Reflection

I am a math teacher.

When I first started college, I entered as a math major, with a minor in English. I loved math. I loved the fluidity of how numbers worked. I loved how numbers could make sense of things. However, when I took Calc III the first semester of my freshman year, I quickly stopped loving math so much. It moved to theoretical, and if I'm honest, it was just hard. I soon changed my focus to English, keeping only a minor in math. 

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I entered the teaching field, then, focusing on English. I've always loved literature, and I love the plethora of ways I can creatively teach it.

However, since I went to college in Michigan, I was able to receive credentials in both my major and my minor subjects. Therefore, when staffing changed at my school a few years ago, I was asked to begin teaching a math class as well. 

At the time, I knew nothing about teaching math. However, I did know two really cool math teachers who both loved math, and more importantly, loved kids: John Stevens and Matt Vaudrey. At Back to School Night last night, I've realized just how much they've really impacted my math education philosophy. Here's what I've learned from watching their practice: 

Math should be fun. Math gets a bad wrap for being drill and kill and a bland lecture format. Although my math class still has moments of lecture, you'll often hear sound effects or hand movements or crazy wording to help us remember things.

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Math is more than a worksheet. I love teaching pre-algebra because so much of it is "real world" math. I've learned to look for how students might use our mathematical concepts in their world with their ideas. We do big projects and little projects and get our hands dirty as much as possible. 

Mathematical excellence can occur with little to no homework. The more I talk with families, especially here in the Bay, I'm struck by the soul-killing and family-killing nature of math homework. We can practice skills in class a lot and have little to no homework every night. Turns out this creates a way more math-loving culture, too. 

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Math can be a team sport. When I think back to my math classes, it's amazing how much of math class was listen to the teacher, do a worksheet by yourself. There's so much beauty to me in students working together to solve a problem. I love the mathematical conversations I hear in my room every day. 

The more time I spend processing the last several weeks of the beginning of the year, the more I realize that I am truly a math teacher. I'm not just a language arts teacher who teaches math anymore. I love watching my math students learn and create and work together and have fun. I love making crazy lessons for them that put our mathematical concepts to good use. I am a math teacher.

Give 'Em a Microphone!

"Middle school students are the most underestimated people in the world. I love that technology can amplify their voices." If you've heard me speak, you've probably heard me say this, but I believe it more every day. This week, my students gave TED-style speeches, and I was once again reminded how we need to give our students microphones and get out of the way. 

Our journey started by reading I Am Malala, and learning how the world isn't just our little San Jose bubble. We discussed religion and education and women's rights and terrorism and so many more big, heavy things. But in the midst of it all, we saw a girl who stood up for what she believed in, empowered by those around her. And when she was given a microphone, she just kept going. One day, in the midst of Malala and her friends' frustration with the Taliban, Malala's teacher and father helped them compose speeches and essays about their feelings on the issue. Soon, she was given a microphone. She writes, 

"And I knew in that instant that it wasn't me, Malala, speaking; my voice was the voice of so many others who wanted to speak but couldn't. Microphones made me feel as if I were speaking to the whole world" (71).

I want that for my students. I want them to be a voice for the voiceless. To stand up and speak to the world confidently about what they believe to be true. So we started on a journey. 

We began by watching Nancy Duarte's video on the secret behind great talks. She argues that all of the world's great speeches alternate back and forth between a "what is" and a "what could be." How perfect for standing up for the voiceless. 

My students chose topics that they were passionate about. We created sexy slides (thanks, Unsplash!), and we practiced. We said our speeches pacing back and forth on stage. We practiced with our shoes tied together. We shared with each other. We said it to the air. 

But then we took it to the stage. Under the lights, with a microphone, using a clicker. And their voices brought power. 

"Be strong in your opinion, but do it with wisdom, not foolishness, and do it with respect to those who have lost their lives fighting for the opportunity for you to speak out."

"Disregard everything, and run after what you love."

"How can you stop stereotypes and judging others?"

"I've never have had to worry about working or staying at home to cook or clean. All I've ever had to do is show up and learn."

"Instead of indulging in our own negative emotions and then affecting the people around us, we should learn how to release our emotions in another way."

"There are more than 63 million orphans around the world."

"Shoot for the stars, and never give up, living your worth, your voice, and your dreams."

I could go on and on and on. These students blew my mind with their poise and passion as they took the stage, the opportunity and the microphone empowering them to make a difference. 

