My Education Autobiography…could also be titled I Did It My Way

Kindergarten is my first recollection of school and with good reason. I had Mrs. Trout. She spanked me on the very first day of school. Me! We sat at tables. Someone was at the front of the room. I spun around in my seat so I could see. Mrs. Trout told me to turn around, so I did. The next thing I know, she tells me I’m not paying attention and drags me out into the hall and spanks me. This was a rural school in Marion, Ohio and we only had kindergarten in the morning so Mary Mantey’s mom picked us up in her dark blue station wagon before lunch. Three girls (Mary, Jenny Pitts and I) climb into the back seat, and Mrs. Mantey turns around and says, “So, did anybody get whacked today?” We all just sat there, heads down, not saying a word. I never told my parents, but they said they found out at a conference. That explained to them why I stopped wanting to go to school. For math, we had to take a piece of chalk and go up to the board and write over the top of a number that was already up there. Mrs. Trout did not like the way my dad taught me to make my 4s and my 8s. I also remember that we had to take turns counting. Mary went all the way to 100! I went to 80 something and then I sat down. I could have gone further, but didn’t feel compelled to. I wasn’t into pleasing my teacher.

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Mary Mantey, Sara Baumgardner, Jenny Pitts (standing, Beth Baumgardner)

One memory from first grade is Jenny Pitts had a snowball in her desk that she was saving for recess. That didn’t end well. Also, I fell from the top of the slide onto the cinders below and had to get stitches. Jenny was involved in the incident too. Mary went to the Catholic school with her three older brothers. I don’t remember who my teacher was and I don’t remember a single academic event. I do remember that I brought a giant bull frog to school for show and tell. It got loose on the bus. Jenny’s brothers were really scared for me because they were always in trouble with that bus driver. He just smiled as I lifted my frog from under the gas pedal. His name was Fuzzie and he liked me because he knew my dad.

We moved to Delphos, Ohio around Halloween of second grade. My first day was unremarkable. I do remember that Kent Brewer and I had the same birthday. We got to play his game, but not mine. I also remember that this is when I began to hate reading. We had SRAs, whatever that stood for. There were colors that indicated the different levels. I was always significantly behind all of my friends in color. They were purple and teal. I was tan and brown. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Hoverman and everybody absolutely loved her, except me. She was tiny, well dressed and grey headed and she preferred boys to girls. That’s all I got. Oh, and the art teacher grabbed the paintbrush out of my hand and put bars over the animal I had drawn. I had the bars behind the animal. She made them go in front. That’s not what I wanted. I was in the cage, not looking from outside!

Third grade I had Miss McClure. She was young and I liked her. I fell on the playground that year the day before St. Patrick’s Day. I know the day because I had on green socks the next day when my dad took me to get a silver cap on my front tooth. I don’t member who my reading teacher was, but I do remember that I had to miss recess sometimes to be in a reading circle with a couple other boys. That made me mad and didn’t make me read any better.

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Laura Baumgardner (cousin, now an amazingly gifted Special Education teacher), ME with my silver tooth!! and sisters Becca and Beth Baumgardner

Mrs. Shade was my 4th grade teacher. She was sweet and took on the look of every character in every book she ever read to us. I don’t remember any other teacher ever reading to the class. We made valentine boxes and I stepped in dog poop on my way to school and I passed a kid’s lunch box up the isle one day, just because. I had never sat in the back of a classroom before and I just couldn’t resist. Somebody else got blamed for it. I still feel bad.

We went to the middle school for fifth grade because there wasn’t room at the elementary school. A new high school had just opened so the middle school got moved into the old high school. It was the best building ever. It had three floors and a secret hallway that served as a fallout shelter and went over to the gym/auditorium. I don’t remember my main teacher’s name, but I remember I liked her. I wrote a lot of poetry. I wasn’t good at spelling though and we just had spelling bees constantly. I was always out early so I just sat there. I didn’t care about stupid spelling anyway. I had a different teacher for math. It was cool to switch classes. I was good at math, except when we had to match shirts to skirts and determine how many different outfits could be made. I totally disagreed with the teacher because, you see, two of the outfits she claimed were possible didn’t match. Other than that, I liked math. I got in trouble during study hall and got detention. Mr. Policki was the 8th grade math teacher and he was in charge of detention. I had a terrible cough and he yelled at me and said, “What’s the matter with you Baumgardner? Do you have whooping cough?”

