taco cart. (I had wanted to go to the Chinese bakery, but ran across the taco cart first.) Now I’m checking up on e-mails that I got in the past 2 hours, and then I’ll probably watch some TV.

19 1/2 – Or wind up falling asleep. I guess I really needed that nap.

20 1/2 – I made a smoothie for dinner and now am working on my Interim Assessment – sorta like midterms that my school gives but we need to submit several weeks ahead of time. It’s a weird thing to me and I still don’t understand how/why it’s different from a normal test – especially for a course that is not taught by more than one teacher, such as my Calculus classes.

21 1/2 – I’m giving up the ghost on this one – I’ll work on it more in the morning. Luckily I’ll have time then since I’m already planned and copied for tomorrow. Now it’s time for maybe a little Ace Attorney 6, then bed.


  1. Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day. Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming. When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of? What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?Well, the decisions I made planning Sweet Tooth are documented above. My good decision today was probably in eating right, haha.
  2. Every person’s life is full of highs and lows. Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher. What are you looking forward to? What has been a challenge for you lately?I’m looking forward to settling into a routine. It’s started to come about – programming is starting to peter off (for now), but we have a lot of holidays disrupting the flow.
  3. We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is. As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students. Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.I went to a trivia night with some of my coworkers (they brought me in as a ringer). I got to know some of them better – one of my APs tried to purposely make two of us friends because we have a lot of interests in common.
  4. Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What have you been doing to work toward your goal? How do you feel you are doing?My Friday Letters, of course, have been helpful, but I’ve also tried to be more actively there. Some students invited me to see their volleyball game and I actually went, which was nice.
  5. What else happened this month that you would like to share?I caught a lot of Pokémon? September is always a work-heavy month, so not a lot outside of it.

Day in the Life: First Day

The day I signed up for in the DITL project was the 5th, but this month that was Labor Day. So I figured I’d write up both.

Monday, September 5th (Labor Day)

I woke up at 930. Not exactly a getting-ready-for-the-school-year time, but not, like, noon, so it’s fine. I roll up and get started on some chores – laundry and dishes. While the laundry goes I work on the blog post I wrote about teaching Integration first. Thinking through the post helped me solidify how I wanted to start the year in Calculus, so that was productive.

Laundry, however, took much longer than it should’ve because one person decided to split a single washer load into all three dryers and hog them for an hour. That gave me some time to start working on captioning the photos from my August trip. All the chores were done and we were ready to go around 1215. We grabbed some lunch and headed to the apartment of a friend of my boyfriend. There we played some video games (including the hilarious Ultimate Chicken Horse, a game where you lay traps that everyone has to race past and over to get to the finish, and the creepy Push Me Pull You). Then we played some board games (Coup Rebellion, Tokaido, and Alhambra). Around 730 we went for dinner at a nearby Japanese restaurant. Then the BF and I went home to get some rest for the big day tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 6th (First Day Teachers Report)

I had my alarm set for 7, but I woke up at 630 because I couldn’t sleep anymore. Anxious? Trepidation? Excitement? Who knows.

After getting frustrated with Facebook a bit because of the aforementioned subtitling, I got ready and caught a ride with my BF so I could get there by 8. There were bagels and fruit and tons of people excited to see each other. It made me miss my old LAD coworkers, as we’re all scattered to the winds after fleeing our previous school. I settled into a table in the library and found two more teachers new to the school. Of course, I’ve been here for 15 days over the summer working as the programmer, so I know some people fairly well, but there’s still so many new faces. And this school is over twice as big as my old one! So it’s a little overwhelming.

Around 830 my principal (who is also new to the school) does an introduction and talks a little bit about the instructional focus for the year. Then she introduced some key people like the APs, as well as the new teacher (there are 7 of us out of the 71 teachers on staff). After that the programming team and the guidance counselors were dismissed while the rest of the staff stayed for other procedures, announcements, and PD.

