This Too Shall Pass (A Day In The Life Of A Math Teacher)

[Prefatory note: Math bloggers were asked by Tina and Sam to write about one day this week. Each of us was given a specific assignment, and I was asked to write about a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. If you don’t feel like reading about this sort of thing, I totally understand. There are a lot of cheery and funny entries you can read out there instead. Check Tina’s website or this specific page for those. If you wish to continue on and read this post, don’t say you weren’t warned.

Okay, I admit it. I wasn’t actually assigned to write about a crappy day. I just got lucky and had one anyway.]

Here we go…

Tuesday 13 November 2012

5:00 am — Alarm goes off, and I wake from 5+ hours of sleep.

5:32 am — I emerge from the bathroom showered, etc. Spent the last 5 minutes of the shower thinking about today’s lesson plan.

5:43 am — Dressed, I wake my wife and head to kitchen for breakfast. Morning email check: school–only junk; personal–only junk. Good. Read a few bits of the local paper. Weather report: “a shower”. Negative lesson plan implications, as we were going to be measuring the school flagpole, etc. Looks like Plan B.

5:55 am — Cold cereal and OJ, as always. (No complaint there. I’m a creature of habit, and I find eating the same breakfast for years in a row comforting.) Still perusing the paper. Three more emails pop up–not important. Good.

6:11 am — Dishes rinsed and in washer. Darn, should have run this last night! What’s the rest of the family going to do? There’s hardly any clean dishes. …I start looking at today’s lesson.

6:20 am — Wife emerges from bedroom. I sync my iPod–new podcasts–and update my current music-listening spreadsheet. (Nerd!)

6:40 am — After brushing my teeth, I am looking right at my rechargeable razor light when it switches from solid to blinking (fully charged). Ha, finally caught you!  [Note to reader: This is the high point of the day. It’s all downhill from here.] Wife starts the van, wakes the kids. I pack up my school bag. Two boxes of uncorrected notebooks get shuttled back into the van.

6:50 am — Leave the house. Won’t see it again for 11 hours. As always, my wife drives me to school, then herself to work. We’ve  been a one-car family since my “dollar car” died in January 2011. (Bought it from a friend for a dollar, maybe four years earlier.) We can’t afford another (I don’t have a dollar; I’m a teacher, remember?) so we rearranged our schedules to carpool. My daughter gets rides to and from school with friends; my son walks. The rain is steady–I’ll definitely have to go with the indoor version of my lesson plan. My wife relates some difficulties with her new full-time status at work. Bummer.

7:05 am — Arrive at school. Forgot to put up chairs yesterday. Custodial staff doesn’t have time to pull out all my chairs to sweep  under my tables, so there are little piles of paper bits, etc. under each. …Put on some background music. Set up laptop, connect to internet, “authorize” into our school network. Check email again–still nothing urgent. Good. Finish looking over lesson plan. Set up homework answers to project on the screen. Work out lesson plan timing. …Colleague AW arrives on bicycle (rain or shine) and checks in to discuss today’s lesson plan and whether the current wet-ground-but-no-rain means we can work outside. I tell her to go for it, and my classes will stay inside. We may avoid a traffic jam that way.

8:15 am — Students start arriving in my classroom. Four are here to finish a test. Others are here just to hang out, as usual. I keep organizing and thinking about lesson timing, what homework to go over, what to have the kids put  in their INBs today.

8:35 am — First bell.

8:40 am — All but two students are present. They get quiet within three minutes. They can do better than that.

9:05 am — After going over homework, we’re already ten minutes behind schedule. “Try to do the next problem, class, in 5 minutes instead of 10.”

9:15 am — Ten minutes later (of course), I lead a quick discussion of the Statue of Liberty problem. …No one downloaded a clinometer app onto their smart phone? Ugh! I only have six handmade ones ready, and nine groups. Two students download now, and one group can use my iPad. Disaster averted!

9:30 am — Team materials procured, eye heights measured (three stations set up around the room for this), objects around the school for groups to measure determined. We head out, with 10 minutes to do what I hoped we’d have 20 minutes for. There’s a little chaos, but the kids are fairly quiet in the halls and on task. I will need to be a little more clear though with the next class where exactly I want them to go. (And perhaps discuss ahead of time what are good horizontal distances and angles to use?)

9:43 am — Everyone’s back in class, calculating heights with their measured distances, angles, and the newly found “tangent” button on their calculators. We won’t have time for closure today. We’ll need to revisit their answers and discuss accuracy issues tomorrow.

