THREE day WEEK end (clap, clap, clapclapclap)

Pretty sure I’ve used that as a title for a blog post in the past, but whatever.

It was a really long fucking week, and not an especially good one, either professionally or mentally. My principal (who I really like, for the record) sent out a couple of emails at the end of the day regarding some walkthroughs that are going to be conducted next week and some expectations for how instruction should be going, and I read them and reflected on how I had to keep a seventh grader after class earlier today to make sure that he understood that if you have six pencils and you want seven you need one more.

That is not a joke, and the kid wasn’t fucking with me. At one point I literally put six Post-Its on the table in front of him and counted them and asked him how many more he needed to get seven. He said one instantly.

“Okay, what if they were pencils? If you have six pencils and you want seven, how many more do you need?”

(Pause)

“Forty-two?”

This has not been a week where I’ve been able to feel confident about my skills as an educator, let me put it that way. I have three days to get my head back on straight; I’m not sure that’s going to be enough time, and after several months of thinking yeah, it would be okay if I ended up doing this same job again next year, I’m very much in the mode of thinking that a night job at 7-11 might be a better use of my skills right now.

I’m not talking to anyone under twenty who I wasn’t personally responsible for the birth of for at least 48 hours. Hopefully that will improve things.

Mama cooked a breakfast with no hog

I’ve talked about this before– my seventh hour class is absolutely my problem children this year, and rearranging about half of them at the semester break somehow made no real differences in the overall attitude and vibe of the class. Yesterday I introduced solving systems of equations with substitution, which frankly is one of the more difficult bits of mathematics they’re going to have to deal with this year, at least in terms of the number of steps involved. And they did a decent job! I’d been warning them in advance that it was going to be tricky and I needed everyone focused while I was going over it, and I more or less got what I needed from them.

Today my co-teacher and I split the group up, if only to keep the noise level down a bit, and I ended up sitting at a table with five of my boys for the majority of the class.

And the five of them spent probably about half an hour working through the assignment with me, with varying levels of teacherly assistance, and after maybe fifteen minutes I found myself wishing I was recording them. They were genuinely working together– not one of the five was waiting for the others to get the answer– discussing their ideas on how to solve problems productively and without arguing, explaining their thinking, and generally doing every single God damn thing I want my students to do when working through math that they find challenging.

Three of the five failed math at least one of the two quarters last semester, too, which made the whole thing even more amazing.

It was a damn good day today.

In which I have returned to work

I initially intended to go back to work Wednesday. Monday and Tuesday made it clear that there was simply too much still to be done, so I didn’t, and intended to go back to work yesterday. Yesterday I woke up, spent a few minutes staring at the ceiling, and went nope, and called in.

Today I woke up and it felt normal, more or less, so I went back. And, honestly, I had a really pleasant day, and it was the right decision. The kids, 70% of whom were perfectly aware of what had happened, were really sweet all day long, including a couple of them who are normally pains in my ass, and I got a weird rush of new students during the four days I was out and all of them seem like nice, smart kids.

So I’m glad I went back. Technically I could have taken one more day, and technically I suppose since my five bereavement days don’t have to be sequential I still could take one more day at some point I needed to, but I needed to be back at work today. If it had been a rough day things might have gone south quickly, and I made some … uh … emotionally questionable decisions during my lunch and prep period but there was no one around so it was okay.

(In general, if your mom was the type who left the exact same voicemail message every time she called– “Hi honey, it’s Mom, call me–” you should probably not spend fifteen minutes listening to every single saved voicemail you have hoping to find one where she said “I love you” at the end, because while you know your Mom loved you and she was the type to say it frequently, she was not the type to throw it into a four-second voicemail message, and you will end up emotional and disappointed at work, and that is a bad decision.)

Anyway. We will see how the weekend goes; I’m expecting posting around here to more or less return to normal in the near future as well, but I assume y’all will forgive me if I spend another few days quieter than normal. I got a good day today, though. That’s worth telling y’all about.

Some teachertalk

This has, with the exception of maybe twenty minutes at the end of one class yesterday, actually been a pretty good first week back at work. Two things have worked out in my favor: first, I rearranged all of the desks in my classroom on the teacher record day before leaving for Winter Break, and I like the new layout a lot more, and it’s also quite a bit more conducive to instruction than my previous layout was.

