Hope enters

A parent called me today in the middle of class. I can count on my two hands how many times a parent has called me. Emailed? Hundreds. But called? Hardly ever. 

I told him I was in class but that I would have a five-minute break during passing period at 9:20 so to call back then.

He did. He and I have a good relationship, I believe. He’s thanked me many times for keeping him informed of his child’s progress. When he insisted his child drop all AP classes at semester, he allowed the student to stay in calculus after some coaxing on my part. I believe in what calculus education can do for a child, and–as haughty as this sounds–I believe in what I can do for a child. [1]

This parent was calling to get my take on whether or not I believed his child could pass the AP Exam. I told him that his student passed the Mock, so while I never make guarantees, I was certainly optimistic about his child’s performance. He asked about some other things and we talked through them. He ended with, “Well, this is all really good news.”

It was the first time I had heard him proud of his child. I’ve had meetings and email exchanges and now a phone call with this parent. And this was the first time I heard a sense of relief flood this father’s tone. 

Calculus did that, y’all. Gave a frustrated parent something to be proud of. 

We’re doing it. This thing called teaching is so freaking hard (read my footnote below). It can be so discouraging and lacking in so much respect. We give and give and give and they take and take and take. 

But then you hear this relief in this single parent’s voice. And you remember: yes, we give because we have a responsibility to give and because it fills our souls. 

As I read today in She Reads Truth (Mourning and Dancing):

Because He has solidarity with us, we can offer solidarity to the hurting.
Because He defends us, we can defend others. 
Because He is our ultimate Judge, we can fight for justice.
 Because He is our hope, we can hold on to hope for ourselves and extend it to others.
Christ entered in to rescue us. And, the ripple effect of that rescue goes on and on.

[1] I was not-so-gently reminded today that not all kids like me, so I’m not wearing rose-colored glasses here. I just truly believe in what teachers can do for kids. 

Forever my calculus kids

My stress level for my calc kids rises and falls by the hour. I gave them eight problems today, thinking they could work on those eight problems for a half hour and then work on their flashcards for another half hour. But so many kids took the full hour to work the eight problems. Every day, I change my plans for the next few days. You’d think I’d have pacing down by now. Incorrect. 

But just as I started to go down the path of, “Why do I plan any of this?! No one is here! And we’re not making any progress!” I noticed two boys had, indeed, finished their flashcards. Ready for the best part? They were using them. Like, actually flipping them over and reading them, guys! One of them said, “These are so helpful, Mrs. P!”

Flashcards are new this year; they’re in lieu of the flip book I usually assign. I’m hoping the flashcards will get more use. {Mental note: I should email parents to inform them about the existence of said flashcards.}

*****

Much to my dismay, my orchestra kids are missing three days of school this week. I love that they get to have rich experiences together…I just hate that it has to be a week and a half before their AP Exam. 

As I was bathing my son, they messaged me. “Can you help us find the limits of integration for #24a?”

Omg yes. I’ll help you find all the limits, you sweet beings. 

Once Jonas was in bed, I responded. They thanked me and told me they were having a math session together. 

Don’t mind me over here. Just a little something in my eye…

Sheryl Sandberg

On my way to pick up my son after work today, “All Things Considered” was on NPR, with Ari Shapiro interviewing Sheryl Sandberg. 

Sandberg, Facebook senior executive and author of Lean In, lost her husband to heart failure two years ago. She was on air, describing her new book about resilience, and I was a captive audience. 

At the end of her interview, she said:

One of the suggestions Adam [therapist] made to me is write down three moments of joy before you go to bed. And it’s the New Year’s resolution I’ve kept by far the longest. … The thing about happiness is I think sometimes we’re waiting for the big stuff to be happy. … But happiness isn’t always the big things. Happiness is actually the little things, the little moments that make up our day. And in the face of Dave’s death, the big thing was not getting better, and it’s still not better. So if I wait for that to get better to feel any happiness I’m never gonna feel it.

Full article here

I think if someone who has lost her partner and best friend has that advice for us, we’d better listen to her. 