My coworker Luke, who was the programmer last year and has been working with me on it all summer, and I went down to our office and started to work on the final touches of the schedule  (as when I had left on Friday evening all the students had schedules).

Or so we thought.

I was working on mapping course codes (tying one class to another) and Luke was replying to some emails. But then we got more emails. And more. We had to send out a list of students without full programs to the guidance office so they could tell us what classes to give them. We had a teacher who didn’t have a schedule (because she is retiring in a month) in need of one. We had sudden changes in who was teaching certain classes that needed to be accommodated.

Around 1015, the meeting upstairs was on break, and so we started to get a lot of teachers popping into the programming office to make their requests in person. Often they were the results of typos, or information we didn’t know before (such as, say, Chemistry needing to be in a certain room for labs), or new students arriving that had to change classes around.

Around 11 I went and delivered the newest, most up to date teacher schedules I had to the meeting, as they were going to do a run-through of a school day to make sure no one was teaching the wrong amount or in two places at once (or two classes in the same place at once). Of course, lots of confusion and issues arose from that. I sent out a staff email to collect all of those issues and began hammering them out.

At 12 the school’s food services provided food for all the staff and faculty members in the cafeteria. Luke and I headed down and got some – it was pretty good for school food (though I felt the same way last year, too). I sat at a table with some people I hadn’t met yet and we chatted a little bit. But by 1230 it was back to programming.

By this time I finally got back to work on those mappings I had barely started in the morning. I finished those around 2 and did some final checks on the student schedules, but found out that a lot of changes made that day have caused overcrowding issues that we’d have to resolve. On top of that, the AP of Special Education came in to request the schedules of all of her students, so she could check they had the right services. I got those printed out and waited for her changes, as those would have a big effect.

Around 3 I noticed a big problem with the schedules of about 30 9th graders, so I had to really work on how to solve that problem, considering everything was so tight and locked up for most of the school’s schedule by now. During that time we were getting changes from the AP of SPED, throwing even more disorder into the process and I watched those “Students Partially Schedules” counter tick up higher and higher. Around 430 the AP who’s been in charge of programming came in and we ordered some sushi as a snack. By 530 we finally finished those SPED changes, and now had to make everything work again.

By 715 we were starting to hit a roadblock. 1120 students were fully scheduled, but 12 remained and we were just running out of spaces in the classes they needed. Luke and I took a short dinner break to Trader Joe’s, and I informed my trivia team that I would not be making it to trivia tonight.

Armed with a burrito and an egg salad, we set back into figuring out these final few students. We also worked on closing gaps that students may have had in there schedules. We tried a lot of different changes and were unsuccessful with many of them, but finally, at 945, every student was scheduled! We did some saving and tidying up and left the school at 10.

I walked to the subway (the bus is faster/shorter but I’d been sitting all day and needed the walk) and got home around 1115. Notice how I didn’t do anything with setting up my classroom or planning my courses! Luckily we have one more day before students arrive – I hope I can get some work in them.

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day. Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming. When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of? What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

There were some choices I made about the PE schedule that made most of the PE department angry. Part of it is because what I thought they wanted was not what they actually wanted. It should be mostly a solvable problem, though. I hope.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows. Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher. What are you looking forward to? What has been a challenge for you lately?

Since I’m starting at a new school, I’m looking forward to a fresh start in a new environment. And in a new building, like, literally new, built 7 years ago. My old school was built 150 years ago and felt like it. The challenge has come with not feeling like I’m prepared to teach because I’ve spent so much time with programming.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is. As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students. Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

Working with my coworker and AP over the summer I’ve been initiated into many of the in-jokes of the office and of the school, which has helped me feel more belonging for the school.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What is a goal you have for the year?

My major goal is to be more kind – and to have students see that. I’ve always care about my students and how they are doing, but I’m not always sure they pick up on that.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

Well, I traveled in August, which was nice. The 40 hours of plane rides and 10 hours of train rides were the only times I did prep work!

