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San Clemente, CA, United States

Friday, August 29, 2014

22

On September 4, I will start my 22nd year as a high school mathematics teacher.

I remember early in my career how I couldn't wait for summer to end.  I had to get back in the classroom.  I needed to teach, and teach well, conic sections, logarithms, and DeMoivre's Theorem.  I read all I could get my hands on about teaching.  I read and re-read countless numbers of textbooks so that I could use the very best parts of each in my lessons.  I put together pacing guides, wrote tests and quizzes, and then waited for the calendar to turn.

Gosh how I loved those final weeks of summer.  The anticipation and nervous energy.  I loved the first few weeks of school.  Kids on best behavior and teachers still wearing decent clothes.  I loved feeling of full mental exhaustion at the end of each day.

I'm worried because I feel none of that right now.  No dread, just completely unemotional.  I'm not silently wishing the days would go faster.  I'm not sitting in my classroom, alone, just thinking about how to get better and what I hope to achieve.  I'm not pacing around my apartment planning full semesters in my head.

Instead, I'm thinking abou...

I'm thinking about applying to become a school principal.  I've had my credential for years, but I never really considered it.  Well, I'm starting to think it might be a good fit.  First of all, I'll never get a gig.  One has to spend years toiling away as a Discipline Asst. Prin. or Guidance Asst. Prin.  before getting a shot at the title.  I know I'm just exercising my brain, but I'm thinking more and more about the impact the job could have. 

My first thought is to my current principal.

He's good.  Really good.

It sounds cocky, but one of the things that makes him good is that he recognizes that I am good at what I do and that I am an expert in my field.   He also recognizes that I have passion and am a hard worker and he uses all of that information to let me be a strong voice in the decisions that affect my department. 

Though I don't know him well,  he seems to be his own man.  I like that.  I don't see that much.  I see a bunch of people just trying to get through their day.  Doing what the bosses say to do.  Not thinking too much, not caring too much.  Just getting along and taking the easier road.  I don't think that's him. This guy will fight the good fight and if a policy is wrong I don't think he's afraid to raise a little hell as needed.I like that a principal can still stand up for what he believes.

My main reason for considering this move, is to be the educational leader every high school needs.  I'm not a fan of the current trend in hiring school administrators. I want a guy who has walked a mile in my shoes.  I want a guy who can come into my class, do an observation, and say things to me like, "Have you ever tried...." or "What about using....", or "When I was teaching....."   I want a guy that knows what I know and that takes time.  I want a guy seasoned enough to know that pendulums swing back and that teachers aren't the lazy, entitled, arrogant, untalented group that many have painted us as. 

The current trend in hiring Principals seems to be teach for 3 years, be an Assistant Principal for 3 years, then become Principal.  MOST guys that take that path never fully get the respect of the staff.   Maybe the office staff, but most teachers want a guy who has been on the front lines and knows that education happens in classrooms with teachers.  To fully get the teachers on board?  Give them someone to look up to.




Sunday, August 17, 2014

My way


This summer, two of my former students had to write college essays about someone they admired. They both chose me and they both scheduled me for "interviews."  After the first one, I thought I knew what to expect in the second.  I was wrong.  I didn't see it coming.

The first student asked me about my education, early work experiences, and a lot about why I became a teacher.  She asked good, "nuts and bolts" questions about me and my life.  At the end, I thought she got a pretty good picture of who I am and what I stand for.  

The second student only asked me one question.  "Are teachers born or made?"  Kinda stupid question I first thought and then I listened to myself stumble all over my answer.  I finally took a breath and shared my take.

Teachers are born teachers.  On my level, successful teaching requires the ability to stand in front of 40 pairs of judgmental eyes and deliver an engaging, informative and meaningful lesson.  On my level, if I stumble on the content, my high level kids would either eat me alive or stop believing in my ability to teach them and shut down.  But content aside, a teacher must be able to stand up and talk.  It sounds easy enough.  It isn't.  While I absolutely believe a person can learn to overcome any anxiety about speaking in public, great teachers don't just endure speaking in public.  They need it.  Great teachers can't wait for tomorrow because they get to perform again.  It is absolutely ego driven and absolutely ok.  The desire to be seen and heard forces the great teachers to be great.

And teachers are made.  I always tell the same story whenever anyone asks me what sets me apart from other teachers.  I don't claim its my dashing good lucks and 5' 6" frame.  I claim that I became  good because I mastered my curriculum.

I took my first high school mathematics teaching job in the middle of a school year.  Catalina Foothills High School had just opened its doors and by Thanksgiving, a math teacher was pregnant and gone.  I was hired and thrown right in.  Our first year school was a frenzy of wonderful confusion and growth and we all loved being part of something new.

That year, it was all I could do to stay a bit ahead of the classes.  I had Pre-Calculus, Geometry, and Algebra classes and every night I planned and prepared for a couple of hours.  I didn't like the last minute pressure and I silently pledged to never be merely sections ahead of the class in my preparation.   That summer, after being hired full time, I killed it.  I worked hundreds of hours to plan each class, outline each lesson, and write a years worth of tests and quizzes.  I wanted to be dead ready to go when that first bell rang. I did one more thing.  I solved every problem that I would be assigning that year for homework. 

