Friday, December 18, 2009

Teaching at last!

I finally decided that I had to get into a classroom or go crazy, so I accepted the offer from Claremont Graduate School to become an unpaid student teacher instead. They were absolutely amazed that there are still about 6 of us with math credentials who did not land a job.

I am teaching at a good school with a great Master Teacher. I am observing and teaching one class of seniors who need to pass the California HS Exit Exam (CAHSEE) to be able to graduate, plus 3 honors Algebra II classes, which is sort of the opposite end of the spectrum. The teacher also has a class in AP Calculus BC, which I am technically qualified to teach, but I'm learning more just watching him teach!

Obviously the part you can't learn from a book is classroom management. This is much harder here than when I taught high school English and German in Denmark 15-20 years ago.) I don't know if Danish students have become like American students, or if the American students are just so much more immature than Danish students. I had reasonable success back then treating them as young adults; I just happened to know more than they did about certain things. We weren't even allowed to contact parents outside of parent consultation nights. Here it's expected. Admittedly, our students were on average 1-2 years older than in American high schools. Does that make that much difference?

One older teacher who is retiring this year told me that he thought the HS students now act like Middle School kids a generation ago (despite early onset of puberty.)  Is it because of parents who coddle kids? (I intimidated something like that in a teacher course and one parent immediately defended her parenting, saying that times were very different now.) I think the difference now is that we hear about every single incident that happens anywhere, so the world seems more dangerous. But I think it is more dangerous if the kids don't learn to stand on their own 2 feet, to take responsibility for their own actions (and learning!) and learn to think for themselves, rather than just think in opposition to adults.

At any rate, I have to learn to wait for 5 very long seconds to get the class quiet. I observed my Master Teacher doing it (after he had timed my "5-seconds" to 2!) 5 seconds is very long! But the kids get the message that you mean it. So I have to learn! I have also switched from writing on the white board (I keep saying "blackboard!") to using the overhead, because then I am facing the students. The Master Teacher uses "Equity Cards" to call on students, which I try to remember to do. I've got to learn their names - a total of about 115 students, not counting the Calculus class! In Denmark I never had more than 100. There is an electronic board in the classroom, which we can use to display PowerPoints, use the document camera, and a lot of fun things I hope I learn. But for the time being, it seems to be best to be facing the students! Once I learn Management, then I can try the fun stuff!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What to do when there aren't any jobs and you really want to teach...

This has been a really frustrating Fall for me. After making my decision to become a math teacher at a time when everyone said that jobs would fall into my lap, and then discovering that that is definitely not the case, I have found classes at Claremont Graduate University both inspiring and depressing - the last particularly when the speaker refers to "your students," of course. But at this point, there are still about 10 of us in secondary math, who do not yet have an Internship position.

So I have bought most of the new books available from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and used copies of a variety of math teaching materials, in particular Core-Plus Mathematics Contemporary Mathematics in Context from Glencoe. I've beeing reading about Sensemaking and learning through Discovery and Problem Solving, which really "make sense" to me as a way to get students interested in what they are learning. Core-Plus, which has units in Algebra, Geometry, Statistics, etc. each year, instead of separate years, looks like a fantastic way to teach math, except that it would be really hard to implement, since any student who switches schools would be lost wherever else they went. That is probably why there are so many used materials on Amazon.

I've also enjoyed the materials I discovered at the website for Geometer's Sketch Pad, which is a fun way to do geometry (and I understand other math subjects.) I found that they have great online resources for their Algebra and Geometry books, including some in Spanish. I also discovered the Prentice Hall Multilingual Handbooks - all available for almost nothing at Amazon. They included glossaries, etc. in a variety of languages, not just Spanish. But evidently Spanish is the only language that districts want to invest in. I just found a letter from a parent complaining about the creative math texts (dating back to 1996.)

I have also been observing classrooms - I'm required to observe 25 hours, including special ed and bilingual classrooms, and I've observed more than that now. What I see is teachers doing direct instruction and students doing work sheets. In some classes, text books are stacked somewhere in the classroom, or the students have a copy at home, but they are not being used. The ones I've looked at with my inexperienced eyes seems really exciting, if you want to teach by discovery and problem solving. But kids are learning how to solve problems on work sheets - and on standardized tests. I understand that there are pacing guides at the schools, that decide, for example, that next week all Algebra I teachers will be teaching solving two equations with graphing or substitution. No need to use a text book for that. No need to discover anything, when you can just do problems. Teachers tell me that the enormous textbooks just have too much material in them - and of course they're too heavy to carry around! So all the thought that went into making them (so they'd fit most any state's standards!) is just gathering dust.

To make myself more "hireable," I just did a quick (one month) review of physics and took the teaching qualification exam, CSET Physics III last Saturday. Now I have to decide whether to take Physics IV, to qualify as a physics teacher, or Science I and II (including biology, chemistry, earth and planetary science as well as physics) to be able to be a General Science teacher. Or maybe I'll just use the physics I've reviewed to provide more "authentic" problenms for my students.

Finally, I've been writing a few lesson plans, which are assignments for this semester at Claremont Graduate University - writing a total of 3 lessons that will benefit English Language Learners (ELLs) or students with other learning issues, like dyslexia or autism. I've written lessons that involve discovery and sense-making, since I'm not in a classroom trying to keep up with the pacing guide to make sure the kids do well on standardized tests. I'm afraid that my idealism will hit the dust when I finally do get into my own classroom.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The world we are preparing our students for...

Even more reasons to teach our students to think, not just learn formulas and facts, because they may be outdated by the time they want to use them in their careers!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Propaganda or Education?

I received the following message on Facebook from Friends of the Mountains, which I support for their work against Mountaintop Removal (see my blog Sustainable Rays, for more on this.) But the message here was about a company sponsored field trip and "educational" materials, which are basically propaganda, purporting to demonstrate local history. Now if the Friends of the Mountains come back with educational materials, will Big Coal call that propaganda?  
[Added Nov 1: Here are a lot of teacher resources that tell the other side of the story, from I Love Mountains.]
BECKLEY, W.Va. -- The Friends of Coal Ladies Auxiliary wrapped up its first Coal in the Classroom program in the Raleigh County public schools with a field trip this week.

Its pro-coal curriculum was piloted at a private elementary school last year.

On Tuesday, Stratton Elementary School's fourth-grade class traveled to the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine for a firsthand look at an underground mine.

It's the first class in the West Virginia public school system to host the program. With the help of local retired teachers, the curriculum was developed by the Friends of Coal Ladies Auxiliary. Regina Fairchild is the chairwoman.

"We just make it as lighthearted as possible but informative,'' she said. "We just want to educate them about our vital resource in our area and in the United States.''

