Posted by: rdkpickle | 02.06.2014

six months in.

Don’t give up on me just yet!

This year has been a million different things. Challenging, impossible, exhausting… to name a few. And while I’ve just been busy trying to make it through each day with very little time for reflection, I know that once I’ve survived this year I will have 100000 things to say. Being in a new environment with different pressures, norms, resources, and students has given so much to chew on and so many opportunities to grow.

So, watch this space. I’ll be back. 

In the meantime, I’ll be celebrating small successes like:

  • fantastic “what if” student questions as we delve into factoring in Algebra 1… and proud exclamations of “this is easy!” after we tackled some (tough!) factoring problems
  • a surprise visit from “important people” on a day showcasing my 1st period’s ability to help each other as they worked through trig problems together on the whiteboards
  • a student who worked his tail off to master exponent rules and adding/subtracting/multiplying polynomials, then aced the test
  • casual conversations about what teaching might look like when I’m 65 (brought on by an offhand comment in class about how I’m destined to be a basket-case unhip out-of-touch teacher… one day)
  • excitement to the point of cheers after verifying a particularly tough trig identity on the board
  • a student telling me she loves my class because she finally feels like she understands WHY things work and not just “how to do it”
  • feeling comfortable in my teaching skin again

Yeah. Feeling comfortable in my teaching skin again.

There’s still plenty that’s hard. Plenty of ways I’m coming up short. But I’m back to waking up excited about what I get to do each day. And if you know where I was in the fall, that’s HUGE.

So once I make it through this year alive, you can expect several novel-length ruminations on: class size (guess what, it matters!), standardized testing pressures, schedule differences, engaging learners in classes where the spread in ability level is massive, teacher burnout, technology, what I wish high school math classes could look like if I ran the world, collaboration, how to better support new teachers in their first year, new routines I’ve developed, grading, …

See ya soon. Thanks for all your love this year.

Posted by: rdkpickle | 09.09.2013

can’t stop

Okay well it’s been a month and I’m still alive.

Things I spent the last month adjusting to:

  • Constantly changing rosters in the first week of school – at a private school, the students enrolled in your classes showed up for your classes. Here, my numbers are still changing.
  • Shorter classes (47 minutes is not enough time!) and a consistent schedule (every class meets at the same time every day – which overall makes things easier but makes a few things harder)
  • More of a separation between teacher and students – at FHS, my students stuck around in my classroom during breaks and after school for extra help, were emailing me constantly, and there were far fewer of them. With 150 new faces and no “extra help” period, I’m not having as many one-on-one interactions with students, about math or in general. And even if I were having the same number, it’d be a smaller percentage of my total students.
  • School clears out after the last class. This could be good or bad. I’m more likely to be able to get planning and grading accomplished after school (at my last school it was darn near impossible because there were always students around until around 6 pm, asking for help, coming by to chat, etc.)
  • Having to start from scratch with routines that were second nature (taking attendance, entering grades, printing/copying/scanning, email distribution lists – or lack of them – for students/parents, knowing who in the building can help you with each problem) as well as systems (class webpages for posting assignments/notes/answer keys, returning student papers in mailboxes, etc.)
  • Technology in the classroom – my school laptop dock is in the back of the room while my teacher desk is in the front. Also, I have a projector but no Promethean or Elmo, and I like copying guided/structured notes to save students from copying problems off the board. So I’m just projecting onto the whiteboard and writing the stuff I want to write in dry erase. It’s not ideal but it’s working okay.
  • Bringing my lunch. I was spoiled before.
  • Bringing my coffee. See above.
  • Classroom ambience – no wall to wall windows (boo.) But! No angry red parka! I have a thermostat in my classroom now (hooray!) And I don’t miss the artificial lighting of the cubes. Although (and I know this is maybe blasphemous) I actually miss the change of scenery that was the cubes, the common think-space with other awesome teachers. Or, maybe I just miss those awesome teachers. Yeah. It’s probably that.

