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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I’m a Viking

I’m a Viking all the way, but that doesn’t make it right.

I love my students at a ridiculous level. I go to their recitals, concerts, football games, softball, baseball, especially basketball games. I love competition and I love seeing my kids succeed. It’s not real complicated.img_2368

Today, my kids won the regional MathCounts competition. That may not seem like a big deal, but here’s what you may not know. There has been a dynasty team for as long as I have been working with the math team. (Ten + years). I’ll have to study the trophy inscriptions after my co-coach gets done taking pictures with the trophy to see how long before my time the dynasty goes back. The dynasty team my kids bested has Mathclub as an elective course. They have parent volunteers that run the club because the teachers don’t have time or interest. They have homework They are also a magnet school for the gifted. Seriously. Our mainstream public school kids meet once a week on Fridays for 45 or 55 minutes with my co-coach and me. Our serious kids also meet with former students of ours that are now juniors in high school once a week for an hour. Our kids are just having fun doing math. Who couldn’t love that? It really is fun.

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Tired of my bragging? Here’s my real point. The reputation of our school is grounded in the academic success if the institution. That affects the real-estate prices in this area. It affects how our teachers and principals are viewed across the county. It just does. I love that my principal showed up this year as well as the last couple years. That’s easy to do with successful programs, even on Saturdays, but still greatly appreciated. Where they were the 8 years prior is anybody’s’ guess. (Different principals; different times. Glad they’re behind me.) It should be noted, I didn’t see any other principals at the competition. EVER.

We sponsor clubs like math club for the kids. Perhaps we do it for the school. Do we do it for the money? No. We don’t get a cent. In fact, to sponsor a club costs us money. We do something for kids and we are away from our families and it costs us money to sponsor a club. Last year we asked the parent organization to help with the expenses for our modest breakfast celebration at the end of the season. They told us to solicit donations from the local grocery store first. Seriously? They want me to spend time begging free goods from a local business rather than preparing for their kids’ classes? We just did it ourselves. This year, after a couple years of bringing this to their attention (mind you this has been going on for well over ten years) they are offering up some token amount. I don’t recall what it is. Bad on me. I’m complaining today after the competition and my husband says, “perhaps my employer could foot the bill for your awards banquet.” I told him I could foot the bill. For that matter, any parent of a member of the club that I asked would foot the bill. That’s not the point. We build the academic reputation of the school and thereby help real-estate values in the area. Someone other than me, my co-coach or club parents or my husband should foot the bill. If it’s truly valued by the school and community, this shouldn’t even be a topic of conversation. It should just be taken care of.

If it were just the math club, I could probably sit quietly (though not my style) and soldier on. BUT. We have a quiz bowl team that has gone to nationals the past 3 years. (May not qualify this year as it is a rebuilding year). The sponsor(s) pay their own way. Atlanta. Dallas. Where ever. Competitions are always on Saturdays and last the entire day. One of our school’s Odyssey of the Mind teams went to nationals in Iowa last year. They had to do a fundraiser and then still paid much on their own.

I absolutely know these programs and more like them are defining for our school and district. I know they make a difference in our students’ lives. I also know that they raise real-estate values in the area. So, why do teachers have to do this with their own money and not be compensated for their time? Is it that time is worthless or merely priceless? Is it that you know our hearts and souls will never let these kids down? Because WE WON’T. We suck it up and do and do and do. We love our kids and we love what we do. (Noted and appreciated that the school pays the entry fees.)

Our thanks come when our kids return from the high school to see us. Two years ago three high schoolers ran into my room after a competition to tell me about their success in a regional math competition They didn’t run to their high school teachers. They ran to me. A parent sponsored/coached them. No high school teacher gave up the time for free. Middle school teachers just suck it up. For the kids.

I suppose all this processing has really helped me see that real-estate agents ought to be sponsoring our school like crazy!!! Dang.

It took me long enough to figure that one out. Thanks for listening.

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The Softest Soft Skill of Them All

So, I’ve spent the past week thinking about what on Earth soft skills are to me and what soft skills I have that I bring to the classroom daily. Truth be told, some would say I don’t have any soft skills because they see me as a hard-ass—always demanding more and expecting perfection. Some don’t really know me. Those that do know me know that I have the softest soft skill of all.
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At our school, we have a monthly event where students are nominated by their teachers to be recognized as Spotlight Students. My team takes these nominations very seriously and we each make impassioned pleas for our nominees. I get so emotionally invested in the recognitions for my students that I usually can’t even tell the student she is nominated without crying. Crazy right? A kid is great and I can’t even tell him without breaking down.

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That’s how students know that they each mean more to me than I could ever say out loud. I am so proud of how they carry themselves as compassionate young adults. They care for one another. They trust one another. They are courageous, emerging individuals. They are becoming really great people right before my eyes each and every day and I have the best seat in the house.

Friday we found out that our beloved school counselor, Crystal, died. She had been ill, but she was at school more often than not. She never complained. She was the bravest person I have ever met and she will be deeply missed.

I taught Crystal’s son, Zack, three or four years ago. He was a typical 8th grader and she would say to me, “What am I going to do with him? Will he ever grow up? He’s so sweet, but he’s just a mess.” I assured her that he would grow up to be a wonderful young man and that she needn’t worry. This fall I asked her how Zack was doing in high school. She told me I was right–was well-rounded, well-adjusted and responsible. I smiled and nodded. Then I went to my room and cried.