In sixth grade I had a lady with only one hand for my reading teacher. I liked her. We did projects about what we read and I made a ukulele with my dad’s help. I got to play it for the class and I still have it. I had Mr. Morris for math and he was my first male teacher. Seems like he always had the book in his hand though as if he had no idea what he was about to do. I think he was new.

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I was in trouble in 7th grade too. I remember having to stand at the chalkboard in study hall holding a penny to the board with my nose. Seems like the Reds were in the World Series that year. I had Mrs. Wager for social studies and we studied South America. I remember making a green bird out of dyed rice that I glued onto a board. I probably copied something right out of the encyclopedia and we called that a report. I may have had the one-handed lady for math that year.

My first authentic use for math came in 8th grade. Mr. Polocki had moved away, thankfully, though my sisters said he was a really good math teacher. I had a lady with long black wavy hair. She taught us how to balance a checkbook and how to actually write a check. That’s the only time I ever learned that and I use those skills regularly to this very day. She had power of attorney for her dad and so she had to do all of his bills and she just really thought we needed to know this too. That was a good call. We had Krotzer for history and he was a legend. Mr. Fleming taught science and he was fun and we got to build a bell that ran on a battery we made ourselves. I remember girls cheating in that class by memorizing answers. I thought that was crazy. It was so much easier to just learn the material rather than an ordered list of 20 ABCDs.

High school was much better. I quit getting in trouble so much, or at least, I stopped getting caught. I remember only one English class. I had the football coach and I was tired of getting not-so-great grades in English, so I wrote a story about a football from the perspective of the football. He loved it. I had finally succumbed to playing to the audience rather than being my own person. I was a sellout and I felt dirty. I took chemistry and civics a year early because I got out of Spanish 2 by doing poorly my first year. I was such a clever girl. I did not like Spanish 1. Math was the best though. I ended up having Mr. Wolfram for all four years of high school. We had algebra 1, geometry, algebra 2 and then trigonometry which was really pre-calculus, we just didn’t know it. I remember proportions and then mixed rate and mixture problems in algebra 1. That was fun when it finally clicked. Geometry was fun because it was like putting together a huge puzzle. By the time we got to trig, there were only 9 of us left in the class. Me, Kathy, Paul, Big Drew, Pacco, Trevor, Bruce, Sam and somebody else. I had a bookmark that I made that had trig identities on it. I used it all through college. Except for Pacco, I still see these people once in a while when I am in Delphos or on Facebook.

So, what finally made math fun and memorable? It was a challenge. I was pushed to think. Mr. Wolfram was full of energy. He loved what he was doing and it showed in how he did it. We did a lot of work at the board, getting feedback and helping each other. We loved helping each other understand. It was absolutely the best part of high school.

In college, I worked hard and made Bs and Cs. The only As I recall were in Managerial Accounting (the prof said I couldn’t get an A since I got a C in Financial Accounting so I had to prove him wrong) and Basic. The final was to write a program that had to do with rounding numbers. I wrote four lines of code and turned in my paper. The prof looked at it, and said, “Oh. I never thought about it like that. You can go.” I may have gotten an A in Money Credit and Banking just because somebody told me it couldn’t be done. I got As here and there in math, but mostly Bs and I was ok with that. I learned and I understood and that was all I wanted out of it.

In graduate school, I loved learning and being around other people who were enjoying school rather than enduring school as I had done twenty years earlier. Graduate school was the first time I ever recall a teacher actualy wanting me to succeed. It was like this big secret, that all of my teachers in the seventeen prior years kept, was uncovered. Teachers want students to succeed. They really do. Who knew? I seriously saw most teachers as an enemy that had to be defeated and that is how I got through. I finally got better at this reading and writing thing in graduate school–in my forties. I did ok in college, but reading was a real struggle that I did not enjoy.

Take-aways…adults need to take the time to see and hear a kid’s perspective. Now, as a teacher, I need to understand situations before I react. The actions of teachers matter, even after many years. The extreme actions of teachers are the most memorable. How do you want to be remembered? Is this different from how you will be remembered? Make an action plan to reconcile any differences. I know I have some fixing to do!