Things I’ve Changed This Year

When I think back on my first five years of teaching, I can identify big initiatives that I took and tried each year.

  • My first year – well, it was my first year, everything was new. But I was implementing stnadards-based grading as sorta my big thing.
  • My second year, I was very focused on interdisciplinary work, creating cross-curricular lessons with my colleagues, and implementing all this new 3-Act and other stuff I had just started to find on the internet.
  • My third year, I structured my class around math labs and introduce the interactive notebook after I learned about it at TMC12.
  • My fourth year, I overhauled my grading system.
  • My fifth year, I introduced the Standards of Practice portfolios as a way to grade on those standards and, thus, have them be valued in my class. To go along with that, I had a new way to give feedback, instead of writing grades on assignments.

And this year? My big initiative? I don’t have one. It’s felt weird. Every year these big things I was trying and perfecting felt like steps I was taking towards becoming a better teacher. And if I didn’t have one this year, was I stagnating?

No. (I say it confidently now, but it took a lot of reminding myself.) First of all, my big initiative this year was teaching Calculus and Geometry for the first time. I had taught Algebra I for the whole first 5 years of my career, and the bulk of my student teaching as well. Despite the switch to the Common Core curriculum, I was still very familiar with the ins and outs of the material, and that let me focus on other things. But teaching a new course is a lot! And two, twice as much!

But, even with that…I still tried new things, tuned things, had small initiatives. And these things matter! So I’m writing a list of new things I’ve done, to remind myself. And also to keep looking forward, for new initiatives – as Black Widow says, “There is no mastery, only constant improvement.”

  • I greet my students at the door every day with a high five.
  • With the other hand, I have them pick a card so they can find their seat with their visibly random grouping.
  • I put up new boards on my walls to have even more surfaces for the students, and designed lessons around using them, facilitating group collaboration more than usual.
  • Instead of saying “Ladies and Gentlemen” to address the class, I now say “Mathematicians” (or “Computer Scientists”), to keep a gender neutral term.
  • I swapped out the Name spot on my assignments for one that says Mathematician.
  • I had up a “Good Questions” bulletin board, after going to Rachel’s session on better questioning (couldn’t find a link for this one) for a while during the year.
  • And I’ve continued the initiatives from the last two years, which were raw in idea but are now becoming fully realized structures, as I find better and more sustainable ways to do them.

I bet you’ve done a lot this year, too. More than you realize.

When I First Learned about Privilege

During the slow Parent-Teacher Conferences tonight, some of my colleagues and I got into a discussion on privilege. We shared some things about our experiences, and I figured I could write up what I talked about for my #MTBoS30 post tonight.

I used to think racism didn’t exist anymore, that affirmative action was reverse racism, and other such things. On top of that, when I’d hear about things that certain groups faced, I would just counter with my own. My family was stolidly working class (though not as poor as when my oldest brother was growing up), my “summer camp” growing up was sitting in the public school cafeteria playing Connect Four, I’m queer and have faced my share of discrimination from that. Certainly not privileged, right?

When I went to Bard for grad school, one of the classes we took was called Identity, Culture, and the Classroom, taught by Michael Sadowski. There were a lot of interesting readings and deep sharing of stories in that class, but the single most powerful moment was when we did an activity about Peggy McIntosh’s Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.

Michael had us all go outside and stand in a line on the grass. As he read he had us look straight ahead and, if the sentence was true for us, take one step forward. As he went down the list, there were a lot of items I did not step forward for because of the aforementioned class and LGBT spheres. At first, I felt like this supported my feelings, as I watched much of the class pull far ahead of me.

When Michael had finished, he told us to look around. At this point, I was about halfway across the grass. Ahead of me all the way of the front were all of the other White students. To my side, about level with me, was my friend Jack, who is Asian.  And then I looked behind me and, back at the start, were all the Black and Hispanic students in the class.