9:50 am — First period dismissed. Prep time.

10:00 am — AW (we have the same prep) comes in, asks “Did you type up our common lesson plan?” Uh, nope. Oh well. (Usually we do have a collaborative lesson plan ready on Google Docs.) She helps me make more handmade clinometers, just in case. During 3rd and 5th periods we both teach Geometry, and we want to try to make sure that we’ll be able to cover every group in both classes. We double-check that our classes are to set to measure different objects.

10:40 am — Some classroom organization. Rearrange the lesson a tiny bit for 3rd period. Still no urgent emails–the streak continues!

10:49 am — Type up today’s class blog post–classwork, homework, etc.

10:58 am — Blog post up. Not enough time left to make copies for tomorrow or even to make a decent start at correcting 5th period’s tests from last week. (I finished the other three classes over the weekend.) …Guess I’ll chill for seven minutes as the early kids start coming in.

11:08 am — Two-minute warning bell. Homework answers are up. My attendance screen is ready to go. (We are required to have our attendance recorded on the computer within the first ten minutes of class.)

11:10 am — School announcements on the intercom. Too much chatter for anyone to hear most of them. …I spend a lot of time waiting for this class to quiet down today, but at least we have a clinometer app at almost every table. When the time comes we head out through the building again. Some groups were not clear on the directions and are measuring objects I didn’t tell them to, including ones short enough that they can measure the height directly. Ugh!

12:15 pm — I ask for answers. Two groups have pretty close answers  (270 cm and 280 cm) for the cement columns, and one group has an answer for the hall doors (which I did not assign). That’s it. Ugh again. Some students are still calculating, and some are just being shy, but there are also a lot of students who don’t know what we just spent the period doing.

12:20 pm — Third period ends. Some students stay to ask me miscellaneous questions (this is the start of the lunch “hour”). One wants to go over her recent test that she earned a D on. Talking with her, I can see that she thinks she understands a lot of things that she actually doesn’t. She’s fairly conscientious and I’d like to help her more, see if I can figure out where the gaps are. She says she will come in after school, but not today since I have a meeting.

12:45 pm — After dealing with all of the lunchtime students, and cleaning up my room a bit (balls of paper, blank worksheets, etc.) I have ten minutes left in which to eat my lunch. This is worse than usual, but I almost never get the entire 35 minutes of lunch time to relax and eat. In the math office some colleagues are preparing a presentation for tomorrow’s staff meeting. Glad I avoided that chore somehow.

1:00 pm — One of the first students in the room for 4th period says, “what a mess!” Sigh. This class goes a little more smoothly than 3rd period, perhaps because my student teacher is here now to help. I also changed the game plan so that the students would start with the furthest object from my room, then get the others as they work their way back. This keeps the kids together better than in the morning classes.

3:25 pm — School’s out. Fifth period went much like 3rd and 4th. Too much time waiting for the class to get quiet, and too many students who didn’t know what to do when we got outside. …Now I have ten minutes to organize my stuff and/or decompress before heading to a math teachers’ meeting downtown at the school district office. I put on an upbeat song, trying to increase my energy level. I end up listening to three songs and zipping through a dozen emails. Off to the meeting.

4:15 pm — Downtown, eating cheese and crackers (better than the trail mix they usually have for us). The meeting is supposed to be starting but less than half of the group is here at this point. Even 50 minutes after school ends is very hard to make on time. Sitting with a colleague from my school, TH, and one of my daughter’s (6th grade) teachers, SB. There is some discussion about parents at the middle school complaining about math curriculum changes (dictated by the state, mind you).

4:25 pm — The meeting begins with a recap of our “district math beliefs”, from last month’s meeting. …Now we are brainstorming good news, concerns (not called “bad news”, of course), and questions about how this year is going so far. Three of us (TH, myself, and GS, who just joined us) start with negatives, but SB busts out with a positive for us so that we weren’t only grumbling. Then Mr. District Math Honcho shows us a matrix of what math the district has been teaching K-8 for the last three years and will be for the next two (leading up to our new state testing implementation). The most interesting part, to me, is how we’ve been trying to push Algebra down into the middle schools for a decade or so, and now we’re trying to turn it back into the standard freshman course again. (Linear functions will still be an 8th grade standard though.) …A big discussion breaks out over the district’s new directive to not have kids “skip” math courses. Teachers: What will we do for our “high flyers” instead? Boss man: Enrichment, but we (the district bigwigs) have to give you support, strategies, and activities, so that you’re meeting student needs. Hope so. …Next topic: Group work. We are given a probability task which would be a low-level MS problem and told to try to solve it the way a 2nd grader might. (Not the exact directions, but the challenge was to solve it at a lower level than we’re used to.)