I was inspired to go through this exercise as I am reading Tracy Zager’s [@tracyzager] Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had. Tracy takes me into so many classrooms and it stirs up many memories. Some of these memories are funny and some are painful, but they are all just part of what makes me, me.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you. I encourage all teachers to take some time to think back grade-by-grade and see what sort of memories you have. What sorts of experiences had lasting impact on you? Do you ever teach the way you were taught? Yikes!

Whew! That was long overdue.

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RANT

So, it’s that time of year again. That time when I get so fed up while searching for lesson and activity ideas and clicking on links to should-be swell articles only to have them lead me to the dreaded Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT) site with all its evil.

I hate TPT more than just about anything related to education. I hate it more than testing. I hate it more than late work. I hate it more than interactive notebooks which almost killed me a couple years ago. I hate it more than cotton candy—well maybe the same as cotton-candy because that is what it is.

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TPT is sweet and fluffy and full of nothing of real substance when things heat up. It’s good for the seller and the sales platform but does nothing for the consumer in the long run. It’s a quick fix.

Here’s my short list of rants on TPT:

  • Teachers pay the host (TPT) to which the second teachers post stuff and that posting teacher gets pennies.
  • Teachers show up at NCCTM and other places of professional development as speakers and actually do their TPT commercials there. They try to turn other teachers onto the site. I walk out of those sessions. This boils my blood. NCTM is about educators supporting and inspiring one another all to advance student learning. It can all be tied directly to student learning. Not to some price-point.
  • I don’t even search Pintrest for educational resources because Pintrest keeps taking me to TPT stuff. Just stop it.
  • The products I have seen from TPT that other teachers innocently share with me lack depth. They lack rigor. They lack my touch. My ownership. My love. They aren’t me. They are someone else. They are not for my kids and I can resist them easily, just like cotton-candy.
  • Teachers I’ve asked, buy entire units and whole year curriculums from TPT “because it’s so much easier.” Easy does not equate to good. Easy does not mean it meets the rigor expectations of the district or state or even the school or the teacher. Yes, the purchasing teacher didn’t have to work. That is the worst feature of all.

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This applies to teachers too!!!

  • Shouldn’t the school, district or state have something to say about an entire sequence of curriculum that is being used on a set of kids? Or shouldn’t they at least be aware of what the teacher is using? Educators use the standards and find supporting learning activities and strategies. Educators work to do what is right for the kids they teach rather than fitting their kids’ learning to someone else’s fluff materials.
  • If the TPT products are that good, shouldn’t the school system pay for the resources rather than the teachers?
  • From what I see from TPT materials, the teachers creating these materials and selling them are playing school rather than teaching school aka helping students learn. It’s all-pretty, but that’s it. Full disclosure: I have not done enough investigating to make this bold statement as fact, but this is my blog and I’ll do it if I want to.
  • In the professional learning communities to which I belong, teachers support teachers. Teachers help one anther become better educators. Teachers take one another’s’ lessons and activities and use them and improve them and share back the improvements. They do this willingly and enthusiastically and it’s received that way. Educators feel the love and effort others put into their materials.
  • TPT does not share experiences. My professional learning communities do. They do this in person, on twitter and in blog posts. And it’s priceless. I love you tweeps and bloggers and flesh and blood colleagues too.

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Thank you to my professional learning communities for helping make me a better educator for my students. Thank you for doing all the right things for all the right reasons.

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Thanking my teachers–long over-due

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I want to give a shout out to the following people from my past. I credit my core as a teacher to them.

Mr. Wolfram was my math teacher all through high school. You read that correctly. I had the same math teacher for four years. Fortunately, he was amazing. He was so amazing that all of my kids from the past seven years (since I’ve been teaching high school courses to middle schoolers) know the name of my high school math teacher from 36 years ago. From Mr. Wolfram I learned that you earn As and get Bs. Even though you place for a cash prize in a state geometry test, that was not good enough to get put on his Math Hall of Fame wall. That was all good to know before college. I wasn’t quite the big fish I thought I was. Math was fun. Math was cool. Math was worth the effort.

Paul Humke—Humke was a visiting professor at St. Olaf my first semester of college, Fall 1980. He was a great teacher. I got a B, which was generous, but he was the first teacher I ever really talked to. He knew I was having a tough time—so lonely; so poor at a rich-man’s school; so just not a good fit. He told me to quit studying during Chapel time and actually go to Chapel. What a concept! He was also the one to tell me that I could actually major in math. He was a difference maker. He also wore sandals and socks—in the dead of winter in Minnesota. So cool.