I could write a lot more about how classes have been going and I surely will at some point but it’s late and I didn’t intend to post tonight anyway. I guess I just wanted to write something about the transition, maybe for future me in case I decide to pick up my life again and need to remember how beginnings feel or maybe for other teachers who are currently struggling.

Mostly this past month has just been a really gigantic reminder that teaching is HARD. Everyone keeps asking me how it’s going and because I am always honest I just say “it’s been a really tough transition” and they want to know if it’s because the public school system is different than the private school world or if it’s because I’m getting to know all new colleagues and rules and routines or if it’s because I’m teaching brand new courses or if it’s because I’m adjusting to living back at home again and I don’t know but the answer is YES. *AND* teaching is just ALWAYS hard.

Hopefully at least some of you can relate:

I’m hanging in there. I do not feel like I am doing amazing things in the classroom. I am barely finishing to-do lists for things that probably should have been done long ago. Time feels like my biggest enemy – I only make it about 3 hours into Saturday morning before I’m feeling full-on anxious about the week to come. I’m not really eating well or exercising and I’m having a really hard time getting myself to start things. I’m not feeling very inspired or motivated. I also feel strangely trapped by the high expectations of people who knew me and were so excited I was coming to teach here. I feel a lot of pressure, in general, from others and from myself. (Not just about school stuff.)

There is also a lot about the way I am feeling about things that started way back in the spring, so I can’t blame it all on the move. I do miss DC, and I do miss my old colleagues. I took it for granted how nice it was to have my work-friends also be my friend-friends.

I do wish I felt more like myself at present so I could be doing more to speed the transition along.

But it’s been a month and I’m still alive.

(I’ll let this doo wop cover of Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop” send you out.)

Posted by: rdkpickle | 08.09.2013

i was born here and raised here

This is not going to be a post about math.

(Consider yourself duly warned.)

Today was my first day of class at my new (old?) school. I was all energy and nerves and there were still some kinks in my day, but I made my debut. I got to meet the 100+ humans who will be sharing their time and brains and struggles and successes with me over the next 176 school days. I have one million and one things to do this weekend to be ready for next week, but for this week, today was the finish line.

I’ve already had some funny moments, I’ve had moments of self-doubt, and I’ve felt some of the good and difficult ways that coming back home will impact my work here. It’s really strange and wonderful the way my family and I are woven into this community – there are colleagues who (like me) graduated from this high school, colleagues who remember my mom volunteering at the school, colleagues who taught me or one of my three younger sisters, and I even got to see my mentors from student teaching at the district meetings earlier this week. There are students at the school whose parents are friends with my mom, students whose older siblings were friends with my younger siblings, and at least one student who remembers my name from when I student taught her older brother (class of 2013) back when he was in seventh grade at the middle school down the street.

The anxiety level in the school building and whole pace of life is just so markedly different – nobody takes themselves too seriously, but everyone just does their job (and does it well.) No big deal.

All week, I have been overwhelmed with the kindness of my friends, family, and new colleagues as I make this transition. I’m happy and at peace. Thanks for welcoming me home.

Posted by: rdkpickle | 08.02.2013

makin’ tmc trend, like

Well. I live in Tennessee now. (!!!) I spent the last two days in a county-wide new teacher “induction” and today getting to know colleagues at my school. School starts next Friday. *record scratch* Wait, what?!? School starts next Friday?

Very quickly, then, between unpacking boxes and unpacking standards.

Twitter Math Camp ’13, for me, mirrored my experiences on twitter this year – more about receiving support and drawing energy from an enthusiastic group of talented math teachers than about seeking out specific activities/ideas or challenging myself to contribute my own resources. I don’t mean that I didn’t learn a ton or grow professionally, just that I am so mentally between things right now that the biggest value of the four days spent in Philly was the caffeine jolt of energy from old and new friends to launch me into a new year at a new school with new courses.

