Sometimes you send up a flare and the Universe notices.

Last post, I said I wanted to belong.  Guess what happened?

I was recently offered and (duh) accepted a longish-term sub job at a school where I have previously taught.  While the search for a permanent teacher continues, I will be teaching four different ‘levels’ of middle school math for six to nine weeks.  I am SO EXCITED for this opportunity to put into action many of the ideas, values, and beliefs I have reading about and reflecting on over the last three years!  I really do feel wiser, and that feels good. 

This past week, I’ve been cramming.  Carefully read three more chapters of  Creating Cultures of Thinking.  Finally perused  Geoff Krall’s thoughtful blog series  from the summer, which I kept meaning to get to but never did.  Have finally had a couple brief yet valuable twitter experiences. 😆 Revisited several pertinent and inspirational blog posts:  Mark Chubb’s “Never Skip the Close”,  Sara van der Werf’s “Name Tents with Feedback”  and Fawn Nguyen’s “First two days of school” .  I’ve reviewed the routines in Illustrative Math , a stellar curriculum I upon which I am planning to lean heavily.  (Need something similar for Algebra, hint hint!)  Somehow I hope to get in some training in Notability and Google classrooms as well.  I don’t start until the 18th, but much of my time before then will be given to prior commitments.  Most of my anxiety circles around wanting to be fully prepared hahaha, wondering how to deal with the early and long hours and exhaustion, and related to that, what I need to do to keep family time sacred and create/sustain a reasonable sense of balance.  

I have a tendency to overthink (which may look at times like procrastination).  There are so many options and many decisions to make, and am working to gain focus and determine what my educational “big rock” priorities are (student relationships and student learning!), what would be nice, and what to let go, and what battles I can’t fight right now.  Decisions need to be made so I can move forward.  So far, this is where I’m at:

 

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Although students at this school know each other well— its a small-town K-8 AND its six weeks into the year— I don’t know them at all as people or as learners.  Nor do I know what sort of classroom culture I will be inheriting (although I have some sneaky suspicions).  I’m trying to figure out the right the balance between developing a thinking and learning culture and moving forward, deeply, with content.  Usually when you’re a sub, you have to work with the established culture.  However, since I am going to be there awhile, I definitely want to invest time in developing culture, even for this relatively short period, even though it may be dismantled when I leave.  

How could I not?  

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Want = Need?

Got some serious self-reflecting going on today about my so-called professional life.

Resulting in an important (to me, for me) insight…

What I WANT (professionally) is to BELONG.

I’m really not sure how to make that happen, what would be a good fit, what would make a difference.  Things I’ve been trying out (like this blog) seems to fall flat. Its difficult to imagine something else when you don’t know what else is possible.  Or maybe I’m looking for probable, because that sounds less risky?  Or maybe I have some belief systems that are getting in the way.

…and a Haiku:

 

                           Do others see me

                          as not legit because I

                          quit?  Do I?  Well, shit. 

 

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#Me-me-me

I still don’t understand twitter. That is, I get how it works, how one can write and read tweets, like/dislike tweets, comment on them, retweet, etc., (whether or not they contain truth or have value).  All actions that seem available in all forms of social media, including blogs.  I get that it is about sharing.

I am not inclined to have my personal or professional life revolve around social media.  Maybe its generational, maybe it just me being selective or making priorities. Maybe my skepticism and reluctance are based on misconceptions and ignorance. Or all of the above. I know I am not interested in the self-centered, everybody-look-at-me aspect, although I don’t think that’s what people have in mind when they encourage me to get on twitter for professional purposes.

I guess what I don’t understand is, what DO they have in mind?  What is it they are asking of me? Why do they feel this is important?  What are the advantages and disadvantages?  Is it possible to use twitter to have a worthwhile conversation? If so, how?   I am not even sure what questions to ask about twitter that will convince me that it is worth my time and effort.

What am I missing, here?

PS.  In the spirit of making it all about me (and to include a visual in all this boring text)… lookie what I did!

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UPDATE (10 minutes later)

It occurs to me that maybe I should stop overthinking and just get a twitter account and start looking at what y’all are doing and saying.

Maybe

Mark Chubb  is wondering, in the thoughtful way he does, WHY he blogs. I wrestle with this from time to time as well, and his post has once again inspired me to consolidate my thoughts.