I was great.  Planned, prepared, organized, sexy.  What I didn't count on was what happened next.  Many of my previous years Pre-Calculus students, now in AP Calculus, were seeking me out for help.  I realized that knowing only my curriculum wouldn't be enough as a high school math teacher.  I realized I needed to master the entire curriculum.

I did.  It took me 3 years but I read every word and did every problem in every math textbook  used at Catalina Foothills HS    I became an expert in high school mathematics.  Then I got confident and confidence is a funny thing.  I stood talled, spoke with more conviction, knew more, imparted more, and understood more.  I think that is what sets me apart. 

She smiled, thanked me, and wrote the most beautiful college essay I've ever read. 

Thank you.  

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ready or not, here we come!

As has every educator near my age, I've watched a BUNCH of ideas flow into the classroom.  For over 20 years I've watched dozens of "great" new approaches to teaching.  Teachers, without question trying to do the right thing, have tried an untold number of ways to educate kids.  Each new idea or technique or method was the "silver bullet".  Each of them was going to magically sweep away the failed policies of the past and guide us down the "right" road.  Each would eliminate the achievement gap and raise our International test scores.

Nope.  The evidence reveals that there has been zero improvement over those past 20 years.  I content that all these new pedagogies have in fact hurt our performance.

Never mind that for YEARS we have known there is a direct relationship between student success and parental influence, we keep thinking that we 'can overcome this with a new approach to teaching

Back when I was a younger man and went to happy hour's with my colleagues, one game we used to play was the alphabet game.  We had to go around the alphabet and name an educational fad or program or inservice we knew of.  It was amazing how many we could name.   Alternative assessments, Brain based learning, Cooperative groups, Differentiation, Enrichment, Favorite mistake, (just learned this one) , Guide on the side, etc.   I really could go on and on and on.   And on.

The problem is, none of them work.  Well, that may not be true.  What we can say definitively is that none of them have any evidence of working.  In the past 40 or so years of educational trial and error, there is exactly ZERO research to indicate any of it improves learning.  Wouldn't you think that after 40 YEARS we might have collected some data indicating what approaches work?  Well, hundreds and hundreds of surveys and experiments and observations and trials have been done and NONE OF THEM indicate that students learn better with Discovery Learning or Reverse Classroom or Cooperative Groups or any of it.

These fads, and "flavor of the month" approaches all fall short because when teachers first try them, as college students or adults, THEY ARE COLLEGE STUDENTS OR ADULTS!  Why do we think that the methods used to teach adults will work with kids?  They often don't.   All of our students learn the alphabet.  We wouldn't put a bunch of 4 year old kids at tables and tell them that if they learn it on their own they are more apt to remember it.  It would be ridiculous.  My point is that there is a line people cross for when they may be ready for self directed learning.  MOST high school kids aren't there.

The dirty little untold secret in education is that the ONLY method that has been proven to work consistently is Direct Instruction. (Project Follow Through)    Imagine that.  Stand and deliver.

It isn't about how a methodology.  Its about an educators expertise and willingness to deliver quality and understandable lessons.  Its about imparting knowledge and motivating kids to take it all in.  We need to stop trying to find the next great method and start trying to train better teachers.



Thursday, July 31, 2014

Technology

10:00 AM and I'm already angry.

I just watched a YouTube video (don't judge me) produced by a father, starring his son, with only one message.  Over and over the kid said, "You can't be my teacher unless you know technology."  Literally.  I think the video is called "You can't be my teacher."

Shut up.

The implication is that human beings aren't as capable of imparting information or solving problems as is technology.  YOU MEAN THE TECHNOLOGY THAT HUMAN BEINGS CREATED????? 

All technology does is save us some time.  Nothing can be done by machines that can't be done by man.  Nothing.  In mathematics, there is NOTHING my calculator can do BETTER than me.  Faster yes.  Prettier?  Absolutely.  But not better.  And my calculator doesn't know that some answers are extraneous based upon the problem.  "You can't be my teacher?"  Shut up. 

I am watching a generation of kids who spend much of their time, making videos of themselves commenting about a video starring someone else.  I am watching a generation of kids who think others care what they think. 

It truth, I should only speak about what I do; teach mathematics.  In theory, we should be able to look at the big picture stuff and let the computers and calculators focus on the "minutia."  I get that.  I do.  But what is the logical extension?  Where is the line?  Should kids even learn logarithms?  Trig?  Multiplication?  Why bother. 

We bother because there is a certain beauty to the pencil and paper.  A direct connection between brain and paper.  A thoughtful, logical, ordering of events that lead to a solution. 

I contend that the minutia matters too.  The journey.  We aren't just teaching kids to solve problems.  We are also eaching them to be diligent and persistent.  

In architecture, Computer Assisted Design, (CAD) has "revolutionized" the industry.  But lets not forget that before computers we found a way to build the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, the Arch de Triumph, the Sphinx, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the flipping PYRAMIDS and everything else built before about 1950.  How about Mt. Rushmore?  Imagine that. 

