Friday, April 22, 2011

Nice Guys DO Finish Last

     Being a military spouse always has it's good and bad.
     The good: moving every couple of  years to new places where you can reinvent yourself.  If you aren't happy with who you are you can just wait until the next move.
     The bad:  moving every couple of years to new places where you try to figure out who you really are.  If you screw it up you have to wait a couple of years before you can escape and reinvent yourself.

     I stopped being a military spouse (active duty-wise) 5 years ago.  That meant that when I  moved to my present location I got to reinvent myself with the knowledge that it might be quite a few years before I got to move again.  Then, there was this interesting thing that happened at the 2 year mark - I changed schools.  So, even though I wasn't moving, I got to change schools and reinvent myself one more time.

    Now I have been at the same school for 3 straight years.  This is a first for me.  At no time in my teaching career (since 1992) was I able to stay at one school for 3 years.  So, suddenly I am facing something I have never faced before - I need to reinvent myself while staying at the same school.

    Where do I start?  In a conversation with one of my fellow teachers, yesterday, I realized what I needed to do first.  And that was to go through the TAP (Teacher Advancement Program) Instructional Rubric and grade myself.  Like a good mentor or master teacher I then need to select an area for refinement.  Maybe even 2 areas for refinement.  That would give me one or two tangible areas for improvement that I could work on over the summer so that when the school year starts I am ready to be the best teacher I can be.

     Luckily(?) one area I need to work on has been an area of weakness my whole teaching career.  And that is my classroom management.  I have been blessed with really great administrators who have overlooked just how bad my classroom management was (is) but now that I am planning on being at the same school for the fourth straight year I owe it to my students, my administrators, and myself to fix this problem.

    This week I had a couple of reminders of just how bad things have become.  First, there are interesting things that come up at various times of the year because of our school's reputation and its PBL expertise.  In the first 2 years I was "the old math guy" and I got some cool opportunities.  But, as time has gone on I get less and less chances for the good stuff.  And I take that for what it is: you don't send your screw ups to represent your school on the national stage.  And, you don't reward teachers who are not doing very well in the classroom.

    The second reminder of just how bad things are was the selection of teacher of the year.  This year it was decided to send emails out to the students to get their input for this award.  For two straight days, this week, I kept hearing from students who had voted for me.  I should be honored, right?  Well, not when their reasoning was that I was the most fun.  I hope I don't end up in the running based upon the student input because I know my fellow teachers (who also think I'm fun) could never vote for me as a serious teacher.

    The last straw was my TAP evaluation from my principal.  For the third straight year he marked me really low in most areas (compared to the average teacher at our school) and he and I joked about the score and I signed it and we moved on.  Well, knowing I haven't improved in 3 years (in his eyes) hit me like a 2X4 between the eyes.  Yes, I really am THAT teacher.

    But, I didn't do 20 years in the military sitting around whining about injustices.  If I want to start getting good deals again; if I want to get rehired for a 5th year; if I want to be taken seriously by my fellow teachers, my students, and my administration;  I need to fix some things.

    Over the next 4 months I will be putting a plan into action right here on my blog for people to see.  There's no hiding and running away this time.  I need to start by sitting down with my principal and finding out what he thinks I can do to get myself better.  There's now 3 years of bad habits that I have accrued at this school and I need to fix each and every one of them.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Some Small Geometry Lessons For Standardized Test Review

 by vladwtomescu
     Three weeks ago we split up our freshmen engineering classes so that all geometry students went with one teacher and all of the algebra students went with me.  
     The goal:  to focus on math objectives that freshmen traditionally score low on in the state of Texas and in our school district on the upcoming standardized test.  This test comes up during the last week of April and this change allowed our algebra teachers to focus on completing their curriculum with minimum impact from reviewing specific objectives that might not align properly with the curriculum.

     I decided to do a succession of week-long problems that covered geometry objectives such as area, surface area, volume, and changing scale.  The first week we looked at rectangular prisms, the second week we looked at trapezoids and triangles, and this week is a little more open because they are creating a kite and therefore there are many options including a box kite.  

     WEEK ONE:   They were in a company that creates packaging for cosmetics and they were tasked with the following requirements:
  1. Create a wooden box that will hold one of the various chapsticks, lipsticks, and lip balms sold by Balms Away.
  2. Minimize paint waste by only purchasing the amount of paint you anticipate using to color the wooden box.
  3. Create an algorithm to allow our company to manage wooden boxes for other lip product companies with varying sizes and shapes of product.
     Some additional information they were given was that they had to use recycled wooden cubes (left over from a Project Lead the Way activity) to create the box and they had to calculate how much paint they would use based upon a brand that could cover 25 square feet.