Our students just need a chance to be heard. To share their passions. To ask their questions. To make a difference. Let's give them a microphone! 

I Have a Dream

If you've spent a significant amount of time talking to me, you've probably heard me so that I think middle schoolers are the most underestimated people in our world. If you'v spent a significant amount of time with middle schoolers, you know that's true, but you also know that it can take a considerable amount of effort to dig them out of living in the world's expectations. It can be exhausting and disheartening, and then there's one of those moments that reminds you of why you believe in them so much. 

Last week we watched Martin Luther King Junior's "I Have a Dream" speech in preparation of our reading of The Cay, which is dedicated to "Dr King's dream, which can only come true if the very young know and understand." Every year as I watch this speech, I'm inspired by Dr. King and his message for our nation. This year I find it has even more meaning to me as I hear the voices of the racially oppressed in our media every day. It's not an easy speech for my seventh graders to understand, but it's such an important one. 

The next day, I asked them to write their own "I Have a Dream" speech, speaking up for an injustice that they see around them. After they wrote, they went on the soccer field outside of my classroom to practice. It didn't go as well as I hoped. There were funny voices. There were papers stuck to faces. There were students doing anything but what I hoped for. And to be honest, maybe this wasn't the best activity for 2:30 in the afternoon right before a long weekend, but I was so frustrated. 

I pulled them back inside, and told them, "You guys, Dr. King was assassinated for his beliefs. Assassinated. Because he was standing up for an injustice he believes in. I hope that you see injustices too and stand up for them. I hope you have causes that you believe in enough to be willing to be assassinated for them. I'm having you write and give these speeches because I believe in you and the things that you have to say, and I hope you live into that." 

And did they ever.

Yesterday we set up the podium in the auditorium, put on the stage lights, and turned on the microphone. And one by one, my seventh graders came up and shared their dreams: 

I have a dream that one day there will be an end to terrorism. I hope that people can go places and not be scared about what might happen to them.

I have a dream that will change the school system for the better.

I have a dream that future generations will learn to coexist and that we can live with peace and prosperity... if we work together we can mend the wounds we have inflicted on society.

I have a dream that one day gender inequality will vanish.

I have a dream that humans will be appreciative towards animals and animals towards humans. To let man’s best friend really be man’s best friend.

I have a dream that there will be no more cancer.

I have a dream where homeless people would have a second chance

I have a dream that kids around the world will have a say in what goes on around them. I see a world where adults won’t drag kids along to places and will spend time doing something with their kids.

It was beautiful. They confidently spoke their dreams and their classmates listened. I listened. Now you're listening. 

I have big dreams for my students and their dreams. I can't wait to see them work to make their dreams realities. 

(Want to know more, check out this post from 2014: "Students, I Have Dreams for You.")

Best Books 2016

Part of me feels that writing this post with almost two full weeks of 2016 is wrong. However, I also know that many of us are on the first day of the break and looking for books to explore. And if NPR has already done it, I can too. Here are some of my favorite books that I read in 2016 (in no particular order). 

The War That Saved My Life | Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

This isn't your typical World War II novel. Bradley is a lover of words and isn't afraid of tackling hard topics. At 9, Ada has never left her home because her mother is ashamed of Ada's deformed foot. Ada and her brother, Jamie, leave London to escape the war and find acceptance. (I'm currently reading Jefferson's Sons by Bradly - also likely to get a five-star ranking and become part of my 8th grade lit circles I'm starting after break.)

A Man Called Ove | Fredrik Backman

Ove is a curmudgeon of a man, but you can't help but love him. I often found myself laughing aloud at the things he said that echo the inner-critic in all of us. Ove has to grieve the loss of his wife and find his place in the world without her. I can't wait for Backman's other books to come in for me at the library. 

Anna and the Swallow Man | Gavriel Savit

Another World War II book. Another word lover. After Anna's father is captured by the Germans, Anna finds herself walking through Poland in an effort to escape. Along the way, she meets the mysterious Swallow Man, and they begin an unlikely friendship. 

Ready Player One | Ernest Cline

I loved this book and can't wait for it to be a movie. Wade spends most of his time in a virtual reality world and learning 80's video game pop culture. That knowledge comes in handy when the world's creator dies and leaves users with easter eggs to find and puzzles to solve. Fantastic story and fascinating commentary on the ways virtual reality could affect our society. 