And how the heck were computers invented before computers?  By guys with pencil and paper.  Already I'm hearing that we are removing cursive handwriting from elementary schools.  Wow.  How will these kids read historical documents?  Maybe they can take a picture of it, run it through an APP, and have their phones rap it to them.  Eh, thats a problem for Virginia Reischl. 



Monday, May 26, 2014

So you want to be a Math Teacher?


So you want to teach high school math?  Great, sit down for a minute and lets talk. 

How well did you do in college majoring in Mathematics?  What?  You didn't major in Math?  You majored in Theatrical Production?  What in the name of Zeus' Beard are you doing here?  

Oh, I see, because of the lack of Math majors and the increasing demand for Math teachers, the State of California will credential an applicant to teach high school Math with either a Mathematics degree or the passing of 3 tests.  

So, you passed 3 tests and now you are a credentialed Math teacher?  What??? You didn't pass all three tests?   You passed only 2 and still you can teach?  Ah, I see,  passing only 2 allows you to teach up to Algebra 2, but not Pre-Calculus and above.  

Wait, what does the 3rd test cover?  Calculus?  You can't do Calculus?  You didn't take Calculus in either high school or college but you can teach Math on the high school level?  

My problem with your situation is addressed almost every day in every classroom.  First, how do you possibly answer "how will I ever use this" if you have never used this?  Second, I don't believe in just giving students formulas.  The volume of a right cylinder is V= π(r squared)h.  The curious student, and I was, and I see them every year, ask, "where does that formula come from?"  Door open.  I ALWAYS take the time to then derive the formula for the students.  For the above, I would first show that the volume can be found using a technique called "slicing" and second, I would derive the volume using the Disk Method of Volumes of Rotation in Calculus.  Most, including the kid that asked, will be lost quickly, but to some,  the few, the proud, the future,....it will open a door to great possibilities. They will stay after class and ask to see the derivation of other formulas.  Then i have them.  I show how to find volume a 3rd way.  By integrating Surface Area.   Rocking and shocking and wonderful mathematics that all begin to come together in "the Calculus".  

Go back to school.  Take a Calculus class.  No, take 5.  Differential Calculus, Integral Calculus, Vector (also called Multivariable) Calculus, and Differential Equations.  Then take a History of Mathematics class.  

Then come see me.  


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sub

A quick note to all young adults.   Hell,  a quick note to everyone.

As you progress in your lives, as you apply for different jobs, it might be smart to clear your Facebook and Instagram pages of anything that doesn't portray you in the way you want to be portrayed.   I'm sure your "besties" will be "cray cray" bummed that the "adorns" pictures of you holding the bong isn't your profile pic anymore, but you might want to consider it.

I'm looking for a long-term sub to replace a teacher going out on maternity.  I got the name of a couple of subs in the district who might be good.  I looked at both their Facebook pages.   One had lovely pictures of her young daughter and husband hiking, biking, birthday partying, etc.  The other had a young woman, who in only four pictures, had 3 alcoholic beverages, 2 shots of guys giving the camera the finger, 1 open mouth tongue shot, and my personal favorite, the Miley Cyrus halloween costume.

Hmmm....who should I contact first?

I really don't have a problem with any of the behaviors of contestant number 2.  Well I do, but I wouldn't hold someones free time against them.  I absolutely believe in the need to "blow off steam."  I have a problem with her decision to post the photos. It just isn't smart if she is looking for work.  Looking for work in a school.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Readers.

More and more, as I talk with parents and students and random people I meet, I'm often told, "oh, I love your blog."

It always rocks me a little.  I kind of like it, but mostly I don't.   I really don't know why I write, but it isn't to be read.  I get embarrassed when people read my works.  As a mathematician, I can compete.  As a writer, I feel inferior.

Add to that, I only write when I'm angry.  Not always proud of how I feel or what I write after a bout with Mr. Temper.

Off subject, shut up with the Thanksgiving cliche crap I heard today.  "In times of need, be buoyed up by those around you who love you."   Shut up.  Drag your depressed butt out of bed, get in the shower, and go to work.  Everyone gets depressed.  You don't get special treatment cause you think your depression is greater.  Buoy yourself.

We come into this world alone and we better figure out in our heads how to be alone and to handle our own business, because at the end of the day, we are again alone....82 years old...grown kids 500 miles away.... crappy little assisted living apartment... mean and fat nurse who hates you... yeah...

And shut up about the Christmas season.  We should be kind and generous all year long.  Kind and generous?  Not if you shop at Walmart.   Not if you camp out overnight for a big screen TV.  Kind and generous?  Yeah...shut up.

And take those stupid antler ears off your car.  Just don't.

And if I say "thank you", stop saying "no worries."  How about "you're welcome".

And quit dressing the age you want to be.  Old people like me should NOT be wearing acid washed jeans or juicy sweats or Jason Mraz hats.  Stop it.

And to those of you that read... Thank you....I think.