Friday, June 26, 2015

The most bittersweet of announcements

Well, friends, I did something today I couldn't have imagined myself doing just a month ago.  I interviewed for a new job.  This school year things were rough and many of my teammates left for a variety of reasons.  I seized on the opportunity to apply for a math teacher specialist position in my county knowing that it would be easier on me emotionally to change schools when so many of my friends were doing the same thing. There were positions at both high schools in the county and the middle school I don't currently work at.

My interview was scheduled at 11:30.  I was a bundle of nerves waiting around all morning for 11:30.  I live about 0.2 mile from the board of ed, so I didn't even really have to factor in drive time!  I arrived about 15 minutes early (just in case?) and was taken back to do my writing prompt right away.  Martha explained, "They just want to see that you can communicate."  My thought: They hired me 7 years ago so I certainly hope I can communicate!  With that completed, I went back to the waiting room for a few minutes.  The receptionist, bless her, was making small talk with her the whole time.  Totally took my mind off the waiting factor.  :)

The math supervisor came out to get me for the interview.  I had 6 interviewers- the supervisor, 3 principals, an incoming AP and an outgoing AP.   They had just 5 questions for me pertaining to how I plan a lesson, how I would plan PD, and how I would use assessment data.  I did that thing where I talked entirely too fast and left out 3/4 of what I had rehearsed in my brain.  Ugh. 

They asked me for questions and I tried to nail down what expectations each building principal had for me.  Essentially, they all want an instructional coach who is in classrooms daily, observing lessons, modeling good teaching, and working with teachers to improve their practices.  Yes!  That's exactly what I want to do. The most interesting follow up question was about how I would build rapport with the teachers. (This will be a key hurdle; many of the teachers I'll be working with are well past 20 years of teaching.  Their own children are around my age.)

My supervisor walked me out of the interview room.  "You did a good job," she said.  "I'll be calling you at the beginning of next week.  Congratulations."  My immediate thought was that she probably should not be congratulating me yet!  The interview panel still had to decide.  

I left the interview at 12:15.  I came home, called my parents briefly to give them the run down, and headed out to the grocery store for a few items.  At 1:40 while I was unpacking the groceries, the phone started ringing.  The head of HR was on the phone to offer me the job at the high school that my school feeds into.  It was such a whirlwind; I had only left the interview room about 90 minutes earlier!  I accepted. 

I've learned so much and made wonderful friendships with my colleagues at LMS.  I'm honestly sad to leave them.  However, given all of the changes that have happened at LMS over the past year, I felt like I was in a place where I could make the transition to a new position.  I am excited for the new opportunity but sad to leave behind good friends and the stability of actually teaching the same courses again for the 3rd year in a row!  I cannot wait to implement positive changes to help my former students while they are high school students. 

So, MTBoS, I need your help.  Could you please answer these questions?
1. If you are a teacher, what support would you welcome from an instructional coach?
2. How would you suggest a teacher specialist make inroads with teachers who are not eager to try new instructional practices or to share what they are doing?

Mathematically yours,
Miss B

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer is here!

Coming off my most draining school year of my career, I'm so happy to say that it's finally summer!  This school year was difficult more so for the personal challenges than for professional ones, however the line between personal and professional was quite blurry this year.  I also took on a new challenge or two that contributed to the chaos. Here's a recap of my year since my blog has been quiet this year. 

When the school year started, I agreed to be my grade level's team leader.  There are 14 teachers in 8th grade, plus our ELL teacher, guidance counselor, and AP attended the meetings.  I enjoyed the task of organizing our agenda and (usually) running an efficient meeting that stayed on topic.  We met almost every Monday for about 30 minutes.  In all, I think I did a good job, but I'd like to see us nominate a secretary next year and keep electronic minutes that we can share with anyone who is absent or with admin as needed.  I wanted to do so this year, but it didn't happen at the beginning of the year, so it didn't happen period. 

I switched classrooms.  This was 90% a good thing.  I love having windows and an exterior door.  My mood improves just by seeing daylight, unlike in my old room that was windowless.  I also liked being back from the hallway; I got to be blissfully unaware of some of the drama of 8th grade because my hall duty was minimal.  The things I missed about my old room were my magnetic whiteboard, getting to know all of the students on hall duty, and my awesome next-door-neighbor.  The two of us just "get" each other and it was easy to give a knowing look between classes, bounce lesson ideas off of each other on the fly, or swap difficult students into the other room for a few minutes when a time-out was needed.   Not that my new neighbor wasn't great; he was.  I just have a great bond with the other teacher and I miss being right there next to her. 