The program consists of a coloring book that illustrates how coal is mined underground and at surface mines. It also shows how coal is burned for energy we use in electricity. And you can find phrases like "The advantages of coal'' and "Why coal is important,'' as well.

Some environmental groups say the Friends of Coal program doesn't belong in public schools.

Assistant Superintendent of Raleigh County Schools Janet Lilly says they are willing to look at any curriculum from the environmental community.

"We really looked at the curriculum and what they planned to do,'' she said. "We're open to any group that's willing to do the match and present the curriculum, and if there's someone that objects to the curriculum that's out there with the auxiliary, we'd be glad to look at their curriculum, too.''

Raleigh County School Board member Larry Ford says the board also evaluated the fairness of the material.

"We didn't want it to be lopsided,'' he said. "We wanted it to be a generic form of presentations to the kids showing them the history of coal.

"We're not trying to tell them one thing is better than the other. The content standards had to be met as far as their learning is concerned. We're not picking sides, we are here for the education of the students, period.''

Lorelei Scarbro with Coal River Mountain Watch says her organization is working on an elementary school curriculum about alternative energy. She's not sure when it will be finished.

Meanwhile, Coal River Mountain Watch is working with another environmental group called Aurora Lights to produce curriculum for high school and college students across West Virginia, with financial assistance from the West Virginia Humanities Council.

"Journey up Coal River'' includes lesson plans such as "What is mountaintop removal?'' and "Public health impacts of coal mining,'' and includes links to pro-environmental Web sites such as, according to Jennifer Osha, founder and president of Aurora Lights.

"What I really wanted to do is for college students to engage in the complexity of this issue and really use their own ideas and what they're interested in to feel to what parts they most want to engage in,'' Osha said. "We also provide them with resources both academic and activist that they can come and learn about what's happening.''

Osha also questioned the fairness of the Friends of Coal curriculum, but Fairchild says it's appropriate for elementary school students.

"Our curriculum is balanced. For heaven sake we're talking to third- and fourth-graders,'' she said. "You're not going to get technical and you're not going to talk numbers.''
(I added the links to the text.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Value-added evaluations

I've been following along on the discussions of how to evaluate teachers, and how using kids test scores doesn't show appropriately how well a teacher teaches. After all, disadvantaged students just have so much against them to be able to get good grades, goes the argument, so teachers can't be held responsible for students not doing the work.

But an article in yesterday's LA Times Superintendent spreads the gospel of 'value-added' teacher evaluations proves to me that standardized test scores can be a legitimate way to evaluate teachers. In this case, it isn't the actual scores that are used, but a ratio of individual student's scores over time, which will show students' progress in relationship to themselves. Studies have shown that teachers really do affect students' progress, and that their effect can be measured. If a whole class gets much better Value-added ratios, then the teacher must have had something to do with it. If some improve and some don't, it is probably the students' own effort and not the teacher that makes the difference.

Maybe not surprisingly, the students from underachieving school actually show the most progress (since a tiny improvement is huge related to very little) while good students from privileged schools have a hard time showing much improvement at all, since it is related to a much larger base number.

Personally, I would like to be able to see how my teaching affects my students' improvement. I could use it as a formative assessment that tells me to try harder.

I could see how various students perform to understand in which ways I am successful, and where I need to try different methods.

The concept is vaguely like a grading system I developed years ago for a class in Denmark which could vaguely be compared to a continuation high school here. They only received final test scores for their record, so I was free to give them formative assessments any way I wanted. I invented a system with arrows: up if students did better than usual, down if they had slacked off. Initially, of course, the better students didn't like getting a down arrow while someone who did far less got an up. But gradually they figured it out, and used it to motivate themselves to do even better. At the same time the students at the lower end were not getting F's, but were getting encouraging up arrows. The dyslexic student I started the system for had been given up by previous teachers. But she went from what would have been F's to a final test grade of about C!

Knowing where I'm doing well and where I need improvement would be great. And if it turns out I'm not a good teacher anyway, I don't want to inflict poor teaching on students who deserve better.

However, another article on the same page Judging teachers: Much of what you thought you knew is wrong reviews a few misconceptions about teachers' effectiveness, for example:
Teacher experience matters. Although teachers are generally paid more for years of experience, research suggests that instructors show dramatic improvement in their first few years and then level off. Teachers with 20 years of experience are often no more effective than peers with five years.

Teacher education matters. Schools routinely pay teachers higher salaries for obtaining master's degrees. But several studies have found that educators with advanced degrees do no better than those without (with the possible exception of high school math teachers) - my emphasis.
So maybe if I teach 5-10 years I will be able to encourage, motivate and stimulate my students, and then leave before I get too set in my ways and lose my enthusiasm! Another misconception from the list needs to be taken with a grain of salt - and good sense:
Class size is key. Research suggests that modest changes in class size, such as decreasing it by four or five students, has been shown to have little to no effect on student learning.
Adding a single student or two to 25 might not make a difference, but adding gradually until you get 35 or 40 students will most likely show a great difference over time (which would also be reflected in Value-added scores.) Don't use that as an excuse to push more students into classrooms designed for far fewer students. Teachers need to be able to move about the room, get close to students (proximity is a major element in classroom management!) and there has to be room to move desks into different configurations, for collaborative learning groups, areas for special purposes, etc. A classroom is not a lecture hall!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Observing special ed classes

As part of my training to become a secondary math teacher, I have a requirement to visit many different kinds of classes, including special education. Yesterday, I visited a middle school in a neighboring town that had a program with several "self-contained" classes that are attempting to teach the 10 students "functional skills" in reading, writing and math.

The two classes I observed each had 2 very severely handicapped students, 3 of whom could walk, but none could speak or even control looking at us very well. The teachers said that the one who could not walk was actually quite intelligent, so he was outfitted with "yes" and "no" buttons that he could operate my moving his head to the left or right. He did appear to enjoy being part of the class, however. In his class there was some effort to have these students participate in class, including holding their hand to trace letters. But this seemed quite hopeless to me, because they were looking away. One student was mostly confined to a sort of playpen in the classroom, because he was too disruptive in the classroom. Unfortunately his little pen took away valuable space that might have been used as a cozy reading corner like the other class enjoyed. The teacher was frustrated that the time she had to spend with this student, i.e. feeding him, could have been used to work with the more functioning students. I was surprised that he did not have a one-on-one aide, as did several students in the other class.

Otherwise the children were learning to read or at least recognize important signs (like Exit, Men and Women - for restrooms, etc.) They practiced the months and days of the week again and again, and learned to tell time and count. The practiced copying letters and some even got to write cursive.