Dr. Pilgrim was my adviser when I transferred to Luther. He never got over the fact that he misspelled—dang, some word that stared with an i—all throughout his dissertation. (I actually know that he is still living in Decorah, IA (Luther) as does my aunt. She goes to his nursing home and tells him that I’m finally teaching and other bragging points that my mother feeds her sister.) Dr. Pilgrim set up a tutoring opportunity my junior year with a high school geometry student. (I think it was the daughter of his dentist.) I had no idea what I was doing, but I got paid for three hours each Saturday morning. I spent way too much time getting ready for Heidi (my student) and loved every minute. But I was a math-econ major and had no sights on teaching. You could only get el-ed at Luther so I never even considered teaching. But Dr. Pilgrim knew—even though it took 25+ years for me to figure it out.

Dr. Triton was my senior paper advisor at Luther. He was the one professor that scared the daylights out of me. My mother somehow convinced me that he needed to be my senior paper advisor. Seriously mom? It was good though. He only looked scary. Great guy. Gentle giant. That experience taught me to be not afraid of those who first appear scary. That was not the point of my paper, but it was the take-away. (1984)

Fast forward to 2006…Alex K. This was a high school kid that was the bother of one of my daughter’s friends. He needed help with his algebra 2. It was a win-win. I helped him and he helped me figure out what I was really supposed to be doing. I. Loved. It. Done—I enrolled at UNCG and got my masters in middle grades math. Why middle grades? I fall in love with my son and his friends when they were in middle school. So cool—weird but cool emerging individuals.

And my mom. Dr. Baumgardner. My biggest fan. Ever and always. She never pushed me into anything and always fully supported me in everything I have ever done. It’s not until I am much older that I realize how special that really is. Uh Oh—I’m feeling a mother’s day post coming on. Don’t fret. I probably won’t. I’d cry so much I’d dehydrate.

Thank you teachers. That’s not enough, but that’s all I got. Virtual love, hugs, kisses and sincere public appreciation to you all.

BTW, this post was inspired by Meg Craig—thank you Meg @mathymeg07.

 

 

Favorite Things 2016

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Inspired by Favorite Things,  OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN LIL RICHARD RODGERS

Favorite Things of this Math Teacher

Domains and ranges and intercepts and zeros,
students that don’t lose odd negatives are heroes,
linear functions each graphed with green strings, (I prefer spaghetti but it didn’t rhyme)
these are a few of my favorite things.

New sharpened pencils and eager new faces,
field trips and class trips and visiting new places,
Garfield’s proof and the ah-hah it brings, (Seriously!)
these are a few of my favorite things.

Expanding binomials with gigantic powers,
cheering on students at sports after hours, (LOVE!!)
functions that model bizarre plats and dings,
these are a few of my favorite things.

When the office calls,
when email stings, (man, do I have a few of those!)
when I’m feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
I teach math and I’m so glad.

MRS. VAUGHN

Sorry to do this to you. I couldn’t help myself. Just don’t tell my family! They say “life is not a musical,” but I choose not to believe.

I really thought about 1)seating charts, 2)step function grading, or 3)fun math songs that lead to no real learning, but this came out of my fingers.

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Year 10 and I’m sucking air. SOS

Four classes. Still trying to figure out their personalities. Strangely, I know all names in my core 2, but NOT my homeroom. Guess I’m too busy with paperwork junk to know my own kids. I hate that.

I was talking to my husband tonight about my classes (Math II kids–8th graders taking 9th or 10th grade math and standard Math 8 kids.) I strive to challenge the top in those Math II classes and I always get incredible growth out of the kids who were previously underperforming in those classes. In my Math 8 classes, I teach to the bottom of the pack. (WHY??!!) I take the Truman stance — “the buck stops here.” They are NOT going to high school not being able to multiply, divide and ‘do” fractions. That comes before functions, exponents and transformations. I will not let them not learn the basics–again.