So my little things today:

  • My baby came up to me and gave me a hug (without any coaxing)
  • My coffee, which Jonas loves to help make, tasted great this morning 
  • My calculus kids seem to be back on track and re-focused now that prom has come and gone
  • Kids are still coming to my morning and lunch study sessions and told me today they’re really helping 
  • I taught my calc kids the difference between every day and everyday today. You could have heard a pin drop. They’ve never been so captivated by my explanations of calculus all year, but grammar is where it’s at, apparently.
  • I got another day to be Brett’s wife, Jonas’s mom, and 140 or so Redskins’ teacher. For these three roles, I am grateful beyond any description words could provide.  

Birthdays and quizzes 

While I was out in the hallway this morning greeting kids, before first hour even started, one of my students came back outside to tell me something. “It’s S’s birthday today!”

“I know,” I replied. 

“It’s not on the board!”

“What? Yes, it is. How else would I have known it’s her birthday?”

“Well it’s not up there, and she’s a little hurt by it.”

No kid is going to be hurt on my watch! I stormed back in there and, lo and behold, my student was right. His friend’s name was not on the board. I had looked at the wrong week when I wrote the upcoming week’s birthdays on Friday before I left school. I quickly fixed my mistake right in time for the bell. 

I love (1) that my kids take care of each of other like this and (2) that they even look at all the things I put on the board. Sometimes I wonder if anyone notices–if it’s worth my time. And then this happens and tells me, yes, it’s definitely worth my time. 

*****

When my calc kids took their mock two weekends ago, it was clear they still didn’t know all their derivatives of  the basic trig functions. For those who don’t know, I’m talking about six basic rules. And there’s a pretty evident pattern which boils the memorization down to just three rules. It’s so not a big deal. They should have memorized these months ago. But nope. 

So we quizzed on them today. 

I looked through first hour’s answers quickly (easy to do as this is seriously so short to memorize!), and they were terrible. I was so unpleased. I never really yell at my class. Actually, yeah, I’m certain that’s never happened. I’m not a yeller. But I still let them know when I’m dissatisfied. 

I told first hour that I decided not to grade it as a six-question quiz but as a one-question quiz. “You either get a 100% or a 0%.”

The class gasped!

“I will let you try again. And again. Until you’ve got these down. But it’s a zero until you’ve got them all.”

Well, first hour must have spread the word,  because in fourth and fifth hour I only had a 3-4 students in each class not know them perfectly (which tells you they literally only needed to spend a few minutes on this).

My good thing is that I’m still thinking of ways to light the fire under my students. I’m still learning and getting better and changing my lesson plans. Every year I’ve taught calc I’ve implemented both big and small changes, and that’s what keeps me excited about teaching and learning about teaching. 

Next year they’re going to get this all-or-nothing quiz a lot earlier. 

AP Appreciation 

I like to think I’m pretty good with teenagers. I’m really quite decent at getting even the “rough” ones to like me and work for me and act like lovely individuals for an hour. 

But this year, even though we only have a month left of school, I still haven’t broken through the walls of one of my students.  I’ve come to realize that while I can redirect her behavior and be kind to her, I can’t change her heart. I can’t magically change the way my students think about people or talk about them. I can’t wave a wand and make them see their own entitlement or selfishness or pride or fill-in-the-blank. The best (and maybe only) strategy I know of is to love these kids in a way that makes them want to emulate the kindness you show, even when people don’t deserve it. 

This philosophy usually works. 

But with this girl, not so much. Or not always, I should say. 

I was particularly frustrated with her attitude today so I emailed her assistant principal. I didn’t need help with anything. I just needed someone to vent to–someone who I knew would understand where I was coming from. 

The AP emailed back right away. There was no tone of superiority or annoyance. Just complete support and encouragement and solidarity.

Even though we serve 3300 students in one building, I feel like we do a pretty darn good job of knowing them. 