In that moment, the idea of intersectionality suddenly became clear. Sure, I may have not been privileged in some domains, but I was privileged in others, and this was a physical representation of that fact. It felt like my eyes were opened and I saw the world as it really is, and I haven’t closed them since.

Talking to my colleagues, it seems they had similar experiences, so I know mine isn’t unique or particularly noteworthy. My one colleague was fascinated that I grew up in Queens (the most diverse area on the planet), went to the schools that I did (middle, high, and college), and it still took until I was 23 for this idea to get through to me.


This is the first year I’ve taught seniors. Well, more specifically, seniors who did not need my class to graduate, as I’ve had seniors in algebra and CS before. Whereas my challenge with 9th graders was their maturity level and showing them the norms of behavior in our high school, with the seniors it’s fighting against the (frankly, correct) decision they have made that the work we are doing is kinda unnecessary. This is compounded by the fact that calculus is kinda hard, which makes it easy to disengage. (The APCS class at least had the AP exam as motivation, but now with that past, I have to create a whole month’s worth of motivation.) This probably isn’t helped by the fact that calculus has no set end point that we “need” to get to – we get as far as we get, though I have certain personal goals. So the pace and the effort levels have been low key all year. Now they just want me to pass them all because they are graduating, even though we having even finished the second of three marking periods. So that’s my current struggle.

The Silent Treatment

Sometimes I just have one of those classes. (Well, we all do.) The behavior’s not been that bad, really, not at first. But it slowly slips away from me. I need to do something to get things back on track, because none of the other little course corrections I’ve been making have been working. So I turned to something I’ve done less than a handful of times before – I gave the whole class the silent treatment.

I first did it my first year of teaching, out of actual despair at how I felt I was being treated. That day, with that class, I wrote them a letter explaining how I felt and what I was doing and projected it onto the board. They felt bad, but were only marginally better. The next day it continued, they realized I meant it, and it got better.

Now I don’t really take it to heart, but I still think it is an effective thing to do. When students talk over for you, most often they take it for granted that someone else heard and can explain it, or that I’ll come over and explain it to them personally, or various other reasons. Those all come to relief when I stop talking.

They came in today and I handed out their cards for their seats, but no high fives today, which was the first omen. Then I went around and serenely place a written task in front of each of them. One student, at this point, says “Why are you so calm?!? It’s making me mad!” That was unexpected.

I got through the rest of the class with a mixture of gestures, pointing, and writing on the desks. Often a student would ask me the same question another student already did, so I would point them to what I wrote on the other student’s desk. Some of the students tried to take charge and guide the class through getting on task, but only with moderate success. Many students begged me to talk to them. Then, at the end of the period, I verbally wished them a good day, which they all took with a breath of relief.

One thing that sticks with me, though, was how this made it clear that I talk way too much in class. And I didn’t even think I talked that much! But left without my guiding words, students had to struggle with the task on their own, knowing that I would be of only limited help. It made me realize that maybe I’ve been too quick to help recently, and I need to pare it back (though my students would certainly argue the opposite). But I took that feeling to heart and, in the subsequent class, I decided I would still keep my talking to a minimum (though I did talk occasionally).

So maybe it’s something to keep in mind, even without the classroom management angle – when my words were few, each one had more meaning.

A Better Day

Today went so much better than yesterday it’s hard to believe. I think the real problem was that I forgot to give them new seats yesterday, as I had intended, because my bag of numbers to randomly assign them had gone missing. Today, not only did they have new seat, but they also had a real desire to figure out what they hell went wrong yesterday, because I had asked them all to do as much as the assignment as possible for homework and pretty much no one in the class figured it out correctly. But because of that, we got to experience the benefit of using a table and all the kinds of information you could find in one, we got to transform functions and explain what they mean in a situation, and I got to actually work with several groups of students without going nuts. So maybe the assignment wasn’t actually that bad, and yesterday was just off. We’ll see how tomorrow goes.