I read blogs (mostly math ed) because I find them to be educational, inspirational, and insightful; I love and appreciate having access to a wealth of progressive ideas and thoughtful opinions, a chance to consider perspectives that mirror or challenge my own. Its a bonus if I laugh out loud. I tend to process my ideas (and over think) slowly, so it is not unusual to have what I read suddenly catapult my half-baked thoughts into clarity. Reading blogs helps me feel less isolated in my pedagogical beliefs and my struggles. Writers’ thoughts and questions around teaching and learning keep me reflecting on my practice and keep me growing.*

I started writing because I craved community, a place to have a voice. I periodically formalize an opinion, concern, or insight and hit “post” with some satisfaction. I feel as if I have accomplished a personally significant task–to summarize my most current musings into a post I hope is readable and not too boring. My community need is being met passively because for the most part, I am talking to myself. Although blogging thus far has provided a forum for thought-collection, it is not yet for me a conversation. To that end, I am attempting to be more brave proactive and comment on other people’s posts. It’s just not quite the same as a conversation though, is it? Maybe what I simply need is feedback.

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A pretty picture for you.

At times, I feel a tad foolish. If (if) I measure the success of my endeavors by readership, then I have failed. I supposed I could put a growth mindset spin on that and say I have not been successful yet. Were my goal to inspire others, then by default, that goal cannot be met due to the fact that virtually no one reads my blog. I have written about this before, questioning why I bother blogging.  As of now I am OK with my lack of followship** because writing for me is sufficient justification. I know it is helping me and it’s a valuable counterpart to and natural extension of reading.

Me Me Me.

It seems I read and write for self-serving reasons. Not very noble or altruistic, and maybe there’s the source of my inner struggle. While I can’t imagine my words inspiring others or provoking a lively exchange in the comment section, while I realize that my insights are original to me but not exactly fresh breakthroughs for others, and while I do not aspire to become a sought-after speaker or an outspoken leader and catalyst for change, I wonder…..do I hope, deep down, that somewhere, someone, benefits?  That someone, somewhere, values what I say?  Or at the very least, is listening?

Maybe.

*I also read and write because I have time, being casually retired, so I also struggle with wondering why I feel so compelled to continue to grow when I am not teaching. Currently.

**Is that even a word?  It is now!

Before That….

I got so gung-ho about my previous post on our First Ever Talking Points that I forgot I already had a draft in the queue.  So here it is, out of order.  Not that it’s earth-shattering, it’s just part of the journey.

“Jackie” and I met on Labor Day to do some planning. We decided that margaritas would impede rather than enhance our productivity. Hmmm.

In my ongoing effort to keep our work Jackie-centered and not Pat-centered (yes, this is difficult for me!), I asked her where she wanted to start. She obviously had been thinking about this (YAY) because she got right on it:

I want to use activities and tasks that engage students and move their learning forward.

(As I write this, I realize that I SHOULD HAVE asked her what she meant by engaged, and for examples of what she didn’t want. Agh! Missed opportunity!! Valuable mistake!!!)

What I did instead was to clarify “engaged” myself– mentally engaging, requiring active thinking. Not busy work. Some people think busy (and quiet) = engaged.

She and the other 7th grade math teachers at her school have agreed to start with ratios and proportions. I unfortunately continued to stomp idiotically all over her space by suggesting that we determine what the Big Ideas were (stomp stomp) and then bulldozed ahead to tell her what I thought they were. (STOMP STOMP STOMP!)

*sigh*  I think I get overly-enthusiastic because I have spent an embarrassing amount of time thinking and reading and writing and thinking some more about ratios and proportionality. (Integers, too, BTW.) And I don’t have an outlet, except this blog that remains unread. However, the point of this blog- reflection-journal-thing about Jackie and Pat’s Great Adventure is for me (Pat) to learn, and what I am learning at this moment is that I need to BACK OFF a bit and provide Jackie room for her voice. I still wonder how I should go about preparing, content-wise, for collaboration without over-preparing and as a result, overstep.  Even if she agrees with me, it’s not OK. How do I know if she really agrees? I will never know what she thinks or wonders about if I don’t shut up an listen.

Hmmm, it’s just like teaching. Wellwaddayaknow.

Back to the story, us sipping our very fine water and me saying I thought the Big Idea (that unfortunately gets overlooked) in proportional reasoning is that ratios (and rates) are all about RELATIONSHIPS.

One of us (I hope it was her) suggested we do some actual planning. We penciled in two days for WIM Week 2 Day 1 to develop group norms and introduce growth mindsets. Then on my first day volunteering, we’re going to introduce the Talking Points protocol together.   After the weekend, she’s going to do a shorter TP related to ratios, and launch a task comparing prices of liquids (inspired by this post by Dan Meyer). To practice with proportional ratios, she’s going to ask students to bring in a favorite family recipe. On Wednesday, I’m going to sub for her (how great is that?) and do WIM Week 2 Day 2, which fits well with our Big Idea of RELATIONSHIPS.
Being even less familiar with Talking Points than I am (isn’t it great that she is willing to trust me and try?), Jackie has questions. She’s wondering about their purpose and use,  just trying to wrap her head around it. It was a bit challenging for me to answer her questions satisfactorily because I only know what I have read and have no personal experiences or training, either.  It just sounds…right.  Returning to her original statement about “engaging and moving learning forward”,  I reiterated that it’s value lies in engaging every student in a manner that feels equitable and safe.  If I understood her correctly, she is struggling to see how to intentionally use TP to move learning forward. Now I wonder, too.