We participated in a special PE class for them, where they could run, kick, throw and catch a ball and even try to hit with a bat. The students were also expected to do some chores, like wiping off tables and collecting toys and trash at the end of the day, all part of their functional learning.

The one class displayed clearly the daily schedule as well as the state requirements for these children's education.

One student was advanced enough that he started school chorus yesterday, and will be able to go to cooking later on. I understand that when they reach high school age, they will also have special classes, but move from one subject to another, just like their peers. I hope to visit such a class as well.

A couple of these students were autistic, and at least one has considerable intelligence, but barely talks. I expect that I will be seeing some students like him in my high school classroom, which is why we are expected to observe these classrooms.

I asked about how these students are assessed. For one thing, the each have an Independent Educational Plan, which requires annual reevaluation. Otherwise there are standardized tests, the CAPA and the Brigance screens, where the teacher observes and interviews the students to determine their level (not a grade!)

I admire these teachers for their dedication and hard work helping these children become functional adults. One teacher told me how delighted she was with one student who had learned to read during the past year, and the heartbreak with another, who had been kept at home until this year, missing some of the training that might have been able to move him further than he is now.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Possible's slow fuse is lit by the Imagination.

The title of this post is a quote I just read in my Daily Ray of Hope email from the Sierra Club.
The gleam of an heroic Act
Such strange illumination
The Possible's slow fuse is lit
By the Imagination.
Emily Dickenson
When I Googled to find the original poem, one of the sources included this rather depressing quote:
But so few have imagination that there are ten thousand fiddlers to one composer.
Charles F. Kettering
But of course imagination is only the light that illuminates all the hard work we have to do to get the impossible to become a reality.
Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.
I never did anything worth doing by accident, nor did any of my inventions come by accident. They came by work.
Thomas Alva Edison
So, what does this mean for me in my search for this "impossible" job teaching high school mathematics? I must admit that I haven't been using my imagination (or producing perspiration) enough. I've been applying for jobs through EdJoin, which supposedly lists all the school jobs in California. But most of the jobs apparently "disappear" (to someone the principal already knew) before the District gets to my application.

In between I admit that I've been moping - as well as reading about the pedagogy I hope to use in my very own classroom, and even writing about my readings and reflections here and in Negotiated Identity. But that doesn't seem to be getting me anywhere.

People were telling me that doing Secondary Math would have principals begging me to teach at their schools! Now that's imagination! So I have to use my imagination to light the work needed to be known in the schools.

At least I have finally pulled myself together to find school contacts for the required minimum 25 hours of observation in a variety of different schools and class types, from kindergarten through high school, including classes for English Language Learners and various special ed students. I guess that is the difficult "perspiration" part of doing the impossible.

Tomorrow will be my first observations - in a middle school special ed class. I plan to report on my experiences here. Years ago, soon after moving to Denmark, I tried to work as a substitute teacher. One of the jobs was in a special ed class, which was devastating (and probably the reason I decided to get a Danish university degree that would qualify me for teaching in high school!) I had absolutely no pedagogical training at the time, and certainly not in special ed! I really admire teachers who can work so well with these kids!

I am also lining up observations at an elementary school that does "Dual Immersion" in Spanish and English with the goal to make the students academically fluent in both languages. This will be a challenge to my Spanish. I'm considering offering to volunteer in math classes there once I've completed the rest of the 25 hours!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

How to Remake Education

The New York Times Magazine today is devoted to education. I have already written about one article on my other active blog: Inner City Boarding School. A short collection of entries called How to Remake Education caught my eye as well, but only one entry really made immediate sense to me. Since it is so short, I quote it in full:
Beyond Testing
The single biggest problem in American education is that no one agrees on why we educate. Faced with this lack of consensus, policy makers define good education as higher test scores. But higher test scores are not a definition of good education. Students can get higher scores in reading and mathematics yet remain completely ignorant of science, the arts, civics, history, literature and foreign languages.

Why do we educate? We educate because we want citizens who are capable of taking responsibility for their lives and for our democracy. We want citizens who understand how their government works, who are knowledgeable about the history of their nation and other nations. We need citizens who are thoroughly educated in science. We need people who can communicate in other languages. We must ensure that every young person has the chance to engage in the arts. [My italics]

But because of our narrow-minded utilitarianism, we have forgotten what good education is.

Ravitch is a historian. Her book ‘‘The Death and Life of the Great American School System’’ will be published in February.
Ms Ravitch is participating in an alternating blog with Deborah Meier called Bridging Differences on the Education Week Website, where they are trying to find what they have in common in their otherwise divergent messages about what matters most in education.

One of the other commentators goes on against BA degrees, ranting that they are not worth the paper they are printed on. I think he should read Ms Ravitch little piece - and her coming book - because I don't think he really understands why we educate our children. We are not educating them for that first job they get out of college, but to make them participating citizens in this country and the world.
Another touching story in the magazine is The Lost Student by Michelle Kuo, a Teach for America teacher in the Mississippi Delta for a year.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Making Math Problematical

Since I don't have a job yet, I've been doing a lot of extra reading about math pedagogy, wishing I had a class to practice things on. The most exciting I've found so far is Teaching Mathematics through Problem Solving, which unfortunately is out of print (but available used from Amazon). There is a version for PreK-6 and one for 6-12. My first attempt to buy it brought me the PreK-6 book, which I read until the 6-12 arrived today, so I have a head-start on the concepts I'll be reading about. But I thought I'd write a little about my ideas about problematizing math before I get into the book.
My father studied mechanical engineering in the 1930's at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ, which he always felt was an excellent education. He used to tell me that they had not tried to teach him a lot of facts and formulas (which of course would often be out of date before he had a chance to use them) but how to find the facts and derive the formulas. My college physics professor 30 years later also impressed upon us that we shouldn't learn a bunch of formulas, but instead understand the concepts so we could set up the problems without formulas. With a formula you just have to plug in a few numbers and get answers, but if you don't understand what you're doing you have no way to know if the result it reasonable, or if you, for example, used the wrong units.

From the experience of watching my children grow up, I know that they were more willing to accept facts, rules, whatever, if they had discovered them themselves. In fact, I wrote in my "Mission Statement" for a class this summer:

Through experience with my own children, I know that the younger generation does not want to be fed with my knowledge and experience. Young people learn only what they think they need to learn. Furthermore, they want to experience life themselves, not vicariously through their elders. Any other “learning” remains in short-term memory and can rarely be utilized in their explorations of life. I believe that I can best help young people select what to learn by exposing them to own my passion for learning and exploring; I want to encourage them to maintain their childhood curiosity, rather than to suppress it.
I recall that my son usually wanted to do things his own way, even if that way was much more difficult, including climbing up a steep incline instead of taking the stairs. (Of course there were other times when he was feeling lazy that he wanted me to do things for him...)

