Commence: Year 1.5

Last week included two days of productive professional development. In my experience thus far, professional development is hit or miss. Either you learn a lot, or you learn very little. Last week’s two days, I felt like a sponge soaking up as much as I could. New, fun, effective ideas to teach math not only for the summer, but for the upcoming schoolyear and beyond.

Last Friday was classroom setup day. I entered a classroom in complete disarray. Graffiti on over half the desks. Marker stains on the whiteboard. Computer cords everywhere. File cabinets in places they did not belong. As Ms. J (who helped me clean up.. thanks!) noted: only 13 [or 30+] desks were actually clean. 3+ hours later, place looked like a classroom. A nice classroom. Before leaving, I stood at the door and patted myself on the back. Good job Mr. G; you really cleaned up.

Last night reminded me how invested one must be in this profession. I hit a cafe to plan around 4:30, hoping to be finished and ready for dinner by 7. Wrong. I did not feel completely prepared until midnight. You’ve got to be dedicated with this job. And you’ve got to accept the sacrifice.

Today was the first day. As each new face entered my room, I greeted them w/ a handshake and a “hello, I’m Mr. G—, what’s your name?” Delivered a highly scripted spiel on why we’re here this summer, why I’m teaching, and what I have planned for them. Then we got to work. On the agenda: order of operations, a symbol activity, and a few graph exercises disguised as fun get-to-know you icebreakers.

Because these students really should get-to-know each other. It’s their first ever, REAL high school experience. Every student is a fresh graduate of middle school. Every student is walking hs halls for the first time. (And these are very pretty halls, I might add. If you haven’t before, drive by Oak-Tech. That’s one pretty building).

One funny note: Remember how, back in the day, you’d meet a teacher an older brother/sister once had. The teacher would ask if you are so and so’s younger brother/sister. Well, that was me today. Met a young man whose older sister was in my geometry class this past school year. Geez, I feel old. Or maybe I’m just becoming a young vet.

Article on ALC

Oakland Tribune recently did an article on ALC. They called me for an interview, but it was my birthday and I was too busy rooting for the Lakers. I admire all the teachers, clinicians, and staff who persevered through the year. I did not have the strength. You did. I congratulate you.

At the same time, the article gives you a sense of how difficult an atmosphere ALC was for staff and students alike. Check it.

Peace Out!!

This was our last week of school.

Today was our last day.

After submitting attendance, picking things up from my mailbox and signing out, I walked out of the office feeling good. On the way back to my room, I passed Mr. DW, another first year teacher, a fellow 20-something year old.

I raised a hand.

He raised a hand.

And we did a jumping high-five.

Complete with ecstatic yells of joy.

We’re done! Finished w/ our first year!

Fulfillment beyond comprehension

I’ve just got to share:

Mr. G,
I’m sorry that I couldn’t make it by to personally thank you, so e-mail is the next best thing (hopefully!).
You have been a great teacher to A, and we have been quite pleased with his experience.  You are one of A’s all time favorite teachers.  You have managed to not only teach him, but build his confidence as well as keep him excited/interested in your class.  Thank you for giving him a wonderful experience and year.  You’re such a good teacher — I’ll even forgive you for being a Laker fan~~~!!
I wish you well and hope to see in next year — I have a son who is entering 8th grade at M this fall — so if he’s fortunate he’ll have you as a freshman.
Best wishes and have a wonderful summer.
p.s.  We have season tickets to the Warriors — so look us up next season.

In my Weakest State

A few months ago, sitting in my ALC classroom (room 5) during my prep, I called my dad. I needed to hear a familiar voice. Transitioning from a procrastinating college senior to a first-year teacher in one of the toughest schools in Oakland was not suiting me well. Every night lasted til am hours, struggling to conjure lesson plans, grading insurmountable piles of homework and quizzes, dealing with other teacher duties like meetings and phone calls home. Every morning, I dreaded the day ahead. Every day justified my morning’s dread.

I couldn’t breathe. It felt like there was no air. And during that prep period, I cried.

I called my dad and I cried. I’ve never cried to my dad like I did that day. I’ve never showed him so much emotion. I’ve never put myself in such a state of vulnerability or allowed him to see me in one of great weakness.

But I cried. I couldn’t help it. I needed to. I just started speaking:

“Dad…. this is hard. I don’t know if I can do this.” And a river tears just started flowing… and I couldn’t stop it.

Followers of this blog should know the story since. I had to quit teaching at ALC. And by good blessing, I found new opportunity at a different school. Though it’s definitely still been tough, I’m here.

And I’m almost done.

At one point, I thought I’d never get here. Been one hell of a journey.

Work-free summer somewhat postponed

I’ve committed.

On tap this summer:

Algebra Academy @ Oakland Tech.

Not an algebra course for algebra credit – a dual program:

1) that prepares rising freshmen for success in high school algebra

2) encourages a college going atmosphere in students and their families by providing seminars, study tips, and field trips to colleges.

3 hours of teaching a day. 4 days of instruction a week (w/ fridays reserved for field trips, etc). 6 weeks total.

Though summer’s not entirely work-free, I’m still very excited about the change of pace. Plus, I still get almost ALL of August off.

Senior Prank

Inspired by one blogger’s story of an office prank, I was reminded to share what the seniors did a few weeks ago.

One night, a cohort of seniors came up to the school with poles, a net, and a whole bunch of sand. The next morning, the senior lawn had been transformed into a BEACH VOLLEYBALL COURT. The middle of the school literally looked like a beach.

Not just that, seniors acted as if it was a beach – straight up playing beach volleyball in beach clothes acting as if it was beach time and not school time.

Pretty damn genius.

The Finish Line

Whenever the finish line comes into view, things get tough.

a long run

a semester in college

a drawn out, purposeless meeting

a reading excerpt required by a professor

a school year

Antsiness enters the mind when you know a change of pace is near.

Antsiness enters the body when you know a nice break is in sight.

Only 6 days remain in the school year. Of those 6, only 3 require that I teach. However, first year struggles have creeped back to the forefront. Why can’t the school year be over? Why?

Summer, hurry. Please.

Two Sides of the TFA / Teaching Fellows Debate

Summed up in this video .

(1) First year teachers who are simultaneously working on their teaching credential should never step into a high-need classroom. There’s not enough support. They have not received enough training. Programs like TFA, OTF or anything else are not fulfilling a purpose. They are perpetuating the education gap by hindering student performance. Only the best, veteran teachers should be teaching at high-need schools. They are the only ones who can fulfill the duty.

(2) The reality is this: high-need schools need teachers. In my experiences w/ OUSD the past 2 years (one as a mentor at Roosevelt, and this year as a teacher at Skyline), situations where classes are left vacant to subs are not uncommon. There is a lack of interest in veteran teachers to teach in high-need schools. Programs like TFA, OTF or anything else exist in response to this need. In the process, they break down a longtime stigma that turns young talent away from high-need schools. Taking on the challenge of teaching at a high-need school is now a respectable post-grad destination. TFA is now a program that turns away over 70% of it’s applicants. Likewise, OTF accepted <20% of theirs.

I’m not sure what it’ll take to close the student achievement gap. But I do know part of it hinges on how we view the teaching profession, and who decides to join in.