And even though I’m one of almost 200 certified staff in the building, I feel like I’m taken care of, too. I know that when I need to speak my mind, I can do so without fear of judgment. I know when I need help with a kid, all I have to do is ask. 

We have each other’s backs at Union. 

And we have the kids’ backs, too. 

Even the ones that are hard to love. Because, as we know, they need the love the most. 

It’s on, Oklahoma

The craziness of the season is definitely starting to settle in. There was not a moment from 7:50 AM to 4 PM when I didn’t have kids in the room. Don’t get me wrong–I am so grateful for their presence and for their determination. 

But I’m an introvert. 

I think that’s all I need to say about that. 

During my plan, I told the kids in my room that I needed to use the restroom (which was true). But I stayed in the stall long enough to read my devotional for the day from She Reads Truth. Yes. I locked myself in the stall so I could have five minutes. Best decision of the day. 

When I got back, it was time for class to start. I reviewed the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus with them today and then gave them some problems to work in class. Many commented about how the problems I wrote were really helping them finally grasp what I consider to be one of the greatest breakthroughs of mathematical history. 

Let me rewind there for just a moment, if you’ll allow me to rant. 

Did you notice something? The problems I wrote. I can’t find problems this contextually deep in our textbook. They don’t exist. Our textbook by no stretch of the imagination is adequate preparation for the AP Exam. So, I end up writing a lot of my own assignments and all my own assessments. And you know what? My pass rate for the AP Exam is between 80-90% (with almost 100% participation). For comparison, national pass rate last year was 57%. I credit much of my students’ success to the fact that I get to supplement a lot. Because my district has traditionally granted me as many copies as I need. 

Today I found out this will no longer be the case. We have been told no more copies, so don’t ask. And next year, plan on the same. You want to know why? Because our state. It’s in so much trouble–I cannot even begin to describe it to you. We’re forty-eighth in per-pupil spending on education; we have more incarcerated women per capita than any other state; second in teen pregnancy; fifth in obesity; and the list goes on. Don’t you think the answer to solving some of these problems is to invest in our future by properly funding educarion? Instead, we just keep electing men who are doing nothing to fix our budget crisis and everything to get re-elected in a state that only wants to cut taxes. Oklahoma, for the love of all that is holy, please stop voting strictly party line. All red all the time is not working for us. Look at these statistics. 

In comparison to most teachers in most districts, my problems are small potatoes. I have big classes so I have to hide in the restroom sometimes. I won’t get any more copies, but my family can afford to pay the $15/month to print from home and we’ll gladly do that.

But I work for a district that has saved money for literally two decades for such a time as this. And we’re still feeling the pain.  Most other districts are not this lucky. 

Yes, I’m one of the lucky ones. 

If you believe in the power of education and the power a teacher can have on students’ lives, then I am begging you: please speak up for us and please do your homework next election cycle. I ask that you don’t discredit someone just because s/he may identify with a party you’ve never sided with. It’s time to be creative and to try new things. The old is not working for us. 

I stand with our kids. 

I hope you will, too. 

Determination 

I’ve seen each of my calc classes twice since their mock exam, and they. Are. Killing. It. They did pretty well on the mock, but I’ve told them I expect them to raise their score by at least a point. Not sure why, to be honest, but they seem to be taking that challenge head-on. 

Today, one of my kids asked me if they could take a quiz on recognizing when to use what theorems. (If any calc teachers have such a thing, can you send it my way?)  You would think it was just an isolated question, but everyone around her said, “Oh yeah! That’s such a good idea!”

Please, everyone, look at my kids! They are asking for quizzes on soecific objectives. Is your heart swooning? My heart is swooning. 

Ready for more?

One of my kids made his own color-coded flashcards. He legitimately condensed the course into twenty-nine cards. I’m seriously thinking of having the kids do this instead of their flip book this year. Look at how cute they are:



Seriously, I can’t get over these kids. 

Also, our lunch study sessions are going well. Kids did all their optional homework and came with great questions. We have expanded into a before-school session also for the kids who are unable to make it to the lunch session. 

We’re a determined, stubborn bunch.