Fall semester is coming to a close and I have a general sense of winding down. There is little concerning me about the end of the semester, other than generating a couple of finals. However, the fall semester is a bit of a tease. The way our district calendar works, the spring semester is a much higher mountain to climb (the first two grading periods are each a grueling 7 weeks long). Add to that the luxury of soccer being off-season (high school runs Nov through April, 8th grade April until mid-May) and it would seem it's only tougher from here. But so much has been successful in the classroom this semester that it shouldn't be too hard to adapt to my changing schedule. Highlights:

  • Most of my time outside of school is spend planning and refining a project idea or problem set, grading is the easiest thing I do
  • Grading is a lightning fast process, and with weekly, concise assessments, they are the only papers I scrutinize, I don't sift through 100s of worksheets simply to give check grades
  • Requiring my students to sit in groups has shrunk the feel of the classroom, bursting at the seems though it may be
    • in-class work is easily divided up among the colors, reducing the number of people I can choose for a given answer
    • a student commented "this is the only class where I know people's names" thanks, I think, to regular periods where they talk to each other about math instead of listening to me
    • I have overheard so many smile-inducing conversations about math from the kids, and many groups spend a lot of time teaching one another
    • Pre-Cal kids accept the group model better than Algebra II kids
    • explicit group activities are easier to plan as I don't have to devote 30 minutes stressing over who works with who
    • five kids per group is, unfortunately, a little big but it's the best I can do right now
    • we had at least one group project a six weeks with solid results, and lots of nice posters
  • Requiring notebooks reduces the "invisible paper" problem I saw in my first year and a half, I have observed many of my mid-range students consulting their books before asking for help
  • My comfort level with the material is getting me to ask better questions, I feel like I'm being more thorough with Pre-Cal and the kind of things I expect out of Algebra II are way above what I was ok with my first year
  • Lesson planning is more efficient, last year I would open up our lesson planning website and slowly figure things out at the computer, mostly forgetting it when the week started, now:
    • I used a big, long calendar to sketch out the next 10 days
    • I explicitly write my plans out for both subjects in a notebook
    • Anything that I need to make (test, problem set, group sheets) gets sketched out in a separate notebook
    • Typing the lesson plan becomes a quick formality
  • I forced days off into my routine, two nights a week I do nothing school related at all no matter how much I want to
  • "What can you do with this?" didn't quite get where I wanted, but I pulled out some "math is everywhere" items
  • I gave the kids a chance to offer input to how their class runs
  • I spread the knowledge of my assessment system with my math department, and I think the movement is getting somewhere

There is still room to improve and I hope to dedicate a little time over the upcoming break to get some good things in place for spring:

  • I have the rare day where the lesson moves awkwardly because I didn't prepare well
  • I hand out too much assistance during tests, to a disasterous effect a couple days ago, had to reestablish protocol with the class in question
  • I still randomly oversimplify topics or flat out say something wrong, though so far it hasn't been anything major, recently I related the graphs of tan(x) and cot(x) incorrectly
  • I want more in depth group projects but don't want to write some ridiculous script they follow word for word
  • I want to force my Pre-Cal kids to start thinking about problems more by using more multi-layered items
  • I want to foster a little more group unity, a problem moreso in Algebra II where there is a subset of students that ignore their group completely even when they have to work together
  • I want to be more thorough with notebook checks, I think I'm letting a few kids off the hook with daily grades
  • I have rushed a couple topics for the sake of testing, need to be better about actively discussing something if I know I want to test it two ways
    • data collection in Algebra II revolved around an activity where we measured heights, foot sizes, and recorded birthdays and talked about any possible correlations, the first time I tested on the subject the questions were all related to the activity, the second time I focused on more abstract prediction questions that kind of came out of left field and a lot of kids didn't know what to do
    • Pre-Cal has gotten a few softballs because it can be hard to subdivide the material. I tested twice over finding complements and supplements, ugh.
    • the above examples give rise to the thought of the rare "one shot" if I have a topic that feels unnatural to test twice, but that opens the door to create other funky exceptions and I don't like that
  • I have trouble forcing myself to up the difficulty on the second attempt
  • I have to remember to show why cute shortcuts work with real, intense math definitions (ex: solutions to factoring problems are just the opposite of the factors, but why can we say that?)
  • I have midjudged how long assessments should be, Algebra II has had two instances where we had to dedicate class time to finish a test because I got a little crazy with the number of problems or underestimated how long it takes them to work

Overall, it's been a good semester and I honored most aspects of the system that I told the kids I was going to honor. That's always the biggest challenge no matter how long you've been teaching, do what you say you're going to do. You can push kids if they know that's what you expect. You can't push kids if they know you'll just do it for them.

So if you're a new teacher, keep your head up, eventually you find your groove and the insanity of developing classroom procedures, well-paced lessons, thorough lessons, finding what kids do and do not respond to, and how to set your expectations dies down to the point where you can start refining higher-order aspects to your style.


AuthorJonathan Claydon