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend | Katarina Bivald

This is a book for book lovers. Sara travels from her home in Sweden to Broken Wheel, Iowa, to met her pen pal. However, upon arrival, she finds that her pen pal has died since the last letter. Sara stays in Broken Wheel and shares her love of books with the town. I loved all of the specific book references artfully sprinkled throughout the novel. 

Crenshaw | Katherine Applegate

I'm surprised this book didn't get more traction since Katherine Applegate is the author of The One and Only Ivan. In Crenshaw, Jackson and his family end up homeless and living in their minivan. To cope, Jackson receives encouragement from his imaginary friend, a cat named Crenshaw. If I taught 4th-6th grade, I'd definitely teach this book. Applegate does an amazing job of humanizing the homeless population. 

Defending Jacob | William Landay

Andy is the assistant district attorney. Andy's son, Jacob, is accused of murder. This is the story of Jacob's court case and Andy's journey to defend him. A great page-turner. 

The Drunken Botanist | Amy Stewart

Okay, so I'm actually still reading this one, but I'm enjoying it so far. This is for anyone who loves to garden and loves to drink alcoholic beverages. Stewart explores the different fruits, veggies, and grains, that make up our favorite adult beverages. The book includes gardening tips, history, cocktail tips, and general-awesome knowledge with which to  wow your cocktail buddies. 

What Do You Do with An Idea? | Kobi Yamada & Mae Besom

This lovely picture takes on the journey of how we approach ideas. Do we hide it? How do we develop it? Do we share it with others? A great encouragement to those of us stuck in "the suck" to do something with our ideas. 


What were your favorite books that you read this year? I'm looking forward to two weeks of book-reading bliss. I hope you are too! 

On Going Back to School

I love to learn. The past five years of teaching have also been five years of learning for me. Attending conferences, reading books, engaging on Twitter, having conversations with people: I'm always hoping to learn more about my classroom practice and improve what I'm doing. 

And so for the past year or so, I've been contemplating going back to school for my Master's degree to continue that learning in a more formal way. 

After all, getting your Master's is the teacher thing to do. It helps you move up on the pay scale. It's a shiny piece of paper in the classroom. And we're teachers and we're supposed to love school anyway, right? 

Well, ultimately my decision was made for me to go back to school. My preliminary California credential runs out this year, and since my school doesn't have BTSA, I need to go back to a university to take a clear credential program. 

I'm on week 2, and I've already decided that I'm not going back for a master's in education after this year-long program is done. Here's why: 

1) It's a time suck. This week's homework will take me about four hours to complete... and it's all busy work. In no way have I reflected on my classroom practice. In no way have I made a difference in a kid's life. I've learned some fancy buzz words, but that's it. 

2) It's just recycled resources. Nothing that the professor has posted in our online classroom thus far has been original content. Now, on one hand, I appreciate this resourcefulness and am all about not inventing the wheel. But, really!? Why am I paying all this money for someone to curate some 10+-year-old resources and read my fluffy answers? Why does the state think this will make me a better teacher?

3) I want to learn what I want to learn. I really like to learn, and I'm always improving my classroom practice. I've never really liked being told what to do, and this is no different. I want to spend my "study" time investing things that are going to make a difference in real students' lives. 

And so I wonder... 

Why can't there be a Master's in education that's built up entirely of independent studies that allow teachers to learn and explore things that will directly change their students' lives? 

Why do we continue to let the university level be about learning to B.S. and schmooze instead of effective learning? When will the university level see the philosophy shift that we're beginning to see in K-12? How do we speak out and see change there like we're seeing in our own classrooms? How do we prepare our students for the massive shift in the way they have to learn in college? 

But really, I want to build my own Master's program. I'd take classes on project based learning and design thinking. I'd learn about differentiating instruction in Language Arts instead of just learning what it means to differentiate instruction. I'd study adaptive technologies. I'd read multicultural literature and research the effect reading these in class can have. I'd learn more about technology and programming and what that can look like in language arts and math. I really think I could make a well-rounded curriculum that's personalized, and most importantly, that would positively impact the lives and learning of real-life students. 

So education courses, you've lost me. I might show up in an MBA program someday soon, but I don't want to learn about fancy education buzzwords. I don't really care about the "SAMR model" or "rigor"... I care about kids and teaching them language arts and math, and more importantly, teaching them life. Teaching them that they're worth it. That they have an important voice to share. That they can make a difference in our world.