I found a house in August, just as school was starting.  I closed at the end of September, had significant work done, and moved in just prior to Thanksgiving.  Between packing, paperwork, unpacking, and coping with the challenges posed by a 60+ year old house, I probably doubled my workload this year. 

Back in December, I had a medical issue that resulted in surgery in January.  As I was going in for the surgery, we got a call that my grandmother was not doing well.  I was able to make it back to see her before she passed two days later.  For someone who usually has perfect or near-perfect attendance at school, this year marked more absences than the previous 6 years combined. 

As spring came, we got some bad news about a couple of colleagues at school.  One 8th grade teacher's husband passed away following a surgery.  They were looking forward to her retirement this June so they could spend more time together (he was already retired).  Connie, a history teacher on my team, passed away rather suddenly from a relapse of her cancer.  She'd battled it twice before, once in 2009 and once in 2012.  This time, it was too much.  Her passing left a huge whole in the team. 

So, it's been a tumultuous year.  I've been in a funk since December/January when I got sick and Mommom passed, and I don't think I ever really emerged back to my happy self.  I'm looking to summer to reenergize me and help me reframe things in a positive light. 

To that end, a little something happy.  :)  You deserve it, too, if you've read this far!

I'm taking a grad class right now on Differentiated Instruction.  Let me start by saying it's a required class for my Master's and it wouldn't have been my first choice.  It's been very good, though.  We met last weekend and will meet again this weekend to finish the class.  I'm really getting a more positive view of differentiation than I had before.  It's still going to be a lot of work to do some of the things proposed, liked tiered assignments, but I'm also already doing much more differentiation than I ever realized.  

One of the activities proposed was called "cubing."  From the name, I had no idea what this could be.  Turns out, it's just using dice.  Haha!  It was suggested that we personalize dice with questions and have students roll to decide which questions they would answer.  You can allow them to pass once if you like.  Anyway, I had remembered seeing "Cool Cubes" in Teacher's Discovery catalog.  I wanted them last year when I saw them, but I didn't think they were worth $16.95 for 4.  I hit up Dollar Tree and my laminator and made my own.  My grad class friends are each going to get one, my little gift for making this class enjoyable (and so much more than my last grad class).

Here's what you'll need to do:
1. Pick up some foam dice from Dollar Tree.  These might be hard to find, so try a couple stores if you need to.  I thought they were discontinued because they've been dwindling in my local stores over the past year.  I had to dig under dinosaur hats to find these.  Good news: if you want a bunch, they're available online.  You could probably ask your store to stock them if you want less than 36 packs. 
Not fuzzy.

2. Laminate a piece of cardstock.  This will be your erasable surface, so white or a light color makes the most sense. 
Nerdy Teacher.  Best $17.99 on Amazon ever.
3. Punch/cut out the laminated paper sized to fit the dice.  I used a 1.75" circle punch from my scrapbooking tools.  If you don't have one, consider if your school has a suitable die on an Ellison machine (like the middle of the letter O) or if you have a crafty friend/parent volunteer who could help.  Free handing is also an option but I'm too much of a perfectionist for that. 
Scrapbooking supplies are always good for math
4. Adhere the laminated paper to the dice.  I used some photo squares that I had.  Double sided tape would be great.  Just look for something permanent instead of removable or you'll be replacing the tape often.  Then, break out your wet-erase markers.  I knew there was a reason I kept them long after the days of overhead projectors in my classroom. 
Under $3 investment!

I'm going to use these in my French class with some of our most common questions.
In math, can see myself using questions about functions, giving the students in a group each a different sheet of 4-6 graphs, equations, tables, etc to consider.  My questions would be, "Identify functions with slope > 2," or "Compare your 1st function with your neighbor's 1st function,"  or "Which has the smallest initial value?"

Other ideas:
If you're trying to be more efficient, you can type up your list of questions, number them 1-6, hand out the list to students, and use regular dice.  Less fun, but just as effective. 
Put vocabulary on the dice, have students take turns defining or drawing each term.

How have you used so-called "cubing" in your classroom?