Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How I Got Here: Part I

I always love to hear how fellow teachers got their jobs. It's helpful to those looking for teaching positions, but I still think it's interesting to the rest of us, too. At my former school, I found that the interview process I experienced was completely different from even my coworkers' experiences. In light of that, and in hopes of helping future educators with the interview process, I've decided to share my experiences. (Note: This is Part I of a multi-part series. Read Part II.) 

My husband and I are alumni of the university that makes our hometown a college town. I also hold a degree (my teaching degree) from its satellite campus.

Twice a year, every year, our alma mater hosts an Education Interview Day where 300+ education majors from both campuses have a chance to interview with schools from the surrounding areas. I attended two EIDs, one during the semester I graduated (the fall of 2009) and one the following spring. I did maybe seven total interviews on those days, all of which were what I consider "screening interviews," a chance for superintendents, principals, or their representatives to get a look at the the students preparing to enter the teaching profession and a chance for those students to become more than a faceless resume in a stack of faceless resumes.

I was asked to complete several substitute applications at EID, and I was offered a long term sub position (which I accepted) as a result of one of the Spring interviews, but most systems treated EID as Step 1 of a screen process, and many of us were called back for additional interviews.

Read Part II
Read Part III

Friday, May 25, 2012

The BIG News I Promised

Today was the last day of my first teaching job.

For the past two years, I have lived and breathed junior high math. As my school's only math teacher, I've been the department newbie, the department veteran, and the department chair all at once. If something great was happening in a math classroom, it was my classroom. And if our math scores weren't up to par, I shouldered the responsibility. Being the entire math department was exhilarating and stressful and challenging and exhausting and fun. Leaving my post has not been an easy decision, and saying goodbye to the friends I have made and the students who made me a teacher has been bittersweet.

I am not leaving the teaching field, but I am leaving my current system and the junior high setting altogether. I've accepted a job in a new school in the county where we live. In my new position, I will be one of four ninth grade math teachers, and I will be teaching Algebra I, our standard ninth grade math.

This will not be a completely new beginning for me since I had the chance to teach Algebra I on the block schedule during my internship three years ago. The internship lasted fifteen weeks and the course lasted eighteen weeks, so I was able to teach nearly all of it (excluding welcome week and exam review). I actually worked for this system as a long term sub after my December graduation. The geometry teacher I subbed for actually taught in the very same building I'll be teaching in now,  and in fact, my new room is right across the hall.

The symmetry of winding up (for now anyway) in the place where I started is not lost on this math teacher.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


I have big news that I am dying to share, but it will have to wait until all of the involved parties have been brought into the loop. It's scary and exciting, but I don't want to be a tease, so I'm going to move on to something I realized about five minutes ago.

When I first learned to multiply binomials in eighth grade, my Algebra teacher introduced the FOIL method as this mystical set of steps you have to follow in order to simplify an expression when the plain ol' distributive property won't do it. I am a type A personality all the way, so having a set procedure appealed to me immediately, but I'm a little embarrassed to say that the whys didn't matter much to me. I distinctly remember many of my classmates leaving class with a dazed, terrified look on their face and hearing that two of them planned to convince their parents to request placement in standard math (Pre-Algebra).

In high school, our physics teacher reviewed the FOIL method, encouraging us to draw lines between the terms as we multiplied and calling the resulting diagram the "Happy Tomato." He actually told a story about the tomato, which I thought was crazy, but I dutifully drew the lines each time I multiplied binomials. I did notice that my peers who were foiled by FOIL were happy to use the Happy Tomato. (See what I did there?)

I think this was the first time that I actually realized how important it is to offer students alternative ways of doing things. Both teachers taught (reviewed) the same skill and even the same method, but they used completely different explanations, and it made a difference for their students.

A few minutes ago, I saw a product of two binomials in a Google ad (spend much time searching for math activities, and you, too, can have algebra ads framing your windows), and it hit me that multiplying binomials is EXACTLY like multiplying two digit numbers. If a student can multiply two-digit numbers, and they can find the product of a variable and a number and the product of two variables, then multiplying binomials is a no-brainer. FOIL just allows us to multiply with our terms written horizontally.

FOIL just gives us options, so why is it not presented that way? If I were teaching students to multiply binomials, I would start by asking them to multiply two two-digit numbers (written vertically). Then, I would stack the binomials, and show students that the same method is used to multiply binomials. Then, I would write the binomials horizontally and ask students how they would proceed. I suspect they would just rewrite the problem vertically, and here is where I would introduce FOIL to eliminate that step. Instead of rewriting the problem, just "FOIL it out." Everyone loves a shortcut!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

What to Teach When You've Taught It All

Since our high-stakes testing was completed, I am having the hardest time convincing our students that we are, in fact, still in school. It's been much warmer in the past few weeks, which has contributed to our kids' idea that "school's out for summer." Several of the other teachers are still trying to get their curriculum covered before the end of the year, but for the first time, I was able to teach eveything I am required to teach before we began testing. After giving some thought to what I should teach them now that I've taught it all, I decided to let my students guide me towards one of two options: (1) go back and practice learned skills that are part of our course of study or (2) move on to concepts not on our course of study.

As a math journal entry a couple of weeks ago, I had my students write about what math topics they would like to spend some time on. I got a few requests to go back and do some reteaching of topics my kids thought they needed more practice with (graphing for my eighth graders and proportions for my seventh graders). After revisiting those concepts, we moved on to what the majority of my students requested: "eight grade stuff" for my seventh graders and "money" for my eighth graders.

The seventh graders are tackling multi-step equations, which I could pretty much teach in my sleep at this point, but my eighth graders have started a unit on personal finance, a first for me.

Since I've never taught personal finance (and in fact, I'm still learning some things myself), I'm drawing heavily from what other teachers have done and using Money Math: Lessons For Life, a curriculum supplement developed by the Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and backed by the US Treasury. So far, the kids seem really interesting and are more motivated to learn than I've seen them in a while. I think it helps that personal finance somehow doesn't seem as "math-y" (their word) to them, and I feel good knowing that all of my kids can draw real-life benefits from these lessons (unlike, say,  the lessons on set notation).

Thus far, we've investigated the differences between simple and compound interest and the benefits of saving and investing. Next week, my students will complete a project that teaches them how to stay within budget constraints as they (pretend to) wallpaper my classroom. We'll finish up by creating a monthly budget and adjusting it to account for some real-life dilemmas (unexpected medical bills, broken-down cars, maybe even an unplanned pregnancy).

If things continue to go well, I'm planning to make Personal Finance my standard end-of-the-eight-grade-year unit. Even though some of my kids are a little young to fully grasp the importance of these skills, I have other students who will be turning seventeen over the summer and will likely not return to school next fall. As sad as that makes me, I want to send them off with some knowledge of the real world and having practiced skills they can use immediately.