We get stronger when we do things, we get better at things when we do them often, particularly if we think about how we are doing them. That's how we learn skills. Kids know all about understanding. That's what they spent the first 5 years of their lives doing, mostly without our help, because they had to figure it out on their own. We don't want them to stop trying to understand when they get to school. Skills aren't enough, and can be forgotten. Understanding can be recalled when needed.

Education has had a variety of methods through the years. Socrates had figured out that people needed to figure things out themselves, way back then! But somewhere along the line there's always some know-it-all who figures s/he knows the best way how to do something and wants to save others the difficulty of having to figure it out themselves, or maybe the tragedy of never figuring it out. We all have been know-it-alls at some point or other. (Like when talking with someone who has an opposing view on some topic dear to our heart. Of course they're wrong and we need to make them understand why!) I remember my (then-)husband trying to teach my son how to crawl(!) Why couldn't he figure out how to move one arm forward, not backwards?

I read a really telling example in another book recently about famous environmentalists. One of them as a child had found a couple of caterpillars and followed their life-cycle. After watching the first pupa open to reveal a butterfly struggling to get out, he decided to help the other butterfly, so it didn't have to struggle. But that one never learned how to fly. It was too weak, because it didn't have to struggle.

So by problematizing math, we make students struggle (a little) to figure things out rather than telling them how to do things. We give them a new problem based on knowledge they have already figured out and understood, and let them figure out how to solve it. If different students come up with different methods (resulting in both correct and incorrect answers) we let the students reflect on the methods so that they can decide which ones are most elegant (I love that mathematical term!) are easiest to understand and can be varied to solve other problems, as well as how not to fall into pitfalls that produce the incorrect answer. Then the students can own the methods they understand rather than the steps and skills we present to them. They learn how to understand, rather than formulas to plug numbers into.

Unfortunately there are many who think we should be taking the problem out of math, to make it easier some how. (In my practice teaching this summer we never presented a single word problem, much less have the students figure things out themselves. It ended up being a lot more difficult getting them to remember stuff than if we'd taken the time to help them understand.) There are others who think we should make math "fun." But isn't it more fun to figure things out yourself? Isn't it more inspiring. Don't you remember those things better, and can't you use them in other situations?

I just noticed that one of the editors of this book is an author in a new series Core-Plus Mathematics for which I just bought the (relatively inexpensive) teachers' guide,

  • ... a standards-based, four-year integrated series covering the same mathematics concepts students learn in the Algebra 1-Geometry-Algebra 2-Precalculus sequence.
  • Concepts from algebra, geometry, probability, and statistics are integrated, and the mathematics is developed using context-centered investigations.
  • Developed by the CORE-Plus Math Project at Western Michigan University with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Core-Plus Mathematics is written for all students to be successful in mathematics.
My mind is already working out ways to used problematical math in the classroom. I hope I have a classroom where I can use my ideas soon!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Waiting with a Passion

First Passion flower
Originally uploaded by Hornplayer

Many of my friends are teaching their first classes in their own classrooms now. A new math teacher friend in Denmark comes regularly to FaceBook to tell how much she's enjoying her classes, including baking brownies for fellow teachers and playing a student/teacher soccer game (students won, my friend was very sore the next day!)

And I am applying for jobs, and reading and writing homework assignments, most vigorously my blog Negotiated Identity, about helping ELL students negotiate their identity in this new confusing world while trying to get them up to speed in math as well. The research and personal reflection I've done for the blog (as well as the required book) have been very inspiring. I just wish I had students to try everything out with!

I was asked at an interview recently what my passion is. I immediately said "The Environment" and left it at that. The Environment has been my passion for so long (witness my blog Sustainable Rays), so that was an understandable automatic answer.

But I know that this past year has brought me through months of fun studying math, and inspiring classes at CGU as well as preteaching at summer school, getting to work with real students.

I think the best thing that happened all summer was when a student told me "I used to hate math, but now I'm kinda sorta beginning to like it." I think that inspired my new passion.

I want to inspire other kids with my love of math; inspire them to use the thinking, logic and problem-solving skills of math to gain the personal power to discover and achieve their potential, whatever that may be.

Since I have taught English Learners before (in Denmark) and I have been a second language learner myself, my particular passion is to help ELL students become productive and creative members of their new communities and country.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Negotiating identity

I've started classes at CGU again. We have a lot of reading to do right off, because we're supposed to be teaching classes as Interns (which means getting paid to teach a full class load while studying) ASAP. Unfortunately, I don't have that job yet, so everything I'm learning is still just theory.

For one of my classes I am writing in a new blog, Negotiated Identity, reflecting on one chapter of a book called Negotiating Identities each week until the beginning of October.

The assignment is to create an "Interactive Journal" with my reflections on the book interacting with other readings and real life. I would also really love to interact with YOU in the journal. So please join the blog as a Follower, and tell me about how YOU have had to renegotiate your identity throughout your life, or about how your students are negotiation their own identities to fit in your classroom and school.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

We've already proven that we can

Sharon White responded to the previous blog post:

I so agree with your remark that we (second career teachers) don't need the kind of recognition that young new teachers need because we've had it.

People don't ask us why we "settled" for teaching because we've already made our marks in the 'real world'.

The phrase "those that can - do, those that can't - teach" doesn't apply to us. We've already proven that we can.

We're eager to take on the ancient role of elder mentoring the young.

When I was "preteaching" this summer, one of our duties was taking our students on breaks. I sort of felt like we were herding sheep, but since there were no official breaks, school rules required our herding. In the beginning it was sometimes hard to get them to come when break was over. Once I told them to just think of me as their mother. One kid replied "I never do what my Mom tells me to do." "Then think of me as your Grandma," I said. "Ohhh, that's different," he replied. "I'd never cross my Grammy!" and he came along. I never really had problems with them after that.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Do we mature teachers have the strength to keep going?

Schools Need Teachers Like Me. I Just Can't Stay wrote Sarah Fine in the August 9 issue of the Washington Post, which I found quoted in The Week magazine:
I quit, said Sarah Fine. After four years of teaching at a public charter school in Washington, D.C., I’m walking away from my students and my profession. Armed with high ideals and an Ivy League education, I became a teacher because I loved the idea of making a difference in young lives in urban school districts.

Teaching was sometimes “exhilarating,” but my best efforts to engage students from troubled families often failed. It was painful trying to reach “students such as Shawna, a 10th-grader who could barely read and had resolved that the best way to deal with me was to curse me out under her breath.” But though I tell people I’m burned out, my reason for leaving goes beyond simple frustration.

