Finding the Good in a Weird Year

I’ve been trying for awhile to write a post about this school year. It’s been a very strange year for so many reasons. That’s a lot of why you haven’t seen as many posts from me this year. I’m trying to finish out the year strong in the spirit of #onegoodthing and finding the silver lining moments in all that has happened. So, first, a brief outline of why this year has been weird:

  • moving classrooms up a floor
  • two new math teachers in our department of four
  • district cuts of 85 teachers and many support staff members (including one of those new math teachers, and moving the other one)
  • seven snow days, six shortened schedule days due to weather, resulting in:
  • an extended schedule beginning in March with 20 minute longer days
  • removing our student early release Wednesdays for staff meetings (so we haven’t had a staff meeting since February)
  • new standardized testing completed on chromebooks for the first time this year
  • finishing grad school
  • Various district level issues
  • downtown being at major flood stage for a record breaking 51 days, and breaking Flood of 1993 crest records
  • implementing standards based grading practices, including being the only school in the district to do so for Algebra 2 and Geometry this year
  • our school being named a comprehensive school in need of improvement by the Every Student Succeeds Act

So. To my good things.

I finish my master’s in July! I am so excited to be done, but I can truly and honestly say that I have learned so much in this program: lots of mathematics, and lots about being a better teacher. I have really enjoyed most of the classes, even though they’ve resulted in at least one major mental breakdown every semester I’ve been in the program due to all the added work and stress. I also have many new teacher friends across the state that I hope will be lifelong partners in this teaching journey. I’m really looking forward to walking across the stage with a bunch of them in December and celebrating our hard work and accomplishments.

I’ve gotten to teach our little alternative high school’s first ever section of Pre-Calculus this year. We’ve sent a couple kids to other schools in the district or done independent studies before, but it’s the first time we’ve had enough students ready for advanced math to offer a class period of it! I’ve enjoyed the challenge of teaching new, advanced material, and the group I get to teach it to are just delightful humans. When I’m teaching that class, I really feel like we’re a team, instead of me being the teacher and them being the students.

Although the ins and outs of things like actually putting scores into Campus, getting used to how to score things consistently with rubrics, having rubrics and assessments that don’t really match up quite yet, and explaining a new grading system to students and parents have all been quite frustrating in our standards based grading implementation, there are DEFINITELY amazing things happening because of it. First, even if students are super grade focused, it’s eventually sunk in for most of them that their grade represents how much they understand of the content. So they know that if their grade is lower than they want, they need to ask for more help. Second, they can try again! It’s building a growth mindset in my students. And, during fourth quarter, I’ve been running mini reteaching sessions during our intervention period and students have been earning 3’s on standards they got 1’s on originally way back in first quarter, all because they have shown me that they understand it now. And the fact that now I get to give them credit for that is awesome. My Algebra 2 kids are even really starting to take responsibility for self monitoring their learning and making sure they ask the questions they need and get help before retaking assessments, and being able to identify their weaknesses really well. (Still working with the Algebra 1 kids on that)

With all the teacher changes in the district, we are down to 3 instead of 4 math teachers next fall. Myself and one other have both been at Mid City the whole time I’ve been teaching (she’s actually been there longer than me). The third is a new to us teacher who has been teaching at the other alternative program in the district, which is for behavior disorder students and students in extenuating situations with the courts. He has been part of our group for several professional development district wide math days and we love him! He’s super enthusiastic about teaching and getting better at teaching, and he definitely has the heart for our population. So I’m excited for him to teach in our building next year. Also, I’m very excited that the schedule for next year worked out so that for the FIRST TIME EVER in my teaching career, I will be teaching the same courses next year as I am this year. I’m very excited to not be constantly preparing brand new materials, and to get to focus on developing the weak points in my Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Pre-Calculus teaching!

Also, throughout this year, I’ve gotten to watch several of my former students achieve great successes in their lives. One is at college majoring in aerospace engineering (literal rocket scientist!!!), one continues to have a great welding job at John Deere and is great to chat with whenever I run into him, one was named to a list of 100 high schoolers to know in the country, one has been saving up money and is planning to go back to school in the fall, one I run into all the time with her almost three year old child and she is a great mom, and more and more. I love seeing them all pop up on facebook or running into them around town and seeing how they’re forming their own journeys. I’m very excited to see where some of my seniors graduating in a couple weeks go next and continue to just be so proud of them every day.

Now it’s time to push through to the end of this strange year, hit reset over the summer, and come back ready for more next year!


Book Recommendations (Vol. 09)

Uh, oops? I forgot to write a book recommendations post in March.

