Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Category: Relationships

Who Can You Reach?

“You need to graduate for your Mama!” The student at the receiving end of the comment held his head down, quietly acknowledging the truth being loudly directed at him from the barrel chested veteran teacher across the room.  Weeks ago, another teacher tried unsuccessfully to get this kid to change his ways, but you can tell that hearing it from the advisor he’s had for a couple years might make him think a little harder about it. So when the kid said to these teachers that he wanted to work 50 hours a week as a grocery store manager while going to school, because he wanted to help get his mom and his family an actual house, his advisor called him out.  Over the next 20 minutes he walked his kid through the flaws in putting off school for a 50 hour a week job with as much animation and flair as you would see in a daytime talkshow.  After drawing a chart on the board, making the kid laugh and then bringing the kid to tears, he finally delivered the haymaker, “I’ve talked to your Mom, and she said her greatest wish is for you to come to school.  You need to graduate for your Mama!”

The kid was quiet.  At this point, he’d crying long enough that there was no need to act hide his emotions.  Certainly emotional, but it wasn’t if clear he “got it”.  He could wake up tomorrow and go to school inspired, but what is going to be behind this new resolve? Getting the kid to agree to new behavior will only be successful if he changes the thinking behind the behavior.  If someone just told him “Go to your internship!” and avoided the show that I got to witness, why would that student decide to listen?

  • Because this teacher is mean?
  • Because he’s ashamed of not being like his peers?
  • Because he’s “supposed” to go to college?

These passion behind these reasons will ultimately wane if this kid doesn’t connect school success to what he really wants.  If he doesn’t know WHY he needs to change, this talk will have little effect because they won’t address his current thinking, that his family needs him to work 50 hours a week.  No one knows this more than the 22 year-old veteran teacher who turned my lunch period into a Dr. Phil episode (if Dr. Phil used to play street ball at Rucker Park in the 80’s).

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Helping My Student Assistants Change Their Thinking About Math

A number of kids this cycle came to my desk begging to have a teaching assistantship to fill their schedules.  Since I have boundary issues, I now have to plan for these kids on top and their learning as they watch the rest of the class learn.  These teaching assistants are not student teachers from a local college. They are high school students, who are not necessarily stronger than any of their peers.  One student said they have a really bad history with math and another had not passed a class in over two years.  With these student assistants I could have pursued very talented math students, but they usually don’t have any trouble filling their schedules, nor would they have as much to gain from the experience.

Why have assistants at all?  Isn’t just more to manage?

Having assistants is certainly a job, and it is not worth doing if you do not have goals for them.  My goals for them is to have them view math from my perspective.  They will help students in class, grade the assignments that I grade, and talk with me about misconceptions students might have before giving feedback.  At the end of this I hope the students take a different view of mathematics.  Perhaps they could go on to take a serious interest in math in college, but I would be happy if they just approach the subject differently.  At the least, I hope the students would view math as something they can work to improve, and mathematical “bad”-ness isn’t a terminal illnees, but can be treated through correcting their misconceptions and developing a productive disposition.

For the rest of this cycle I am excited about getting them to finish the rest of the work for the class.  I want them to have a working version of the project that the rest of the class.  In addition, they could learn a lot from having to think of ways to scaffold the project, or re-word the current project.  Lastly, I will ask them to write about their approach to math, and if it is different than it was when we started. Their reflection will be informed by Approximately Normal’s posts on student teachers, but I’m open to suggestions…

We’ll see if any of the kids want to follow their teacher’s footsteps and teach a lesson their peers, but if they do I hope they will be able to get through it.


#19/33* MTBoS  *I took two days off over the weekend, and I missed another one a week ago, so I am going to keep this thing going longer to make up for it (Or maybe I’ll just be one of those once-a-day bloggers).

This Week: Rolling Dice, Perfecting Lessons, and Mice Infestations

This week is my first full week of teaching since break, except for a few meetings I have to attend.  Now the preparation is replaced by action and adjusting, as each this cycle begins it’s narrative.  Will this be the cycle I get all my classes to do insanely well?  Will this be the cycle that I learn how to respond to all my students needs?  Will this be the cycle that I blog for a week and a half and then give up?  The answer to all of these questions will be much clearer by the end of this week.

What I’m Teaching this week:

This week I plan to introduce probability to my equations and patterns class.  We will do a task that which explores the law of large numbers through rolling lots and lots of dice.  I have been doing a task for the past few years, but I am hoping to find ways to improve it and make it better.

In my Investing class, I want to find a website that allows students to invest in the real stock market.  Investing in the stock market is a fraction as exciting as kids expect, and my enthusiasm isn’t really good either.  Last time I did it, I explained the basic info in the Wall Street Journal, talked about the information available online and I gave them $1 million to spend in a virtual simulator.  Despite all this, kids ended up looking the brands they recognized, and did only superficial research.  Do you know of an effective way to teach students to invest?

What I’m Blogging this week:

This week on the blog. I on outlining how I intend to dominate my next observation.  I want to try to meet the description of highly effective in every area of classroom instruction according to Charlotte Danielson measures of effective teaching rubric.  Doing this would be the equivalent of pitching a  perfect game.  This was something that I wanted to try when it was announced that NYC was trying this new evaluation system. Also, there is a good chance that this system will be changed, now is my last chance to be evaluated on all these features.  I’ll document my preparation and the observation this week with as much detail as possible for how it goes.

What I’m Thinking this week:

This week I’m thinking about a file cabinet that up until now was very successful at keeping food safe.  Apparently mice were going in and out of this metal cabinet, eating most of an unopened bag of microwave popcorn.  While cleaning up the mess, I drifted to thoughts of vengeance immediately as I looked for ways to seal up the file cabinet and catch the mice.

As I thought about it more, I realized it was my fault.  If I cared more about stopping mice from running around, I would have not let his happen.  This made me think about a lot of other things that I don’t care about.  Sometimes I get so into what I’m doing that I let lots of little things slide.  I realized that I needed to do a lot more of the little things, like filing papers.  After school I spent an hour cleaning the mess in my file cabinet, and filing papers until I could see my desk afterwards, and there was no room to for mice to run around.  What’s the small stuff that you’re forgetting to do?


9/30 #MTBoS

Student Relationships: It’s How You Say It

Math teachers are assumed to be unable to form relationships with kids.  Societal representations of teachers portray someone who tells corny jokes, plays board games in their free time or is the geekiest of computer geeks (and in my case all three!).  Whether or not you fit typical math teacher stereotypes, it is critical to have strong relationships with students in your role as a math teacher.

This may go without saying, but having strong relationships are important for learning math, or anything.  Kids are people, and all people exist in a social context alongside other people.  Why ignore the reality of the classroom?  Why not use relationships to win students over?  I have learned a few tricks in my first few years of teaching and I hope to archive them here for my reference, and maybe someone else can make use of them as well.

It’s not always what you say, it’s often how you say it

So your relationship to students is really made up of all the little interactions you have with the students, most of which are focused on getting the students to complete a task.  As you explain the steps of the task individually or clarify a point made in front of class, really think about the way in which you are saying it.  In a situation where you have to deliver the same words over and over for multiple classes, sometimes altering the tone of your message is the only way to resonate with the varied types of learners you have in your classroom.

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