5:45 pm — Meeting’s over. It went quickly once we were doing math. Chat a bit with a favorite former colleague, CA (now at a different school). I ride home with TH, who drove me to the meeting as well. Some grumbling about class sizes, students who won’t stop talking, and meetings. We do fit in some positive talk on other, more personal topics.

6:15 pm — Home. I head right to the dining table, take out my laptop and check my inboxes again. Two different parents are asking if their son can join my son’s indoor soccer team. The season starts tomorrow–where were these people a month ago?–and we already have a larger roster than we’d prefer. So I send out two happy-grams, even though I’m not the coach or team manager. Ugh. I am the manager of my daughter’s team, and I did somewhat reluctantly let one girl join the team fairly late in the process, but no more. …Then I write a here-comes-our-first-game informational email to my daughter’s team, and it’s time to wash up for dinner.

7:00 pm — The Global Math Department meeting just ended. Bummer, I forgot! On the plus side, we’re having homemade tacos for dinner. Yum yum!

7:50 pm — All right, let’s grade some more tests!

8:50 pm — I am finished typing in test grades, having made the executive decision to accept my (not necessarily reliable) TA’s first-pass test scoring as final. Not something I normally do, but I have been grading these tests for days, and I’m tired of it. Some students are probably going to do a little better than they deserve. For my own need-for-free-time peace of mind I’ll have to live with that. Hopefully the ones who got less than they should have will challenge “my” scoring so I can rectify things for them. All told, I only graded three make-up tests, counted up points for the tests of one class (the ones I didn’t score myself), and put the scores in my grade book, and it still took an hour? Good gravy! I’m not even going to look at these four notebooks I was planning to grade. …Furthermore, I’ve only glanced at tomorrow’s lesson by this point. Another day of just barely keeping up. Sigh. Maybe I’ll get a half-decent night’s sleep though (a weeknight rarity).

9:15 pm — I take a half hour walk with my wife. Some soccer talk, as usual, but mostly we just debrief each other about our day at work. In case it wasn’t obvious, dear reader, mine sucked. This was one of those days when it’s hard to believe I’m going to have to do this again tomorrow, and downright depressing to think that I’ve got another couple of decades of teaching ahead of me. Grumble, grumble, grumble.

10:00 pm — Before heading off to bed, I’m going to check in on Twitter and see if any of my math buddies are online. That might cheer me up. (They are, and it does.) I’m done taking notes on my day. I can’t imagine why you, potential reader, might have read all of this, but if anyone makes it to the end here, I thank you for your perseverance. Or perhaps you should see a therapist about your clearly self-destructive behavior. 😉


13 comments on “This Too Shall Pass (A Day In The Life Of A Math Teacher)

  1. Fawn Nguyen says:

    Hey, I read every word, Steve. Your long day, typical for so many of us teachers, is testament to your dedication. But it’s draining. Important to refill our cup before it runs empty. There were days when I’d rather clean toilets than teach. I hear ya. It’s important for us to share bad days too because we all have them and misery loves company. 🙂

  2. AW says:

    Yes, I am clearly self-destructive! We haven’t had the chance to really debrief that trig lesson, yet, but we should. Every time, I *think* that I’ve outlined every thing they need, but then there’s always SNAFUs when we get outside. I’m glad it didn’t rain. I’d like to make sure we get a measuring problem on the team test, and see if they’ve “gotten” it by then.

    Thanks for the blogging. It’s good to see another perspective of the …almost…same lesson. Cheers!

  3. Curious, what kind of cereal? I’m a Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds and OJ girl!

    I did a similar trig activity with my students last year, made a bunch of clinometers, and then found out all my students downloaded the app so I did it for nothing. Sigh. Glad to see yours were actually used!

    • You crack me up, asking about my cereal. 🙂 Most of the time it is Barbara’s Shredded Oats. (Not too different from yours, just more bland.) We can’t always find it, so sometime we get another brand, but Barbara’s has been my favorite for years. I kind of hope you don’t mean that you put OJ in your cereal. I like the OJ, but it’s milk in the cereal for me.