I’m tired of giving my all for a profession that is widely viewed as “second-rate,” fit only for people who lack the drive and the intelligence to make it in business, medicine, or law. People like me are constantly asked, Why teach? It’s “nice,’’ but it’s not a real job. Largely because of that attitude, half of all new teachers quit within five years. Now I know why.
People like Sharon White and Lou Groner, whom you can meet in the videos that follow, (and me and some of my classmates at Claremont Graduate University, too!) are going to try to bring our life-long experience to the classroom. I'm hoping that we will be able to bring the ballast of many years experience to help us through the frustrations that ended Sarah Fine's teaching career. We may not teach many more years than the 5 she mentioned, but I do hope that we will be able to catch the students' attention with our life stories and show them that education is worth while. We don't need as much reccognition as Sarah needs, because we've already gotten it.

Building a Kite

Here's another mature teacher who wants to make a difference.

Back To School

I met Sharon White at an interview day at Greeen Dot High Schools and then shared a room with her at the EnCorps Teachers bootcamp in June just as my classes at CGU were starting. I am proud to know her, and look forward to working with her when I start to teach.

I think we mature people can use our experience to inspire our students. Sharon's story is particularly impelling to her students. She's been where they are, and come back to help them get away.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I haven't written here in a long time. Classes at CGU and preteaching were exhilarating as well as exhausting. And since August 1, I've been visiting with family in Maine (see pictures!) But I liked this quote from the Sierra Club Daily Ray of Hope (my best source of quotes.) I thought it said a lot about teaching.
If you want to build a ship,
don't drum up the people to gather wood,
divide the work, and give orders.
Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.

-- Antoine de Saint-Exupery
What should our students yearn for to want to learn Algebra?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Our Math Journal

My Teaching Methods classmate Bryan and I are doing our final project using teaching statistics to create a variety of teachable products, where the emphasis is on literacy through math. For our "technology" part, I convinced him to make a blog that will serve as the class math journal for the year. (We don't have a class to teach right now, so the entries are fictitious, where we pretend to be the teacher and students.)

The idea is that the students will write about the day's math class in their little math journal, and one student each day will write in the blog instead. And the teacher can write in it too, to explain to the parents what their kids are up to in math class.

We'd also like to demonstrate that the visitor statistics could be used in a statistics problem, but to do that we need some visitor statistics! So please visit Our Math Journal to leave your mark on our counter, and maybe get an idea as well.

Greg Mortenson in Afghanistan

I usually quote Thomas Friedman in my blog Sustainable Rays about environmental issues, but in today's New York Times he is reporting in Teacher, Can We Leave Now? No, on a trip to Afghanistan to join Greg Mortenson and Adm. Mike Mullen, the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to open a new school for girls in Afghanistan.

Since their previous education had been in the mosque, which would have precluded their desire to become doctors and teachers, this is one of many big steps that Greg Mortenson is providing in Pakistan and Afghanistan. As he says:

“When a girl gets educated here and then becomes a mother, she will be much less likely to let her son become a militant or insurgent,” he added. “And she will have fewer children. When a girl learns how to read and write, one of the first things she does is teach her own mother. The girls will bring home meat and veggies, wrapped in newspapers, and the mother will ask the girl to read the newspaper to her and the mothers will learn about politics and about women who are exploited.”
Admiral Mullen was visiting, because, as Mortenson says, the military finally "gets it." They realize that winning in Afghanistan (and Pakistan for that matter) has to be through building relationships, not imposing power, which is what Mortenson's work has been all about. Friedman concludes that if this is how we're in Afghanistan, then we can't leave yet.
So there you have it. In grand strategic terms, I still don’t know if this Afghan war makes sense anymore. I was dubious before I arrived, and I still am. But when you see two little Afghan girls crouched on the front steps of their new school, clutching tightly with both arms the notebooks handed to them by a U.S. admiral — as if they were their first ,dolls — it’s hard to say: “Let’s just walk away.” Not yet.
I'm wondering why it has to be the military doing this. It should be a big UN humanitarian effort instead involving NGOs and grassroots. But I guess since the Taliban is armed (initially by us) then they have to be kept in check?

Coming back to our own world, how many little girls would clutch a notebook as if it were their first doll? What are we doing wrong when girls think that having a baby is a prerequite for becoming an adult, instead of having a good education? In our classes at Claremont Graduate University, we talk often about "Social Justice," but we have a big job ahead of us not only providing a good education, but even more, motivating the students to want it. These Afghani girls need no motivation.

Education in this country has become more motivation than the three R's. We are trying to teach the students to think as well as to know facts, but they have to be dragged to the trough. "Why do I need to know this?" one of my more directed students asked. "I'm going to cooking school. All we need is to know measurements and ratios, not all this algebra stuff." Another one informed us that she was going to marry a rich man, who, we reminded her, would leave her with four kids and no money, if he was anything like most of the other fathers in her neighborhood.

I just created what I hope qualifies as an "Authentic Assessment" (not test, mind you!) in which students can show that they really understand how to simplify rational expressions with cognitive deepness. It was really difficult to relate those skills to "authentic" real life.

But we are trying to use math to teach thinking, logic, organization, steps to solve a (any) problem. Math is brain exercise, just like the exercises athletes use long before they get out on the field to play a game. But I think it would be delightful to teach students who so eager to learn as those Afghani girls!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

What you do makes a difference

In this wonderful July 4th lull I'm going through ancient emails, like this Daily Ray of Hope from May 28.
Act as if what you do makes a difference.
It does.
-- William James

Friday, July 3, 2009

Quadratic formula

On Monday I'm teaching the quadratic formula to a bunch of kids who are in summer school because... (various reasons!)

One of my fellow student teachers keeps singing the formula to Pop Goes the Weasel.
I discovere many versions on line, 3 of which I've posted below. These are done by students. I love the rap version!

I have also made a card game to help remember it: I divided the formula up into 7 parts, and put each on a colorful card (shown) and then 4 values each for a, b, and c on other cards, which they can use to write equations and solve them. I'm curious how much time this will take, but I'll report back. They're getting a bit antsy toward the end of the summer session, so I think a more active, hands-on activity might get their attention!

Quadratic Rap

Quadratic Formula Song

Singing the quadratic formula

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Don't throw anyone out

Another wonderful quote from the Daily Ray of Hope:
People, even more than things,
have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed;
never throw out anyone.

-- Audrey Hepburn
I'm afraid some teachers have been tempted to throw some students out, or the equivalent, just moving them on, even though they haven't managed to teach them what they will need to know in the next grade.