In addition, quite a few of my students were reshuffled, something I initially regarded with wary concern but which seems to have worked out quite a bit better than I had dared to hope. I have lost a number of knuckleheads, replaced them with a bunch of kids who seem at first look at least to be pretty nice, one kid who I was expecting to be a knucklehead seems more manageable than I had thought he would be, and a surprisingly large number of kids have, on their own, come up to me and commented about how they’re having an easier time paying attention and behaving in their new class than they were in their old one. It’s actually rather fascinating.

All except 7th hour. I’ve talked about them before, I’m sure, although I’m not going to go search for a post to link to– my 7th hour class is so much more poorly behaved than the rest of my classes that it almost feels like they’re from a different building than the rest of my groups. The weird thing was that I didn’t really have any specific kids I could blame it on– the group was toxic, not any individual students.

7th hour is 50% different kids from last semester, a number of the tougher kids are in new groups (and many are among the “I’m doing better!” crew) … and the vibe in the room is exactly the same, if not actually worse.

I cannot explain it. Now, I know that there are other teachers in the building who also think their 7th hour group is their toughest, so maybe there’s something about 3:00 in the afternoon that makes them all insane, but I am generally pretty good about group psychology sorts of things and this phenomenon has completely eluded me. It’s only day three, of course, so there’s plenty of time for things to change, for better or worse, but right now I’m stymied.

In which I am successful and I don’t like it

Objectively speaking, today was a good day. Unfortunately, I apparently have no idea how to react to good news, so my brain is melting and I’m looking around for ways to mistrust what I should be treating as evidence that I have some idea how to do my job.

My first two classes of the day are seventh graders, and they are working on volume this week. We started with cubes and rectangular solids, moved on to triangular solids, and then started working on cylinders today. Now, in some ways, all of these are fairly simple– there is a reason that “follow the formula” is literally one of my classroom rules, and I allow calculator use any time that the calculation is not the point, and in this case I don’t want an inability to multiply fluently interfering with understanding what three pieces of information you need to calculate the volume of a prism.

Cubes and rectangles and triangles went fine, but in sixteen years I’ve never had a class of math kids that didn’t struggle with cylinders. Once pi comes into the mix, and especially once not only pi is in the mix but radius squared becomes a thing, they start having trouble. They get over it, but kids always need to be monitored carefully while they’re doing cylinder volume for the first time. They screw it up. I’m used to it. It’s okay.

Nope. Both classes sailed through the assignment I gave them, and from watching the class I could tell that damn near all of them understood what they were doing. Just like they’ve sailed through basically every assignment I’ve given them this week. They just aren’t having trouble with this, in a way that I haven’t seen with my previous math classes. And how did I react, to evidence that my students have learned what I have tried to teach them, a fact that in a sane world would make a math teacher happy?

Tomorrow’s assignment is going to include a mix of shapes, because I’m paranoid that what I actually have is an age cohort that has learned to push buttons in the right order but can’t actually figure out which formula they should use if I don’t hand it directly to them. I’m still going to make sure they have access to the formulas they need; I don’t need them to have anything memorized yet– but it’s not going to be a situation where they can use the same formula every time. And we will see if they crater or if they finish this assignment with the same ease that they’ve completed everything else I’ve thrown at them this week.

“But Luther,” you may be thinking, “you used an image related to graphing equations up there! That doesn’t have anything to do with volume! Why would you choose such a misleading graphic?”

Because my 8th graders pulled the exact same shit with working on slope and graphing linear equations this week. Now, I’ve talked about teaching slope on here before— be sure to read the comments, which feature the single most entertaining fight I ever got into in my comments section in the entire history of the blog, including the utterly priceless “you’re lucky you’re Canadian” final comment– and it is something that middle school kids tend to struggle with. The whole thing is weird, really; they’re just getting used to one letter being in their math, and now there are two, and somehow there’s not one right answer but a whole bunch of right answers, and you’re telling me that this equation and this line are the same thing, somehow? Okay, boomer. Sure.

Thing is, my kids have got this this year. In a way that previous groups never have. And part of the reason is definitely that because of the way that the scope and sequence was set up this year I was able to take my time and go piece by piece with it in a way that I haven’t in previous years, but it’s still stunning how well they seem to have absorbed this particular material.

So, again, I don’t trust it a bit, and I expect to go into work tomorrow and discover that they now think you use your feet to add numbers. We shall see. One way or another, Winter Break is six teaching days away, and that means they will forget everything I’ve ever told them in six teaching days plus one minute. But for now? It’s nice to feel like I know what I’m doing.