Monday, November 21, 2016

Running on the Hamster Wheel (#DITLife Post 6)

Around this time of year I feel like this...


Except this little hamster is at least taking a few seconds to breath on occasion.  My goal was to post on October 25th, but that date came and went.  Two weeks ago I was getting by teaching on a day-to-day basis.  I knew my content and how I wanted to teach it, but this was what my lesson plan book looked like for that week - at the end of the week!

Now it is November 21st and I have had enough.  I actually need to stop for a moment and reflect.  

Today was Grandparents' Day at school and I had my lessons planned for interactivity between grandparents and their grandkids.  I arrive at school ready to tackle the day when I see a note on my desk to myself.  (Notes like this one litter my desk throughout the year.) Julia took the test on Friday.  "Oh no!" (Actually, I said something other than "no".) I was to write a Probability & Statistics test over the weekend so that Anya could take it early.  E period was at 2:00.  Surely, I would have time to write a test by then.  Let me check my schedule...
8:00 - 8:40 Period A Prob/Stats

8:45 - 9:25 Period C PreCalculus

9:35 - 10:45 Chapel 
Perhaps 10 minutes to work on it?? No, I need to check on a colleague to make sure he is set to do Desmos Marbleslides after chapel. And I need to get to chapel early to be sure I am seated near the front.  I am leading a responsive reading in chapel.

10:50 - 11:25 Period B
Super!  I don't teach period B.  But wait, I need to pick up my daughter at the orthodontist.  She is getting her braces off today.

11:30 - 12:05 Period F Geometry Honors
12:05 - 12: 40 Lunch 
12:40 - 1:15 Period F Geometry Honors

1:20 - 1:55 Period D PreCalculus

2:00 - 2:35 Period E - Anya's taking the test!
Looks like I need to get this done in the next 15 minutes or get a box lunch and finish it over lunch.

I use the online teacher resources for The Practice of Statistics (5th edition) to quickly cull questions for a test - eight multiple choice, one free response from an old AP Stat exam and two other short answer questions that look good.  Normally, I would take two or three days to put the test together, create an answer key under timed conditions, revise the test and then copy it for my students. (If it takes me 8-10 minutes to complete, students should be able to take the test in 40 minutes or less.)  Rather than copying and pasting into a word document, I use the "old school" method - scotch tape and scissors.  Working between class periods, the test is ready around 1:15.

While Anya takes the test, I create the answer key for the test and then create a homework answer key.  I scan this as a pdf and then email it to my stat students with a reminder to show up at 7:50 for the test. (Classes are 30 minutes tomorrow due to a half-day of school.  Rather than waiting until the Tuesday after Thanksgiving Break to take the test, my students voted to come into school 10 minutes early to take the test before Thanksgiving.)

At 2:40, I quickly scan some emails and comment on a google doc about potential changes to the bell schedule for next year.  After about 10 minutes, I decide that I have had enough for today.  I grab my coat and music folder for my walk over to Snyder House.  There I get to be a part of 100 students, singing songs to prepare for the Vespers service in a few weeks.  When I leave the room around 3:20, one of the college counselors sees me and asks if I was singing with chorale.  When I respond affirmatively, she says something like, "Good for you.  Taking time to care for the soul."  That is also what this blog is doing for me right now.  I am getting off the hamster wheel for at least an hour or so.

And now for the #DITLife reflection questions. 

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?

The move I am proud of happened in Geometry Honors.  We had a triangle drawn with two sides being trisected.  This created three parallel segments.  One student asked if the longest segment was three times the shortest segment.  Rather than saying "Yes" or "No" outright, I called this idea "Angelica's conjecture".  We looked at several numerical examples to see if it was true and eventually saw that algebraically the conjecture would always be true.  I need to remember to pull this example back out when we begin to talk about similar triangles.

The move that wasn't ideal was creating the test at the last minute rather than spending more time thoughtfully planning it. In addition, the student only had 35 minutes for the test due to shortened class periods.  It may not seem like 5 minutes is a large difference, but it is 12.5% of class time.  When she handed in the test, I asked if she could stick around for 5 more minutes, but she said that she couldn't because of something going on in her next class.  ***

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?

A recent high was parent teacher conferences. They happened about 2 weeks ago. All the parents were receptive to suggestions to help their child improve. The challenge will be finding the time to get lessons ready and grading done over the next few weeks. After the parent teacher conferences, I noted 11 different meeting times I had set with students each week. Each of those meetings will be 30-40 minutes long. Another challenge will be finding the time to visit colleagues as part of the peer observation #observeme challenge. I have observed four peers this year, but my goal is to observe eighteen before the school year ends.

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 have been having more relational moments with colleagues this year.  It has been a rough time for many people around me at school for a variety of reasons.  I like to solve problems and want to help, but I don't have the experience or answers needed to take on many of my colleagues' personal challenges.  My only tools are perception, empathy and being a sounding board. 

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? 

One of my goals has been to read a book on questioning skills and then apply what I learn to my classroom.  I was to read most of the book before the end of November.  I have not opened the book yet.  Perhaps I will have time to read a chapter or two over Thanksgiving break.

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

One of my most fun moments in the past month happened on Saturday night.  We have a Guatemalan exchange student staying with us for about 8 weeks.  She had never seen snow before.  We got just enough snow on Saturday night to stick to the window and hood of my husband's car.  My daughter, Cassie, and I took María Inés outside to show her the snow.  As she grabbed some snow with her bare hands, her excitement and joy was fun to watch. We ended up having an impromptu snowball fight and Cassie recorded us as we squealed and laughed between pelts of snow.

*** Postscript: December 7th - I allowed the student to do a retest after reviewing the questions with me.  She admitted that she rushed through the last few problems and after we had a discussion about the questions she missed, I wanted her to have a chance to prove herself again.  There is one other student in the class that I am giving this same opportunity to.  Doing re-tests is not something I do with everyone or something that I do often.

Allowing students to do retests for all tests would mean an additional hour per test re-written, 2 hours for grading, 1 day of missed class time (or spending time before school, after school or during planning periods to proctor the tests).  That equates to at least 3 hours per test x 4 classes x 12 tests per year or 144 hours of additional work.  The equivalent of extending my school year by 3.5 weeks. (Assuming a workweek is 40 hours/week.)  In life you can re-take tests as much as you want.  You can take your driver's exam as much as you want, but you pay each time.  There is a monetary incentive to passing your exam on the first try.  Offering retakes for every test all the time would mean that there would be no incentive for students to do their best the first time.

(I know what I have stated goes contrary to Standards-Based Grading.  I would love to hear how some teachers manage the paperwork and minimize the "I don't have to try on the first test" attitude.)