      Ironic about the clinometers. My situation was nearly the mirror image of yours. I’ve got to the point where I love the apps the kids can get (calculators, clinometers, etc.), and it’s mildly frustrating when I don’t have enough students with devices to download them onto.

      Thanks for reading, seriously. For what it’s worth, the rest of the week went noticeably better than Tuesday.

  4. jnewman85 says:

    Haha, about the clinometers, my first thought was “there’s an app for that?!?”. So I went to my (well, the school’s) iPad to download the app, and realized I had already downloaded it! I just hadn’t thought use that for the height-finding trig activity we did earlier in the year.

    You mentioned that students didn’t understand what they had done during the period, and I’m wondering if there is some connection between students understanding what is going on, and using the hand-made clinometers vs. the clinometer app. Do you think students see what is going on better with the hand-made ones? The downside to the hand-made ones is you have to show them about subtracting 90 degrees (or subtracting from 90) otherwise they end up measuring the wrong angle. Although this past year I made them do a “practice measurement” and compare it to using a meter-stick to see if their calculations were correct. This forced them to recognize (a) they had to add their own height and (b) they had to subtract 90 from the angle to get “the right angle”. Still, now that we have iPads, I’ll probably use them for this activity next year, or at least give them the option.

    Oh, and I go for the sweet, sweet cereals every morning: captain crunch, fruity pebbles, or honey nut cheerios are all favorites. I’ll die young, but it’s a toss up as to who will get me first: the students or the cereal. Glad the rest of the week went better!

    • Hey JN!

      I don’t know if the problem is the tech. Most of the students who were having trouble when we got back to the room are ones who pretty much don’t ever make their best effort to understand. If you like I can send you a PDF for paper clinometers that don’t require subtraction. And they can make the same mistake with their phone clinometers, by the way. It depends which sight line you decide to use on your phone (and probably which app you use; there are a few). The free one I like for the iPad is called Clinometer HD. It’s 99 cents for the iPhone version, not sure why. Most of the kids used one called Clinometer + 3. It has a calibration button, which is good, but I think that it can get re-calibrated by accident fairly easily. The “dial” on its clinometer also has a built-in inertia effect which I don’t find very helpful. The kids turn their phones to the right angle and the numbers keep changing for a few more seconds. It can be kind of confusing, especially at first.

      If there were an app to measure distance (such as how far I am standing from that lamppost), the kids could do this stuff all over the place in the “real world” with nothing but their phones.

      I like the practice measurement idea. I’ll have to consider that for next time.

      I used to like sugary cereals as well. Cap’n Crunch was one of my favorites too. And I spent a lot of years eating Pop Tarts for breakfast, but I seem to have lost my morning sweet tooth. (It’s still there in the afternoon and evening though, I promise you!)

      Do we need to have a separate site where teachers discuss their favorite cereals? It’s going viral, I tell you. 😉

      • Alpha W. says:

        Oatmeal, with yogurt & jam. Or peanut butter & jam when I have run out of yogurt & the next batch isn’t ready.

      • jnewman85 says:

        Yeah, I actually kind of like that they have to “figure it out”–it’s teaching one of those intangibles where students have to problem-solve because what they were given doesn’t exactly match the situation. However it doesn’t take up class time, so it’s one of those trade-offs. Also, I don’t know of an app that measures distance (maybe something related to the GPS feature while walking-off?) but I do have my students figure out how far their pace is. We go to the school track and then they always have to count-off paces from every object they are trying to measure. (I just assumed that was standard with that activity, but if not, then I hope it’s helpful!). Of course that’s more class time used up, but it uses ratios and conversions of units, which I’m teaching the same students in science, so I find it’s a good use of time.

        Oh, and the trick that I don’t tell my students until after the activity is to always measure out a 45 degree angle and then walk toward the building/lamp-post/flag-pole. That you actually don’t have to do trig… but doing trig is kinda the point of the whole exercise, so I don’t reveal that til afterwards!

  5. crazedmummy says:

    Hey, nobody’s dead, nobody’s even paralyzed. At least one person figured out the height of something. You still have a family willing to let you in at night. I say it was a good day!

    • I appreciate your glass-half-full attitude. I couldn’t appreciate my family more, but sometimes the Eeyore cloud follows me around and it’s hard to see past my own little storm. Thanks for trying to help me keep things in perspective!

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