Saturday, October 24, 2009

Math, Math, and Math...

Sometimes teachers do things that change the way they approach teaching. I've posted before how I am struggling with teaching math this year - that I've been blessed with a group that is weak in the very foundation of mathematics: number sense. Without number sense - math just doesn't make SENSE.

I've been involved in a math lesson study project since August. This week my group did the actual lesson at the host school. After observing the students and talking with my group, I walked away thinking to myself that I need to rethink how I approach teaching math to this special little group of children.

One of my instructors said these all important words to me, "Gracie, focus on what they are good at and go from there. Then, decide each day what exactly you want the students to walk away with." This may sound like first year teacher stuff...I should totally know this, right? Well...this little reminder was what I needed.

After a few years in the classroom, teachers often forget that they too have to learn, grow, and yes, change their teaching in order to become better educators. For me, this means I have to put all my past preconceptions of what a "math class" should be on the back burner and move in a different direction....this reinventing the mathematics wheel definitely wasn't in my plan for the school year - I love the irony, don't you?

The challenge for me is how to make sure my students master basic number sense, at the same time keep up with the curriculum that has been mapped out by my school district. This is my mission for this school year...and if it kills both the students and me, we will find a way to be successful. Success...something this group has been be told since first grade they will not achieve...well, I'm here to change that.

My administration has given me a Calendar Math kit. I incorporated this program into my classes at my old school. It can be a cumbersome endeavor and can completely take over the class, however, done right it can help students gain a sense about numbers they never thought possible...and number sense is where I have to start with this group.

Something else I've started in my class is constant practice with both mental math and multiplication facts. In the past I haven't worried too much about students memorizing multiplication facts - I mean isn't that what a multiplication chart is for? Let's be honest, knowing multiplication facts quickly makes math so much easier.

This group of students are getting good at mental math. Using a bribe - I mean incentive of homework passes I am hoping they will know their multiplication facts most of the time. . Focus on what they are good at, Gracie, and go from there....

OK...this is a start. My gut tells me this is the way to proceed, that this can work - cool...that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

So, being a team player, I share my number sense thoughts with my co-teacher from special ed. Out of nowhere our little planning meeting co-teacher responds with a constructive critque of my teaching ideas. As we talk I'm having this other conversation in my head...saying things that would be completely inappropriate in this professional setting.

This educator says she thinks it is best if she takes her special education students out of my general education classroom. That she can't teach them because she has to pay attention to the general education students, and it's too many students for her. Seriously? You're a teacher who can't teach more than 8 students at a time?

I smile and tell her I respect her decision, and ask about the VGLA portfolios (what LD students do instead of standardized testing). You will love this: she says we can still plan together and she will use all the lessons and VGLA assessments I create....but the LD students cannot be taught in my classroom. Will I agree and support this decision? Are you kidding me? She's either stupid or has balls the size of Bolivia for asking me to do her work for her.

I smile again...tell her I respect her decision and she can do what she wants, but I don't agree it is good for kids to be pulled out of a general ed classroom. Not smiling, I said she will have to plan her own lessons. Good luck on putting those VGLA binders together.

Here's the bottom line: this teacher doesn't like my teaching style. She doesn't like that I teach LD students the same way I teach all students - as individuals. She doesn't like that I have the same high expectations for ALL students - I don't care about labels. She doesn't like that I put student learning first, and changeable words from an IEP second. She doesn't like that I don't want to give 5th grade students 2nd grade worksheets. She completly hates that I base accommodation on student need and not a text book. Know what? I don't dig your teaching style either. Your low expectations and constant hand holding will cripple these students.

I spoke with my assistant principal. She's not sure it is best to pull out the special education students. Her main concern: passing the VGLA...she knows I can get students to do binders that will pass advance...very good for the school's AYP score. Everyone has a fucking agenda...

My agenda? I just want the kids to learn...and the conflict with this woman will end one way or the other...It is killing my teaching...students aren't getting my best...unacceptable.