Growth in the Math 8 classes is mixed. Growth is amazing for those who finally decide to work. It’s acceptable for the higher kids in that class. Too many lower kids eventually end up hating me or math and I swear, they intentionally get 1’s on their end of grade tests. (They know way more than they perform.) Do they hate me for making them work; for having high expectations; for expecting them to do SOMETHING? I really think that I may be the first person that ever believed they could succeed. And yet…

Here’s where I need serious feedback. Should I treat my Math 8 kids as I do my Math II kids and move on? I think not. This is the class the state requires them to pass–AND they need to become true problem solvers. (I want both my brain surgeon and my mechanic to be good at solving problems!) I feel so responsible for the lower kids that I ache (aka cry) every day. When I focus on them, the rest of the class goes Bat Crazy. Everyday I feel like a bad teacher.

I REALLY like these kids, yet I feel like I’m not reaching them. I do my seating chart so the neediest kids are closest to me so I can support them. I’m keeping school. I’m not teaching and my kids aren’t learning and I feel like a failure. Just as bad, the higher kids are getting nothing–or at least very little. Behaviors are such that I can’t set up individualized lessons on tablets that the higher kids can get while I work with the kids that need remediation. All 32 kids need constant attention and supervision. Again, I feel like a failure. I’ve been doing this ten years and I can’t figure this out.

When I think back about when I first taught algebra to kids who weren’t ready, I approached it as if they were fully qualified for algebra because I didn’t know any better. (I do remember stupid-Steven my first naive year. Steven didn’t get it. I announced to Steven that I would “not leave him behind” when he didn’t get it. Best I recall, he got a fare bit.) I suppose I didn’t notice that other students didn’t get it. Amazingly enough, lower kids grew like crazy. I was too new to know they were low so I didn’t teach them that way. Now I know too much? Is that it?

I also think kids are different now than ten years ago when I started. There wasn’t the constant instant gratification of social media. That’s a lot to compete with. I own Math II. Math 8 is seriously troubling.

Sad thing is these are the kids that need the most.

LOST.

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Jesus and Jello

I am about to begin my 10th year of teaching. I was thinking today about what that will look like. Each year a theme or something peculiar happens that helps define the year to make it memorable for students. The two best were the year of Jesus and the year of Jello. The year of Jesus came about because the kids just could not get the hang of or meaning of slope in my Math 8 classes. Seriously. I was so desperate, one day we did a whole series of questions to which each answer was “slope.” Some kids still didn’t get it. I told them it was like a children’s sermon. Whenever the pastor asks the kids a question and the kids don’t know the answer, the answer is always “Jesus” except here the answer is “slope.” This turned into whenever a student did not know the answer to a question they said “Jesus.” It became an immediate clue that I had to go back and reteach, so it was very useful, but a little awkward to explain to administration. Another year became the year of Jello. I tell the kids every year about the Vaughn Theory of Math and Jello. It goes like this: math concepts are like Jello. They both start out runny, without form. It takes time and chilling out for concepts to set up just like it takes Jello time and chilling to set up and take form. When we tackled a particularly difficult concept for kids, like domain and range or completing the square, it took a while for the concepts to set up, then they had them for life. For the kid who would start to stress out and wail, “I don’t get it” I would tell the student, it’s going to be ok, your Jello just hasn’t set up yet. Now of course, I tuned into that student and gradually removed the Jello mold. To show the students how much confidence I had in them I made Jello Jigglers as a surprise the day of their final. All their Jello was set up by then.

One year I sang all the time and I had math songs for everything. Songs are fun, but they don’t take student learning very far. Last year was the year of entry points. Finding a way into a problem and then finding another way in. This helped both my Math II kids as well as my standard Math 8 kids. It is especially rewarding when kids find a way I hadn’t thought of. I’m simply giddy when my Math 8 kids do that. Gosh. Last year doesn’t sound like much fun for students, but at least they learned to persevere and find ways into problems.

This year I am going to use student tablets more. I read about some cool Math 8 tasks with Desmos and I keep thinking of more as I cut the grass and clean out closets and other normal teacher summer tasks. This just might be the year of Desmos. It is one of the very few apps that work on our low budget tablets. I need to figure out how kids can save their work and practice that myself. I also want them to be able to send their work to my cloud. I’ve got a couple weeks to figure that out.

I have no idea what the kookie thing of the year will be. Those things just happen spontaneously. When it reveals itself, I’ll post about it. I don’t expect Jesus will make a comeback, no pun intended.

Oh, and it’s ok if nobody reads this. I’m just practicing my blogging. My goal is a minimum of once per quarter. But I’ve got to practice being brave.