I had a student once (high school English in Denmark) whose teachers had unanimously said she wouldn't be able to manage high school, and wanted her to go out and learn a trade. I quickly figured out that she was dyslexic, but had a fine mind, and could speak English at grade level. So we worked on reading and writing skills, and she ended with a C in the class, after receiving D's and F's all the way through grade school. What were they thinking?

Saturday, June 20, 2009


In between finishing off all the writing assignments for my course, I am reading a book that I think will provide me with very useful insight into the minds of our African American students in our classrooms: Through Ebony Eyes: What Teachers Need to Know But Are Afraid to Ask About African American Students, by Gail L. Thompson.

One of the topics she writes about, using her own autobiography, is Resilience. How do some children, with every imaginable condition against them, manage to pull through and get where even a lot of people with "ordinary" backgrounds get.

The LA Times ran an article today about just such a person: She finally has a home: Harvard. The young woman in the story had been homeless most of her life, but she knew she was smart, because she'd tested as a "gifted child" and her mother encouraged her.
As long as she can remember, Khadijah has floated from shelters to motels to armories along the West Coast with her mother. She has attended 12 schools in 12 years; lived out of garbage bags among pimps, prostitutes and drug dealers. Every morning, she upheld her dignity, making sure she didn't smell or look disheveled.
By high school she knew that her gift would help get her out of the squalor she'd grown up in, so she found good mentors, and even a home where she could live the last few years to complete her schooling. And she is already in Cambridge, participating in a special program to help her adjust to the Harvard culture.

I am looking forward to reading another story in the LA Times (in paper format, I hope!) in four years, celebrating her graduation from Harvard. She's just beginning, and it will be extremely hard. But I think Harvard will supply her with all the mentors she needs to get there. I wish her well!

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Another quote from my Daily Ray of Hope:
You can't do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth.
-- Evan Esar
I think I am definitely expanding the width and depth of my life with my math teacher training, but I could sure use more time to expand into these days. For about 4 weeks this summer I am practice teaching summer school Algebra I with 2 other fellow students, with classes from 7:30 and to about 1:15 pm and at least an hour of consultation and planning afterward. (The verdict so far: I really need to understand classroom management better. For some reason I seem to be tolerating a louder level of murmuring, but the kids in the back of the class aren't necessarily being able to follow along.) Add to that 3 hours of classes every night from 4:30 to 7:30 through next Wednesday plus any group work (see The Adolescent Dilemma) for our project (.) The following week week it will be from 3-7 pm. And then we have many books to read, reports to write, a portfolio to create, and a long "ethnography" which starts now with about 25 pages and will continue through the next 3 semesters. In the Fall, we'll be teaching our own classes (have to learn that classroom management before then!) and having Saturday classes.

So time is important. But otherwise, I'm enjoying it, and definitely broadening my experience of this place I now live, math, and the young people who will be our future, but don't really understand that yet.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Adolescent Dilemma

We need your opinion!

In my Pre-teaching class at Claremont Graduate University, we have read a book called Adolescents at School, edited by Michael Sadowski. Then we formed groups to do a project around one chapter in the book.

My group took Chapter 2, "Joaquin's Dilemma": Understanding the Link between Racial Identity and School-Related Behaviors".

Part of our project is to get your comments to scenarios on our little blog, The Adolescent Dilemma.

  • Please click the link and add your comments, and take the small quizzes. We'll report back in a week.


If you wonder where I've been all this time, I've been right here, typing away at homework assignments for my very concentrated class at Claremont Graduate University, whose motto is:
Commitment to Social Justice and Accountability
We have a 3-week course called Teaching & Learning Principles (T/PL) which covers all the basics with thousands of pages of reading assignments, written reading responses, modeling of teaching methods, writing the first part of our "Ethnography" - our MA thesis - which will be about some of our students. But part I is about us. As well as preparing a variety of other deliverables (business word, sorry.)

Among these is a blog The Adolescent Dilemma, which we hope to have live tonight. Please visit it and comment on our questions when you see it. If you Follow it, you'll be able to read all the comments, and recomment as well.

How to teach...

On the Beach
Originally uploaded by Darrell Wyatt
It's all out there,
floating free,
waiting for you
to pull it down
and anchor it.
-- Ann Bernays
-As used on the Sierra Club Daily Ray of Hope today.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

High school kids and the economy

Watch CBS Videos Online
This video was filmed in high schools near where I live. The students they interview are like the students I hope to be teaching. They have a lot more to worry about than passing an Algebra exam, which is necessary to get their dream, to go to college. But will their family be able to afford to send them to college?

This is part of a series from CBC, called Children of the Recession. You can read the text of the video at: Teens Bring Economic Stress To School: CBS Reports: Psychological Toll That Recession Is Taking On Students Is Expanding Teachers' Roles

Sunday, May 17, 2009

After Studying Math

Studying Math
Originally uploaded by bonbayel
My recent journey through Math started innocently enough when I took Biology 101 last summer. Then I wanted to learn something about Organic Chemistry, so I bought the For Dummies book and workbook for that and a set of molecular building balls, which was lots of fun. Then my husband thought it would be interesting to look at calculus again, so we bought Calculus for Dummies and 2 workbooks. . . .

Yesterday I took the CSET in Calculus, Trig and History of Math, the last of the subject matter tests I'm planning to take to qualify as a teacher. The picture shows most of the books I've bought and devoured for this project. There aren't many For Dummies math books I haven't used!

The ones on the floor are mostly about pedagogy and classroom management, which is the next step to become a teacher. Some are required for my classes that start June. Some just looked interesting.

Last night I started a novel and signed up and played around with FaceBook. Today I rescued our beautiful Lantana bush in the corner of our patio, which had fallen down, and then downloaded pictures I took a couple of weeks ago at our family "ancestral estate" (it was a farm then,) now called Lotusland, in Montecito. The quiet before the next storm!

Sunday, May 10, 2009


(You may need to click through to the original to read the text.)
They tell me "Always keep your eyes on the class..."
I love this strip. Frazz is the most intelligent strip about schools that I see. I hope I can be like him - and not Mrs. Olsen!
Talk about experiments! That's what school should also be about!

Studying for the last CSET Exam

I'm taking the final California Single Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET) - Math III (Trigonometry, Derivative and Integral Calculus, Infinite Series - and the History of Mathematics!) next Saturday. I have been studying for it for about 2 months - since I took the first 2 exams. My last official class in math was in 1963, so there is a lot of knowledge being pulled out of dusty corners of my brain. Because the interesting thing is that I recall most of what I am reviewing. That doesn't mean it's active knowledge, but I at least recognize the concepts.

