So, I’m also not really a math teacher this year…

I’m taking a year off from teaching the high schoolers to work with the teachers.  I’m really excited to visit different schools, students, and contexts as I support Boston Teacher Residency Graduates.  For the past week, I’ve been working with people to get their classrooms up and running.  I’ve been giving the same advice a lot, so I thought I’d consolidate it.

1) Keep it simple.  Better to do fewer things more in depth/well than be scattered.  If you have shortened periods, don’t try to cram things in.  As my boss put it, students will remember the “how” more than the “what.”

2) Don’t forget the “how”!  Especially at the beginning of the year, it’s important to outline expectations for how things get done.  Make sure you know how you want everything done and can explain it concisely.

3) What’s the purpose?  Backwards plan even “Unit 0.”  Know exactly why you are doing each activity.  Tell students why and how what they’re doing connects to the course.

4) Be positive and enforce your expectations.  Do it.  From Minute 0.

Happy first day of school, BPS teachers!


And the beginning of the year…

Cycles run my life.  


Much of my life is planned to the minute.  There is a beginning and a redoing.  And things are never done.  So, in this beginning of the year, it is like many others.  There are children I’ve taught before.  In each of my classes, I have at least one student who I will teach for the third year.  They know me.  They know my really, really bad jokes.  They know that it is not unusual for me to lie on tables, jump on chairs, or high five people who are just trying to raise their hands.  They know.  They’ve done this before, bless their hearts.

There are new children, too.  The ones who are terrified of me, well, because, I am scary.  They don’t know why I am shaking their hands when they say “Oh, my God” (my name nor title is God).  They seem not to be able to understand why I don’t seem to understand the “E-word” (the word easy is NOT allowed.  For real. Because you have no right to talk about a task, only about yourself).  And I even heard one turn to another and ask “is she ALWAYS this amped?”  To which, as if right on cue, responded with “you’ll get used to it” in time with me.  These little ones will know soon, and best effort to them.

It’s a cycle. Everything cycles.

And both generations of students will be able to pass their knowledge to my future students.  Hopefully, they’ll learn some math in the process.



What needs to exist at the beginning?

There is a joke that floats around that aludes to the idea of making a beautifully organized classroom will make the school year perfect.  As if the children will walk in and think to themselves “ooooh, look at the boarders on that bulletin board!  And the scissors are labeled!  I will do my better than my best to corporate with everything this lovely lady has to say!”  I mean, it’s pretty amusing.  But true to some extent.

I teach ninth, tenth, and eleventh graders at a 9-12 high school.  The tenth and eleventh graders are, more often than not, students who I have already had the pleasure of teaching for at least one year; they know what they are getting into when their schedule declares I am their math teacher.  But the ninth graders, oh the ninth graders, have no idea.  I tell my former students to warn my new students about their upcoming adventures.  Most respond with something along the lines of “I won’t even know how to begin, oh maybe I’ll tell them the story about when you…”  

In the first days of school, we are checking each other out.  What will happen if I do this?!  Students test out behaviors like trying not to read, helping their peers with communicating their thinking, or following me around for more hints.  I test out jumping around, not giving reasonable answers to many questions, and taking students’ words at face value.  Both parties are trying to glean as much information about the other as possible without being painfully obvious.  (I mean, I am probably able to write a best-selling book of student questions (and how I answered them) from days 1 and 2.)

Surely the students are also looking at the environment they will be working in for the next 10 months.  I can’t vouch for students looking carefully at the coordination of the manicured classroom but I know they look to see what sorts of supplies are available and how used/cared for they appear, what sort of wander space is at their disposal, and how clean common spaces are.  

I’ve recently continued to think deeply about the ACTIONS of the first days of school (and not just how I should set up the bookcases).  I am trying to record what I notice (and note) in a variety of mathematical, teambuilding, and building routines activities.  I am thinking deeply about their purpose for me and the students.  Will students be able to make a better estimate of the adventures if we do A versus B?  Will the scholarly routines we want to happen consistently throughout the year (without too much prompting) really be driven home with this modeling or demonstration or discussion?

Unit 0 is just the beginning.  And simultaneously it is a big deal (to set up the culture of our classroom, the school, and mathematics) and not a big deal (so students don’t freak out by day 3).  Oh, Unit 0.  So, I am going to continue to think deeply about the routines, systems, activities, objectives, standards, goals… And attempt to implement.  More adventures to come.