    WEEK TWO:   The following scenario was presented to them

1. Create a sail that is a right, isosceles triangle and must cover a cylindrical mast that has a diameter of 6 inches.  The total area of fabric (including the fabric covering the mast) must measure between 100 and 120 square feet.  
2. Create a scale drawing that will fit on a piece of copy paper (8 ½ in x 11 in).   You will then cut out the paper and wrap it around a drinking straw which is representing the mast.
3. Create a company emblem that is a geometric shape which will be located on the sail.  You are to figure out the surface area of this geometric shape and then calculate what percent of the fabric is covered by the emblem.

    This week, as I said, is more opened ended.  They are to research directions to build a kite.  The only material they will be given is one "Oil Absorbing Sheet" (for cleaning faces- measures 5.5 x 8.5 cm), some tooth picks, and some thread (for a tail).  They must scale down their directions so that they will work for their materials and then they are to mount it on a 3 x 5 index card for display.

     They will have to calculate the total area of the material used in the directions and the area of the micro-kite.  Then they are to state the relationship between these two values and show that there is or is not a relationship between the two areas and the scale used to reduce the size of the kite.

     The beauty of being a Project Based teacher is that I never overlook a  chance to get a hands on activity out of a lesson.  And, Project Based teachers always steal ideas and so I expect you to look at these activities and use them as your own.  Any of these could be extended out for a longer project or maybe you could combine a couple of the ideas since they cover the same basic skills.  Either way enjoy these activities and have fun.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Do They Really Understand? (warning, this is whiny...)

     Please don't tell anyone but I'm supposed to be sitting by the pool sipping a margarita . Why?  Well because I'm a teacher.  You know, easiest job on the planet.  I only have to work 187 days a year and 5 hours a day.  Heck, that's 935 hours a year.   I am scamming, big time.  I have friends who work a 40 hour week and only get two weeks vacation each year.  They end up having to work 2000 hours every year - what losers.   Not me.  And, if I play my cards right I'll get paid like a doctor or a lawyer because I've got my union rep telling everyone I need to paid like one of those "Professional" workers.  Yup, that's me, a true "Professional."

     If you really look at it, let's say I made $50,000 and my friend, the loser, also made $50,000.  Then he'd be making $25 an hour and I'd be making over $50 an hour.  When you add in the money my teacher friends make from their second jobs they're making more like $60 an hour.   That's some tall cotton we live in.

     I know people who have never been a teacher but they are on school boards in their town.  And there are other people I know, with kids, who have their own opinions on the teaching profession.  Just last night I heard someone say: "They get the summers off and then (gasp) they think they need to be paid like doctors and lawyers!"  And, that guy wasn't just poking fun at my profession; he was sincere.

     It's time the teaching profession got a PR and Marketing firm to help.  In other countries teachers are revered.  They are honored for their profession and they are admired for their service to their country.  When I taught in Japan and in the Netherlands people would be indifferent towards me when they found that I was American.  But, when they found out I was a teacher then you could see their opinion of me swell.  I felt important.  I felt needed.  I didn't feel that I was being blamed for the state of affairs in the country.  None of them mocked me for "having the summers off."
     But here in my own country I represent what is wrong with education.  My two master's degrees (Mechanical Engineering and Education), my bachelor's degree (Math) and my 20 years of service to our country as a Naval Officer don't mean very much - I'm just a teacher.  I'm not really a professional.
     The fact that almost every hour of training I have received as a teacher was paid for with my own money including the cost of travel and lodging isn't important.  That's how it should be, I'm not a professional.  And, in a few school districts I have worked in I have had to take personal days to attend training because I'm not really a professional.

     If I spend 6 or 7 weeks of my 9 weeks off in the summer training teachers or being trained that doesn't count because I'm not really a professional.  If I meet Sundays with co-teachers and arrive 30 minutes to an hour before work and stay 1 or 2 hours past my contractual hours that doesn't count because I'm not a professional.  If it takes me 8 to 10 hours after dinner during the week to finish grading and to plan for class, that doesn't count either.

     Darn this sure is a cushy job.  I need to find someone to get me a drink because it's after the school day and I don't have to do anything.  Where did that cute waitress go?  This hammock is starting to cut into my back and I need a pillow... the kids don't care about school so why should I work any harder.  It's not like I'm a professional....