I do regret not spending more time getting to know people I was meeting in person for the first time – Ashli, Michelle, Tina, Dan, Nathan, Justin, Heather, and a whole host of others come to mind. I’m not giving myself too hard of a time about it because, to quote Annie, “you have to take care of yourself first or you are not useful to anyone else.” On the other hand, I’m thankful I got to spend more time this year in my morning sessions around James, Jami, and of course Lisa – who caught me mid-panic attack in the middle of a presentation about live binders and convinced me everything was going to be just fine. Like last year, songwriting with Sean, David, Julie, Kate, and (this year) Greg was a highlight.

 

There’s a part of me that felt like I was in twitter jealousy camp even while at #tmc13 – it’s hard not to be awed by all of the amazing and unique members of our community. Thanks for your ideas, blogs, lesson plans, conversation, support, and friendship. See you in 2014. In the meantime, you know where to find me.

Posted by: rdkpickle | 07.15.2013

rhee in tennessee

Presented without comment, with your choice of excuses: a) it is summer b) I should be filling out new hire paperwork but c) I recently got addicted to the show “Parenthood” (first 4 seasons on Netflix.) No doubt I will be back in the blogging mood once #tmc13 rolls around.

Michelle Rhee in Tennessee: StudentsFirst Floods School Races

Choice quotes:

“It’s disconcerting, and troubling,” says Fitzhugh’s colleague Joe Pitts, who sits on the House education committee but did not receive any money from Rhee. “It seems like everybody’s got an idea and they find Tennessee very fertile ground.”

“Whatever your initial intentions are, whatever your initial ideals were, once your measurements are how many legislators you control and how many laws were passed, you are nothing but a political movement,” says Mark North, the former Nashville school board member. “You are not an education movement. And when you get there, so that your only success, like a street gang, is what corner you control, you run the risk of losing your soul and losing your focus. It becomes about elections and politics, instead of schoolchildren.”

Posted by: rdkpickle | 07.02.2013

opportunity

The problem with April and May and June of this year was that I was completely burned out, emotionally drained, and trying to make some tough decisions about my life and what was next for me. I subsequently missed some wonderful goings-on in the math education world (and the math twitterblogosphere) because I just. could not. take it.

Today is the first day of July, and it’s summer, and I am beginning to feel like myself again. This morning I met with my new department head to get textbooks for my classes and talk about the coming year. This afternoon I carved a path through the Algebra 1 textbook (Holt McDougal Burger), Williamson County Algebra 1 Scope and sequence, Common Core State Standards, and Tennessee’s CCSS implementation plan.  And this evening, in the aftermath of the loss of the (still-beloved) Google reader, I caught up on some blog reading with my new reader of choice, The Old Reader. (Yes. That sentence is confusing.) So, I finally watched Uri Treisman’s NCTM address from mid-April.

I couldn’t stop myself from opening up a document and typing up some of the quotes that really grabbed me as I watched. Then right after I finished the video, I found Dan’s post from May where he did the same thing. (And dumb me for not stumbling upon it earlier, because that side by side video/powerpoint would have been nice about an hour ago.)

In any case, the quotes that grabbed me:

When you visit most math classrooms, it’s like you’re in a Kafkaesque universe of these degraded social worlds where children are filling in bubbles rather than connecting the dots. It’s driven by a compliance mentality on tests that are neither worthy of the children, nor worthy of the discipline they purport to reflect. That is the reality. That’s something that we as math educators can control.

I get the power of high-stakes accountability – it’s a blunt instrument wielded from a great distance. But we as a math education community need to remember the children in our care come first, and we have to moderate the effects. This is the hardest challenge for our profession.

So I send you forth from this talk with a message of strength and courage. There are two factors that shape inequality in this country and educational achievement inequality. The big one is poverty, but a really big one is opportunity to learn. As citizens, we need to work on poverty and income inequality or our democracy is threatened. As mathematics educators, and to realize the image of Iris Carl and all of the great NCTM leaders of that time, we need to work on opportunity to learn. It cannot be that the accident of where a child lives, or particulars of their birth determine their mathematics education.

