Listen

Today was one of those very weird but very good days. Our seniors were gone for a college and career seminar, which meant I had anywhere from 5-10 juniors left in each hour, who were on their own adjusted bell schedule in order to complete a career action plan.

Thirty minutes with first and second periods, two hours with third period, and an hour with fourth and fifth periods.

Like I said: weird day.

So after a quick notebook check, obviously we busted out the board games. We played games and chatted. Through some miracle, I had only juniors sign up for their intro meetings today, even though I asked them to sign up long before they knew seniors wouldn’t be here today.

As I was talking to one of them, I said, “How did we go a whole year and I didn’t know this about you?”

“Well we didn’t do this [intro meetings] last year…”

Yeahhhh…

I mean I can—and do—blame Covid for that. But what a simple, honest, and good way to put it.

I’m so glad to be back to listening to stories again—in person. I don’t want to miss a single thing they want to tell me. At a big school, it helps us all feel a little more connected.

And, as another junior told me today, “this is fun.”

It is. It’s fun to just talk and listen and learn from and about each other.

Most importantly, it helps me see my students as more than students. I learn about their families and see them as someone’s son or daughter. I learn about their hobbies and interests and see them as unique individuals. I learn about what they want to do post-graduation and see them as contributing members to my community.

I see that we belong to each other.

That’s what stories do: they show us we have much more that brings us together than tears us apart…if we’ll only listen.

Multiple Derivatives

It was motion day today! All the fun things! We had Rice Krispies treats for snack (snap, crackle, and pop are the fourth, fifth, and sixth derivatives of position respectively), and I got to wear my “Don’t be a x’’’(t)” shirt.

Some kids asked, “But were you really serious about snap, crackle, and pop in the video? Or was that just a joke?”

“No! She said she was dead serious! DEAD serious. Those were her words! It’s for real!”

Well. At least I know they watched the lesson…

I typically have some kind activity (often on Desmos) to wrap up the lesson from the previous night. Today, I put the cards from the Multiple Derivatives Game on the students’ tables as they came into class (I cannot remember for the life of me where I found this card sort so if anyone knows, let me know). On my TV, I had directions that asked the students to start sorting through the cards to find “chains” of 4–f, f’, f’’, and f’’’.

Once the bell rang, I walked in from greeting students outside; each hour I came into a room full of heads together, trying to find derivatives:

I hadn’t even given full directions yet.

They did so well finding multiple derivatives (the game is tricky because you can reuse cards)! I especially loved when they used their whiteboard tables to show their group their thinking or to jot down scratch work.

What teacher can’t help but smile at this?

Something right

Sometimes I give a challenge problem at the end of a video lesson and ask the kids to attempt it and bring their attempt to class. Today I checked all notebooks at the start of the hour, which allowed me check in and to see how they did on their challenge problem.

The joy on some of their faces when I said, “You got it!” reminded me of one of the reasons I got into this gig in the first place: feeling successful in math class—maybe particularly in calculus—gives you a new level of confidence and pride.

When they love math, when they get excited about getting a problem right, I know we’re doing something right.

Mindful Mondays

I introduced my kids to mindfulness today! I talked about the research behind it and showed a clip from Scientific American. Then we did a guided session.

I know that I’m asking a lot—I’m asking for them to trust me with an exercise they might be uncomfortable with initially. But true to form, these kids seemed to buy in or at least humor me.

My favorite was when a student from last year said, “This is seriously the best part about Mondays.”

And then another that I looped with chimed in: “It really is, though.”

I adore them.

My people

We had our first pep assembly in two years and our first ever outdoors assembly today!

I love my people.

They’ve seen me through so much and vice versa. Together, we’ve taught a lot of kids a decent amount of math. We’ve shared countless laughs and eye rolls. We’ve collaborated and planned and pivoted. We’ve seen the best and worst of each other.

I love my work family.

Take Two

I didn’t hand tests back last year which drove me crazy, but always having kids out and having no extra bandwidth to make however many more versions, it’s just how the cookie crumbled or whatever it is you all say.

So today was the first day I passed back a test in about a year and a half. I had carved out some class time to take questions but being a rookie at this (again), silly me, all 31 hands shot up first hour when I asked what questions they had.

Second hour I wisened up and said, “Let me give you ten minutes to look over what you missed and to start your corrections with your table. Then I’ll take whole-group questions.”

I had two questions all day for the remaining four classes.

Is this obvious?

Yes.

Does probably every other teacher in the world already do this?

Probably yes.

But there are teacher muscles I haven’t used in a year and a half. (There are also teacher muscles I didn’t know I had until we went through the last year and a half.) And it feels both silly and good to be able to say, “That was stupid. Let’s try this again.”

And then Take Two reminds you that you’ll always have something to learn in this gig, and that is hands down one of my favorite parts about this job.

In fact, when I was talking to a student today during her intro, she said something to the effect about how it’s obvious I’m passionate about my subject and that it’s really cool to see an adult love what she does.

Oh I hope I never lose that.

I know the passion and the patience aren’t always easy to bring. But when we frame them in the light of what we need to model for our students…I think it makes us all think about what we do a little deeper.

May we always be willing to rethink our plans. May we model passion and compassion. And may we give ourselves grace, knowing we, too, are still learning.

Vertical team

We made it through our first test today! The kids did phenomenal, largely thanks to our PreCalc team. I texted all the Precalc teachers afterwards and thanked them for prepping these kids so well for calc.

It’s a really amazing thing to be part of a vertical team that works so well together, even when we don’t always teach the exact same classes. Advanced Algebra 2 through Differential Equations is so consistent in my building, and that’s something I’m very proud of. I love teaching calc but I couldn’t do it if my kids didn’t have a strong algebra and trig background. That background is there because of years of planning and reflecting and modifying as a vertical team.

I love that I get to be a part of it.

Care-full

I just realized five past students, now all in college and living very busy lives, checked in with me over the last 24 hours. And only one of those was for math help. 😉

I’m seeing more and more that this web we get to weave—where we help carry these students through some very formative years—is actually a web that carries us. We carefully knit these pieces, not really sure if or how they all fit together. Then we look back and realize we’ve actually been knitting our own little community together this whole time.

When you’re in the thick of it, sometimes it feels so overwhelming. Like—will these kids ever understand the freaking Intermediate Value Theorem?

Yeah, they will.

But first they’ll have to understand that their teacher is always going to be there, knitting that quilt of trust, empathy, and respect.

IVT will come later. First the trust.

Then IVT.

Then the chance at years of community.

We’re in this for the long haul.

If you’re tired or weary, think of your impact over your career. Just stop and think about each life you’ve poured into.

It’s a pretty great gig we have…

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought…You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
‭‭-Jesus in Matthew 5:5,7, the Message

Traffic light cups

Yesterday it really hit me that I teach the same thing all day. My feet ached from answering (the same) questions all hour every hour. I knew my kids needed another work day, but I also knew I couldn’t repeat yesterday. They needed to rely on each other more and me less. I needed to be less helpful, as they say.

I started off today with whole-group questions, which are not my favorite but I needed to get everyone back on the same page. Then we started the study guide. I told them they needed to stick with their table. No getting ahead nor behind. I finally used my traffic light cups for kids to signal if they needed me (green: our team is doing great; yellow: our team has a question but it can wait; red: SOS—our team has a question and it can’t wait).

Today was so much more peaceful and the kids worked so well together all hour. There aren’t many things better than hearing students explain your favorite subject to each other. Every teacher I know gets such a high from it.

It was a great day.