I love solving Sudoku puzzles, and I play 3 different solitaires at night to relax my brain before sleeping, so I enjoy the puzzle of solving Trig identities and figuring out Integrals, both of which require puzzle solving skills.

What I don't enjoy is formulas. I'd much prefer to be able to figure out the formula myself than memorize it. My physics professor at college showed us how to set up problems using the different units (like gravity is acceleration, measured in feet (or meters) per second per second,) so you know how the problem should be set up from the units. Or if you know the trig function definitions, you don't have to memorize their values. However in a test situation you can't spend all your time deriving things. I am sure that is why I used every minute of the allotted time for the first 2 exams (taken in one sitting.)

I've been using a variety of sources to review the math, since I really do have to learn it from scratch. These have included college math and physics books, nearly the entire series of math for Dummies books, some Cliff's Notes books, a Calculus book for Economics students (which left out the trig functions, but was an excellent start,) some dedicated CSET review books - and a program I found online Ace the CSET, which is not really all you need to "Ace the CSET" - which is only pass or fail anyway, but a good help. Everything has practice exercises and practice tests, usually with great explanations about how to solve them.

However almost all of them have very vital typos. Some times it's a forgotten negative, which sent me to my calculator yesterday to find out that I was right, or another has been typed up from a hand-written script by a person who didn't have a clue what the material was about. This produces such interesting things as "l n(2x) - i.e. one n times 2 x" instead of "ln(2x) - natural log of 2x." At any rate, you can't trust everything you read, and it keeps me on my feet. It is comforting to know that even text-book writers make the same kinds of errors I make, but that doesn't help on a multiple choice test!

Test-taking and teaching

So will my current intense study of math help me as a teacher (besides knowing the materials, of course?) Will I be able to see the pitfalls more easily, or point out good study habits. Of course, my students will not be dedicating 2 months intensively to one subject! But at least I will understand the pressures of taking multiple choice tests!

I have kept my delight in math throughout (which my husband would not entirely agree with, as I've gotten grumpy here toward the end, and when I've hit something that involves what to me seems very tangle logic to understand.) Originally I figured I'd be teaching English to foreign students, which I also did in Denmark, but I wasn't feeling terribly inspired. When I started studying for the CBEST (Basic Educational Skills Test) my mind woke up reviewing for the math section, and I knew that it was math I was intended to teach!

Thursday, April 30, 2009


This quote appeared today in the Sierra Club Daily Ray of Hope:
Don't be too timid and squeamish about your actions.
All life is an experiment.
The more experiments you make the better.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

I think that curiosity has been a driving power in my live, and although I've been singed a few times, I still have a few lives left. Curiosity is what leads to experimentation. If you get caught in the same rut, you need to experiment with some aspects of what you're doing, even though it might be hard not to be squeamish!

You can start in the kitchen. Try using a cookbook instead of a prepared meal or package mix. And then see what happens if you vary an ingredient.

(I admit that not all ingredients can be experimented with! When I lived in Denmark, and American friend was trying to bake some traditional Danish cookies using a recipe in Danish. She came across a word she didn't know (which happened to be for baking powder) so she substituted a spice for it. Turned into very aromatic rocks!)

My son got sent to what they called the "Observation Clinic" in Danish schools after making a little experiment in science class, which the teacher caught just before it exploded. One of my colleagues figured he'd end up a great scientist! At least he's ended up a very good computer developer with a lot of good ideas.

When I had been teaching English and German in Denmark for about 6 years, I started to think that I knew pretty much what my life would be like the next 25 years or so. That didn't leave much room for experiments - even though being a teacher in Denmark provided a lot more room for experimenting with curriculum than it appears to be possible here. So I quit teaching and have been experimenting with careers ever since: translator, diaper-service owner/manager/designer..., environmental manager, technical writer, web designer, graphic designer - and now back to teaching, but this time Math. Not all of these experiments were financially successful, but every one of them has developed my knowledge and skills in many different ways. Now I am looking at a career that could last another 5-10 years. That seems like a reasonable length for this experiment.

Encourage students to experiment

I think one of the important things a teacher should do is to encourage students to attack problems in their own way. We can be helpful to show them a few different ways to do things, and then let them do it their way after that. Or let them experiment to find their own way to attack a problem.

I'm mostly thinking Math, now, of course, but this fits for many subjects. When I taught languages in Denmark, I usually only had a very short lesson plan for how to deal with the texts we were reading, including a point or two I wanted to get across. But it was wonderful when the student discussion went its own direction, so that they were expressing their own thoughts. I was dismayed when I did some subbing at a different school once, where the students expected me to write the "right" analysis on the blackboard so they could copy it into their notes. I told my students that the best way to get a good grade in my classes was for them to introduce me some new way of looking at a text!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Math exercise

I thought this was a great way to start a math class!

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Fledgeling Originally uploaded by J Gilbert
From time to time I am inspired by the little daily quotes I get from the Sierra Club's Daily Ray of Hope.

This was the quote last Wednesday:

and you will find out how to unfold your wings as you fall.
-- Ray Bradbury

So I am jumping into teaching a little unsure of myself, but I expect my wings will unfold! At least I am given a long time to get them unfolded through my Internship program (if there are high schools in my area actually hiring by Fall!) I will be observing classes and taking concentrated coursework this summer before I jump, so I hope that they will give me an inkling about how to get those wings out!

By the way, the lovely picture is captioned on the Flickr site as "Just out of the Phoebe nest." But several of the commenters say it is a cowbird, not a phoebe. I sometimes think of myself as something like a cowbird nurtured in a phoebe's nest. I recall happily my grandfather's a pair of cowbird friends, who would come back to his (organic) garden in New Jersey every summer and eat raisins from the arm of his lawn chair.
But I'm not going to analyze that any further!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Mathematician's Lament

I just read this lovely book in one sitting and then wrote a review about it on a website I just discovered, called Goodreads, which follows here slightly edited. (Note that all links go to the Goodreads site.)

A Mathematician's Lament: How School Cheats Us Out of Our Most Fascinating and Imaginative Art Form
A Mathematician's Lament: How School Cheats Us Out of Our Most Fascinating and Imaginative Art Form by Paul Lockhart

This brand new book, an expanded essay about why math is taught all wrong in schools, is delightfully short, but a great inspiration while I'm studying for my last CSET Math exam in Trig & Calculus. When I started studying for the CSET a college classmate who has has a long career as a chemist was helping me get my mind around some of the new math concepts. He told me that someone had told him that math was all about definitions. Paul Lockhart couldn't disagree more. It's about solving wonderful, fascinating problems, he says.

The author's thesis is that math is an art - the art of solving problems - and we are teaching the grunt work of math, but not the enjoyment of the art.