Better late than never? I think this got lost somewhere in the seven snow days and six shortened days we had due to weather in January and February…

You can read previous posts from this series here:

Vol. 01 | Vol. 02 | Vol. 03 | Vol. 04 | Vol. 05 | Vol. 06 | Vol. 07 | Vol. 08

So, going back to March, I had read 16 books, and a lot of them were EXCELLENT. Hard to choose five, but I’m selecting ones that are maybe outside the usual a bit.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost – Rebecca Solnit

I read this for the Life’s Library book club, which has been an incredible addition to my reading life. The four books I’ve read so far for the club have been ones I never would have picked up if I weren’t subscribed to the club and have been world-expanding and incredible reads. I highly recommend participating, which you can do in many ways – just get the books on your own and read along, get just the extra materials that go along with reading, or get a copy of the book and some little items along with reading materials!

Anyways, in this one Solnit writes about getting lost. We can be lost in so many ways: geographically, in our life path, in relationships, not understanding things. Cultures or ideas can be lost to the world or memories can be lost by being forgotten. We can lose opportunities, or objects, or parts of ourselves. She writes about each of this with such vivid brushstrokes. You’ll start reading one of the sections and be reading about some historical idea of the color blue, and you will have no idea about how it relates to anything, and then suddenly several pages later it all comes back together. Her writing is lovely and enveloping, and this will make you consider yourself and what you have lost and how you are lost for weeks after you finish it.

Math With Bad Drawings – Ben Orlin

If you’ve followed me on twitter for any length, you will have seen Ben Orlin‘s mathwithbaddrawings blog. It is, as it seems, an explanation of mathematical ideas accompanied by bad drawings (think stick people and simple outlines). The book is a cohesive, full length version of the blog that takes you through several different branches of mathematics with bad drawings.

Orlin is a master math communicator. I love the blog because his explanations and the drawings that accompany them make many ideas, histories, and even jokes of mathematicians accessible to those who wouldn’t consider themselves mathematicians. His writing includes history of mathematics, explanations of ideas, controversies, and jokes. Many math jokes. I loved every single second of reading this book. Some sections of it may make appearances in my classroom as introductions to concepts. He practically applies mathematics to real world things, and not in the way that happens in a lot of classrooms but in a real, no nonsense, this is actually how the math shows up in life way. I think every math teacher needs to read this, and every science teacher, and….everyone. It’s also just a stunning volume that would have a perfect home on your coffee table or prominently displayed on your best bookshelf.

Miles Morales: Spider-Man – Jason Reynolds

Miles attends Brooklyn Visions Academy on a scholarship. He’s been pretty annoyed by his history teacher lately, has a crush on this girl he’s too nervous to talk to, and is trying to keep his scholarship and a good relationship with his parents. Oh, and he’s Spider-Man.

If you’ve been reading this recommendation posts for awhile, you’ve seen many Jason Reynolds books at this point. The man is a genius. I recently got to see him speak at our local library and cry at him a bit as a thank you for sharing stories that represent my students. This is another one of those – we get a story about a normal everyday black kid who also happens to be a superhero. What I loved most about this was that for much of the story, the Spider-Man stuff was background information. Yes, there is a big battle scene at the end, but for a lot of the book, we’re seeing Miles the student, the son, the friend. The every day parts of being a super hero. Also, if you loved Into the Spiderverse as much as I did, I know you’ll enjoy reading more of Miles’ story.

Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeyemi

Years ago, the king took the magic from the people of Orisha. He killed the maji and left the people living in fear and poverty. But Zelie finds a secret: the magic isn’t really gone. Can she find a way to bring it back to her people before it’s too late?

This book is magical, literally and figuratively. You are immediately drawn into the question of what happened to the magic of the people of Orisha, and develop a quick hate for the monarchy that oppresses them. There are twists and turns and adventures of all sorts as they quest to restore the magic before the date when it will be gone forever. But perhaps the best part of this one is the masterful underpinnings which reflect societal issues we’re facing today. Adeyemi sneakily makes you think about these things while you think you’re reading a fantasy – there’s no way to read the book without confronting some hard issues. I can’t wait for the next book in the series, because this one left off in a fascinating place in terms this subtext (and also in the fantasy world as well).

Tale of a No-Name Squirrel – Radhika R. Dhariwal

Squirrel is just a slave – the last slave in Bimmau, in fact – until he attends a wedding and everything gets weird. He discovers a riddle to unearth his past, and embarks on a series of adventures to reveal his true name.

A friend got me this because I love squirrels, they’re my favorite animal. She didn’t know anything about the book when she got it for me. It turned out to be one of the most purely fun books I’ve read in awhile. I was obsessed with the Redwall books by Brian Jacques in elementary school. I just did a reread of them a few years ago and loved them as an adult. This has the flavor of Redwall to it. Puzzles, riddles, and adventures of animals. What I especially loved about this was that it has an ENTIRE PUZZLE FOR YOU TO SOLVE YOURSELF in it. Like, pause the book, do this puzzle, then start reading again. Ask some of my coworkers who were there when I was reading this in a break during a professional development day and discovered that puzzle and had just a moment of visceral joy. I just had so much fun reading it and I loved the character of Squirrel and his friends, and of course the messaging of good vs evil and the perils of power. It seriously reads like a sillier, more modern, shorter Redwall.

Stay tuned for another book post in, like, a month, which hopefully I won’t forget about!