Shortly after I first found out Crystal had breast cancer, I saw Zack waiting for her in the parking lot after school. I would walk by their car and wave and smile at Zack wanting to speak to him, but being too afraid of my own emotions. I would then go to my car and cry. After a couple of weeks of this, I finally stopped at the car and spoke to Zack. He was happy as usual. I told him how much I thought of his mother and how incredibly brave and strong she was. He just shrugged as if to say, ‘Eh, that’s my mom. She’s one tough cookie.’

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So, do I really have a soft skill that I share with students and does it make a difference? I say yes and here is how I know. Last year at school something was missing. There was little joy. My homeroom was great but the rest of the day was a challenge for sure. I didn’t love my kids, but rather just tried not to hate them. Oh, I started out with good intensions, but it was just a rare group of kids who made it their life’s’ work to make school miserable. At least that is what it felt like. Eventually I showed no emotion for if I was excited and happy, they couldn’t handle it. If I was upset, they went in for the kill. I just became numb, as far as students knew. Outside of school my heart was broken. I was confounded at the thought of kids being constantly disrespectful and mean. I couldn’t invest my heart because I couldn’t have it trampled on again and again. I worked hard on the academics, but that was all. I had to force myself to show up on the last day of school for the awards ceremony. I seriously did not want to be there.

This year is back to normal or even better than normal. You see, kids need love, even from me, and I need to give love. Loving kids, warts and all, is my strongest soft skill. That word “love” is something I thought was totally inappropriate to describe a teacher/student relationship before this year. It is what was going on each year, I just could never admit it until now. It took the lack of love last year to convince me of that. I’m never going back, even when it hurts.

Crystal taught me how to love the unlovable. There are kids that spent a great deal of time in her office. Hers was a safe space for all kids and adults for that matter. Crystal’s greatest gift to me was helping me develop my softest skill and I am forever greatful.

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Making It Real

So, I went TMC16 and for whatever reason, I kept running into Denis Sheeran @MathDenisNJ. It was almost annoying. For both of us. I did get his book Instant Relevance https://www.amazon.com/Denis-Sheeran/e/B01JAWZQIE this fall and he told me he would love to hear what I think. So here it goes.

When I ordered the book, I thought, “crap that’s a lot of money at this time of year.” See, I just set up my classroom. Then the mail came and I thought, “Are you kidding me? This is the shortest book since Jonathan Livingston Seagull!”

So now I think this. ALL BOOKS THAT ARE MEANT TO HELP TEACHERS BE BETTER SHOULD BE THIS LENGTH!! I am so serious. I’m beat at night. I can’t do much more than 5 pages. I want to learn more and become a better me. I really do. But some books are so boring and so long and I have the attention span of a gnat. I teach middle school for crying out loud.

So, thank you Denis. I never felt bad or distracted or loserish as I read your book. And this happened.

I took pictures. I had a bag if rolled up coins in the mud room that have never made their way to the bank. I wondered what I was missing out on so I figured my kids could help me.

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I showed them a pic of the sac of coins. They guessed high and low. Then the best thing ever happened. One girl who I just moved from math 8 to math 1 (thank you county for being so great at giving us quality tools to place kids properly when they move in—sarcasm intended) said, “hey that’s like one of these things we’re working on. Can I show you?” She walks up to the board and does this.

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I am blown away. I should be smart enough to see all the connections, but I don’t. I need my students to do that. I love this gal. I love my job.

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My 1st class, math 8, worked as a class to figure out how much $ there was. I introduced the problem to my math 1 kids (periods 2 & 3) and then they pursued it to the end in small groups after they finished another task in class. They totally dug it.

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Math 2 kids are a bit harder to impress, but they finished the entire task as an opener as I progressed through fotes.

All of this is just my way of saying, thanks Denis. It works. I get it. I dig it. I’m doing it.

Waking Up My Intensions!!

It’s no secret that last year was horrible. It was my tenth year and it was bad. I lost it. There was no joy. No matter what I tried, nothing worked. I could never see anything through. So this summer, I PDed like crazy, cause, well you know, it’s all my fault.

The major theme that has run all through my reading as well as the PDs I attended was the need to be intentional with absolutely everything we do as teachers. I confess that I have never thought deeply enough, thoroughly enough, to figure this intentional thing out. For nine years I would plan and execute and veer off a bit and replan and recapture and then several miracles always happened because the kids got it. I feel now like I threw lessons up at the wall and saw what happened. If it stuck for 1st period I reused it for 4th period. If an approach was a disaster 2nd period, I changed how to do it for 3rd period. I basically did this for 9 years; and it worked. I did more reacting than I did acting.

Last year was a wake-up call. This summer was an awakening. This fall, I’m getting up and I am going to figure this out.

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Here’s my plan so far—ask myself continuously, why am I doing this? Does this lead to better understanding for students? Can students see the connection between what we are doing and the math supports what we are doing? What do I want the outcome to be? Is the activity serving a purpose or do I have an activity in search of a purpose. What I do must BE ON PURPOSE! No more waiting on miracles. I think I used up my share of them my first nine years.

Signs for the back of my room and my desk and my mirror—where ever I look: Why am I doing that? What are my students learning? Is what students are doing and learning what I intended? Deliberate. Conscious. Intentional.

Specifics yet to come. Stay tuned. Much work to be done.07anthc

Practicing on real kids!

You have to love a PD where you get to watch other teachers as they hone their craft as well as get to practice yourself…on REAL live kids!!! The kids were on fire as they made models of houses. I wanted to take one home, but I didn’t. (I mean a kid, not their house. The house was swell and all, but talking with these kids was a treat!)

This set-up the need for area and scale and unit conversion in order to make cost estimates of building materials.

The problem created the need for the content. The content did not set the stage for some hokey, convoluted, boring application.

Kind of getting excited for Aug 29!!!