Reacting Intentionally

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So, I’m here in Indiana at a family reunion. First of all, I love these people. I only see them at weddings or funerals and there haven’t been many of those. My cousins are quite a bit younger than I and live quite far away so I only know them superficially. Many of these Baumgardners have been or are educators, with the have “beens” far outweighing the “nows” especially by those in attendance. So I’ve been thinking about all of them this morning. I’ve also been thinking about going back to school and being around teachers whom I also love and haven’t seen in a while. My biggest dread being around either group is the one-ups-manship that is played out fairly constantly.

With family, someone asks you what you are up to and you tell her or him or at least you start. Not too far into the conversation the focus shifts off you and onto the person inquiring since she or he has done or seen something far worse or far better. With family, unless it’s a medical condition, they tend to favor the far better. And to be fair, it usually has to do with bragging about offspring rather than her or his self. By contrast, teachers one-ups are almost always downers. This makes talking to teachers rather depressing. So, what’s going on here? Why do teachers do this? Most importantly, what can I do to not be “that” teacher?

Multiple choice question:

I talk with a teacher about a situation that ends up being one-upped I am actually

A) venting so I don’t explode on a kid/parent/administrator/colleague
B) seeking support in the form of advice about how to handle a situation
C) trying to impress them with my mad skills
D) feeling sorry for myself and having a pity party
E) all of the above

Answer for yourself, but I choose E, if I am being totally honest. When I talk to another teacher I just want to talk to someone who speaks my language and understands.

I taught my husband to just listen and maybe get me a drink if I was sharing something particularly painful. Things at school, he cannot fix for me. I don’t want him to fix them. It’s not his world. I just want him to listen and know I had a rough day. I don’t usually want his advice either and if I do, I ask for it. Now, these behaviors, just listening and asking, did not come naturally for either of us. We have to think about what we are doing and “react intentionally.” Sounds like an oxymoron but it’s not.

Imagine if an administrator or counselor or pastor one-upped each thing I shared with them. I’d quit going to these people. Venting would never turn into conversation that would lead to solution or simply a shoulder on which to cry. These people had to learn how to react and so can teachers. Teachers need to be there for one another. So in 8.6 days when I go back to school, I want to be a better colleague. I want to be a supportive listener. I want to help where I can and lead the positive charge by example. I want to react intentionally.

As I go onto the very loud, highly competitive stage of the Baumgardner reunion today, I hope to also react with intension. I pray for inner calm and keen listening for myself. I will make certain the conversation is centered appropriately. I am going to do my very best not to interrupt. That’s just really hard when you have something funny to sprinkle onto the conversation. But I will try.

Heart

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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.

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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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.

 

 

Beyond “Why?”

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Annoying Kid

I was that annoying kid who always asked questions. Constantly. I especially asked “why” when I was told to do or not do something. If I received an answer that didn’t make sense or that I didn’t agree with, I fell short of compliance. Actually, that still holds today—a point that makes both my husband and principal twitch at times. But that’s a different kind of “why”. A teacher “why” needs to engender deeper thought. A teacher “why” needs to inspire, but that word is not all that inspirational.

In one of my last graduate classes (more than ten years ago) I read an article entitled, “Beyond ‘I like the way you…’.” It was about giving students sincere, positive, specific feedback. When I think about questioning, I envision an article entitled “Beyond, ‘Why?’” that needs to be written. “Tell me more” does no more than “why,” sooooo, I have made a list of some questions and comments I try to make to students as a place to start.

  • How can you check that?
  • Is there another way?
  • Try to find a counter example.
  • Discuss your method with your shoulder partner.
  • Make the abstract concrete and see what you notice.
  • Listen in on the conversation that group is having over there.
  • Think about what you did yesterday. What are the similarities and differences here?

To help improve my why-type questioning, I am going to try to keep a tally of my questioning next week and focus on replacing “why” with a better response. For each “why”, I will put one tally. For each why-replacement, I will put a star. My students deserve better so I am going to work toward being a better why-replacer.