He starts with a "Lamentation" about how terrible school math is, as if we were teaching kids to read music notes on paper, without ever letting them listen to, play or compose music. Or an art teacher who teaches color theory and paintbrush techniques so that high school art students can do paint-by-numbers pictures.

He understands that is may be necessary for students to understand the things being taught in school, but he'd prefer it if they figured things out by themselves. The role of the teacher would be to give them the space to discover these things.

But then he concludes with "Exultation" explaining (with a few examples) about how delightful math is. It got me all inspired, since I'm in the process of becoming a math teacher!

I find that math is like a game that needs solving, which fits in to his idea of math as art. The way I have taught before (English and German in Danish high schools) is to get the students figure things out as much as possible. I've rarely had much of a lesson plan, other than the requirements of topics that had to be covered (which was quite free in Denmark.) I don't know possible it will be to teach math (rather than train formulas and definitions) when the students have tests to be taken. But I'm inspired now!

Monday, April 13, 2009

I did a little of the impossible!

I just got back the unofficial results that I have passed the 2 CSET tests I took in March (qualification exams for teaching Algebra and Geometry in California - and elsewhere.) What a relief! Now I still have one more - in Calculus and Trig - in May, and more than a year of Internship training. But at least now I am qualified to start the training!

I also took the Graduate Record General Exam and scored almost the same on the Verbal and Quantitative parts as I did 44 years ago. I guess at least my mind isn't going downhill. But all the math studying did come in helpful for that exam. It had gotten a little rusty. I'm assuming all this blogging is giving me practice for the essay parts.

I also observed a couple of math teachers at a continuation high school this week. That was quite an experience that I haven't digested yet. I want to visit a few regular schools as well.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Movie classrooms

We've just watched two very different movies about classrooms.

The 1988 movie Stand and Deliver stars Edward James Olmos playing a (real) high school teacher who'd quit his computer job to teach at the largely Latino Garfield High School in Los Angeles. He manages to turn around math teaching at the high school so that many of his students pass AP Calculus. In the movie this happened in a year, in real life, it took several and was a struggle. In a 2002 article in Reason Stand and Deliver Revisited we can read about what happened when the teacher finally got tired of the odds against him, not because of the students, but because of school bureaucracy, envious colleagues and whatever else can cause a teacher to burn out.

The other is the excellent French movie Entre les murs (The Class in English,) which takes place in a middle school in a very similar location in a present day Paris suburb. Pretty much all the students are either first or second generation immigrants, from a wide variety of countries, mostly north African. Their teacher (the actual author of an autobiographic novel of the same name) does a remarkable job treating his students as people, allowing them to talk and ask questions in his attempts to bring them into mainstream French life, which they know (and he probably does too) is not very realistic. But toward the end we discover that he hasn't really been listening as much as we thought, and he makes a fatal error of judgement to save his skin. He has favorites in the class as well as at least one student, the target of his tragic error, whom he (and maybe the school staff as a whole) has failed. Manola Dargis wrote an excellent review of the movie Learning to Be the Future of France in the New York Times, from which the picture above was borrowed.

Both teachers are working against enormous odds and both ultimately fail because those odds are too high. The French teacher has much more support from his colleagues than the American one, but in the film (at least) the backup support of counselors, tutors and the like is sorely lacking and you are left wondering why they couldn't prevent the ensuing tragedy (of a lost future, not a life.)

I watched both films with a new-found interest in how teachers manage difficult classrooms, and was impressed with both teachers for treating the students much more as fellow human beings than in the stories I've been reading about American classrooms.

For example, I recently received some helpful guidelines about becoming a substitute teacher which were all about this thing called "Classroom Management." It told me to ensure silence and raising hands, to not turn my back on the class, move around to keep my eye on everything the little perps are doing, and pounce before they get me (my exaggeration.)

I didn't need to teach like that when I taught in Denmark. I hope I won't have to here either. I have collected some books to read about this topic, which I will review as I finish them.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Fall Seven Times, Stand Up Eight

One of my favorite sources for inspiration is the Sierra Club's Daily Ray of Hope email, which led me to the Nelson Mandela quote which inspired this blog, and the Japanese proverb that titles this entry.

Today's quote reminds me about my life in general. I am not quite sure how many projects and careers I have started in my life, all of which have been exciting, interesting, challenging. But they have all either lost their charm or petered out or actually failed. So is math teaching what will keep me on my feet?

My first major career desire was in advanced physics, but I now think I should have become an engineer, like most of the men in my family, back to my grandfathers and up to my son. I think I had two reasons, besides loving physics and math in high school: I wanted to "show" my father that I could do something more esoteric than he did (even though all my genes and inspiration for math and science came from him!) and women just didn't become engineers back then, at least none that I knew. But I got hung up on the theoretical math, and my secondary interest in languages took over, so I switched to German, and did graduate work in linguistics, which at least is a logical science. I remember at the time thinking that majoring in German was just learning a language, but I was cutting myself off from a career I was passionate about.

So my next goal was a university career in linguistics, but during my studies I spent a year in Denmark, married a Dane, brought him back for 3 years to finish my degree, had a child, and then moved to Denmark. Then it became impossible to work with my advisors, so I ended up doing a Danish MA and became a high school teacher in English and German. After about 3 years I became bored, because this was not at all my passion. Linguistics was, science was, and the environment then became my passion.

I left teaching, except for subbing to pay the bills, and tried getting a job in business, which was not as successful as I had hoped. So I started an environmentally-friendly diaper service, which was popular among my customers, but never turned a profit.

Then I studied things like environmental management and graphic design, mostly subsidized by the Danish welfare system, which was convenient. But never found a really appropriate job with that either.

In 2000 I moved back to the States, to California (that's another story!) and ended up a technical writer, which I worked at for about 7 years, until it just petered out last year.

So this time I'm back with one of my passions, math, and hope that I can stay standing up this time!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Doing the Impossible

Pomegranate sprouting branch
Pomegranate sprouting branch,
originally uploaded by bonbayel.

I just took the California CSET Math I and II tests in Algebra and Geometry. These are the qualifying tests to be able to study as an Intern in math for California High Schools. This wouldn't be so unusual I guess if it wasn't that my last math class was in 1963 - more than 45 years ago.

In my other blog, Sustainable Rays, I wrote a short entry about words that Nelson Mandela apparently said:

It always seems impossible until it's done
I think I want to make that my theme as a teacher.

In this blog I will write my thoughts about teaching and learning. Right now it is before teaching in California schools, although I taught English and German in Danish high schools for about 14 years earlier in my career. But I think this will be an entirely different challenge.

I plan to start by observing some classes nearby, and then in June I will start my internship training. I am sure that then I will have much more to write about!