I don't know how this will pan out...the only thing I do know is that I just have to, "Focus on what the students are good at, and go from there." This clueless teacher can be my opportunity.

These are times when I wish I was still friends with HIM. He's an administrator, he knows education and the lame games we play at elementary schools. Yes, I would love his insight here...what would he tell me as my friend, as administrator? Ha!...wouldn't he just love GIVING his opinion...Come on, he would...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Looking Through Glass...

I was asked yesterday what is it that I want from my life right now. In that moment I was not able to articulate what I want. Last year at this time everything seemed so the lines have been blurred.

Those who are in the know say these feelings are normal, especially for women. As we enter our mid forties women start thinking of all the things that, "should have been or might have been." Admittedly I am in that place.

I have thought a lot of what "might have been". You know what might have been had I stayed in California? What might have been had I waited for HIM to deal with his issues. What might have been had I just stayed in Spain this summer.

I've posted in the past the way I would like my life to proceed. I've posted my "plans" to get myself there. I've always been able to manifest the things that I accomplish my goals, but lately it seems like I've been looking at my life from inside a glass wall where I am unable to make my dreams come true.

I am feeling stuck inside that glass. Stuck in a world where I am destined to live this boring, unfulfilled, unloved life. As I said last year at this time it was all clear. I felt like I was doing great things as a teacher. I lived a life where I socialized with people. I was loved - or at least believed I was loved by someone special.

Now I go through the motions of my life. I give my all to teaching...doing the best I can within the prameters of this new school. I have a couple friends. I don't think I can really speak about the love part - not today anyway. But like I said, I'm just watching...I'm not really participating.

I want to know this...where is my passion? Why can't I find it? I keep searching. Trying new things. Staying positive, being thankful for everything that the universe has given me...thinking joyful thoughts. Where is that passionate woman that I was? I got to know her in Spain...I miss her...where is she?

The logical side knows that these feelings are coming to the surface because my birthday just passed yesterday. The day come and not one of my "friends" here in Virginia even acknowledged it...not that this is a requirement for my friendship...but it just...I don't just made me feel a little sad and really alone here.

My two best friends; who as I've said before do not live here in Virginia, tell me that I need to leave here...that I've out grown this place...who knows maybe they are right...the question is where to next....where am I going to find my passion?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Not What I Thought....

Math...usually a subject that I have been very successful at teaching. Right now I am totally lost with the group of students in my classroom. I've shared before that the school I am at "flexible groups". That is a politically correct way to say they track students. My group is the lowest of all the 5th graders and I cannot figure out how to get them to learn the curriculum.

I am frustrated to the point of anger. Anger directed at myself because I do not know what to do. It is like I am talking to a box of rocks with these kids....and this is only the beginning of October.

The special education teacher I am co-teaching with says that we have to force them to memorize the concepts. I bite my tongue when she says these things reminding myself that this is her first year and no matter how much book learning she has done, she really has no clue about teaching.

A group like this doesn't memorize to learn...they really have to LEARN the stuff or it just ain't gonna stick. On top of that there are ONLY low students in this there is absolutely no peer tutoring, which in the past has helped the lower students I have worked with.

I sometimes wish I was like many teachers and just not give a shit about the students who are not getting what I am teaching...but I've tried that and it just isn't me....I do care...probably too much.

So here I am the beginning of October with a group of students who are not learning math. I have a co-teacher who doesn't bring a fucking thing to the table...she is too busy to come up with modifications that could possibly help the children learn, and she is entirely too busy to spend extra time teaching the students - like during their lunch time. So the modifications and accommodations are left to me...the extra time teaching is left to me...I know I sound resentful...sorry it is the mood I am in right now.

On top of that it is my birthday this weekend. I turn 45 and am not liking it. It isn't the getting older part. It is the feeling like things are not turning out the way I thought they would part. Work isn't what I thought it would be. My personal life is well...definitely not what I thought it would be. I keep thinking of my birthday last year...and that just makes me cry because I was truly happy then...and life is not turning out the way I thought...