With that question unresolved for now, we came up with the first ratio TP to assess/access student prior knowledge before launching the Price of Liquids lesson.

If Ken takes less time on his morning jog than Barbie does on hers, he’s a faster runner.

UPDATE: I have developed these additional points and sent them to Jackie for her to edit (add, delete, re-order, re-word, whatever).

TP (Ratios)
1.  If Ken takes less time on his morning jog than Barbie does on hers, he’s a faster runner.
2.  The United States should switch to using the metric system.
3.  Percents are ratios.
4.  Ratios are really just fractions.
5.  I use math when I shop.
6.  Numbers in math are easier to understand when they are in context and mean something.

The Proposal

A couple of weeks ago, I thought holy shit, summer vacation is almost over and I haven’t met up with my friend and fellow not-retired math teacher for a coffee! So I texted her and we arranged what turned out to be a nice long visit in a park on a sunny, 98˚ day.  We got caught up with each other’s lives and laughed ourselves silly.  There was just one conversation in particular I want to share.

Last year, a different friend (who is also a math teacher) very graciously and generously let me volunteer in her classroom once a week. I’m not sure how helpful/useful I was, but it was tons of fun for me. It really helped me stay connected to teaching and learning and kids and school, helped me feel useful in a teachery sort of way.  I am so grateful.  (She, too, is now retired.  In case you were wondering, I did manage to have coffee with her this summer as well.)

So I mentioned to my not-retired friend (let’s call her Jackie) that I was not sure what volunteering would look like for me this coming year, since my other option retired. This was basically what happened next:

Jackie: You could come into my class.
Me: Really? Really?
Jackie: Well, of course.
Me: REALLY? I thought….for some reason my impressions was…I didn’t realize….um..
Jackie: What? That I wouldn’t want you there? Pfffft. You could even teach, if you want.
Me: (Silent for a moment.) OK, this is… I mean…What if….I’ve got this idea….
Jackie (waits for me to pull myself together)
Me: OK, volunteering. Definitely. Yes!  Thank you. Here’s what else: I’ve spent the last year reading all kinds of blogs online, I’ve taken this course, done a lot of thinking, got a billion things I want to try out but can’t. Would you be interested in doing some collaborating? Some planning together? Some unofficial co-teaching?
Jackie: Yes, I would.

We tossed the idea around a bit more, thought maybe we should run our idea past admin.  Decided we were getting too hot and sticky, splashed our feet in the public kiddie pool for a bit before parting ways. Me, excited and strangely nervous.

I spent some time that evening thinking about what our roles should be in our collaboration. I ended up sending her an email that included this:

I think this adventure should be all about you, your needs, your goals, your learning,
and those of your students. I’m the resource there to support you, to empower you,
help you determine your goals, to give you feedback, ideas, etc. I obviously will have
my own goals, but not my own agenda. Whatever we end up doing, it should push us both
just a little outside our comfort zone, have value, and a positive impact on class culture and student learning. We should give ourselves permission to fumble around
a bit and make mistakes and also allow ourselves the time we need to improve
and figure things out. IMO, that’s what learning is.

She quickly shot back that she finds those exact things IMPERATIVE. Good, we’re on the same page.

It goes without saying, but I’m saying it anyways:  I’m pretty excited!

Casually Retired, Year 1

As the beginning of The Second Year of Me Not Teaching draws closer, I find myself pondering my situation. My decision to “retire” at the end of the 14-15 school year remains completely right and wise, and I am so grateful on virtually a daily basis to be able to “be there” for and with my family. It’s pretty damn wonderful.

What surprises me however is how much I continue think about teaching and learning, about schools and education. That I am still quite invested in growing professionally in spite of the fact that I do not currently have a job, have a classroom, have students, have colleagues. That I get excited when I read insightful blogs or arrive at a personal aha moment, yet am frustrated because the conversations I crave remain elusive. I feel more informed, better equipped, a tad wiser, and inspired. In my imagination, I am able to move assertively and confidently toward becoming the teacher I really want to be.  I still want to Be the Change, to make a difference.

Just not full time. And not yet.

In the meantime, I’ll keep reading and learning and doing this irregular blogging thing. Periodically I wonder why I bother, feel like I will remain invisible/insignificant forever, but then remind myself that for now it’s enough to be interested (even if uninteresting). Whatever I’ve gained from my time reflecting this past year seems to have become the foot wedged in the teaching-learning door, keeping it decidedly ajar.

So I’ll continue to post what I find interesting, inspirational, and insightful. Someday someone somewhere may be glad I did. For now, I am glad that I can.