Uri Treisman’s “Keeping Our Eyes on the Prize” – NCTM 2013 from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

I have a lot to chew on, and work through, and think about over the next month. I’m transitioning from a moderately-sized Independent school in the suburbs of D.C. to a large public school in the suburbs of Nashville, and that means a lot of changes: in class size, student diversity, access to technology, teacher autonomy, school schedule, and so many more.

I have officially disrupted my routine; I’ll let you know what comes of it.

Posted by: rdkpickle | 06.30.2013

two percent

Tom: Why so glum, sugarplum?

April: Um, I don’t know, maybe because I worked so hard on that dumb pet adoption and I failed? That’s why it’s stupid to work hard.

Tom: Let me show you something. Because you worked hard, this little terribly dressed girl has a puppy, and this little puppy has a home. Now if Leslie’s taught me anything, it’s that yes, 98% of the time this job is frustrating and you hit brick walls. But – the other 2%? It’s stuff like this kid.

stuff like this kid

(Parks and Recreation: Season 4, Episode 19 “Live Ammo”)

Today I read through all of my posts on the one good thing blog, and it reminded me of the other two percent.

Posted by: rdkpickle | 06.10.2013

never goodbye, just a “see you later”

If you don’t follow me on twitter (or know me in real life), you don’t know that I’ve made the incredibly difficult decision to leave my current school and move back from D.C. to Nashville, to be closer to family. The past few weeks have been filled with a strange mix of fear, excitement, sadness, and peace as I have been experiencing quite a few “lasts” and saying goodbye to my lovely students and colleagues.

Reflection on the highlights of these past few years deserves its own (much longer) post, but I wanted to take a moment to post the email I just sent to my students this evening.

Dear students,

It’s a rainy Monday evening, and I am taking a break from grading your exams.

For most of you, your summer has already begun and school is probably the furthest thing from your mind at this point. But, I wanted to take this opportunity to send you one last email.

This afternoon I read this (truly excellent) address by Ben Bernanke to the recent class of Princeton grads. This quote really resonated with me:

“Does the fact that our lives are so influenced by chance and seemingly small decisions and actions mean that there is no point to planning, to striving? Not at all. Whatever life may have in store for you, each of you has a grand, lifelong project, and that is the development of yourself as a human being. Your family and friends and your time at Princeton have given you a good start. What will you do with it? Will you keep learning and thinking hard and critically about the most important questions? Will you become an emotionally stronger person, more generous, more loving, more ethical? Will you involve yourself actively and constructively in the world? Many things will happen in your lives, pleasant and not so pleasant, but, paraphrasing a Woodrow Wilson School adage from the time I was here, “Wherever you go, there you are.” If you are not happy with yourself, even the loftiest achievements won’t bring you much satisfaction.”

The entire text of his speech can be found here and is well worth a read, but this part struck a chord with me, and I thought it worth passing on to you. Whatever you are doing this summer, whether it is working a summer job, traveling, volunteering, resting, spending time with family, or a combination of the above, I hope you take the time to keep learning and thinking hard about the most important questions.

Math may be the outlet through which we had the chance to discuss the universe around us this year, but (as you well know) it’s only one slice of all that there is to explore. I hope you take the time this summer to pursue your intellectual and creative interests, and perhaps push yourself to learn new things outside of your normal comfort zone.

In that vein, there are several truly great YouTube channels worth your time. In fact I stumbled on a new one today through a video some of you (especially my philosophers in 5th period) might enjoy: Is Math a Feature of the Universe or a Feature of Human Creation?. Other highly recommended channels include: Veritasium, Numberphile, Vsauce, SciShow, and of course, Vi Hart :)

As a math teacher, I’m much better at numbers than at words – you had my class for a year so you are all aware of that fact. So I’ll end this here – with an exhortation for you all to continue to push yourselves – to grow in compassion for others and understanding of our beautiful, complicated, dynamic world.

