Posted by: Magistra | June 6, 2008

One Down, 19 To Go

That’s how another first year teacher put it today, and I think it sounds right.

As a student teacher I lucked out. Not only did I have two supportive cooperating teachers, I had two departments of teachers who wanted me to succeed and repeatedly told me I was headed in the right direction. At the end, I received lots of advice and heard many first year stories. The one I keep holding on to is that it may feel like they’re not learning anything, but it’s not true. Learning is happening. Maybe more learning will happen later, but learning is happening.

I hope learning happened this year. I keep seeing all the things I want to do better for them next year, but I think some learning happened.


The best entry in my yearbook: “Magistra, You’re a cool teacher! I can’t believe I’m going to say this…this is hard for me, but…you made me like math class! I hope I see you next year! Thank you!”


Tomorrow, I join a group of teachers on a wine tour. I don’t think there are better post-school plans than that.

Posted by: Magistra | April 17, 2008


I was asked today if I was interested in being Math Dept. chair next year. Our department chair was out this week and we were supposed to meet. For sending two emails, taking notes, and loosely facilitating a meeting, I made myself look like department chair material. (Which, along with the fact that five of us were hired this year, points to the state of Denmark.)

It makes me want to laugh that a first year teacher truly could become department chair in her second year. I do love that our school has a very young staff (I refer not only to age but more importantly to teaching experience), so there’s no “you must wait 5 years and then we’ll give you the good classes” kind of thing happening. I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t interested. I have the organization and people skills to be good at this. I just think I’d be better with a little more familiarity with the school. So I think I’m going to try to deflect. But the flattery feels good. :-)

Posted by: Magistra | April 7, 2008


We’re quadraticing in Algebra and it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Maybe I just had such low expectations (honestly, I thought it was going to be a return to the black hole of 2nd quarter) that anything seems like success. I’m not saying we have a deep conceptual understanding or are independently fluent with solving quadratics, but we’re graphing and we’re factoring. We’ve gone from using the physical manipulative (algebra tiles) to an abstract note-organizer (introduced to me as a “diamond” although it looks more like an “x”). The students who are moving with me are doing okay. And that group includes a couple occasional participants, so I’m feeling good. Next step: completing the square.

And, if there’s an Algebra teacher out there, you have to play catch. They get the two solutions, they get the shape of the curve, they get that there are different curves, and they get why we pay attention to the x-axis. And I didn’t even do the lesson that well. “Here, take this koosh ball. Play catch. Come up with three different curves.” (It was almost that bad.) I’m tempted to do it again when we talk more about the vertex and the discriminant. I also hear “walking the line” gets the job done for the vertex.

Posted by: Magistra | April 6, 2008

Where do they go?

Where do you send students who can’t be in class at that moment? You know, the ones who refuse to stop talking, or won’t put their cell away, or whatever.

We’ve got a detention room on campus, and I’ve certainly used it. But when I tell a student that in order to remain in class x, y, or z needs to stop, I hate hearing, “Just send me to [detention room]. I want to go to [detention room].” There is something wrong if students are asking to be sent out of class.

I’ve got an understanding with some of the teachers around me and sometimes we send students to each other. Other times, I ask the student to step outside and briefly conference with me before coming back. My new focus has been on getting them to identify what the problem is and why, from my perspective, it is a problem. But the reality is these problems arise in my two classes when I am least likely to feel like I have the time to talk to an individual. (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my two “toughest” classes are my two biggest – 34 students each)

The big picture is to do all those things (greet them at the door, demonstrate consistency, be respectful while being firm, etc.) that help avoid these situations. Big picture, I know I need to keep working on “student engagement” and on continuing to break concepts down into attainable pieces. (I don’t agree with everything Kohn says, but his basic point that curriculum is classroom management makes sense to me.) But right now I want a better small picture.

Two weeks to CST’s…

Posted by: Magistra | April 3, 2008

Spring Conditioning

You know the problem with Spring Break? It got me totally out of shape. I am exhausted this week. It’s hard to get up in the morning, my feet are hurting like they haven’t hurt since August (really should have gone for the not-as-cute-but-much-more-comfortable shoes on Monday), my throat feels like sandpaper, it takes 10 minutes to decide what to wear every night (when it should take 30 seconds max), and I’m getting that quitin’ time feeling at 3:30.

Posted by: Magistra | April 2, 2008

Playing Catch

Today we started *Darth Vader theme music* quadratics in Algebra. Naturally, we played catch. I was a little too unstructured in my directions, but walking around, most students could answer my questions without prompting.

  • How can you change the curve? “Throw it higher.” “Throw it harder/longer.”
  • How can you change the starting value? “Throw it overhand [instead of underhand].” “Stand on the stairs.”
  • Can we change the end value? “Don’t catch it.”

The original plan was to do this behind the cafeteria, there being no students in the cafeteria to distract. Only the maintenance guy was out, blowing the cut grass somewhere. Frankly, I think quadratics take precedence over yard waste, but what really got me was that he didn’t talk to me. He told my students to tell me we had to go somewhere else. But that’s not a fight I’m going to pick with 32 9th graders holding projectile objects. So we moved to the fire lane behind our row of portables. I only caught two girls trying to talk through the window to a friend, and every teacher says it wasn’t a problem when I went by later to apologize (frankly, I think this says more about my colleagues than our conduct).

My freshman father (who, unfortunately, has bigger things to deal with than “just” being a father) said today wasn’t boring and maybe even a little fun. I doubt he’s going to pull out credit from this semester (although his attendance is up, so we’ve got a fighting chance), but I’m glad he had fun. I don’t think there’s a lot of time in his life spent on innocent fun like playing catch.

Posted by: Magistra | April 1, 2008

Nine Weeks

Nine weeks to go. Three weeks ’til CST’s, then one week of testing. Take away another week for Finals, and that leaves 4 weeks of time to do something. I’m looking forward to that, especially in Geometry. We can design a garden and, if this grant money really is there, actually help construct it. We can create tessellations and put a mural on the outside of my classroom. We can design a bomb shelter and build a model to scale (I’m pretty sure they’ll be doing WWII in World Civ). We can write and illustrate our own English/Spanish Geometry glossaries. We can design and play our own board games and puzzles. We can build bridges with triangles and sqaures and arches and test them to see which is the strongest. There’s got be a great extension of proofs too that I’m just not seeing right now.

In Algebra, I think I’ll dust off my polling background and refine a project I did last year. In English, students will be working on persuasive essays, so my next door neighbor (their English teacher) and I are going to try to make what we do in Algebra relevant to what their English topic is. It’d be a whole lot easier if we truly were small learning communities with 100% the same students, but we’re not. Such is life. Actually, to hoot my own horn, I think we’ve gotten pretty good at designing stand alone activities that are relevant for all students and more enriching for our common students. Not bad for two first year teachers.

And I only have three weeks to get through before, for better or worse, the testing monkey is off my back.

Older Posts »