Professional Judgement

I’ve been doing this job for 16 years. I’ll start round 17 in the next week. I’ve had a lot of time to practice my craft. Some things work great, sometimes you fall flat on your face. Through all of those years, you develop your style, learn about what works well for kids, how to motivate them, and in general, how to be an effective teacher. I tend to do a fair amount of self-reflection and actively try to learn from my colleagues. I don’t think I’m off-base, or full-of-myself when I say I’m a pretty good teacher and I am good at my job. I know what I’m doing. I know how to relate to kids. I care about their success and always try to help them learn and become the young adults that are beginning to emerge.

We’re at the end of the first semester. Tuesday is a grading day. I’ve already done a lot of grading so I can see how they’ll turn out. Not so hot.

So what’s different about the last quarter? I’ve been doing what the district wants me to do. We have these “data teams” and we meet each day. Part of our charge is to do these pre and post tests and measure the growth in student progress. We’re supposed to focus on the high priority benchmarks of the standards. Well, we did. We spent two weeks on Linear Programming, with a pre and post test. Most of the rest of the quarter was spent on the chapter about quadratics (parabolas).

We did our pre test on linear programming and found out what we already knew… They didn’t have a clue about it. We taught all of our stuff, dragging it out for a few weeks and then tested them. What happened? The kids that pay attention and do their work, did just fine and learned a fair amount. The kids that screw around and generally don’t care, bombed it. Not exactly shockingly surprising data…

For the chapter on quadratics we decided to do our pre test after we had taught the basics. We thought that would help us figure out how to proceed. We were so depressed with the results, all we could do was jokingly talk about playing pin the vertex on the parabola – without a blindfold. The most basic information that we had been teaching for a few weeks, seemed to have gone in one ear and out the other. To top it off, this “test” frustrated my students. The format was different from the problems that we had been doing and they had trouble adjusting. Granted, they should be able to transfer their knowledge and go between formats. But they weren’t ready for that yet and it just made them dig in their heels.

After that, I took it upon myself to teach the vertex form of a parabola and solving quadratics by completing the square, and testing them on that small amount of material. This is similar to what I’ve done in the past. Guess what? They did quite well and felt good about what they had done. They now had a test score that helped their grade. We moved onto the quadratic formula and more complex factoring. My choice would have been to give them a test on those two topics. But we were coming to the end of the quarter and we had to do our post test for our data team.

The test covered everything that I had taught them about quadratics. Granted, some of it had been before Winter break. But we had gone over multiple forms of quadratics and how to solve them and how all of the parts we learned related to one another. The test was made up of some of the exact same problems on the pre-test. Can you guess what happened? The kids that pay attention and do their work, did just fine and learned a fair amount. The kids that screw around and generally don’t care, bombed it. Shocker, huh? And yes, I did just copy and paste from 3 paragraphs up…

So now I’m sitting in the situation of way more kids failing than normally would, had I been able to do it my way. The kids that care are going to pass, no matter how you create your class and present the material. But the knuckleheads that don’t give a shit? They have different needs and there are a fair amount of them. I can get them to succeed when I give them manageable amounts of material and present it in a way where they can feel successful and want to do well. What we did with the data team process did not serve them. And now they’ll have to make up a credit through summer school or some alternative learning program.

Why is it that the higher-ups in education think that you can treat every kid as if they are the same? Every kid is different and has unique experiences, talents and challenges. As the teacher, I get to know them as individuals and learn about them and how to best meet their needs. I would love it if I was allowed to do what I’ve been trained to do and have excelled at for years. But now, it’s just a frustrating mess.

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Circle?

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I guess there’s no need to get out my compass… 😉

I finally got their attention!

While I was Christmas shopping a few weeks ago I ran across a children’s book while shopping for my 3-year-old niece. I got her some other books. But I got myself one too. The Monster Who Did My Math, by Danny Schnitzlein. It’s a great book about a boy who has trouble with math and enlists the help of a monster to do his homework. But he runs into trouble when the teacher calls him to the board to do a problem. I thought the book was really cute and most people could relate to the feeling of having trouble with math.

My district had us come back to school for Thursday and Friday this past week. I forgot to take the book with me on Thursday. But I did remember it on Friday. I read it to all five classes. They LOVED it! I even got applause in two of the classes when I finished. I swear, it’s the most attentive they’ve been the entire school year. I don’t know what that says about my teaching… But it does say something about how kids like to be “read to.” I did my best voices and inflections, showing the illustrations, etc. I was wearing a t-shirt with a fleece jacket. I actually got “hot” while doing this dramatic reading. It takes more energy than you’d think! I figured it would be a good way to end a nice short week. To my surprise, it was perfect!

No matter what age you teach and no matter what age the book is geared toward, I’d recommend trying this out. They may put up a fuss at first about you reading a children’s book to them. But deep down, they love it!

Installation Complete!

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And they’re up!

My dad and his friend were just over and put my cabinets up. It’s amazing what a difference it makes. All of those supplies that were scattered here and there now have a home.

I’ve always wondered how my dad has done a few of these installations by himself. It’s interesting to see the problem solving skills in action. He brought over a bucket to rest the cabinets on. He figured I had a few textbooks to get it to the right height. Once it’s at the right height, he just had his friend hold the cabinet flush to the wall so it wouldn’t topple over. Finding the studs was a bit tricky at the end. There must have been something in the wall that needed to be built around. So the studs at the bottom didn’t match the ones at the top. To find one at the top they took off the plate for the electrical outlet to see which side the stud was on. From there they measured up and then over 16 inches to find another stud.

My job was to hand over a few screws and keep track of some tools. My cordless drill came in handy. One drill was set with a bit to drill a guiding hole for the screw. The second drill had the bit for a screw driver. Nothing too taxing for me. But it was interesting to watch.

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Latest Project

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In an effort to get organized, I’m getting cabinets put up in my laundry room. My dad found some on sale that fit my requirements. The only catch was that they were on sale until 5 pm Christmas Eve. After church we made a mad dash over to Menard’s to get them.

Before I have them installed, I decided that I needed to paint. So right after Christmas, I was busy prepping and painting. I decided on the same color as my bathroom – 3am Latte by Hirschfield’s. I like the color and it fits with the rest of my house. Painting around the furnace is not an easy task, nor is moving the washing machine and dryer. But, it can be done.

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This morning, my dad and his friend are coming over to install the cabinets above the washing machine and dryer. I’ll post an update when they’re done. My goal to de-clutter and get more organized will be much easier when this project is done.