If you’d like to keep up with my teaching life in Tennessee, you can find my professional blog here: http://sonatamathematique.wordpress.com.

Best of luck on your “grand, lifelong project.”
Here’s to new adventures.
Rachel Kernodle

More soon on what’s next for me. Hope all of you who are experiencing transitions this year (new jobs, new cities, new babies) are doing well, and thanks to all of you for your strength and support as I make some big changes!

Posted by: rdkpickle | 04.03.2013

action

(I’m tired and feeling sick and probably shouldn’t be blogging. But there is a lot on my mind today, and I need to get some of the things out of it so that I can sleep. So.)

*coughs*

Ahem.

_________________________________________________________

I like brainstorming for my classes. Lesson planning, when you have enough time and some good resources to help spark your creative process, can be awesome.

My plans absolutely should get better from year to year – more engaging activities, better focus on problem solving, more in-tune with the students I have in my class. I should be rethinking and revising the curriculum, even if I do so in baby steps. I can do that! Every teacher should be doing that! That’s one part of my job I feel excited about and in control of.

But the plan is not the thing.

Because the plans might have gotten better, but each interaction with a student only happens once. So much of this job is about knowing our students as individual learners and making sure that what happens on their end is what we were aiming for. That takes a lot of work, there are a ton of variables, and it doesn’t feel like something that’s easy to plan for. Execution is hard. Also, it’s exhausting because unlike the plans that can “get better” from year to year, it’s something we start from scratch with each student, each year. It takes time to learn who your students are, build rapport, understand the dynamics of each class, and orchestrate an environment that pushes each kid. All of this, each year, from scratch, while staying positive every day and making each moment count regardless of anything else that is going on your life as an actual human being and not just a math teacher.

I know I am never going to “perfect” the human element of this job. It’s always going to be challenging. I just wish people running the show could see that that’s the part I need help with!

As Jason said in a post last month, “the idea is the easy part.

Everyone has ideas. My question isn’t about his idea it’s about his willingness to put the work in to make it happen and keep it happening.

You’ve got an idea? So do a million other people. Let’s stop celebrating ideas. Celebrate those standing waste deep in the muck with dirt in their nails and sweat on their face.

This job isn’t just about thought, it’s about action. Conversations around innovation by the adults in the building are important, but reflective practice is just as important as new ideas in creating change where it matters – in the end result for the students.

Stop giving me ideas – I’ve got plenty. The next big thing isn’t going to solve all of my problems. Start helping me get better as a teacher in action and supporting me in what will always be one of the hardest parts of this job – doing it.

_________________________________________________________

(I promised myself I would cut back on complaining and this is a very whiny post so maybe when I’m feeling better I’ll get back to writing about what’s going on in my classes these days (trig! exponential functions! logarithms! matrices!))

Posted by: rdkpickle | 03.30.2013

short-circuit

From Mike Caulfield’s blog - Thoughts on To Save Everything, Click Here

What Morozov demonstrates brilliantly is not only are we are often solving problems with inappropriate solutions, but in our rush to find solutions for these problems we are short-circuiting debate on what the problems actually are, and addressing things as problems that might in fact be features or compromises that make the  system work.

This thought stuck in my brain, and is still stuck.

Sometimes I listen to everyone talking talking talking about change/”innovation” and ache for us to take a moment to slow down and understand what it is we’re already doing. If we don’t truly know ourselves now, how do we know what needs to change? How do we know what effects change will have?

There is plenty of tension that lies in the middle of competing aims for our schools. More of one thing often means less of another. Our priorities (as teachers and school leaders trying to challenge, nurture, and transform students) should not be shifting according to the relative shininess of new ideas, but should instead be determined through honest assessment of where we are, where we want to be, and the gap between the two.

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